Fred Dalton Thompson (born Freddie Dalton Thompson on August 19, 1942) is an American politician, actor, attorney, and lobbyist. He represented Tennessee as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1994 through 2002.
Thompson served as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board at the United States Department of State, is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is a Visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, specializing in national security and intelligence.
As an actor, Thompson has appeared in a large number of movies and television shows. He has frequently portrayed governmental figures. In the final months of his U.S. Senate term in 2002, Thompson joined the cast of the long-running NBC television series Law & Order, playing New York City District Attorney Arthur Branch, until the network granted his request to be released from his contract in May 2007.
He was a candidate for the 2008 Republican nomination for President of the United States until he exited the race after finishing third in the South Carolina Primary on January 22. He resides in McLean, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
In the 1980s Thompson worked as an attorney, with law offices in Nashville and Washington, DC, handling personal injury claims and defending people accused of white collar crimes. He also accepted appointments as Special Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1980–1981), Special Counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee (1982), and Member of the Appellate Court Nominating Commission for the State of Tennessee (1985–1987).
His clients included the German mining group and Japan's Toyota Motors Corporation. Thompson has served on various corporate boards. He also did legal work and served on the board of directors for engineering firm Stone & Webster.
In 1973, Thompson was appointed minority counsel to assist the Republican senators on the Senate Watergate Committee, a special committee convened by the U.S. Senate to investigate the Watergate scandal. Thompson is sometimes credited for supplying Republican Senator Howard Baker's famous question, "What did the President know, and when did he know it? This question is said to have helped frame the hearings in a way that eventually led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
A Republican staff member, Donald Sanders, found out about the White House tapes and informed the committee on July 13, 1973. Thompson was informed of the existence of the tapes, and he in turn informed Nixon's attorney, J. Fred Buzhardt. "Even though I had no authority to act for the committee, I decided to call Fred Buzhardt at home," Thompson later wrote, "I wanted to be sure that the White House was fully aware of what was to be disclosed so that it could take appropriate action."
Three days after Sanders' discovery, Thompson asked former White House aide Alexander Butterfield about listening devices in the White House at a public, televised committee hearing, thereby publicly revealing the existence of tape recordings of conversations within the White House. National Public Radio later called that session and the discovery of the Watergate tapes "a turning point in the investigation." Thompson's appointment as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee reportedly upset Nixon, who believed Thompson was not skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses and would be outfoxed by committee Democrats. According to historian Stanley Kutler, however, Thompson and Baker "carried water for the White House, but I have to give them credit — they were watching out for their interests, too... They weren't going to mindlessly go down the tubes [for Nixon]."
Journalist Scott Armstrong, a Democratic investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, is critical of Thompson for having disclosed the committee's knowledge of the tapes to Buzhardt during an on-going investigation, and says Thompson was "a mole for the White House" and that Thompson's actions gave the White House a chance to destroy the tapes. Thompson's 1975 book At That Point in Time in turn accused Armstrong of having been too close to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and of leaking committee information to him. In response to renewed interest in this matter in 2007 in the context of his presidential campaign, Thompson said, "I'm glad all of this has finally caused someone to read my Watergate book, even though it's taken them over 30 years."
When Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 1991, Thompson made a telephone call to White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu advocating restoration of Aristide's government, but says that was as a private citizen, not on a paid basis on Aristide's behalf.
Billing records show that Thompson was paid for about 20 hours of work in 1991 and 1992 on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, a family planning group trying to ease a George H. W. Bush administration regulation on abortion counseling in federally-funded clinics.
Thompson has earned about one million dollars from his lobbying efforts. Except for the year 1981, his lobbying never amounted to more than a third of his income. According to the Commercial Appeal newspaper:
Fred Thompson earned about half a million dollars from Washington lobbying from 1975 through 1993....Lobbyist disclosure records show Thompson had six lobbying clients: Westinghouse, two cable television companies, the Tennessee Savings and Loan League, the Teamsters Union's Central States Pension Fund, and a Baltimore-based business coalition that lobbied for federal grants.
After leaving the Senate in 2003, Thompson's only lobbying work was for the London-based reinsurance company Equitas Ltd. He was paid $760,000 between 2004 and 2006 in order to help prevent passage of legislation that Equitas said unfairly singled them out for unfavorable treatment regarding asbestos claims. Thompson spokesman Mark Corrallo said that Thompson was proud to have been a lobbyist and believed in Equitas' cause.
After Thompson was elected to the Senate, two of his sons followed him into the lobbying business, but generally avoided clients where a possible conflict-of-interest might appear. When he left the Senate, some of his political action committee's fees went to the lobbying firm of one of his sons.
In the final months of his U.S. Senate term in 2002, Thompson joined the cast of the long-running NBC television series Law & Order, playing District Attorney Arthur Branch for the next five years. Thompson began filming during the August 2002 Senate recess.
He has also made occasional appearances in the same role on other TV shows, such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and the pilot episode of Conviction. On May 30, 2007, he asked to be released from the role, potentially in preparation for a presidential bid. Due to concerns about the equal-time rule, reruns featuring the Branch character were not shown on NBC while Thompson was a potential or actual presidential candidate, but TNT episodes were unaffected.
In 1996, Thompson was re-elected (for the term ending January 3, 2003) with 61 percent of the vote, defeating Democratic attorney Houston Gordon of Covington, Tennessee, even as Bill Clinton narrowly carried the state by less than three percentage points on his way to re-election. The GOP continues to hold the seat, as it was won by former Tennessee Governor and Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in 2002.
In 1996, Thompson was a member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs when the committee investigated the alleged Chinese attempts to influence American politics. Thompson says he was "largely stymied" during these investigations by witnesses declining to testify; claiming the right not to incriminate themselves or by simply leaving the country. Thompson explained, "Our work was affected tremendously by the fact that Congress is a much more partisan institution than it used to be.
Thompson became committee chairman in 1997 but was reduced to ranking minority member when the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2001. Thompson served on the Finance Committee (dealing with health care, trade, Social Security, and taxation) the Intelligence Committee, and the National Security Working Group.
Thompson's work included investigation of the "Umm Hajul controversy" which involved the death of Tennessean Lance Fielder during the Gulf War. During his term he supported campaign finance reform, opposed proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promoted government efficiency and accountability. During the 1996 presidential debates, he also served as a Clinton stand-in to help prepare Bob Dole.
On February 12, 1999, the Senate voted on the Clinton impeachment. The perjury charge was defeated with 45 votes for conviction, and 55, including Thompson, against. The obstruction of justice charge was defeated with 50, including Thompson, for conviction, and 50 against. Conviction on impeachment charges requires the affirmative votes of 67 senators.
Thompson was not a candidate for re-election in 2002. He had publicly stated his unwillingness to have the Senate become a long-term career. Although he announced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks his intention to seek re-election ("Now is not the time for me to leave," said Thompson at the time), upon further reflection he decided against it. The decision seems to have been prompted in large part by the death of his daughter.
With Thompson's decision to campaign for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, his Senate record has received some criticism from people who say he was "lazy" compared to other Senators. Critics say that few of his proposals became law, and point to a 1998 quote: "I don't like spending 14- and 16-hour days voting on 'sense of the Senate' resolutions on irrelevant matters. There are some important things we really need to get on with—and on a daily basis, it's very frustrating." Defenders say he spent more time in preparation than other Senators. Paul Noe, a former staffer, told the New York Times, "On the lazy charge, I have to chuckle because I was there sometimes until 1 in the morning working with the man.
Thompson did voice-over work at the 2004 Republican National Convention. While narrating a video for that convention, Thompson observed: "History throws you what it throws you, and you never know what’s coming.
After the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2005, Bush appointed him to an informal position to help guide the nomination of John Roberts through the United States Senate confirmation process. Roberts was subsequently confirmed as Chief Justice.
Until July 2007, Thompson was Chair of the International Security Advisory Board, a bipartisan advisory panel that reports to the Secretary of State and focuses on emerging strategic threats. In that capacity, he advised the State Department about all aspects of arms control, disarmament, international security, and related aspects of public diplomacy.
On March 11 2007, Thompson appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss the possibility of a 2008 candidacy for president. At the end of March, Thompson asked to be released from his television contract, potentially in preparation for a presidential bid. Thompson formed a presidential exploratory committee regarding his possible 2008 campaign for president on June 1, 2007, but unlike most candidate exploratory groups, Thompson's organized as a 527 group.
Thompson continued to be mentioned as a potential candidate, but did not officially declare his candidacy. On June 12, Thompson told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show that while he did not crave the Presidency itself, there were things he would like to do that he could only do by holding that office. A New York Times article cited Thompson's aides as saying on July 18 that he planned to enter the race just after Labor Day (the first Monday in September), followed by a national announcement tour.
On September 5, 2007, Thompson made his candidacy official, announcing on The Tonight Show that "I'm running for president of the United States" and running an ad during a Republican Presidential candidates debate on Fox News. In both cases he pointed people to his campaign website to watch a 15-minute video detailing his platform. His campaign entrance was described as "lackluster" and "awkward despite high expectations in anticipation of his joining the race.
In nationwide polling toward the end of 2007, Thompson's support in the Republican primary election was sliding, with his placing either third or fourth in polls. Starting with the South Carolina primary, however, he was more aggressively challenging his rivals.
He spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention on September 2 in Minnesota, and described in graphic detail presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during his imprisonment and gave an endorsement of McCain for President.
Thompson states "Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad medical science," and that judges shouldn't be determining social policy. Thompson has also stated the government should not criminally prosecute women who undergo early term abortions.
Thompson says citizens are entitled to keep and bear arms if they do not have criminal records and the Gun Owners of America says that he voted pro-gun in 20 of 33 gun-related votes during his time in the Senate.
Thompson says U.S. borders need to be secured before considering comprehensive immigration reform, but he also supports a path to citizenship for illegal aliens saying “You’re going to have to, in some way, work out a deal where they can have some aspirations of citizenship, but not make it so easy that it’s unfair to the people waiting in line and abiding by the law.” Thompson supported the U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq and is opposed to withdrawing troops, but believes "mistakes have been made" since the invasion.
Thompson initially supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, but now says certain parts should be repealed.
The couple divorced in 1985. They have two surviving children, as well as five grandchildren. Thompson's daughter Elizabeth "Betsy" Thompson Panici died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs on January 30, 2002.
Prior to his second marriage, Thompson had been romantically linked to country singer Lorrie Morgan, Republican fundraiser Georgette Mosbacher and columnist Margaret Carlson. In July 1996, Thompson began dating Jeri Kehn (b. 1966) and the two married almost six years later on June 29 2002. When Thompson was asked in a December 2007 Associated Press survey of the candidates to name his favorite possession, he humorously replied "trophy wife". The couple have two children, a daughter and a son.
Can Fred Thompson Win the Nomination?; Mitt Romney Facing Religious Prejudice; New Video Threat from American Jihadist
May 30, 2007; (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GLENN BECK, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, reports that Fred Thompson may announce that he might run for...