Thursday, July 05, 2007

Undermining Thompson

Congratulations Fred, on being such a strong candidate. It means that your opponents -- both in the primary and the general election -- are doing their best to take you down a notch before you announce. First it was your lobbying, now it's your role in Watergate:

Thompson tipped off the White House that the committee knew about the taping system and would be making the information public. In his all-but-forgotten Watergate memoir, "At That Point in Time," Thompson said he acted with "no authority" in divulging the committee's knowledge of the tapes, which provided the evidence that led to Nixon's resignation. It was one of many Thompson leaks to the Nixon team, according to a former investigator for Democrats on the committee, Scott Armstrong , who remains upset at Thompson's actions.

"Thompson was a mole for the White House," Armstrong said in an interview. "Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was."

Since this criticism invokes the most sacred holiday on the NY Times/Washington Post calendar -- Watergate -- we can expect that Thompson will be raked over the coals on this one, in much the same way that the anti-war Left is vicariously reliving the 'glory' of Vietnam through Iraq. This piece even links Thompson's alleged 'leaker' role in the Watergate investigation to his support for clemency for Scooter Libby:
But the story of his role in the Nixon case helps put in perspective Thompson's recent stance as one of the most outspoken proponents of pardoning I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Just as Thompson once staunchly defended Nixon, Thompson urged a pardon for Libby, who was convicted in March of obstructing justice in the investigation into who leaked a CIA operative's name.

The Globe goes on to explain that Thompson earned his place in history partly over what is portrayed as a more or less random event -- that a Republican aide asked the question that led to the revelation of an Oval Office taping system:

On July 13, 1973, Armstrong, the Democratic staffer, asked Butterfield a series of questions during a private session that led up to the revelation. He then turned the questioning over to a Republican staffer, Don Sanders, who asked Butterfield the question that led to the mention of the taping system.

To the astonishment of everyone in the room, Butterfield admitted the taping system existed.

When Thompson learned of Butterfield's admission, he leaked the revelation to Nixon's counsel, J. Fred Buzhardt.

"Even though I had no authority to act for the committee, I decided to call Fred Buzhardt at home" to tell him that the committee had learned about the taping system, Thompson 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."

Armstrong said he and other Democratic staffers had long been convinced that Thompson was leaking information about the investigation to the White House. The committee, for example, had obtained a memo written by Buzhardt that Democratic staffers believed was based on information leaked by Thompson...

Baker, meanwhile, insisted that Thompson be allowed to ask Butterfield the question about the taping system in a public session on July 16, 1973, three days after the committee had learned about the system.

The choice of Thompson irked Samuel Dash, the Democratic chief counsel on the committee, who preferred that a Democrat be allowed to ask the question. "I personally resented it and felt cheated," Dash wrote in his memoirs. But he said he felt he had "no choice but to let Fred Thompson develop the Butterfield material" because the question initially had been posed by Sanders, a Republican staffer.

When Dash told Thompson on the day of the hearing that he had agreed to let Thompson ask the question that would change US history, Thompson replied: "That's right generous of you, Sam."

There's not an atmosphere much more partisan and adversarial than impeachment, and Thompson obviously gave the benefit of the doubt to the President when he ought not have. That charged climate led Dash to feel 'cheated' that it was a Republican who revealed the existence of the taping system, rather than a Democrat. History suggests it was the right decision however, since it ultimately helped lead Republicans to abandon narrow partisan advantage in favor of a bipartisan stance that led to Nixon's resignation.

Regardless of what they thought about Nixon at the start of the proceeding, Thompson and Baker were ultimately instrumental in forcing Nixon's resignation rather than have the nation endure an impeachment trial. Warts and all, this is a good example of how we should ask leaders to conduct themselves during a time of crisis like impeachment.

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