Monday, July 09, 2007

Newest Republican hopeful has the indispensible prerequisites for their full support: He covers up the crimes of criminal presidents and he's a moron

Thompson had hidden Watergate role

Tapes reveal that Nixon considered him a not-too-bright ally in the Senate investigation.

WASHINGTON - Fred Thompson gained an image as a tough-minded investigative counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee. Yet President Richard Nixon and his top aides viewed the fellow Republican as a willing, if not too bright, ally, according to White House tapes.

Thompson, now preparing a bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, won fame in 1973 for asking a committee witness the bombshell question that revealed Nixon had hidden listening devices and taping equipment in the Oval Office.

Those tapes show Thompson played a behind-the-scenes role that was very different from his public image three decades ago. He comes across as a partisan willing to cooperate with the White House's effort to discredit the committee's star witness.

It was Thompson who tipped off the White House that the Senate committee knew about the tapes. They eventually cinched Nixon's downfall in the scandal resulting from the break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington and the subsequent White House coverup.

Thompson, then 30, was appointed counsel by his political mentor, Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker, the top Republican on the Senate committee. Thompson had been an assistant U.S. attorney in Nashville and had managed Baker's re-election campaign. Thompson later was a senator himself.

Nixon was disappointed with the selection of Thompson, whom he called "dumb as hell." Nixon did not think Thompson was skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses and would be outsmarted by the committee's Democratic counsel.

This assessment comes from audiotapes of White House conversations recently reviewed by the Associated Press at the National Archives in College Park, Md., and transcripts of those discussions published in Abuse of Power: The New Watergate Tapes, by Stanley Kutler.

"Oh, s---, that kid, " Nixon said when told by his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, of Thompson's appointment on Feb. 22, 1973.

"Well, we're stuck with him, " Haldeman said.

Publicly, Baker and Thompson presented themselves as dedicated to uncovering the truth. But Baker had secret meetings and conversations with Nixon and his top aides, while Thompson accepted coaching from Nixon's lawyer, J. Fred Buzhardt, the tapes and transcripts show.

"We've got a pretty good rapport with Fred Thompson, " Buzhardt told Nixon in an Oval Office meeting on June 6, 1973. The meeting included a discussion of former White House counsel John Dean's upcoming testimony before the committee.

Dean, the panel's star witness, had agreed to tell what he knew if he was granted immunity.

Nixon expressed concern that Thompson was not "very smart."

"Not extremely so, " Buzhardt agreed.

"But he's friendly, " Nixon said.

"But he's friendly, " Buzhardt agreed. "We are hoping, though, to work with Thompson and prepare him, if Dean does appear next week, to do a very thorough cross-examination."

Five days later, Buzhardt reported to Nixon that he had primed Thompson for the cross-examination.

"I found Thompson most cooperative, feeling more Republican every day, " Buzhardt said.

Later in the conversation, Buzhardt said Thompson was "willing to go, you know, pretty much the distance now. And he said he realized his responsibility was going to have to be as a Republican increasingly."

Thompson, who declined to comment for this story, described himself in his 1975 book, At That Point in Time, as an administration loyalist who struggled with his role as minority counsel. "I would try to walk a fine line between a good-faith pursuit of the investigation and a good-faith attempt to insure balance and fairness, " he wrote.

At a hearing on July 16, Thompson asked former White House aide Alexander Butterfield: "Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"

Butterfield's confirmation of the recordings set off a cascade of events that led to Nixon's resignation 13 months later.

The question made Thompson famous. What rarely is mentioned is that Thompson already knew the answer. Committee investigators had gotten the information out of Butterfield during hours of questioning three days earlier.

Thompson was not present, but a Republican investigator immediately tracked him down. Thompson called Buzhardt over the weekend to tip off the White House that the committee knew about the tapes.

"Legalisms aside, it was inconceivable to me that the White House could withhold the tapes once their existence was made known. I believed it would be in everyone's interest if the White House realized, before making any public statements, the probable position of both the majority and the minority of the Watergate committee, " Thompson wrote in his book.

Original article posted here

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