On the July 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, national correspondent John King reported that leaders of socially conservative advocacy groups say that they "can't be with" Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani because he "supports abortion rights" and that they "don't necessarily trust" fellow Republican candidate Mitt Romney because he "has changed his position on abortion." King then said that leaders of such groups are "gravitating toward" former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN). King suggested a contrast between Romney, who has changed his position on abortion, and Thompson, who, by implication, has not. In fact, in the early 1990s, Thompson reportedly lobbied for a group seeking to ease restrictions on abortion. In 1993, Thompson reportedly said he was in favor of Roe v. Wade, but recently said he was "always" opposed to Roe. Further, the Nashville Tennessean reported that Thompson's previous positions "could be viewed as tolerating abortion," including an answer to a Christian Coalition survey in which Thompson said he opposed "criminaliz[ing]" abortion."
As Media Matters for America noted, a July 7 Los Angeles Times article reported that Thompson "accepted an assignment from a family-planning group [the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association] to lobby the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction, according to a 1991 document and several people familiar with the matter." According to the same article, Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo asserted: "There's no documents to prove it, there's no billing records, and Thompson says he has no recollection of it, says it didn't happen." According to a July 19 New York Times article, "Billing records show that former Senator Fred Thompson spent nearly 20 hours working as a lobbyist" for the family-planning association. The Times articled added that Thompson "spoke 22 times with Judith DeSarno, who was then president of the family planning group. In addition, he lobbied 'administration officials' for a total of 3.3 hours, the records show." The Times reported that Corallo said: "It is not unusual for a lawyer to give counsel at the request of colleagues, even when they personally disagree with the issue."
Moreover, as Media Matters has noted, a 1993 Memphis Commercial Appeal article and documents at Thompson's Senate archive at the University of Tennessee show that Thompson previously spoke in favor of abortion rights, articulating a view apparently at odds with his current opposition to Roe v. Wade. The Commercial Appeal reported on July 29, 1993, that Thompson said during an interview that he "supports the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion."
In contrast with The Commercial Appeal's report that Thompson "supports ... Roe vs. Wade," Thompson said on the June 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, "I've always thought that Roe v. Wade was a wrong decision, that they usurped what had been the law in this country for 200 years, that it was a matter that should go back to the states," as the blog TPM Election Central noted. Thompson was quoted in an April Weekly Standard article asserting: "Although I don't remember it, I must have said something to someone as I was getting my campaign started that led to a story. Apparently, another story was based upon that story, and then another was based upon that, concluding I was pro-choice."
Additionally, on June 10, The Tennessean reported that it had found documents in the Thompson archive indicating "he has previously taken positions that could be viewed as tolerating abortion," including "a handwritten clarification" on a 1996 Christian Coalition survey that said, "I do not believe abortion should be criminalized. This battle will be won in the hearts and souls of the American people." The Tennessean posted Thompson's response to the Christian Coalition survey on its website. The "handwritten clarification" was near Thompson's checkmark "oppos[ing]" "legislation protecting the sanctity of human life except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is endangered." The Tennessean also reported:
In 1996, asked by the Memphis group FLARE (Family, Life, America, Responsible Education Under God Inc.) if human life begins at conception, Thompson circled "N/A."
CNN itself has reported on Thompson's earlier statements on abortion. On the July 9 edition of The Situation Room, correspondent Mary Snow aired a clip from a YouTube video in which Thompson was asked, "[D]o you support or oppose laws that prohibit abortions for convenience?" Thompson replied: "I do not believe that the federal government ought to be involved in that process." Snow called the lobbying controversy "a classic case of she said/he said."
From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the July 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
KING: If you travel to the key primary states, if you ask Republican activists in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, they say he's waited along enough. Maybe not too long, but long enough. It's time to get in, especially if you want to lock up some of the conservative activists in on the ground. They want to know for sure he's running.
Look, he's running. He hasn't announced. That will come just after Labor Day.
But they want to see him, they want to see the campaign come in. They would like to see him in debates, because right now, he is what you want him to be, if you will. If you want a candidate who opposes abortion, that's Fred Thompson. But they want to see him in the debates to see if he has lasting power.
He has pretty good power right now in the polls, but let's see once he actually gets in the pool. And that will come.
BLITZER: Some social conservatives really think that he could emerge as the alternative to [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani, who's more liberal on some of these issues like abortion rights, gay rights.
Here's what Gary Bauer, himself a former Republican presidential candidate, said. He said, "Thompson has got a real good chance to emerge as the conservative alternative to Giuliani. They'll battle it out. But if I had to characterize it right now, I would say that the momentum here has moved to Thompson, at least among the social-issues conservatives."
Is Fred Thompson emerging as sort of the consensus for these social conservatives?
KING: No question among people like Gary Bauer, who have advocacy groups here in the Washington area, political organizations here in the Washington area, that do have grassroots networks out in the states. The leaders of those organizations more and more are saying Rudy Giuliani supports abortion rights, we can't be with him.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has changed his position on abortion. They don't necessarily trust him.
So they're looking for someone they trust and believe in. More of them are gravitating toward Thompson. Not all, naturally. It's that organization you mentioned.
[Former Energy Secretary] Spence Abraham [R-MI] joining, [Republican strategist] Randy Enright joining, Mary Matalin of the Bush-Cheney days, and Liz Cheney, the vice president's daughter, also works for Fred Thompson.
They are reaching out to these social conservatives, saying, "Here is the next Ronald Reagan. Wait for our guy and get in."
Gary Bauer, people at the top of these organizations are supporting him. That is why you asked, "Is it too long?" The people on the grassroots level say, "Let's get him in, let's see him." But yes, they are giving him a very serious look.
BLITZER: John King, thanks very much.