A July 26 article on potential Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. Fred Thompson (TN) in The Washington Post by reporter John Solomon asserted that Thompson “gained fame in the early 1970s as the 30-something lawyer who helped Republican Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee pursue Richard M. Nixon's misdeeds during the Watergate hearings,” without noting that, as reported in a July 4 article by Michael Kranish in The Boston Globe, citing Thompson's memoir, “The day before Senate Watergate Committee minority counsel Fred Thompson made the inquiry that launched him into the national spotlight -- asking an aide to President Nixon whether there was a White House taping system -- he telephoned Nixon's lawyer” to warn the White House that the committee knew about the tapes.
The Post article, headlined “No Easy Verdict on Thompson The Lawyer” and subheadlined “Cases Indicate Willingness to Defy GOP Orthodoxy,” is teased on the front page of the Washington Post website with the banner “Thompson Defies Party Line.” It asserted that “Thompson's work as a lawyer from the late 1970s to the early 1990s is one of the least explored aspects” of his career, and suggested that Thompson's legal career, connections with trial lawyers, and opposition to some federal restrictions on civil lawsuits put him at odds with the Republican Party. But in glossing over Thompson's staff work in the Watergate investigation, the article ignored a major instance in which, as Thompson himself has admitted, he did anything but “Defy GOP Orthodoxy.”
The Globe reported:
The day before Senate Watergate Committee minority counsel Fred Thompson made the inquiry that launched him into the national spotlight -- asking an aide to President Nixon whether there was a White House taping system -- he telephoned Nixon's lawyer.
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.”
The Globe further reported that, when the paper asked about him “being a Nixon mole,” Thompson did not deny the charge, but asserted, " 'I'm glad all of this has finally caused someone to read my Watergate book, even though it's taken them over thirty years.' "
The Globe article also reported, "[W]hile Thompson's question to presidential aide Alexander Butterfield during a Watergate hearing unveiled the existence of the taping system to the outside world, it wasn't Thompson who discovered that Nixon was taping conversations. Nor was Thompson the first to question Butterfield about the possibility." As the Globe noted, the taping system was first revealed in a private session, and Thompson admitted in his memoir, At That Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee, that he revealed the committee's knowledge of the taping system to Nixon's lawyer:
On July 13, 1973, [Scott] 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.”
The Globe article excerpted quotes from Thompson's memoir that explain his reasons for being a “Nixon mole.” From the Globe:
Thompson, in his 1975 memoir, wrote that he believed “there would be nothing incriminating” about Nixon on the tapes, a theory he said “proved totally wrong.”
“In retrospect it is apparent that I was subconsciously looking for a way to justify my faith in the leader of my country and my party, a man who was undergoing a violent attack from the news media, which I thought had never given him fair treatment in the past,” Thompson wrote. “I was looking for a reason to believe that Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, was not a crook.”
The website for Thompson's presidential exploratory committee, like Solomon's article, does not mention Thompson's leak to Nixon, asserting only, “He gained national attention for leading the line of inquiry that revealed the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office.”