Thompson's Rising Star Becomes Target as Formal Announcement Looms

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson has not announced he is running for president - yet. Nonetheless, media scrutiny of his record as a lawyer and lobbyist shows he is being treated like a candidate and, as such, as a target for his political opponents.

A July 6 report in The Los Angeles Times, for instance, included allegations from pro-abortion lobbyists that Thompson lobbied President George H.W. Bush's White House on their behalf in 1991. Thompson has denied the charge.

"I've experienced another gambit of those schooled in the creative use of law and politics: dredging up clients - or another lawyer's clients - that I may have represented or consulted with, and then using the media to get me into a public debate as to what I may have do for them or said to them 15 or 20 years ago," Thompson wrote on his website Thursday.

Besides Thompson, former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu-who the abortion group National Family Planning and Reproductive Rights Association alleges Thompson met with 16 years ago-denies ever meeting with Thompson on lobbying matters.

The L.A. Times's story cited no billing records for Thompson but referenced minutes from a meeting of the abortion group, which claimed Thompson had been hired to lobby for them.

Key accusers against Thompson in the story were Judith DeSarno, director of the pro-abortion group, and former Democratic Rep. Michael Barnes of Maryland. The firm that Thompson worked for when he allegedly did the lobbying - Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn - is historically a Democratic law firm.

(Since the L.A. Times published its story, the paper has altered at least one dubious comment by DeSarno-in the website posting of the story-without issuing a correction or explanation.)

This year, Arent Fox attorneys donated $12,500 to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, more than a quarter of all the political donations made by employees of the firm. Members of the firm also made donations to other presidential candidates, of both parties, that totaled, $8,700, while donating the rest to various political committees.

Arent Fox spokeswoman Denise DeLorey did not answer whether billing records existed and said the firm had no comment on the matter.

At a time when Thompson is tied with Clinton in a recent poll, it's not out of the question that such attacks on Thompson's record are coming from the Democratic Party, said Larry Sabato, political science professor at the University of Virginia.

"There's no question that many Democrats fear Fred Thompson since they can see how his Reaganesque image and Hollywood celebrity could prove a potent combination in fall 2008, especially against a Democratic nominee with the weaknesses of Hillary Clinton," Sabato told Cybercast News Service. "Maybe they are wrong, or maybe they are right. But they can't let Thompson get too much of a head of steam."

"Ideally, Democrats would like to see the three remaining strongest GOP candidates, Giuliani, Thompson, and Romney, battle it out in a bitter contest that drags on for a while next winter. I would expect them to leak negative information as it becomes available on Rudy and Romney, too," said Sabato. "The Republicans will do the very same thing to the Democrats."

On his website,, Thompson -- perhaps taking preemptive action against further scrutiny of his lobbying record -- asserted that attorneys shouldn't be automatically associated with their clients. He referenced the law practice of former presidents, such as John Adams, who represented the British soldiers from the Boston Massacre.

"Like Adams, the views of attorney Abe Lincoln would have been a little hard to discern from looking at the positions he took as a lawyer," said Thompson. "He represented the big railroad companies and on other occasions represented farmers and small landowners against railroads."

However, Thompson's past record as a lobbyist can't be entirely discounted as long as he's a candidate for public office, said Nathan L. Gonzales, political editor of The Rothenberg Political Report.

"Will past clients matter? It will depend on what issues he did or didn't represent," Gonzales told Cybercast News Service. "If he did lobby for a pro-choice group, it depends on how important that issue is to voters, and depends on where Thompson is relative to other top tier candidates."

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