Fred Thompson has a new ad touting his days as the top Republican lawyer on the Senate Watergate committee's staff:
In the ad, he boasts of having "helped to expose the truth during Watergate."
The story is not that simple. As Thompson himself acknowledged in a 1975 book, right after the congressional Watergate investigators learned of Richard Nixon's clandestine taping system, Thompson tipped off the Nixon White House that the Capitol Hill gumshoes had uncovered this big secret. This was not S.O.P. for a prosecutor. (Thompson had been an assistant U.S. attorney previously.) A member of an investigative team usually does not unilaterally rush to tell the subject of a probe--via an unofficial back channel--that he or she has just discovered a possible treasure trove of evidence against the target.
Referring to this episode, Scott Armstrong, an investigator for the Democrats on the committee, in July told The Boston Globe, "Thompson was a mole for the White House. 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 Nixon tapes show that Thompson also cooperated behind the scenes with the Nixon White House regarding how to handle the public testimony of John Dean, a White House lawyer who had turned against Nixon and his aides. (On those tapes, Nixon referred to Thompson as not "very smart" but "friendly," meaning friendly to the White House, not to children and puppies.) In a conversation with Nixon on June 11, 1973, shortly before Dean was to testify, J. Fred Buzhardt, a Nixon lawyer, informed the president that Thompson was "now willing to work with us" in trying to undermine Dean. "He was far more cooperative really than I expected him to be," Buzhardt remarked, noting that Thompson "said it's just getting to be a political dogfight." Buzhardt also told Nixon that Thompson was more willing to engage in political battle concerning the hearings than Senator Howard Baker, the top Republican on the Watergate committee, who had hired Thompson, a fellow Tennessean. (The transcripts of these tapes were published in 1997 in Abuse of Power, edited by Stanley Kutler.)
On his website, Thompson neglects to mention his role as a snitch and Nixon comrade. In his campaign bio, only one line describes his Watergate committee service:
He gained national attention for leading the line of inquiry that revealed the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office.
That's not accurate.