Law Practice

Thompson's Dual Role as Gov't Counsel

During decades as a government lawyer serving a prominent advisory role in scandalous situations, Fred D. Thompson has forged a reputation as a hard-driving prosecutor. (In between, he has also had a well-known acting career, which was jump-started when he played himself in Marie, a movie about his client, the Tennessee parole-board chairman, and her successful effort to end a cash-for-clemency program.)

“But the public image of the impartial, ‘let the chips fall where they may’ prosecutor that Mr. Thompson has cultivated masks a more nuanced reality” that has evolved over time, the New York Times writes in a lengthy profile of the expected Republican presidential candidate.

During Thompson’s stint as Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in the 1970s, for instance, he kept the White House informed about the progress of the investigation that eventually led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. But by the mid-1990s, when he was handpicked by Republican leaders to investigate Democratic fund-raising scandals, he infuriated many members of his own party by focusing on Republican improprieties, too.

Along the way, Thompson has won respect from a number of unlikely advocates, according to the Times.

“Initially, he was viewed as a hatchet man, but he ended up bending over in a way that refreshed me to try to be fair,” says Lanny Davis, who handled media matters as a former White House special counsel and is now a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “He convinced those of us in the Clinton White House that it’s possible to be partisan and intellectually honest at the same time.”

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