07/09/2007 05:03 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Fred Thompson Another Jack Abramoff?

Based on reports in the LA Times that Fred Thompson was hired and paid by a pro-choice organization to lobby the Bush I White House on its behalf, and the Thompson campaign's denial that he ever did the lobbying, its starting to look like Fred Thompson engaged in either criminal fraud or political fraud.

If Thompson took money to lobby on behalf of a pro-choice group, told them he had multiple conversations with White House Chief of Staff John Sununu on their behalf, and never actually had those conversations, he may have committed criminal fraud. Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is serving over five years in federal prison for taking money from Native American tribes to lobby on their behalf and then doing the opposite.

On the other hand, if Thompson did serve as a paid lobbyist for a pro-choice organization, then his claim to be the one potential Republican presidential candidate to fully embrace the "pro-life" cause is a fraud. He was willing to sell it out to the highest bidder.

The LA Times reports that according to a 1991 document and 5 witnesses familiar with the matter, Thompson was hired by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association to lobby the Bush I White House to withdraw a gag rule that prohibited federally funded clinics from providing abortion counseling. As the LA Times says, "The abortion 'gag rule' was then a major political flashpoint. Lobbying against the rule would have placed Thompson at odds with the antiabortion movement that he his now trying to rally behind his expected declaration of a presidential bid."

The LA Times reporters viewed NFPRHA board minutes of Sept. 14, 1991 stating "Judy [DeSarno, the family planning organization's president] has hired Fred Thompson Esq. as counsel to aid us in discussions with the administration" on the abortion counseling rule. DeSarno told the LA Times that after being hired, Thompson reported to her in telephone phone conversations and over several meals in Washington restaurants that he had multiple conversations about the abortion rule with Sununu who was the White House point man on the issue.

DeSarno's story to the LA Times is quite detailed, naming the Washington restaurants where her conversations with Thompson took place -- dinner at Galileo and lunch at the Monocle -- and recalling that at one meal, Thompson told her that Sununu had just given him VIP tickets for a White House tour for his wife and son.

In typical Republican style of attacking the messenger, the right wing blogosphere has accused DeSarno of being a left-wing activist who made the whole thing up. Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo adamantly denied that Thompson worked for the family planning group. "Fred Thompson did not lobby for this group, period," Corallo said in an email to the LA Times. Sununu stated that "I don't recall him ever lobbying me on that at all. I don't think that ever happened. In fact, I know that it never happened." He added that he had "absolutely no idea" whether Thompson met with anybody else at the White House.

In response, DeSarno said Thompson "owes NFPRFHA a bunch of money" if he never talked to Sununu as he claimed to have. DeSarno added, "It would be an odd thing for me to construct that thing out of whole cloth. It happened and I think is its quite astonishing they're denying it."

DeSarno story is backed up by at least four other sources. Former Rep. Michael Barnes, a colleague of Thompson at the lobbying and law firm, said, according to the LA Times "that DeSarno had asked him to recommend someone for the lobbying work and that he suggested Thompson. He said it was 'absolutely bizarre' for Thompson to deny that he lobbied against the abortion counseling rule. 'I talked to him while he was doing it, and I talked to [DeSarno] about the fact she was very pleased with the work that he was doing for her organization. This is not something I dreamed up or she dreamed up. This is a fact.'"

So there are three possible interpretations: First, as the right wing blogosphere would have it, this is a liberal conspiracy to discredit Thompson among conservatives by falsely claiming that he took paid lobbying work on behalf of a pro-choice group. The detailed recollections of 5 witnesses and the written minutes of the NFPRHA Board meeting documenting the hiring of Thompson make these conspiracy theories pretty far-fetched.

Second, Thompson took money from the pro-choice group and actually lobbied on their behalf. In that case, his claim to be the one potential Republican presidential candidate to fully embrace the "pro-life" cause is a fraud. He was willing to sell out the "pro-life" cause for lobbying dollars.

Third, Thompson was hired by the pro-choice group, took their money to lobby on their behalf, and then failed to follow through, lying to them about the conversations he supposedly had with John Sununu. Taking people's money to provide them with a service, failing to provide the service, and then lying about it, may well constitute criminal fraud. It's very similar to the acts that sent Jack Abramoff to prison for over five years. I'm not certain whether the statue of limitations for either criminal or civil fraud runs from the time the fraud took place or from the time the fraud was discovered. If it's the latter, and NFPRHA just discovered that Thompson cheated them, they should be filing criminal charges and seeking civil damages. If the statute of limitations hasn't run out, Thompson could well end up sharing a cell with Jack Abramoff.

In any of these cases, if honest conservatives are really concerned about the corruption of Washington politics by special interests and their paid lobbyists, they ought to think twice about backing a paid professional lobbyist to become President of the United States.