The Plank

Fred Thompson, Terrorist Lawyer

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Perhaps it's just me, but I'm amazed that more is not being made of the news that, back in 1992 when he was a lawyer/lobbyist, Fred Thompson billed a few hours of work on behalf of two Libyan intelligence agents charged with (and one of them later convicted of) the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Now, Thompson was not a crucial figure in the Libyans' defense; rather, one of his colleagues at Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, former Democratic Senator John Culver, was the point man for the firm's efforts and he asked Thompson to help out briefly. As Thompson explained yesterday:

As often happened, at the firm there I was affiliated for a couple of years, one of the senior partners came in and asked me for some legal technical advice. I believe it was a venue question, about where a trial would probably be held and whether or not there would be a change of venue, things like that. It was several years ago. I gave them my opinion, and that was the long and short of it. That's all I know about it.

As he did with his initial response to the revelation he'd done lobbying work for an abortion-rights group, Thompson seems to be understating his involvement. True, he only billed the firm for 3.3 hours of work on the case, but that's rather more than the someone-stuck-his-head-in-my- office-with-a-quick-question scenario he seems to be painting. Moreover, while Ibrahim Legwell, the Libyan lawyer representing the intelligence agents, says he never spoke to Thompson, he claims he remembers his name being raised in discussions, suggesting that Thompson's role, while minor, was probably not insignificant.

Thompson's mention of "venue" issues, too, is a little misleading. We're not talking about whether someone is tried in Manhattan or Queens here. As far as I can tell, we're talking about whether two indicted terrorists would be extradited from Libya to face justice. (It took years, but in 1999 they were finally handed over for trial in the Netherlands.)

That American law firms would represent two men indicted for killing 270 people in one of the most horrible terrorist attacks of all time--an attack, essentially, on America--was a scandal even at the time. Jay Leno expressed his disgust on the Tonight Show. A family member of one of the victims, Susan Cohen, said of a former State Department lawyer who accepted work from the Libyans (though subsequently withdrew in the furor), "I think this is treason.... [he] is going to work for a terrorist country that has American blood on its hands. It's disgusting."

Several prominent lobbyists, including Tommy Boggs, turned down overtures to work for Libya on the case, despite offers of a reported $1.5 million retainer. Vicki Reggie Kennedy, wife of Ted, actually resigned a partnership in her law firm over its decision to represent Libya, even though--as far as I can tell--she was never asked to do any work on the case.

But not good ol' Fred. Not go along to get along, take a dollar where you find it Fred. A couple dozen hours lobbying for abortion rights? Why not? A few more spent helping defend two men accused of a heinous act of terrorism? Heck, if it wasn't Fred, it'd just be someone else, right?

In a political era in which the cost of a man's haircut can be treated as though it were a window into his soul, you'd think people would be a little more curious what it says about Fred Thompson that he'd do work--even just 3.3 hours of it--for indicted terrorists.

--Christopher Orr

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