July 7, 2007
BY JOAN LOWY
WASHINGTON -- Fred Thompson gained an image as a tough-minded investigative counsel for the Senate Watergate committee. Yet President Richard Nixon viewed the fellow Republican as a willing, if not too bright, ally, White House tapes show.
Thompson, preparing a bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, won fame in 1973 for asking a witness the question that revealed Nixon had installed hidden listening devices and taping equipment in the Oval Office.
The tapes show Thompson played a behind-the-scenes role different from his public image. He comes across as a partisan willing to cooperate with the Nixon White House effort to discredit the committee's star witness.
It was Thompson who tipped off the White House that the Senate committee knew about the tapes. They cinched Nixon's downfall in the scandal resulting from the break-in at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate and the subsequent White House cover-up.
Nixon was disappointed with the selection of Thompson, then 30, whom he called "dumb as hell." The president did not think Thompson was skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses.
Thompson, who declined comment for this story, described himself in his book, At That Point in Time,as a Nixon administration ''loyalist'' who struggled with his role as minority counsel.