Thompson Defends Fundraiser With Criminal Record

Former senator Fred D. Thompson said his friend and fundraiser Philip J. Martin
Former senator Fred D. Thompson said his friend and fundraiser Philip J. Martin "turned himself around" in the two decades after his arrests. But "with regard for the future," he said, "we will just have to see." (By Lawrence Jackson -- Associated Press)
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2007

Republican presidential candidate Fred D. Thompson said yesterday that he wishes one of his key fundraisers had told him earlier about past drug trafficking and bookmaking arrests because, even though they occurred more than two decades ago, "nothing is ever over and done with and forgotten about in this business."

Speaking with reporters after an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Thompson defended his longtime Tennessee friend, Philip J. Martin, saying Martin long ago paid his debt for legal problems in his past.

"I know him to be a good man. I know him to be a man who has rehabilitated himself and has led a productive life," Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, said in the interview, which was posted on the Fox News Web site. "He is my friend, and he is going to remain my friend. Now, what I do about it after I talk to him with regard to the future, we will just have to see."

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Martin entered a plea of guilty to the sale of 11 pounds of marijuana in 1979; the court withheld judgment pending completion of his probation, Florida court records showed. He was charged in 1983 with violating his probation and with multiple counts of felony bookmaking, cocaine trafficking and conspiracy. He pleaded no contest to the cocaine-trafficking and conspiracy charges, which stemmed from a plan to sell $30,000 worth of the drug, and was continued on probation.

In the ensuing years, Martin moved to Tennessee, accrued wealth with the help of prominent Chattanooga business executives and, as an increasingly prolific donor to Republicans, became a friend and confidant of Thompson.

Thompson asked Martin to raise the seed money for his 2008 presidential bid and named him one of four campaign co-chairmen. Thompson was also a frequent passenger on Martin's private jet. Campaign aides had jokingly begun to refer to Martin as the head of "Thompson's Airforce."

The use of Martin's twin-engine Cessna 560 Citation was no small favor -- it saved Thompson more than $100,000, because until the law changed in September, campaign-finance rules allowed presidential candidates to reimburse private-jet owners for just a fraction of the true cost of flights.

Thompson said he was not aware of the multiple criminal cases in Martin's past until his campaign received a call from The Post on Saturday.

"I wish I had known about it a little bit earlier. Phil, I am sure, knows that he should have told me about this," Thompson said. "That he thought [it] was over and done with and forgotten about I am sure. But of course nothing is ever over and done with and forgotten about in this business."

Thompson was also asked about the matter on "Meet the Press." He told moderator Tim Russert that his friend has "paid his debt to society and turned himself around and become a good, productive, successful citizen."

That said, he added: "I'm going to have to take a look at it. I'm going to have to talk to Phil and make sure I understand the nature of the situation and figure out what the right thing is. I'm not going to throw my friend under the bus for something he did 25 years ago if he's okay now. On the other hand, I'm running for president; I've got, you know, to do the right thing."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company