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Fred Thompson's CV

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WHEN FRED D. THOMPSON WAS SWORN IN AS A U.S. SENATOR IN 1995,

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HE LOOKED UP AT THE VISITORS GALLERY OVERLOOKING THE CHAMBER. He'd sat there as a young country lawyer during his first trip to Washington. "I remember Barry Goldwater and some of the other giants of the Senate. And being just in awe."

Yet Thompson never loved the place like some senators-for-life, the Robert Byrd types who plan to be carried out on a gurney. Thompson once said that Washington made him "long for the sincerity and realism of Hollywood." When National Review recently asked him to name two or three of his most significant accomplishments, he replied with a laugh, "You mean besides leaving the Senate?"

Associates insist that he worked long hours and tended to be detail-conscious. During President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, he submitted into the record a 16,000-word exegesis of why he was voting yes on one count and no on the other. He was never viewed as a major mover of legislation, but he touts his role in helping to establish the Department of Homeland Security.

As chairman of the governmental affairs committee, he held hearings in 1997 to investigate campaign finance irregularities. The primary target was the Clinton White House, but Thompson alienated fellow Republicans by broadening the scope and seeking records and depositions from conservative groups, including the National Rifle Association and the Christian Coalition. In the end, the hearings didn't live up to their hype, and pundits said Thompson had lost luster as a possible presidential candidate.

Thompson, whose friendships ranged from John McCain to Ted Kennedy, supported campaign finance reform legislation now widely ridiculed by Republican candidates. He says he improved what would have been a more restrictive law.

He pondered retirement in summer 2001, changed his mind after Sept. 11, and changed it again soon after his daughter Betsy died of an accidental overdose of prescription medication in January 2002. "I simply do not have the heart for another six-year term," he said.

Thompson's tenure as a Washington bachelor ended in June of that year when he married Republican operative Jeri Kehn, who is 24 years younger than him. Months later, still in office, he signed on to play District Attorney Arthur Branch on "Law & Order."

-- Joel Achenbach


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