Fred D. Thompson, a "Law & Order" actor, lobbyist and former senator, said yesterday after being named to shepherd President Bush's future choice for the Supreme Court that he will counsel the nominee to be restrained in answering senators' questions.
Thompson's declaration was a fresh indication of a possible collision between the White House and Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee, who call it their duty to thoroughly question the nominee.
"Anything that would either directly, or implied, indicate how a person would decide a particular case or a particular kind of case would be out of bounds," Thompson said on CNN. He said it is not appropriate to give legal views "that are outside the bounds of, maybe, what somebody's already written in a judicial opinion."
Bush aides said Thompson will serve as an informal adviser who will walk the nominee through the confirmation process, accompanying the nominee on courtesy calls to senators' offices and sitting near the nominee during hearings.
Thompson's selection had been secret, even from high-level GOP aides, until after White House press secretary Scott McClellan announced it in Scotland, where Bush is attending the Group of Eight summit.
Thompson will be joined by former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie. Republicans said Thompson will be "Mr. Inside," dealing privately with senators and providing gravitas, while Gillespie will be "Mr. Outside," developing Bush's nomination message. McClellan declined to discuss Gillespie's role, calling it "not ready to announce."
McClellan said Bush called Thompson on Monday to thank him for taking on the role. Thompson will not work out of the White House complex, and McClellan said he will not be part of the selection process.
Thompson, 62, was first elected in 1994 to a partial term as senator from Tennessee and served on the Judiciary Committee but did not run again in 2002. He played an admiral in "The Hunt for Red October," and was minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee in 1973-74.
Asked on CNN what would happen to his television career, he said his new role "is not going to last long enough to make me give up my show" as the cast gets most of the summer off. He said that if the process "pours over into" the fall, he can "make adjustments and make it all work."
Karen Finney of the Democratic National Committee said that "blurring the line between fact and fiction is nothing new for our Republican colleagues."
The liberal Alliance for Justice pointed out remarks Thompson made in 2001 before a Judiciary Committee subcommittee, in which he took a more expansive view of questions that are appropriate for judicial nominees. "We want to make sure that that person is not an extremist in any way."
But Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the announcement encouraging and said Thompson "is the kind of person who can bring people together and can avoid something no one wants -- a confrontation."
Staff writer Charles Babington and research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.