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Fred Dalton Thompson (b. August 19, 1942) is the 44th President of the United States. He is a former lawyer, Senatorial counsel, lobbyist, actor, and United States senator from Tennessee.
Fred Thompson was born in Sheffield, Alabama, USA, to Ruth Bradley and Fletcher Thompson. Soon after his birth, the family moved just across the state line to nearby Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. There, he attended public schools, including Lawrence County High. In 1959, at the age of 17, he married Sarah Elizabeth Lindsey.
Thompson first attended Florence State College and then Memphis State University where he earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and political science in 1964. At this time, Fred and Sarah Thompson both worked to put himself through Vanderbilt University Law School and support his wife and three children. Thompson went on to earn his J.D. degree from Vanderbilt in 1967.
Thompson was admitted to the State Bar of Tennessee in 1967 and worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1969 to 1972. He was the campaign manager for Republican U.S. Senator Howard Baker's successful re-election campaign in 1972, which led to a close personal friendship with Baker. He later served as co-chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities ("Watergate Committee") in its investigation of the Watergate scandal.
He was responsible for Baker asking one of the questions that is said to have led directly to the downfall of President Richard Nixon—"What did the President know, and when did he know it?" Also, Thompson's voice has become immortalized in recordings of the Watergate proceedings, with him asking the key question, "Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the President?" For leading the line of inquiry that revealed the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office, he gained national attention. Later, he documented his role in the hearings, writing the book, At That Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee.
Thompson would return to Tennessee, where he maintained law offices in Nashville and Washington, D.C.. His practice varied from pro bono work to representing the state of Tennessee and large corporations, such as Westinghouse.
In 1977 Thompson took on the case of Marie Ragghianti, a Tennessee Parole Board chairperson fired under suspicious circumstances. Thompson confirmed that her firing was due to her refusal to release from prison felons who had bribe aides of Democrat governor Ray Blanton to buy their freedom. Thompson filed a suit challenging Ragghianti's dismissal. A jury found in July of 1978, that Governor Blanton had fired her "arbitrarily and capriciously" and ordered her reinstatement with an award of $38,000 for back pay. Ragghianti's case would garner national attention, along with the publication of a book titled, simply, Marie. Thompson's work in helping to expose this cash-for-clemency scheme ultimately toppled Blanton from power.
Along with his work a U.S. attorney, Thompson became special counsel to Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander in 1980, special counsel to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1980 to 1981, and Special counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1982. He became a member of the Tennessee Appellate Court Nominating Commission 1985-1987.
From 1975 to 1992 Thompson worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. He represented such clients as Westinghouse, General Electric (the current corporate owner of the NBC Universal-NBC television network), and the Tennessee Savings and Loan League.
By 1982, Thompson was lobbying the U.S. Congress for deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry. His recommendations were incorporated into the Garn - St Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, which gave U.S. thrifts the freedom to invest in potentially more profitable, but riskier, ventures; eliminated interest-rate ceilings on new accounts; and allowed for additional government support of ailing S&Ls. This Act was a contributing factor to the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s.
In 1991, he began work with the Washington, D.C. firm of Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin, & Kahn, representing overseas business entities as a registered foreign agent.
The 1977 Ray Blanton-Tennessee Parole Board scandal later became the subject of a 1983 book, Marie, by Peter Maas. Director Roger Donaldson bought the film rights and travelled to Nashville to speak with the people involved with the original case. After meeting with Thompson, Donaldson asked Thompson if he wanted to play himself in the movie; Thompson agreed. The resulting film, Marie, was released in 1985. Donaldson then cast Thompson in the part of the CIA Director in his next movie, No Way Out, in 1987.
Thompson would go on to appear in many films and television shows, including The Hunt for Red October, Days of Thunder, Cape Fear, Die Hard 2, and In the Line of Fire. He frequently portrayed governmental figures; in the 1993 film adaptation of Born Yesterday, Thompson played the character of a United States senator prior to his election to the real-life United States Senate. He portrayed President Ulysses S. Grant in the HBO 2007 original movie Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. A 1994 New York Times profile described his character roles in the following terms:
- "The glowering, hulking Mr. Thompson has played a White House chief of staff, a director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a highly placed F.B.I. agent, a rear admiral, even a senator. When Hollywood directors need someone who can personify governmental power, they often turn to him."
He was a co-star of the popular television series Law and Order from 2002 to 2007, playing New York district attorney Arthur Branch. Thompson joined the show in the final months of his U.S. Senate term in 2002. He filmed his parts during Senate recesses. In the spring of 2005, Thompson concurrently played the role on the original series and the short-lived sister series Law & Order: Trial by Jury. He has also made occasional appearances on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and was in the pilot episode of Conviction.
In 1994, Thompson was elected by the people of Tennessee to finish the remaining two years of Al Gore's unexpired Senate term after Gore was elected Vice President of the United States in 1992. He defeated six-term Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper in a 61% to 39% landslide which represented the most votes anyone had ever received for a state-wide office in Tennessee history up to that point. Thompson easily won re-election for a full term in 1996 (for the term ending January 3, 2003) over Democrat Houston Gordon of Covington, Tennessee by an even larger margin than that by which he had defeated Cooper two years earlier. He also beat his record for receiving more votes than any previous candidate for any office in Tennessee history. Thompson had won two elections in two years by more than twenty points each.
While in the Senate, Thompson was a member of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance, which has jurisdiction over taxes, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare reform, and international trade. From this position, he focused on reducing taxes, reforming the U.S. tax code to make it simpler and fairer, and restoring the Social Security and Medicare programs to long-term solvency.
While a strong supporter of free trade, Thompson advocated a balanced approach to trade and national security. He pushed for an export control policy that protects America's national security without unnecessarily burdening American industry with bureaucratic red tape. He also proposed legislation to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by the People's Republic of China and other countries and to strengthen the United States' response to such activities.
Thompson also served as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the National Security Working Group, which observes and monitors executive branch negotiations with foreign governments.
In 1997 Thompson was elected Chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, making him among the most junior senators in history to serve as Chairman of a major Senate Committee. He served as Chairman until June of 2001. The Governmental Affairs Committee is charged with overseeing the management of the federal government. During his Chairmanship, Thompson's committee actively pursued an agenda aimed at producing a smaller, more efficient, and more accountable government. Of his efforts, the Kingsport Times-News wrote, "Sen. Thompson is to be applauded for keeping a watchful eye over Washington fiscal matters. There should be more like him."
Thompson held hearings on topics such as improving the federal regulatory process; reforming the Internal Revenue Service; exploring ways to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse; and a number of national security issues, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies. He also investigated and successfully enacted solutions to information management problems such as computer security.
Additionally, the committee was chosen by the Senate leadership in 1997 to conduct an investigation into alleged improper or illegal activities associated with the 1996 federal election campaigns. The Wall Street Journal's Phil Kuntz observed, "Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee and his Governmental Affairs Committee have offered the public a rare peek at the underside of American politics."
Senator Thompson voted in favor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act known in the Senate as the McCain-Feingold bill and in the House as Shays-Meehan, after the primary sponsors of the bills. The primary effect of the reform was to close the soft money loophole and restricting issue advertising, also having the unintended consequence of the rise of 527 groups. Speaking in early 2007, he offered the opinion that the Campaign Finance Reform law had not worked as expected and that he might come to favor another approach.
In the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, Thompson initially backed former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who eventually succeeded Thompson in the Senate two years later. When Alexander dropped out of the race, Thompson endorsed Senator John McCain's bid and became his national co-chairman.
Control of the Senate passed from Republican to Democratic when Senator James Jeffords of Vermont switched his party allegiance from Republican to Independent. Thompson then became the ranking minority member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs.
Thompson was not a candidate for re-election in 2002. He had publicly stated his unwillingness to have the Senate become a long-term career. Although he announced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks his intention to seek re-election, upon further reflection he decided against it. The decision seems to have been prompted in large part by the death of his daughter (Elizabeth "Betsy" Thompson Panici) on January 30 2002, from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.
Thompson married Jeri Kehn on June 29 2002 at First Congregational United Church of Christ, Naperville, Illinois, having first met her on July 4, 1996.
Kehn (born January, 1967) is an attorney and a political media consultant at the Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, and McPherson law firm in Washington, D.C. She had formerly worked for the Senate Republican Conference and the Republican National Committee.
In October 2003, Fred and Jeri Thompson had their first child, Hayden Victoria Thompson. A second child was born to them in November, 2006. Thompson also has two grown children and five grandchildren from his previous marriage.
After the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2005, he was appointed to an informal position by President George W. Bush to help guide the nomination of John Roberts through the United States Senate confirmation process. Thompson also is the chair of the International Security Advisory Board, a bipartisan advisory panel that reports to the Secretary of State and focuses on emerging strategic threats.
He is also a former member of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission and a Visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, researching national security and intelligence. Prior to his presidency, Thompson also served as a public speaker with the Washington Speakers Bureau and was a special program host and senior analyst for ABC News Radio. He published a daily blog and podcast on the ABC Radio web site.
Thompson formally announced his candidacy for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination in July of 2007. Before Thompson had even committed to the race, he was the clear favorite in the polls, and contributions abounded from political donors. From the start of the campaign Thompson's two most serious rivals for the nomination were former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Although Thompson won the Iowa and Nevada caucuses in seccessive order, he came in third in the New Hampshire primary. He rebounded to win the South Carolina primary and come in a close second in the Florida primary. On the "Super Tuesday" of February 5, 2008, Thompson won nine of the primaries held that day. After that, Thompson had gain the momentum and he won primary after primary, effectively clinching the nomination and soon became the presumptive nominee. On July 4 Thompson announced Giuliani as his running mate. Thompson was officially nominated as the Republican presidential nominee on September 4 at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
On November 4, 2008, the Thompson/Giuliani ticket defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her running mate Bill Richardson with 327 electoral votes to Clinton's 211. In the popular vote Thompson received 53 percent of the ballots cast and Clinton received 46 percent.