Pres. Nixon didn’t want Fred Thompson as minority counsel during the Watergate hearings because he doubted the mental capacity of the future actor and lobbyist.
Thompson, then 30, was appointed counsel by his political mentor, Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker, the top Republican on the Senate committee. Thompson had been an assistant U.S. attorney in Nashville and had managed Baker’s re-election campaign…
Nixon was disappointed with the selection of Thompson, whom he called “dumb as hell.” Nixon did not think Thompson was skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses and would be outsmarted by the committee’s Democratic counsel.
This assessment comes from audiotapes of White House conversations recently reviewed by the Associated Press at the National Archives in College Park, Md., and transcripts of those discussions published in Abuse of Power: The New Watergate Tapes, by Stanley Kutler.
“Oh, s—, that kid,” Nixon said when told by his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, of Thompson’s appointment on Feb. 22, 1973.
“Well, we’re stuck with him,” Haldeman said.
The two were concerned that Thompson would be outgunned by much brighter lawyer John Dean, who was ready to desert their sinking ship. Appealing to Thompson’s strong partisan side helped him focus and prepare for the questioning.
Dean, the panel’s star witness, had agreed to tell what he knew if he was granted immunity.
Nixon expressed concern that Thompson was not “very smart.”
“Not extremely so,” [Nixon lawyer J. Fred] Buzhardt agreed.
“But he’s friendly,” Nixon said.
“But he’s friendly,” Buzhardt agreed. “We are hoping, though, to work with Thompson and prepare him, if Dean does appear next week, to do a very thorough cross-examination.”
Five days later, Buzhardt reported to Nixon that he had primed Thompson for the cross-examination.
“I found Thompson most cooperative, feeling more Republican every day,” Buzhardt said.
Later in the conversation, Buzhardt said Thompson was “willing to go, you know, pretty much the distance now. And he said he realized his responsibility was going to have to be as a Republican increasingly.”
That seems to be one lesson that got through Thompson’s thick skull and stuck.
....And The Truth Shall Set Us Free