The Fred Thompson Watergate Myth

In his book "Chief Counsel: Inside the Ervin Committee -- the untold story of Watergate," Dash wrote that he "personally resented it and felt cheated" for a Democrat not to have been permitted to ask the question in the nationally televised hearings. But Dash felt given the circumstances he had "no choice but to let Fred Thompson develop the Butterfield material."

Thompson did and a star was born.

The Tip-off

Dash's decision was especially generous considering what Thompson was doing behind the scenes to help the Nixon White House prepare for the question.

In Thompson's 1975 book, "At That Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee" he writes that after learning of the existence of the tapes he "wanted to be sure that the White House was fully aware of what was to be disclosed so that it could take appropriate action. ... I believed it would be in everyone's interest if the White House realized, before making any public statements, the probable position of both the majority and minority of the Watergate committee."

Thompson wrote that "[e]ven though I had no authority to act for the committee," he called Fred Buzhardt, the White House counsel on Watergate matters.

"'Fred,' Thompson recalls saying, 'the committee is aware of the fact that every conversation in the White House is on tape. I know you realize the significance of this. It's not my place to give you advice, but I think that if I were you I'd start making plans immediately to get those tapes together and get them up here as soon as possible.'

"There was a short pause. Then Buzhardt said, 'Well, I think that is significant, if it is true. We'll get on it tomorrow.'"

Scott Armstrong, the senior investigator for Democrats on the Watergate Committee, said he didn't know until Thompson's book was published that Thompson had tipped off Buzhardt about Butterfield's pending testimony, but it didn't surprise him, since Thompson had tipped off the White House about the explosive testimony of former Watergate conspirator John Dean.

A staffer on the committee, Armstrong said, provided him with a copy of a document Thompson had written to Republicans on the committee with Buzhardt's instructions as to what to ask Dean about. "This was after Thompson told them what Dean was going to testify to," Armstrong told ABC News. During his closed-door interview with Butterfield, Armstrong asked the White House counsel about the document, "and my assumption was over the weekend we were going to see the resignation of Fred Thompson, since he was subverting the Watergate Committee."

"There was nothing more secret than what Dean was going to testify to," Armstrong said. "Ervin said, 'Don't share anything with Baker and Thompson, because they're not trustworthy."

But instead, Armstrong said, "Ervin very generously gave Baker the nod to go ahead and do the Butterfield question. And rather than ending Thompson's career for all time, it seems to be something Thompson now feels he can brag about." But in reality, Armstrong insisted Thompson "was a spy for Richard Nixon on the Watergate Committee."

But Lenzner is more charitable, saying Democrats would have likely done the same thing for a Democratic president had the circumstances been the same.

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