Patterico's Pontifications


The Facts About Fred Thompson’s Prosecutorial Record that the L.A. Times Thinks You Don’t Need to Know

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 1:51 pm

Anwyn has an excellent post today from the “Facts You Don’t Need to Know” file of the Los Angeles Times.

Anwyn chose to focus on a story the paper recently ran on the prosecutorial record of Fred Thompson. I read that article and meant to comment on its flippant dismissiveness of Thompson’s stint as an AUSA. Some of the lines in the article are blatantly designed to elicit cheap snickers from leftists, like this one:

But Thompson’s charm did not work on U.S. District Judge Frank Gray Jr., who presided over nearly all of his cases. A liberal Democrat who had worked on presidential campaigns from Al Smith’s to Estes Kefauver’s, Gray had little patience for fools, and even less for Republicans.

Get it? The implication is that Republicans are worse than fools. Ha, ha! Don’t it just make you giggle?

But the main point of the article was to portray Thompson as a lightweight prosecutor, who was barely competent and mostly handled trivial cases like moonshining.

[A] review of the 88 criminal cases Thompson handled at the U.S. attorney’s office in Nashville, from 1969 to 1972, reveals a different and more human portrait — that of a young lawyer learning the ropes on routine cases involving gambling, mail theft and, in one instance, talking dirty on CB radio.

There were a few bank robbers and counterfeiters. But more than anything, Thompson took on the state’s moonshiners and a local culture, rooted in Tennessee’s hills and hollows, that celebrated the independent whiskey maker’s battle against the government’s revenue agents.

Anwyn digs much deeper — searching for the actual facts surrounding Thompson’s actual record. She asks: what were the actual statistics on his cases? What other cases did he prosecute? What was his win-loss record?

After searching through several official channels, she got the information she was looking for . . . from the reporter! You see, he had that information. He just didn’t think it was relevant to include in an article about Thompson’s record as a prosecutor.

I’m going to make you go to Anwyn’s post for the statistics themselves. But I will say that they seem pretty standard for someone of his experience level. Thompson did plenty more serious cases, like bank robberies, and he won most of them.

The statistics are not overwhelmingly impressive. They don’t make you think Thompson was any kind of star. I agree with Anwyn’s characterization of the stats: “These numbers suggest that Thompson was a completely solid, if not shining, prosecutor.”

At the very least, the numbers tend to undercut the article’s portrayal of Thompson as a bumbler who botched many of his cases, most of which were minor anyway.

Why didn’t the reporter include the numbers? The reporter explained in an e-mail to Anwyn that the numbers “don’t tell you much” because most federal prosecutors win most of their cases. In other words, it’s not relevant to report Thompson’s success rate, because it is typical of those in his profession.

But what about Thompson’s errors? Are they typical of other prosecutors at the time? What about the fact that his case load consisted largely of low-level cases? Is that fact also typical of other federal prosecutors in the same office at the same time?

The article doesn’t say. The only hint we get is that some judge — who sounds like a real prick, by the way — thought that Thompson’s entire office was incompetent. That tells me more about the judge than it tells me about Thompson or his colleagues.

You see, according to the mindset at the L.A. Times, Thompson’s successes don’t have to be reported, because they are typical of those in similar circumstances. But his failures should be reported — even though they are also probably typical.

Again, Thompson’s conviction rate, and the fact that he prosecuted 17 bank robbers over his relatively short stint in the office, comes under the category of Facts You Don’t Need to Know. Especially when the facts might undercut The Narrative — and as we know, in Big Media generally (and the L.A. Times especially), The Narrative trumps everything else.

Kudos to Anwyn for getting those facts out in the public eye. Because, no matter what the folks at the L.A. Times think, these facts are things that the public really should be told, to present the full picture.

You should know these facts — even if the L.A. Times thinks you shouldn’t be told about them.

If you haven’t read Anwyn’s post, please do so now, by clicking here.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for the link.

Another reason to avoid the L.A. Times can be found here.

37 Responses to “The Facts About Fred Thompson’s Prosecutorial Record that the L.A. Times Thinks You Don’t Need to Know”

  1. The Deciders.

    Techie (c003f1)

  2. Being a federal prosecutor today is almost a completely different world than it was in the late 1960s or early 1970s — especially for Assistant US Attorneys.

    Congress didn’t get the feds into the business of prosecuting all manner of “federal” crimes until the early 1980s. The US Attorneys Offices typically handled the more mundane local crimes, and Main Justice lawyers handled all the bigger stuff with “Strike Forces”.

    That’s no longer true today.

    I would suspect that in Tennessee in the early 1970s, there wasn’t much else for a US Attorney’s Office to handle beyond bank robbery and liquor offenses — which were really tax crimes. Drug offenses hadn’t been federalized at that point, and most fraud cases were nearly as sophisticated as they are now — at least I suspect they weren’t in the early 1970s in Tennessee.

    And, any AUSA — or state prosecutor for that matter — well understands how a politically hostile judge such as the one judge who presided in the district where Thomspon worked, can cripple case after case with evidentiary rulings either before or during trial.

    True story:

    Because federal cases work on what is called the “assigned judge” system, an AUSA knows from the moment an indictment is filed who the judge on his/her case is going to be all the way to the end of that case.

    In my first district, there were only 2 full time judges when I started. One judge was thought of very highly in the legal community, was very good in trial, and overall ran a very tight ship.

    The other judge had been on the bench for 30 years, had a bad habit of screaming at attorneys during trials, granted mistrials sua sponte (even when that resulted in a successful double jeapoardy defense to a retrial), and generally hadn’t bothered to learn anything about changes in the Rules of Evidence since the 1960s.

    Prior to random computer assignments, the way we figured out how to avoid getting important cases assigned to this asshole judge was to always take 3 indictments with us to the clerk’s office for filing. Two of the three were minor or routine cases, and the third was a major case.

    We’d hand one of the minor cases to the clerk, and she would stamp it with the Case Number and Judge’s initials. If that case got the good judge, then we gave the other minor case to the Clerk next, and that one would get the bad judge. We’d then give the Clerk the major case, and get the good judge.

    If the first case got the bad judge, we knew the good judge would get the next case, and we would give the clerk the major case.

    So, to know that Thompson had a partisan Dem. judge who made it known he was hostile to Republicans, and then to have Nixon Justice Dept. lawyer be forced to handle just about every case before that judge — well, the results would have been predictable.

    WLS (bafbcb)

  3. Good post by Anwyn. Why is there any surprise that the LA Times would want to avoid being dismissive about or avoid saying anything positive about Thompson? Did anyone expect something else?

    The only surprising thing out of them lately has been their coverage of Hsugate.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  4. Now this is the same L.A. Times that sought fit to remind us of a neo-nazi charlatan/conman role
    (Knox Pooley)that Thompson played on Wiseguy 20 years ago. Context is everything, right.

    narciso (d671ab)

  5. Fred must have been a great prosecutor because he came up with the most famous “have you stopped beating your wife” question ever when he was a prosecutor at the watergate hearings. Wait, I guess he was Nixon’s councel. Nice loyalty.

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  6. j curtis #5,


    nk (09a321)

  7. Actually, I thought he did a great acting job in Wiseguy, it was the first time I’d seen him act and I recall that it was a very memorable performance. Given the great talent that show found, recall that Kevin Spacey’s first big break was his recurring villain role there.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  8. Some quick notes on the numbers:

    28 trials out of a little over 100 defendants is a *lot* using today’s standards. I have no idea what the number would be for AUSA’s from 1969-1972.

    Also, conviction rates are a very poor proxy for prosecutorial goodness. If you have a really bad one, sure, that shows bad judgment. But a 100% conviction rate might mean excellence or might mean that the prosecutor drives hard to settle everything but the dead-bang slam-dunk winners. (These are not sour grapes, either – I have a very high conviction rate at trial. But citing conviction rates simply isn’t the be-all and end-all some view it as.)


    JRM (355c21)

  9. JRM – Excellent points. I know in choosing defense counsel, I handle litigated public sector claims, that we view the number and types of actual trials to be far more indicative of what to expect than the ratio of wins to losses.

    JD (6887fb)

  10. 6

    Because he was supposed to be Nixon’s lawyer and he turned on Nixon and started prosecuting him.

    What do you lawyer types think about that? Is it ethical? What does it say about loyalty?

    “What did the president know…and when did he know it”. That is a sneaky question that assumes guilt in the first part and convicts him in the second part. Thompson also started the ball rolling on Nixon’s private tapes and we were supposed to be shocked that he taped conversations but then we learn years later that his predecessors taped oval office conversations too.

    Then years later he is given the job of investigating Clinton’s fund raising scandals and he lets Clinton off the hook. I think Thompson is a total Democrat and barely undercover.

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  11. How many cases did Hillary win? What kind of clients did she have? How much judgment did she win for her clients? How much did she help them evade? Has the LA Times ever reported that? Just like to know.

    ic (9fb8f6)

  12. j curtis,

    I believe he was a Senate staff attorney (for the Republican half of the committee) and he asked a question about tape recordings in the Oval Office without knowing how that witness would answer. Well, what lawyer who has never done that? I also don’t see how you can attribute “What did the President know and when did he know it” to him. That was asked by Senator Howard Baker. Are you saying Thompson fed it to Baker?

    nk (09a321)

  13. The implication is that Republicans are worse than fools.

    The further implication is that Judge Gray played favorites in his courtroom, which is a serious (and completely unsubstantiated) allegation.

    ronbo (5313f5)

  14. j curtis, that sounds like rather a large leap on no facts.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  15. If Judge Gray is as described, it is part of the reason contempt of court is no longer a crime but a national pastime.

    Ken Hahn (7742d5)

  16. “But Thompson’s charm did not work on U.S. District Judge Frank Gray Jr., who presided over nearly all of his cases. A liberal Democrat who had worked on presidential campaigns from Al Smith’s to Estes Kefauver’s, Gray had little patience for fools, and even less for Republicans.”

    So that indicates he was a political hack judge who cared less about “justice” than for hurting Republicans. What a great system.

    sparky (1ecb16)

  17. Gray had little patience for fools, and even less for Republicans

    Nothing like equality before the eyes of the law.

    Vinny Vidivici (a1baea)

  18. Trying as hard as they can to paint him like a hick, too: “talking dirty on a CB radio,” etc.

    Instapundit links you, btw.

    Jim (c30505)

  19. Are you saying Thompson fed it to Baker?

    According to this he did.,2933,257858,00.html

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  20. j curtis,

    By that point, it was foolish to continue to support Nixon because the existence of the tapes was going to come out. As bad as Watergate was for Republicans, at least Thompson and Baker were smart enough to realize helping Nixon continue his cover up would be an even greater disaster for the Republican Party.

    DRJ (9578af)

  21. 20

    I guess a lawyer abandoning his client and becoming his client’s prosecutor is something that can be justified often, or is this the only instance in history where it was justified?

    Clinton was guilty as hell but his lawyers didn’t abandon him and Clinton cames out of it smelling like roses. Thompson saved the Republican Party so well that we ended up with Jimmy Carter in the White House.

    Don’t you think Nixon was entitled to some legal representation?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  22. Hey, come on, guys, this is what we elected journalists to do.

    TallDave (f22734)

  23. First of all, Thompson was not Nixon’s lawyer. He was a Senate lawyer. The other problem I have with the article you linked is that it calls Thompson “majority counsel”. Well, with only 42 seats at the time, the Republicans were hardly the majority in the Senate. If it gets an easy fact wrong, it makes me wonder what hard-to-prove “facts” it got wrong.

    nk (09a321)

  24. j curtis, abandon his client? Another line you have failed to back up. This argument of yours is based on nothing.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  25. Can j curtis explain to us how a minority staff counsel morphed into Nixon’s lawyer?

    JD (fd9a5b)

  26. My best guess JD is that j curtis falsely believes that an AUSA has as a client the President.

    This just shows his confusion.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  27. So you want to say that Nixon wasn’t entitled to any representation at these hearings and Thompson didn’t have any obligation not to be a disloyal weasel and didn’t have an obligation not to construct weasel questions like “What did the president know and when did he know it”?

    Fine. Let him run for president with that explanation. Come election day, if this guy gets nominated, watch them ask Republicans to be loyal to the party by voting for this disloyal jerk.

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  28. j curtis, that is a rather odd strawman. Thompson did not deny Nixon representation at any hearing. Thompson did not owe Nixon any “loyalty” at the time, his employer was not then Nixon. The rest of your cheap namecalling is just meaningless.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  29. Who represented Nixon’s interest at these hearings?

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  30. Actually Thompson really hit his stride when he played himself in Marie; the story of a Tennesee
    employee who provoked the removal and conviction of Gov. Blount of Tennessee. From there began his
    movie career. Wisequy was a great show; Spacey’s
    Mel Profitt was such an evil yet strangely sympathetic villain, he made his Lex Luthor portrayal seem like a Boy Scout. When you want a megalomaniacal performance; he’s Chavez’s understudy now; go with Spacey, Mind you, the screenplay was purely RDS (Reagan Derangement Syndrome) if such a thing had a name in the 80s. Profitt was actually the tool of a CIA operative
    with a touch of what the left saw in Oliver North; who attempts to stage a Grenada style coup
    on a small Voodoo dominated republic; Isle Pavot
    “Island of Poppies” guess what their chief export
    was. It took the Christic theories spun by Daniel
    Sheehan and John Kerry; to a baroque new level.

    narciso (d671ab)

  31. j curtis #29,

    Nixon had a team of attorneys but one of the attorneys who represented him in connection with the tapes was Charles Alan Wright.

    DRJ (9578af)

  32. Who represented Nixon’s interest at these hearings?

    Whoever it was, it could not and should not have been Fred Thompson. His client was the Senate. It would have been extremely unethical. Where are you going with this, jc?

    nk (09a321)

  33. The ironies are in the fire. Today, Fred Thompson is forcing Clinton’s videotapes out into the open; only a generation ago, Thompson was the Watergate committee counsel who refused to release the Kennedy and Johnson taping precedents because it might lessen the fury at Nixon.

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  34. j curtis really does not like Thompson. Resorting to making up faux ethical violations and giving Thompson clients, and Nixon attorneys is a strawman of epic proportions. Well done.

    JD (33beff)

  35. Mischaracterizing Watergate is quite an accomplishment j curtis.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  36. I have been scratching my head about this one ever since yesterday. Then, on proteinwisdom, I had an exchange with a different trollish type of thing that made the claim that Thompson was Nixon’s mole in the investigation. What type of worldview allows one to come up with these kinds of ideas?

    JD (33beff)

  37. The recent book Her Way reports on a trialHillary badly botched by failing to object to the admission of evidence. It was a case where any attorney competent in that area of the law would have been aware of appellate precedent directly on point. You won’t read about it in the LA Times

    Jim O'Sullivan (28063d)

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