Woodward says Thompson gets too much credit for role in Watergate investigation
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward said Monday that history has exaggerated the role played in investigating Watergate by Fred Thompson, who is mulling a run in the Republican presidential primary.
Woodward's hour-long online chat Monday afternoon touched on many aspects of the conspiracy revealed by the Watergate burglary, as well as on parallels to current events. Woodward, who now is an assistant managing editor at the Post, said that the press, and himself in particular, should have been more aggressive in investigating prewar claims by President Bush's administration.
Although he wouldn't say which administration he thought was worse, Woodward did criticize the "lots of deceptions and half-truths and denial" disseminated by the Bush administration leading up to the Iraq war.
Regarding Thompson, Woodward was responding to a question during a chat on washingtonpost.com about the legacy of the Watergate scandal 35 years after the June 17, 1972 break-in that began to expose Nixon's crimes in office and ultimately brought down the president. A questioner from Fairfax, Va., asked Woodward's opinion of Thompson and noted that Thompson had asked a crucial question about secret White House tape recordings when he was minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee.
The veteran journalist, whose early reporting was instrumental in uncovering the scandal, said that when Thompson asked the question, he already "knew the answer -- because three days before the public testimony, lawyers and investigators for the committee got Butterfield to reveal the existance of the secret tape-recording system. Though Thompson seems to get public credit for asking this critical question, it was the work of others on the committee staff who dug out Butterfield's revelation in a lengthy interview on a hot Friday afternoon on July 13, 1973."
Thompson's 1975 memoir, "At That Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee," described his service during Watergate. A former senator from Tennessee who became famous playing a prosecutor on television's Law & Order, Thompson is considering a run for the White House in 2008. Press reports have indicated he may formally announce his candidacy next month.
A biography of Thompson on his exploratory committee's website touts his Watergate service among other accomplishments. "Friends in Tennessee still recall seeing the boy they’d grown up with on TV, sitting at the Senate hearing-room dais," the website reads. "He gained national attention for leading the line of inquiry that revealed the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office."
Woodward said Americans know more about the operation of the executive branch during Watergate than at any other time in history, and he lamented the lack of transparency into the operations of the current White House.
"As the Bush administration goes through its final years and the Iraq war goes on and on and on, people are looking for clarity and closure," Woodward wrote. "I'm not sure that we're going to get either in the coming months or even years. ... [M]y sense is that the war will continue for some time and deny us either clarity or closure."