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Fred Thompson, a likely Republican presidential candidate, on Tuesday defended his work as a Washington lobbyist, telling The Associated Press that lobbying is an important part of life because “government’s got their hands in everything.”
The actor and former U.S. senator from Tennessee added, “Nobody yet has pointed out any of my clients that didn’t deserve representation.”
Thompson, who likes to cast himself as a political outsider, earned more than $1 million lobbying the federal government for more than 20 years. He lobbied for a savings-and-loan deregulation bill that helped hasten the industry’s collapse and a failed nuclear energy project that cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars.
He also was a lobbyist for deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was widely criticized for endorsing “necklacing,” the gruesome practice of execution where gasoline-soaked tires are thrown over a person’s neck and set ablaze.
In September 1991, Aristide said: “The burning tire, what a beautiful tool! … It smells good. And wherever you go, you want to smell it.”
Aristide became president in Haiti’s first democratic elections in 1990, but he was deposed in a military coup a few months later in 1991.
Lobbying records show that in 1991 Thompson called then-White House Chief of Staff John Sununu on Aristide’s behalf. Thompson was working “in connection with efforts to obtain the restoration of the democratically elected government” of Haiti, the records say.
Aristide was restored to power in 1994 by U.S. troops under President Clinton. He was elected to a second term in 2000, but was overthrown again in 2004, fleeing amid an armed rebellion and protests against corruption and other problems.
In a brief interview with the AP, Thompson said he expects to hear criticism about his lobbying activities as he moves closer to declaring his candidacy. Opponents emphasized his lobbying work during his Senate races in 1994 and 1996.
“They’ll talk about it â€” probably with the same results,” he said.
Thompson said he doesn’t take much stock in talk about whether he’s too connected to the halls of power in Washington.
“I’ve never talked about that inside-outside stuff,” he said. “I’ve been critical of Washington, both before, during and after my Senate days.”
Thompson said he made his home in northern Virginia so he could commute between Washington and New York for his radio and television work. After leaving the Senate in 2002, Thompson joined NBC’s drama series “Law & Order” and later became a commentator on ABC radio.
More than 200 supporters gathered earlier Tuesday at the Nashville airport to greet Thompson. He told the crowd he’s “testing the waters” about a run, “but the waters feel pretty warm to me.”
Thompson was scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Nashville later in the day hosted by Mike Curb, a record label founder and former lieutenant governor of California.