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Fred Thompson sought inspector's removal

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071018/ap_po/thompson_legal_career;_ylt=ArRg1bPe0gLCfWqyD2lXSg6s0NUE Fred Thompson sought inspector s removal By ERIK SCHELZIG,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 18, 2007
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      Fred Thompson sought inspector's removal By ERIK
      SCHELZIG, Associated Press Writer
      29 minutes ago

      NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A Tennessee state inspector had
      cited a coal company repeatedly for environmental
      violations. Fred Thompson, the inspector says, got him
      removed from the case.

      It was one episode, early in the legal career of the
      man who would go on to become an actor, a senator and
      now a Republican presidential candidate. It still
      resonates in his home state.

      At the time of the 1980 case, Thompson was known for
      fighting government abuse, first in the Watergate
      investigation and later as an attorney for a Tennessee
      woman wrongfully fired by the Democratic governor.

      And he had political connections.

      The state inspector, who was put back on the coal case
      after the episode was publicized, told The Associated
      Press in a recent interview that he believes Thompson
      used his influence with then-Tennessee Gov. Lamar
      Alexander, to have him removed.

      Alexander now is a U.S. senator.

      Thompson "hooked up with a company that was crooked,
      but I guess he didn't know it at the time," said
      former inspector Francis Baker, who retired from the
      Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
      in 2006 after 28 years. "They were playing politics as
      much as they could — they'd go to the governor rather
      than to anyone else."

      In response, Thompson campaign spokeswoman Karen
      Hanretty said Thompson was just doing his job. "Fred
      was a lawyer representing a client, and I think he'd
      be surprised to know he had so much political
      influence," she said.

      Alexander couldn't recall whether he had heard from
      Thompson about the Carbonex Coal Co. when he was
      governor, said Lee Pitts, the senator's spokesman.

      In 1980, as a private attorney, Thompson represented
      Carbonex, whose strip mines located near Dayton in
      rural eastern Tennessee had been cited by Baker for
      environmental violations, according to state records
      viewed by the AP. Among the violations were mine waste
      that polluted streams and inadequate cleanup of sites
      after coal was mined.

      In an April 1980 memo to his superiors, Baker — then
      27 years old — listed violations at the Carbonex mines
      and added that his descriptions "cannot express how
      bad these sites really are."

      "It is evident that this company willingly ignores
      their mining plans, notices of noncompliance, the
      department's designee and the state law," Baker wrote.

      Carbonex officials complained vigorously to state
      officials about Baker, demanding he be removed from
      the case. Baker's superiors defended his actions,
      writing in one memo that he was "to be commended for
      keeping the pressure on."

      Requests for removal of an inspector had "often come
      up before with companies who have a tendency to
      violate the law and regulations," Arthur Hope, then
      assistant director of the state's surface mining
      office, wrote in a May 1980 memo.

      "Such changes, in my opinion, are diversionary tactics
      to win a reprieve while another inspector is becoming
      familiar with the operation, then the same tactics
      will be tried again," Hope wrote.

      In June, Thompson arranged for state conservation
      officials to be flown to the mining sites on a
      Carbonex plane to meet with company officers. Shortly
      afterward, records show, Baker was removed from the
      case and an order to cease operations was lifted
      because state officials said reclamation work had

      C.C. McCall, then director of the surface mining
      division and one of the state officials who attended
      the meeting at the mine with Carbonex officers on June
      11, 1980, wrote a Carbonex executive in a letter two
      weeks later that he had named a new inspector at the
      mine even though he still considered Baker to be "one
      of my finest inspectors."

      The change was made "in an effort to start afresh and
      adhering to your request for a new inspector," McCall

      Thompson had close ties to Alexander. Both men were
      proteges of then-U.S. Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee.
      Thompson had served as Alexander's campaign treasurer
      and then as legal counsel after he was sworn into

      When the episode became public, there was a backlash
      over inspector Baker's removal and he was put back on
      the Carbonex case. The coal company ceased operations
      in September 1980 after it was discovered it hadn't
      paid severance taxes over its entire year in operation
      and had failed to follow reclamation rules set by the

      The following year, Carbonex's former president, John
      E. Keller, was sued by the U.S. Commodity Futures
      Trading Commission, accused of being part of a scheme
      to sell illegal coal futures, according to court
      records. Keller was banned from selling coal contracts
      linked to future prices.

      Baker says he was undaunted by Thompson's criticism.

      "At that time, I hadn't been working but a year or
      two, so I didn't have a lot built up to lose or
      anything like that," Baker recalled. "And I'm pretty
      stubborn, and truth is truth, and you stand to your

      Thompson, in newspaper interviews at the time, was
      dismissive of criticism that he had tried to use his
      close relationship with Alexander to get a favorable
      result for his coal client. "I can't quit practicing
      law because I have some friends in the
      administration," he told The Tennessean in Nashville.

      Thompson also complained about negative media coverage
      in a letter to the Department of Conservation, saying
      the Carbonex mine had been singled out because of his
      connections to the Republican administration.

      "Mr. Thompson is just wrong about that," Brooks
      Garland, a lawyer for the state's surface mining
      division, responded to The Tennessean. "We have had
      trouble with Carbonex ever since they came into

      Baker said Thompson threatened to sue him "because I
      had said they'd tell me one thing and then I'd go up
      and just find out it was another lie."

      "It was the first time I had ever gotten into anything
      like that, where politics was actually playing a part
      in it," Baker said. "But nothing really changed, and I
      came out on top of every one of the issues."

      Thompson's legal work has been deeply entwined with
      his political ties dating to the earliest days of his
      career. Indeed, Thompson, now 65, has attributed his
      success to becoming involved in Republican politics
      shortly after joining a law firm in his hometown of
      Lawrenceburg, Tenn., in 1967.

      He had been practicing law only a year when he managed
      a Republican candidate's unsuccessful congressional
      campaign against Democrat Ray Blanton.

      The following year, he was hired as a federal
      prosecutor in Nashville because he was one of the only
      Republican lawyers working the state, Thompson told
      the Nashville Bar Journal in 2003.

      After three years in the U.S. Attorney's Office,
      Thompson was one of the managers for Howard Baker's
      re-election campaign. It was Baker, then the Senate
      minority leader, who selected the 30-year-old Thompson
      to become the top GOP lawyer on the Senate Watergate
      Committee in 1973.

      The role brought Thompson a measure of fame and a
      reputation as a tough investigator. However, National
      Archives' tapes of Oval Office conversations show
      President Nixon and his attorney viewed Thompson as an
      ally in their effort to discredit former White House
      counsel John Dean. It was Thompson who tipped off the
      White House that the Senate committee had discovered
      the existence of the Oval Office tape recordings later
      known as the "Watergate tapes."

      In 1974, Blanton — Thompson's adversary from the 1968
      congressional contest — was elected governor in a race
      against Alexander. Three years later, attorney
      Thompson represented Marie Ragghianti, chairwoman of
      Tennessee's Board of Pardons and Paroles, against
      Blanton, whom she accused of firing her for refusing
      to go along with a cash-for-clemency scheme.

      Thompson won Ragghianti's reinstatement and $38,000 in
      back pay. The case became the subject of a Peter Maas
      book and the 1985 movie "Marie," starring Sissy
      Spacek. Thompson was cast as himself in the film — a
      role that launched his acting career.
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