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Thompson linked to work for Libyans

A little over three years after Pan Am Flight 103blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, Fred D. Thompson provided advice to a colleague about one of his law firm’s new clients: The man representing the two Libyan intelligence officials charged in the terrorist bombing.
/ Source: The New York Times

A little over three years after blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, provided advice to a colleague about one of his law firm’s new clients: The man representing the two Libyan intelligence officials charged in the terrorist bombing.

The colleague, John Culver, a partner at the Washington firm of Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn began advising the two suspects’ Libyan lawyer in February 1992. Mr. Thompson, according to a memorandum from that era written by his secretary, held “discussions with Culver re: ” that same month.

At the time, Libya was facing international outrage for refusing to comply with a demand that the two suspects be extradited to the West for trial in the 1988 bombing, which killed 270 people. Revelations that American firms were representing Libyan interests provoked a furor among the Pan Am victims’ families. Some law firms refused to represent the country or the suspects, while others withdrew.

The involvement of Mr. Thompson, who worked part-time for Arent Fox as a lawyer and lobbyist from 1991 until shortly before his election to the Senate in 1994, never became public. But Arent Fox’s chairman, Marc L. Fleischaker, confirmed that Mr. Thompson, who is now seeking the Republican presidential nomination, briefly provided Mr. Culver with advice about the suspects’ case, billing the firm for 3.3 hours of his time.

The firm was hired to provide guidance on the tense questions surrounding where the two men should be tried, Mr. Fleischaker said, and Mr. Thompson’s background as a former prosecutor, as well as his government relations experience — he had close ties to senior officials in the first Bush administration — “gave him insight on jurisdictional issues such as that.”

Karen Henretty, a spokeswoman for his presidential campaign, said that Mr. Thompson had no authority to decide which clients the firm represented. Mr. Thompson has faced questions about his work for two other Arent Fox clients.

He initially denied working on behalf of a family planning group seeking to overturn an abortion counseling ban at federally financed clinics, but billing records showed that he spent nearly 20 hours on the matter. His work on behalf of , the deposed Haitian leader — a phone call to John Sununu, then the White House Chief of Staff — has also become fodder for his rivals because of human-rights abuses during Mr. Aristide’s presidency.

The memorandum by Mr. Thompson’s secretary reviewing his work for Arent Fox, compiled in 1993 as he was running for the Senate, was buried among thousands of Mr. Thompson’s papers archived at the , and casts new light on his time there, beyond his work on the Libya case.

It lists the clients he brought into the firm, which included construction firms and a Texas chemical company embroiled in a case involving the illegal dumping of hazardous waste.

Mr. Thompson also helped others at Arent Fox, the memorandum shows. He met, for instance, with the Chilean ambassador in 1991 and then traveled to Chile to try to garner business for the law firm from that country’s government. He consulted with one of the firm’s partners about a Mexican trade agreement and helped other lawyers with introductions to important Republican officials.

Mr. Thompson has said he makes no apologies for his legal and lobbying work, emphasizing in one online essay that every person, no matter how unpopular, is entitled to representation and that lawyers’ work on behalf of a client is no indication of their own personal views.

Asked about Mr. Thompson’s participation in the Libya case, James Kreindler, a lawyer who represents 130 of the victims’ families, said: “Pan Am 103 was really an attack on the United States, so while some families understood the concept that everyone deserves a defense, a number were offended and angered that American lawyers were willing to earn fees by doing anything to help this pariah nation or the two bombing suspects.”

Today, in the post-Sept. 11 political climate, all the presidential candidates are jockeying to prove their antiterrorism credentials, with Mr. Thompson vowing last week to fight “radical Islamic terrorism” vigorously. Yesterday, his campaign noted that during his eight years in the Senate, Mr. Thompson supported sanctions against Libya.

In 1992, Libya was among those countries the United States listed as state sponsors of terrorism for acts that included the 1989 bombing of a French airliner and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two American soldiers.

Arent Fox, in papers it was required to file with the federal government, reported that from February 1992 to August 1993, it provided advice on American and international law to Ibrahim Legwell, the Libyan lawyer appointed by the Libyan Bar Association to represent the two intelligence officials charged with the Flight 103 bombing. Arent Fox received $833,960 in fees and expenses for its work on the case.

Mr. Legwell, reached in Tripoli, said his main goal was to see that his clients were tried in Libya or in a neutral country. He said Arent Fox “contributed a lot” to the defense effort. Mr. Legwell said he had no record of ever speaking with Mr. Thompson but noted: “I remember that this name was mentioned.”

Mr. Culver, a former Democratic senator from Iowa, said that Mr. Thompson was not a primary member of his team, and that his contribution amounted to “a couple of conversations.”

“In a large firm, you frequently consult with people who have experience” in the field of law at hand, he said. In the end, after protracted negotiations with the United Nations, Libya agreed in 1999 to hand over the two men for trial by a special court in the Netherlands. One of the men was convicted and is serving his sentence in a Scottish jail.

In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the Pan Am bombing and agreed to pay the victims $2.7 billion in compensation. After Mr. Qaddafi’s renunciation of terrorism and his agreement to end programs to develop unconventional weapon, the United States last year removed Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.