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Former colleague: Thompson worked for abortion rights group

  • Story Highlights
  • A former colleague said Fred Thompson worked to loosen abortion restrictions
  • Notes suggest Thompson hired to lobby for family planning group in 1991
  • Likely Republican presidential candidate denies Thompson worked for group
  • Social conservatives unhappy with declared candidates are eyeing Thompson
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By Bob Ruff
CNN New York Bureau
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A former law colleague of likely Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson told CNN Monday that Thompson worked in the 1990s for a group trying to loosen abortion restrictions.

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Likely Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson has consistently voted in favor of anti-abortion legislation.

Because many social conservatives see Thompson as their best hope for seeing an anti-abortion president in the White House in 2008, any perceived weakness in his position on abortion could damage his appeal among those voters.

Former Democratic Rep. Michael Barnes worked with Thompson at Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn.

In 1991, Barnes was asked by Judy DiSarno, then president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, to suggest someone to help the group persuade the White House rescind a rule prohibiting abortion counseling at federally funded clinics.

Barnes said DiSarno was "only interested in finding a Republican to assist them," so he suggested that she call Thompson. Video Watch how Thompson's strategy may have taken a hit »

Minutes obtained by CNN of the September 14, 1991 NFPRHA meeting state, "Judy [DiSarno] reported that the Association [NFPRHA] had hired Fred Thompson, Esq, as counsel to aid us in discussions with the Administration." Read the minutes -- PDF

DiSarno told the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the story on Saturday, that Thompson had given her regular updates by phone and that she met him on at least two occasions in person.

Barnes confirmed to CNN that DeSarno and Thompson met, and that the "only person who worked on it [the NFPRHA job] was Fred."

Other than the minutes of the NFPRHA meeting, no one has come forward with any other written evidence, such as invoices or canceled checks, to prove NFPRHA hired Thompson. NFPRHA's current president, Mary Jane Gallagher, said her group routinely discards documents after five years.

Mark Corallo, Thompson's spokesman told CNN "Thompson has no recollection of doing any work on behalf of this group. He may have been consulted by one of the firm's partners who represented this group in 1991. As any lawyer would know, such consultations take place within law firms everyday."

The Times story also reports that DeSarno "said Mr. Thompson told her he had spoken with John Sununu ... about the matter."

CNN contacted Sununu, who said "I did not talk to Fred at all about this, and I have no awareness whatsoever about Fred lobbying about this."

Thompson, an actor best know for his role as Arthur Branch in NBC's "Law & Order," was elected to the Senate in 1994 and served there for 8 years.

During that time he consistently voted in favor of anti-abortion legislation and received high marks from conservative groups.

But he voted for the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act, a bill that upset some anti-abortion social conservatives who said it would limit their ability to support candidates favorable to their cause.

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Thompson took the first step toward running for president in May, creating the "Friends of Fred Thompson."

Since then he has visited Iowa and New Hampshire, telling supporters, "I plan to see a whole lot more of you." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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