Over the course of former Sen. Fred Thompson’s “testing the waters” exploratory campaign, there have been reports suggesting that his wife, Jeri, has played a big role — perhaps too big a role — in the effort. Some observers, mostly anonymous, have pointed to disputes involving Jeri Thompson as the reason for the recent shakeup in the Thompson staff that led to the departures of top aide Tom Collamore and a few others. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post called Jeri Thompson a “driving and at times divisive force within the presidential campaign her husband is preparing to launch.” Going beyond the nascent campaign, the Post also delved into Mrs. Thompson’s romantic history, as well as her finances going back nearly 20 years.
Through it all, Fred Thompson has remained silent. But this morning, I interviewed Thompson for a profile to be published in the next issue of NR, and I asked him to comment on the stories about his wife.
“She has taken a lot of comments that should have been directed toward me,” Thompson told me. When he started looking into running for president, Thompson said, there was a lot to be done and very little time to do it, and his wife played a key role in getting things going. “We started literally from the kitchen table a few months ago,” he said. “While I did the things that I felt like I needed to do — I had a contract with NBC television, I had a contract with ABC radio, I was chairman of the advisory board on international security for the State Department, and a lot of other things — while I was disengaging from that and getting my thoughts together on issues and things of that nature, public comments I knew I would be called on to make, I asked her to do certain things for me. She did what I asked her to do.”
The former senator said his wife’s actions, however they have been interpreted in the press, have been at his behest. “She always looks out for my best interests, and when she sees something that she knows I would not approve of, or is not in my best interest, she voices that concern — in other words, just exactly the way I would want her to. Now, some people don’t like that, especially some people who have their own issue with regard to the campaign, shall we say, and they take advantage of putting out anonymous comments and so forth.”
A few moments later, Thompson addressed reports, like the one in the Post and another in Newsweek, that looked into his wife’s life before meeting Thompson. “I think the problem is that Jeri refuses to go out in public and behave like a candidate’s wife before I’m a candidate,” Thompson said. “The fact that she’s not out there promoting herself seems to greatly concern some people in the media, so they have gone back to old boyfriends, the families of old boyfriends, high-school classmates, basically anything that can be dredged up to fill this void that they perceive has been created.”
Some of the reports, Thompson said, have contained substantial factual errors. “Things that you would think could have been checked fairly readily,” he told me, “but things that are clearly erroneous — like she’s not a lawyer and she’s never been married before. I listened to a news show with an expert commentator about a week ago talking about Jeri, and in a short segment he had four totally erroneous factual errors about her.”
Thompson did not suggest that stories about his wife should be off limits. He understands the ways of politics. But he believes that now is not the right time for Jeri Thompson or the Thompson pre-campaign to address them in detail. “She’s not going to become a public commentator and personality as a candidate’s wife until there’s a candidate,” he said.