NASHVILLE, Tenn. – 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 buring tire, what a beautiful tool! ... It smells good. And wherever you go, you want to smell it."
Lobbying records show that in 1991 Thompson called then-White House Chief of Staff John Sununu on Aristide's behalf.
Aristide won Haiti's first democratic elections in 1989 and was overthrown in February 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 — probably with the same results," he said.
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.
Thompson declined to give a specific date for an official announcement about a presidential run.
"I have a general time in mind," he said. "You're either running or not running. I think the steps we're taking are pretty obvious."