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SAVANNAH, Tenn. — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is apparently ducking for cover in the $165 million libel lawsuit filed by Gore fund-raiser Clark Jones of Savannah, Tenn., against WorldNetDaily.com, reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays, and numerous other defendants.
The lawsuit revolves around a series of 18 investigative reports published by WND between September and December 2000, most of them documenting charges of corruption involving then-Vice President Al Gore and others in Gore’s home state of Tennessee.
Central to Jones’ claim of defamation is the allegation that Jones may have used his political influence to kill a TBI investigation into narcotics trafficking in Hardin County, Tenn. Through his attorney Houston Gordon, Jones denies in court documents that there was an investigation or that he was a target of investigation — this despite numerous named sources in the WND articles attesting to the investigation and Jones as a subject. Those sources include a top TBI official, Ed Holt, the deputy director for criminal investigations, who confirmed to Thompson in a telephone interview on Feb. 2, 2000, that there had indeed been a probe and that Jones was a party to it. TBI also submitted documents to the journalists supporting the existence of such an investigation.
Larry Wallace, director of the TBI and a longtime crony of former Vice President Al Gore, recently issued a written statement to the Courier newspaper of Savannah, Tenn., in which he denounced the WorldNetDaily series as an attempt to “destroy” both him and the TBI’s upper management. Yet, in addressing the question of whether the TBI was now investigating, or ever had investigated, Clark Jones for narcotics trafficking, Wallace declined to comment, citing “advice of counsel.”
During Wallace’s tenure, the TBI has rarely retreated from providing press comment, even on ongoing investigations. Indeed, Wallace went out of his way to curry favor with the Tennessee Press Association by hosting a luncheon for its members during their winter convention this year in Nashville. Even when investigating the theft of 24 lbs. of cocaine from the TBI evidence room, the agency regularly made itself available for comment.
But Wallace’s refusal to comment on the Clark Jones matter has raised questions. Wallace, who is well known in Tennessee for ingratiating himself to politically influential people such as Jones, has also threatened to take legal action against WND’s series criticizing the state’s premier police agency.
“If Larry Wallace could have come to Jones’ rescue by convincingly denying such an investigation,” said a former TBI agent speaking on condition of anonymity, “he would have. The fact of the matter is that there was an investigation and too many people know about it.”
Eyebrows were also raised at the local Courier newspaper and its editor, Jim Thompson, who has been vocally supportive of Jones, whose car dealership is one of the paper’s major advertisers. “Yeah, I thought that was pretty strange, too,” said news editor Ron Schaming of Wallace’s “no comment on advice of counsel” statement.
Other efforts by Jones and his attorneys to discredit the WND articles have also been rebuffed. A Knoxville, Tenn., private investigator, who is a retired FBI agent, contacted former Tennessee Commissioner of Public Safety Robert Lawson, in an apparent effort to get him to recant his statements in the WND series. Lawson had told Thompson and Hays that Jones’ name had appeared in state police files in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a suspected drug dealer.
“I stand by every quote from me that [WND] printed,” Lawson says he told the private investigator, “and if you come back again I’ll drag some more skeletons out of the closet.”
At present, the Jones lawsuit is in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Tennessee in Jackson, with Judge James Todd presiding. The case was removed to federal court by attorney Michael F. Pleasants representing WorldNetDaily, Hays and Thompson. Although Gordon has filed a petition to remand the case back to the Hardin County Circuit Court where it was initiated, as yet no hearing date has been set on his request.
Editor’s note: WorldNetDaily has established a Legal Defense Fund to offset legal costs in defending itself against this lawsuit. Contributions can be made online, or by calling WND toll-free at 1-877-909-1776. Also, a check, made payable to WorldNetDaily Legal Defense Fund, can be mailed to: WorldNetDaily.com, Inc., P.O. Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523.