Russert Pounds Giuliani on 'Meet the Press'

Tim Russert interviewed Rudy Giuliani on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” part of a series of “in-depth interviews” of presidential candidates. Unfortunately, typical of Russert in recent years, this interview was a thinly-veiled attack on Hizzoner.  Most of the show was  spent questioning Giuliani’s judgment, leaving a short time to discuss the War on Terror and only about 2 minutes to discuss domestic policy issues.

When asked about his position in polls in the earliest primary (or caucus) voting states,  Rudy emphasized repeatedly that he is leading in the majority of the early states including “Super-Duper Tuesday” on February 5, and that while he may be behind in some of the smaller states, he’s leading in most of the large ones.

Russert couldn’t stop himself from asking a truly silly question: “If you lose, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, you’re still in?”  Rudy looked at him incredulously, half chuckling and half stunned, and said “I’m in.”

The conversation turned to Iran and the NIE claim that Iran halted its nuclear weapon program in 2003.  Giuliani emphasized that while the short term issue may not be as serious as once thought, the long-term problem is still there, and we must keep all our options open: “Of course we don’t want to use the military option. It would be dangerous. It would be risky. But I think it would be more dangerous and more risky if Iran did become a nuclear power.”

But just after Rudy had spent two minutes arguing that the best possible outcome would be a peaceful one, Russert asked him “Do you believe, like Norman Podhoretz, that we should bomb Iran as soon as logistically possible.”  Rudy said “No, I believe what I just said and what I’ve said consistently….We would only get to (the military option) as a last resort.”

Turning to Iraq, Russert asked Giuliani how long he thought US troops would remain in Iraq. Giuliani replied without hesitation “For as long as necessary to get the strategic objective achieved….an Iraq that is stable and that will act as an ally of the United States” in the war on Islamic terrorism.  “As long as they’re still a chance we can achieve that objective, we should support it.  What possible gain is there for any American, Republican or Democrat, if we lose in Iraq and have to bring the troops back in defeat?”  When Russert pressed him with “You’re prepared to spend several more years?”, Giuliani answered with an effective rhetorical question: “When has any country ever won a war with great pressure for time limits placed on the military?” He further pointed out that with a time limit on success, “the enemy even figures out you can’t succeed”, then got in his only political jab of the interview with “We’ve seen a lot of Democrats with 3 or 4 different positions on this”.

Then, from less than 15 minutes into the show until there were only about 5 minutes left, Russert embarked on a rampage of questions which could have been straight from Democrat talking points.

After a not-particularly-enlightening discussion in which Russert tried to label Giuliani as not aware enough of the danger posed by Al Qaeda, Russert continued his attack, asking about Giuliani’s quitting the Iraq Study Group and implicitly arguing that the move damaged Giuliani’s “foreign policy credentials” because he was too busy making millions of dollars on a speaking tour. Giuliani said “it was a mistake for me to be on the panel” because his participation would have substantially politicized the panel and its report once he became a candidate for president.

Russert then turned to Rudy’s business dealings, including his involvement with Qatar: “Why would you do business with people who helped Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?” Rudy actually laughed at Russert before saying “The reality is that Qatar is an ally of the United States. There are a significant number of American troops stationed in Qatar.  What we did for them and what we do for them is security for their facilities….The reality is that we need to develop friends in the Middle East. If they’re asking an American company to help them with an Islamic terrorist threat…this is a good thing to do.”

Russert wouldn’t back off, saying “People are questioning your judgment” and then moved to accusing people who worked for Giuliani’s law firm of doing work for Hugo Chavez and Hong Kong developer with ties to Kim Jong Il. Giuliani laughed out loud, for the longest time during the interview. When Russert said “these are accusations being made in a very serious way”, Rudy replied “They’re not serious” and dispatched both claims with obvious disdain.
Rudy punctuated the topic of his businesses by saying that all of these client relationships represented “ethical, lawful, decent work, done by both companies…and none of them involve any conflict of any kind.” 

Russert played his trump card:  former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, a longtime Giuliani associate now under indictment for corruption.  Said Russert, “Another issue where your judgment is being questioned: Bernard Kerik.”  Rudy said he didn’t recall a supposed warning about Kerik but admitted “I made a mistake”. He went on to say that most of his appointees have been “outstanding people, getting exceptional results” and that “Kerik’s public performance was excellent….He reduced crime in New York. He was a hero in New York in every respect on September 11.” As far as Kerik’s other activities, Rudy admitted that he “should have figured it out, and I’ve learned from it and will not make that mistake in the future.”  Russert asked if Giuliani “put personal loyalty over integrity.” Rudy answered with some indignation, “No, I did not. I would never do that.”

Russert then went to the meaningless question of NY City police protecting Rudy’s former girlfriend, now wife, Judith Nathan.  Rudy described a life of having threats made against him, his family, and his loved ones. When there were such threats, the NYC police department made the threat assessments.  Giuliani said Russert’s claims about details of that protection were simply wrong, and re-emphasized that none of the security decisions were made by him and that neither he nor Ms. Nathan liked or wanted that sort of police presence so nearby.

Russert asked Giuliani what he thought of Mike Huckabee’s positions on AIDS and homosexuality. Rudy, continuing the Huckabee-Giuliani softball game, said that he doesn’t need to comment on Huckabee and then went on to say that unlike Huckabee he does not believe that homosexuality is sinful.

Getting to actual issues with only a few minutes left in the show, Russert asked what Giuliani thought of the bill to increase fuel efficiency standards.  Rudy replied “That isn’t the way I think it should be done”, saying he doesn’t believe in such mandates.  “The real emphasis here should be on developing energy independence and creating alternative industries.”

Rudy said he would have an “intention of balancing the budget” and pointed out that he did so in New York, finishing the few seconds Russert allowed for discussion of real domestic issues.

Sunday’s “Meet the Press” was a lost opportunity for Rudy Giuliani because Tim Russert offered less an interview than a debate.  The Mayor was given no chance to do anything other than fend off Russert’s attacks, no time to differentiate himself from other GOP candidates, and ultimately little more than practice for future debates against inane Democrat talking points.