Fred Thompson photo

Interview with Tim Russert on NBC News' "Meet the Press"

November 04, 2007

RUSSERT: Welcome.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

RUSSERT: Let me start with Pakistan. President Musharraf has declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, closed down many television networks. What would you, as president, be saying this morning?

THOMPSON: I'd be saying learn as much as you can about the situation to all my people. And I know Secretary Rice is doing that. We've got two competing serious considerations there. One is the rule of law, which we've got to stand for, which he's going against right now. And the other is the fact that it's one of the most potentially dangerous situations in the world for us right now. He is an ally in, in a, in a very sparsely populated place as far as allies are concerned. There're not many of them in that part of the world. Even parts of his own government do not have our interests at heart. There are radical Muslim elements there. There are terrorist elements there that are trying to, to apparently get control of the government. I do not know exactly what Musharraf sees or thinks he sees to cause him to do what he has done, but we need to understand that this is a nuclear country. We could face a real nightmare scenario by seeing these radical elements, or these terrorist sympathizers, take control of that government and have that nuclear capability there on the border of, of Afghanistan when we've got so many troops there.

RUSSERT: We have provided President Musharraf $10 billion in American aid since 2001. Should we suspend that aid?

THOMPSON: Not now. I know that it's been mentioned by our people. He's been told that that's at risk if he, if he did what he, in fact, did. Everything's going to be on the table. I think we've got to play hardball with him, but understand that if–and, and they were making progress, apparently, toward a civilian government. You know, former Prime Minister Bhutto was coming back; they had had discussions. They had talked about, talked about what appeared to be sort of a divided government. He was willing to take off the uniform, he said, and have a civilian government. It looked like things were going well. Then terrorists attacked Bhutto when she was there, and she had to leave the country again. So now he's reacted to that and, on balance, we have to make sure that whatever happens that we do not see total instability in that country in, in that government and we do not see a takeover by a radical Muslim elements or terrorist sympathizers.

RUSSERT: Because of the uniqueness and precariousness and the sensitivity of that country, would we allow President Musharaff, General Musharaff, to continue under martial law because he's our ally?

THOMPSON: Well, when you say we allow the head of a country to stay the head of a country, you know, that's, that's, that's kind of a mouthful. I don't think we ought to look at it like whether or not we allow someone to stand or not. The question is what's our relationship going to be with him? What kind of support are we going to, to give? Hopefully that situation won't stay that way. I don't see how it could. I think it's going to move one way or another.

I think our job right now is to make sure that we know all that he knows and the reasons why he's doing what he's doing. Some experts thought that he might get a favorable decision from the Supreme Court, and I wonder exactly why he did what he did when he did it. Let's know what his motivations were. Let's make sure that we properly analyze our own intelligence there and work toward moving that situation toward a civilian government.

What he's doing, I'm afraid, is alienating those in that country who might be on the fence, who might be somewhat moderate when he, in effect, declares martial law and suspends the constitution. He's working against his own interests, perhaps. But again, he knows his own country. He knows those radical elements there. He knows that terrorists tried to kill Bhutto when she was there recently, and it's, it's too early to be making broad pronouncements about that part of the world right now.

RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. You said the other day that "I think the policy we're engaged in now is the right one," and then added this, earlier, this, couple of years ago, talking to Larry Kudlow. "It's just a matter of staying the course. And as long as we have the will to stay–and it's extremely important, I think, to our future security that we stay–we'll be OK, and we'll work our way through it." Is that still your view?

THOMPSON: Yeah. I think so. It seems to me like, at the end of last year, we were losing the war. It seems to me now, in the last five months, that there've been a lot of good things happen there. You know, we just got through Ramadan, which is one of the worst periods for us historically, and there's less violence than in the last three years there. By any measure, in terms of the sectarian violence, in terms of the military deaths and injuries and attacks, Baghdad over the last several months is in much better shape, and the area around Baghdad. We know a lot of, a lot of progress has been made out in other provinces. Around Baghdad I think car bombings have gone down over 80 percent. There's some reconciliation apparently taking place out in the country. Not enough is happening among those–the political leaders in Baghdad, for sure, but that doesn't mean progress is not being made. So the Sunnis are turning away from al-Qaeda. They've–they've had an opportunity to live under them in some of these places and localities and seen their brutality. They don't want that. They're turning toward us. Reconciliation between Sunnis and Shia and other parts of the, of the country there.

I, I think that, I think that we're making substantial progress there, and this would not be–nobody knows what's going to happen, but this would be the worst time in the world to start talking about deadlines or cutting off funding or getting out prematurely. I would like to see nothing more than our troops start coming out of there, but as a part of a success scenario. And I think that's a realistic scenario that the generals on the ground there have in mind.

RUSSERT: But staying the course, the status quo, can that be our strategy? What is our exit strategy? How long would you stay there?

THOMPSON: Well, it's, it's not a, it's not a stay-the-course when–in, in terms of what's been going on there. What's been going on there's been quite negative. It is a–giving us an opportunity to succeed. You know, we've got to, we've got take yes for an answer. We got to take success as a, as a reality when we find it. We've, we've seen a lot of negativity, and rightfully so. But now that things are turning, even those in some of the think tanks around town are not pro-war by any stretch of the imagination have stepped up and said, "We're making real progress." We see the headlines that, that are, that are changing now. The stakes are too high, Tim. It's not, it's not a matter of, of just Iraq. The–we're being tested. The whole world is watching to see whether or not the American people have the will and the ability, the unity, the determination to, to succeed in any front that we happen to be engaged in, and this is a front in much larger war. We–we've provided stability ever since the end of World War II in the world. Some people–some countries have not gone nuclear because of us, because of our strength and stability we've provided. We don't want to see Iran fill that vacuum that we would leave there. We do not want to see the Saudis, for example, to go nuclear in response to what they perceive Iran is doing, and especially if we pulled out of, of that area. So now of all times when we're seeing so many good things happening there and so many good reports from generals who we respect there, we should, we should not be thinking in terms of deadlines.

RUSSERT: We should plan on being there several years.

THOMPSON: Well, I don't know what several years means. I mean, we, we just don't know. We, we hopefully can be a buffer for a while after we pacify the place, and average people can go worship without fear of being blown up. And we can be a necessary buffer there for a while, but I would hope that it would not be, you know, indefinite. You know, we've read too many historians who've talked about great nations in times past that many of them were empires. We don't call ourselves an empire.

RUSSERT: But you oppose withdrawing any troops right now.

THOMPSON: Well, I, I, I think we ought to stay on the course that we're on. The scenario that's planned, as I understand it, involves a withdrawal of troops next, next spring or summer as a part of the success scenario. But I don't think that we ought to, to be armchair generals and say that a few more or few less ought to be the, the way to go when we've got people on the ground who apparently now know what they're doing.

RUSSERT: You made a comment the other day in South Carolina, said, "Fred Thompson said the Iraqi insurgency is made up of 'a bunch of kids with improvised explosive devices,' and suggested that the appearance of losing to such an enemy would harm U.S. national security." As you know, we've lost 3,834 kids; 28,385 wounded or injured, 65 percent of them by these improvised devices.


RUSSERT: It's more than just a bunch of kids.

THOMPSON: Yeah. Well, that's, that's not exactly what I said. I mean, I, I don't minimize the fact that, that we've got terrorists coming in from Syria, from, from Iraq–I mean from Iran and, and other places, in Saudi Arabia, pouring in there. We, we have Sunni-Shia violence; there's no question about that. I've never disputed that. Al-Qaeda, although I think they're back on their heels now, still strong there, there's no question.

What I said was, the–when I'm talking–I was talking about will and unity and the perception that we're going to have around the world. The fact that friends and foes alike are looking to see what kind of a, of a, of a determination that we're going to muster in, in dealing with this thing.

RUSSERT: But you should not trivialize...

THOMPSON: And I said...

RUSSERT: You shouldn't trivialized as a bunch of kids.

THOMPSON: ...and I said, and I said–well, let me finish. I said the United States of America could not be perceived as having been run out of Iraq with our tail between our legs because a bunch of kids on the border there making improvised explosive devices. The–as they're going to recruit future al-Qaeda young men, they're not going to get into the nuances of the various factions that are our enemy down there. They're going to go say, "Look, you can do, you can do exactly what your brothers did. You can be a part of us. We brought them down. We brought the United States of America to its knees." And, in large part, it is because of young people making–they call them improvised for a reason. I mean, they're, they're pretty low-tech kind of operations by people probably with not much education, and they can be taught to do this, and they're causing great damage to us. And you go to places, Brook Army Medical Center and so forth, they don't handle no one–nothing but burns and amputees, and you see what's, what's, what's been done there. They've, they've, they've demoralized us in many respects. They've hurt us badly. There's, there's no question about that. It should not be minimized.

But the point being, these young people that I've talked to know what they're doing, and they know that they're doing something good for their country, and we need to understand that, too. And we cannot let the perception be, and the new potential recruits for al-Qaeda be convinced of the notion that these young people like this can bring us down.

RUSSERT: You were in Iowa, and you're talking about Saddam Hussein, and you said, it was, "He was certain former Iraqi leaders Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a point of contention in the four and a half years since the war began. 'We can't forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had'" "'WMD. He clearly had,'the beginnings of a nuclear program,' Thompson told the audience of about 60 at a Newton cafe."

The Dulfer Commission, David Kay, all the weapons inspectors said they did not find any WMD. And yet you're–you seem to be raising the whole herring again...

THOMPSON: No, no, I'm not...

RUSSERT: ...of chemical, biological and nuclear.

THOMPSON: Not at all. Amazingly, they got that one a, a little bit wrong. I've been on this program in years past, and we've discussed these issues, and I've been on many others. What I was pointing out is that he had clearly, before, in years before the, the invasion, he had weapons of mass destruction. And he'd used them on his own people, the Kurds in the north and so forth. I mean, that's beyond dispute. I have never claimed and didn't claim in that statement there–and I explained to the reporter afterwards, when he specifically asked me about this, that he had weapons of mass destruction and we just went in there and invaded and missed them and couldn't see them. No, he did not have them at the time. But what the Iraqi Survey Group said when they went in there later is that, in their opinion, he would–he had the capability and the desire to reconstitute what he'd had once before, and that is the beginnings of a nuclear program. That's what the Israelis bombed in 1981, with Osirak reactor. He had the, the infrastructure; he had the expertise and so forth. And my...

RUSSERT: But you do not believe, you do not believe that Saddam had WMD when we invaded in 2003?

THOMPSON: No, no. Obviously not.

RUSSERT: Let me turn to Osama bin Laden. In Iowa you told reporters, "Bin Laden is 'more symbolism than anything else.'" To the people who died on September 11th, Osama bin Laden is more than symbolism.

THOMPSON: Well, again, let, let, let me make the point. I've never been accused of being soft on Osama bin Laden. What I think sometimes happens in this country is that we fixate on a personality. And even someone as, as, as, as evil as this man, we need to understand, if he goes–if he's killed, someone will take his place. It's almost like that–the focus is so much on him that we think our problem will pretty much go away if we get him. Getting him is important. It's important because he's the head of this operation right now. It's important because of symbolism and lots of other reasons. No question about that. But the notion that, that, that our problems are pretty much going to be solved when he goes away–remember, al-Zarqawi in, in Iraq, when, when we killed him? It was, it was a important thing to do. Things got worse for us after that for a while. I mean, we, we can't be fixated–it, it minimizes the nature of the problem. We're in a global conflict now. We have been for some time. Iraq is a part of that conflict. And, unfortunately, regardless of what happens in Iraq, I believe it's going to extend for some time to come, and we need to understand the severity of it. And that was my point.

RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of torture. You were talking about it the other day. Here's how the San Francisco Chronicle reported it: "Thompson noted the United States does not support torture and abides by international law, then indicated he would not be opposed to waterboarding if national security were at stake. 'As a general proposition, I've always thought when you get right down to it, the measures have to meet the situation.'" "'If our country is faced with an imminent loss of lives of innocent Americans, and we have someone–and we're confident enough in our intelligence to be secure in the knowledge that this person has important information that could save the lives of innocent Americans–all I can say is that as president the measures will always meet the circumstances.'" "'I will do what I think is in the best interest of my country.'" In a situation like that...

THOMPSON: Now there, there I was quoted exactly right.

RUSSERT: You would use torture if you thought it would get the information?

THOMPSON: I never used, I never used the word torture. I think that...

RUSSERT: Or the measures, the measures you would use?

THOMPSON: The, the–well, what I, what I said is, is what I meant to say, and that is the measures must meet the circumstances, and if we're facing the imminent loss of innocent American lives, if we're confident enough in our intelligence–and that's a big if; we got to do a lot better there for sure–to believe that the person that we have has information that, that would start the, in effect, ticking time bomb that we talk about sometimes, the measures have to meet those circumstances. And I'm not sure what it would take. You're talking about techniques. We're having a big public debate now on a technique which I know very little about. It sounds very gruesome to me. But the president of the United States has an obligation to do what I just said, and I can't imagine anybody being president who wouldn't make that decision.

RUSSERT: So you would use techniques that you felt necessary?


RUSSERT: And, and pay the consequences for using those if, in fact, they turned out to be torture?

THOMPSON: I would pay the consequences, or, or I would, I would answer to whatever decision that I made. And I would do what was necessary, if necessary, to protect those who carried out my orders under those circumstances.

RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iran. Back in June, here was the question: "If it's clear that Iran is getting close to getting a nuclear weapon, would it be your policy to support pre-emption as a means of taking out or wiping out those facilities?"

Thompson, "Yes, yes."

"It would be?"


So you would be in favor...

THOMPSON: Sounds a little eager there, doesn't it?

RUSSERT: Well, my question: Do you believe, do you believe the United States should, in fact, be prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to eliminate their nuclear capability?

THOMPSON: Yes, we should be prepared to do that. I think in many respects it would be a sign of the failure of other policies. I don't think that that's something that, that we should have to do. There are a lot of things going on inside Iran right now that I don't think most Americans hear enough about. The, the people there are dissatisfied with their leadership. They're dissatisfied with the kind of lives they live. The, the economy's in shambles. There're, there're demonstrations that're going on all the time. A lot of their student leaders and others, labor leaders and so forth, have been imprisoned or, or killed. There are a lot of people inside that country that–who are friendly to the United States of America.

We're not doing enough, I don't believe, to help them, to communicate with them, to give them the means of communication to rhetorically say the things that I think we need to say, to give them moral support. You know, we've seen other great nations much stronger than this one fall because of support that was given to people on the inside. Very few, very few regime changes take place like that in a large country without some support from the, from the outside. A lot of things we can do in terms of just helping them communicate better and us getting information in there better to, to, to help them. I think the, the sanctions are having some effect. I don't think you'll ever get the Russians or the Chinese to really turn the screws on them because their, their economic relationships mean too much to them.

But we're, we're having a–some change in France, some change in Germany now, I think, in terms of their attitude. Some of our other European allies, and some of those economic changes, I think, have hurt the higher up Iranians. And so I think a combination of those things, effective policies and a realization that these–the nature of these people, the mullahs are religiously-driven extremists, and they're not like other nation states. It's very difficult to sit, sit across the table from them and, and, and have negotiations that make intellectual sense to us, but does not to them because they're–they have a different drive. They consider us the, the great Satan. Israel's the little Satan, and we know what their plans are for them. But they consider us the great Satan, so negotiations in the traditional sense are, are going to be extremely difficult and probably fruitless. So we need to get about these other things–the sanctions, assistance with regard to people on the inside there–before we ever get to the point–it may backfire on us if we attack them, even if we had to attack them. I don't see how we can afford to let these people go nuclear, frankly.

RUSSERT: Will you, will you–would you make...

THOMPSON: But it may, it may–there may be a backlash. It's risky. We need to take these other options to the fullest extent.

RUSSERT: Would you make a pledge that Iran will not develop a nuclear bomb while you were president?

THOMPSON: That would be my intent. If–I, I would make a pledge to do everything that I could to keep it from happening.

RUSSERT: How far are they away from having one?

THOMPSON: Nobody knows. They claim that they have a few thousands centrifuges in, in order to make–enrich uranium, which would go into a weapon like that. You've got to have quite a few more centrifuges than that. You've got to make them work together. It's not an easy job. But it–they're not easy to find, either, in a place like Iran.

RUSSERT: You said an attack may backfire. What, in fact, would be the fallout from a U.S. attack on Iran? What if the Iranians said, "All right, we're going to send several hundred thousand troops into Iraq to engage your 165,000 on the ground." What happens to the region, what happens to Saudi Arabia, what happens to a, a jihad among Shiites all around the world?

THOMPSON: What happens to all coming out of the Gulf?

RUSSERT: What happens?

THOMPSON: Yeah. Well, sometimes you're faced with two very bad decisions, and those are two very bad decisions. But what happens if, if a country like this, who talks in terms of the 12th imam coming back and maybe millions of people dying and so forth, including their own people. It would be, you know, on balance, it would be apparently OK with them as long as, as they would do the right thing, you know, from their own warped religious standpoint. And what would happen if they, if they sent a, a, a, a missile with a nuclear warhead and, and hit Israel? What would happen if they did the same to our people in the field with some kind of attacks by a nuclear weapon? What would happen then? What would happen if they held that whole region hostage in terms of oil? And, and, and, and oil, you know, which now, you know, $90 to $100 a barrel, much, much higher than that. Those are bad, bad circumstances and situations. I mean, that's why most people with good judgment don't run for president, I suppose.

RUSSERT: Where do you, where do you come down?

THOMPSON: Because those are, because those are tough situations.

RUSSERT: Which side...

THOMPSON: You can't, you can't answer that in advance. I mean, we're, we're talking about a little ways down the road. They clearly, as best we can tell, don't have that capability today and are not real close to it, but it might be a matter of two or three years. Experts disagree on that.

But let's get back to, to something else again. The major effort we need to be making now is to improve our intelligence and improve our human intelligence and make sure that we do better next time than, than we have done in the past. You can't do anything in terms of making the decision as to what to do or how to carry it out in terms of where these facilities are. What about if we attacked them and found out that we only did half the job because our intelligence was faulty as to where the facilities were? We'd have the worst of both worlds. So these are tough, tough decisions. All these considerations have to be on the table, and the situation next year at this time will be different than it is today.

RUSSERT: And if you go to the world and the country and say, "We're going to do this to Iran," the response from some would be "Is that the same intelligence that gave us Iraq?"

THOMPSON: Exactly. That's the price you pay when you operate on the basis of faulty intelligence. But you have to operate on the basis of the intelligence that you have. And, in our case, you know, as far as Iraq was concerned it was almost unanimous. I mean, I thought they had weapons of mass destruction there on the day that, that we went in. You know, the, the leading Democrats on the Intelligence Committee thought the same thing. Just about every country that's our, our ally, their intelligence thought the same thing, too. So it's always going to be murky, but we've, we've got to make it as clear as we possibly can because these decision are the most vital decisions that a country can possibly make, and it's got to be maked–made on the best intelligence that we can get, and it's got to be better than what it's been in the past.

RUSSERT: Senator, we're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about some domestic issues. More of our discussion with Senator Fred Thompson right after this.


RUSSERT: More of our conversation with Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson after this station break.


RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Fred Thompson is our guest.

Virginia Tech, last April 32 killed, terrible tragedy. You had a radio report back at that time, and I'd like to share it with you and our viewers. "Virginia Tech," the "administrators overrode Virginia state law and threatened to expel or fire anybody who brings a weapon," on the "campus. Many other universities have been swayed by an anti-gun, anti-self defense ideology. Whenever I've seen one of those 'Gun-free zone' signs, especially outside of a school filled with our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, I've always wondered exactly who these signs are directed at."

My sense in reading that is that you would be in favor of licensed citizens of Virginia, students, including students, to carry concealed weapons on a college campus.

THOMPSON: It would have to be consistent with campus rules. I don't think that all students need to be carrying weapons on the school campus. What I would, I would feel more comfortable with, if a child of mine was on campus, when I read about these people, 30 people or so being lined up and systematically killed without anybody apparently around to do anything about it, I think some, some thought really needs to be given as to who should be properly qualified and permitted and, and armed on campuses and other places where large people gather. But...

RUSSERT: But you would, you would allow a campus to bar their students from carrying concealed weapons?

THOMPSON: Yeah, it, it would have to be consistent with state law and, and, and school rules. And different schools would have, you know, the, the freedom to, to have their own rules as, as, as they see fit.

RUSSERT: Let me ask you about an issue very important in your party's primary process, and that's abortion.


RUSSERT: This is the 2004 Republican Party platform, and here it is: "We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution," "we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions." Could you run as a candidate on that platform, promising a human life amendment banning all abortions?


RUSSERT: You would not?

THOMPSON: No. I have always–and that's been my position the entire time I've been in politics. I thought Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. I think this platform originally came out as a response to particularly Roe v. Wade because of that. Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions. I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with. That's what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and the federal government is, is, is–serves us very, very well. I think that's true of abortion. I think Roe v. Wade hopefully one day will be overturned, and we can go back to the pre-Roe v. Wade days. But...

RUSSERT: Each state would make their own abortion laws.

THOMPSON: Yeah. But, but, but to, to, to have an amendment compelling–going back even further than pre-Roe v. Wade, to have a constitutional amendment to do that, I do not think would be the way to go.

RUSSERT: I went back–we went back to your papers at the University of Tennessee and read through them. This is what you said back in 1994 as a candidate. Here's the first one: "I'm not willing to support laws that prohibit early-term abortions. I'm not suddenly upon election as a senator going to know when life begins and where that place ought to be exactly. It comes down to whether you believe life begins at conception. I don't know in my own mind if that is the case so I don't feel the law ought to impose that standard on other people."


RUSSERT: So you yourself don't know when life begins.

THOMPSON: No. I didn't know then.

RUSSERT: You know now?

THOMPSON: I, I, I–my head has always been the same place. My public position has always been the same. I've been 100 percent pro-life in every vote that I've ever cast in, in my service to the United States Senate.

RUSSERT: But, Senator, you say that you're for states having...

THOMPSON: Well, no...

RUSSERT: Let me finish, because this is important. You're for allowing states to have pro-abortion rights, and you yourself, and I have 10 different statements from you, say that you would not ban abortion, it's a woman's right, and you would not ban it in the first trimester.

THOMPSON: No, no. Well, you just said two different things here. You know, it's a complex issue concerning whether or not you're going to have a federal law, whether or not you're going to have a federal constitutional amendment, those kinds of things. Nobody's proposed a federal law on this. Nobody's recently proposed a, a federal constitutional amendment. I, I, I had an opportunity to vote on an array of things over eight years, whether it be partial birth abortion, whether it be Mexico City policy, whether it be transporting young girls across state lines to avoid parental notification laws and all that--100 percent pro-life.

But let me finish on my point, and, and, and my legal record is there, and that's the way I would govern if I was president. I would take those same positions. No federal funding for abortion, no nothing that would in any way encourage abortion. When I saw–and again, all consistent with what I've said. I–people ask me hypothetically, you know, OK, it goes back to the states. Somebody comes up with a bill, and they say we're going to outlaw this, that or the other. And my response was I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors or perhaps their family physician. And that's what you're talking about. It's not a sense of the Senate. You're talking about potential criminal law. I said those things are going to be ultimately won in the hearts and minds of people. I'm probably a pretty good example of that. Although my, my, my head and my legislative record's always been the same, when I saw that sonogram of my little now four-year-old, it's, it's, it's changed my heart. It's changed the way I look at things. I was looking at my child when, when, when I, when I saw that. And I knew that, and I felt that. And that's the way I feel today. And I think life begins at conception. I always–it was abstract to me before. I was a father earlier when I was very young. I was busy. I went about my way. One of the, one of the maybe few advantages you have by getting a little bit older.

RUSSERT: So while you believe that life begins at conception, the taking of a human life?

THOMPSON: Yes, I, I, I, I do.

RUSSERT: You would allow abortion to be performed in states if chosen by states for people who think otherwise?

THOMPSON: I do not think that you can have a, a, a law that would be effective and that would be the right thing to do, as I say, in terms of potentially–you can't have a law that cuts off an age group or something like that, which potentially would take young, young girls in extreme situations and say, basically, we're going to put them in jail to do that. I just don't think that that's the right thing to do. It cannot change the way I feel about it morally, but legally and practically, I've got to recognize that fact. It is a dilemma that I'm not totally comfortable with, but that's the best I can do in resolving it in my own mind.

RUSSERT: And also with gay marriage, according to the Associated Press: "Thompson favors a constitutional amendment that bars judges from legalizing gay marriage, but also leaves open the door for state legislatures to approve the practice." So if a state said, "We want to have gay marriages in our state," you would be OK with that?

THOMPSON: Yes. This, this, this–the–marriage is between a man and a woman. Nobody ever thought that that was contested until recently, and we've had a couple judges in a couple states decide to turn all that on its head. So we've, we've had, again, a judge-created problem. I would support a constitutional amendment that addresses this judge-created problem. But at the end of–and, and say judges can't do that. But, at the end of the day, if a state legislature and a governor decide that that's what they want to do, yes, they should have, they, they should have the freedom to do what Fred Thompson thinks is a very bad idea.

RUSSERT: In March of '05, the Congress, the president signed legislation allowing a federal judge to intervene, to perhaps re-insert a feeding tube in the famous Terri Schiavo case.


RUSSERT: You've spoken about that, about the death of your own daughter. Your view is it is a family's decision to make whether to insert or remove a feeding tube.


RUSSERT: And that should...

THOMPSON: And then, and then, obviously, in consultation with their doctor.

RUSSERT: But there should be no laws involved?

THOMPSON: No. I've not said that. What–I mean, you, you got to put your lawyer hat back on, you know, with this most personal, should be nonlegal consideration. If there is a family dispute, then there're courts in, in every state in the nation that you can take a dispute like that to. I said the federal government should not be involved.

RUSSERT: But the government should not have gotten involved in Terri Schiavo?

THOMPSON: No. Now, you know, keep in mind, now, the, the government didn't come in and say "You got to do this; you got to do that." It gave federal court jurisdiction. Federal court didn't need jurisdiction, in my opinion. These are kinds of things where the, the, the–well, you mentioned it myself, my own personal situation. Let's just say you never know when you make the right decision, what–it, it wasn't totally comparable, but it was, it was the same, it was the same general end-of-life kind of consideration. And I, I–I've resisted and, and resent, frankly, the political football that's been made out of all that, and, and it's unfortunate. The less government, the better.

RUSSERT: Let me ask you about a story in the front page of The Washington Post today, and here it is: "Thompson Adviser Has a Criminal Past."

"Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson's been crisscrossing the country since early this summer on a private jet lent to him by a businessman and close adviser who has a criminal record for drug dealing.

"Philip Martin is one of four campaign co-chairmen and the head of a group called" "'first day founders.'

"Thompson's frequent flights aboard Martin's twin-engine Cessna 560 Citation have saved him more than $100,000 because, until the law changed in September, campaign finance rules allowed presidential candidates to reimburse private jet owners for just a fraction of the true cost of flights.

"Martin entered a plea of guilty to the sale of 11 pounds of marijuana in '79; the court withheld judgment pending completion of his probation. He was charged in 1983 with violating his probation," "with multiple counts of felony bookmaking, cocaine trafficking and conspiracy. He pleaded no contest to the cocaine trafficking and conspiracy charges, which stemmed from a plan to sell $30,000 worth of the drug, and was continued on probation." Is Philip Martin still with your campaign?


RUSSERT: He will continue?

THOMPSON: I read about–I, I, I heard about this yesterday afternoon. I read about it last night. I read the, the story that you're reading. I haven't had the chance to talk to him yet. Let me make a couple points. Number one, this airplane business, we–and there's no allegation otherwise, but we have, we have complied with all the rules, everybody flies the airplanes, everybody makes leases for, for airplanes or other arrangements for–to fly airplanes, and you abide by the, the campaign finance rules. We have abided by all those rules, and we have used his plane. Nobody...

RUSSERT: But as Philip...

THOMPSON: ...nobody, nobody...

RUSSERT: ...Martin...

THOMPSON: Nobody's made any accusations that he's done anything illegal with regard to our campaign. Now, what, what I understand is, from, from, from reading this story and from, from third parties is that when, when, when Phil was in his 20s, 24 years ago or something like that, these things came about. I know that–I did not know about that. They were in Florida; I was in Tennessee. After this he moved to Tennessee. I know Phil is a good man. He is my friend. He is going to remain my friend. He didn't go to jail, he got probation, he's paid his debt to society and turned himself around and become a good, productive, successful citizen. And I'm going to have to take a look at it. I'm going to have to talk to Phil, make sure I understand the nature of the situation and figure out what the right thing is. I'm not going to throw my friend under the bus for something he did, you know, 25 years ago if he's OK now. On the other hand, I'm running for president, I–I've got, you know, to, to do the right thing, you know, and problems occur, and I'll just have to figure it out.

RUSSERT: You've lost a considerable lot of weight. Is it health-related?

THOMPSON: Coming from you, I consider that compliment, Tim, but no, no, it's not health-related. I, you know, we had a diet around our house that was imposed a while back and, basically, you know, if it tastes real good, don't eat it, you know. But I was encouraged by, by my wife and other people in the health field, you know, to, to watch my cholesterol, to watch my weight, to exercise more. I exercise on a regular basis, and I eat better than I ever have and...

RUSSERT: But you were–you have been diagnosed with lymphoma.


RUSSERT: And you said the other day you were going to have some tests probably in October. Did you have your tests?

THOMPSON: Yes. I had–I had tests in September, actually...


THOMPSON: I recall.

RUSSERT: The results?

THOMPSON: Hundred--100 percent free and clear. Some people in the news media asked for that. I sent it to them. I didn't make a public announcement, but I had all the tests. The doctor put out a statement I'm in good shape. And in all fairness, you know, I get a lot of conversation about this, and it's totally legitimate. The American people have a right to know. I have a right to know, and so does my family. But, you know, I'm, I'm–there are a couple of other guys running for president, too, who've also had to deal...

RUSSERT: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani...

THOMPSON: Well, you know, I'm not looking...

RUSSERT: Will you release–will you release all your health records?

THOMPSON: I will release, you know, I–whatever the common practice is. I mean, I have to go back and, and, and look and see what other people have done and what's appropriate. But, but, but this is the, the only situation, of course, that, that is in, in, in, you know, anything like cancer category in my, in my life and I'm the one who put it out. I put my doctor out there to answer all the questions, and I'll continue, when appropriate, to, to answer any questions anybody's got. It's a fair, it's, it's a fair subject. I'm, I'm fortunate in that I, like my other colleagues on the campaign trail, I assume, I've got the kind that you can, you can deal with. There's 30-something different kinds of lymphoma, and I've supposedly got one of the better kinds. And, you know, I fully expect to live long enough to pass away from something else. So, you know, nobody knows and, you know, the Lord has shown me that he doesn't take people in sequence, necessarily, so you never know. But all I can do is put the facts out there, and, you know, I feel better physically than I ever have.

RUSSERT: Senator Fred Thompson, we're out of time. Thank you for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

RUSSERT: We hope you'll come back and talk about some more issues in the future.

THOMPSON: Appreciate it.

Fred Thompson, Interview with Tim Russert on NBC News' "Meet the Press" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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