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Interview With Colin Powell, Tim Russert

Aired June 10, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, as tens of thousands of mourners pay their respects to President Reagan, filing past his flag-draped casket in the nation's Capitol, Secretary of State Colin Powell remembers the president he served as a soldier and as chairman of the joint chiefs and then Tim Russert of "Meet the Press" on President Reagan's life and legacy and more. All next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: We begin tonight checking in at the State Department in Washington, D.C., with Secretary of State Colin Powell as we discuss the passing of his friend, the former president, Ronald Reagan.

How, Mr. Secretary, did you learn of his death?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: My staff advised me of it last Saturday night when we were in Paris. And I had known for several days that he was failing rapidly so it wasn't unexpected. But, nevertheless, it was a shock when I heard it. As you said earlier, Larry, he was a dear friend of mine, as well as my boss, as well as our president.

KING: Did you see him at all during his last years?

POWELL: No. I saw him about eight or nine years ago, before his famous letter, and right after I retired. And I knew then that he was starting to slip. He had not yet written his letter, but it was clear he was having more difficulty with speech and with connecting with people. And so I knew that he was an ill man then. And I stayed in very close touch with Mrs. Reagan over the years, and I was able to speak to her Sunday on my way back from the beaches of Normandy.

KING: You know, she is an enormous, for want of a better term, fan of yours.

POWELL: I am pleased to hear that, Larry. I think highly of her. She is a dear friend, and we not only became friendly during the two years that I worked for President Reagan, but after he left office we became much closer. And I treasure that friendship and I think the world of her.

KING: How did you get to be his national security adviser?

POWELL: I was brought back to work in the National Security Council in January of 1987, after the Iran-Contra problem broke out. Frank Carlucci was selected to be the national security adviser. I had worked for Frank, I was a corps commander in Germany at the time. And Frank asked me to come back and work as his deputy. Then President Reagan called and asked me to do it, and so I did it.

I gave up my corps command, came back, was deputy national security adviser for about 10 months. And then Frank Carlucci left to go to be secretary of defense, replacing Cap Weinberger, who did a brilliant job. And I replaced Frank Carlucci as national security adviser.

I had gotten to know President Reagan rather well by then. And one day Frank just came into the situation room during a meeting and said on a little note, "You are now the national security adviser." And that's the way it unfolded. He left and I took over.

KING: What was he like to work for or with?

POWELL: A pleasure. A man of straightforward, simple, but clearly understandable principles that he never wavered from. He believed in the strength of our nation, he believed in the strength of our values system. He believed in the armed forces of the United States as the guarantor of our strength and as a way of demonstrating to the rest of the world that we will be strong and we will defend our interests, but you really ought to work with us to see if we can find mutual interests that both of us can work on.

And that's what he did with the Soviet Union. And that's what he did in the last couple of years of his administration, when Gorbachev came into power, the last four years. And he found somebody he could work with.

And he didn't try to defeat Gorbachev or defeat the Soviet Union. He knew that was possible, but that wasn't his goal. His goal was to persuade Gorbachev and persuade the Soviet people that there was a better world, a better life waiting for them if they would abandon the policies that had brought them many, many guns but very little butter.

KING: Are you surprised at all at the outpouring all this week?

POWELL: No, I'm delighted to see it all. I think all Americans look at Reagan and that sunny smile, that picture that we see in all of our news magazines, and his denim shirt with that hat on, and that terrific smile coming at us. And that's the way we remember him. A man of incredible optimism, a man who knew who he was.

Ronald Reagan knew who he was. There was never any confusion. Never searching. And it was that coherence and that consistency of point of view and purpose and that guy who always knew that there was that shining city on the hill awaiting everybody that America saw and believed in. And now, many years after he left office, he continues to touch every American deeply. And you see that in this outpouring of affection pouring in, and for Mrs. Reagan.

KING: On Sunday night, we're going to repeat the interview I did with him after he had left office. In fact, a couple of months before he gave you his own -- his own Reagan medal of freedom. POWELL: Yes.

KING: He said he couldn't remember ever being angry. Maybe once he threw down his glasses on the table. Is that the way -- did you ever see him angry?

POWELL: The most I ever saw him do is maybe say, "shucks" over some particular problem that had occurred during that day or some story in the newspaper that troubled him. But, no, he tended not to be angry. He tended always to be on an even keel, which is what made it easy to work around him, to give him bad news, or to tell him good news. But to know that this was an individual who was secure in who he was and kept that even keel going.

And he always had that sense of humor bubbling. We all know that sense of humor; the American people know it. But those of us who worked for him saw it every day.

He could always diffuse the most tense situation with one of his famous stories. And he had them all catalogued. And we tend to know the stories so well. And in later years, it became a little bit more difficult for him to remember the stories through the punch line, and we'd help him with those stories.

This is after he left office, of course. The last time I saw him he was having some difficulty with the stories. But his desire to be warm with us, his desire to share humor with us, never left him, even though he had more difficulty going through the stories.

KING: I understand you have a story about visiting him in California shortly after he left office, involving a soldier's salute?

POWELL: It's a favorite story of mine, Larry. But after he retired and went back to California, and then I retired several years later, and I was out in California, and I had some time. And I called Mrs. Reagan to see if I could come drop by and see them. And they said, sure, come on up to the house.

And the local Army recruiter had been selected to be my chauffeur, a bit of a courtesy for an old, retired four-star general. And as we were driving through Beverly Hills up to the house, this young sergeant gripping the wheel, probably a very important mission for him, said, "Please tell President Reagan for me how much all of us in uniform love what he did for us. He made us proud again. He made us so proud again."

So we pulled up to the house, parked about 20 feet from the house. I got out, I rang the doorbell. President Reagan answered the doorbell, and I said, "Sir, there's a young soldier out here who wants to tell you something."

And I motioned to the sergeant to come over to the door. And I thought he'd never let go of the steering wheel, he was gripping it so tight. But he let go of the steering wheel, got out of the car, came over to the president, and his eyes were wide open. And he didn't know exactly what to do, so he fell back on his training, came to attention, saluted President Reagan.

President Reagan returned the salute in that manner that we all loved. And he used to tell us how he learned that: "Pick it up and throw it away," the way he learned it in the Army.

And so he returned that salute smartly. The young sergeant and the president exchanged a few words with each other, and the sergeant went back to the car.

The president then invited me in. As we were walking in down the hallway to join Mrs. Reagan, he turns to me and he says, "Colin, is it OK if I still keep saluting?" And I said, "Mr. President, don't you ever stop. Don't you ever stop."

KING: Wow. Did you learn a lot from him? Can you apply things you learned from him?

POWELL: Yes. I learned to try to be calm in the midst of a storm. Sometimes I'm good at it, sometimes I'm not.

I've learned to use humor more effectively. I learned that one ought to try to have a clear idea of where you're wanting to go. And to try to get that down throughout your entire organization so that people can use you as their guide, as you are guiding on your principles. And I learned to just realize that there's always another day coming that will challenge you and give you new opportunities, and give you new problems that you have to deal with.

KING: We are told that one member of the cabinet will not attend the service tomorrow morning so that in case of a, God forbid, catastrophe, some administration person is there. Do you know who that is? And will you be there?

POWELL: No, I don't know who that is. We always have one person that is kept out from the rest of the cabinet members as a precaution. That's the pattern at our annual State of the Union speech. I don't know who it is, and right now no one's told me so -- that I am it. So I expect to be there.

KING: You would certainly want to be there, right?

POWELL: Very much. Alma and I are looking forward to being there and being in the presence of Nancy, of course, and the family. But in the presence of someone who will always be with us in spirit, if not in person.

KING: Thanks. Thanks, Mr. Secretary. Always good spending time with you.

POWELL: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Tim Russert will be us right after the break and then later a special musical close tonight I know you're going to want to hear. Tomorrow night, we'll anchor the proceedings from the spot of the burial up in Simi Valley, California, about an hour from where we speak. We'll be anchoring that, of course, 90 minutes tomorrow night starting at 9:00 Eastern.

Right back with Tim Russert right after this.


KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE from our studios in Washington, Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," senior vice president and Washington bureau chief for NBC News, and author of a terrific new book on the "New York Times" best-seller. He was on to discuss that book a little while ago. I got to read the book right after that. There you see the cover "Big Russ & Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life." And a great Father's Day gift. Congratulations, Tim, a great book.


KING: We asked General Powell this, I'll ask you, are you surprised at the outpouring?

RUSSERT: I'm not. You know, it's quite interesting growing up the way I did in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. And in my book I write about my dad's innate optimism. And it was the kind of optimism that I think Ronald Reagan shared with the country, as president. And then that coupled with the way he died, dying in dignity by openly telling the American people of his affliction with Alzheimer's. And telling them that he was now prepared to travel into the final sunset of his life. I think those two notions of optimism and candor really underscore the outpouring of affection we're seeing over the last week.

KING: And with Nancy's coming out strongly for stem cell research in the embryonic area, do you think that might help that along?

RUSSERT: Oh, absolutely. Two (ph) conversations I've had with Republicans this week, they are looking to her as a very active spokesperson on that issue. And in the end, it is going to be Republicans who are going to have to cross over and join with Democrats in a bipartisan way if the laws are ever going to be changed on that particular subject.

KING: What, Tim, did he represent, do you think, that touched so many people?

Even so many people who disagreed with him politically?

RUSSERT: I think that's a very important point, Larry. You know, in my lifetime, there only have been two presidents who I remember coming forward and acknowledging a mistake. A big mistake. John Kennedy on the Bay Of pigs and Ronald Reagan on Iran-Contra. And both of them, I think, enhanced their credibility and popularity by doing just that. Secondly, there was this notion of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, who really had two deeply different philosophies and ideologies. And yet they both insisted that at 6:00 p.m. the fighting stop and people would be willing to try to share a drink or a joke and find some common ground. The American people sensed that immediately. They know when someone's a good guy. A nice guy. And even though they may disagree with policies or ideology or philosophy, as my dad would say to me, that if someone likes you, they'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

KING: Is that not around now?

RUSSERT: It's poisonous, Larry, in Washington. People line up as either Democrats or Republicans. There's very little interaction, socialization between the parties. I used to watch Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey debate each other on the Senate floor and then go off into the cloak room and have a drink together. Now, that's sorely missing. And I think that, if there's anything that, perhaps, America has learned over this last week, is that you can have a politics that is deeply passionate, deeply issue-driven, one where people can be very policy and conscious, and devoted to principle, and still agree or disagree in a way that is compatible with that view, and compatible with civility.

KING: How about tomorrow?

What are you looking forward to?

RUSSERT: I think the gathering itself is going to be extraordinary. In one house you will have the presidents, the former president, the leaders of Congress of both parties, the Supreme Court, the delegation from around the world. Former Prime Minister Thatcher, Prime Minister Blair, Prince Charles, representatives of the G-8 countries, the democracies -- industrialized democracies. I think that the route through Washington, a final farewell, will be extraordinary. And then going out to where you are, and you talked about the sunset burial. Kind of fitting in his native state of California.

KING: And I'll be anchoring that tomorrow night. And when we come back we're going to ask Tim about the extraordinary relationship of Reagan and Gorbachev. Our guest is Tim Russert. His book "Big Russ & Me" a major best-seller, and deservedly so. We'll be right back.


KING: The lines continue in the nation's Capitol. Our guest is Tim Russert of "Meet the Press," and the author of "Big Russ & Me." A major, as we said, best-seller.

How do you explain that relationship? He visited the -- he was in the rotunda today, he'll be at the funeral tomorrow. How do you explain that Gorbachev relationship with Reagan?

RUSSERT: I think it goes back to the fundamentals, Larry. And that was that Gorbachev was trying to take Ronald Reagan's measure when they first met. And he understood that he had been able to negotiate with a whole variety of people in his political life, this is Mr. Gorbachev. And then he met someone named Ronald Reagan who basically said if we have to spend you into submission from a defense standpoint, we can do that. Or we can come to terms here.

And sometimes Ronald Reagan would ratchet up the rhetoric with the now infamous tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev. So Gorbachev never had a chance to question whether President Reagan was serious about winning the arms race through increasing the spending.

And I really do believe, in the end, that Gorbachev calculated that the Soviet Union could not compete with the United States in terms of defense spending, Larry, and still take care of their people. And it was the equivalent of a technical knockout. Gorbachev, when he opted for Paris strike (ph) in Glasnos, you saw the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union as we knew it then.

KING: But, also, it turned into a pretty good, according to Nancy, friendship. They genuinely liked each other.

RUSSERT: I think it's two men who understood who they were, where they came from. Both had a pretty good sense of humor. I remember when we went over to Moscow, Tom Brokaw was going to interview Mikhail Gorbachev and I had a poster of then the 12 people running for president of the United States. We were having a debate at the Kennedy Center.

And I said, Mr. Gorbachev, who do you think your opponent will be? And he took out a pen and his staff was going crazy and he quickly circled all twelve and yelled in English, one of them. So he was someone who understood that.

You know, Larry, I think -- every time I see a picture of Ronald Reagan in Berlin, tear down that wall, I remember back as a little boy, Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations saying, one day, your children will grow up in Communism, and my dad saying, no, sir. No siree, you've got it wrong.

And now, three years ago, Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev's son, became an American citizen. That is what the American dream is all about. That's what's standing up and winning the Cold War is all about.

KING: And speaking of that, did Ronald Reagan's formidability on the world stage surprise you?

RUSSERT: I didn't know him well, other than when he was the governor of California. What I did know in 1980 was that the Jimmy Carter campaign, then seeking re-election, was welcoming the prospect of running against Ronald Reagan. They couldn't believe their good fortune, that he was going to be the nominee of the Republican Party, because they thought they could portray him as someone who was very far right, and inexperienced on foreign policy. And they obviously learned, as did the American people, that he was a very formidable candidate.

Larry, he ran for election four times. Twice as governor, twice as president, and won four landslides. There's a lesson there. And we call him the great communicator. But the way he communicated was in a very simple, direct and understandable way. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. And so I think when he went and sat down with world leaders, they didn't get a lot of nuance and complexity, but they got a very straightforward, and cogent presentation of his deeply held philosophy and I think they found that somewhat refreshing.

KING: During his term in office, you worked for two very prominent Democrats, Pat Moynihan in the Senate, Mario Cuomo in the govern's office. What did they think of him?

RUSSERT: Well, Daniel Patrick Moynihan is a very interesting example. He worked for, as you know, four presidents, two Republicans, Nixon and Ford, two Democrats, Kennedy and Johnson. In fact, it was Pat Moynihan that gave the gridiron address the weekend, the Saturday night before President Reagan was shot. And President Reagan responded to it and they had a wonderful, but civil exchange that great evening.

And the most important thing I think that developed then was a respect for each other, and their views which led to two years later Bob Dole and Pat Moynihan going to see President Reagan and saying we have a problem with Social Security. And unless we do something now it's going to go insolvent.

They brought in Alan Greenspan, went to see the president, and he said where does Tip O'Neill stand on this? And they were able to hammer out a compromise. Ronald Reagan, Tip O'Neill, Pat Moynihan and Bob Dole, which saved Social Security. You can't do much better than that.

Mario Cuomo...

KING: I was going to say the Democrats had only one great moment in 1984 and that was Cuomo's speech in San Francisco. And you and I stood together and watched that speech, because he went on my radio show right after it. What did he think of Ronald Reagan?

RUSSERT: Well, he was obviously, I think, deeply impressed by his ability to communicate. And that's why, when Cuomo responded with the keynote address at the '84 convention, it was to the shining city on the hill. Because he realized how well President Reagan had done with that theme. And so what Governor Cuomo said is, Mr. President, there are two cities, one shining city on the hill, and another city that still needs help, which was the Democratic philosophy, the Democratic theme.

But the most funny thing I heard in this whole exchange, Larry, is that night on the radio you asked Mario Cuomo what did he think of Ronald Reagan? He said, Larry, look at his hair. How could you not like him?

KING: You remember that! Hey, that's right. That's only 20 years ago.

Tim Russert is our guest. When we come back, we'll have him play historian and tell us how history is going to rate President Reagan. His book, "Big Russ & Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life." A wonderful read. Be right back. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

R. REAGAN: We met as we had to meet. I called for a fresh start and we made that start. I can't claim that we had a meeting of the minds on such fundamentals as ideology or national purpose, but, we understand each other better and that's a key to peace. I gained a better perspective. I feel he did, too.

I told him, we don't make those kinds of deals in the United States. We prefer no agreement than to bring home a bad agreement.

The maxim is, dovii no provii (ph), trust but verify.

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FRM. PRESIDENT OF SOVIET UNION (through translator): You repeat that at every meeting.

R. REAGAN: I want you to know we think of you as friends. And in that spirit, we would ask one further favor of you, tell the people of the Soviet Union of the deep feelings of friendship felt by us and by the people of our country towards them.



KING: Before we touch some other bases with Tim Russert, don't forget his book "Big Russ & Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life." We'll get to other subjects, ask about your father's reaction to all the success of this.

But on -- on Reagan, how will history, what will history say of Ronald Reagan?

RUSSERT: I think we're seeing it begin to take form this week, Larry, as people reflect back on Ronald Reagan. Clearly that the end of the Cold War he will be given enormous credit for. I believe that in terms of sustained economic growth, he'll get credit for. On the down ledger, if you will, there will be some historians who will take note of the large deficits that were created, and it will be a robust, I think, historical debate about the idea of supply side economics.

Also I think Iran-Contra will be talked about, which was a very, very serious issue. As you remember, Larry, taking arms, and sending them to Iran, and then the money that was gotten from those sales, diverted to the Contras in Nicaragua. People probably forget now, but some were even suggesting a potential impeachment. But it was late enough in the president's second term that that never actually took form.

And the president, to his credit stepped forward, and said I didn't know it was happening. And to this day I don't want to believe it was. But the facts speak otherwise, and it should not have been done. Which I think is very, very essential.

But overall, Larry, I think that there will be a sense that he was a very strong president. A very strong leader. And that there were many people who will come forward, I think, and attest to that from both political perspectives.

But I think the record must be complete. I think the record must be complete. There will be discussion of Iran-Contra, discussing of supply side, and I think there will also be talk about the disenfranchisement of Americans who felt that they did not participate in the economic growth.

One other political point, the Republicans achieved control of the United States Congress for the first time in 70 years, of both houses, under Ronald Reagan.


KING: Will that -- this death affect this political race?

RUSSERT: I think it already has. Going into last weekend, we were going to have covered the resignation of George Tenet at the CIA. We would be focusing much on Iraq all this week. Instead, the coverage has been almost exclusively Ronald Reagan. What is largely considered a successful, conservative, Republican president. The Bush/Cheney re-election Web site has been redesigned to have a tribute to Ronald Reagan. John Kerry has suspended most of his political activity.

So what had the potential, and that's how you look at these presidential campaigns, week by week. What had the potential of being not a particularly good week for President Bush, is now a week filled with a positive discussion, generally, of the conservative Republican president. And obviously the incumbent hopes some of that rubs off on him.

KING: But still it's only June and you know it changes quickly, doesn't it?

RUSSERT: Oh, does it ever. And the one thing we've learned about incumbents running for re-election, Larry, is that in the end, those races are generally not close. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, all won re-election by big margins. Jimmy Carter, former President Bush, were not re-elected by pretty sizable margins.

KING: How's your father reacting to the success of the book, to his new found fame?

RUSSERT: He can't believe it. He keeps saying to me, and I can't believe people are buying a book with my picture on it. He came down Saturday with my sisters and my mom for my son's graduation, high school graduation. And we took him to the World War II memorial, and he loved it. He went right over to the New York section, where obviously the state he's from, and people were coming up to him, "Hey Big Russ. Hey, Big Russ." Something he's not used to. But he gave the thumbs up signs, and he was kind of enjoying the whole spectacle.

You know, I told you, Larry, the -- one of the chapters in the book is on food. There's one on respect, one on his military services...


RUSSERT: And the food, his quote is, "You got to eat." He'll call you in the morning, on your birthday and say happy birthday, what are you having for dinner? I'll say Dad, it's 7:00 in the morning, can you get through breakfast first? No, you got to eat. You got to eat. So, he was asked in one of the interviews where that phrase came from? And he said, well the kid got it wrong, and my heart stopped. I said how could I have gotten it wrong? That's all you ever say Dad, "You've got to eat." He said I got it from Dr. Matty Burke (ph) and what Dr. Matty Burke really said is, you got to eat if you're going to drink.


KING: He liked the memorial, though? There is some controversy over that memorial.

RUSSERT: He loved it. He loved it. The fountains, the stars. He just -- he felt at home. It was deeply emotional for him. But there were other veterans there, and you know, I don't think Dad pays much attention to the architectural reviews. What he knew is that there was a statement being made by the American people that thanked him and millions of others from coming together and saving the world from Adolf Hitler.

KING: We'll take a call for Tim Russert.

Rochester, Minnesota, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I'm so glad to be able to speak with you. I went to some meetings in Washington, D.C. recently, and we went to the Ronald Reagan Building, the Ronald Reagan Federal Building. And you know, we have the airport named after him and everything.

Do you think there needs to be more stuff named after him?

RUSSERT: Well, there's certainly a discussion in Congress. Some Republicans are suggesting that Ronald Reagan's picture replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. But, you know, the two examples the caller just gave, I think are a pretty interesting metaphor for Ronald Reagan. And that is, the national airport is named after him, and yet he's the same president who fired the air traffic controllers. And the Ronald Reagan Building is probably one of the biggest government buildings in Washington, and yet Ronald Reagan ran against big government.

But he was someone who was able to preach his gospel, and yet have people who underestimate him, and also willing to compromise with them, Larry. You know, the first Reagan tax cut was very significant, very large. And two years later, when the deficit began to grow, President Reagan agreed to what then was called a midcourse correction, which, in fact, raised taxes. But he never preached that. He always went forward with his philosophy, but then was a very pragmatic politician in order to maintain some kind of common ground with the Democratic opposition.

KING: Speaking of the Democratic opposition, when do you expect a vice presidential nominee?

RUSSERT: Well, it's interesting, you know, there had been talk it would come as early as May. Well, May has come and gone. I think it's going to be much closer to the convention, which is still about seven weeks away. We continue to follow this. We know the people who are being vetted, as we say, the background checks, if you will. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Congressman Gephardt of Missouri, Governor Vilsack of Iowa, Governor Richardson of New Mexico. It's interesting as to how John Kerry's approaching this, very methodically. But ultimately the choice, I think, will be very revealing.

If he opts to choose Dick Gephardt, someone who's steady, someone who can help him in Missouri and perhaps some of the battleground states, it will be seen as a cautious choice, a predictable choice. John Kerry likes Dick Gephardt. It's someone he thinks he could govern with.

If he opts for John Edwards, someone who probably can't bring his home state of North Carolina but someone who's extremely articulate, are able to force an argument in an interesting way with Vice President Cheney, or with criticism of President Bush. And yet John Kerry doesn't know Senator Edwards as well as he knows Congressman Gephardt. And they really had a few punches back and forth -- yes, in the campaign. A little bit bolder choice, if you will. But it's -- I still think we're several weeks away.

KING: With a possible long shot? Dick Cheney was a long shot.

RUSSERT: He sure was. He was the man in charge of the search committee and he wound up being on the ticket. I don't see that. I could be fooled, could be surprised. I was surprised by Joe Lieberman when Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman back in 2000.

But it's -- I think it's always very revealing of a presidential candidate. Remember Ronald Reagan. In 1980, Larry, in the hall, in Detroit, when there were negotiations going on between Ronald Reagan and Gerry Ford, the former president, and whether Gerry Ford would join Reagan on the ticket as vice president and maybe share the presidency, Ronald Reagan instinctively sensed it wasn't going to work, got in the car, drove to the hall, and announced George Bush, because he realized he had to step on the Ford story and put forward his person and show decisiveness.

KING: Gerry Ford discussed that with us on Tuesday night. We'll come back with some more moments with Tim Russert, the author of "Big Russ & Me. Father and Son, Lessons of Life." Don't go away.


KING: We're watching earlier tonight President Bush and Laura Bush visiting the rotunda to pay their respects. The president will speak tomorrow at the national service at the cathedral. Programming starts on CNN at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow morning. The president and Mrs. Bush would later meet with Nancy Reagan. There you see that picture. Nancy is staying at the Blair House right across the street. We're with Tim Russert, author of "Big Russ & Me, Father and Son, Lessons of Life." Middletown, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Hello. For four months President Carter was unsuccessful in negotiating a hostage release with Iran, and it probably cost him the election. Yet on the same day President Reagan took office, Iran released the hostages and the weapons embargo against Iran was lifted. I've always wondered, how did President Reagan accomplish in just one day of office what Carter couldn't achieve in four months?

RUSSERT: I think that was largely the Iranian decision, Larry. The President-Elect Reagan did not have a negotiating team. Those people who are active supporters of President Reagan will say the Iranians did it because they knew Ronald Reagan was coming to office and they were afraid of paying any consequences. But, it's largely seen by historians as the Iranians trying to give a final insult to President Carter.

KING: Another important world leader Lech Walesa visited the rotunda today. He played a big story in the end of communism, did he not?

RUSSERT: Larry, when you think about that, here is Lech Walesa, a carpenter, a son of a carpenter, who traded in his skills to rid Poland of communism. Huge. Also, Pope John Paul II, it was something that -- a key role he played in ending the Cold War. If you just think back, it seems so ancient, but we were engaged in this titanic struggle, as to who would win. Whether it would be communism or capitalism. Whether it would be democracy or totalitarianism. And it came to an end just about 20 short years ago.

KING: He'll be with us on June 24. He will share the best- seller list with you shortly. How big do you expect Clinton's book to be?

RUSSERT: I think it will be big. The advance publication is 1.5 million. I think there's an enormous curiosity about William Jefferson Clinton. In 900 pages, even -- no matter how hard he may try to avoid some controversy, he is going to stir up controversy. Wherever he goes, he seems to bring it, Larry. And it's going to be fascinating to me to see the reaction of the Kerry campaign. Because, suddenly on June 22, this book is going to explode, and I think, be debated and argued about on talk radio and cable television and everywhere else probably for several weeks leading up to the Democratic Convention.

KING: But in all his appearances he'll be plugging Kerry, too, so there's a plus and a minus for the senator, is there not?

RUSSERT: There is in terms of the Democratic base. But we have an election now that we're approaching in these 50 states that we live in in this great country, 32 have made up their mind. There are only 18 undecided states remaining. And in those states it's 45 Kerry, 45 Bush, with 10 percent undecided. And how do you persuade those 10 percent undecided voters? Al Gore clearly made a calculation in 2000 that he didn't think his association with Bill Clinton would help him with those undecided voters. Can Bill Clinton generate turnout? Absolutely.

Particularly with minority voters. And that's an important point tonight, Larry, in our discussion here. You know, Ronald Reagan is perceived as this enormous giant, an icon, which he is. And yet there are many Americans particularly African-American voters, who did not feel those same views towards Ronald Reagan. And if you trace the African-American vote for the Republican candidate for president, it has been on a steady decline. And in 2000 election, only 8 percent of African-Americans voted for Republican George W. Bush. That has to be of concern to all Republicans, as we talk about the upcoming election in 2004.

KING: Do you expect him to do better with that number?

RUSSERT: I think it's pretty tough. Matthew Dowd, the very smart man who's the -- President Bush's chief strategist, wrote a memo two years ago where he said to President Bush, you lost the popular vote in 2000 by 500,000 votes. If women, blacks and Hispanics vote in the same percentage in 2004, because of changing demographics, there are more of them, you would lose the popular vote by 3 million. That's why President Bush has had a very deliberate attempt to reach out to the Hispanic community, particularly, and by framing his political views as compassionate conservatism, hoping to recruit women, blacks and Hispanics to the Republican camp.

KING: One other thing, we've got about a minute and a half left, what do you expect of June 30 and the turnover?

RUSSERT: Well, obviously everyone hopes it goes smoothly. It appears that the new prime minister, the new president of Iraq, are trying to take control. But in the end, Larry, the Iraqis have to decide to secure their own new government. And that means having to kill fellow Iraqis who are insurgents or resisters or terrorists, whatever label you want to apply to them. If they are not willing to spill their own blood to help create a new democracy, or some form of self-government, then it's not going to work. Everyone I talked to, at every level, believes it has the potential of being an extremely bloody summer.

KING: Quickly, who's on "Meet The Press" Sunday?

RUSSERT: Colin Powell, the man who just was with you, plus the new president of Iraq and President Karzai of Afghanistan. A very interesting show with a lot of people, a lot of guests you don't normally see on American television. And I look forward to being there.

KING: Other than that, who've you got? Thanks, Tim, as always.

RUSSERT: I hope Chance gives you a copy of "Big Russ & Me" for Father's Day, Larry.

KING: Cannon, too, they'll both be there. Thanks, Tim. Tim Russert, the book is "Big Russ & Me: Father & Son, Lessons of Life." As I said, I've read it just in the last week, it is a terrific book.

And we have a very special segment coming up on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, and it will follow these messages.


KING: We, my family and I, have a very personal relationship with Nancy Reagan. And so we thought, and I asked the staff to put together a composite. And I asked the family to select a special piece of music to close out this program. Watch.



R. REAGAN: So, Nancy, let me say thank you for all you do. Thank you for your love. And thank you for just being you.



KING: Tomorrow night, at 9:00 Eastern on LARRY KING LIVE I will cover the -- I will anchor the coverage of the burial service of the 40th president of the United States. And one of our special guests will be Senator Bob Dole.

Right now, he's in Washington tonight with "NEWSNIGHT," Aaron Brown takes the scene -- Aaron.


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