03/26/2007 08:10 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

RussertWatch: I Think We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Welcome to another installment of RussertWatch! This week's Meet the Press saw an energetic Tim Russert firing off (mostly) pertinent questions to two of the eight fired US attorneys, followed by Senators Arlen Specter and Dick Durbin (both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee), before rounding things up with the genial Bill Bradley; former senator, Democratic presidential hopeful, and newly published author. (Spoiler warning! Re: the Final Four; his heart is with Obama Georgetown). A full transcript can be found here.

Russert was on point Sunday (perhaps somewhat refreshed by being able to cover the main story of the week without having to gloss over, or ignore its pertinent points due to his own involvement in it). First up were fired US attorneys David Iglesias of New Mexico (also a recent NYTimes op-eder) and John McKay of Washington state. Russert seemed eager to let the former attorneys have their say, beginning with questions about what they been told were the reasons for their firing: in Iglesias's case it was for a "lack of leadership" (despite this Gonzales agreed to be used as a reference for Iglesias), McKay, on the other hand, had been "given no reason for his dismissal." Did they feel their firings were politically motivated? The answer on both their parts seemed to be a regrettable "yes," followed by expressions of restrained but serious doubt over whether Alberto Gonzales should be allowed to continue in his position.

Both attorneys gave a good showing; their even-handed tone and refusal to demonize either the President or the Attorney General, as well as their apparent shock and disappointment at the events - shock and disapointment that seemed to supersede even how it was effecting them personally - only added to their coming off as "very good, professional prosecutors" as Senator Durbin later described them.

The attorneys were followed by Senate Judiciary Committee members Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). Once again Russert got right to it, pointing out the disconnect between what Gonzales had told the nation about the attorney firings two weeks ago: "I never saw documents, we never had a discussion about where things stood," and what has subsequently been revealed in newly released emails, which show Gonzales actually had somewhat lengthy meetings on that very subject.

Durbin began by reiterating the old adage that in Washington bad news is dropped late on a Friday in the hopes that people will miss it, as evidence that the White House knew they had a problem, before going on to point out that:

"It really raises a question about credibility, and I think that's why we need to have the most important players before the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, with a transcript, telling the whole truth."

Russert then turned to Arlen Specter and said "In light of the current circumstances, and considering it was you who slipped the last-minute provision into the Patriot Act that allowed the Attorney General to bypass Senatorial approval of new US attorneys, do you now have any regrets or feel that you bear any responsibility for this current crisis?" KIDDING. Russert DID NOT at any point turn to Arlen Specter and ask him anything that remotely resembled that question. We were just projecting. (Specter himself, has, in other forums, mysteriously denied any knowledge of said slipping.)

In a nutshell what Russert did ask him was, did he think Gonzales has been candid and should he continue in office? In a nutshell, what Specter answered was that while he would not prosecute the Gonzales based on newspaper reports alone, the Attorney General's certainly gotta lot of 'splaining to do!

"Look, we have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful. And if we find he has not been candid and truthful, that's a, a very compelling reason for him not to stay on.... As to his independence, there's a real question that he has allied himself a little too closely with the president when the attorney general has broader responsibilities than most other Cabinet officers."

Russert then asked Durbin whether subpoenaing Karl Rove, with the possible intention of questioning about his involvement in any department in government, amounted to little more than a fishing expedition (calling Captain Quint!). Durbin responded:

"I don't want to go too far, and I think you're right. We should restrict our, our inquiry in the judiciary committee to this question of the Department of Justice. But sadly, what has happened here has raised a question about those others who are serving as U.S. attorneys today who were not dismissed. If they dropped eight people from the team because they didn't play ball, how many others did play ball? We have to ask those questions now. I'm sorry that we do."

(Er, we all remember what happened to Quint. Metaphor, anyone?)

Russert then wanted to know whether Senator Specter felt "confident that Karl Rove and other White House officials will testify under some format?"

"Well, I think it can be worked out. I've said from the start that these White House officials ought to testify. The Washington Post has 73 examples that they cite in today's paper, and Condoleezza Rice, when she was national security counselor, appeared and testified under oath before the 9/11 Commission. And I think, if we work at it, we can find an accommodation in the public interest. The bickering's gone on long enough in too many quarters in Washington, and I'm, I'm going to work very hard with both Senator Leahy, who's the chairman, and with White House counsel Fred Fielding to try to find that accommodation."

Which, may mean we should all start preparing to hunker down for a twenty-month confrontation/debate over executive privilege. Or maybe not. Either way, we suspect "accommodation" might be a bit of a pipe dream.

And finally, Bill Bradley, who finished off the hour discussing his new book The New American Story, which is about how "we can solve our problems — whether it's health care, education, there's reforming democracy — if we put country ahead of party and we tell people the truth." Ah, so that's the secret!