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THE SITUATION ROOM

Tim Russert Dies

Aired June 13, 2008 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're following the very sad breaking news here in the United States, that Tim Russert, the well-known journalist, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, the host of "Meet the Press," has passed away. He died suddenly today while working in the NBC Washington studios, the NBC Washington bureau, suddenly collapsed, was rushed to a nearby hospital, Sibley Memorial Hospital, only a few blocks away in northwest Washington.

He was still alive when he got to the hospital, but, unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter.

The announcement was made by NBC News' Tom Brokaw only a couple hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Tom Brokaw, NBC News.

And it is my sad duty to report this afternoon that my friend and colleague Tim Russert, moderator of "Meet the Press" and NBC's Washington bureau chief, collapsed and died early this afternoon, while at work at the NBC News bureau in Washington.

Tim had just returned from a family trip to Italy with his wife, Maureen Orth, the writer, and his son, Luke. They were celebrating Luke's graduation from Boston College just this spring.

Tim, of course, has been the host of "Meet the Press" longer than any other person in that long-running television broadcast.

And he has been a very familiar face on this network and throughout the world of political journalism as one of the premier political analysts and journalists of his time.

Tim, 58 years old, grew up in Buffalo. And he wrote a number-one bestselling "The New York Times" book called "Big Russ and Me" about his childhood and especially about his relationship with his father, Big Russ.

That was followed by another number-one "New York Times" bestseller called "The Wisdom of Our Fathers." That book was inspired by the many letter that he received from other children talking about their relationship with their fathers.

This was one of the most important years in Tim's life, for so many reasons. He loved this political campaign. He worked to the point of exhaustion so many weeks, not just on "Meet the Press," but on MSNBC and with our colleague Brian Williams, of course, during the debates, and on special coverage on "NBC Nightly News."

Tim was a true child of Buffalo and the blue-collar roots in which he was raised. For all of the success, he was always in touch with the ethos of that community. Just last week, he was back in Buffalo, moving his father from his home to another facility, his father now in his late 80s.

Big Russ, it goes without saying, our heart goes out to him and all members of Tim's family. Tim loved his family, his faith, his country, politics. He loved the Buffalo Bills, the New York Yankees, and the Washington Nationals.

He, of course, had season tickets to that team when they moved to Washington.

We will have additional details throughout the evening here on NBC News and MSNBC, of course. Brian Williams will have continuing coverage.

But, to repeat, our beloved colleague, one of the premier journalists of our time, Tim Russert, died this afternoon after collapsing at work at the NBC News bureau in Washington, D.C.

And I think I can invoke personal privilege to say that this news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice. He will be missed as he was loved, greatly.

I'm Tom Brokaw, NBC News, in New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And I certainly second everything that Tom Brokaw just said. He certainly will be missed.

A journalist's journalist, Tim Russert came from very, very humble roots in Buffalo, New York, and grew up to be one of the most respected journalists in our history.

The president of the United States issued this statement: "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, many friends and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him. As the longest serving host of the longest running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades.

"Tim was a tough and hardworking news man. He was always well- informed and thorough in his interviews, and he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it. Most important, Tim was a proud son and father. And Laura and I offer our deepest sympathies to his wife, Maureen, his son, Luke, and the entire Russert family. We will keep them in our prayers."

And only a little while ago, the two presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, spoke to reporters while out on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we all, I think, have heard the news about Tim Russert.

I have known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004. He's somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist, but a friend.

There wasn't a better interviewer in television, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics. And he was also one of the finest men I knew: somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family.

I am grief-stricken with the loss. And my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

And I hope that, even though Tim is irreplaceable, that the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives.

All right?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Lieberman and I would like to just make a brief statement concerning the shocking news about the untimely death of a great journalist and a great American, Tim Russert.

Tim Russert was at the top of his profession. He was a man of honesty and integrity. He was hard, but he was always fair.

We miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And we know that Tim Russert leaves a legacy of integrity, of the highest level of journalism. And we'll miss him, and we'll miss him a lot.

Again, he was hard, he was fair, he was at the top of his profession. He loved his country. He loved the Buffalo Bills. And most of all, he loved his family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The presidential candidates speaking about Tim Russert, who died suddenly only a few hours ago in the Washington studios of NBC News.

Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton issued this statement: "We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing today of Tim Russert. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maureen, his son, Luke, his father who we all have come to know as Big Russ, his extended family and all of his many friends and colleagues at NBC, who have suffered a tremendous loss.

"Always true to his proud Buffalo roots, Tim had a love of public service and a dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him the respect and admiration of not only his colleagues, but also those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him. In seeking answers to tough questions, he helped inform the American people and make our democracy stronger. We join his friends, fans and loved ones in mourning his loss and celebrating his remarkable contribution to our nation" -- that statement from bill and Hillary Clinton.

The circumstances surrounding his death are so sad. He was working in the NBC Washington bureau. He was recording some scripts for "Meet the Press" this coming Sunday, when he suddenly collapsed and was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Elizabeth Cohen, our medical correspondent, is getting details on what we know.

What are his doctors and the hospital, Elizabeth, saying?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I have a statement right here from Dr. Michael Newman, Mr. Russert's internist at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington.

And let me read it to you. Dr. Newman writes: "Tim Russert collapsed while preparing for 'Meet the Press.' Resuscitation was begun immediately. And the D.C. EMS" -- that's emergency medical services -- "arrived on the scene. And a full code was initiated. And he was transported to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where resuscitation efforts were continued, but to no avail. The cause of death is yet to be determined. An autopsy is being performed."

So, as you can see, the folks -- the emergency workers in the ambulance tried to resuscitate him and then they tried again at Sibley Memorial Hospital, just minutes away from the NBC bureau, but, unfortunately, both efforts, neither of them worked.

BLITZER: And the original statement that NBC put out said it was a heart attack. But it might have been, as you say, Elizabeth, cardiac failure. They're going to do a complete examination and get to the bottom of it.

COHEN: That's right.

Originally, NBC said heart attack, and then they took that off and just said that he was stricken.

And the doctors who I talked to said it sounds like cardiac arrest, which is a little bit different. It's where the electrical impulses in the heart go haywire. When that happens, you have just minutes to save the person's life.

So, most people, unfortunately, do not survive cardiac arrest. CPR or a defibrillator is what needs to happen, really, immediately. Oftentimes, Wolf, people have cardiac arrest with no symptoms. It just happens really out of the blue.

BLITZER: Elizabeth, thank you.

John Harwood is a correspondent for CNBC. He's written a brand- new book. John is joining us on the phone, a veteran Washington reporter.

John, you were, what, interviewed today by Tim Russert? Is that right?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER: Yes, Wolf, my colleague Jerry Seib taped Tim's cable program with him this morning from about 9:15 to 10:15. He often had authors on to talk about their books.

We walked out of the studio. And Jerry said, you know, "I don't think Tim was feeling particularly well."

And I didn't think anything of it. I didn't notice that. We had an animated discussion. He showed all of the level of engagement and interest that he always -- we would see on "Meet the Press" and every other time he was on television. And I can't remember a sicker feeling that I have had than right now.

BLITZER: It's interesting that Jerry Seib, your colleague and friend and co-author, mentioned that maybe he wasn't feeling that well.

I want to you stand by for a moment, John, because General Colin Powell is on the phone with us as well, the former secretary of state, also another friend of Tim Russert.

And, Mr. Secretary, I know you must be so saddened, as all of us are, and I think all of us are in a certain state of shock.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: You're absolutely right, Wolf. Alma and I were deeply saddened. I just got back from out of the country and heard the news just as I was getting home, and I couldn't believe it initially. I just couldn't believe it.

He always looked so healthy. He was always so ready to go. He had that smile on his face. He was always full of energy. And we're all deeply saddened. And not only have we lost a colleague and a friend, but the millions of people who watched him all the time have lost a friend as well, somebody who was best of a breed, if I can put it that way.

I think Tim and those he interviewed had the same objective, and that was to help the American people understand the issues of the day. And he did that brilliantly.

BLITZER: And I know you worked with him closely on a lot of projects, especially in cities. I remember going with you, and he was there in Philadelphia where you unveiled a special project. And you put him on your board, didn't you? POWELL: That's right. It was America's Promise: The Alliance For Youth, which we launched at the Philadelphia summit, the President's Summit for America's Future in 1997.

And Tim was very active with us. And we could always count on Tim to help us bring attention to the issue of America's young people. And then when we asked him to join our board, he did it, and not just to put his name on the stationary. He was active. He would come to the board meetings. He would participate.

He had a deep love for young people. And you saw how he expressed that love in his own son, Luke. But he was concerned about the sons of other people and the daughters of other people. And, so, he was a compassionate humanitarian, as well as a first-class newsman.

BLITZER: I remember, many times, you were a guest of his on "Meet the Press," and you probably remember many of those occasions yourself.

But one moment, General Powell, stands out, when he was interviewing, and you were someplace overseas, and he seemed to be going a little bit longer than your press aides had wanted him to go. You remember that moment?

POWELL: I remember it vividly.

I was in Jordan. And I was on the back lot of a hotel with the Dead Sea behind me. And Tim was interviewing me. And we had -- you know how it is, Wolf. We had six of you guys lined up, each for a five-minute interview. And you all are: I'm next. I'm next.

And Tim and I were having a good exchange of views. And then he had one more question. But my staff and the cameraman thought that he was finished. So, while he's asking me this question, suddenly, I leave the view of the camera as the camera slews. And Tim is asking a question to the Dead Sea.

And he starts getting excited. "Now, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Secretary."

And I realize what's happened, and I immediately order the camera to be moved back on to me. And we finished the exchange.

And Tim played that over and over, because it was great television, he thought. And we had a lot of fun with that image for many, many months afterwards.

But, you know, you don't spin a camera away from Tim Russert when he's asking a question.

BLITZER: And do you remember, Mr. Secretary, the next time you were on "Meet the Press," what Tim Russert had for you?

POWELL: I'm sorry, Wolf?

BLITZER: Do you remember, the next time you joined him in the studio on "Meet the Press," what he had for you on that occasion?

POWELL: He gave me a -- I forgot what he gave me.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: A palm tree.

POWELL: A palm tree, exactly.

BLITZER: A little palm tree

POWELL: A little palm tree.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Remembering the scene at the Dead Sea.

POWELL: Yes. Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: I remember that very -- it was typical Tim Russert., You know, he could ask you the tough questions, but he would always have what we used to call a soft landing.

POWELL: It was always a soft landing.

And he had this whimsical sense of humor. Only he would have thought of that palm tree. And, you know, as you know well, Wolf, you have to prepare yourself to go on anybody's show, your show, Tim's show, or anyone else's. But, with Tim, you really better have your act together, because he's going to come at you, and not to get you, but to pull the facts out of you, and to pull out of you what you really believe, because he felt that was his obligation as a reporter.

And I admired that. And I always tried to be ready for it with the little phrases suddenly he would put up on a screen. What do you think about this? But he did that to sort of put you off balance and see if you really knew what you were talking about.

But that was his job. And it was my job to be able to handle that, because it was our mutual job to inform the American people. It was not an adversarial relationship. It was a relationship of reporter and person being interviewed, helping the American people understand the issue. And when the show was over and the camera was off, always the best of friends, never mad.

BLITZER: And you know what? And it's interesting, because what you say is clearly true. And as friendly as you may have been with him and as cooperative as he was on some special projects, America's Promise, and others, he didn't hold back. When you were there in the hot seat, he asked you the questions that were on the minds of a lot of people out there.

POWELL: It's kind of like "Godfather 2," nothing personal, just business, as he slipped it to you.

And I never expected anything less from him. That's what I wanted him to do. That's what the American people expected him to do. And that's what he always did. And I'm deeply saddened at his loss. And my heart goes out to Maureen and to Luke and to Big Russ and all the members of the Russert family. He was the best.

BLITZER: And give us one final story, Mr. Secretary, about the man, not the journalist, just the man, because you got to know him over these past many years in Washington, going back to when you were at the Pentagon. You were just a four-star general during the first Gulf War, as all of us remember, and you got to know him quite well.

POWELL: I got to know him quite well back in those days. I got to know another fellow quite well back in those days, too, you will recall, Wolf.

BLITZER: I certainly do.

(LAUGHTER)

POWELL: But when I was under heat or, you know, people were coming after me for one reason or another, or I felt a lot of pressure, I could count on Tim whenever I ran into him to say, hey, Colin, how you doing?

So, even though he might be one of the ones putting me under pressure or being used by others to put me under pressure, it was always that warm image that came out of him, that -- that image of friendship, and, I understand, and I know you're having a tough time, an arm around my shoulder, and you know that big, broad smile he had, with the twinkling eyes, those mischievous twinkling eyes.

And I always knew I was with a professional and a friend. And when you have a friend who is a professional, then you have a treasure.

BLITZER: And you know how sad it is, General Powell? And it's just so sad to think about it. This is Father's Day weekend. He wrote a book about his own dad. He was a terrific dad to his son, Luke. And now we're going to be going into Father's Day weekend on Sunday, and this father is not going to be with us. How sad is that?

(CROSSTALK)

POWELL: It's very sad.

You know, I don't think I ever was with Tim on the show, maybe after the camera stopped rolling, but I don't think I was ever with Tim where we did not say a word about Luke or Big Russ. And he would ask about my kids. He knew my kids.

And on the eve of Father's Day, it makes an even greater tragedy for us all. And my heart goes out to all of them.

BLITZER: I totally agree.

Secretary Powell, thank you very much for spending a few moments with us. We're going to take a quick break in our coverage.

When we come back, we're going to take a look and see what he said on Father's Day not that long ago. What a sad moment, indeed, to think about it. Sunday is Father's Day. And Tim Russert won't be there for his dad, and won't be there for his son.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're watching the story, a sad story, a really tragic story.

Tim Russert, at the peak of his journalistic career, 58 years old, died today, suddenly, while working at NBC News.

We're talking to John Harwood on the phone. The veteran Washington journalist who works for CNBC right now was being interviewed earlier today for a taped program that was going to air this weekend on his new book, "Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power," together with his co-writer, Jerry Seib of "The Wall Street Journal."

John Harwood is still with us on the phone.

And you were telling us, John, that, after the interview, Jerry Seib said to you, did he -- "Is he OK?" something like that, right? He didn't seem -- at least Tim Russert didn't seem to Jerry Seib to be at his fittest.

HARWOOD: Exactly. He had told us that he had just flown in from Rome the night before, where he had been with his family. And, so, naturally, you're going to be tired from that. So, he was a little bit subdued in the interview.

But Jerry thought, further than that, that he wasn't feeling so well. And he made a comment as we walked out that he thought Tim wasn't feeling well. I didn't notice that. You know, I found Tim very animated in the interview, engaged in what we had written about in the book, engaged in the campaign, telling funny stories.

He told us a story -- you have been talking with other guests, Wolf, about what a gregarious person he was. Aside from the best in journalism, political journalism, he was somebody who had his feet on the ground, who was a nice person.

He told a story when he was on the staff of Senator Pat Moynihan about an imperious senior staff member who was kind of berating a junior member for not understanding the nuances of policy. And Tim turned to the guy in a staff meeting and said, "Can you name the four members of the Beatles, just first names only? Don't even need the last names." The guy couldn't do it, and he was immediately cut down to size. Tim was sort of sticking up for the average -- the younger kid on the staff.

BLITZER: Yes. And he was really down-to-earth all the time, made everyone feel very, very comfortable.

And I credit his parents for those kinds of traits that he developed as a young man, growing up in Buffalo, New York, a devout Catholic, went to Canisius High School, a great high school in Buffalo. And it really impacted him throughout his whole life.

Was there anything that you saw from him today beyond what Jerry Seib, your colleague, said, that he didn't seem to be at his best, if you will, was not apparently feeling that well, that suggested to you at all that, you know, this horrible situation that developed only a few hours later was in the works, anything at all that could have -- looking back with hindsight, that could have pointed to this?

HARWOOD: Nothing at all, Wolf, I have got to tell you.

And, in fact, a couple of hours later, when I was back at the office working and preparing for this Sunday's "Meet the Press," because I was going to be on the roundtable with Tim on Sunday, I got an e-mail from a colleague at another news organization who said: Hey, we hear this rumor that Tim had a heart attack.

And I thought, well, that's ridiculous. I was just with him a couple of hours ago.

And, so, I just couldn't be more shocked than I was when I got that news.

BLITZER: John Harwood, thanks very much.

Our sad -- it's a sad story, sad story for all of us, not only for those of you who knew and really liked Tim Russert, but for so many millions of people out there around the country, around the world who depended on him to be the outstanding journalist that he was.

And, once again, our deepest condolences to his closest family and friends.

We will take a quick break.

When we come back, we will get the thoughts of Father David O'Connell of the Catholic University of America, who only a few weeks ago set up a meeting for Tim Russert with Pope Benedict XVI.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we want to welcome our viewers back in the United States and around the world.

We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM following the breaking news, the sad, sad news that Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News and the longtime host of "Meet the Press," died suddenly only a few hours ago in the Washington bureau of NBC News.

It may have been a heart attack. It may have been cardiac arrest. We don't know right now. They are looking closely, his physicians. He was rushed to Sibley Memorial Hospital, which is not far away from NBC News' Washington bureau. Eventually, he was pronounced dead, 58 years old.

Only last night he had come back from Italy, where he was celebrating the graduation from Boston College of his only child, his son Luke, who graduated. The family, Luke and Maureen Orth, the well- known writer, his wife and Tim Russert, they were there in Italy celebrating, came back. He was already at work early this morning and unfortunately suddenly died.

Barbara Walters is joining us right now from ABC News. Barbara, I know you're saddened. I know you knew Tim Russert very well. All of us are in a state of shock still, right now. But I want to know what you're thinking and what you're feeling.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC JOURNALIST: Well, Tim just interviewed me a month ago. And what we talked about most when we finished the interview was his own father and his son. I had written a memoir. Tim could also have written a memoir of his life. He had such a, you know, an amazing life, but didn't. He chose to write about his father, Big Russ, who is very much alive and just must be -- you know, if we're in shock, can you imagine what he must be, to lose a son. And Tim also talked about his own son, Luke, who had just graduated from Boston College. And the family had gone to Italy to celebrate this graduation.

But what I was thinking, as much as our own shock -- and I have the same feeling about this, Wolf, as we did three years ago when Peter Jennings had died -- and that is that this, the whole country will mourn Tim. This isn't just journalists. We're very proud of Tim. He was the best. But the country knew him so well. And I think that this will be, in its way, a national mourning, don't you?

BLITZER: I do, because, you know, he had such a unique role in helping all of us better understand what was going on in the world. And I say this to someone who, in this Washington journalistic community, felt very -- in a sense of competition, to be sure. But I admired him so much. And as someone who grew up with him in Buffalo, New York -- he grew up on the South Side, so we didn't know each other as kids. But you've got to feel that bond, because our roots are not all that much different.

When you think of Tim Russert, Barbara, when you think of what he accomplished coming from the roots -- his father was a garbage collector in Buffalo -- it's really an amazing all American story.

WALTERS: Well, you know, it isn't just that he was a journalist and that he did "Meet The Press" and that he did his own weekly one hour program and every time you turned around he was on the "Today Show" and he was on MSNBC. But he was also the head of NBC's Washington bureau. That, in itself, is a huge task, in addition to all his appearances. And one of the things I think people can relate to is that he wasn't a -- you know, he wasn't a pretty face. You know, he wasn't with the perfect -- well, I'm saying this to you, Wolf, with all due respect.

BLITZER: Thank you.

WALTERS: Neither are you. , but, you know, he was someone we could all identify with and relate to. And that's why I think it is not just our loss, but it really is a loss to this nation. And even though you competed in the time -- so did I -- he was very, very generous to all journalists. And today, when journalism isn't necessarily in the highest repute, Tim represented -- as do you, now that I said you weren't a pretty face -- Tim represented the best in journalism -- objectivity, a calmness, a sense of authority. And all of that is so much appreciated and will be so much missed.

BLITZER: I couldn't agree more, Barbara.

You know, I'm just being told that in Buffalo, New York, his hometown, my hometown, they're flying flags at half staff right now in memory of Tim Russert. You know, he was a real, real native son, so proud of his roots, so proud of the community in Buffalo that gave him this opportunity to go forth, graduate from Canisius High School in Buffalo and go to John Carroll University in Cleveland and then go to law school and become what he eventually became, through hard work and diligence. And, as I like to say, that's what makes America great, the opportunities that all of us have in this business.

I know you appreciate that especially.

WALTERS: Well, you know, the fact, also, that he was so young and that he left a young son who had just graduated from college. And his wife Maureen Orth, is a fine journalist herself. But I daresay -- you know, I'm probably in a position to speak for the country, but I think that there will be a lot of flags at half mast today and tomorrow. It is a terrible shock when one so young dies suddenly. I mean we're in shock every day at our soldiers in Iraq and other parts of the world. But we don't know each of them individually. And Tim we did know. And this is just an enormous shock to the nation.

BLITZER: I totally agree.

Barbara, thank you.

Barbara Walters joining us.

Paul Begala, you know, I just got a statement in from the mayor of Buffalo announcing that the city flags -- all flags on city property will be immediately lowered to half staff.

Let me just read a line from this statement from Mayor Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo: "But more than his professional accomplishments, Tim Russert cherished his family, friends in his hometown. He never forgot his roots in South Buffalo and he often reminded his television audiences and guests of his strong affection for Buffalo, particularly his beloved Buffalo Bills. He was truly our city's greatest ambassador and he was loved by everyone in Buffalo and Western New York."

BEGALA: Well, as a son of Buffalo yourself...

BLITZER: How many times did he talk about go Bills at the end of his show?

BEGALA: Oh, all the time. And I think particularly guys like you, like Tim, who came out of Western New York -- you know, Western New York has taken that it out on the chin...

BLITZER: It certainly has.

BEGALA: ...the last 20, 30 years even. And, you know, I think something that's very admirable about you, something very admirable about Tim, is that you never forgot that. You never forgot those folks. I mean you've done great. You're an establishment pillar here in Washington. So was Tim. And I think it's really important -- I think it says a lot about the character of the man that he never forgot who he was, where he came from or who sent him here. He was (INAUDIBLE) South Side (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: You know, I like to think it says a lot about Buffalo, too, because all of us -- all of us remember those years in Buffalo. And, of course, I'm sure, as Tim said to me often, it influenced, it shaped him, in addition to Big Russ and his mom and his whole family.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is joining us right now, as well.

Cardinal, I know you're saddened because you knew Tim Russert well. He was a son of the Catholic Church and he loved the Catholic Church. And I know he loved you. And give us your thoughts.

CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK: Well, thank you for saying all those things, because they're true. He loved everybody. He loved his church, he loved his God, he loved -- he loved everything that was good. And he loved his work. And in a very special way, he loved his family -- his wife and his son.

He was a model of so many things -- a model of a great professional, a model of a great father, a great, great husband and a -- and a great human being. He had that gift that opened up people in front of him, that when he spoke to somebody, even if he asked hard questions, even if he was in a sort of a confrontacious dialogue, it was always with great respect. And that's what made him special.

And the reason he did that, I think, is because he loved people. And it was that love of people that made him such a great professional, such a great reporter, such a great human being.

BLITZER: I know that, I know -- Cardinal McCarrick, I know that he attended church. He was a devout Catholic. And we're showing a picture -- a recent picture that he had taken when he met with Pope Benedict XVI. Talk a little bit about what faith meant to him, because you got to know him.

MCCARRICK: I did. I was privileged, as so many people did. He was a public man. And he was never ashamed, never held back his real deep faith, his real need to be a believer. And because of that, he -- I would meet him sometimes. I used to travel around to different parishes. And I'd meet him on a Sunday morning or on a Saturday night. I'd meet him in different places at the masses. He was always very faithful. As busy as he was, he always found time for church, always found time for God.

And you got to know his deep spirituality not just when you saw him at church, although that was always a sign of his -- the sacrifice of time to be sure he was with the lord. But you knew it the way he handled people, the way he dealt with people. He always dealt with them with a certain graciousness, with a certain love, with a certain willingness to get through to see their human dignity with great -- all of us, we -- what we teach all the time is the dignity of the human person. Tim Russert knew that and he lived it. That's what made him a great reporter. That's what made him a great Catholic. That's what made him a great human being.

BLITZER: Father McCarrick, thanks.

Cardinal McCarrick, thank you very much for joining us.

Cardinal McCarrick joining us from outside the NBC studios here in Washington, D.C. Vice President Dan). And he said it perfectly, as he always does.

We'll take a quick break.

We're going to talk a little bit more, though, on the other side about Father's Day. It's coming up this Sunday. And Father's Day won't necessarily be the same without a great father and a great son, Tim Russert.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, COURTESY WTOP RADIO, WASHINGTON)

TIM RUSSERT: There's never been a more interesting and more important presidential election in my lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is just an amazing -- every time we think wow, well, this is it, you know, it turns another corner that's more surprising than the one before.

Thanks to...

RUSSERT: And it's only June.

Happy Father's Day, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And to you, too. RUSSERT: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And to your dad.

RUSSERT: Thanks.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tim Russert earlier this morning on WTOP, the local all news radio station here in Washington. He would join every Friday morning briefly at around 7:50 a.m. To talk about what's happening in the world of politics and other news. And then he would promote "Meet The Press" on Sundays.

He spoke to Mike Moss and Bruce Alan from WTOP Radio, as he did every single Friday morning. As busy as he was, he always had time for local radio, as well.

Soledad O'Brien is joining us now.

And Soledad had a chance to interview Tim Russert -- not that long ago, Soledad. And, you know, a lot of us are thinking about Tim and thinking about Father's Day that's coming up this Sunday.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it's going to be brutal for his family, of course, because he wrote a lot about his family. He was very close to his father. And when I worked with Tim at NBC News, he spoke a lot about his son, as well as some of the values that he was trying to teach him -- values that he learned from his own father, and values, frankly, that he wrote about in his book, "Big Russ and Me." It was a best-seller, one of two best-sellers he would write.

And, you know, what he told us about his dad in the book and then, of course, for those of us who worked with him at NBC News, was how his father was a high school dropout, his father was a veteran, his father worked two jobs to support the family. But his father was this font of sort of simple and brilliant advice, the classic, you know, work hard, be a good person, be a good human being, don't expect the world to give you everything.

And we asked him off camera before we did the interview with him about sort of the most important thing his dad gave him. And he said, you know, I would always call him before a big interview because he would set it straight into my head how to go into it. And I thought that was remarkable, for a guy who all of us thought was kind of, you know, up there with the best in the game.

Back in May of '04 we sat down on "AMERICAN MORNING" to talk about his book that would go on to become a best-seller, "Big Russ and Me." And I asked him to name some of the most important lessons that he thought his father imparted to him.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "AMERICAN MORNING")

Senator Obama What's the biggest thing you think -- or the most important thing he taught you?

RUSSERT: That hard work Is essential to success. He had another expression, "the world doesn't owe you a favor." And he got up every day for 30 years. When he retired from his first job, he turned in his pension papers and they said, Mr. Russert you have 200 sick days coming. I said dad, 200 sick -- why didn't you take them?

He said because I wasn't sick.

And if I had called in sick for one job, I couldn't go to the other one. He said, you know, you've got to do it. You've got to pay the piper. You've got to get it done. You can't recover the fumble unless you go on the field.

And I take that work ethic and combine it with discipline, preparation and accountability.

When I was in school, the prefect of discipline at Canisius High School, Father Stern Vice President Dan), put me against the locker. And I said, Father, don't you have any mercy?

He said, Russert, mercy is for God. I deliver justice.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: A good Catholic upbringing, exactly.

Right?

RUSSERT: I went home and complained to my dad. He said, you're grounded two weeks.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT: So he reinforced...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He loved his father so much. And he loved -- he talked about his son all the time. And I think for those of us, Wolf, who were not political insiders but who had a chance to work with Tim Russert at NBC or elsewhere and who just watched Tim on TV, what you really will remember most is his incredible smile. The guy was always laughing. And he always had this sense that I loved of just gratitude. He'd always say, Soledad, I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I have the best job. I'm the luckiest guy in the world. And loved, loved his job, loved his family and truly felt blessed that he was the luckiest guy in the world.

So I think he will be missed. And, of course, he really worked hard to pass those values along to his son.

BLITZER: He'll be missed, but, you know, he leaves an amazing, amazing mark. He leaves two books, a lot of TV shows, a lot of great experiences.

Soledad, you did a good job just reminding us about that smile that he had, because he always had that really engaging smile.

Thanks very much.

We're going to take another short break and continue our coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're looking at the life and the times of Tim Russert, because it's truly an amazing story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Tim Russert, the host of NBC's "Meet The Press," died today at the age of 58. What a sad day it is, indeed -- suddenly, without any warning whatsoever.

Carol Costello is joining us now.

Carol has been looking into the life and times of Tim Russert -- and as I've been saying, Carol, a journalist's journalist, a remarkable man.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. You know, one of the most wonderful things about him was he bothered to mentor young journalists. Suzanne Malveaux was one. And he chose well because she's pretty fantastic.

On the thing I think we can all agree on, though, 58 years old, far too young to go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): His death comes at a time he would surely love. Primary 2008 was Tim Russert's forte. A brilliant, incisive journalist, he asked the kind of questions that cut through the bull.

RUSSERT: Because if it's Sunday, it's "Meet The Press."

COSTELLO: He was born in 1950 in Buffalo, New York. He later worked on Mario Cuomo's gubernatorial campaign. But in 1984 he joined NBC. And it wasn't long before he became bureau chief, then host of "Meet The Press" -- long a ratings winner. He was well respected and was concerned about government attempts to control the press by forcing journalists to reveal their sources.

RUSSERT: I've been to countries, Wolf -- you've been to the countries where the paper and the news airwaves are filled only with official government information. You don't want to live there. I know in my own situation, with the Valerie Plame case, where I was asked about a conversation of complaint -- a White House official called me, "Scooter" Libby, to complain about a cable TV news program. And after that people would say well, general election, you know, if we say anything to you, are you going to be called before a grand jury to testify?

It has a chilling effect. COSTELLO: Russert was called to testify in Louis "Scooter" Libby's perjury trial. He denied on the stand that it was he who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to Libby, as Libby had charged.

Russert also loved sports, wrote books -- one called "Big Russ and Me." it was a book about his father. It was so successful, he wrote a follow-up.

RUSSERT: After I had written "Big Russ and Me," I went around the country. And people said, you know, Big Russ is a great guy, would you make out the book to my dad, you know, Big Stan, Big Mike, Big Irv, Big Mario, Big Manuel?

They perceived it as an invitation to talk about their dad. And then I received 60,000 letters and e-mails from all across the country -- daughters and sons talking about not a special vacation or a material gift, but let me tell you, Tim, about what I learned from my dad.

COSTELLO: Russert died young, but not before witnessing part of 2008's history-making election. It's our loss that he won't get to report what happens next.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: And, you know, that really is sad because he was so very into politics, Wolf. You know, he was talking on WTOP Radio just this morning about how excited he was about the presidential race and how history-making it was. But hopefully somewhere, he's still watching.

BLITZER: Yes. So sad, indeed.

Carol, thank you.

Paul Begala has known him for some 20 years. And he helped you -- when you left -- when the Clinton administration went out of business after eight years in the White House, you then started to do some TV over at MSNBC.

BEGALA: Actually, I left the White House, I think it was about 1999, in fact, before the president did. And I started on with MSNBC. They offered me a job hosting a show that they had called, "Equal Time." It was sort of a knockoff of "Crossfire."

And I went to Tim and I sought his advice. And it was really interesting. He told me three things. He said that when he took over "Meet The Press," he went to Lord Spivak Vice President Dan), the original host of "Meet The Press," who told him find out where your guest stands on everything and then take the other side just to challenge him. I said, well, that's easy, this is a debate show. And he said, second, listen. And I think this was the legal education. I'm educated as a lawyer, as well. He said don't just reload, listen. Listen to what the guest says and then engage. And he said sometimes you leave your prepared notes behind entirely. Sometimes they'll be invaluable, but listen. And the third thing he said -- I was really frustrated. I had interviewed -- actually, it was former Vice President Dan Quayle. And I'd chased him around the tree and we just -- I just had done a terrible job, frankly. And I think I was being way too big of a jerk. It's still a problem I haven't entirely gotten over.

But he counseled me well. He said, you know, if you think your guest is full of beans, then the audience will probably think so, too. You don't need to like overdo it. And, again, I didn't really take that advice or honor it as much as I should have. But I think Tim's right. When you believe in the audience, you think people are smart, then you can step back a little bit.

And that's what he would do. He would give you enough rope to hang yourself with the quotes and the comments you'd said in the past, the votes that politicians had cast, but then, you know, he would step back and let the audience judge for themselves. And I never saw anybody better. He was a true pro.

BLITZER: Are you surprised at the outpouring of support and accolades and tributes, from the president, presidential candidates, former presidents, senators, governors, journalists?

Are you surprised at this?

It's only been, what, three hours or so since we learned of this horrible news.

BEGALA: No, but he touched a lot of people. You know, I mean his life reverberated. Robert Kennedy talked about how an act of justice ripples -- sends out ripples. Well, Tim's career and his life, the way he conducted himself in his charitable, in his faith life, in his family life and his professional life, it sent out so many ripples. And it's as beloved and respected a person as there is in this town.

I'm still in shock. I know you are and everybody who knew him and loved him is in shock, but especially -- like everybody, I'm think being Maureen, his wife, his son Luke...

BLITZER: And his son Luke.

BEGALA: And poor Big Russ.

BLITZER: And they're just back from Italy, where they were celebrating his son's graduation from Boston College.

Stand by, Paul.

We're going to take another short break.

Father's Day is coming up this Sunday. And this father, Tim Russert, unfortunately, won't be there for his own son, won't be there for his father. Tim Russert is dead at the age of only 58. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He came from humble roots, very humble roots, from the South Side of Buffalo, New York, and grew up to become one of the nation's most prominent journalists.

Tim Russert, unfortunately, very sadly, passed away earlier this afternoon at the age of only 58.

He was an amazing, amazing journalist. But much more importantly, he was really an amazing guy -- a devoted father and husband and son. He will sorely, sorely be missed.

We wish his wife Maureen and his son Luke and his father Big Russ in Buffalo only, only our deepest condolences, our sadness. We miss Tim Russert already.

Thanks very much for watching us this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The coverage continues now with "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.