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THE SITUATION ROOM

Tim Russert Dies

Aired June 13, 2008 - 17:00   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: And we're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tim Russert, 58-years-old, died. He suffered a heart attack just in the past few hours here at work. He was at the NBC Washington bureau. He was actually recording some scripts for "Meet The Press" -- that's coming up this Sunday -- and suffered a heart attack. He was rushed to Sibley Memorial Hospital, only a few blocks away from the NBC Washington studios. Unfortunately, he died there.

The statements are coming in, the tributes are coming in -- a remarkable journalist and a remarkable man.

Here's how Tom Brokaw broke the news on NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: 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 best-selling "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" best- seller called "The Wisdom of Our Fathers." That book was inspired by the many letters 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 his 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And our heart goes out to Tim Russert's family, as well -- his wife Maureen, his son Luke and his father, Big Russ, and everyone, all of the Russert family and everyone at NBC News and all of our viewers out there who loved Tim Russert.

President Bush issued a statement. I'll read it to you right now: "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his 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, but hard-working newsman. 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."

That statement released just a little while ago from President Bush.

Joining us now on the phone is Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University of America here in Washington, D.C.

Father O'Connell had the privilege to host Pope Benedict XVI at Catholic University just a few weeks ago.

And talk about, Father O'Connell, Tim Russert, because we're remembering Tim Russert, we're thinking about him. You got to know him over the years. He was a very devout Catholic and he was about as excited as anybody could be when you invited him to have that little meeting with the pope.

FATHER DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Yes, Wolf. This is just heartbreaking news. I'm so deeply saddened.

As you know, you were there in the room. You were standing right next to him at that great privileged moment. And both of you were so -- so moved by the occasion. And, you know, here are two great men, great newsmen, great journalists and in the presence of the Holy Father, just silence, really. And just so impressed in that moment.

And it really said something great about both of you, but about Tim -- his great faith, his love of family, his love of the church -- just wonderful qualities that were always and everywhere evident in this man.

BLITZER: The pope gave him a gold medal. He gave me one, as well.

How excited, though, was Tim Russert, as a Catholic?

I know he had lobbied you big time to get an invitation to come to that meeting.

O'CONNELL: And he was very excited. You know, I knew that Tim was looking for an opportunity to greet and to meet the Holy Father. And he was being turned down, it seemed, at every -- at every turn in the bend. And I know when I called him, he was ecstatic and so grateful. He wrote to me afterward expressing his gratitude. He wrote to my vice president and my staff. And it was just a -- I know the occasion meant something great to him.

You know, Wolf, Tim is -- was a great friend of the Catholic University. He was on the campus many times. He was a commencement speaker, as you were, a recipient of an honorary degree, as you were. He served on the opus jury, you know, that prize, the Opus Prize, the million dollar prize that the university awarded through the Opus Foundation.

I mean there's so many things that we had in common and there was a closeness there. We just feel terrible and feel so sad for his wife and his son Luke, who just graduated from Boston College.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Father O'Connell, to these statements that are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the two presidential candidates right now, John McCain and Barack Obama.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Lieberman and I would like to just make a brief statement concerning the shocking news about the ultimately 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)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: Yes, we all, I think, have heard the news about Tim Russert. I've 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I want to go back to Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University.

Father O'Connell, are you still on the phone with us?

O'CONNELL: Yes, I am, Wolf.

BLITZER: Talk to us a little bit -- you're a man of great, deep faith. And so many people out there are probably asking how could this happen, someone as good and decent as Tim Russert, whose life was cut short, 58-years-old, a devout Catholic, someone so passionate in his work, so committed to the community and family, who did good deeds. Help us understand what's going on.

O'CONNELL: Well, Wolf, you know, there are no easy or simple answers to questions like this at difficult times. We all know we have (INAUDIBLE), that our time on Earth is limited and that the obligation we have in life is really to do as much good as we can as often as we can and as completely as we can.

I think we see that in all of the outpouring of sentiments and feelings about Tim. This was a, truly, a good man a man of deep faith, a man who could reach across the aisle, talk to Republicans, to Democrats, conservatives, liberals, to the high and mighty as well as to the common man. The tributes that will be forthcoming in the days ahead, I think, will bear witness to, really, a man of personal integrity, deep faith and real greatness.

BLITZER: I know one of the great moments in his life was not only meeting Pope Benedict XVI at Catholic University a few weeks ago, Father O'Connell, but meeting John Paul II in Rome and then in Denver, when he was here in the United States. And whenever I would see him, he would talk about that. And I'm sure he discussed it with you, as well.

O'CONNELL: Yes. I think Tim was one of the few journalists that actually had the opportunity to interview Pope John Paul II. In fact, as you remember, when we were going into the -- to that little room to meet Pope Benedict, you know, Tim was still looking for the interview. And you recall I said to you both, you know, one question each. BLITZER: I remember. He -- I said, I don't think you're going to get this guy to join you on "Meet The Press" this Sunday, as much as you would like to do that.

Father David O'Connell of the Catholic University, thank you so much.

Thank you for your support during these difficult times, as well.

Ted Koppel is joining us on the phone right now. Ted Koppel, the outstanding veteran journalist in Washington.

You competed against this guy, Ted, for a long time.

TED KOPPEL, FMR. ABC ANCHOR: Well, actually, I'm lucky. I didn't have to compete against him and I'm awfully glad that I didn't have to, because Tim was one whale of a competitor. I know that when he first came on there, to "Meet The Press," David Brinkley was still doing the Sunday program on ABC. And it took Tim a few years until he was finally able to compete properly with David. And when David finally retired, that's when he started doing what ultimately became the pre-eminent Sunday morning talk show.

BLITZER: What did you -- you know, when you think of Tim Russert, Ted, what goes through your mind about this individual, who I'm sure you met on many occasions over the years?

KOPPEL: Well, I mean, first of all -- and I haven't had the benefit, because as soon as we heard, my wife and I, who were down in Southern Maryland turned around and we're currently driving back to Washington. So I don't know what has already said about Tim. But I can imagine, because everybody who knew Tim had essentially the same reaction -- a wonderful, funny, down to earth guy, always ready to do a friend a favor. And yet, at the same time, as you suggested by your first question, just one heck of a competitor. And what made Tim so extraordinary as an interviewer is that he had this combination of the lawyer, of the guy who had been a political staffer and a man who was just an instinctive and great journalist.

BLITZER: And, you know, the tributes coming in and I think appropriately so -- and I'm sure you agree, Ted -- from all sides of the political spectrum. As tough as an interviewer as he was on "Meet The Press," everyone seems to have appreciated the job that he did.

KOPPEL: Well, I think that's understandable. I think what is also understandable is that everybody -- politician, journalist, the viewers, the fans of Tim and of his work and of the program -- I think everyone has been hit by this, my God, there but for the grace of God go I. Fifty-eight years old, still a young man, years and years and years ahead of him, so we thought, until this afternoon.. And the fact that Tim is gone is just a very, very hard pill to swallow.

BLITZER: It hasn't hit, really, for a lot of us.

Ted Koppel, thank you very much for some thoughts about Tim Russert. Paul Begala is here. And you've been listening and you've been reflecting. You obviously have known him for some 20 years. But the conversation we just had with Father David O'Connell, the president of Catholic University, the devout Catholic that he was -- like you.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And he went to Rome. He brought "The Today Show" to Rome.

BLITZER: I remember.

BEGALA: And they broadcast...

BLITZER: He brought Bryant Gumbel when he was the host of "The Today Show".

BEGALA: He brought Bryant Gumbel. And he did finagle an interview with the Holy Father, John Paul II, the late pope. And I'm trying to remember the story. And I was actually sort of trying to look on my BlackBerry to make sure I had it right.

But I remember him telling me that back then, he was trying to get the Holy Father's attention. And he called out to him. Maybe he had a T-shirt. I can't remember.

John Paul II's motto -- the motto of his papacy, which I think was (INAUDIBLE) -- I'm sorry Father O'Connell is no longer on the phone. I think it was "all for you," everything for you, for the blessed virgin, for the holy mother, Mary. John Paul II was especially devoted to Mary. And Tim even knew that. He knew the Latin slogan that John Paul had selected for the papacy and used that to -- obviously, to reach out to (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: It's his Canisius High School background in Buffalo, New York.

BEGALA: Canisius High School, absolutely. He never -- he never lost touch with that.

But just such exuberance. I was in Denver in 1993, on August the 12th, when the Holy Father came. Tim was there, as well.

BLITZER: I was there, as well. And I remember how excited he was then as not only a journalist, but as a Catholic, to be in the presence of John Paul II.

BEGALA: Right. Pouring rain that day and yet Tim as exuberant as he was. But I think he walked the line. You know, it probably was difficult for him to both have to discuss world issues with a world leader, which the pope is, but then also to be the Catholic kid from Buffalo who gets a chance to meet the Holy Father. And I think he handled both roles with real grace.

BLITZER: He handled a lot of roles with real grace. All right. Stand by Paul. We have an old family friend of Tim Russert's.

Joining us on the phone now from Buffalo, New York. Patti Farrell.

Patti, our condolences to you. You obviously knew Tim going back -- how long?

PATTI FARRELL, RUSSERT FAMILY FRIEND: Oh, at least 20 years now. Tim's been a friend of the family for ages. And in South Buffalo, we're just devastated. We're saddened. We feel like we lost a member of the family today.

BLITZER: Because he grew up in South Buffalo, of real humble roots.

Patti, let me read to you the statement that was just put out by the Buffalo Bills. He was a great fan of the Buffalo Bills. I remember going through the heartache together with him, those four Super Bowls in a row that the Bills lost in the early '90s.

The Buffalo Bills putting out this statement: "The Buffalo Bills organization is devastated on hearing the news of the passing of Tim Russert. Tim, as everyone knows, was a tremendous Bills fan. He was always so proud to let people just how much he loved our team and was such a great ambassador for Buffalo. So many times, he ended his "Meet The Press" show with his patented, "Go, go," that it became part of our game day morning rituals. He was a true friend and we will miss him immensely. Our sincere sympathies go out to his family and our team carries a heavy heart tonight, as we mourn the loss of this great man, Buffalo's native son and a Bills fan forever."

It was incredible.

He used to come back and go to a lot of those games, didn't he, Patti?

FARRELL: Yes, he absolutely did. He stayed true to his roots. And I think that's all -- that's what we've really admired about Tim Russert. He was dedicated to the Sisters of Mercy, especially in South Buffalo, who had educated him from an early age. And he always made a point to support their functions and to be a part of the Mercy Mission.

BLITZER: We're showing a picture, Patti, of Tim Russert at a bar in South Buffalo with his dad and some friends. These were the moments, I assume, he really relished the most, is getting back to his roots, watching the Sabers or watching the Bills and just enjoying life.

FARRELL: Exactly. He was every man to us. And he was -- he always made time for people from Buffalo, whenever people from Buffalo visited Washington, D.C. . He made time. He made time to write letters, cards, notes to all of us at various times in our life. And we'll miss him. We're very saddened today.

BLITZER: Well, everyone in Buffalo is sad today, because the native son, the friend of Buffalo, unfortunately, has passed.

Patti, thanks for spending a few moments with us. You know, it's hard to believe that whole love affair he had with our Buffalo Bills.

BEGALA: Well, and I was a Houston Oiler fan before the Houston Oilers left. And he razzed me no end. I think it was January of 1993, and the Oilers had the greatest lead blown, right?

The Bills, who I -- you know, who everybody teased them for choking -- they crushed my Oilers. The Oilers were up like 35 points. And it was around New Year's. And I remember listening to the game on the radio. I was driving with my wife. And as soon as I got home, one of the first calls was from Tim Russert just grinding it in there that finally the Bills, you know, who had always sort of been the team that, you know, sometimes came up short, had humiliated my beloved Houston Oilers.

BLITZER: Yes. We got to four Super Bowls in a row and unfortunately we lost them four Super Bowls in a row. It's -- and haven't been back since then. But those were four strong, strong years.

BEGALA: Well, it's great for the Bills...

BLITZER: They could have been a little bit stronger, especially that first Super Bowl we lost to the Giants.

BEGALA: But he always -- again, he found a way with so many of his guests. And Gloria Borger and Frank Sesno were talking about this before, how he would invariably end these interviews on some common ground, on some happy note. When I used to work for Dick Gephardt, he'd find some way to bring in the St. Louis Cardinals, who Dick Gephardt loved as much as Tim loved the Buffalo Bills. And the fact that the Buffalo Bills put out such a beautiful statement, I think, would mean a lot to Tim.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure it would. Unfortunately, they had to do it.

A few years ago, when he published his book, Larry King invited him to come on his show to talk about the book. Larry also invited another son of Buffalo -- that would be me -- to come and join Tim Russert. We -- I joined Larry in the questioning and in the discussion.

We have a little clip from that night on "LARRY KING LIVE."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": What makes Sunday morning different?

BLITZER: I think people want some thoughtful good newsmaker interviews that go a little bit longer. These are not just short three or four minute quick hits. These are long, substantive interviews. And I think all of the Sunday morning talk show hosts -- I know Tim and I know I -- we prepare a lot. We have a staff. We go through good, tough questions, fair questions. But we want to make sure nobody gets a free pass and...

KING: Who watches?

BLITZER: ...people appreciate that.

KING: Who watches?

Can we -- give me a tin type (ph)?

TIM RUSSERT, MSNBC ANCHOR: It's appointment television.

KING: (INAUDIBLE).

RUSSERT: And what we have found is that the movers and shakers and the opinion makers, not only in Washington, but all across the country -- if I travel someplace, St. Louis or Omaha, Larry, the librarian, the head of the chamber or the head of the local union, the local politicians -- it's high profile people who have an active interest in politics and current affairs. And it's one that -- I think they have high expectations and I hope we delivered.

BLITZER: And it's a lot of people who work during the week and don't necessarily have the time to watch as much television. Sunday morning is a moment -- a lot of them go to church, they come home and they want a good, thoughtful interview.

KING: You discuss on your show what's been said on the other Sunday shows.

BLITZER: Because we're the last word in Sunday talk. You know that, right?

(LAUGHTER)

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

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And we're the only one that's seen live around the world in 240 countries.

KING: It's very competitive.

Do you all respect each other?

RUSSERT: Very much.

KING: Is there a Sunday morning clique?

BLITZER: We all -- I think I respect all of the conversation.

RUSSERT: Yes.

BLITZER: I think these are all smart guys who know what they're doing and they've been at it for a long time. And it's a collegial thing -- a lot of times, you know, Larry, if there's a really big guest, we all do the same guest. It's a Ginsburg, remember, of the full Ginsberg?

RUSSERT: The full Ginsberg.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) Ginsburg.

RUSSERT: Not even a lawyer.

Well, but we share facilities around the world. There's a deep and abiding respect because we know how hard it is. It's a lot of work and a lot of preparation.

KING: And you also often make Sunday morning newspapers...

BLITZER: Monday morning, yes.

KING: I mean Monday morning newspapers.

RUSSERT: It plays out all day Sunday and all day Monday. And you go to the White House briefing and often some of the exchanges on the Sunday programs are the basis for the questioning at the White House briefing. It resonates for a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It's hard to believe, Paul Begala, that we just see him there, you know, healthy, you know, robust, just not that long ago on "LARRY KING LIVE." I heard him this morning on WTOP Radio, the all news radio program. Every Friday morning he would do a little hit for them to promote "Meet The Press" on Sunday.

BEGALA: So you were checking out the competition.

BLITZER: Checking out to see who the guests were, seeing what was going on.

But it's hard to believe he's gone.

BEGALA: I haven't begun to digest it. It's -- it is. It's such a presence, such a force professionally, but also for all of us who do this for a living, you know, for what Carville always calls the gang of 500 -- I mean the crowd that kind of moves in and out of Washington journalism and government and politics. And I can't think of anyone more universally respected.

I also did check on the computer. I did it -- I did have it right. It was the -- the Holy Father's motto was "totus tous," which is Latin for "I am all yours." and he did have a T-shirt that said that and he pulled that open to show the Holy Father, to get his attention, to show him...

BLITZER: And it worked.

BEGALA: And it worked. He got the interview. It's the ultimate get.

BLITZER: Yes. You've got to give him a lot of credit. Frank Sesno and Gloria Borger are with us, as well, both of whom have known -- knew Tim Russert -- it's hard to speak in the past tense -- for so many years.

Gloria, really, a journalist's journalist, if you will, because the journalists always wanted to watch "Meet The Press".

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Listen, I used to do "Face The Nation" on Sunday mornings. And before we would do our live "Face The Nation" at 10:30, we would watch the early feed of "Meet The Press" to see what questions Tim was asking, what news Tim was making. And invariably, he made some news, so we would play off of that as we continued our show.

But the key, I think, to Tim, as I look back on it, is this notion, as you were talking about with Tim on "LARRY KING LIVE," this notion of public policy. That's the place for -- Sunday morning is all about public policy. And Tim Russert -- sure, he loved politics, as much as all of us do. But he was also all about the policy. And that's why he was such a tough interviewer, because, you know, you couldn't spin him.

If you were talking to him about the Social Security issue, which was one of his favorite issues to talk about, you could tell him you wanted to raise the payroll tax to X and he'd say why not Y? You would save this amount. Or you said that. I mean -- correct me if I'm wrong, Wolf, but did Tim Russert really invent the full screen, putting a politician's quotes on the screen?

BLITZER: I don't know if he did, but he certainly used it very effectively over the years.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: He would remind viewers and say like, "Here's what you said," or here's what somebody else said. And then he would read it and the readers could certainly appreciate what was going on.

Frank Sesno, I want to show you and our viewers what has been now put outside of the NBC Washington bureau here in Washington. It's a chalk board, if you will, that he used. Somebody placed it out there -- a chalk board that he used, remember, in the 2000 election. It's like a white board that he used to sort of count Electoral College results coming in, sort of the old-fashioned way, as were watching...

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BLITZER: ...what turned out to be a recount in 2000. It became very well-known. And you see people beginning to lay some flowers outside the NBC Washington bureau, as well.

Go ahead, talk a little bit about that.

SESNO: Well, I think the white board...

BLITZER: Here you see the picture of the white board that he had.

SESNO: Yes, the white board is amazing. It shows a number of things, doesn't it, that picture?

It remember -- you know, it reminds us of the white board.

It shows us how -- what a common touch it was, that Tim had a way and could reach out for an analog response to a digital world. You know, "TV Guide" named that white board, the way Tim used it in that disputed election, as one of the 100 most memorable TV moments.

Tim enshrined a lot. He won 48 -- or was awarded 48 honorary degrees. He won all kinds of journalism awards, from the Edward R. Murrow Award to Emmy Awards.

And yet this common touch that he had -- I mentioned to you earlier this listening to him talk to these university kids. And I was just going back in the intervening time reading some of his commencement speeches. And it triggered a memory on how he loved to quote Yogi Berra. He was a very funny guy, Tim Russert. I mean he told a great story, a great sense of timing. You know, you don't hang around in front of a microphone and a camera for all your life and you're not able to do that.

But he told -- at one commencement speech, he talked about how Yogi Berra was going down the hallway and the history teacher runs up to him and says you flunked another history exam. Don't you know anything? And Yogi Berra looked back and said I don't even suspect anything.

And Tim could take these stories and apply them to what people needed to know or should know about politics or his own love of politics and just combined these incredible accomplishments and humor and all.

I do want to say one thing about the Sunday talk show and what -- one of the things he contributed. Tim could -- would open that show on Sundays and he would often give his guests 15, 17, 19 minutes -- I used to time it -- before there was a commercial.

He'd ask them a question and if somebody had a long answer, he often would let them go with a long answer. Those interviews were not about Tim. And that was what was so unusual. In television today, as you well know, that this can be too often about the guy who's doing the interview, rather than the guy or the woman who's answering the questions in the interview.

BLITZER: Sally Quinn, the journalist from "The Washington Post," is joining us, Frank, right now, because she's obviously known Tim Russert for a long time.

And you must be deeply saddened, like all of us, Sally.

SALLY QUINN, "WASHINGTON POST" JOURNALIST: Well, I haven't processed it yet, Wolf. It's just -- it's too unthinkable. You know, Tim Russert can't die. This is just not acceptable. BLITZER: It's not acceptable and it's hard to believe because his presence was so felt, Sally, as you know, over these past several decades here in Washington.

QUINN: And more so -- I mean, you know, I remember when I first met Tim, he was in politics. And then I remember he started doing -- he had a little TV, you know, he had this TV interview show and he sort of gradually got into it. And I don't think I've ever seen anybody who worked harder in my life than Tim, who cared more about his work. And yet -- and yet somebody who was that devoted, that much of a political junkie, that exuberant about everything he did, he always had time for his friends and certainly his family, which came first in his life, but his friends.

You know, I heard Andrea talking earlier about how he cared so much about people and was always a person that anybody went to with problems. But I mean you never ran into Tim that he -- you know, Washington is one of these cities where people see each other all the time. And it's all about power and it's all about prestige. And you've been there many times, Wolf, where somebody is talking to you and they're looking over your shoulder to see if there's somebody more important -- although it's hard to find somebody more important than you.

Tim never did that. I never saw him once look over my shoulder to see if there was somebody else he'd rather be talking to.

When he was talking to me, he was talking to me. And he was -- and he was sincere. And he would ask about you and ask about your family. And then he would go on to the next person. He was always there, listening. He wanted to learn. He was like a -- he just was like a sponge, just absorbing everything, all the atmosphere in Washington.

He loved the minutia. He loved the idea of being a player and watching the players. I mean, you know, he was so much a part of it and yet he was able to sort of pull himself away.

When he would do "Meet The Press," he would -- he was like be a boxer in training, you know?

I mean he would not go out at night. I was talking about a 20th anniversary party that my husband, Ben Bradley, and I had, which was this great event. And we invited all of our friends, 250 people, and Tim said, "Well, I'll make an exception, I'll come for drinks," because he would never go out on Saturday night and he came. But he left before dinner and he just wouldn't. He was rigorous in the way he -- the way he studied and the way he worked hard and the way he paid attention.

And nothing escaped him. I mean, the nuances of Washington, which are so hard for a lot of people to pick up. Some people can live here for 40 years and still not get it. Tim got it. And he was very kind. I never saw him be mean to anyone. I never saw him take advantage of anyone. You can watch "Meet the Press" and you could say, boy, he was tough. But everybody who came on "Meet the Press," first of all, you knew what your problems were. You knew he was going to ask you about it. You better be prepared. He would ask you about it. But he never, you know, he never stuck in the shiv. He was always fair minded. Always about fair play.

You know, Tim was a very devout Catholic and I did a half hour interview with him, video interview with him for this Web site I do called "On Faith" about religion. And he was very moving talking about his faith and it wasn't something that he wore on his shoulders. But I think it was essential part of who he was.

BLITZER: I think, Sally, it's fair -- I think a lot of viewers out there who are watching right now because we have discussed this at some length over the past hour and a half, a little bit more than that since we went on the air, didn't know how devout and how important his faith, his Catholicism was to him.

Now the bottom of the hour. For viewers who may just be tuning in, we have been reporting the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM that Tim Russert, the long-time Washington, D.C., bureau chief for NBC News, the host, the managing editor of "Meet the Press" has passed away. He suffered a heart attack a couple of hours or so ago here in Washington. Was rushed to a nearby hospital, to the Washington bureau and he died at Sibley Memorial Hospital in northwest Washington.

He was working, he was on the job getting ready to track some scripts for "Meet the Press" to record some of the scripts for "Meet the Press," the open of "Meet the Press" on Sunday. He collapsed, was rushed to the hospital and he died.

Our Elizabeth Cohen, our medical correspondent is getting more information on what happened.

Elizabeth, what are you picking up?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we just have received a statement here from Sibley Memorial Hospital that says that -- this is from Michael Newman, who is Mr. Russert's internist and I'll read you the statement. This is a hospital in Washington. "Tim Russert collapsed while preparing for "Meet the Press." Resuscitation was begun immediately and the D.C. EMS -- 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 that is directly from Mr. Russert's internist at Sibley Hospital. Wolf?

BLITZER: So I guess we can't say as we originally were told that it was a heart attack.

COHEN: Right.

BLITZER: It seems like that's very possible. We don't know for sure. Is that right, Elizabeth? COHEN: That's right. NBC originally had on their Web site that Mr. Russert did suffer a heart attack, but they took that off. They deleted that after a while.

I was on the phone with the past president of the American College of Cardiology and he said look, a 58-year-old man, previously healthy, as far as we know, it is probably more likely than a heart attack something called cardiac arrest which is different. Cardiac arrest is where the electrical impulses in the heart go haywire. It's very difficult to survive a cardiac arrest. You need help very, very quickly. And often there are no signs or symptoms. There's no warning signs when someone has cardiac arrest often.

BLITZER: Well, the bottom line, though, is unfortunately, he's dead and we're very, very sad. As I have been saying, deepest condolences to his wife Maureen, son Luke, his father Big Russ in Buffalo, New York. And only the other day he was in Buffalo moving his father from his home to a facility there. Big Russ in his late 80s right now.

We just got a statement in from former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton.

And let me read it to our viewers: "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 one in mourning his loss and celebrating his remarkable contribution to our nation."

That statement from Bill and Hillary Clinton, just released a few moments ago.

David Gergen is joining us, CNN contributor who advised four American presidents including President Clinton and someone who obviously knew Tim Russert for a long time. He really was as I've been saying, David, a journalist's journalist.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He was indeed, Wolf, and thank you for devoting so much time to this story because this is a sad, devastating loss not only for his family, but for journalism and the country.

I knew Tim actually on sort of both sides of the divide if you would. In government, it was always sort of the Tim Russert test. If you wanted to be taken seriously, if you wanted to pass the test of being a serious player in Washington, you had to go on his show and you knew when you went there as Sally Quinn said, that that morning was going to be a tough grilling. But it was going to be fair. It was going to go deep into what you believed but it would not -- he would not stick the shiv in as Sally just said.

Andrea Mitchell earlier today said and I think rightly today, his friend from NBC, that he helped set the gold standard in American journalism. But I also, I must say, Wolf, that for a number of us, Tim was also a model of someone who began life in politics and he worked for Pat Moynihan. He always loved Pat Moynihan. Pat Moynihan loved Tim. He worked for Mario Cuomo and there was a mutual admiration and love there as well. And it's not always been easy for people to cross that divide from politics into journalism and to be respected.

Tim was the one who set the standard there and he was not only universally respected, but a beloved figure. That's rare in journalism, but it's even rarer for someone who's gone from politics over to the outside.

BLITZER: David, I want you to hold a second. Don't go anywhere.

GERGEN: Sure.

BLITZER: Judy Woodruff, our colleague, is joining us. Judy was an anchor here at CNN for so long and such a respected journalist. Judy, you know, for those of us who knew Tim over the years, our hearts go out to Maureen, his wife and his son, Luke and the family. I know you were very, very close with that whole family.

VOICE OF JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I was.

Wolf, I'm devastated. I mean, it's -- you know, I don't know how you and others who know Tim are able to keep going. I mean, this is just such a stunning saying this is a guy who was so alive and so in love with not only this campaign and this election and just thrived on it, but with somebody who was constantly moving, moving, moving.

I don't remember seeing Tim Russert stand still or sit still. And this is a -- it is a giant loss. But Wolf, you know, more than the professional Tim Russert which everybody knows and appreciates, this was a guy that loved his friends, loved his family. Was there for you no matter what. He had a heart bigger than you can imagine and what a void.

BLITZER: You know, when you think about Tim Russert, Judy, you think about "Meet the Press" and you say he was a hard working guy. How many times do all of us remember seeing him work late into the night on an election night, a primary night and then we'd get up early in the morning and there he was at 7:00 a.m. right back on "The Today Show." He obviously didn't need much sleep. That was the only thing I could ever imagine.

WOODRUFF: Well, he didn't need much sleep. He thrived on -- I started to say the game but you know what's at the core of it, this sounds so corny and so old fashioned but Tim really loved this country. He loved everything about, you know, the United States of America and he could just get tears in his eyes, you know, just listening for the National Anthem. And that I think explains why he loved what he did so much. I mean, he -- I have never seen anybody who gave so much to his work and did it in such a personal way. This was not a guy who complained. You know, I don't think I ever heard Tim Russert complain about anything. He brought that joy with him wherever he was.

BLITZER: And he loved what he was doing and it was very, very visible to every viewer out there how excited he was, how passionate he was and how thrilled he was and I always got the sense, Judy, I'm sure you did as well, when you think about, you know, his upbringing on the south side of Buffalo, very, very humble origins. He always would pinch himself and he would say something like, you know what? Is this a great country or what? The fact that I managed to reach this position in my life.

WOODRUFF: He never, ever forgot that. And that's I think that's what made him as successful as he was. He did always - he stayed in touch with his hometown. Obviously, we know he stayed in touch with his family, with his dad. You talked about that. That was who he was. He was a guy who was grounded in his community, in his family and that's what gave his journalism, I think, the breadth and the depth that it had. I mean, it hard to -- words are tough right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tough. Judy, thanks so much for spending a few moments with us and sharing some thoughts on this very, very sad day. Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, the host of "The Today Show" has passed away at the age of 58. We'll take a quick break here in THE SITUATION ROOM and continue our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And it's very sad breaking news. Here in the nation's capital, Tim Russert, the long-time bureau chief of NBC News, the host of "Meet the Press" died earlier today, just a few hours ago. Suddenly he was at work at the NBC Washington studios preparing for "Meet the Press" when he collapsed. He was rushed to Sibley Memorial Hospital only a few blocks away from the Washington bureau of NBC News and he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving there.

They're looking into try to determine the exact cause of death. Originally, it was suspected a heart attack. It may have been cardiac failure. They're going through all of that now. Tim Russert only 58- years-old. Really at the height of his career, the peak of his career as one of the premier journalists in the United States.

We've been getting reaction from the president of the United States, the presidential candidates, leading members of the Senate, governors. All statements, tributes to this journalist, this journalist's journalist.

Brian Todd been looking into the life and times of Tim Russert, especially when he became part of the news, Brian, as opposed to just reporting about the news. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You recall last year when we covered the trial of Lewis Scooter Libby, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was accused of perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case, you are right. Tim Russert actually became part of the news cycle. I was covering the trial at the time. I sat through a day and a half of time of testimony of Tim Russert.

He was a very reluctant star witness, called on by prosecutors to contradict Lewis Scooter Libby's account of just who leaked what to whom about the identify of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Now it started when Libby told investigators that he and Libby had first heard of Plame's identity from Tim Russert. And here's a quote from Libby to investigators. Quote, "Mr. Russert said to me, did you that Ambassador Wilson's wife, or his wife, works at the CIA?

And I said, no, I don't know that. And then he said, yes, all the reporters know it."

Libby going on to say that he thought at the time that that was the first time that he heard but Russert told the jury on those two days what he had told CNN on your show, "LATE EDITION," Wolf, a year earlier. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSERT: I wish I had known about Valerie Plame. I wish I had known who she was because it would have been an interesting discussion within NBC, hey, I have a great tip, a great story. Should we report this? I found out about her when I read Bob Novak's column on that Monday in "The Washington Post."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And that is, of course, what Tim Russert told the jury that day in the Libby trial. Now Libby's lawyer tried to question Russert's memory, I remember this very well. He really went after him, trying to rip his testimony to shreds. Told jurors during closing arguments, quote, "You cannot convict Mr. Libby solely on the word of this man. It would just be fundamentally wrong."

But after the trial, at least one juror said Russert was one of the prosecution's most compelling witnesses, whether he wanted to be or not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The primary thing that convinced us on most of the accounts was the conversation, alleged conversation with Russert.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And that was very memorable time in that trial, maybe the key part of that trial. And, of course, Lewis Scooter Libby went on to be the only person convicted in that case, Wolf. Key part of that, Tim Russert as the prosecution star witness.

BLITZER: Yes, they obviously -- the jury and everyone else seemed to believe him. He had more credibility than Scooter Libby did, who said that he discussed this matter with him and Tim Russert as you say, said absolutely not.

TODD: He did. And you know, I remember distinctly Tim Russert being on the stand. He was clearly very reluctant to be there. He was nervous at certain points. You could see it in his body language and everything. But he held up very, very well. I mean, clearly used to the grilling and you know sometimes in this town, people who give it out can't take it. He clearly could take it. I was very impressed with the way he held up in the trial that time.

BLITZER: I remember those days very, very vividly. Brian, thank you very much.

Paul Begala, you remember that. As a journalist, I can only say that's -- I can't think of anything professionally a whole lot more nerve wrecking than to become part of an awful story like that and being forced to testify and based on what you're going do say, someone might or not be convicted of a felony.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And someone who had talked to you thinking that you never not reveal it. And Tim would never have revealed it, except the law absolutely compelled it. There's not a shield law that protected journalists like you or Tim in those kind of situation. And I suspect that's the only reason he was there in that court room. He also was a citizen of the United States and ultimately had to obey the law. And I think he tried to resist it through every legal channel that he could. But finally he had to go, he had to testify and he had to reveal the truth as he experienced it.

BLITZER: He spoke about his role as a journalist back at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in 2001. We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, we're going to hear from Tim Russert, what he said then about being a journalist.

Stay with us. Our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing the coverage of very sad news. Tim Russert, the host of NBC's "Meet the Press," the Washington bureau chief passed away today at the age of 58. Back in the year 2001, he spoke about his passion as a journalist at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner right here in Washington.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSERT: There's no place I'd rather be than on the front lines of journalism at NBC News. My partner on election night and captain Tom Brokaw is here and the men and women of NBC News, thank you so much. Fifty-three years ago, Lawrence Spivak and Martha Rountree began "Meet the Press" with a single mission.

Learn as much as you can about your guest and his or her position on the issues and take the other side. And do it persistently and with civility and you'll be perceived as fair and objective. And that has been an invaluable lesson for all of us who labor on Sunday morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSERT: And labor, he did. He worked really, really hard to make sure he was prepared for those questions on "Meet the Press." Paul Begala, you were a guest on "Meet the Press" when you worked at the White House for Bill Clinton. Those questions were pretty tough.

BEGALA: Very tough. He often -- not often, always knew more about what you had said and done than you yourself knew.

BLITZER: He knew what your answer was going to be and he was prepared for the follow up.

BEGALA: Right and you can't fool a fooler. He always - and woe be it to anyone who challenged him on his facts. I'm working on a book right now actually about Senator McCain. I spent the day doing research and I happened to be reading a transcript of John McCain on "Meet the Press." And the two men never had greater respect for each other I think that John McCain and Tim Russert.

BLITZER: He was a frequent visitor.

BEGALA: Very frequent guest. But Russert had moderated a debate in which he had said to McCain that McCain had once said that he didn't know much about economics. And in the debate McCain said, I don't think that's right. I don't think I ever said any such thing. Russert let it go and the debate went on. The next time McCain came on "Meet the Press," he should have known it was coming.

BLITZER: He had the quote from "The Wall Street Journal".

BEGALA: And from "The Boston Globe." Two news articles and right away McCain being an honorable man said you're right, you're right, I did say that. So nobody challenged Tim on the facts and won.

BLITZER: And when they did, he would make sure that - look, we all make mistakes sometimes. I'm sure he would make mistakes sometimes, but he would thoroughly do his homework.

BEGALA: Right and if he did, he would go back and correct the record. But it was that thoroughness that I think was so powerful and he would often say to me that he'd catch these folks, these politicians in a flip flop or a change of positions and he would say, you know, I wish one of them would come on my show and just say you know, you're right. I did change on that, Tim. But facts have changed. Life has changed. I have changed. I think he was much more forgiving about those flip flops than a lot of his guests ever thought. BLITZER: Nothing wrong with saying you know what, I've changed my mind. We're human beings. Stand by, Paul. We're going to continue our coverage of this breaking news. Tim Russert died today at the age of 58 here in Washington. The reaction is coming in from presidents, current president, current president of the United States, former presidents, senators, governors and others. We'll watch this story together with you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And the reaction continues to come in to THE SITUATION ROOM on this breaking news. Tim Russert, host of "Meet the Press," the longstanding Washington bureau chief of NBC News has died today at the age of 58.

Gloria Borger has been watching this story.

Such a sad story for all of us who knew Tim, Gloria, but you go way back with Tim.

BORGER: I do. And my husband worked in Senator Moynihan's office after Tim Russert was there and he just reminded me of something that Tim said at Senator Moynihan's retirement party in the year 2000.

Tim spoke, of course, he and Moynihan were very close and he told a story. He said, "You know, when I first came to this office, to Senator Moynihan's office, I was completely overwhelmed by the intellectual firepower of the people working for Senator Moynihan and of Senator Moynihan himself."

And Tim said, "I went into Senator Moynihan and I told him, maybe I don't belong here. Maybe I should leave." And here's what Moynihan said to him and I quote, this is according to Tim. Moynihan said to him, "Tim, what they know, you can learn. What you know, they can never learn." Tim stayed.

BLITZER: Yes and David Gergen is with us, as well. David, when you think about Tim Russert, you think about a great journalist, a great interviewer but you also think about also think about the man, the family man, and he was really devoted to his family.

GERGEN: Absolutely. And you know, we knew him publicly, because of the book about his dad, Russ and of course then another book about the relationship of people with their dads. But he was also very devoted to his son and his wife, Maureen. He was just with Luke at the Boston College commencement. They apparently IM'd each other all day, back and forth on their Blackberrys. It was a very close relationship. So that's unusual in journalism, as you know, because of the time demands of the profession, but there were a number of times he was named father of the year, because he was so devoted.

BLITZER: He had one child, Luke, as you point out, who just graduated from Boston College, and they just celebrated that graduation by a trip to Italy, only in the past few days.