As a tepid Giuliani supporter–before the interview–I thought his appearance Sunday morning on Meet the Press rated somewhere between underwhelming and appalling. Tim Russert really hammered him on his political and business associations, and it was not a pretty sight to behold. Giuliani came across as the closest thing to Richard Nixon in American public life that we have seen since Watergate. (For the full transcript of the interview, click here.) Giuliani was totally on the defensive. He was unable to wrest control of the interview from Russert, even momentarily, to articulate any kind of uplifting vision. After a couple of questions about the early primaries, Russert began the interview by reading from the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. He asked: “Doesn’t this [the Estimate’s “high degree of confidence” that Iran abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003 due to international pressure] remove the option of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran?” Giuliani said, “No, I don’t think it does. I think you always leave open the military option in a situation….” Then he tried to cast the NIE as a warning that their estimate might not be correct after all. “I think what it’s saying, I think a fair interpretation is that, at least in their estimate, which they warn you may not be correct if you read the introductory part of it, right now the short-term issue is not nearly as grave, but they go on to say that the long-term issue is still there, that they can’t, with any high degree of confidence say that they’re not going to move ultimately toward nuclear weapons. Of course we can’t say what is going to happen in the future.”

I don’t quarrel with Giuliani’s statement that the United States should keep all its options open. No one would suggest otherwise. The problem is that Giuliani acted as though nothing had changed. He regards the NIE as an inconvenient truth. He doesn’t want to believe it. He tries to twist the plain meaning of the words “high confidence” by referring to the use of “moderate confidence” regarding other matters in the NIE. “It’s a pretty balanced presentation that I think adds up to we better, long-term, be very, very cautious about Iran and we better keep the pressure on; otherwise, even they are only moderately confident that Iran has not gone back to the program of moving toward, you know, nuclear weapons.” This is NOT what the NIE said. It expressed only moderate confidence that Iran would not renew its nuclear weapons program in the future.” The neocons–and Giuliani’s main adviser in foreign policy is neocon superhawk Norman Podhoretz who advocates bombing Iran ASAP–have learned nothing from the mess they made of Iraq, which, finally, military action and intelligent diplomacy seem to be cleaning up, gradually.

Why wouldn’t Giuliani have said, “The National Intelligence Estimate is great news. Our policy of diplomatic pressure has worked. We should take this opportunity to negotiate with Iran, without losing sight of the danger that country poses to peace in Iraq. This is not the time to talk about preemptive strikes. This is the time for diplomacy. If diplomacy fails, Iran knows that the military option is always available to the United States.” This is lesson one of diplomacy: Speak softly and carry a big stick.

What has happened to the party of Ronald Reagan (who I voted for twice)? What has happened to, “It’s morning in America?” Reagan dared to negotiate with a nuclear superpower at the height of the Cold War–and it worked, spectacularly. George W. Bush has taken the Republican party in the opposite direction from Reagan’s optimism, toward a view of the world as an ever darker and more dangerous place, in which the only things standing between America and catastrophe is the U.S. military and an unprecedented expansion of presidential power, and the Republican field has embraced Bush’s dark vision. I don’t think it is a winning strategy to be the party of pessimism.

Eventually Russert moved on to Giuliani’s associations. He began with this exchange:

“ asked you this question: ‘Are you aware that the interior minister appointed in 2001 and reappointed this year by the emir of Qatar is Abdullah al-Thani, the former minister of Islamic affairs and a strict Wahhabi Muslim who has been identified in U.S. press and government reports as a protector of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad? [the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks]’”

Are you?

MR. GIULIANI: Am I aware of it?


MR. GIULIANI: I–I’m, I’m aware of it now..

MR. RUSSERT: Why would you do business with people who helped Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?

MR. GIULIANI: The reality is that Qatar is an ally of the United States. There are a significant number of American troops that are stationed in Qatar. What we did for them and do for them is security for their facilities. And this is a country that is an ally of ours in the, in the, in the Middle East to the extent that it has a very significant number of American troops stationed there.

MR. RUSSERT: But the emir of Qatar praised Hezbollah for their victory over Israel in Lebanon.

MR. GIULIANI: The, the emir of Qatar also supports the United States, supported the United States, is one of our, one of our friends in the Middle East, is taking the grave risk–the country of Qatar is taking the grave risk of having American soldiers there….”

Russert then said, “Robert Baer, a CIA officer who had tracked Mohammad Khalid said that you are taking money from the same accounts that protected Khalid Sheikh Mohammad….”

Giuliani denied having any contacts with al-Thani.

Other associations that Russert asked about:
* CITGO, the oil company that is owned by Venezuela and therefore controlled by Hugo Chavez. It is represented by the Houston law firm of Bracewell and Giuliani. What do you want to bet that the Democrats will ask if we want to elect a president who has been Hugo Chavez’s lawyer?
* A Las Vegas developer who has a close relationship with a Hong Kong billionaire with ties to North Korea’s Kim Jung-Il.
* Bernard Kerik, whom Giuliani appointed as corrections commissioner and then police commissioner of New York, and whom he recommended for the post of Secretary of Homeland Security, who has recently been named in a 16-count indictment charging him with, among other felonies, fraud, tax evasion, obstruction, filing a false loan application, and making an assortment of false statements when applying for various federal posts, including Homeland Security secretary.

Russert kept pressing Giuliani on why he didn’t sever his ties with his businesses and disclose who his clients were. There was this exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: But you’re still receiving money from your firm.

MR. GIULIANI: But I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations. I’m an owner of the firm.

MR. RUSSERT: But you’re receiving money. If people could sign up to–for your company in order to influence you if you became president. Why not just sever ties and put out a list of all your clients?

MR. GIULIANI: Well, first of all, I, I, I couldn’t do that. I mean, I couldn’t put out a list of all my clients. There are confidentiality agreements that surround the relationship that businesses have with law firms, in particular, in some cases with security firms. So I can’t do that. All, all I can tell you is the following: I can tell you that every client of GP of any significance while I was there, while I was involved in the day-to-day, day-to-day operations of it has been discussed, significant number of the Bracewell, Giuliani clients have been discussed, and the reality is that none of them amount to anything other than ethical, lawful, decent work done by both companies, sometimes of the highest standards, always ethical and decent. And none of them involve any kind of conflict of any kind.

Russert asked if Giuliani would release his tax returns.

MR. RUSSERT: You ran for mayor, you released your tax returns. Would you do that?

MR. GIULIANI: At the right time. At the right time we’ll consider doing that.

MR. RUSSERT: What’s the right time?

MR. GIULIANI: The right time is not now. The right time is when we get to financial…

MR. RUSSERT: If you get nominated?

MR. GIULIANI: …when we get to financial disclosure. We’ll see what is the appropriate financial disclosure. What have other people done? What are other people going to do? What is the right standard? Here’s the thing we will definitely do. We’ll obviously meet all of the standards that the law requires, and then we’ll take a look and see should we go beyond that? Is there a reason to go beyond that? And if there is, we will. The thing I will commit myself to, obviously, is meeting all the standards, which are pretty darned high. We will meet all of those, like everybody else has, and then we’ll take a look at what the right thing to do is.

Russert then asked about Kerik, quoting the New York Daily News:

“Bernard Kerik lied, schemed and sold out the city–all under the nose of his mentor and pal, presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. That is the stark portrait painted in the 16-count indictment unsealed in Federal Court. The indictment charges Kerik with conspiracy, tax fraud, making false statements depriving the city of his honest services. If convicted, he faces up to 142 years in prison–up to $4.75 million in fines. The indictment starts in ’98, after Giuliani made Kerik correction commissioner, continues through 2000, when he named him police commissioner, and ends in 2006.”.”

Russert continued, And there are reports, Mr. Mayor, that according to Mr. Kuriansky, involved in the city investigative unit, that he briefed you and Dennison Young about Bernard Kerik and his relationship with Lawrence Ray before you appointed him police commissioner, and there are documents that demonstrate this. Mr. Ray, as you well know, was the best man for Bernard Kerik, had been indicted for his involvement in a company called Interstate Industrial. Do you recall the warning you were given about Mr. Kerik?

And Rudy said … I don’t recall.

You can read the transcript (or watch the video) to judge the tone of Giuliani’s answers. Generally it was this: He weaseled. He dissembled. He obfuscated. I can’t support this guy. And didn’t even have the political skill to move the discussion off of Russert’s turf onto his own. I can’t say that he couldn’t stay on message because he never got on message. As I said at the start, he’s the new Nixon. I’ll just go down with the McCain ship.