Under some fire for pounding Rudy Giuliani on Sunday’s Meet the Press with questions about a New York City security detail for his mistress, and whether it would be "appropriate" for a president to provide Secret Service protection for his mistress, Tim Russert hit NBC and MSNBC on Monday morning to defend himself and suggest that it’s essential we know what skeletons presidential candidates have in their past. But did Russert ever ask Bill Clinton about Secret Service protection for his mistresses? Russert’s interviews with Bill Clinton (especially lately) are classified under C for Chummy. Here are Russert’s mistress questions to Giuliani, followed by his defenses on Monday:
RUSSERT: Also has been questioned, criticisms about your security details for your then-girlfriend Judi Nathan. Here’s a photograph of her walking her dog being escorted by a New York City policeman. This headline in the Daily News now with "New questions over security details for Rudy’s girlfriend, Driving Miss Judi." Bernard Kerik had said that there had been no police protecting Miss Nathan until December 2000. Now your folks have told the Daily News that, in fact, there was some security before that date. Why was it appropriate for you to give taxpayer-funded security to your girlfriend?
RUSSERT: Using that reasoning, would it be appropriate for a president to provide Secret Service protection for his mistress?
On Monday’s Today, after the usual descriptions of how Oprah Winfrey "resonates" for Barack Obama, Matt Lauer wrapped up the interview:
LAUER: You had Rudy Giuliani on your program yesterday. I was reading some of the newspaper accounts this morning, Tim. And, and most of them said he was on quite the hot seat. You talked to him about his personal life, about some of the decisions he's made, he made as mayor. How do you think he acquitted himself?
RUSSERT: Well Matt I think it's important that when you elect a president, you know what they've done in the past. And I think Rudy Giuliani's business associates, his judgments made as mayor involving security details and a whole lot things are important. I think the mayor hung in there, he tried to respond and explain his positions best he can but I don't think these issues are gonna go away.
LAUER: So they're not behind him?
RUSSERT: No sir.
Once again, a crucial fact in deciding whether scandals will "go away" is the press deciding to drop them, or keep pursuing them. Russert is pledging to stay on the Mistress Security story. Over on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, substitute host Willie Geist pressed a little harder:
WILLIE GEIST: Joining us now, the man who literally asked the questions we don't have the guts to ask, Tim Russert. Good morning, Tim.
RUSSERT: Hey, Willie. How you doing? Hi, Mika.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Hey, Tim.
GEIST: We're doing well. That was a tough interview. Front page of the Daily News this morning, "Rudy Gets a Grillin,'" all over the front page of the papers, Tim. That was a tough question. Some people, Giuliani supporters saying too tough, the one about the mistress and the secret service protection. Did you think it was?
RUSSERT: Oh, not at all. I wouldn't have asked it, Willie. You know, these people want to be president of the United States and it's important that we know how they conducted themselves in other offices. We know a lot about Richard Nixon in Watergate and Ronald Reagan with Iran-Contra, Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam War, if we had looked at their past and how they comported themselves. How Rudy Giuliani conducted himself as mayor, how he used the taxpayers' money-- and I think it's a very legitimate question as to how and when security details were provided to, then girlfriend, his mistress. We are getting different explanations. This is hard-earned taxpayers’ money. The mayor made a case that there were security threats. Were there security threats? How well known was she? What type of threats? Who made the decisions? This was all pre-September 11th. Also in terms of his partnerships, Giuliani Partners, his businesses with Qatar, his law firm's relationship with Citgo, which is owned by the Venezuela government and Hugo Chavez. Those are legitimate areas of exploration and for questioning. I allowed the mayor to finish his sentence and complete his thought. I think it's important that we utilize these moments in a presidential campaign not just play beanbag, but to find out who these men and women really are.
Did you notice how Russert left the Clintons out of that list of presidential misconduct (Nixon, Reagan, LBJ)?