Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, a very busy week in Washington, D.C. for a post-election week, what with cabinet nominations and concern growing about Iran.  But first let’s talk about the judicial nominations.

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The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have now okayed Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter as chairman.  That’s a pretty important step for them, because there are a whole lot of federal judicial appointments pending – not to mention the list of potential Supreme Court nominations.

Tim Russert:  Absolutely right.

What Sen. Specter did, by putting in writing a four-paragraph statement and also an oral presentation before his Republican colleagues, was say he would not block or step in the way of any judicial nominee the president put forward.

Some moderate Republicans and Democrats are saying that he has been neutralized and won't have the traditional influence of a committee chairman.

Specter insists that is not the case.

MSNBC:  The Bush White House, on the surface, did not get involved in that.  What about behind the scene?

Russert:  They sure did.

I asked Karl Rove whether or not Specter should be chairman of the committee.  He said, “That’s up to the Senate.”

When the White House says that, that’s a signal to the senate… “Okay, do what you’ve got to do.”

MSNBC:  Now that that’s out of the way, how about Condoleezza Rice?  Does the White House have her nomination as Secretary of State pretty much assured?

Russert:  Yes.  She’ll be confirmed.

She’ll be asked questions about intelligence gathering, about weapons of mass destruction, about those famous words in the President’s speech about uranium from Africa.  But, she’ll be overwhelmingly approved by the Senate.

MSNBC:  What’s up with outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell sharing what may be only single-source information on Iran’s nuclear program with reporters and concern Iran is trying to adapt missiles to carry nuclear weapons?  Powell was burned before, with the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the U.N.  Why is he talking about such tenuous information at this time?

Russert:  Well, it’s obviously a concern, but what happened, I believe, was that the Europeans had suggested they had entered into an agreement with Iran, or were on the verge of, giving the world a sense it could breathe a sigh of relief in terms of an Iranian nuclear program.

Powell said that he had seen some information, which was troubling – that they were developing the capability to develop a nuclear bomb.

Hawks in the administration obviously seized on it, some even suggesting a potential regime change with Iran.

We’ve heard that before, regarding Iraq.

No doubt the administration is concerned that Iran be elevated into a crisis just when they are still at a very critical stage in dealing with Iraq.

MSNBC:  One of the mysterious aspects of this whole thing is Powell used information from one source that had not even been vented.  Given the circumstances surrounding his presentation to the U.N. prior to the war in Iraq and what we later learned about that information doesn’t that seem a little surprising?

Russert:  It is, because he has said on "Meet the Press" and other places that he regretted his testimony before the U.N. – that there were mistakes in it.

And the one thing the Democrats and the Republicans can agree on is we want the President of the United States to go before the world and the country when talking about Iran and North Korea, and be believed and not have people say, “Now wait a minute.  Is this the same intelligence gathering agency that provided us the bogus information on Iraq?”

We need to be right; we need that credibility -- not only for our own country, but for the world.  To dribble out information little by little is obviously very, very dangerous.

On the other hand, Secretary Powell is a very experienced military man and a diplomat.  And he was clearly troubled by the information he was seeing.  Whether it was inadvertent or deliberate, it is now out in the public domain and will play a factor in the discussions about Iran.

MSNBC:  Could it be Powell is a little less cautious since he announced his plans to resign?

Russert:  He’s very smart.  He’s been around too many presidents and the press corps too many times.

I believe very deeply that many people believe the situations in Iran and North Korea are much more dangerous and much more advanced than any potential nuclear program in Iraq was before the United States went into there.

MSNBC:  What’s ahead on "Meet the Press" on Sunday Morning?

Russert:  We’re going to talk about that very issue - the growing tensions with Iran – with Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona and member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, who may run for president again in 2008.  We’ll try to find out.

Then, we’ll talk with Michael Scheuer, the CIA analyst formerly known as “Anonymous,” who’s written a book called “Imperial Hubris,” about his time at the CIA.  He has extraordinary insights into this entire situation and the Arab and Muslim world.  He has some very strong feelings about Osama bin Laden and the way we should be conducting the war on terrorism.

It’s going to be a very intense and interesting program, because these are dangerous times.


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