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Transcript: Former Sen. Fred Thompson on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the March 11, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Well, chances are you've never heard of U.S. President Charles Ross, but in the movies a couple of years ago, there was Fred Thompson playing the role. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON: Watch this. I don't want us sitting on our butts if something's about to happen.

(UNKNOWN): Absolutely, sir.

THOMPSON: Anything else I should know?

(UNKNOWN): I'll keep you posted, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Joining us now amid talk of a real-life run for president is actor and former senator from Tennessee, Fred Thompson.

And, Senator, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

THOMPSON: Thank you, Chris. Good to be with you.

WALLACE: There's been a lot of buzz, as we said, in Republican circles that there's no true conservative in the GOP presidential field. Now some top Republicans, including your friend former Tennessee senator Howard Baker, are putting out trial balloons about you possibly entering the race.

Question: Are you considering running for president in 2008?

THOMPSON: I'm giving some thought to it. Going to leave the door open.

WALLACE: Well, you say leaving the door open. What's going to go into your decision-making process, what factors? Why would you do it? And what do you see — do you see some holes in the current Republican field?

THOMPSON: It's not really a reflection on the current field at all. As you know, some of them are very good friends of mine. I'm going to wait and see how it pans out, see how they do, how it develops.

A lot of people think it's late already. I don't really think it is, although the rules of the game have changed somewhat.

Part of it is internal, a little self-examination on my part. Adlai Stevenson, I guess it was, said, you know, the trick is to do what's necessary to be president and become president and still deserve to be president. And that's serious consideration.

I'm concerned about what's going on in the country, in our world, always have been. Just the fact that I left the Senate did not negate that in any way. I've been involved in national security issues and things of that nature since I've been out of the Senate.

I think we're going into one of the most perilous times that our country has been in. I think that there are great opportunities out there.

But it's not preordained that we're going to remain the strongest and freest nation in the history of the world. We've got to do some things well. We've got to do some things differently.

WALLACE: As you point out, by historical standards, it's still very early, March of 2007. But your potential rivals are out there already building organizations, raising tens of millions of dollars. Don't you, if you're going to get into this. ...

THOMPSON: Spending tens of millions of dollars.

WALLACE: That's true, too. Don't you have to get into this pretty quickly if you're going to do it?

THOMPSON: I don't think so. I don't think so. I could be wrong, but I don't. You know, historically, as you say, people have gotten in October, in that time frame. I don't think you can wait that long anymore.

But you know, times are different in another respect, too. They're different from a political standpoint, but they're different in the country, too. I think people are somewhat disillusioned. I think a lot of people are cynical out there. I think they're looking for something different.

They're not necessarily willing to abide by the same rules politically as to their own behavior as voters. And I think that they're going to be open to different things.

It will be interesting to me as I listen to people and learn and watch what's going on and what's the reaction, and the poll numbers and so forth, as to whether or not my instinct on that is right.

But whatever the case, the lay of the land will be different in a few months than it is today one way or the other, and...

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you...

THOMPSON: ... one advantage you have in not, you know, having this as lifelong ambition is that if it turns out that your calculation is wrong, it's not the end of the world.

WALLACE: I read one article that said that the timetable was you would make a decision by May.

THOMPSON: I don't know where that came from. I've never said that.

WALLACE: Do you have any kind of a deadline?

THOMPSON: No.

WALLACE: Could you go into the summer? Could you go into ...

THOMPSON: I think so.

WALLACE: As we said, perhaps the main reason that people are talking about you is this uneasy feeling among conservatives that there is not one of their own, a true conservative, in the field.

So let's do a lightning round — quick questions, quick answers, a variety of issues — to see where Fred Thompson stands.

THOMPSON: Um hmm.

WALLACE: Abortion.

THOMPSON: Pro-life.

WALLACE: Would you like to overturn Roe. ...

THOMPSON: You said lightning round, now. If you want ...

WALLACE: Well, let's go.

THOMPSON: ... more, give me another question. I'll work through it.

WALLACE: Do you want to overturn Roe vs. Wade?

THOMPSON: I think Roe vs. Wade was bad law and bad medical science. And the way to address that is through good judges. I don't think the court ought to wake up one day and make new social policy for the country. It's contrary to what it's been the past 200 years.

We have a process in this country to do that. Judges shouldn't be doing that. That's what happened in that case. I think it was wrong.

WALLACE: Gay rights.

THOMPSON: Gay rights? I think that we ought to be a tolerant nation. I think we ought to be tolerant people. But we shouldn't set up special categories for anybody.

And I'm for the rights of everybody, including gays, but not any special rights.

WALLACE: So, gay marriage? You're against.

THOMPSON: Yes. You know, marriage is between a man and a woman, and I don't believe judges ought to come along and change that.

WALLACE: What about civil unions?

THOMPSON: I think that that ought to be left up to the states. I personally do not think that that is a good idea, but I believe in many of these cases where there's real dispute in the country, these things are not going to be ever resolved.

People are going to have different ideas. That's why we have states. We ought to give great leeway to states and not have the federal government and not have the Supreme Court of the United States making social policy that's contrary to the traditions of this country and changing that overnight. And that's what's happened in a lot of these areas.

WALLACE: Gun control.

THOMPSON: Well, I'm against gun control generally. You know, you check my record. You'll find I'm pretty consistent on that issue.

WALLACE: So this federal court — appeals court ruling this last week, I guess Friday, in the case of D.C. — you'd be perfectly happy to have people have handguns in their homes?

THOMPSON: Yes. Absolutely. The court basically said the Constitution means what it says, and I agree with that.

WALLACE: On the other hand, you have taken some stands that conservatives may not like. For instance, you voted for John McCain's campaign finance reform.

THOMPSON: I came from the outside to Congress. And it always seemed strange to me. We've got a situation where people could give politicians huge sums of money, which is the soft money situation at that time, and then come before those same politicians and ask them to pass legislation for them.

I mean, you get thrown in jail for stuff like that in the real world. And so I always thought that there was some reasonable limitation that ought to be put on that, and you know, looking back on history, Barry Goldwater in his heyday felt the same thing.

So that's not a non-conservative position, although I agree that a lot of people have interpreted it that way.

WALLACE: You also favor comprehensive immigration reform. I want to...

THOMPSON: No, no, no, no.

WALLACE: Well, let me put up on the screen something that you said last year about illegals, and let's take a look at it. "You're going to have to, in some way, work out a deal where they can have some aspirations of citizenship but not make it so easy that it's unfair to the people waiting in line and abiding by the law."

Now, you said, "Look, it's just not realistic that we're going to round up 12 million people and ship them all out of the country."

THOMPSON: Well, that's true, as a general statement. We woke up one day after years of neglect and apparently discovered that we have somewhere between 12 million and 20 million illegal aliens in this country. So it became an impossible situation to deal with.

I mean, there's really no good solution. So what do you do? You have to start over. Well, I'm concerned about the next 12 million or 20 million. So that's why enforcement, and enforcement at the border, has to be primary.

I think most people feel disillusioned after 1986 when we had this deal offered to them before, and now we're insisting that, you know, we solve the security problem first, and then we'll talk about what to do with regard to other things — certainly no amnesty or nothing blanket like that.

But figure out some way to make some differentiation between the kind of people that we have here.

You know, if you have the right kind of policies, and you're not encouraging people to come here and encouraging them to stay once they're here, they'll go back, many of them, of their own volition, instead of having to, you know, load up moving vans and rounding people up. That's not going to happen.

WALLACE: What would you do now in Iraq?

THOMPSON: I would do essentially what the president's doing. I know it's not popular right now, but I think we have to look down the road and consider the consequences of where we are.

We're the leader of the free world whether we like it or not. People are looking to us to test our resolve and see what we're willing to do in resolving the situation that we have there. People think that if we hadn't gone down there, things would have been lovely.

If Saddam Hussein was still around today with his sons looking at Iran developing a nuclear capability, he undoubtedly would have reconstituted his nuclear capability. Things would be worse than what they are today.

We've got to rectify the mistakes that we've made. We went in there too light, wrong rules of engagement, wrong strategy, placed too much emphasis on just holding things in place while we built up the Iraqi army, took longer than we figured.

Wars are full of mistakes. You rectify things. I think we're doing that now. We're coming in with good people. We're coming in with a lot of different people. I know General Petraeus from when he was in Tennessee at Fort Campbell. He believes in the plan. He's convinced me that they can do the job.

Why would we not take any chance, even though there's certainly no guarantees, to not be run out of that place? I mean, we've got to take that opportunity and give it a chance to work.

WALLACE: One area where you have been critical of President Bush is that you say that he never spread the burden, he never made all Americans share in the sacrifice.

And you have talked about the fact that we need to end our dependence on foreign oil. Would you impose a gas tax to push us in that direction?

THOMPSON: Well, you're getting a little bit further down in the weeds than I want to go right now. I don't know. I'm studying it. I don't know the answer to that question.

We're going to have to do some things differently. We're going to have to think differently about solutions.

You know, it's a price matter more than anything else. You know, gas is — I mean, oil is fungible. And there's going to be oil in different parts of the world having a price set, you know, that we're going to have to live with one way or another.

We can't ever be totally independent of it, but we can do some things to make it a lot better. We're going to have to look at fuel emission standards and things of that nature, things that we don't like to look at.

And things have got to be on the table, because we can't keep funding a part of the world that's causing us so much problems.

WALLACE: You are on the steering committee of the Scooter Libby Defense Fund.

THOMPSON: That's right.

WALLACE: And you helped raise millions of dollars for his extraordinary legal expenses. Would President Thompson — you like the sound of that probably. Would President Thompson pardon Libby now or would you wait until all of his legal appeals are exhausted?

THOMPSON: I'd do it now.

WALLACE: Because?

THOMPSON: I'd do it now. This is a trial that never would have been brought in any other part of the world. This is a miscarriage of justice.

One man and his wife and 14-year-old and 10-year-old children are bearing the brunt of a political maelstrom here that produced something that never should have come about.

These people knew in the very beginning — the Justice Department, this Justice Department and the special counsel knew in the very beginning that the thing that was creating the controversy, who leaked Valerie Plame's name, did not constitute a violation of the law.

And then they knew that it — someone did leak the name. And it was Mr. Armitage. It wasn't Scooter Libby.

But he evidently wasn't a designated bad guy, so they passed over that and spent the next year drilling in a dry well and finally got some inconsistencies or some failure to remember out of Mr. Libby and made a prosecution out of it and went to trial on a he-said, she-said perjury case and faulty memory, when practically every witness in the trial either had inconsistent statements, told the FBI one thing, told the grand jury something else, inconsistent between the witnesses that were presented at the case, and sometimes both.

And yet at the end of the day, the only person that the jury got an opportunity to pass judgment on was Scooter Libby. It's not fair. And I would do anything that I could to alleviate that.

WALLACE: We've got a couple of minutes left. I'm sure some people are listening to you and saying, "You know what, I like this guy. I would like him to be my presidential candidate."

You talked about it in terms of the process — you're going to think about it and decide in your own gut. But there's got to be more than that. I mean, how do you figure out whether or not there's interest out there, whether there is support? How are you going to test the waters?

THOMPSON: This day and time, it doesn't take long to learn what people think. I have never beaten down a lot of doors in my life, but occasionally doors have opened to me, and I had sense enough to see that they were opening, and I would walk through them, and they've always turned out well for me.

I'm just going to wait and see what happens, as I say. I'm going to have my own thoughts about what's necessary to get the job done, be successful in doing it.

I want to see how my colleagues who are on the campaign trail do now, what they say, what they emphasize, what they're addressing, and how successful they are in doing that, and whether or not they can carry the ball in next November, and mainly whether or not they can reach the American people, inspire the American people to do the tough things that we're going to need to do.

We've got an entitlement program that's bankrupting us. We've got things going on in Thailand, in Indonesia, in places that nobody ever talks about anymore that could impact on us.

We've got Chinese government who we're mutually economically dependent upon right now. But you know, they're still a totalitarian government that is building up their military tremendously and has 200 missiles pointed toward Taiwan.

Those are all things that are going to have to be dealt with. And the American people, we've learned, are going to have to be brought along with the process and with what's going on — be honest with them and inspire them to do the right thing.

WALLACE: And if you search your soul and if you listen to what they're all saying and it doesn't seem to you that they're catching on, making sense — whatever — then what?

THOMPSON: Well, I'm going to give it serious consideration.

WALLACE: Now, I know you anchor "The Paul Harvey Show" sometimes. Will you come back here and give us the rest of the story?

THOMPSON: That's kind of like pinch-hitting for Babe Ruth.

WALLACE: Or Lou Gehrig.

THOMPSON: That's kind of like being compared to Ronald Reagan. You know, I'm getting into some no-win situations here.

WALLACE: Will you come back and tell us the rest of the story?

THOMPSON: Absolutely.

WALLACE: Sen. Thompson, we want to thank you so much for coming in today.

THOMPSON: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.