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EXCLUSIVE: GOP Presidential Hopeful Fred Thompson Sits Down with Sean

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 6, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: First, we get to our top story tonight. Fred Thompson is in. He appeared with Jay Leno last night and officially announced his candidacy for president. Earlier today, Sean spoke exclusively with the senator in his first interview since the big announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: And joining us now is Senator Fred Thompson. Senator, always good to see you. Welcome back to the program.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Sean. Good to be with you.

HANNITY: All right. So you decided to announce on Jay Leno last night while the other Republican candidates were debating. Why Leno?

THOMPSON: Well, it gives me an opportunity to see more people, talk to more people. I think it is a good way to start out.

HANNITY: But you also said that you plan on joining a lot of the debates in the future, but you don't think much of the debate process now, why?

THOMPSON: It is not designed really to illuminate people's thoughts and feelings. Thirty-, 40-second sound bites, you know, to questions that hopefully will elicit some kind of a comment about one of the other participants, something like that, to make a little story, that sort of thing.

I kind of think that Newt's idea of going back to the Lincoln-Douglas debate-type format, where you have two people sit down or stand up and, you know, take an hour or so, and maybe an hour-and-a-half and discuss maybe one particular category, one particular topic, and get in-depth and go back and forth on it.

That is the way that you find out how somebody really thinks. I know it is difficult when you have that number of people running. And I don't know the answer to it in the primary. But I think certainly in the general election, something like that would be something I would gravitate to.

HANNITY: I have got to tell you something, Senator, I agree with you. I would love to see the country see that type of debate on some of the substantive issues of our time, especially the war on terror, economic issues. I think it is a great idea.

One fun question, a lot of the candidates did take a few shots at you last night. I'm sure by now you probably heard about it. Any desire to return fire?

THOMPSON: No. Not really. Not really. I was just glad that they didn't forget about me.

HANNITY: All right. Let me ask you this, because if we look at the primaries and the caucuses now that are emerging, this is an accelerated process. I mean, it used to work out that it would go all the way through June and the California primary here. But really, you have four months from now until this caucus and primary season begins. Does that concern you in terms of what you need to do? Raise money, organize, set up infrastructure, out campaigning?

THOMPSON: Sean, it really doesn't. You know, I like the idea of a sprint. I like the idea of Labor Day coming around, the traditional way when people start paying attention about politics. You get out in the media kind of coverage we can get today, earned media, the Internet, all of the other things that you can do nowadays to get more coverage than you ever did before.

People don't start paying attention to these things until the last few months. We have seen races right here in Iowa, for example, where things have turned around just in the last — in the few weeks right before the primary.

We have seen it happen in other parts of the country. So I think this process debate and discussion and so forth is interesting and important to a certain degree. But I think it is really overblown. I'm right where I want to be, to tell you the truth.

HANNITY: Yes. Look, I think this issue now is obviously irrelevant about when you announced your candidacy, Senator. But — so I guess, let me start with this. What are the major reasons that you have decided to run for the presidency? And obviously you feel these other candidates have created a void, what do you think that void is?

THOMPSON: I'm running because, like most Americans, I love my country. I'm concerned about the future for my country. There is going to be some decisions that are on the plates of the American people and the next president that we are going to have to make shortly that is going to affect our future for a long time to come.

I'm determined that we become a stronger, not a weaker nation, and a more united, not a more divided nation, and a more prosperous nation, not less prosperous. And those bad things are distinct possibilities if we take the wrong path.

So that is why I'm running for president, because I think the country needs to get back to first principles. And we have got to have a discussion, because I think the American people need to — as we get to be a more complex nation and the government gets more layered and bureaucratic, it is even more necessary that the people themselves have the options to do the things that are necessary for their particular lives and their kids, and their welfare, and not a growing, burgeoning government.

And that is the direction that the Democratic Party is headed in. I think it is ironic that the Democrats seem to want to embrace the Western European model of more taxes, more regulation and bigger government at a time when countries like France and Germany seem to be coming back toward our traditional model even more. So those are the things that are on my mind as I take this on.

HANNITY: You know, one of the things you said in your Internet speech that you gave, you said, you know, that the Republican Party was down in '92 after a Clinton victory. And you said, now, you don't want to have to come back from another Clinton victory. Our country needs us to win next year, and I'm ready to lead that effort here. When you look at the other current crop of candidates, Republicans, where is the distinction between your positions and what you view as theirs?

THOMPSON: Well, to tell you the truth, I haven't spent a whole lot of time going into the details of their positions. I will be doing — I mean, publicly. I obviously know where they stand and what they have done and what they've written.

And there will be a time when we will need to have a good debate, if they are interested in debates, and we will do it one-on-one or we will do it in a big group, however they want to do it. And we will get into that.

Right now, I have got a lot of work to do about myself. It is essentially going to boil down between — as far as I'm concerned, between myself and the American people, myself and the people of Iowa, initially, and then the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina and as we go along. And I want to make sure that nobody else, not the commentators and not the press or anybody else, makes these decisions. The American people need to make these decisions as to who they think will be the best president.

If I do what I'm supposed to do, and if I'm in sync with the American people, and I have the priorities that they think should be our nation's priorities, it doesn't matter what any of these other guys say or do, because taking the position is an important thing.

But you also have to ask, where has that person been before? How does that compare with what he is today? And more importantly, where will he be tomorrow when the strong winds blow?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLMES: We now continue with our exclusive sit-down with the newly announced presidential candidate, Fred Thompson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HANNITY: You've been attacked already without even announcing that you are going to get into the race here. The New York Times, the paper of record even referred to your wife as a trophy wife. Newsweek, you know, "lazy like a fox." Does it concern you? Do you have a strategy to bypass the general media to get your message and go directly to the American people?

THOMPSON: Well, both. I mean, in the first place, you can't bypass the media, and I know what I've got to do. That's a part of the game. I understand that. This is high-stakes stuff. This process is probably pretty good training to being the president. It's no walk in the park, and a political campaign for president shouldn't be a walk in the park, either. We're big boys and girls. We'll do whatever's necessary to get through that.

But at the end of the day, there are ways, such as when I put out my statement that's on Fred08.com right now, that people can look, I've got about a 15-minute deal there where I say what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. That's directed to the American people, and I must say this morning the response has been fantastic on it.

These things are aggravations, and sure, they're there, but everybody has to go through it, and it's just up to us to be smart enough to directly contact in any way that we can the American people, and I think we've got some maybe unique ways to do that.

HANNITY: Let's talk about during the debate last night, the big three issues obviously were the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, immigration is a big issue, certainly not only for the conservative base but for the security of the country, and economic issues.

Starting with Iraq, we're going to hear from General Petraeus. What is your feeling there?

THOMPSON: I get the feeling that General Petraeus is going to have basically what should be considered good news for us. It really depends on which way you lean, Sean. If you're politically committed against this war and to do something to try to further harm the president, the way the Democrats seem to be in Congress, then anything that's a mixed message is going to be seized upon in a negative way.

But if you understand that this is a part of a global conflict, and if we look weak and divided and cannot get our own people together toward maximizing the advantages that we have as we're making progress in the Anbar province and we're making progress in getting some of these local tribal leaders, going from the grassroots up, you might say, as we'd call it in this country, and making some real progress on the ground, not necessarily in the capital enough but all over the country, if you can capitalize on that, you can really start to change things there.

We've got to take the opportunity to do that. Nobody knows what's going to happen, but if we look weak and divided in this country, we're going to pay a heavy price for it in the future. We're living in the era of the suitcase bomb, and they're not going to go away. They're here now, they're armed and dangerous, and they're trying to get weapons of mass destruction.

HANNITY: I believe Iran is fighting a war by proxy. They're funding Hezbollah to the tune of $100 million a year. They're providing the IEDs that are being used to kill American soldiers and providing soldiers as part of the insurgency, battling our soldiers. How do you handle Iran?

THOMPSON: Iran is becoming more and more obvious, a major, major problem for the United States of America. They are killing our people. They are killing our people as we speak, and they're putting a little shield that you can see through from a mile away to try to defend themselves in the court of public opinion.

We cannot allow this to go on forever. The backdrop of all this, of course, is the fact they claim they've got 3,000 centrifuges now and basically reprocessing that uranium enough to get fissile material within the next few years and most experts think well on their way to making a nuclear weapon and, of course, they've threatened Israel.

I don't know how much more stark the situation can be. They perceive us as being weak. They perceive us as being divided, and they think they can get away with anything. They are perhaps getting closer to a revolution in Iran. That economy is so bad, the civil oppression is so bad against their own people, we've got some friends among those people there, there are some good things that can happen.

The military or nuclear option or whatever certainly should be the last thing to be considered. There are an awful lot of good things that can happen between now and then, but there are no options that can be taken off the table of a country that's intent on becoming dangerous to us and the rest of the world forever.

HANNITY: So that means that America must have a plan and prepare for possible military action if they're on the verge of getting nuclear weapons?

THOMPSON: Yes.

HANNITY: Recently we've been following the news of Senator Larry Craig. He's thinking about, although he seems to be pulling back a little bit today, about possibly maintaining a seat in Idaho. He was a colleague of yours. Do you have any thoughts based on what we know so far about whether or not it was the right thing for him to resign?

THOMPSON: Well, my initial thought is, I met his wife and I feel for her and his family, but he ought to do what's best for his family, he ought to do what's best for this country. He pled guilty and tried to take it back and resigned and is going to talk about taking that back. Larry ought to move on. We ought to be talking about the future of this country and not the future of Larry Craig.

HANNITY: All right. Senator Thompson, we'll be checking in periodically with you on the campaign trail. It's going to be an interesting race. About 130 days to go, I guess, until we start these caucuses.

THOMPSON: I haven't counted them yet, but sounds about right.

HANNITY: Somewhere around there. So, anyway, Senator, as always, thanks for being with us. Welcome aboard, and we'll be talking often. Thank you.

THOMPSON: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

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