This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," November 5, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: In American politics, we may yell and say mean, very mean things about each other. But in truth, our transition of power is peaceful. And it's also mechanical and complicated, very complicated. Thousands and thousands leave their jobs and new ones replace them, and we try and do it as fast as we can, but it's a giant task.
Now, Karl Rove, President Bush's former deputy chief of staff, was a big part of one presidential transition. Karl joins us live. All right, Karl, what happens? I mean, today we heard rumors that Rahm Emanuel, conference from Illinois, may be named chief of staff but that's only one thing today that we hear about. What's going on?
KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you're confronting four big challenges. First you have to staff up the White House. That's sort of what we started to hear about today with the rumors that Rahm Emanuel might be asked to be the White House chief of staff. But there are about -- about several hundred, 400 or 500 people inside the White House who come and go with the administration. And then there are a group of people, I think just about 1,000 people, who are permanent employees of the executive office of the president.
But the first thing you got to do is figure out who's going to be in the White House with the president of the United States and the vice president. Second, you need to begin to staff up the administration. That is to say, you need to pick the Cabinet, and in turn, you need to begin to pick the sub-cabinet and then all the so-called Schedule C's or political appointees whose job it is to go into the agencies and make certain that those agencies pursue the policy goals of the administration.
Thirdly, there are a series of other offices throughout the government, outside the Cabinet departments. Like, for example, there are U.S. attorneys who report to the Justice Department, but the White House takes an intimate role in picking those U.S. attorneys. When George W. Bush came in, for example, he asked the 93 U.S. attorneys then in place, appointed by Bill Clinton -- he asked them to stay on until such time as their successor had been named, and hopefully, confirmed. Clinton took a different approach in 1993, basically came in and fired everybody immediately. In fact, he told a number of them, Get out of the office today.
But it's a very complicated process of -- on the judicial side of both U.S. attorney, U.S. Marshals, and then you need to have a process in place to begin thinking about the governors (SIC).
And then finally, there's policy. And you got to begin on both the international front and the domestic front, even before the election -- excuse me -- even before the inauguration -- after the election, you need to begin to think and put in place the building blocks to allow you to begin to quickly hit the ground running on your policy issues.
For example, George W. Bush in December of 1999 -- excuse me -- December of 2000, had a truncated transition period because of the fiasco in Florida. He began meeting with Democrat and Republican legislators to talk about No Child Left Behind. He began meeting with economic leaders to begin talking about the economic policies that would be needed in order to deal with a rapidly changing economic situation. As you recall, the stock market was going down and we were entering a recession at the end 2000 and the beginning of 2001.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about the secret stuff? I mean, there's a lot of stuff that the president knows that's secret, whether it's, you know, the nuclear code or whatever it is. When does that get transferred over?
ROVE: Well, the codes themselves remain in the hands of the president and the military until such time as a new president is sworn in. Now, remember, we have a Constitution. That Constitution specifies that the president-elect becomes the president on January 20 of next year. So for the next 75 days, the Constitution specifies we have a president, and he exercises the full authority of the office of the presidency. We only have one president at one time.
But having said that, I believe it was either today or tomorrow, Senator Obama, President-elect Obama will begin to get presidential-level intelligence briefings. And these were offered -- they've been receiving some background material, background briefings now. He will begin to hear literally what the president -- President Bush hears every day between now and the time that he, Barack Obama, is sworn in.
We also had a change in the homeland security law several years ago, which allows the administration, the current administration, to ask and receive from the prospective -- from the presidential candidates lists of names of people that they would like to have turned over to the FBI and other agencies to go through a background check, so their security clearances can be in place.
It takes a while to do a background check, and starting in August, the two presidential candidates, McCain and Obama, were solicited for names, and those names have already begun to go through a background check so that the president-elect can -- President-elect Obama can pull from that list of, I believe, roughly 100 names, the people that he wants to have serve in his administration who need to have a security clearance by the time they walk in the door on January 20.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So if Senator-elect -- I mean, if President-elect, Senator Obama, gets the briefings, I assume now we've had to double up on the team. We've got the briefings briefing President Bush here in Washington. Someone's going to have to go to Chicago and brief him because I assume we don't fax this information.
ROVE: Right. No, no, no. You don't. And guess what? In the intelligence community and the defense community and the diplomatic circles, there are plenty of people to go do that briefing. And as you can imagine, it's a hot assignment. They like to be able to say, I'm the guy who's briefing the new president, the guy who's coming in, and so...
What's also interesting is when President Bush came in, the CIA briefers would brief him, but after he became president, he said, I'd like the director of the CIA to come and brief me so that I get to know the cast of his mind and he gets to know me better, but so that I can really understand who he is, how he thinks, and I want to hear from him directly. And I thought it was a very, very useful thing for a new president to do. Might be an interesting thing if Senator Obama availed himself of that at the appropriate time, which is January 20 and 21.
VAN SUSTEREN: So does Senator Obama, President-elect Obama, get anything on January 20 that he doesn't have now? Is -- I mean, is that the...
ROVE: Well, he...
VAN SUSTEREN: What gets given to him then?
ROVE: You know, I don't -- first of all, I don't know. I assume there is. I assume -- I know that that's the time that, in essence, the control of the nuclear codes and other important things. I'm confident there are some other things, but if I knew them and told you, I'd have to be killed. I mean, you know. (LAUGHTER)
VAN SUSTEREN: Or you'd have to shoot me. Or worse, you'd have to shoot me. All right. Now, I mean, the level of cooperation -- I mean, it's good, isn't it. I mean -- I mean, it's to be admired by all of us.
ROVE: This president, President Bush, said, Look, I want to make certain that the country in a time of war is well served by the new president, and so I want to make certain that we do everything to encourage the proper and appropriate transition of information and prepare the new administration as best we can in whatever way they need us and that is appropriate to help them get prepared to come in.
So beginning -- set up a council. They began to meet in August with the presidential candidates, both McCain and Obama. They've been meeting on a regular basis. We are, you know, going overboard. This administration is going overboard to make certain that whatever McCain and Obama before election day and now Senator Obama wants to have in the way of briefings or information or visits between his people and people within the White House and within the administration, they want to do it.
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