This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," July 6, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), ACTOR, "LAW AND ORDER": There's a lot more to competence than a law degree and a modicum of courtroom skill. A defendant and his attorney need to be able to communicate. There should be at leach a touch of trust between them.
SAM WATERSTON, ACTOR, "LAW AND ORDER": You better watch out, or they'll take back your invitation to the strict constructionist ball.
THOMPSON: You see, that's where you don't understand me, Jack. It's my job to put that son of a gun behind bars. The last thing I want to do for him is gift wrap grounds for reversible error.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: That is a glimpse of Fred Thompson in the role in which he is perhaps best-known to much of America, the district attorney in the TV drama "Law and Order." But he has had numerous movie roles, as well, and at the same time, managed a law and political career, culminating in eight years in the U.S. Senate.
Today, he was tapped by the president to help shepherd his as-yet-unnamed Supreme Court choice through the Senate. He joins me now.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
HUME: So I assume you don't know who the nominee is going to be?
THOMPSON: That's correct.
HUME: And you don't expect to be asked about your — I mean, are you going to consult on who it ought to be? Is that part of this or not?
THOMPSON: I don't expect to be asked that.
HUME: So your job kicks in when the nominee is chosen?
THOMPSON: That's right. That's right. Usually the client precedes the lawyer, but this time it's kind of the other way around in my case.
HUME: So what do you do? I mean, what are you going to do with them? Are you going to take this person in hand and do what?
THOMPSON: Well, it's kind of a role that's been defined over the years by various people. Senator Danforth has done it, Tom Korologos, of course, Ken Duberstein, and others who are well-known around here. And basically it's to do what you're asked to do by the White House, by the nominee.
And it usually involves attending meetings with the nominees, various senators, briefing the nominee as to who the senators are and their background and so forth, what their concerns might be, talking to the senators individually and listening to their concerns or answering what questions that you might, and responding to issues as they come up, as the White House would want you to do.
HUME: So are you looking for fires, in terms of issues that might arise ahead of time? Are you going to — do you take the nominee in hand and go from Senate office to Senate office to introduce the nominee to senators? Is that ...
THOMPSON: That's usually a part of it, yes. And as things develop, areas of concern and so forth, of course, you have to be steeped in the person's background. You have to know all there is to know about the nominee and be an advocate for that nominee.
I have total confidence in the president and the kind of nominee he'll pick. And point out the nominee's background and the qualifications that the president says are important.
HUME: Now, you know this nominee, whoever it is, is going to be under intense pressure to say how he or she will rule on certain cases or at least what position that nominee has already developed on certain judicial issues, constitutional issues. How do you counter that?
THOMPSON: Well, I don't know that you counter it as such. Some ...
HUME: How do you respond to it?
THOMPSON: ... potential nominees, if they're a sitting judge, for example, has a record. And that's one thing. Some people might not — you don't even have to be a lawyer, I mean, to start with, but some people might have other histories and records that they can talk about freely.
But when it comes to anything that would indicate how you might rule on a case, that's an improper line of questions to be answered. And it has been for a long time, up until just recently, in the eyes of some people.
HUME: Well, what do you say when they say, "We're going to ask these questions anyway"? What do you fall back on? Do you have precedent you can cite, an example?
THOMPSON: Yes, sure. I went back, in the brief time that I've been involved here, went back and looked at some of the history. Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, they came up in '93 and '94.
There is a long list of questions, with regard to all of the hot button issues of that day, some of which are still hot-button issues of today, and they respectfully declined to answer. They said, "These are things that very well may come up before us and we cannot get into personal views. The only thing we can assure you is that we will follow the law as we see it in an honest and objective way."
HUME: So will you argue then to the Senate that those two now-sitting justices were not required to answer those questions, that this nominee, whoever he or she is, should not be also?
THOMPSON: Yes. I think that the justices were totally answering the way that they should. I think that the senators, as best I could tell, for the most part, Democrat and Republican, respected that. And I think that's been the long history. You know, up until ...
HUME: There were overwhelming votes to confirm both of them.
THOMPSON: Yes. Yes. I think over 90 votes for each of them. For a long time in American history, people didn't even come up before the Senate. They didn't come before the Judiciary Committee, and up until about 1923, something like that.
And the 1950s is really when it started. And since that time, for the most part, there has been an understanding as to the areas that you can go into and the areas that you can't.
HUME: Now, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that this is going to be a bloodbath, if it's anything with — if who's anything other than kind of a milk-toast centrist. Do you believe that? Last question. Little time short here.
THOMPSON: Not necessarily. I think that it doesn't have to be that way. I think that people have seen what happened in times past. We don't want to repeat it. It doesn't help the Senate. It doesn't help the judiciary.
We're in danger to doing damage to the judiciary by bringing good people up heretofore un-criticized, and being that way before them, and not having a dignified hearing that's fair to them.
HUME: Thank you. Good to have you.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
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