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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

NBC's Tim Russert Dies at 58; Midwest Rising Rivers

Aired June 13, 2008 - 23:00   ET


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Not many people in this business could captivate the country with a slate and magic marker. Then again, not many people could pour the wisdom, dedication and sheer depth of knowledge onto those few square inches the way Timothy J. Russert could and he did.
He poured politics from his mind onto that slate and into our lives. And when he wasn't explaining elections, he was holding the elected accountable. In that, he made excellence look easy.

Tim Russert died today of a massive heart attack. He was just 58 years old. Tonight, you'll meet the people who respected and loved him.

And we start tonight with CNN'S Tom Foreman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tim Russert took on political reporting with Irish tenacity and zeal and along the way he changed politics itself.

Each Sunday morning, news makers lined up to join him on the longest running TV show ever, a program that he took over in 1991, "Meet the Press."

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Up first with us for an exclusive Sunday morning interview.

FOREMAN: Born in Buffalo in 1950, Russert was steeped in old- fashioned Irish Catholic beliefs about hard work, friends and family. He went to law school and then straight to the front lines of politics; working with legendary politicians Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo. That's when Bill Schneider met him.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALSYT: He wasn't a grim ideological warrior. He didn't fight for causes. He believed in basic human decency and believed that politics was there to serve people's interests. But he made it his business to know what the interest was of everybody around the table. And he was brilliant at that.

FOREMAN: In 1984, he was hired by NBC. In just a few years becoming the Washington bureau chief. He's been a force in every phase of that network's political coverage ever since. Wolf Blitzer. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": He could come across and ask a very tough question in a very polite, honest, almost amicable way. And it would disarm a lot of the politicians who came on the show and they wouldn't realize that, whoa, he's clobbering them.

FOREMAN: He incisive, meticulously-researched interviews set the standard for political reporting. Virtually every big newsmaker of the past 20 years at some point sat with Tim Russert.

Along the way, Russert opened doors for many other journalists. He gave Joe Johns his first network job ever.

JOE JOHNS, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU: The thing Tim did so well and a lot of us always tried to emulate was the sort of prosecutorial interview without a sharp edge. So here was Tim on "Meet the Press" asking very tough questions but not making himself the focus of the questions.

FOREMAN: In this town where contacts are everything, Russert seemed to know everyone. And he was an innovator, with a marker and a white board he reduced the complexities of an election to something everyone could understand.

Red states, blue states, he came up with that idea as a way of measuring America, according to "The Washington Post." And his influence went beyond politics to ground-breaking coverage of the world's religious, economic and social issues.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He was one of the journalists who managed to have a very popular show that also dug deeply into the issues and really illuminated, not only the issues themselves, but often a pierced of balloons of some of the people who are appearing on the show who came in with a certain arrogance or with a view they could put one over on the American people.

FOREMAN: His awards are too numerous to mention. "Time" magazine called him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. And yet spending time with his family and helping his community were among his deepest passions.

Married for 25 years to Maureen Orth who writes for "Vanity Fair," he talked with endless pride of his son Luke and his father, big Russ, he immortalized in two books. And of course, there is sports.

BLITZER: He loved the Buffalo Bills; that was his real passion. And how many times did he end his show with "Go Bills."

FOREMAN: Tim Russert was a big man, not only in size. He was well over six feet tall, but also in his presence, in his passions, his determination to get things right as a journalist, a citizen, a friend, a father, and son.


BROWN: Previews now of Tim Russert as a competitor, a colleague and a guest. You saw them briefly in Tom's report. Wolf Blitzer, host of CNN's own Sunday program, CNN's Joe Johns formerly of NBC's Washington Bureau and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, a frequent guest of Tim's, but also like so many others in Washington, a member of the same extended family.

And Wolf, let me start with you. Just talk to us tonight about what Tim meant to you.

BLITZER: Well, he was a terrific, terrific journalist and he was a real solid professional. He did his job as you well know, Campbell. He always did his homework and he was a real credit to our profession. I looked up to him on many, many levels.

But on a personal level, we were just friends. He liked sports, I like sports. Let me rephrase it, he loved sports, I love sports. I would have season tickets for the Washington Wizards. He had season tickets for the Washington Wizards. He loved baseball.

But as much as he loved all that, he loved the Buffalo Bills the most. And I love the Buffalo Bills the most. We lived through the pain of being Buffalo Bills fans for four consecutive Superbowls. Going to the Superbowls and losing four consecutive times.

So we had that in common and it was just part of our roots, if you will. He grew up in Buffalo and so did I. And you know what? You can -- to paraphrase others -- you can take the kid out of Buffalo, but you can't take the Buffalo out of the kid.

BROWN: Yes, and Joe, I know you worked with Tim during your days with NBC news for more than ten years, as did I when I was there. Talk to our viewers about the kind of colleague he was and what he was like to work with.

JOHNS: He was an incredible colleague. I've sort of said to others that he is the defining figure in my career in a lot of ways. He is the guy who hired me for my first network news job. He is the guy who green-lighted my going to law school.

But on a personal level, it was all about family to him and he saw NBC also as a family. What I mean by that is when I got married, he was like the first guy, he and Maureen were the first people to send a wedding gift.

When my son was born, he was the first person to send a gift for the baby. That is Tim Russert in a nutshell. He thought about family, he thought about relationships, he wasn't constantly over your shoulder. But when something big happened, you could count on hearing from Tim Russert, whether it was personal or professional.

BROWN: David, CBS Sunday morning anchor Bob Schieffer, his competitor and close friend, called Tim the best of our profession and said he asked the best questions. What kind of impact did he have on broadcast journalism, and especially political journalism?

GERGEN: Well, I think that Bob Schieffer was right. Andrea Mitchell of NBC, a close friend and colleague of Tim's, said today that he helped to set the gold standard in journalism.

He was one of the people who were like Ted Koppel, like Jim Leary, like several others who are able to really ask the tough questions, penetrate beyond and to levels that most of the people wouldn't go and yet do it very fairly.

And I think what's so interesting Campbell, tonight, is this outpouring of statements and affection. I got a nine-page compilation of statements issued by public figures about Tim Russert.

And there's clearly -- and the networks have devoted this extraordinary coverage to him. Clearly there's not only a sense of shock that such a vital person would go down, but he established a presence in American homes all across the country, and he was a reassuring, a good neighbor who would tell it to you straight.

That he could call elections early and everybody would drive the news, drive the coverage. And I think an enormous number of people who got so intensely interested in this campaign found him to be one of their friends, one of their people who helped them to understand and to see what was happening in front of them. And I think that is why there is such a great sense of loss tonight.

BROWN: Wolf, I want you to tell this story. You and Russert were both among special guests invited to meet the Pope back in April. And what was it like to share that with your colleague and fellow Buffalonian?

BLITZER: It was amazing. We were both invited by Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University. You see him there right in the middle of that picture. There is Pope Benedict XVI and Tim Russert, if you look carefully in the background, you see me standing over there.

Father O'Connell invited ten guests -- special guests, friends of Catholic University, in for this little audience with His Holiness and I was one.

I had been close to Catholic University for some time and got an honorary degree, gave the commencement address. And Tim was close to Catholic University. He is Catholic, I'm not Catholic.

We were there and there were eight other friends that had been invited. And we were in this little room waiting and Tim was like a little boy, just waiting for the Pope to walk in. He had these rosaries in his hand that he wanted the Pope to bless when he came in.

This was not the Tim Russert that all of us knew from television who is going to be grilling a senator or a president or a prime minister. He was little Timmy from Canisius High School in South Buffalo who was just a devoted, devout Catholic. He loved his faith.

And he was just so excited that he was about to be in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and I must say, I was pretty excited myself, but nothing compared to Tim Russert, and that just came through.

BROWN: I know, and Wolf you said earlier two guys from Buffalo, who would have thought would they ever be --

BLITZER: He said that to me, Campbell. He said, when we were standing there, he said you know, he said, just think about this, Wolf. Here we are, two guys from Buffalo and, you know, we both grew up under similar circumstances in different parts of town.

And he said here we are and we're invited to meet with the Pope. Does it get any better than this? And I wanted to say to him and I did say to him, and did say to him, I said, Tim this is a great country we're in. Only in America, as my dad used to say, could something like this happen.

BROWN: Joe, John McCain said Russert was hard, he was tough, but he was always fair. And a lot of people may not know before his broadcasting career, Tim worked for two Democratic politicians.

And so initially he had to overcome a perceived bias out there and transform his reputation into being, without question, objective, tough journalist. He did that remarkably well.

JOHNS: Well, he certainly did and it's a real tribute to him that he was able to do that. And it was partially his legal training, if you really think about it.

Because when you listen to some of the Tim Russert interviews, particularly on "Meet the Press" it sort of goes through it like a prosecutor doing a cross-examination. It's pointed, but it's very pleasant. It's not necessarily confrontational but the words are tough words for some politicians to answer.

I know once I actually was interviewed by Tim Russert on his show that's on CNBC, his interview show. It was after the million-man march. I went in sort of thinking it was going to be very academic, and after 10, 15 minutes I suddenly found myself cornered by Tim Russert with some of the toughest questions about this event.

And I remember thinking, so that's what it's like to be interviewed by Tim Russert. He never played around and he never pulled punches, not even with people he hired and was pretty much mentoring at the time.

BROWN: David, yes, he had this distinctive style I think was unmatchable in terms of how he went after his guests, how he handled himself. What was it do you think that made his show "must watch television" on Sunday mornings?

GERGEN: He always remembered who he was. He was this kid from Buffalo. I think with his father, he came up in a very blue collar environment, Roman Catholic and the values that big Russ represented to him.

He brought those very traditional values, he brought the values of a Larry Spivak who originated "Meet the Press" to the show. And his ego never got the best of him. He always kept it under close control. He had an enormous network of friends.

But everybody knew that when you came on that show, this was not about friendship, this was about a profession that was going to seek the truth; that was going to grill you hard and cared more about the country than it did about friendship.

And he always felt that the people he was working for were not the big shots in Washington, the people he was working for were the viewers. And he kept that loyalty the whole time and I think a lot of people came to appreciate it.

BROWN: David Gergen for us tonight, along with our own Wolf Blitzer and Joe Johns. Guys, appreciate it. Thank you.

We're learning more about how Tim Russert died. Of a condition that sadly is almost always fatal. That is next.

And CNBC's John Harwood was part of the last interview done by Tim Russert and he is going to join us as well.


BROWN: NBC'S Washington bureau, a sadder and much lonelier place than it was just a few short hours ago. Earlier tonight, Tim Russert's doctor revealed that his patient was battling a silent form of coronary artery disease until a large piece of fatty plaque came loose and caused havoc.

He said that when Russert collapsed an NBC intern quickly started CPR. Medics came a short time later and he got, by all accounts, timely care at the hospital.

Tim Russert died, though, of the kind of heart stoppage that nearly always kills, even when it happens right in front of a doctor.

And here right now is Dr. Michael Newman. This was earlier tonight on MSNBC.


DR. MICHAEL NEWMAN, TIM RUSSERT'S PHYSICIAN: These events, these sudden cardiac events occur without warning. There is no way to anticipate or detect them. An hour before this happened, he could have had a stress test and it would have been perfectly normal.

The reason why these events occur is because you have rupture of cholesterol plaque in the wall of the coronary artery and that causes a sudden cardiac coronary thrombosis, which results in a heart attack. And the injury causes a fatal, in this instance, ventricular arrhythmia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this was a blood clot? When you say the coronary --

DR. NEWMAN: Yes, the -- a concern that we have was that perhaps this was related to a pulmonary embolism, because Tim had flown on Sunday to Rome for Luke's birthday and a graduation and turned around.

We did the autopsy to determine the cause of death. And autopsies are important, despite all the technology and scans and imaging that we have, the autopsy showed that Tim had an enlarged heart and significant coronary artery disease in the left anterior descending coronary artery.

And we could actually see fresh clot right in the coronary artery that was the coronary thrombosis that triggered the cardiac events in the arrhythmia from which he died.

Within a few moments it was recognized that Tim was in trouble and one of the interns here, who is certified in CPR along with some of the staff here, began CPR and that was helpful.

A defibrillator is what makes the difference, and you -- in these sudden cardiac arrests, the use of a defibrillator, which they were in the process of doing, was important.

Right here in the NBC the D.C. EMS arrived promptly and they immediately defibrillated Tim; that they actually did it three times in transporting him to Sibley Hospital.


BROWN: We're going to have an interview with John Harwood, correspondent for CNBC who was with Tim earlier today who was doing an interview of his own. And we'll talk to John when we come back right after the break.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I've known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004. He's somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend. There wasn't a better interviewer in television. Not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics. And he was also one of the finest men I knew.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Tim Russert was at the top of his profession. He was a man of honesty and integrity. He was hard but he was always fair. We miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And we know that Tim Russert leaves a legacy.


BROWN: Tim Russert died in the middle of a story whose final chapter he dearly would have wished to see and whose many chapters he certainly helped write. He died telling the story that he lived for.

And these were his final words on the subject. This was just this morning on Washington's WTOP radio.


RUSSERT: There's never been a more interesting and more important presidential election in my lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is just an amazing. Every time we think why, this is it; it turns another corner that is more surprising than the one before it.

RUSSERT: It's only June. Happy Father's Day, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes and to you, too. And to your dad.

RUSSERT: Thanks.


BROWN: Tim Russert idolized his father, Timothy Sr., introducing him to millions of Americans in the best seller "Big Russ and Me." and sadly big Russ survives him. That's not the way it's supposed to work.

And joining me now, John Harwood and Chief Washington correspondent for CNBC who was with Tim shortly before he died. And John, I know you were being interviewed by Tim hours ago. Tell us about it and how he looked and seemed to you. He didn't seem ill at all, did he?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, I was doing that cable show that Joe Johns referred to a moment ago, was on to promote a new book I've written with a colleague, Jerry Seib as many authors go on that show because so many people watch it.

We had a tremendous conversation for Tim lasting an hour from about 9:15 to about 10:15 in the morning. Tim told us that he had come back from Rome the night before, so we knew he was tired.

As we were walking out of the studio, Jerry said to me, I think Tim may not have been feeling all that well. I didn't think another thing of it, Campbell. I didn't sense that about him. He was very engaged and animated, talking about not only the contents of our book, but also the 2008 election that he was so passionate about.

And when a colleague -- there was a colleague -- e-mailed me in the early afternoon and say we hear there's a rumor about Tim Russert with a heart attack, my initial reaction was that's crazy, I was just with him.

So I couldn't have been more shocked than I was when I got this news, Campbell.

BROWN: Tell me a little bit, John, about your conversation. I mean, obviously you're talking about your book, but also this campaign. I'm not sure there was anybody more passionate about this campaign, about what's been going on and about covering the story.

HARWOOD: He loved the campaign. As he said to that WTOP interviewer that you just played that clip from -- but we also got glimpses of his humor, what a genial guy he was.

David Gergen said to you a few minutes ago that Tim never forgot who he was, and that's exactly right. He was a kid from Buffalo. He had his eye on the ball in journalism Campbell, about what we're really in this business for, and that's to try to understand the world, explain it to people.

If you're covering politics, you're trying to give voters a sense of what their choices are and hold politicians accountable for what they say.

But he was somebody who was holding everybody in this life accountable. He told the story Campbell, about when he was on the staff of Pat Moynihan.

And one of his colleagues, senior colleagues was kind of imperiously abusing a younger staff member. The senior guy was an intellectual and he was berating the staff member for not understanding the nuances of policy and Tim said he turned to the guy and he said okay right now name me the four members of the Beatles, I do not need the last names, just first names.

The guy couldn't do it. And that stopped him dead in his tracks and that this showed Tim was somebody who had his eye on what average people think about and he was also standing up for that junior staff member.

BROWN: You know, John, you've been on "Meet the Press" many, many times before as part of his panel. And it was almost like, I think I read somewhere somebody today called it about for presidential candidates, there was a Tim Russert primary.

You had to be vetted by Tim before you could almost proceed with your campaign. And it was -- it was mandatory, that stop, and to not only make that stop but to do well with him.

HARWOOD: It was interesting, Campbell. That presented a real conundrum for some politicians because it was a mandatory stop, but some of them were flat out scared to go on that show.

Because they thought -- it wasn't that Tim was going to mock them or take cheap shots at them or do something unfair. It's that he was so smart and so persistent and so prepared that if they weren't on their game, if they didn't have their story right about what they were for, why they were for it, and how that comported with what they've been for in the past, they were going to have a hard time.

And some people who had a bad time on that show were harmed politically by that.

BROWN: He was incredibly influential.

John Harwood, I really appreciate you time tonight, thanks for coming on, John.

HARWOOD: Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN: Tim Russert hosted the longest running program in television history. Here right now is the raw data. "Meet the Press" has been on the air for nearly 61 years, debuting on November 6, 1947. Russert became the eighth moderator of the program in December, 1991.

The most frequent guest is former US Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, who has been on the program 63 times.

Senator John McCain is second on that list. The current GOP presumptive presidential candidate has appeared 50 times.

In a moment, the faith that nurtured Tim Russert and how he loved it back.



RUSSERT: We continue our celebration of 60 years of "Meet the Press."

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of September 11th and in many ways marks the beginning of the war on terrorism.

We have two big races coming up; Democrats in South Carolina, Republicans in Florida. Get ready.

I take that work ethic and combine it with discipline, preparation and accountability.

I have a question which I think might be interesting. This Sunday, the Buffalo Bills versus the New York Jets.

And the president has to decide now is he trying to govern with the Democrats or is he going to try to continue to play to his base?

How do I convince my son, who has lived so much differently than I grew up, that he's always, always loved, but never, never entitled?

That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's "Meet the Press."


BROWN: Tim Russert, practicing his twin vocations of journalism and politics. His loves, though, in no particular order were faith and family.

"Newsweek's" Howard Fineman told of a moment at a dinner New York's white tie gathering of Catholic politicos. He was there, he says, to cover the story being notably underdressed and feeling notably Jewish. Russert, he said, welcomed him warmly saying we might just bring you over yet.

Fineman said if anyone could have done it, it would have been Tim Russert. We can't imagine he's the only one with a story like that tonight.

Joining us now is Father David O'Connell, who is president of the Catholic University of America. Father O'Connell, tell us about your relationship with Tim, how did you meet him? FATHER DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA: First, Campbell, I would like to say how honored and privileged I feel to be with so many of Tim's colleagues and friends who knew him so much better tonight as we pay tribute to this man on this day of a great loss.

I got to know Tim in my early years as president of Catholic University. Like many priests, I was always on the take. I asked Tim for a favor to help me out with something and he generously responded as he always did, always returned the phone call, always was cheerful and eager to help in any way he can, in any way he could.

He spoke as a commencement speaker. He was guest on the campus many, many times. He served on a jury. I had a million dollars, actually, that I was given by the Opus foundation to give out as a prize and he served on that jury.

He just did so many, many wonderful things and I was privileged to be with him in so many charitable events in the course of my time at Catholic University. It was just an honor to be with him and to know him.

BROWN: Father, Tim was a devout Catholic. Tell us a little bit how his faith, how it was so important to him.

FATHER O'CONNELL: Well, he grew up, like many of us, in a blue collar situation, he in Buffalo. And faith was just an important part of the fabric of the community in which he lived. And he spoke about it freely and openly and wrote about it and talked to many people about his faith and tried to instill that in his son and make that part of his life as well.

I had the great privilege just a couple weeks ago of introducing Tim to Pope Benedict during his visit to the Catholic University of America and it was a great thrill for Tim. But also a great thrill for me to be able to do something, to give something back to a man who had given so, so very much.

BROWN: Yes, Wolf Blitzer was also there. He was telling us about that meeting, how incredible it was to be there and how much it had meant to Tim.

FATHER O'CONNELL: He was eager to interview. He wanted to interview the Pope. I said Tim, just one question. But when he met the pope, his eyes filled up; he just couldn't speak, he was so moved by the moment.

BROWN: Father, I want to play something that Washington Cardinal McCarrick said after he held an impromptu prayer service. This is at NBC this afternoon. Let's listen.


CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, FORMER ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: They wanted to have a little prayer service, so I gathered them all -- or they gathered and invited me in to one of the rooms there. And there must have been about 25 people there. There was a lot of tears, a lot of sorrow, and a lot of wonderful memories.

When I began to talk about my own relationship with Tim, the things that I remembered, it brought to each one of them a resounding chord, because he had been nice to them all. And he had worked with them all. And he loved them all.


BROWN: It's not surprising to you that Tim touched so many of his friends and colleagues, is it?

FATHER O'CONNELL: Not at all. And he really admired Cardinal McCarrick, so those words are, I'm sure, very comforting to his friends and colleagues today. Tim was just a good, good man, good human being. Good stuff as we would say.

BROWN: Father David O'Connell, appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for joining us.

FATHER O'CONNELL: Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN: We'll have more on Tim Russert, the journalist, the friend and mentor, coming up.

Also ahead tonight, Anderson on assignment in Africa. Tonight, he's investigating disease deep in the jungle. It's part of our "Planet in Peril" series.

And rising rivers, entire towns under water. Thousands of people evacuated. We're going to check in with our CNN correspondents who are in the flood zone. That's coming up.


BROWN: An update now from Anderson who is deep in the heart of Africa for "360's" Battle Lines investigation. Earlier, Anderson was in Rwanda face to face with mountain gorillas. And you are just seeing some of the pictures from that extraordinary encounter.

Over the course of the trip, Anderson's team has looked in on several other African nations, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya. Tonight, they're in the remote jungles of Cameroon where scientists are conducting research they hope will help stop devastating diseases from becoming a global epidemic.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "PLANET IN PERIL": We spent the last several days here in Cameroon in west central Africa. And right now we're at a small hospital in a village. All these kids have been infected with a disease called buroli (ph), a flesh-eating bacteria.

Scientists don't know what causes it or and they don't how it's spread. So they're particularly interested in trying to figure out buroli to see if it has the potential to become a global epidemic. It probably doesn't because so far they don't think it's spread from person to person. Whereas a virus like HIV, which originally started here in Cameroon, which was started with an infected chimpanzee's blood came in contact with the blood of a human being and of course spread around the world to the point now where it has killed more than 60 million people.

Some viruses have the potential to become global epidemics, to become pandemics, and we're with researchers here in Cameroon trying to track down those viruses. So many viruses are still unknown. There's so much that researchers don't understand about how viruses are spread.

So that's where we've been spending the last couple of days in the forest of Cameroon doing. On Monday on "360," we're going to take you to the Democratic Republic of Congo where a virus -- a thing called monkey pox -- has not only killed scores of people, but has spread around the world, even into the United States.


BROWN: We will have another report from Anderson on Monday and you can keep up with Anderson on his travels on our blog at There are slide shows from Rwanda and Cameroon there. All of this will be part of "Planet in Peril - Battle Lines" airing on CNN this fall.

Coming up next, a new meaning to the word rapids in Cedar Rapids, Iowa tonight. Thousands of people are evacuated. The water is rising. And our Gary Tuchman is right in the middle of it.

It is a similar scene in Des Moines where the river just crested a short time ago and Dan Simon is there. We'll check in with both reporters coming up next.


BROWN: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a city submerged by record-breaking flood waters that are expected to crest at nearly 32 feet tonight, 20 feet higher than the previous record set in 1929.

In response to the massive and disastrous flooding in his state, Iowa Governor Chet Culver today declared 83 of the state's 99 counties disaster areas.

Tonight, we have two reports from the flood zone. CNN's Gary Tuchman is in Cedar Rapids and 130 miles to the southwest in Des Moines is CNN's Dan Simon.

Let's begin with Gary. Gary, what is it like there in Cedar Rapids there tonight?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, 20 percent of Cedar Rapids, which is the second largest city in the state of Iowa, is under water. Most of the downtown is submerged; thousands of customers without power and without drinking water. People there are very happy that nobody has been killed but they can't believe what's happened to their city.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): It looks like a city that was built in a river. In recorded weather history, downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has never been under so much water. From the time when the Paris Academy of Beauty Culture was in business to today, when the Dublin City Pub occupies the same site, there's never been this kind of an emergency.

(on camera) You're 89 years old, lived here your whole life and you've never seen anything like this?


TUCHMAN: Are you stunned by it?

LACOCK: Stunned, saddened because it's such a beautiful city. And it saddens you to see the businesses that will be probably destroyed.

TUCHMAN: We took a walk into what was earlier this week the busy streets of downtown Cedar Rapids. Now it's a ghost town with flood waters rolling into businesses. And powerful riptides from the Cedar River in the middle of the streets.

(on camera) Cedar Rapids is no small town. 124,000 people live here and as you might expect, the downtown is a major economic engine; stores, restaurants, banks, hotels. The damage is incalculable.

(voice-over) A road work sign put up a few weeks ago is now just an ironic statement. Railroad bells ring and light forlornly for trains that won't be coming for a while. Area residents line up to look at something they can't believe. Military reservists have been called in to help keep order.

SGT. SHANE POTTS, U.S. AIR FORCE NATIONAL GUARD: It's something we've never seen before. This is our first flood response. It's amazing. You can't put it into words.

TUCHMAN: We leave the watery downtown after police order us to get out, saying the water's depth and currents are too dangerous. They too are stunned. This is their town and it's now a much different place than they have ever known.


BROWN: Gary, I have to ask you, how were you even able to maneuver through that water and were you the only one besides police and search people who were even in the area?

TUCHMAN: I've got to be honest, the police weren't too happy we were there, but we thought it was the best way to show our viewers what is exactly going on downtown. You see a lot of aerial shots and shots from far away. And you're able to see when we walk through it.

But it was like being in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans with the current and serious undertow; that's how strong the currents were. But the worst appears to be over, at least here right now. Authorities are telling us they estimate that by June 24th, 11 days from now, Campbell, the waters will be back in the river but they don't know how long it will take to clean everything up. They're estimating right not just downtown, but the whole city, the estimate from the city is, the damages, the property damages are upwards of $700 million.

BROWN: Wow. All right. Tough time for those folks there. Gary Tuchman for us tonight. Gary, thanks.

In Des Moines, the state capital, some are watching the rising waters and waiting it out while others have quit the city now as part of a voluntary evacuation. The question tonight is whether the city's levees are strong enough to hold back the Des Moines River. Thousands of volunteers turned out today to shore up their city.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us from Des Moines with the latest from there -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Campbell. Well, there are positive signs for Iowa's capital city. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the river has crested but we are not seeing any flooding in downtown Des Moines, not getting any reports of flooding in some of the low- lying areas that folks were concerned about.

Earlier today, city officials issued a voluntary evacuation order for this area. A lot of people taking the warning seriously, filling up sand bags, doing whatever they could to fortify their property.

Now, one of the reasons why fears have eased somewhat is because officials now believe they were getting some faulty information from a damaged water gauge; but things looking a lot better.

We can't say that Des Moines is completely out of the woods. The water level is still much higher than normal but the bottom line, things looking a lot better now than they did just a few hours ago -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Dan Simon for us tonight. Dan, appreciate it.

In just a moment, a final note on the passing of Tim Russert. CNN's Joe Johns remembering Tim, the colleague, the mentor and supporter, every step of the way.



TOM BROKAW, MSNBC ANCHOR: As we look at these very familiar pictures of Tim, I hope that everyone understands that we cannot believe that he's gone, that we've lost his voice. And that this country has lost this premier political journalist.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: He called me and said was I right, Mitch? He calls me Mitch. There are only two people in the world that call me Mitch. One is Tim Russert. The other is my dad.

And he just started calling me Mitch without I think even knowing that my dad calls me Mitch. And that's his nickname for me; always will be.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: He called me within a couple of hours of my first son being born and just spent time on the phone for 20 minutes reliving the birth of his own son and took time to make all of the kids pillows with their name and the date of their birth on it. That was Tim's signature.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Thinking about this weekend and the fact that it's Father's Day on Sunday. And I don't know of anybody that's made people appreciate their fathers and their relationships with their sons more than Tim.


BROWN: Memories of NBC's Tim Russert who died today on the job, working with the men and women that he nurtured, that he inspired and loved. Not so long ago, CNN's Joe Johns belonged to that family as did I.

And I suspect that you never really leave it. I know as Joe does that it never leaves you.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First time I met Tim actually I was asking him to be a player on the local NBC basketball team. He laughed and said no. As I think back, he was much better suited to be a coach and what a coach he was.

In a lot of ways, Tim Russert was the defining figure in my career. As the NBC news bureau chief, he basically took me out of local TV. And put me into my first network news job covering Congress for the peacock back in 1993.

On top of that, while I was working for the "Today Show" I went to him about this crazy idea about going to law school, which any other news executive would have outright refused. Tim said why not? Go do it, it will be good for you.

He was like that. If you wanted to take a chance that was going to involve a lot of hard work, he would probably say okay.

He had his own incredible work ethic. He would come to work early in the morning, do the "Today Show" and then he was back at night for "Nightly News." It sort of set a standard. When the boss comes in early, works all day and then goes on to do the evening news, it was pretty hard for anyone else to grumble about the long hours.

The other thing about Tim was his Boy Scout loyalty and sense of family. He was loyal to NBC. He once told me he had every intention of spending his life there. He was also loyal to the people he worked with. When NBC anchor and correspondent David Bloom died suddenly in the Iraq war, Tim called me up and said, we've got to start an award in David's honor. So we pulled some strings, did some cajoling and twisted some arms with our colleagues on Capitol Hill and now there's a David Bloom award given every year by the Radio TV Correspondents Association.

Here to present the first David Bloom award are Melanie Bloom and Tim Russert of NBC News.

But probably the most important thing about Russert was that he was a role model, especially to broadcast journalists who cover politics. The rules were very simple, be prepared, be polite and always, always ask the tough questions.

Once after the million-man march in Washington, Tim invited me to be on his interview show on CNBC. And for some reason I thought it was going to be a polite academic discussion.

Before I knew it, Tim had thrown in a couple zingers that frankly I didn't know how to answer. And he was so nice about it. And that's how I found out what it was like to be interviewed by Tim Russert.


BROWN: And Erica Hill is joining me right now.

Tim Russert had a long career. We've seen many pictures of him tonight but not this one. Check it out. As you can see by the words of Robert Kennedy in his college yearbook photo, Tim was passionate about politics long before he even looked like the Tim Russert that we all knew. I love that picture.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It gives you a good chuckle. I know that you -- I've been watching you over the last couple of hours, Campbell -- I'm in awe of everything that Tim Russert gave to the people that he worked with. And he gave you so much as well, I know.

BROWN: Like Joe, he was my -- he gave me my big break. He was the person who hired me to be a Washington correspondent for NBC News. And it was my first network television job.

And he was -- I mean, he nurtured and mentored all of us. I can remember him giving me like little nuggets of information when I was working on a story without, you know, telling anyone, letting me claim credit for it so I could put it into my story so it would impress the higher-ups in New York.

He was very -- Joe talked about his loyalty to his people. When I was a White House correspondent for NBC News, someone in the White House didn't like your story and they called Tim to complain, he stood behind his people. He was always pushing back.

And he was so amazing about defending us and supporting us, his people in the field. He was incredibly loyal and, you know, I left NBC about a year ago to come to CNN.

You wonder how you're going to stay in touch with your former colleagues and he was -- I had my baby in December. I came home from the hospital and there was this handwritten letter from Tim waiting there to my son, which was pretty amazing, just his thoughts about life and welcoming him to the world, which was really special.

HILL: A letter from a dad that your son will have to cherish for so many years to come.

BROWN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

HILL: Really so many special things to be shared.

I know we do have to get to a quick briefing, so I'll get you the quick headlines of the day in this News and Business Bulletin.

In Japan, where we begin, at least two people dead tonight, 32 others injured after a magnitude 6.9 quake hit the main island of Honchi, that's about 300 miles north of Tokyo.

A Chicago jury has found R&B star R. Kelly not guilty of all counts in his child pornography trial. Kelly was charged six years ago with videotaping himself having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Kelly denies it is him on the tape saying he has a mole on his back and the man in the video does not.

The mysterious shiny object that has been trailing the space shuttle no longer a UFO. NASA now says it is a thermal clip from the shuttle's brake system. Mission control doesn't know why the clip dropped off, but it's not expected to delay the shuttle's return tomorrow.

And Wall Street ending a tough week with a rally. The Dow closed up 165 points at 12307. Both the Nasdaq and S&P also closing in positive territory today.

BROWN: Erica, thanks very much.

I'm Campbell brown in for Anderson Cooper. For our international viewers, "CNN TODAY" is next. Here in the states, "Larry King" is coming up.