updated 12/20/2005 2:39:33 PM ET 2005-12-20T19:39:33

Guests: Chris O‘Neil, Frank Amadeo, Sergio Gamarra, Charles Slepian, Roger Cressey, Andrew Patel, G. Gordon Liddy, John Q. Kelly, Arlene Ellis-Schipper, Melinda McGrath, Kristen O‘Neil, Amber Van Eeghan

RITA COSBY, HOST:  Everybody, good evening.  Tonight, I‘m just back from an exclusive interview with the family of the honeymooner who vanished from his cruise ship.  I‘ll take you into their home for the very first time.  And find out why the attorney who won the O.J. Simpson civil case is joining the Natalee Holloway case.  That attorney is going to be joining me live later in the show.

But first, a major developing story off of Miami Beach at this hour.  Witnesses describe a big ball of fire and then a plane crashing into the water.  Twenty people were on board.  Nineteen bodies have been recovered so far.  Joining me now is Mark Potter from Miami Beach.  Mark, what happened?

MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, hi, Rita.  The lights behind me that you can see there are just this side of the crash site here on south Miami Beach.  It‘s where the search-and-rescue effort is being coordinated.  Coast Guard officials say that 19 bodies have now been recovered, but because there were 20 people aboard this plane and one is still unaccounted for, that search continues.

Meanwhile, federal investigators with the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, are gearing up to try to figure out why this plane crashed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Police divers and rescuers searched the waters off the southern tip of Miami Beach, looking for bodies and any possible survivors.  They arrived on scene just minutes after the crash of the Grumman seaplane around 2:30 in the afternoon.

FLOYD JORDAN, FIRE CHIEF:  It was a quick response.  Unfortunately, their efforts did not result in any survivors.

POTTER:  An eyewitness captured the scene on a cell phone camera.  The plane, with 18 passengers and two pilots aboard, crashed shortly after takeoff and plunged into the entrance of a shipping channel known as Government Cut.  Security guard Mike Torres (ph) said he saw the plane on fire and the pilot losing control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) my supervisor right here when the plane came into view, and already, the tail end was on fire.  And it looked like it wanted to corkscrew, so it seemed like the pilot was trying to maneuver it, when right about over here, the—one of the wings broke off.

JOHN AYLLON, EYEWITNESS:  A few seconds, even a fraction of a second, the whole plane was engulfed in flames, and all we see is just the ball of fire going down into the ocean.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

POTTER:  Now, some of the witnesses said they heard a loud explosion right before the crash.  But one of the eyewitnesses that we talked to said that he thought that that loud noise occurred when one of the wings snapped and then fell off as the plane seemed to be out of control and as the tail was on fire.

That account and all the other eyewitness accounts will be picked up by the investigators from the NTSB, along with pictures and some video that are now surfacing, as they try solve this mystery on what happened on this short-lived flight from Miami to the Bahamas.  The plane, by the way, was part of an airline that was quite well known here in Miami, Chalk‘s Airlines, and the plane itself had been in service for about 50 years—

Rita.

COSBY:  You know, Mark, I know it‘s nighttime there.  Have they stopped the search for the evening?  What‘s the status on the search for that one person still missing?

POTTER:  We‘re told that the search is under way, and they‘ll continue it as long as they have to.  We‘ve seen boats out there.  You can‘t see them from your vantage point, but we‘ve seen lights out there from the boats.  Also, helicopter have gone by flying low, looking to see what they can see in the surf.  They‘re doing all that they can right now to recover this last person.  Plus, they now need to prepare the scene for the federal investigators to come out.  They have environmental concerns with the oil coming from the plane.  The shipping channel is closed.  There are salvage issues, a lot to deal with right now.

But the main concern is to get these investigators in here to figure out what happened, and there are a lot of eyewitnesses that the investigators will need to talk to.  A lot of people saw the event.

COSBY:  Absolutely, because it was so close to the beach.  Mark, thank you very much.  Please come back to us later in the show if you get any updates.  Thank you very much.

And of course, with the latest right now in the investigation, I‘m joined on the phone by Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Chris O‘Neil.  Commander, what can you tell us?  Is there any sense of what may have caused this, from your vantage point?

LT. COMMANDER CHRIS O‘NEIL, U.S. COAST GUARD:  Well from our vantage point, I really couldn‘t speak to any causes for the accident, and that remains to be seen.  Anything I could offer just would be speculation.  Suffice to say, the NTSB is going to be the lead agency for that investigation, and they will talk to a number of witnesses and begin to piece together the parts that allowed this tragic event to occur.

COSBY:  You know, I was reading that the crash, as Mark suggested, of course, was so close to the shoreline.  But it was also close to a Coast Guard office, that even some Coast Guard employees actually saw it, correct?  What‘d they see?

O‘NEIL:  I don‘t know that any Coast Guard employees actually saw the plane crash.  One of the people that works in my office was at the Coast Guard base, conducting an interview with another media outlet on an unrelated story, saw the plane fly by, and after he finished his interview, looked down and saw smoke coming from the sea, heard the search and rescue alarm go off for the small boat station and said—and went to the operations center to find out what had happened.

COSBY:  Commander, how soon did the boats actually get out there?  The good news was that it seemed like they were able to respond quickly.

O‘NEIL:  It‘s a fairly short transit from the Coast Guard base to the scene of the accident.  I don‘t have the exact number of minutes it took for the boats to get there, but it was a very fast response.

COSBY:  How many boats did you have out there, and how many do you have out there right now?

O‘NEIL:  We had three vessels arriving on the scene and remain on scene throughout the event.  It‘s a 27-foot rescue boat, a 41-foot rescue boat and the Coast Guard cutter Sickenack (ph).  We also had a Uh-huh-65 helicopter respond from Air Station Miami and flew cover over the operation and also participated in the search.

There‘s a small armada of vessels responding from a variety of local agencies, as well.  Florida Wildlife and Conservation police were on scene.  Miami-Dade Fire Rescue had a vessel on scene.  Miami Beach was involved, and there were others involved, as well as some good Samaritans.  So there was an overwhelming response that was on scene very, very quickly.

COSBY:  That‘s great.  Hey, really, really quick.  How big is the crash site?  Really quick.

O‘NEIL:  I don‘t have a good estimate for you on the size of the crash site.  I don‘t know how large the debris field is.  It‘s confined to a fairly small area.

COSBY:  OK.  Thank you very much, Commander.  We appreciate it.

And joining me now on the phone is someone who actually saw the plane go down, Frank Amadeo.  Frank is the head of Estefan Enterprises, singer Gloria and Emilio Estefan‘s entertainment company.  Frank, what do you see firsthand?

FRANK AMADEO, WITNESSED CRASH:  I was in my office, which is located just a short distance from Government Cut, when I just—I looked up and saw the—a big ball of fire in the sky.  From where I was situated, it—at first, it appeared, at least to me, that it had hit a big condominium tower there.  Luckily, that wasn‘t the case.  But I saw the big ball of fire, and then the plane just spiraled right down to the ground.

COSBY:  Where were you when you saw this crash?  How far away?

AMADEO:  I would say our offices are maybe a quarter of a mile from Government Cut.  Not far at all.

COSBY:  Did you see the wing come off?  We‘re hearing that the right wing came off.

AMADEO:  You know what?  I did not.  I think part of it might have fallen, again, from behind the condominium that‘s located right on the water.  But I did see what looked like, you know, the main part of the plane just kind of plummet down after it burst into flames.

COSBY:  What went through your mind when you saw this ball of flames?

AMADEO:  Well, you know what?  I‘ll tell you, when I first looked up and saw it, it was very reminiscent to me of watching the—you know, when the planes hit the World Trade Center back on 9/11.  It was obviously my first thought.  And you know, we called 911 and the Coast Guard right away. 

And again, fortunately, it wasn‘t an act of terrorism.  It‘s just

unfortunate that these, you know, people lost their lives.

COSBY:  Oh, it is very tragic.  Frank, stay with us, if you could, because I want to bring in another eyewitness to the crash.  Sergio Gamarra also saw it firsthand.  Sergio, what did you see?

SERGIO GAMARRA, WITNESSED CRASH:  Well, I heard an explosion, and when I turned around, I saw the plane just a big ball of fire and, like, a black smoke right behind it.  And it looked like it was going to crash into, like, where a bunch of surfers were.  And then that‘s when it spun around, and like a spiral, and that‘s when the wing fell off and it landed in the water.

COSBY:  Did you actually see the wing come off, Sergio?

GAMARRA:  Yes.  I was about 100 feet away.

COSBY:  Where were you?  Were you in a building?  Where were you?

GAMARRA:  No, I was on the beach.

COSBY:  Oh, so you were right there on the beach and nothing impaired it.  You could see it firsthand.

GAMARRA:  Yes, I saw it firsthand.

COSBY:  You know, what went through your mind when you saw it, Sergio?

GAMARRA:  I thought it was like, a movie.  I thought it was, like, a stunt or something because it was, like, incredible.  I thought, like, the director was going to come out and say, Cut, but I mean, it was real.  So I mean, it was kind of shocking.

COSBY:  How many other people were on the beach?  Sergio, how many people were on the beach?  (INAUDIBLE) lot of folks were out.

GAMARRA:  A good number of people were out.  There was a lot of surfers out, a lot of people.  Me and my friend, we went running to the dock to see if we could see anything, but we weren‘t able to go to see anything else.

COSBY:  When you saw the plane and you saw the fire, where did it start?  Did it start on the tail?  Was there a certain part of the plane that seemed to catch on fire?

GAMARRA:  It looked as if the cabin was the first thing to catch on fire, like, because, all—I just heard the explosion.  And when I turned around, it was a big ball of fire.  It looked like it started in the cabin.

COSBY:  You know, I understand you were so close, you could feel the heat.  Is that right?

GAMARRA:  Yes.  Yes, I felt the heat.  Me and my friend, we felt the heat.  And so did many other people that were there.

COSBY:  That‘s—that must have just been stunning.  What did you do when you saw the explosion?  What did you do?

GAMARRA:  At first, I just stood still because I didn‘t, like, know what really was happening.  I thought—I didn‘t know what really happened.  It took a while to register.  And then we went running to the dock to see what exactly had happened.  And then we realized that a plane had crashed into the water and there was a whole bunch of people in it.

COSBY:  Wow.  What a scary sight.  Well, both of you, thank you very much, Sergio and Frank.  We appreciate you both being with us.

I want to look into what maybe caused this crash based on what we just heard from these eyewitness accounts.  Joining me now is aviation expert Charles Slepian.  You know, Charles, we just heard from Sergio that he thought the cabin was on fire first.  Of course, you know, it‘s hard to see a lot of things from different vantage points.  But if it were to have started in the cabin and maybe been something on the verge of an explosion, what can you read into that?

CHARLES SLEPIAN, AVIATION EXPERT:  Well, there‘s so many possibilities, Rita.  You know, speculation runs rampant.  A moving airplane is very hard to put your finger on exactly where the explosion takes place.  It could have been in the wing.  It could have been in the fuselage.  I mean, obviously, everybody in this day and age thinks about explosives on board.  It‘s probably very unlikely that that was the case.

But to me, this is all very reminiscent of TWA 800.  And TWA 800 was witnessed from the beach, as you may remember, but hundreds of people.

COSBY:  And that turned out to be wiring, faulty wiring.

SLEPIAN:  Well, yes.  I mean, there‘s still some conflicting opinions with regard to what it was.  But NTSB says it was faulty wiring, and faulty wiring in the fuel tank caused that massive explosion.  You could have something similar to that taking place here.  Could be hydraulic fluid that went up, as opposed to aviation fluid.  It‘s very, very hard to say specifically what caused it, but you can, you know, pick one.  It could be a wire.  It could be something that goes awry, something that was carried on board that exploded.  It‘s very, very hard to say.

With regard to what we‘re hearing from eyewitnesses, the plane is moving.  It‘s at low altitude.  It‘s happening very quickly.  And it‘s coming down.  The flame is coming out from behind as it‘s falling, so it appears to be coming out of the tail, but it could very well be coming out of the nose section.

COSBY:  You know, Charles, one of the things we‘re hearing, too, that struck me—this plane is old, World War II, from the 1940s.  Does that play a role in this?

SLEPIAN:  Probably not.

COSBY:  And we‘re looking at file video, by the way.  This is not, obviously, the actual plane, but this is a plane like this from the same company, I believe.

SLEPIAN:  Those airplanes are very, very serviceable.  You know, it could be a maintenance problem.  I mean, wiring does go bad after a while.  But if it‘s got up-to-date maintenance, that‘s probably not as much of a concern as it would be in, let‘s say, a transcontinental airplane or an international airliner.  These airplanes go back and forth to Bimini on a regular basis, and they‘re pretty serviceable aircraft.

COSBY:  What about determining the cause?  We just heard from the Coast Guard that the area of the crash, he said, is not too large, which, hopefully, will provide some clues.  We know that there was a main fuselage area that went down.  What do you believe in terms of the likelihood that we‘ll know the cause in this one?

SLEPIAN:  I think NTSB will know the cause of this one with probably more certainty than some of the others.  It‘s probably not in very deep water.  It was very close to the shoreline.  They will recover all of the parts, and they will put that airplane back together again and come to a conclusion as to what it was.  I‘m pretty confident of that.

COSBY:  Great.  Thank you very much, Charles.  And keep us posted if you hear anything on your end, too.  Thank you.

SLEPIAN:  You‘re very welcome.

COSBY:  And of course, everybody stay tuned.  We‘re going to bring you any further developments in this breaking story.  In less than an hour, we‘re hearing, about 10:00 o‘clock Eastern time, there‘s going to be a news conference in Miami.  We‘re going to bring that to you live.  Hopefully, we‘ll get some more answers.

And plus, we‘re covering some other stories tonight.  Take a look.

Still ahead, new developments in the Natalee Holloway investigation. 

The big-name attorney who took on O.J. Simpson is now taking on Aruba. 

John Q. Kelly joins me live.

And is Big Brother watching you?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve got the authority to do this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  The shocking news that the government has been spying on people inside the United States.  Wait until you hear how they‘re doing it.

Plus, these New England Patriots cheerleaders are living up to their team name.  Find out how they‘re bringing holiday cheer.  They‘re going to join me live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I swore to uphold the laws.  Do I have the legal authority to do this?  And the answer is absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  President Bush today, coming out strong, defending the use of secret wiretaps against terror suspects inside the United States.  The president insists that he has the legal right to order surveillance on anyone posing a threat to national security.  And he even turned the tables on his critics, saying that “The New York Times” was wrong to report the story in the first place.

Joining us to talk more about the secret spy plan is Roger Cressey, former counterterrorism deputy and also NBC News analyst.  You know, Roger, has, you know, this type of secret thing that‘s certainly gone on for a long time, I‘m sure, in other administrations, too, has it helped in fighting the issue in the war on terror?

ROGER CRESSEY, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM DEPUTY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM

ANALYST:  Oh, there‘s no doubt.  Having a wiretap capability through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been critical.  One of the great frustrations we had when I was still at the White House is the question of two-way calling.  You could always get the calls coming from overseas, but you did not know where it was going inside the United States.  So I‘m totally sympathetic to the president‘s requirement to get this because you need to be able to exploit the information, the telephone numbers when you receive them, particularly in a time of imminent threat.  The real...

COSBY:  How were these people targeted, Roger?  I mean, how do they pinpoint—they mentioned, like, 500 people have been spied on since 9/11 in the U.S.  How do you determine who?

CRESSEY:  Well, think of it this way, Rita.  If a terrorist is captured overseas, and on his computer or on his cell phone, the phone numbers are there, they have to be exploited very quickly.  And the way you do that, of course, is using the technical capability that the National Security Agency has or other elements of our intelligence community.  So that‘s why they‘re doing it this way.  Now, whether or not it was the right choice I think is what Congress is going to debate.

COSBY:  You know, the president came out swinging, as I said.  I want to show a little clip from the president and get you to respond, Roger.  Here‘s what President Bush said earlier today in the news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war.  The fact that we‘re discussing this program is helping the enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Now, he‘s talking, of course, about “The New York Times,” Roger.  You know, do you think that something was revealed here that hurts national security?

CRESSEY:  I think it‘s never a good thing when classified information is disclosed.  Rita, think back to 1998.  It was leaked that Osama bin Laden was using a satellite phone to communicate with his operatives.  Well, guess what?  Bin Laden saw that press report and stopped using the sat-phone.  That did hurt our collection capability against him.

So you have to assume that our adversaries are watching what‘s on TV, reading what‘s in the news.  And that‘s why we need to be very careful about how we debate this issue.  Rita, there is a requirement to discuss this, but we need to do it in a very smart way and not try and reveal information that could be used by our adversaries.

COSBY:  You know, and based on that, do you think the administration may change some procedures, knowing that now the enemy does know what they‘re doing?

CRESSEY:  Well, I think it‘s a question of oversight and authorization.  The fact that the NSA was used—hopefully, in times of extremis, where you had real requirements to move quickly on these numbers and exploit who might actually be using them—that was understandable.  The question, though, Rita, is that this has been going on now for a number of years, and there needs to be procedures and policies in place to reassure Congress, and ultimately the American people, that no abuses are taking place.

COSBY:  But what about changing in procedure, too?  That‘s what I was asking, Roger.  I mean, do you think they‘re going to shift gears and try to find some other way to monitor these guys as a result?  And what does that mean for individual citizens, too?

CRESSEY:  Well, we have an enemy that‘s very adaptive.  They look at us in an asymmetric way.  They‘re always trying to study our weaknesses, so we need to be careful about always being one step ahead of them.

I mean, a very big question about how does this affect the—you know, every citizen?  You know, by and large, the American people are not being surveyed in a broad way.  It‘s been used in a targeted manner.  And I think the key is that it continues to be used only in an extremis case and in a very targeted manner, so that abuses, if they do happen, are kept to a minimum and there is the right type of oversight.

COSBY:  What about chat rooms?  What about going into blogs, chat rooms?

CRESSEY:  The terrorists have a long record of using the Internet—

IRCs, chat rooms, instant messaging.  So you can imagine that the intelligence community is looking at these sites very carefully.  Of course, the jihadis know that they‘re being watched, so they‘re trying to respond to the moves that we make.  It‘s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game.  And of course, our challenge is to try and stay one step ahead of them. 

And look, it‘s not that easy to do.

COSBY:  Absolutely.  Roger, thank you very much.

So the big question tonight is how does the administration have the right to spy on people inside the United States without going through the courts, like they have in the past?  Joining us now is former Nixon aide G.  Gordon Liddy, and also Andrew Patel.  He‘s the attorney for alleged terrorist Jose Padilla.  Secret court-approved wiretaps were reportedly used in the government‘s case against his client.

Let me start with you, Andrew.  Do you think that the government was monitoring conversations you had with your client, now that you‘ve heard what came out here?

ANDREW PATEL, ATTORNEY FOR JOSE PADILLA:  I don‘t know, but I wouldn‘t be surprised.

COSBY:  And what do you think about that?

PATEL:  Rita, the only reason we‘re having this conversation, the only reason this issue has come up at all is not because these conversations were recorded but because they were recorded illegally.  Had the president gone to the FISA court, which is a—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret court where all the protections imaginable for national security are used, we wouldn‘t be having this conversation right now.  This issue would not have come up because these conversations that would have been recorded lawfully.

The issue here is not whether these conversations are necessary for national security, but it‘s really whether the president is going to follow the rule of law or not.

COSBY:  You know, let me bring in G. Gordon Liddy, no stranger to wiretaps.  Do you think, you know, Gordon, that there are times where the president just sort of needs to cut corners for the sake of national security?

G. GORDON LIDDY, FORMER NIXON AIDE:  Yes, and presidents have been doing it for many, many years.

COSBY:  Well, that‘s the thing.  You know, a lot of people are saying this is a new revelation.  I bet it‘s been going on for a long, long time.

LIDDY:  It has been going on for a long time.

COSBY:  We just didn‘t know about it, right?

LIDDY:  Does the word Echelon mean anything to you?

COSBY:  Right!  It absolutely does.

LIDDY:  OK.  So we have to distinguish between different programs that the government is using.  First of all, every time anybody picks up the phone, uses it or goes on the Internet or anything like that, they are generating electronic signatures and signals.  All of that is being recorded.

Now, obviously, there aren‘t enough people in the government to listen to all of those conversations.  So what they do is they run it through a supercomputer, and when certain key words are uttered—maybe anthrax or bomb or something like that—the supercomputer says, Hey, human being, come here and listen to this particular conversation.  And they do, and it‘s either an innocent one or it is not.  That‘s the broad general one.

Then you have the targeted ones.  Right after September the 11th, what they did is they targeted persons who were not only citizens of the United States but also citizens of certain foreign countries, dual-national people, and those foreign countries were the ones, you know, with the Islamists and what have you, going on in there.

So you have to distinguish between what surveillance program you‘re speaking of, but it‘s been going on for many, many years.

COSBY:  But you know, Gordon, what‘s surprising, what I found interesting, I didn‘t know these numbers until just a few hours ago—these special courts that give the authority—let me show you the numbers.  This says they rejected only four requests out of some 4,700, 4,713 there you see, since 9/11.  Why do you have to bypass them, Gordon?  What‘s the excuse if they seem to approve every request that basically comes through?

LIDDY:  Well, a lot of it has to do with it takes time to do certain things, and sometimes you don‘t have the time.  The FBI used to have all kinds of surveillance programs on organized crime figures and everything else.  We did it for intelligence purposes.  You couldn‘t use it in court against them because it was illegal.  But it was very valuable for intelligence against them.

COSBY:  You know, Andrew, is there anything that a citizen can do if they feel that, all of a sudden, the government stepped their bounds and were looking in?

PATEL:  Well, what a citizen can do is file an application under the Freedom of Information Act.  The odds of getting an actual response to that are not very good.  If the—if at some point, someone becomes a defendant in a criminal action or some sort of civil action, then they can raise objection to the legality of these wiretaps.

COSBY:  You know, real quick, I want to ask you before we let you go, Andrew, what‘s the latest with your client‘s case?  Because obviously, it‘s gotten a lot of attention here in the country with Jose Padilla.

PATEL:  We‘re awaiting decisions from both the United States Supreme Court, to see if they will accept cert, and the fourth circuit has asked for some supplemental briefing after the indictment was filed.  So we‘re waiting for decisions from two courts.

COSBY:  Do you think—what do you think about the Patriot Act, real quick, Andrew?

PATEL:  I think that there are certain provisions of the Patriot Act that just go too far.  And they go too far because they‘re simply unnecessary.  The irony of it is if everything the government says about my client is true, it was all—all that information was gathered without the Patriot Act.

COSBY:  Oh, that‘s interesting.  I wasn‘t aware of that.  Gordon Liddy, what do you think?  Should it be renewed?  You just heard in the case of Jose Padilla, they didn‘t use—it was outside the reins (ph) of the Patriot Act.

PATEL:  Rita?  It was done before the Patriot Act was passed.

COSBY:  Oh, so it didn‘t—so it didn‘t even—OK, didn‘t even have any—any regard there.  What do you think, Gordon Liddy?

LIDDY:  When I was in the FBI and we did operations, you know, against the Soviets and East Bloc countries, we didn‘t have it and we were able to be very effective.  That is not to say that in a situation where we are in a war, an active, hot, shooting war, and it‘s worldwide, that such tools can be valuable.  When the president tells me that he needs them and they‘re valuable, I will credit what the president says.  He‘s the president.  I‘m not.

COSBY:  All right.  Well, both of you, thank you very much for a good-spirited conversation.  We appreciate it.

And still ahead, everybody, for the first time, the family of a honeymooner who vanished from his cruise ship is letting me into their home, telling me what they think happened to George Smith on board that ship.

And the attorney who took on O.J. Simpson is jumping into the Natalee Holloway case.  John Q. Kelly is going to join me live.  He‘s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, MOTHER OF NATALEE HOLLOWAY:  We have enlisted now the help of John Quinlan Kelly.  He just spent a week on the island of Aruba meeting with the officials.  And, you know, we are just hopeful now that we will be kept in the loop and knowing what‘s happening in the investigation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Well, the family of Natalee Holloway has enlisted some big-named legal help to solve the case.  John Q. Kelly may be best-known for representing the family of Nicole Brown Simpson in the civil case against O.J. and won. 

He joins us now live in his first interview on MSNBC since taking on the case.  John, why do you want to get involved? 

JOHN Q. KELLY, ATTORNEY FOR NATALEE HOLLOWAY‘S FAMILY:  It‘s just a tragic situation.  There‘s been some egregious conduct here, from what I can see.  And I just am fully committed to helping the family at this point, Rita. 

COSBY:  What legal options does the family have? 

KELLY:  Well, I think the only option we‘re looking at right now is the criminal investigation.  We want that to bear fruit.  We want prosecution.  And we want some answers as to what happened to Natalee, and we want to bring her home. 

COSBY:  You know, you‘re obviously very well-known for filing that wrongful death suit against O.J. Simpson and, as I pointed out, winning, doing a successful job there.  Is there a possibility of this family maybe going after the Kalpoe brothers or the Van Der Sloots?

KELLY:  You know, we‘re leaving that to the Aruban authorities and the police and the prosecutors right now, to go after the people responsible down there, Rita. 

COSBY:  Is that an option, though, down the road?  I mean, are you ruling that out?

KELLY:  We‘re not ruling anything out.  We‘re relying on the Aruban authorities right now.  If they fail in what we hope they‘ll do, then we‘ll look at our other options.

COSBY:  Have they opened their eyes a little bit, seeing that now the family has an attorney?  Has that put some pressure? 

KELLY:  Well, I don‘t know if it‘s pressure.  I think there was—you know, a line had been drawn in the sand.  There was a need for some communication. 

I went down there.  I met with the deputy chief, Dompig, and the prosecutor, Karen Janssen.  And, you know, there was a start.  We had a global discussion of sorts.  And, you know, that‘s happened, at least.

COSBY:  You know, last week, John—and I‘m sure you heard about this

you know, they came to Washington, a lot of Aruban officials, and they made some pretty stunning claims.  I mean, one of them—they basically said it‘s OK in Aruba to lie as long as it‘s not under oath, but you could lie to police, which is what these boys did.  Even the police acknowledge that.

Let me show a comment—first of all, this is from Steve Cohen.  He‘s a representative of the Aruban government.  He spoke with us last week.  And I‘m going to get you to respond, John. 

KELLY:  OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE COHEN, SPECIAL ADVISER TO ARUBAN GOVERNMENT:  It‘s not ever OK to lie.  But if you‘re in the midst of being interrogated and you do lie and you‘re are caught in that lie, unless you‘re under oath, which only happens once you‘re charged, you can‘t be charged with anything.  It is odd, and it is difficult to deal with it, but it certainly isn‘t the be-all and end-all. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  No, but, John, it certainly helps when you can hold somebody accountable for lying to police.  How challenging is it, when you‘re dealing with Aruban law?

KELLY:  Well, they made the distinction down there; suspects cannot be charged with lying, witnesses can.  And that begs the question, who makes the decision as to who‘s a witness and who‘s a suspect? 

These three young men clearly lied the first time they were questioned.  And, as a result of their statements, the two security guards were arrested.  So they were being treated technically as witnesses, from what I could see at the time, and clearly did lie.

So, you know, they can wiggle their way out by someone else calling them a suspect instead of a witness, but, you know, that‘s where the real problem lies here. 

COSBY:  Sounds like a lot of semantics. 

KELLY:  It is a lot of semantics. 

COSBY:  In terms of questioning, too, Dompig, the deputy chief, of course, was talking about the possibility of also re-interviewing some folks when he was coming to the States, some of Natalee‘s family sort of backtracked what happened in those final hours before she disappeared.  Do you know what‘s happening with that?

KELLY:  Well, yes, I mean, we actually talked about down there.  I offered to facilitate it.  And they indicated, as has been made known now, that the FBI is going to re-interview these girls. 

But, you know, these girls from Alabama have no idea what happened to Natalee.  I mean, they just don‘t know.  The people that know what happened to Natalee are down in Aruba.  And instead of worrying about questioning these girls, they‘ve got to bring in these three young men again.  They‘ve got to bring in Joran‘s father.  They‘ve got to bring in Freddy Croes (ph).  They‘ve got to bring in the people that have some knowledge of what happened to Natalee and question them again and stop worrying about side shows. 

COSBY:  Yes, do you think this is just sort of a deflection? 

KELLY:  Of course it is. 

COSBY:  I mean, it seems absurd that—like you said, they‘re talking about the folks over here. 

KELLY:  Yes.  And that‘s been a non-issue.  The girls have been available at any time to be interviewed, but they don‘t have the answers.  The answers are down in Aruba.  The resources are in Aruba.  The information‘s in Aruba, and the access in Aruba.  Aruba‘s got to come up with the answers and resolution to this matter.

COSBY:  John, what‘s your sense, from looking at this case now?  I mean, you‘ve been involved for a few weeks, right?  How long has it been? 

KELLY:  Three weeks or so. 

COSBY:  OK.  Are you getting a sense that justice is going to be served, that we‘re going to have some answers in this case? 

KELLY:  You know, we demand answers, we expect answers.  Aruba has indicated that they‘re working on answers.  So, you know, time will tell.  It‘s incumbent upon them to come up with a result right now. 

COSBY:  All right.  Thank you very much, John.  We appreciate it. 

KELLY:  Thank you, Rita. 

COSBY:  Thank you very much.  Keep us posted, John.

Joining us now on the phone for the Aruban perspective is Arlene Ellis Schipper with the Aruban Strategic Communications Task Force. 

Arlene, what is the latest?  We talked about, you know, questioning the girls here.  What about questioning the Kalpoe brothers and also Joran Van Der Sloot again?  What‘s happening with that?

ARLENE ELLIS SCHIPPER, ARUBAN STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS TASK FORCE: 

Well, I spoke with the prosecutors and the police investigators.  And they surely plan to re-interrogate these boys again; however, what their objective is, is to make a plan of interrogation.  And to do so, they need some more information about what happened the hours before.  And that‘s the objective why they want to interview, re-interview also the (INAUDIBLE) students. 

COSBY:  When do you think they‘re going to interview those students? 

What sort of time line are you looking at, Arlene? 

SCHIPPER:  Well, that is an (INAUDIBLE) procedure request that they‘ve made, already more than a month ago.  And basically, it is a request that the FBI has to fulfill. 

We spoke to the FBI.  And they promised us to look where the—where that request at this moment is, because it‘s a really difficult request.  It has to go to the State Department.  And they promised us, as did Congressman Bachus, to speed it up. 

COSBY:  Now, you said that, OK, after that, they do intend for sure to bring back in the brothers and also Joran Van Der Sloot? 

SCHIPPER:  Absolutely.  It‘s one of the—bring in for interrogation.  It‘s one of their objectives.  And they‘re working on an interrogation plan, but, you know, as our laws, our procedural laws differs a little bit, that influences the investigative methods that we can use here. 

So they have to carefully go about it.  And to zoom in, as we call it, back on these suspects, they need to carefully do that and strategically do that. 

COSBY:  What about some of the suspects‘ friends? 

SCHIPPER:  Absolutely.  That is one of the current activities of the police and of the planned objectives of the police.  We gave an expose to the congressman on the current and planned actions.  And one of those actions are interviewing friends, interviewing witnesses, re-interviewing witnesses.  It‘s all already happening and going on. 

COSBY:  Arlene, when could we see—as we were looking at a picture of Deepak, and Satish, and Joran a second ago—when could we see them called in again?  How soon? 

SCHIPPER:  Well, that is something that I cannot comment on, because that is what we call tactical information, because, as I said, they need to carefully zoom in on them.  They need to work on their plan of investigation, on interrogation, because, given the information that they‘ve get of the re-interviews of the witnesses (INAUDIBLE) students, as well as the friends, they‘re going to—they have to have to reestablish, for instance, the relationship between Joran, if there was a relationship between Joran and Natalee, how the events unfolded that night, et cetera, et cetera. 

So based that, they will move in on a technical way how and when they will interrogate these boys again. 

COSBY:  You know, Arlene, I don‘t know if you just heard the interview we did with John Q. Kelly.  He‘s now the new attorney representing Natalee‘s family.  He didn‘t rule out that a lawsuit could come.  We talked with him about the boys.  But are you worried that maybe you may see some lawsuit against the Aruban government at some point? 

SCHIPPER:  Well, I doubt it, because a lawsuit would imply that there‘s some liability of the government.  The government has basically done all efforts that it could in this case.  And we have gave an extensive expose on that already onto Congressman Bachus. 

I think it‘s time to depolarize a little bit.  I mean, the main objective is to solve this case.  That‘s our objective.  We‘re well-intentioned.  That‘s also the impression that D.A.‘s assistants—the district attorneys, Mr. Owen (ph) and Mr. Barbour got from Alabama.  I think the attorney, the new attorney, should try also to work with the authorities and to depolarize this.  And it‘s time to work together. 

COSBY:  All right, Arlene, thank you very much.  We appreciate you being with us. 

SCHIPPER:  Thank you. 

COSBY:  And still ahead, everybody, my interview with the family of a groom who vanished from his honeymoon cruise.  They‘ll tell me what they think happened the night he vanished.  I just came back from the interview. 

And we‘re waiting for the press conference on that horrible plane crash just off of Miami Beach.  We‘re going to bring it to you live.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  Well, there‘s increasing pressure on the cruise industry after one too many mysteries.  Tonight, a heartbroken family is demanding some answers.  George Smith went missing on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship back in July while honeymooning with his new wife, Jennifer Hagel. 

After nearly six months, the Smith family has no idea what happened to their son, but they told me that they believe their son was murdered, 100 percent, they said.  I went to Smith‘s Connecticut home today.  And his mother showed me his room still full of mementos.  You could tell his family misses him dearly and is determined to find out what went wrong on board that ship. 

Here‘s a quick peak of my visit to his home. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  Seems like you were a very close family. 

MAUREEN SMITH, GEORGE SMITH‘S MOTHER:  Very, very close. 

COSBY:  He used to come back often, right, and stay here? 

M. SMITH:  Oh, yes.  He just loved his home.  He loved his home.  He really loved being with us.  And we loved having him. 

COSBY:  As time goes by, does it make it—does it make it more difficult, as time goes by? 

M. SMITH:  It‘s more difficult as time goes by, because we‘re not getting any answers.  That‘s what‘s making it really difficult, because sometimes I think maybe he survived, and maybe he‘s out there and he needs us.  Then, you know, I think, “Oh god, how could he survive that?”  And I really think that he‘s gone. 

When that comes to you, it really comes to you in the belt.  But you just have to go on and get answers.  When we get answers, I think we‘ll be stronger.

And life will never be the same for our family again, because such a happy occasion turned into such a terrible tragedy.  And that‘s what—we‘re all together.  I had family from England.  I had everybody here.  And then, all of a sudden, we get this terrible news and it‘s just—you just can‘t believe it.  You just can‘t believe that it‘s happened.  It doesn‘t happen to you.  It happens to other people. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And tomorrow night, we‘re going to show you more of that home visit.  You‘re going to learn about who George Smith was, what was his relationship like with his new wife, and why his family is speaking out now.  Who on board do they think is to blame?  We‘ve got some surprising answers from them firsthand.  That‘s tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. 

Well, there‘s a lot ahead tonight.  Let‘s check in with my pal, Tucker Carlson. 

Tucker, what is coming up on THE SITUATION?

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  Well, Rita, if you‘ll remember a couple of weeks ago, we told you about an appalling—really, a pornographic—display in Manhattan:  a bloody Santa Claus holding a knife in one hand and a severed head in the other.  It scaring the heck out of all the neighborhood children. 

Well, it‘s no longer there.  Why?  Because a 65-year-old former marine from New York went over there this afternoon and tore it down himself.  He‘ll be joining us tonight live on set to tell us what he did and why he did.  It ought to be interesting.

Plus, a brand-new, comprehensive study on media bias.  It is out there.  It is, in fact, everywhere.  We‘ll tell you where it is worst.  We‘ll be talking to the man who ran that study. 

COSBY:  And, Tucker, we both get A-pluses, right? 

CARLSON:  Of course we do. 

COSBY:  He‘s not talking about us at all, right? 

CARLSON:  No.  Only in the best way, anyway.

COSBY:  OK, good.  Make sure.  Cut him off if he is, all right, if he says anything otherwise? 

CARLSON:  OK.

COSBY:  Thanks so much, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Rita.

COSBY:  And, of course, everybody, watch THE SITUATION at 11:00. 

And coming up, find out how the New England Patriots‘ cheerleaders are living up to their name.  They‘re bringing holiday cheer, LIVE & DIRECT.  I see them smiling.  They‘re coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And those are the New England Patriots‘ cheerleaders performing for our U.S. troops overseas.  The girls just recently got back for their European military tour, where they participated in Operation Season‘s Greetings, a tour with the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

And joining me now live to tell us about their trip are three of the cheerleaders.  We‘ve got Kristen O‘Neil, Melinda McGrath, and Amber Van Eeghan.

Melinda, this was your fifth tour, is that right?  What was it like?

MELINDA MCGRATH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS CHEERLEADER:  Yes.  It was great.  We actually—this was my tour for Europe, overseas for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And it was unbelievable.  It was the best out of all three that I‘ve done. 

COSBY:  What was your impression of the troops and the morale, you know, and the other—the other two trips were not in Europe, I assume, right, because you did five altogether, right?

MCGRATH:  Right.  My last one was in the Persian Gulf.  It was the same as usual.  We actually got to go to Landstuhl Hospital in Ramstein, Germany.  That was probably the most memorable place, seeing the injured soldiers and troops from Iraq. 

But the morale is pretty high.  People were just really looking forward to getting better and going back out there and being back with their troops. 

COSBY:  You know, we‘re seeing some shots of you guys.  You know, Kristen, I was at Landstuhl not too long ago—god, I guess about a week-and-a-half ago or so—and they just seemed so appreciative just to see a warm American face.  How did you feel going in there and seeing these young men and women? 

KRISTEN O‘NEIL, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS CHEERLEADER:  Absolutely it was the most unbelievable experience I‘ve ever had in my life.  They were just so thankful.  It was Thanksgiving, so we were serving them food.  And they were so thankful to have us there, and we were so thankful to be there with them.  So it was a wonderful experience. 

COSBY:  You know, Amber, what did you do on that day?  What did you do on Thanksgiving?  You fed them?  Did you—I‘m sure you heard some amazing stories, too, right? 

AMBER VAN EEGHAN, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS CHEERLEADER:  We did.  Yes, we had the chance to actually go into the hospital rooms of the soldiers who were wounded in Iraq.  And they couldn‘t get out of their beds.  So we came to them.  We served them their Thanksgiving meals.  We brought them swimsuit calendars, some team posters, and just kind of got to visit with them a little bit, kind of hear about why they were there in the hospital, give them a chance to talk about it.  And we learned a lot.  It was very touching.

COSBY:  You know, Melinda, is there one story that sort of stood out to you? 

MCGRATH:  Actually, one of the soldiers I met there had recently been married and actually was expecting a baby in the next week to come.  So he touched my heart in a special way, because he had just gotten hurt.  He was away from his new family, his new wife, and his soon-to-be little baby.  So he was probably my favorite out of all of them. 

COSBY:  That‘s a great story! 

You know, Amber, you performed in a lot of places.  What was it like to perform for the troops versus on the field?  How different was that experience?

VAN EEGHAN:  I think it was different just in that I think they were very thankful.  A lot of them were even surprised that we made the trip, especially down range, in the bases down range that we visited.  They were just kind of excited to have a little piece of home, kind of break up the day a little bit, and I think that was the major difference. 

COSBY:  You know, Kristen, I was reading that your grandfather was in World War II.  So did this trip sort of have a special significance for you?  My dad was in World War II, also.  So when I get to meet the troops, there‘s just—there‘s so much meaning.

O‘NEIL:   Well, it really did.  It meant a lot to me.  And my favorite part was—I was in Germany at Ramstein Air Force Base.  And when my grandfather was there, he sent my great grandmother (INAUDIBLE) and sent them home all the time. 

And so what I did what I got there was—the first thing I bought was the nice (INAUDIBLE) and it was beautiful.  So I got to give it to them.  He was very thankful.  And I was happy to be there. 

COSBY:  Yes, I bet.  I bet.  It must have been an honor.

O‘NEIL:  It was.

COSBY:  You know, Amber, when you got there, too, was this your first time?  Or how many times have you done this?

VAN EEGHAN:  This was my fourth trip, my third trip with the Air Force. 

COSBY:  And what was the biggest thing that you got away from this experience?  What did you say to these guys, and what did they say to you? 

VAN EEGHAN:  We were actually thanking each other.  They kept thanking us for being out there, and we just were trying to tell them, “No, we‘re here to thank you for what you do.  Please don‘t thank us.  We‘re so happy to be here.”

And that was the main message of our trip, was just to thank them, to show them that people at home are thinking of them, and I know everyone at home would love to be able to, you know, face to face thank them the way that we would have the opportunity to.  And we were so thankful to do that. 

COSBY:  Now, Melinda, you guys also traveled—it was Trick Pony and John Popper of Blues Traveler. 

MCGRATH:  Yes, that‘s right.

COSBY:  How are they?  You know, when we traveled, we had some unusual company, too.  We had 18 wrestlers from the WWE. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That must have been fun!

COSBY:  That was an experience.  It added a lot of fun and a lot of color to the trip. 

MCGRATH:  Yes.

COSBY:  I bet these guys were a lot of fun, too.

MCGRATH:  It was.  It was a lot of fun.  Actually, we toured with Blues Traveler last year, so Amber and myself had already known John and kept in touch with him over the year. 

And Trick Pony, they were great.  Myself, I‘m not—I wasn‘t a big country fan, and then just watching their show and getting to know them, I think we‘re all big country fans now.  They were great.  They put on a great show. 

They were as thankful to be there as we were.  And John Popper was amazing on the harp, as usual.  He played with the Air Force Reserve Band and the (INAUDIBLE) band.  It was unbelievable.  It was a really, really great show. 

COSBY:  Well, I‘m sure that all the guys were thrilled to see you guys when you showed up.  They were happy to see me, so I‘m sure that they were ten times happier to see you guys.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you very much.  Keep up the great work, gals. 

O‘NEIL:  Thank you.

MCGRATH:  Thank you.

VAN EEGHAN:  Thank you.

COSBY:  Thank you.

And still ahead, everybody, we‘re just a few minutes away from a live update on that horrible plane crash in Miami.  We‘re going to bring you some details live when they come.  LIVE & DIRECT, stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And we have some breaking news tonight about a plane crash in Miami.  Any minute now, investigators are going to have a live briefing about the recovery efforts.  The seaplane with 20 people on board crashed just off Miami Beach this afternoon. 

Tonight, we have learned that the remains of all but one passenger have been found.  Witnesses say the plane exploded before it came down.  And we will keep you posted on that.

And that does it for me on LIVE & DIRECT.  I‘m Rita Cosby. 

“SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” starts right now with Catherine Crier.

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