updated 1/18/2006 10:43:46 AM ET 2006-01-18T15:43:46

Guests: Jerry Nadler, David Rivkin, Tara McKelvey, Mike Paul, Larry Kaye, Susan Filan, Brian Smith, D. Brad Riley

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, the Bush administration‘s secret spying program heads to court, this as Al Gore calls for a special counsel investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  Gore says President Bush is breaking the law by ordering the NSA to spy on some Americans.  And the plaintiffs in new lawsuits say it‘s not just some Americans but lawyers and reporters who communicate with people overseas. 

And the Supreme Court rules against the administration and in favor of Oregon‘s assisted suicide law.  It‘s Chief Justice John Roberts‘ first controversial ruling and he sides with conservatives Scalia and Thomas in dissent.  Is this a sign of things to come? 

Plus, for the past couple of weeks, Royal Caribbean has been on the offensive, fighting allegations that they‘re to blame in the case of missing honeymooner George Smith.  That‘s included taking on his wife.  Has the strategy worked? 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi, everyone.  We‘ll get to those stories in a moment.  But first up on the docket, another ultimatum.  Al-Jazeera has just aired another tape, this of U.S. reporter Jill Carroll being held hostage in Iraq since last week and with the video came a threatening statement.  They said the U.S. has three days, 72 hours, to release female Iraqi prisoners or that Carroll will be killed. 

NBC‘s Preston Mendenhall joins us on the phone from Baghdad.  All right, so Preston, I‘m presuming we don‘t know when this tape was made but we do know when she was last seen, correct? 

PRESTON MENDENHALL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (via phone):  That‘s right.  She was last seen on January 7 and that‘s after an interview she made with a Sunni politician, she was then abducted after that interview by gunmen and hadn‘t been heard from since.  The tape itself, not clear when it was made.  Al-Jazeera aired it today, although it‘s not clear whether Al-Jazeera received it today.

The tape itself is only 20 seconds long.  It‘s silent although Jill Carroll appears to be saying something in that video.  Now Al-Jazeera is not saying how it received the tape.  But they say only this message came with it, that in 72 hours the U.S. and the Iraqi government must release all Iraqi women prisoners.  But at the same time there was no group that claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, so it‘s not exactly clear who is behind her abduction. 

ABRAMS:  Now we should say that Jill has been on MSNBC talking about being a reporter in that region.  Here‘s a little clip. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILL CARROLL, JOURNALIST HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAQ:  One thing a lot of the Islamic groups feel at the moment is that certain jobs are appropriate for women and certain jobs are appropriate for men. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Preston, and a lot of the other reporters there know her well, right?

MENDENHALL:  Yes, that‘s true.  She was known quite well here. 

Although she was a freelancer, she had been working here for some time.  She did have some Arabic language skills, we do understand, although she used a translator.  But a translator was killed by the kidnappers on that day of the abduction, but the driver was able to escape and let people know that she had been abducted. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Preston Mendenhall, thank you very much for that report.  We will certainly stay on top of this story. 

Now to more fallout from the president‘s use of the secret National Security Agency to spy on some Americans.  Attacks on the program coming from two fronts now, former vice presidential—former Vice President Al Gore joining calls for a special counsel to investigate the president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT:  What we do know about this pervasive wire tapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  He wants a special counsel investigation.  And two civil liberties organizations are now suing the president and the National Security Agency, calling the program illegal and demanding it be dropped.  White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the lawsuits frivolous, didn‘t much—think much of Al Gore‘s complaint either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  In terms of Al Gore‘s comments, I think his hypocrisy knows no bounds.  It was the Clinton administration that used warrantless physical searches. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Tara McKelvey is a senior editor with “The American Prospect” and a plaintiff in the ACLU‘s lawsuit.  She thinks the government is spying on her because of an article she wrote on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.  Representative Jerry Nadler is a New York Democrat and like Al Gore, he‘s calling for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the program.  And David Rivkin was White House counsel for the Regan and first Bush administrations. 

Thanks to all of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS:  All right, Representative Nadler, let me start with you.  Al Gore with some harsh words but words that you think are fair and accurate? 

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK:  Yes, indeed.  The plain words of the statute make criminal what the president brags that he is doing and will continue to do.  Now, the president claims the inherent authority under the Constitution to break the law in this case.  And I don‘t—I mean by his logic he could order anybody murdered on the streets of New York under his inherent authority during wartime...

ABRAMS:  So another...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... another special counsel then is appropriate...

NADLER:  A special counsel is appropriate to investigate whether the laws were broken because it‘s the president, the vice president, the attorney general who allegedly broke the law and they can‘t investigate themselves.  That‘s why you have the institution of special counsels. 

ABRAMS:  David Rivkin, what do you make of that? 

DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  With all due respect to the congressman, he is wrong.  First of all, in order for a special counsel to be appointed, there is a threshold—a low threshold to be sure—reason to believe that the laws were broken and then you look at whether or not you have covered persons.  You appoint a special counsel, look at the facts. 

And the situation with the executive branch is of a firm position that no laws were broken.  The fact that people in Congress or people on the street or former members—former vice president believes that laws were broken is not enough to trigger...

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  But the law was clearly broken...

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  Because the law said...

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  The law says in so many words...

ABRAMS:  Hang on...

NADLER:  The law says in so many words anyone under color of law wiretapping someone in the United States...

RIVKIN:  Congressman, I would suggest...

NADLER:  ... is guilty of a crime.

RIVKIN:  I would suggest you reread the statute.  The statute in the definitional section does not refer to all wiretapping in the United States. 

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  It refers—forgive me.  Let me finish. 

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  It refers to four specific surveillance scenarios, of which only one in the subsection F-1, where the collection takes place overseas arguably applies.  I can give you five good reasons why that section does not apply. 

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  That‘s a totally dishonest statement.

ABRAMS:  Representative Nadler, let me ask you a little bit of a more general question but it relates to the exact issue you‘re talking about.  And that isn‘t there an argument to be made that the president has a right to do this?  Now it may be a losing argument but...

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  ... there‘s any honest argument, no. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Whether you think it‘s honest or not, but let me ask you this.  When we‘re talking about a special counsel, isn‘t the first issue to make sure that what‘s happening is illegal and then if it‘s determined that it was illegal...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Go ahead.

NADLER:  First of all I think it is very clearly illegal.  The statute says that it should be the exclusive authority for wiretap—for warrantless wiretapping and then says when you can do it and only with a warrant although you can get the warrant 72 hours later or during a war—during the first 15 days of the war and not otherwise and...

ABRAMS:  You know the arguments on the other side.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  The arguments on the other side are frankly frivolous.  The arguments on the other side are one the president has inherent authority as commander-in-chief to do anything he wants.  That‘s nonsense.  He‘s not a dictator.  He‘s not a king. 

And second of all that when we voted authority to go to invade Afghanistan to go to war against the people who planned 9/11, we by that—by doing that, we may not have realized we were doing it, but we—

Congress gave the president power to override that law.  We did not and it‘s a very basic rule in law that a specific law cannot be trumped by a general grant of authority unless it‘s very specific. 

ABRAMS:  Let me let—I‘ll let David Rivkin respond.  Here‘s again former Vice President Gore talking about this issue. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE:  Under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?  If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can‘t he do? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  David Rivkin, quick response, then I want to move on to the lawsuits. 

RIVKIN:  The quick response is that first of all he obviously disagrees with the Supreme Court that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) upheld the proposition that American citizens or enemy combatants can be held (UNINTELLIGIBLE) our facilities.  Second of all, the argument that Congressman Nadler is character chewing, a solid argument but I would say in addition to the president‘s plenary power and in addition to congressional authorization, FISA itself does not do anything similar to what the congressman described.  It is a very narrow statute.  All the language in that statute only applies to that surveillance that define in subsection F... 

ABRAMS:  But the bottom line is—I mean let‘s be clear—I mean you‘re basically saying FISA and I think this is the only honest position to take, FISA is a nicety, you don‘t need it, right? 

RIVKIN:  No, FISA...

ABRAMS:  Come on. 

RIVKIN:  ... as a matter of fact, Dan, was passed to enable—to make it easier for the president to obtain information under FISA...

ABRAMS:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  No, no, it was also...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  No, wait, wait, wait.  It was also done to make sure there was a check...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  It was not done...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Right.

RIVKIN:  Check in purely domestic surveillance that deals with three scenarios...

ABRAMS:  Well that‘s the debate. 

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  ... anybody in the United States.  The question that he‘s raising, FISA enables you to do...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

NADLER:  ... you can do warrantless wiretapping if no end of that wiretapping...

ABRAMS:  All right.

NADLER:  ... is in the United States. 

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  ... one person is in the United States...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Let‘s talk about the lawsuit.  Tara, I apologize for keeping you out of this.  I want to debate the issues about the special counsel first.  You are part of a lawsuit brought against the administration.  What‘s it about? 

TARA MCKELVEY, “THE AMERICAN PROSPECT”:  Well the lawsuit says that the government shouldn‘t be spying on people or putting them under surveillance without them knowing about it.

ABRAMS:  And specifically you‘re convinced that you were spied on. 

What makes you think that?

MCKELVEY:  Well no, I mean who knows.  Nobody knows if they‘ve been spied on.  I mean I can‘t exactly call up the NSA and ask if they‘ve been wiretapping my lines.  I mean it‘s just something that nobody can possibly know... 

ABRAMS:  So what, are you just guessing?  I mean because we began this segment by saying that you feared that an article that you had written in your magazine...

MCKELVEY:  No, I mean again...

ABRAMS:  ... had led to you being spied on. 

MCKELVEY:  There is no way any of us can know who has been spied on who‘s been placed under surveillance, but the ACLU has chosen certain plaintiffs who seem to be potential targets for the surveillance program.  The story that I have done has been about former detainees in Iraq about female prisoners who have been held in U.S. custody and a lot of them have very shady pasts or associations with possible insurgents.  So those are the...

ABRAMS:  Part of the ACLU‘s lawsuit says plaintiffs are a group of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys, and national non profit organizations with a well-founded belief that their communications are being intercepted under the NSA program.  The program is disrupting the ability of the plaintiffs to talk with sources, locate witnesses, conduct scholarship and engage in advocacy.

Again, though, I‘m not clear as to where the well-founded belief is that their communications are being intercepted. 

MCKELVEY:  I think if the NSA were you know following the—you know, if they were doing a very good job with their program they would place certain people under surveillance and I think that I‘m somebody who would be under that program.

ABRAMS:  It‘s very different to say—I mean let‘s even apart from the issue of whether they can do this, as a practical matter it‘s very different to say we‘re going to be eavesdropping on people who may be in contact with al Qaeda and people who are lawyers or journalists. 

MCKELVEY:  Of course.  I mean and I want people—I want the government to know exactly who the terrorist suspects are in the United States.  There‘s no question about that, but that‘s not what we‘re talking about. 

ABRAMS:  Then I don‘t get it.  Then what are we talking about?  I mean...

MCKELVEY:  We‘re talking about...

ABRAMS:  ... because again there‘s no...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... is there any evidence...

MCKELVEY:  ... Americans that we don‘t really know what the scope of it is.  I mean when I read about how wide the net they‘ve casted, it reminds me of what the Stasis was doing back when there were two Germanys, when they would collect so much data they weren‘t even able to process it or analyze it. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I don‘t like lawsuits...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I don‘t like lawsuits that say might be, may be, could be, you know...

RIVKIN:  ... if I may jump in.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead.  Who‘s that?

RIVKIN:  Tara just provided a compelling explanation of why this lawsuit is not serious.  The plaintiffs do not have standing, which is a very important requirement in the Constitution and is a frivolous joke.  I frankly think that they should be subject to sanctions under rule 11.  You need to have individuals who are clearly within the zone of coverage of a given statute or regulation...

ABRAMS:  Well you know...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Well look, the argument, David, is that anyone is within that zone because...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  ... firmly rejected the so-called...

NADLER:  Let me...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Congressman Nadler, go ahead.

NADLER:  Let me answer.  First of all given the fact that the—first of all, the issue here is not whether anybody should be doing wiretapping.  The issue is whether they should be doing wiretapping without getting...

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  ... at least a warrant from a FISA court.  That‘s the whole issue.  And second of all, the question of standing, since it is all classified, no one can know exactly but the well-founded belief is based on the descriptions by the administration of who they‘re wiretapping and these people, the plaintiffs know that they‘re engaged in activity which based on the administration‘s description of what they‘re doing probably means...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

NADLER:  ... that they‘re being wiretapped. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I think they‘re going to have a tough time with that lawsuit...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  They‘ll have a tough time.  We shall see what happens.  Tara McKelvey, thank you.  Congressman Nadler and David Rivkin stay with us.

Coming up, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts makes his first controversial rule, siding with conservatives Scalia and Thomas against the rest of the court.  Could that mean that this is a prediction of things to come?

And in the past couple of weeks Royal Caribbean cruise lines went on the offensive in the case of missing honeymooner George Smith, so did their P.R. offensive work even though it included going after his wife?

And a desperate 911 call.  A woman says her house is on fire with her two children inside.  Police say it was a lie.  She‘s now charged with murder.  We‘ve got the tape of the call.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)  

ABRAMS:  Chief Justice John Roberts weighed in on his first major Supreme Court ruling today.  The new chief justice sided with the most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, in a controversial assisted suicide case. 

The question?  Can the government stop Oregon doctors from helping terminally ill patients end their lives under a state physician assisted suicide law?  In 2001, then Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to punish doctors who went along with an Oregon law, which allowed them under certain conditions to offer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients.  Six of the justices agreed Ashcroft had no right to do it.  But Roberts in his first dissent join Scalia and Thomas in backing the Bush administration‘s position, saying the attorney general‘s analysis should have been given more deference.

Is this a sign of things to come?  Back with me to discuss once again is Democrat congressman from New York and attorney Jerry Nadler and former White House counsel to Presidents Reagan and Bush Senior David Rivkin.  Gentlemen thanks very much.  All right, Representative Nadler, does this concern you? 

NADLER:  Yes, it does.  I think it is a sign of things to come and I don‘t think, with all due respect, you described the question quite correctly.  It‘s a more narrow question.  Congress did not act to prohibit the Oregon assisted suicide law.  The attorney general interpreted the existing anti-drug laws to say that he could use the anti-drug laws to sanction physicians who obey the Oregon law.  So the real question here is...

ABRAMS:  The question is can the attorney general punish. 

NADLER:  No, no...

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER:  Can he use an existing law, which wasn‘t passed for that purpose?

ABRAMS:  Fine...

NADLER:  ... to punish. 

ABRAMS:  ... to punish, right.

NADLER:  And that‘s a stretch to say that.  It‘s really exalting the power of the executive branch over the state and over the—and frankly over Congress. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But that‘s been the concern, David Rivkin, has it not?  I mean many on the left have been concerned about both Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts and potentially Justice Alito siding with the executive branch, saying the attorney general or the president‘s decision-making should be, you know, sort of looked at and accepted? 

RIVKIN:  Dan, what‘s ironic about this is this.  We‘re not talking here about the executive branch predicating its decision to intervene against the Oregon law based upon some inherent plenary power of the president.  We‘re talking about them looking at the controlled substance act.  And let‘s remember, during Alito‘s confirmation, a lot of liberals were very unhappy about judicial tendency to overturn and not give due effect (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  And the key buzz word in that statute is legitimate medical purpose.  Let me ask you and your viewers, is it unreasonable for the executive branch, which after all does have a discretion and a zone of reason (UNINTELLIGIBLE) statute.  Is it unreasonable for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the legitimate medical purpose does not encompass killing somebody?

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Yes, but it‘s not—again, it depends on how you frame the question.  I mean you‘re framing the question as is legitimate medical purpose killing someone?  The majority would say that the Bush administration‘s position—this is number one—would affect a radical shift of authority from the states to the federal government to define general standards of medical practice in every locality.  I mean this does seem to fly in the face of the whole conservative mentality, which is let the states make their own rules...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... and the federal government should stay out.

RIVKIN:  Absolutely do, but there is a venerable concept of federal preemption.  With all due respect to Congressman Nadler, when you pass the statute next time (UNINTELLIGIBLE) be careful which words you choose.  If you use words with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) authorization to use force or in a controlled substance act, be prepared that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) words...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But see...

RIVKIN:  ... consequences would ensue. 

ABRAMS:  But I have to tell you, Justice Scalia even seems to concede in a way in his dissent that they‘re going to be criticized for taking this position. 

He says the court‘s decision today is perhaps driven by a feeling that the subject of assisted suicide is none of the federal government‘s business. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I agree with that. 

ABRAMS:  And then he goes on to say but from an early time in our national history the federal government has used its enumerated powers...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... for the purpose of protecting public morality.  And I would think that that kind of language, Representative Nadler, would be what would concern you most that Justice Roberts...

NADLER:  Well yes...

ABRAMS:  ... signed onto.

NADLER:  Yes.  Everybody‘s idea of morality differs, obviously.  But more to the point, defining medical care (UNINTELLIGIBLE) medical care has always been the state‘s job, not the federal government.  Now if the federal government chose to come in and say we want to—explicitly—we want to define medical care as not including assisted suicide, maybe it could do that, but to read that rather novel use of federal power into a statute that doesn‘t—isn‘t concerned with suicide, where nobody was thinking of it when it was passing—when it was passed, is reaching in order to give effect—to enable the executive branch to dictate the law here to the states...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  What is the meaning of that language, by the way, in your opinion?  What did Congress mean to say in those three words, upon which...

NADLER:  In those three words?  I would say what Congress meant to say is the states define—traditionally define reasonable standards of medical care and that‘s what we‘re talking about.  The states‘ definitions...

RIVKIN:  But that‘s not what the words...

ABRAMS:  All right.

RIVKIN:  But that‘s not what the words say. 

ABRAMS:  Congressman Nadler and David Rivkin, thank you both very much...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... interesting stuff.  Appreciate it. 

NADLER:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  In the past few weeks, Royal Caribbean cruise lines have been fighting back after taking a verbal beating in the press from the family of George Smith, who went missing on his honeymoon cruise.  First Smith‘s family announced they think he was murdered and that they‘re planning a wrongful death suit against the cruise line for what they call a cover-up. 

Within days of that announcement Smith‘s wife Jennifer appeared at a congressional hearing on cruise ship safety and then right here on MSNBC she broke her silence, telling Joe Scarborough what happened the night her husband disappeared.  Finally, Royal Caribbean fought back.  Much of it unfolded right here exclusively on this program.  It began when the Smith family announced what they think happened to George Smith. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BREE SMITH, GEORGE SMITH‘S SISTER:  He was murdered at the age of 26 with a promising future and a lifetime of happiness ahead of him. 

ABRAMS:  His family is convinced he was murdered. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well.

ABRAMS:  You don‘t buy it? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think so.  I don‘t think so. 

JENNIFER HAGEL SMITH, GEORGE SMITH‘S WIFE:  They basically approached me and said, you know, your husband‘s gone overboard and, you know, they told me about the blood on the awning. 

LYNN MARTENSTEIN, ROYAL CARIBBEAN SPOKESPERSON:  It didn‘t happen exactly that way.  He told her that he—there was physical evidence that suggested that George Smith might have gone overboard.  They weren‘t sure.  They were continuing their search, they were continuing the pages but the possibility was there that there was physical evidence.  He never mentioned blood. 

MICHAEL LACHTARIDIS, FORMER ROYAL CARIBBEAN CAPTAIN:  She was found on a corridor on deck nine, far from her cabin, and then they escort her to her cabin...

ABRAMS:  She was literally sleeping in the middle of the hall? 

LACHTARIDIS:  Sleeping in the hall, yes. 

ABRAMS:  Sleeping meaning she was drunk? 

LACHTARIDIS:  I don‘t know.  She was sleeping.  They were found her asleep, so—and then the reports say that they took a wheelchair to bring her to the cabin. 

JIM WALKER, JENNIFER HAGEL SMITH‘S ATTORNEY:  There were five Royal Caribbean employees who have personal knowledge of this and actually took Jennifer back while she was unconscious, took her into the cabin, didn‘t provide her with any medical treatment, didn‘t determine whether she was unconscious due to something like Rohypnol or liquid ecstasy or GHB, made a decision to provide her with no medical treatment and unceremoniously dumped her in this cabin. 

B. SMITH:  My brother was a victim on your cruise ship on the evening of July 5 -- I‘m sorry—the overnight period that resulted in the morning of July 5.  He was a victim then and your latest approach in attacking my family is victimizing him again and I don‘t know how any of you sleep at night. 

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR ROYAL CARIBBEAN:  We‘re not attacking her or her family.  She‘s misunderstanding what we‘re saying.  My heart goes out to a grieving sister and a grieving family.  Certainly we‘re not criticizing her, but she‘s not allowed to make false statements because she‘s grieving. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Is Royal Caribbean‘s public relations campaign working?  Joining me now maritime attorney Larry Kaye, who‘s been in close contact with lawyers for Royal Caribbean...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi Dan.

ABRAMS:  ... former prosecutor and MSNBC analyst Susan Filan and Mike Paul, president of MGP Associates, a crisis management firm.  All right, Mike, let me start with you.  Is it working? 

MIKE PAUL, MGP & ASSOCIATES PRES.:  Well Dan, you know you never want to have a strategy that is following anybody else.  You know they‘re trying to play catch-up right now.  And if they would have done this from the outset they wouldn‘t have to play catch-up.  This is the difference between the court of law and the court of public opinion.  When the lawyers are taking the lead, it is their job—and I‘m not faulting for doing what they do best—it‘s their job to try and limit liability but they are not the leaders when it comes to the court of public opinion. 

ABRAMS:  But you know that very often the lawyers are at odds with the P.R. team...

PAUL:  That‘s right.

ABRAMS:  ... where the P.R. team is saying we need to get out there, we need to get out there, and the lawyers are saying hey, I don‘t want to put out any statements out there that could get us in trouble. 

PAUL:  And that is what I deal with every day.  And it‘s my job then or anyone who‘s dealing with crisis P.R. reputation management, to best educate our client, which also includes their legal counsel as to all of the reasons why it would be positive or negative and go through every single scenario so that they‘re best educated. 

ABRAMS:  I have to tell you, I think that Royal Caribbean‘s effort here has moved the debate a little bit in a way that I think is helpful to them, although you know it‘s hard to fight with a grieving widow...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... and she‘s going to be going on “Oprah” and...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... MSNBC.  All right.  You know what?  Everyone stick around because I want to bring the lawyers in to the conversation in a minute to talk about the legal side of this and what they‘ve been doing. 

Coming up, Natalee Holloway‘s mother (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Aruban authorities to aggressively look for her daughter.  Is George Smith‘s family accomplishing the same thing with the FBI? 

And a woman calls 911 saying her house is on fire.  Her kids are inside.  But now police say she set the fire herself.  She‘s charged with murder.  We‘ve got the 911 tape. 

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike.  Our search today continues in Massachusetts.

Authorities are looking for Dante Thomas.  He‘s 38, six-three, 200 pounds, was convicted of rape and indecent assault and battery of a child.  He hasn‘t registered his address with the state.  If you‘ve got any information where he is Massachusetts is looking for him, 978-740-6400.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the P.R. war over who is to blame in the disappearance of missing honeymooner George Smith heats up with an appearance on “Oprah” tomorrow.  Is the Royal Caribbean offensive working?  First the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LACHTARIDIS:  He was getting some fresh air or he wanted to get some fresh air from the balcony.  He was sitting on the railing and he lost his balance or—it‘s easy to fall over from—if you are sitting on the railing.  It‘s a high railing.  Then you need the chair to put it to step on the chair and to sit on the railing, so I think that still he lost his balance and he fell over. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The captain of the ship missing honeymooner George Smith disappeared from speaking out about his theory as to what happened.  Part of a public relations campaign after Royal Caribbean was slammed really everywhere for what George Smith‘s family was saying was a cover-up of a homicide. 

So the question, is the Royal Caribbean campaign working?  Joining me now maritime attorney Larry Kaye, who‘s had a lot of talks with the Royal Caribbean attorneys, former prosecutor Susan Filan, and Mike Paul, president of MGP, a crisis management firm.  Thanks to all of you.  All right, Susan, is it working? 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:   I think it‘s way too much way too late.  What they‘re trying to do now is they‘re trying to hijack the moral high ground saying they did nothing wrong by attacking the Smith family.  They are re-victimizing them.  What happened was you‘ve got a captain here who pretty much said hey, man overboard, accident.  But what it really looks like now is it‘s very likely a crime scene, a homicide that was mishandled. 

It‘s a cover-up.  It‘s gone badly.  And now they‘re coming out all guns blazing, it‘s mean-spirited and I don‘t think it‘s working.  The only thing that is working, Dan, is at least there are sides coming out, so now there‘s a two-sided debate but I don‘t like the way it‘s being framed at all... 

(CROSSTALK)

FILAN:  ... and it‘s missing the point.

ABRAMS:  But do they have any choice?  I mean here‘s George Smith‘s mother on January 5.  Let‘s listen, then I want to ask you about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAUREEN SMITH, GEORGE SMITH‘S MOTHER:  This is Royal Caribbean‘s common approach, to blame the victim, whether dead or alive, to detract attention from their wrongdoing, their cover-up.  And we‘re not letting this go because something really bad happened to my son on a Royal Caribbean ship. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean do they have any choice but to respond, Susan? 

FILAN:   They can respond.  But to attack, to be vicious, to be mean-spirited, to have a constant refrain from Lanny Davis saying you‘re misstating, this is untrue, and to attack Jennifer Hagel Smith, to attack George Smith, to attack the Smith family, that is not how this game should be played.  This should be a search for the truth.  What happened to George?  This should be about justice for George not...

ABRAMS:  But the problem is—all right.  But the problem is—I mean look everyone would agree with those last two statements.  There should be a search for the truth.  It should be about...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Absolutely. 

ABRAMS:  ... finding justice for George, but the problem is that there seem to be, Larry Kaye, two sides to a lot of the facts about what happened. 

LARRY KAYE, MARITIME ATTORNEY:  Well you‘ve just heard Susan Filan tell you in the few minutes she was speaking that there was a cover-up, that they‘ve attacked this family, that it‘s nasty and it‘s mean-spirited.  None of that is true.  Royal Caribbean released an eight-page statement with a timeline.  They never indicated that there was fighting between this couple.  They never indicated that there was heavy drinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Larry, come on now...

KAYE:  They never indicated.  They never indicated that she was intoxicated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You weren‘t there. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But they did say that she was found passed out in another part of the ship.

KAYE:  They said that she was asleep.  They said that she was asleep...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Come on, Larry, I didn‘t let them get away with it...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I‘m not going to let you get away...

(CROSSTALK)

KAYE:  Dan, if people don‘t like the facts, you don‘t kill the messenger.  These are facts that are pertinent to the case.  Jennifer Hagel Smith said repeatedly on national television that she was left alone and abandoned in a foreign country without food, lodging, or money.  All of that is untrue. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey Dan...

KUBY:  ... and all Caribbean did was release a statement with those facts.  And I just want to say one thing here.  Probably the most important example of why this was necessary and I think it‘s somewhat trivializing it to call it a P.R. campaign, they needed to get the truth out such because of statements such as there was a cover-up or there was blood washed off the canopy in the morning...

FILAN:  Larry...

KAYE:  ... as part of that cover-up...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Larry...

KAYE:  We now know that that‘s not true. 

PAUL:  I take offense to your comments about P.R., first of all.

ABRAMS:  Why? 

KAYE:  Why?

PAUL:  Number one, this is a public relations campaign because they‘re trying to defend themselves after the fact.  And I agree with Susan, it‘s too little too late.  The bottom line is...

(CROSSTALK)

KAYE:  So now we‘re going to blame them for not doing a good enough P.R. job?  I mean this should be about finding out what happened to George Smith.

PAUL:  No, I‘m going to blame them...

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  I‘m going to blame them, Larry...

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  I‘m going to blame them...

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  One at a time.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  One at a...

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  Larry...

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Larry, hang on a second.  Mike, real quick...

KAYE:  People want to...

ABRAMS:  Mike, real quick...

KAYE:  ... criticize...

ABRAMS:  Mike, hang on, hang on.  Larry, wait a sec.  Mike, real quick, then I‘m going to give Larry a chance.  Go ahead.

PAUL:  The bottom line is they did too little, too late.  And the reason why it‘s so important now for them to come out with their message, P.R. doesn‘t equal spin.  P.R. is about educating the public about the truth. 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t want to get a debate about what P.R. is.

PAUL:  Well here‘s the bottom line.  When she‘s on “Oprah” tomorrow and when American women and all of those people who are watching that show are going to empathize with her losing her husband on a cruise ship, we‘re going to see who comes out on top and that will continue throughout...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

PAUL:  ... the week and I predict into the coming week. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FILAN:  Right, and the mean-spirited...

KAYE:  So you‘re saying there should...

ABRAMS:  Susan, hang on...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Susan, Susan, go ahead.

KAYE:  There should be a P.R. campaign...

ABRAMS:  Susan...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Larry...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Larry, hang on.  Susan, go ahead.

FILAN:  The mean-spirited attacks against her by Royal Caribbean are going to play very, very poorly when she goes on “Oprah” tomorrow...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s right.

FILAN:  ... and possibly captures...

ABRAMS:  All right.

FILAN:  ... the hearts of the American people. 

KAYE:  Wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

KAYE:  I think they‘re clearly wrong. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We shall...

PAUL:  We‘ll see, Larry.

ABRAMS:  We will see.  Look, I think—look, I think it‘s hard to say she‘s not going to do well on “Oprah”.  The question is going to be what is the response going to be afterwards.  All right...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  They‘re going to be on as well.  Larry Kaye, Susan Filan, and Mike Paul, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

PAUL:  Thank you.

KAYE:  Thank you, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a 911 call for help.  A mother says her house is on fire, her two young children trapped inside.  Guess what?  The police say she‘s lying.  They say she started the fire that killed her children.  She now faces two counts of murder.  We‘ll talk to the authorities and hear the 911 tape.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a mother calls 911 to say her house is on fire, her kids are still inside.  Police now say she set the fire to kill the children.  Got the 911 tape next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  She begged for help.  Her home was on fire, her daughter and son were inside.  But before she ran out for safety, police say she told her kids to stay in bed.  Eight-year-old Addison Macemore and her brother, 10-year-old Daniel never made it out of their home alive.  And now their mother, Lisa Louise Green, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder.  Authorities say not only did she not help her children, they believe she also started the fire.  A neighbor discovered Green in her yard and made this 911 call.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

911 DISPATCHER:   Cabarrus County 911.

NEIGHBOR:  Yes, sir.  I‘m calling from there‘s a lady out here who says she has twisted her ankle and she asked me to call 911.

911 DISPATCHER:   Is she out in your yard...

NEIGHBOR:  No, she‘s not in my yard, but she is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) she is directly across the road from my house.

911 DISPATCHER:  Does she look like someone‘s beat her up or anything or does she look OK?

NEIGHBOR:  As far as I can tell she‘s OK.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  The neighbor made her way over to Green, put her on the phone with the dispatcher, and it wasn‘t until about two minutes into that call that Green even mentioned that her children were in the house. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

NEIGHBOR:  I‘ve got 911 on the phone.  Can you talk to them?

GREEN:  They on their way?  Get them in the house.  My house is on fire.

NEIGHBOR:  Her house is on fire.

GREEN:  My kids are going to be dead.  My youngins are in there.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now on the phone, Brian Smith, chief of the Georgeville Volunteer Fire Department.  He responded to the fire at Lisa Louise Green‘s home.  And D. Brad Riley, sheriff with the Cabarrus County Sheriff‘s Office also joining us on the phone.

Gentlemen thanks very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

Chief Smith, I was reading that from the moment that you arrived at the scene you thought that there was something wrong.

BRIAN SMITH, GEORGEVILLE, NC VOL. FIRE DEPT. (via phone):  Not so much as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) first moment, after we got inside the house and we had the fire actually out, I could tell from the locations of things and things I‘ve seen in the past, things just didn‘t seem right, just had a gut feeling I guess and from experience and knowledge, things looked out of place.

ABRAMS:  Chief, what was it? 

SMITH:  Mostly I would say probably the location of the kids.  It just didn‘t seem there was any way they tried to get out or there was any way anybody tried to help them out.  The fire wasn‘t that heavy in the rest of the house and it just seemed to be awkward. 

ABRAMS:  Here‘s more of that 911 tape of Ms. Green actually speaking to the 911 operator. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

911 DISPATCHER:   How old are your kids, ma‘am?

GREEN:  Eight and 10.

911 DISPATCHER:   Eight and 10?  You weren‘t able to get them out?

GREEN:  I walked back there to my daughter‘s bedroom and the door was closed and I think they left the candle burning and I told them not to and I fell asleep.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Sheriff, it was some of those details that she offered on the 911 tape that led your office to become suspicious, right? 

D. BRAD RILEY, CABARRUS CTY. SHERIFF‘S OFFICE (via phone):  Yes, sir.  Just some inconsistencies throughout the—not only the 911 tape but just information that we received early in the investigation through firefighters and different avenues of retrieving stories against evidence that we were finding at the scene. 

ABRAMS:  How did you come to believe that she told the kids to stay in their bed? 

RILEY:  I can barely hear you, also.  Make sure I understand the question. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ll ask it again. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I was asking how you became convinced that she told the children to stay in their beds. 

RILEY:  I couldn‘t commit to any statements that we have received along the way.  However, there was a point in the 911 tape that led us to believe that she had made contact with them and assured that she was getting help. 

ABRAMS:  Have you gotten any kind of confession from her? 

RILEY:  I couldn‘t comment on that.  Again, that‘s evidentiary and...

ABRAMS:  I understand.  But bottom line is that it was based on inconsistencies—the reason she was arrested and charged was based on inconsistencies in her account.  Is there anything in those inconsistencies that led you to believe that this was premeditated? 

RILEY:  Yes.  The inconsistencies again more specifically were around the point of origin and cause of the fire, which are two of the main ingredients of evidence.  And again, when those inconsistencies are there then you need to find whether it‘s an accident or whether it was a set fire.  And in this particular case having inconsistencies between the stories and what the evidence was saying we needed answers to those and it just didn‘t add up. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Sheriff, thanks a lot.  Chief, I know that when you and your team have to respond to this kind of fire they‘re putting you in danger as well and I‘m glad to see you‘re all safe and sound.

SMITH:  Thank you, sir.

ABRAMS:  We appreciate you coming on the program. 

SMITH:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, getting hitched to a guy serving a life sentence in prison.  It‘s all the rage these days.  What‘s going on with all these women who seem to prefer prison stripes to pinstripes?   

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike.  Our search is in Massachusetts. 

We‘re looking for Kenneth Hudson.  He‘s 53, six-feet, 180, convicted of raping a child with force, has not registered his address with the state.  If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry, 978-740-6400.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)  

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—is it just me or is it starting to feel like single guys should trade in their pinstripes for prison stripes?  It seems just about every convicted murderer from a high profile case has a bevy of babes waiting in the wings.  Back in 1987, the Supreme Court unanimously held that prison inmates have a constitutional right to marry and it seems most of the well known ones are freely exercising that right, sometimes more than once. 

Convicted murderer Daniel Pelosi, the latest.  This weekend he and his new 28-year-old wife, Jennifer Zolnowski, married in a state prison in upstate New York.  Pelosi was convicted of bludgeoning wealthy New York financier Ted Ammon in 2001.  Now Jennifer may want to limit the amount of spending she—spending money she brings on prison visits. 

After all Pelosi married Ammon‘s widow shortly after the murder and managed to spend $6 million of her money before he was arrested.  The really high profile ones could go head to head with B-rate rock stars when it comes to numbers of marriage proposals.  Just a few weeks ago I interviewed Tammi Menendez, the wife of one of the men who would have made the most eligible jail bird‘s lists, Erik Menendez, one of the infamous and now prison hot Menendez brothers, convicted of murdering their parents back in 1996. 

Tammi and Erik have never spent time together outside the prison visiting area over their seven years of wedded bliss.  Erik‘s older brother Lyle Menendez has actually been married twice in prison, the first time he married pen pal and former model Anna Erickson.  They married over the phone in 1997.  Lyle and Anna divorced less than a year later after she found out he was cheating.  Yes, he was writing to another woman.  Lyle remarried magazine editor Rebecca Snead (ph) in 2003.  Death row inmate Scott Peterson has apparently received scores of marriage proposals while on death row at San Quentin for killing his wife Laci Peterson and their unborn child. 

Night stalker Richard Ramirez also known as the death row Romeo, killed 13 people but still married his pen pal Doreen Lioy, a magazine editor in 1996.  He said he married her because she was a virgin.  I guess she still is.

Former Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald has been in prison for nearly 30 years, convicted of murdering his wife and two young daughters.  His case became a best selling book “Fatal Vision”.  A young Maryland woman named Katherine Crypt (ph) wrote to MacDonald and eventually married him in prison.  A prison ceremony in 2002.  You got to wonder, fatal or tunnel vision?  And then there was young TV journalist Jodie Bell.  She was a reporter in Baton Rouge when she landed a prison interview with infamous Louisiana murderer Billy Wayne Sinclair. 

They began corresponding and eventually she came to—quote—“see another side of Billy.”  She became Jodie Sinclair in ‘82.  When he is released in 2011, they will have been married for 30 years.  They all believe their no snuggle bunny is either innocent or redeemed and membership in this club has its privileges.  None have to worry about their man cheating, at least not with another woman, and they always know where to find them.  Makes you wonder, do the single guys behind bars have more options than the free ones who go to bars? 

Coming up, I still don‘t get it.  Some of you defending still the author of “A Million Little Pieces” even though he seems to have conceded some of the incidents in the book didn‘t really happen.  Your e-mails up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night in my “Closing Argument”, author James Frey‘s book “A Million Little Pieces” causing a national debate.  I said I don‘t get it.  His book is not all real memories of his life, so it‘s not a memoir. 

Ioanna Stamatopoulos agrees.  She writes, “Bravo Dan.  Your exposition on James Frey today was eloquent, succinct and to the point.  The man lied, end of story.”

Melissa Crimmins, “Any human being that has ever had to overcome life‘s obstacles will understand the real message of the story.  They have experienced enough pain in life already.  Let them be.”

I guess real message is a way of saying the actual truth does not matter.

Anna Krengel in New York City, “He wrote a good book.  Who cares if it‘s true or false?  I think he should say I lied, so what.”

And writer Pearl Duncan in New York, “There‘s no way you can say a writer duped a publisher, if the writer presented the book as fiction to 17 publishers who turned it down.  The writer lied agreed—by agreeing to the charade, but the publisher made a marketing decision to label the book as memoir.”  Or he said it was initially based on true events, but then claimed to have made it all true memories.

Also last night our friend Daniel Horowitz soon to be fired by accused murderer Susan Polk.  She claimed he had something to do with his wife‘s murder.  I said she‘s nuts.

Garry Solano in Pembroke Pines, Florida, “What‘s wrong with this woman?  Mr. Horowitz is the best thing that happened to her.”

From Fresno, California Kathy Guinan, “It‘s obvious that Mr. Horowitz is a decent person who loved his wife and has suffered a great loss.  Ms.  Polk has made a grave error in firing Mr. Horowitz.”

Finally, Nicole Magana, “She obviously wants to represent herself. 

The judge will go easy on her.  She‘s crazy and crazy like a fox as well.” 

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show. 

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  That does it for us. 

See you here tomorrow.  Have a good night.                 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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