updated 2/14/2006 11:12:55 AM ET 2006-02-14T16:12:55

Guests: Gabriel Schoenfeld, Alan Dershowitz, Dave Wedge, Lauren Lake, William Fallon, Kathryn Garcia, Vernon Herron, Penny Vandyke

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, Vice President Dick Cheney shoots a hunting buddy accidentally.  The only reason anyone found out the ranch owner called a local reporter.  We‘ll talk to the reporter about what it was like to get a call saying the V.P. just shot someone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  And is the Justice Department really considering a criminal prosecution of “The New York Times” for publishing details about the domestic spying program? 

And new documents suggest the parents of murdered mother Rachel Entwistle who was killed with her daughter told police they believed their son-in-law was a government secret agent.  Now he‘s charged with their murder. 

Also coming up...

911 OPERATOR:  Arlington 911.  What is your emergency?

CALLER:  Is it Tuesday or Wednesday?

ABRAMS:  Around the nation idiotic callers taking up 911 dispatchers‘ precious time with questions or comments about everything from food orders to the time of day.  We‘ll play some of the stunning calls. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi, everyone.  First up on the docket, could, should “The New York Times” now be criminally prosecuted for publishing that story about the Bush administration‘s wiretapping program?  Well that‘s what “The Times” itself seemed to be asking over the weekend in an article on Sunday. 

Now we know the Justice Department is already pursuing a criminal investigation into who leaked the details to “The Times” and the president has made it clear he‘s not happy about it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, but illegal to publish?  Some now are suggesting “The Times” itself may have violated the Espionage Act.  And in an article in next month‘s issue of the conservative “Commentary” magazine senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld argues the administration should prosecute “The Times” for publishing the information. 

He writes, what “The New York Times” has done is nothing less than to compromise the centerpiece of our defensive efforts in the war on terrorism.

“My Take”—“The Times” publishes an article that leads to an important national debate and they should get prosecuted?  I know the administration doesn‘t like being questioned.  Most administrations don‘t, but with leaders of both parties now questioning the legality of the NSA surveillance program, wouldn‘t the prosecution of “The Times” just be seen as a distraction from the real issue? 

After all, the terrorists including the 9/11 terrorists have long been speaking in code because they assume they‘re being wiretapped.  What did they learn from this “New York Times” article?  That the administration can circumvent a secret FISA court‘s technical requirements.  Look, recently I‘ve been critical of “The Times” but not on this one.  Here they deserve praise, not prison time.

But joining us now is Gabriel Schoenfeld, the author of the upcoming article in “Commentary” magazine and Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor and author of “Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways”.  That‘s his new book.

All right, Mr. Schoenfeld, you really think that “The Times” should get prosecuted for publishing the information? 

GABRIEL SCHOENFELD, “COMMENTARY” MAGAZINE:  Yes.  We are at war.  We know that there are al Qaeda elements in the United States communicating with al Qaeda abroad.  The administration was listening in on those calls.  Apparently the breach of that secret has caused what Jane Harman, a leading Democratic member of Congress has said was critical damage to our ability to track al Qaeda.  We cannot live in a  -- we cannot wage the war on terrorism successfully if a newspaper decides to publish our government‘s most precious secrets in the counterterrorism battle.

ABRAMS:  And what the terrorists have learned now is that they—that the government doesn‘t have to go to a secret FISA court and as a result of the fact that they don‘t have to go to the FISA court suddenly everything has changed? 

SCHOENFELD:  No, that‘s not all they have learned.  They‘ve learned that we have been able to go very rapidly from call to call, from cell phone to cell phone and to track their communications without using the FISA courts and do this on apparently on a large volume of calls.  It was a powerful reminder to them that we are listening to their communications.

It was also most damagingly a sign to all foreign intelligence agencies that cooperation with the CIA and with U.S. intelligence cannot proceed because the CIA cannot keep secrets. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but see Alan, when I hear the words powerful reminder and a sign as reasons to prosecute a newspaper for publishing, I get scared. 

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR:  Well you should get scared.  First of all I think that Mr. Schoenfeld deserves congratulations.  His article in “Commentary” is a brilliant brief for prosecuting “The New York Times”, and he makes a very strong and compelling argument.  Ultimately, he does not persuade me because I think you have to make a balance judgment. 

The cases he cites are primarily cases involving disclosure of information about foreigners, about attacks on Japan, about other kinds of things.  Here we had a balance.  I don‘t agree with you, Dan.  I think there may have been some harm done to the intelligence gathering information of the United States.  But I don‘t think it was a lot. 

And I think the harm done to American citizens was far greater.  And I think in order to survive constitutional attack under the First Amendment, the government would have to demonstrate on balance that the interests of the American citizens in knowing what they were having had potentially done to them was far outweighed by the interest of the government in protecting the marginal information that this story disclosed...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... protection would be unconstitutional... 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you on the issue you disagree with me on Alan and that is about...

DERSHOWITZ:  Yes.  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... the harm that‘s been done.  In the late ‘90‘s we were able to get the al Qaeda handbook, which...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... had been distributed to all the al Qaeda leaders.  It was their—effectively their bible.  And in it, it talked about speaking in code.  They talked about the fact that they must presume that all of their conversations are being listened to, et cetera.  With that in mind, with the fact that the 9/11 terrorists were talking in code well before 9/11, et cetera, what exactly do you think the terrorists are doing differently now, now that they know that the administration is not going to the FISA court? 

SCHOENFELD:  Well we already know from “The Times” own reporting that the terrorists even after 9/11 were continuing to talk on open lines about their plots.  And in fact, two plots were intercepted with the help of the NSA program.  So that‘s damage that we know about. 

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Wait...

SCHOENFELD:  There is more damage—wait a second...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I‘m not going to let you confuse the issue of wiretapping, which no one disputes that there should be wiretapping.  That‘s not what we‘re talking about.  We‘re talking about is whether the fact that the terrorists now know that they don‘t have to go to the FISA court has done damage. 

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  I don‘t think this is about the FISA court, Dan.  Look, I don‘t agree that the FISA court could have legitimated this.  I disagree, for example, with Arlen Specter saying just throw this into the hands of the FISA court.  This is an entirely new mechanism for monitoring and overhearing...

ABRAMS:  Just take it to Congress...

DERSHOWITZ:  ... this, I agree with you, should be taken to Congress and we have to figure out whether we can make this consistent with the prohibitions in the Fourth Amendment.  This is a very, very daunting challenge.  What I think the enemy has learned from this is the incredible extent of our ability to overhear millions and millions of conversations, use a filter system to then bring it down to specific conversations. 

If I were a terrorist, I would want—particularly a sophisticated terrorists...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... I‘d want to know about this to try to figure out methods of perhaps blocking this and particularly if it was state-sponsored terrorism and governments were learning about it.  So I don‘t want to completely negate the fact...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... that some harm is done but I think newspapers...

ABRAMS:  But wait a sec...

DERSHOWITZ:  ... have a right to make a judgment and say that the balance favors American citizens knowing about deprivation of their rights against a small addition of information...

ABRAMS:  But wait...

DERSHOWITZ:  ... otherwise it seems to me you have no public debate...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But using that philosophy, which much of which I think Mr.  Schoenfeld you agree with, does your article and this discussion on this program, are we aiding the terrorists?  Should you get prosecuted?  Should I get prosecuted...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... for your article, me for...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... discussion?

SCHOENFELD:  No, the cat is out of the bag.  “The Times” disclosed the secret, now the whole world‘s about it.  If an al Qaeda operative had transmitted what “The Times” reported on a microdot there would be no question that there would be an espionage prosecution.  The fact that “The Times”...

ABRAMS:  So you discount any value to the nation in debating this issue, correct? 

SCHOENFELD:  I think there‘s—now that it‘s out of the bag we have to debate it.  However, we have to weigh the costs.  We don‘t know the full extent of those costs.  We do know that ranking Republicans and Democrats alike have said that this would cause critical damage.  I want to stress those words...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHOENFELD:  That‘s a quote...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Wait...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Let me make one point and then I‘m going to let you ask the question.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Democrats and Republicans alike are now questioning the constitutionality of the program.  Go ahead, Alan Dershowitz, your question.

DERSHOWITZ:  Well I want to ask Mr. Schoenfeld whether you would take it so far as to allow preemptive actions or preventive actions to paraphrase my book “Preemption” to be used against newspapers.  Would you now say that the government should be in power to prevent newspapers, not publish them after the fact, but prevent newspapers from publishing stories of public interest if they found out that some of the information on which the stories were based were classified? 

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... has this power under the officials secrets act.  We don‘t have an officials secrets act...

SCHOENFELD:  That came up in the Pentagon...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHOENFELD:  Let me answer. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SCHOENFELD:  That came up in the Pentagon Papers Case...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes it did.

SCHOENFELD:  ... and the Supreme Court said it was not a permissible way to proceed.  And I‘m comfortable with the situation where newspapers have to take responsibility for what they publish and after they publish it, if they are shown to have violated the law they should accept the consequences. 

DERSHOWITZ:  Let me tell you why that answer doesn‘t work.  Because with the Internet there are no publishers and so with the Internet nobody takes responsibility.  To take your argument to its logical conclusion, you would permit preemptive censorship against the Internet...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... for producing...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... material wouldn‘t you?

SCHOENFELD:  I am against preemptive censorship.  I am for prosecuting...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHOENFELD:  ... disclosure of classified information...

DERSHOWITZ:  The reason you gave is that because “The New York Times” is there.  We can find it.  But we can‘t find those who purvey information on the Internet necessarily after they do it.  It seems to me the logic of your position would in fact permit preemptive intervention on Internet or on any publisher who doesn‘t have a home address that we can...

SCHOENFELD:  And the logic of your position in turn is that anyone can publish anything as long as they say it‘s in the public interest...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... has to make a judgment.

SCHOENFELD:  And that will lead to chaos and I think will lead to—make it practically impossible for the government to conduct foreign policy and wage war against terrorists...

DERSHOWITZ:  The First Amendment...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... favors chaos over censorship. 

SCHOENFELD:  Not in wartime necessarily...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  Wartime will never end and this war will never end. 

ABRAMS:  Let me read from the statute that you are talking about, Mr.

Schoenfeld, in your article.

Whoever knowingly and willfully publishes or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States, any classified information concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years or both.

Using the exact words of that statute, you could make an argument that you should be prosecuted for your article in “Commentary”.

SCHOENFELD:  That‘s nonsense and it‘s a frivolous argument. 

ABRAMS:  Why? 

SCHOENFELD:  Because “The Times” already put the information in the public domain...

ABRAMS:  But you are still publishing information...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... in a manner, the discussion of this...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... the discussion of this publicly.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHOENFELD:  The information was effectively declassified on the day that “The Times” published that article. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHOENFELD:  It was further—excuse me—it was further declassified the following day when President Bush acknowledged that the program was in existence.

DERSHOWITZ:  How about Cheney though?  Under your approach, would

Cheney be subject to prosecution if Libby is telling the truth and if it‘s

if Cheney was the source of the material that Libby ultimately disclosed? 

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  That was classified information. 

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  Would he be prosecuted?

SCHOENFELD:  We have—we live in a system of laws and one of the things that we appoint executives for including the vice president is to determine what is classified and what is not classified...

DERSHOWITZ:  Oh no, no, no...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  Oh, no, no. 

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  The law doesn‘t permit that. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHOENFELD:  Responsible officials are allowed to make those determinations...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  That is not true. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHOENFELD:  ... in our system.

DERSHOWITZ:  But that‘s not true.  Under our system of division of authority, the president has no more authority to disclose classified information than does the speaker of the House. 

SCHOENFELD:  That‘s absolutely...

DERSHOWITZ:  We can‘t give the president more power...

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ:  ... than the legislative branch unless he does it openly. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Schoenfeld gets the final word...

SCHOENFELD:  The president does have the power to decide what is classified or unclassified.  The buck stops there. 

ABRAMS:  Well if Mr. Schoenfeld‘s article hadn‘t been so powerful, we wouldn‘t have discussed this at all on the program.  So Alan Dershowitz and Gabriel Schoenfeld, thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Very interesting discussion.  I appreciate it.

Coming up, newly released court documents suggest the parents of murdered mother Rachel Entwistle believe their son-in-law was a government secret agent.  Why? 

Plus, Vice President Cheney accidentally shoots a hunting buddy, but it wasn‘t until the ranch owner called the local paper that anyone knew about it.  Can you imagine getting that call—the vice president shot someone on my ranch.  The reporter who got the call joins us.   

And you‘ve heard of the movie “The Scent of a Woman”?  Well it was the scent of a man, this man, Daniel Petrocelli that had one female juror at the Enron trial saying she was gagging.  I‘ll tell you why and I say it‘s a lesson to all men on this Valentine‘s Day eve.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.

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:  We‘re back.  We got new details in the Entwistle murder case.  They‘re trickling out as Neil Entwistle waits in the U.K. for detectives to pick him up and return him to Massachusetts to face the charges that he murdered his wife and daughter.  In never before seen court documents we are learning that his in-laws apparently thought he was a government agent. 

Computer records show he visited escort service Web sites in the days before his wife and daughter‘s murders and there‘s other evidence that he researched suicide and how to kill someone with a knife.  Joining me with all of the details, “Boston Herald” reporter Dave Wedge. 

Dave, thanks for coming back on the program.  All right, what was most striking to you about this new information from all these pages of documents? 

DAVE WEDGE, “BOSTON HERALD”:  Well I don‘t know where to begin.  The information about his family thinking he was—had a secret government job is very interesting.  There‘s also some new forensics stuff regarding baby Lillian.  They are saying that she had bruises on her face. 

And you know it raises the question whether or not the child was struck or something of that nature.  The browsing the Internet sex sites is unbelievable.  According to the Massachusetts investigators, he was looking up ways to kill people on one day and the very next day he was booking escort services or looking into getting—hiring an escort.  It‘s just—it‘s a flood of information and it‘s all pretty compelling stuff. 

ABRAMS:  With regard to the parents—her parents thinking he was some sort of secret government agent, do you know why they thought that? 

WEDGE:  Well he apparently worked at a company in Malvern, England called Qinetig and they do some military defense work.  And it‘s kind of unclear why they thought that, but you know one can assume that he was never too forthcoming with them about anything according to these documents.  The family had no idea of their financial problems.

It indicates that Rachel had no idea.  And the family is saying they had no idea what he did for work.  They thought he had some secret government job.  They didn‘t even know where he worked or what he did.  It just paints a picture of a man that had a high level of deception with his family. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me bring in our legal panel, Bill Fallon, former Massachusetts prosecutor joins us and here in the studio Lauren Lake, criminal defense attorney.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

Lauren, every detail we hear seems to be a bigger and bigger problem for this guy.  Let me read you from one of them.  This is number three. 

Police say Entwistle allegedly viewed an electronic document on Monday, January 16 and Tuesday, January 17 -- quote—“which describes how to kill people by various methods”.  The papers also claimed that Entwistle looked for information online regarding suicide and how to kill someone with a knife.  Now that in itself isn‘t going to convict him, but boy you add that to the puzzle, and he‘s in big trouble. 

LAUREN LAKE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  No, the prosecution is definitely trying to mount all of its evidence.  The bottom line is they still got to connect the dots between is this really him looking at this on his computer?

ABRAMS:  But it could have just been...

LAKE:  They‘ve got to connect...

ABRAMS:  It could have just been coincidental...

LAKE:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... that a few days before his wife was killed...

LAKE:  You just never know.

ABRAMS:  ... he‘s browsing around...

LAKE:  But the key...

ABRAMS:  ... looking, thinking maybe...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... someone else came in and did it.

LAKE:  The key to a defense is the fact that we‘re going to try to sprinkle reasonable doubt in every way that we can.  Unfortunately, for all the people that have jumped on the prosecution bandwagon already, this man still is entitled to defend himself against the charges.  So therefore, although they found this information, it‘s not conclusive of the fact that he actually pulled that trigger and killed his wife and his child. 

ABRAMS:  Some call it the prosecution bandwagon, Bill, others call it the evidence bandwagon. 

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAM FALLON, FORMER ESSEX COUNTY MA PROSECUTOR:  The road to truth.  You know (INAUDIBLE) is to speak the truth, the verdict of the spoken truth.  Yes, I don‘t know all the evidence but I‘ll tell you, as I said, Dan, before on your show, this is one case where I‘d by far rather be the prosecutor.

You know, Lauren, one thing that is interesting is he brought up on his statement to the police on Monday, which we therefore assume he told his parents that in fact he was going to use a steak knife, but he‘s obviously (INAUDIBLE) couldn‘t kill himself.  He was going to use the gun to kill himself.

Isn‘t it funny the only courage he has in my mind is to murder the child, murder the mother but never to murder himself.  All these people who talk about suicide, I used to feel bad for him thinking somehow he was this desperate man, but seeing what I see is this double life, this need to be really important. 

I have a feeling he‘s closer to Scott Peterson than I ever thought he was.  And certainly Martha Coakley thought he was.  And the prosecution did not let this information out, a judge let it out.  The prosecution argued against it I think rightly so.  I will tell you he‘ll get a trial but he‘ll plead.  He‘ll plead.

ABRAMS:  Let me read from more of the details on finding the bodies.  This is what he says happened.  Remember, the prosecutors say he killed them and this is what he claims.

Neil said he pulled down the comforter, saw his wife was pale, saw blood on the baby and the baby had been shot and they were dead.  Neil said he pulled the covers back over his wife and daughter, went downstairs, grabbed a knife in the kitchen and considered killing himself, but then put it down because it would hurt too much and then decided to drive to Carver and tell his in-laws what had happened since he had no number to call them.

See, the problem Lauren is he‘s going to now be stuck with this statement, right? 

LAKE:  Oh, let me just go non-legal for a minute and say yuck.  I mean as a defense attorney you hear a statement like that and you‘re like yuck.  Why didn‘t you just be quiet.  However, we‘ve got the statement, but a lot of these facts, Dan and Bill, they can be construed if they decide to go with the mental defenses.  Hey, this man is trouble, diminished capacity.  This man is legally insane. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

LAKE:  So you know there is always gray in between the black and white and that‘s where the defense attorney...

ABRAMS:  Is it a legal defense to say he was distraught over his finances, et cetera?  I mean could he use—and he can‘t really use that in and of itself to say that‘s why I did what I did.

LAKE:  Well, for a legal insanity defense you‘re going to have to say that because of a mental disease or defect...

ABRAMS:  Right.

LAKE:  ... you did not know right from wrong. 

ABRAMS:  It‘s not just I was broke...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE:  No, no, no...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

LAKE:  No, no, but on the other hand, if Massachusetts allows the diminished capacity as an affirmative defense, meaning this high emotional distress, this way in which your mind was so affected, so out of control that you couldn‘t form the mental state necessary for the crime, then that is where maybe...

ABRAMS:  Do they have that, Bill?

FALLON:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  Do they have that in Massachusetts? 

FALLON:  Dan, they don‘t have it with...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FALLON:  ... like I‘m having a bad day, feeling very poor.  I think I‘ve got to take my wife and baby‘s life.  They have it with things like drugs and things like that with diminished capacity.  I will tell you this.  What really was the most important thing that came out of this was not what his sex life (INAUDIBLE) escort service that sounds like it‘s going to go some kind of motive, but really the man who is looking on the Internet for ways to murder people.  Now maybe that was also to murder himself, but I will tell you the plot thickens, as they say.  Every single thing we learn about this case seems to lead to a guilty...

ABRAMS:  Well and this guy sounds like he was a real low life, I mean at the very least.  I mean we‘re hearing all these things about at least fiction that he offered as to exactly what he was doing for a living, et cetera.  And then I don‘t really know what to make of this, but Dave Wedge let me ask you about this.  A business card Neil gave the Matterazzos, his in-laws, for his embedded new technologies was not professionally printed, but was a folded piece of paper held together with tape.  What is that about, Dave? 

WEDGE:  It sounds like he was involved in some—starting up some sort of business.  The address for that business comes back to the Matterazzos‘ house in Carver, Massachusetts.  And it‘s curious here you have this guy that supposedly worked for a government defense contractor in Britain and he has got all this computer expertise and yet he‘s got these you know business cards...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

WEDGE:  ... that a high school kid could make a better one.  It really doesn‘t...

ABRAMS:  Lauren...

WEDGE:  ... profile of a guy like that.              

LAKE:  We‘re reaching now.

ABRAMS:  We‘re almost out of time but... 

LAKE:  OK.

ABRAMS:  ... bottom line is if you were to choose amongst all the high profile cases to defend, this wouldn‘t be your number one choice?

LAKE:  Oh no way...

ABRAMS:  Yes.  OK.

LAKE:  However, he deserves a defense...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE:  ... and if I were his lawyer I‘d defend him vigorously. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m sure you would. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FALLON:  And you‘d look great and advise him well to plead guilty...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE:  ... all the other men that are broke that look at escort services that people are going to accuse of murder, that doesn‘t make you a murderer...

ABRAMS:  Yes, except that they don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

FALLON:  Their baby is not shot to death.

(CROSSTALK)

FALLON:  Their wife is not brutalized.

ABRAMS:  Dave Wedge, Bill Fallon, and Lauren Lake, thanks a lot. 

Appreciate it. 

LAKE:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the White House tries to explain to the press why it took so long for anyone to find out that the vice president accidentally shot a hunting buddy over the weekend.  We‘ll talk to the local reporter who got the phone call saying did you know the V.P. just shot someone. 

And...

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE) 

911 OPERATOR:  Arlington 911.  What is your emergency?

CALLER:  Yes, I just want to—may  I just ask, what time is it please? 

911 OPERATOR:  What time is it?

CALLER:  Yes.

911 OPERATOR:  It‘s 3:05 p.m. 

CALLER:  Thank you, sir.

(END AUDIOTAPE) 

ABRAMS:  It‘s not funny.  Idiotic calls like this one are clogging the 911 system, putting people who need help in danger.  We‘ve got more of these absurd tapes coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  A young reporter was working the weekend shift at a local newspaper in southern Texas, weekend she got a phone call with an exclusive tip on a big story.  It involves the vice president of the United States and the source was saying, the vice president accidentally shot someone on an hunting trip. 

Kathryn Garcia, the reporter at the “Corpus Christi Caller-Times” got the call this weekend.  It was from ranch owner Katharine Armstrong who saw Vice President Cheney shoot his friend and hunting buddy.  We‘ll talk to Kathryn in a moment.  But first the issue of how long it took the vice president‘s office to acknowledge the incident was center stage today at the White House briefing with reporters like NBC‘s David Gregory asking press secretary Scott McClellan the tough questions. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  The vice president made a decision about how the public should be notified that basically is at odds with the standard practice of how the president‘s own press operation in this White House notifies the public, isn‘t that right? 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well again, this was handled by the vice president‘s office.  The vice president thought that Mrs.  Armstrong should be the first one to give that information out since she was an eyewitness.

GREGORY:  The vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man and he feels that it‘s appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper and not the White House Press Corps at large or notify the public in a national way. 

MCCLELLAN:  Well I think we all know that once it is made public, then it‘s going to be news and all of you are going to be seeking that information. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Poor Scott McClellan.  All right.  Before the—before we talk to the local reporter, we‘re learning more about the timeline of the weekend misfire. 

Kelly O‘Donnell joins us from Washington with the details.  Hey Kelly. 

So what do we know?

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good to see you, Dan.  We‘ve been talking with White House officials and those from the Secret Service to piece together more of what happened.  And we can fill in some of the blanks like this. 

We‘re now told that it was about 5:50 p.m., 10 minutes before 6:00 Central Time on Saturday when this incident occurred.  That would be roughly a half-hour before sunset.  Then the White House, of course, has with the vice president a Secret Service detail that also includes medical personnel and an ambulance standing by.

And we‘re told that that ambulance was taken and used to transport Mr.  Whittington, the man who was struck by the shotgun blast, to the local hospital.  It was about then an hour later, 6:50 to 7:00 p.m. that the supervisor from the McAllen, Texas Secret Service office, that would be the closest in the area, notified the Sheriff‘s Department.  So the officials here are saying it took about an hour for that notification to take place that there was a shooting and that the vice president was involved. 

At that time I‘m told that they made arrangements for the sheriff to go to the ranch where the vice president was a guest the following morning at 8:00 a.m. for an interview.  So we now know that the vice president did submit to an interview about what happened with the shooting.  Now, between Saturday night and Sunday morning, some members of the Sheriff‘s Department who had heard about the shooting but were not aware of the agreement made between the Secret Service and the Sheriff‘s Department went to the Armstrong ranch and were turned away, which created some concern because there were some reports that the vice president was not cooperating. 

We‘re being told that that is not the case.  That he did submit to an interview as prearranged with the McAllen, Texas office of the Secret Service.  Now as far as the president‘s notification, we are told that around 7:30 on the night Saturday evening, Andrew Card, the chief of staff, phoned the president and informed him that there was an incident involving the vice president‘s hunting party.  But it was not until about a half-hour later that Karl Rove called the president and informed him that, yes, it was in fact the vice president who had fired the gun. 

Still again, we didn‘t know publicly until the following day.  The White House press secretary says that he was not informed until 6:00 in the morning the following morning that the vice president had actually discharged that weapon.  Why the confusion?  Well the White House says that new details were coming into the situation room through the night.  That is raising many questions from the Press Corps because it seems like a fairly straightforward incident. 

A few members of the hunting party, the vice president acknowledged that he was involved, but still there was a delay.  And that has been the subject of a lot of questions here at the White House about why it wasn‘t made known.  The president who had this knowledge went to church across the street with his full travel press pool...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  ... as we call it and he said nothing.  And as you know, Dan, it wasn‘t made public until the young woman...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  ... you‘re going to interview got the big break. 

ABRAMS:  Well yes and I‘m going to talk to her.  I can just imagine that phone call where they say the vice president was shot?  No, no, no he wasn‘t shot.  He shot someone.  What? 

O‘DONNELL:  I think there‘s been a lot of confusion here.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Even when you talk to people here they acknowledge that there...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  ... were a lot of questions and a lot of shortness of breath when people heard this.

ABRAMS:  I‘m sure.  I‘m sure.  All right, Kelly O‘Donnell, good to see you.  Thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Joining us now is the “Corpus Christi Caller-Times” reporter who got that call, broke the story.  Kathryn Garcia joins us now.  Kathryn, thanks for coming on the program.  We appreciate it. 

All right, so you get a call from someone.  Did you know this woman, Katharine Armstrong, when she called you up and said hey, by the way, I just saw the vice president shoot somebody? 

KATHRYN GARCIA, “CORUPS CHRISTI CALLER-TIMES”:  No, unfortunately I don‘t know Katharine Armstrong personally.  However, we do have a relationship with her.  Our newspaper, the “Corpus Christi Caller-Times” does indeed have a very close relationship...

ABRAMS:  All right, so she calls up...

GARCIA:  ... with the Armstrong family. 

ABRAMS:  Right—she calls up and you are on the phone and she says you know I own this ranch and I just saw the vice president shoot somebody.  And you must be saying now, come on, come on.

GARCIA:  Well, it was definitely surprising.  She called at approximately 11:00 a.m. or so Sunday morning.  She had been trying to get a hold of a fellow reporter of ours since about 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  She was unsuccessful on getting a hold of her, Jamie Powell, who is also co-authoring the story and she ended up talking to me at about 11:00 a.m. 

She relayed the information.  She did not seem excited.  She did not

seem agitated.  She did not seem anxiety-ridden.  She instead was just

telling a story to a friend.  And I went ahead and took down the

information and afterwards she kept saying you know the vice president has

was a visitor at our ranch. 

He accidentally shot someone.  The vice president did this and she continued to explain.  At the very end I had to say are we talking about Vice President Cheney?  I knew that he was a frequent visitor to the Armstrong ranch.  However, I didn‘t realize that he was in town that weekend.  I had to you know double check that she wasn‘t talking about the vice president of a corporation, so...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

GARCIA:  ... it was a little surprising to hear Vice President Cheney on my supposedly quiet Sunday morning. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and so, do you then check the wire services and the paper to say you know did I miss this, this morning? 

GARCIA:  It was definitely surprising.  I went ahead and called the White House immediately.  I had never called the White House.  I looked it up on whitehouse.gov.  I looked up their switch board number, contacted them, and asked to speak to their press office.  I was told that they were going to be closed until Monday morning.  And I said no, this is going to have to be fixed immediately.  I need a comment.  Apparently, you know, I said the vice president has apparently shot someone accidentally, so...

ABRAMS:  So...

GARCIA:  ... and was patched through right away. 

ABRAMS:  So initially they say to you oh I‘m sorry, we‘re not going to be able to help you right now.  And you‘re like well you know this is kind of important.  You know I did hear that the vice president shot someone and so I‘d like an answer immediately and did the person on the switch board then say, oh, OK, we‘ll get back to you or did they --  how did they deal with that?

GARCIA:  No, she did say oh, OK.  Well then hang on one second.  I have some emergency numbers to deal with this kind of situation.  She patched me through to Vice President Cheney‘s spokeswoman, Lee Anne McBride.  I spoke with her.  She asked me to repeat the story as I heard it in its entirety from Katharine Armstrong.  I did so and she very calmly said, yes that all is correct. 

ABRAMS:  Do you buy the story...

GARCIA:  She said...

ABRAMS:  Do you buy the story that Scott McClellan is saying right now, which is that they decided, the vice president and Ms. Armstrong decided that the way they were going to make this public was by going—and I‘m not—I don‘t mean in any way to diminish the value of your paper, but considering you know the size...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... of the paper and the size of this story, do you accept the notion that they made a concerted decision to give the information to your paper so that you effectively could announce the story to the world? 

GARCIA:  I wouldn‘t be surprised and I‘m actually quite grateful that that‘s exactly...

ABRAMS:  I‘m sure you are.

GARCIA:  ... what they chose to do.  Yes, absolutely.  It was a surprise.  Certainly, it doesn‘t seem as if it‘s the normal procedure for these types of stories.  However, I was not at all upset.

ABRAMS:  I‘m sure you weren‘t.  And when you have weekend duty it‘s usually pretty slow, right?

GARCIA:  Normally.  Normally...

ABRAMS:  Like give me a typical...

GARCIA:  ... on the weekend it is slow here in Corpus Christi...

ABRAMS:  ... give me a typical Corpus Christi weekend story.  Is it like fireman fishing someone out of a tree or something or...

GARCIA:  Oh, I wish it were that slow but not quite.  We are a pretty good-sized city...

ABRAMS:  I know...

GARCIA:  We...

ABRAMS:  Let me apologize because I‘m going to get all these letters from Corpus Christi.  I‘ve been there.  I love the city.  I know it‘s a big city.  I didn‘t mean it in a sort of—I just meant it (INAUDIBLE) context...

GARCIA:  No, no...

ABRAMS:  Give me...

GARCIA:  ... and I‘m not taking it that way. 

ABRAMS:  Give me a typical—give me real quick a typical weekend Corpus Christi story that you would get a call in on?

GARCIA:  Well, we typically have accidents to report, sometimes some fatalities.  We do cover a pretty wide coastal bend area, several counties.  We also might have you know several fires, house fires, you know that kind of thing.  Usually just cop stuff on the weekend.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Kathryn Garcia, congratulations on your big scoop.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program. 

GARCIA:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, idiots who call 911 with ridiculous questions are putting the people who really need help at even more risk.  We have some of the absurd phone calls on tape, up next. 

And we‘re already getting e-mails about the vice president whether he is getting special treatment.  One asked if you shot someone, would you be able to just walk away? 

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:  Coming up, it‘s supposed to be reserved for life or death emergencies, but some people are calling 911 to let‘s say figure out what day of the week it is.  We‘ve got the tapes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Nine-one-one is the country‘s most well known phone number, 380 calls a minute, 200 million calls a year.  But the very number we rely on to save lives is in need of its own help now.  Nine-one-one call centers across the country are plagued with just stupid, nuisance calls, people calling in with questions, complaints, requests.  None coming close to an emergency. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

CALLER:  I asked them four different times to make me a western barbecue burger.  They keep giving me a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and cheese, onions.

911 OPERATOR:  OK, what exactly is it you want us to do for you? 

CALLER:  Send an officer down here.  I want them to make me...

911 OPERATOR:  Ma‘am, we‘re not going to go down there and enforce your western bacon cheeseburger. 

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Some with much simpler needs. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

911 OPERATOR:  Arlington 911.  What is your emergency? 

CALLER:  Yes, I just want to—may I ask what time is it please? 

911 OPERATOR:  What time is it?

CALLER:  Yes.

911 OPERATOR:  It‘s 3:05 p.m. 

CALLER:  Thank you, sir.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Or even something like this. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

911 OPERATOR:  Arlington 911.  What is your emergency? 

CALLER:  Is it Tuesday or Wednesday? 

911 OPERATOR:  Well that‘s not an emergency, but it‘s Tuesday. 

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  I mean not to be outdone by this. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

CALLER:  OK, I‘m confused.  We already in the summer time or we still in the winter time?  I‘m confused. 

911 OPERATOR:  It‘s spring.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Look, some of these calls are almost funny, but it‘s not a joke.  I mean the bottom line is this may actually be causing an emergency by clogging up the phone lines that is reserved for saving lives.  It‘s unbelievable.

Joining me now is Vernon Herron, who is Prince George‘s County, Maryland deputy chief administrative office for public safety and director of homeland security.  And Penny Vandyke, a 911-operator in Prince George‘s County. 

All right, Mr. Herron, are we overstating this?  I mean are we making light of something that is not a real problem or this is an ongoing—I have got to believe based on what I‘m hearing from other jurisdictions as well this is an ongoing serious problem.

VERNON HERRON, PRINCE GEORGE‘S CTY., MD HOMELAND SEC. DIR.: 

Absolutely, it‘s an ongoing serious problem.  You know our call takers and dispatchers are trained to handle emergency calls.  And on the other end of their call is somebody who has a real life emergency and we can‘t address that issue when we have people calling in asking to transfer them to Pizza Hut. 

ABRAMS:  Ms. Vandyke, how often are you getting these calls? 

PENNY VANDYKE, 911 OPERATOR:  Quite frequently.  We average several a day. 

ABRAMS:  Several of these—look, there are some people who accidentally, you know who call 911 and they probably shouldn‘t.  There is something that happened, they see a rat or something like that, they call 911.  Maybe they shouldn‘t—you are not talking about those kinds of calls, right? 

VANDYKE:  No, we get barking dogs, like your previous tape, the time.  If schools are open today or not because of the snow.  Yesterday we had a call for Pepco.  A lady called Pepco and was put on hold for 20 minutes, so she hung up and called us and wanted to know if we could tell her when her electricity was going to come back on. 

ABRAMS:  Do you have, Mr. Herron, as we do in New York, a number like we do in New York that people can call with sort of nuisance problems, and I don‘t mean like their pizzas, et cetera, but issues that occur? 

HERRON:  Yes.  There are non-emergency calls and there are jurisdictions in this country.  You know you can pick up your local phone directory and if you want to talk to the police for a non-emergency issue, you can—you call a non-emergency line for police and fire.  You know this is the society where people want their issues quick or quite frequently real fast...

(CROSSTALK)

HERRON:  ... and 911 is a quick fix solution. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I apologize.  I‘m sorry for interrupting you, but do you ever seek to prosecute any of these people, Mr. Herron? 

HERRON:  Well, we have prosecuted one gentleman who called 911-center 100 times in the same day.  You know these type of people definitely need to be prosecuted and we have prosecuted them.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s another one of these ridiculous calls. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

CALLER:  I‘d also like to be connected to Domino‘s Pizza, please, in Arlington.

911 OPERATOR:  That‘s not a—this is 911.  911 is for police and fire emergencies. 

CALLER:  Well I can‘t get through on Pizza Hut line or 411.

911 OPERATOR:  OK.  Well ma‘am, 911 does not connect you to Domino‘s Pizza.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Ms. Vandyke, look, all of the calls we are hearing here are people being very polite to people calling up with these ridiculous questions.  Do you ever scold them?  Do you ever say look, you know, this is an emergency line.  You are clogging up our phone lines with these ridiculous phone calls.

VANDYKE:  I don‘t know if we say it that way, but yes, sometimes we do, especially if we get children calling in, using obscenities towards us and you know if they‘re calling from a pay phone and we know the location we can send an officer out there to (INAUDIBLE) business itself and have the kids sent on their way.  But yes, a lot of times when it‘s those we do scold them...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDYKE:  ... not harshly, but...

ABRAMS:  Yes, Mr. Herron, it just seems to me like these people, a lot of them who are you know look, not just doing it because they are lost or they‘re confused or they‘re something else, but the people who are overtly wasting the time of 911 callers should be at least be forced to pay I think some sort of fine, if not worse, do you agree with me? 

HERRON:  Well yes, I think there ought to be some fine levied.  I think one of the main things we need to do is to reeducate our public.  You know, 911 is not a quick fix solution for your everyday problem like you know my neighbor won‘t cut their grass or there‘s a car parked in front of my driveway.  You know there are non-emergency numbers out there.  You know the public needs to understand that when somebody calls 911 they—and it is a serious call, you know somebody needs the police and fire right away and time is of the essence.  The sooner we get somebody out to that emergency the quicker it is that we can save somebody‘s life. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Vernon Herron, I know why that‘s why you‘re going public with this for that message and I hope people are hearing it loud and clear.  Penny Vandyke, thank you very much for coming on the program as well.

VANDYKE:  Thank you.

HERRON:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a juror in the Enron trial had a sixth sense about a sick scent.  Think about it.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”. 

And all of you men out there will want to hear about this with Valentine‘s Day around the corner.  I‘ll explain why it relates to my friend, that man.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—this one is especially for you men who believe in animal attraction and that animal attraction can only come from a bottle of cologne.  So with Valentine‘s Day coming up, there‘s a lesson to learn from Enron‘s defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli.  When it comes to cologne, less is more. 

True, it‘s early in the trial and maybe it‘s good for his client, former CEO Jeff Skilling, that Petrocelli already has had a powerful effect on one female juror.  Too bad it wasn‘t his cross-examination.  Apparently Petrocelli‘s scent was so strong on Thursday that a juror complained that she was—quote—“overwhelmed, even gagging from the cologne he was wearing.”

Appears she‘s reflecting the sentiment of women around this country when it comes to certain men who have not learned the art of moderation.  Whether it was the smell of justice in the air or a blend of rare lavender exotic musk and prickly pine bark, it‘s not the sort of attention a defense attorney needs.  U.S. District Judge Sim Lake called for a break, Petrocelli went to the men‘s room to wash his face. 

Now according to the “L.A. Times” he was sporting a find men‘s scent called Chocolat (ph) and even said—quote—“I get a lot of compliments on that cologne.”  Look, it takes a lot of brutally honest friends to know that certain purchased scents aren‘t worth a penny.  But it seems it‘s not so simple.  A blogger for “The Houston Chronicle” claims the offensive odor came from a overdose of TABAC by L‘Artisan. 

The trouble is the company says they‘ve never carried a fragrance with that name.  Maybe he was doused with one of their other fine products like L‘Artisan‘s Timbuktu with its woody floral notes or perhaps he overwhelmed the juror with too many cups of tea for two with its dash of ginger and nutmeg.  He might even have worn L‘Artisan‘s Gates of Hell, though what self-respecting lawyer would wear that during his client‘s criminal trial.  Either way, you should remember, when it comes to the delicate art of swaying a juror or seducing a date, spray responsibly.  Cologne comes in small bottles for a reason. 

Coming up, you‘re already writing in about Vice President Cheney‘s hunting mishap.  Your e-mails are next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for you “Your Rebuttal”.  In my “Closing Argument” Friday CIA Director Porter Goss‘ op-ed piece in “The New York Times” basically indicting anyone who provides classified information to the press.  I asked do we really want all of our information coming from government press releases and I said there are times when it‘s in all of our best interests to know.  I listed many of the times in our history when a leak of classified information was good for the country. 

Ann Kemler in Long Beach, New York says that the whistleblowers, “They are the true patriots.  They are the ones who have the courage to risk everything to alert the public when we are lied to and cheated and manipulated.  Thank you for the report.”

Mary Baumslag, “Your report on Porter Goss‘ disingenuous op-ed was so terrific and so necessary.  Most so-called journalists don‘t have your guts nor your insight.”  Thank you, Mary.

On Vice President Cheney‘s accidental shooting of a friend over the weekend, Rick Smith asks, “What would happen to the average person if they were involved in the type of accidental shooting that Vice President Cheney was involved in this weekend?  Could the average person just walk away from shooting another person?”

Rick, the answer is yes.  It happens, and it happens sometimes in hunting accidents and no one gets charged.

Jere Hochman in Amherst, Massachusetts has another concern.  “My question is when do these guys work?  There‘s a war going on, two states recovering from hurricanes, a crashing economy and no federal management of any agency and he‘s out hunting?” 

Abramsreport@msnbc.com.  “HARDBALL” is up next.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

The Abrams Report each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,