Video: Giuliani reacts
updated 5/3/2006 7:09:39 PM ET 2006-05-03T23:09:39

In an exclusive interview with “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani reacted with a mixture of disappointment and respect to Wednesday’s announcement of a life prison sentence for Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted for involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I would have preferred to see the death penalty, but I kind of stand in awe of how our legal system works that it can come to a result like this,” Giuliani told “Hardball” minutes after the verdict was announced outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va.

“It has to say something about us to the rest of the world.” 

The former mayor, who led his city through the grim days that followed the worst terror attack in American history, admitted that he was let down by the verdict of life in prison without parole. 

“Yes, I'm disappointed. I believe that the death penalty was appropriate in this case, should have been applied,” he said. “But then at the same time — and maybe this is like the contradictory, complex feelings we all have about September 11 and everything that's come from it. At the same time, I have tremendous respect for our legal system.” 

Ex-mayor testified at trial
In his “Hardball” interview, Giuliani noted that he had testified in the penalty phase of Moussaoui’s trial. 

“It was much more difficult than I thought it would be reviewing all that, going over it, seeing the films of it,” he said.

“I would have preferred a different verdict. But it does show that we have a legal system that we follow, that we respect it. And it is exactly what is missing in the parts of the world or a lot of the parts of the world that are breeding terrorism.”

He speculated that “maybe there is something good that comes out of this in showing these people that — at least showing the ones that have any kind of an open mind that we are a free society, a lawful society … that we have respect for people's rights and that we can have disagreements about whether the death penalty should be imposed on somebody like Moussaoui.”

Giuliani’s somber authority in the wake of the attacks has helped to make him one of the front-runners for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, although he has not declared his candidacy.

On Monday he appeared at two GOP fund-raisers in Iowa. That state holds its first-in-the-nation caucuses in January 2008.

The former mayor, who once served as a high-profile federal prosecutor in New York City, concluded in his interview with “Hardball” that “if you believe in this system, you have to be willing to deal with conclusions that are maybe different than the one you would like as long as it has been carried out in the right way.”

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