updated 6/16/2004 10:17:10 AM ET 2004-06-16T14:17:10

Guests: Ernie Rizzo, Jan Ronis, Dean Johnson, Gloria Allred, Rebecca Odor, Jan Ting, Sam Bagenstos

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, the long secret details of Michael Jackson‘s 1993 settlement with another boy made public. 


ABRAMS (voice-over):  A new report says court documents show Jackson paid the 1993 accuser and his family more than the rumored $20 million.  What does that mean for the current case against Jackson? 

Day nine in the Scott Peterson trial.  Was he too quick to give police an alibi?  It could all come down to a parking ticket. 

Plus, sure, he‘s got critics, but now one “New York Times” columnist says John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general ever.

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, new developments in the Michael Jackson case.  Court TV has obtained a copy of the confidential agreement reached between Jackson and an accuser from 1993.  It had been sealed by a court order for more than 10 years, but now Diane Dimond made it public.  Among other details, the document spells out how much Jackson paid the accuser and his family to drop the civil suit.  Here‘s how she reported the story. 


DIANE DIMOND, COURT TV:  Right here on the top of page 14, the amount of the trust fund Jackson agrees to set up is not redacted -- $15,331,250.  His mom and dad both got $1.5 million each upon signing the settlement, and sources say that Michael Jackson also agreed to pay the family‘s attorney, Larry Feldman, at least $5 million plus expenses. 

This is the civil suit that the boy‘s family filed way back in 1993.  Check out the complaints here.  They charge sexual battery, battery, seduction, willful misconduct, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and fraud and negligence.  In the end, in the final settlement agreement, Jackson agrees to pay only for alleged negligence.  But look at what was alleged in the original lawsuit.  It‘s on page 44 and 45. 

Defendant, Michael Jackson, negligently had offensive contacts with plaintiff, which were both explicitly sexual and otherwise.  As a direct result of the negligence, the plaintiff has suffered injury to his health, strength, and activity, injury to his body and shock and injury to his nervous system.  We do need to point out, though, that in the final settlement, Michael Jackson specifically says that this agreement shall not be construed, this is a quote, shall not be construed as an admission by Jackson that he has acted wrongfully with respect to the minor.


ABRAMS:  All right.  Good job, Diane Dimond on getting that.  So what to make of this and what might it mean for Jackson‘s current criminal case? 

Joining me now, former Santa Barbara County sheriff and MSNBC News analyst Jim Thomas who was there back in 1993 running the investigation, private investigator Ernie Rizzo, who was hired by Jackson‘s first accuser‘s parents in ‘93, and defense attorney, Jan Ronis. 

All right, so Jim Thomas, I‘m assuming that none of this comes as a surprise to you. 

JIM THOMAS, FMR. SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF:  No, Dan, I think we‘ve all heard it all before.  The only thing is it answers some questions where there was speculation.  For example, we‘ve always heard between 15 million and 25 million.  It seems probably closer to the 25 million now, but it doesn‘t change a lot of things I don‘t believe.  And it still raises an issue of whether the D.A. will use the ‘93 case in the upcoming trial.

ABRAMS:  Ernie Rizzo, you‘ve long said that you thought that there was a lot of evidence out there, and you have long been critical of Jackson.  Did you know that the amount was this high? 

ERNIE RIZZO, HIRED BY JACKSON‘S FIRST ACCUSER:  I know the exact amount (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your show.  It was 20 million all total for the family.  I guess his attorney got five million.  What originally happened was, if you can recall, Jackson fled the country.  As soon as he thought he might be indicted he fled the country.  And not until the attorneys worked something out, and I believe the boy‘s father had a $1 million up-front check, and then it started working itself out, Jackson came back. 

ABRAMS:  How do you know he fled, though?  What does the word fled means as opposed to, for example, going on vacation? 

RIZZO:  No, because he left Santa Barbara.  He went to Mexico in the middle of the night, hired a jet, if you can recall.  I believe he flew to Switzerland and hid at Elizabeth Taylor‘s house until the smoke cleared, until Johnnie Cochran cleaned it up a little bit.  He fled.  They looked for him for weeks.  They couldn‘t find him.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but I can‘t imagine that going to Liz Taylor‘s house...


ABRAMS:  ... is exactly the sort of—the low profile place to sort of—to hide out. 

RIZZO:  Well he definitely fled the country and they definitely couldn‘t find him. 

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.  Look, you were there and I certainly wasn‘t.  Jan Ronis, how does this all come into play in the current case?  My sense is it doesn‘t. 

JAN RONIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Yes, I don‘t think it changes it much Dan.  I mean we‘ve all known for years that these numbers were kind of bantered about.  We never knew the specific amount.  We always knew that there was a confidential settlement.  The fact of the matter is if this victim of the ‘93 incident chooses to testify, and he‘s subpoenaed, and it becomes relevant, then in that case it could obviously be very damaging as some kind of prior similar act that the jury could consider in deciding his guilt...

ABRAMS:  But Jan, as a practical matter, when you talk about a settlement that now appears to be closer to $25 million, it is hard to accept the notion that he just wanted to get this to go away and as a result, paid $25 million to do that. 

RONIS:  Right.  The question, however, you asked was how it will affect the trial...

ABRAMS:  No, I know.  I‘m asking a different question...

RONIS:  Right.  There‘s no question from a common sense point of view.  It would kind of seem to indicate that he must have been worried about something and he tried to pay the money to hush the young man up and I think he was probably successful in that regard because $25 million is an awful lot of money.  But, the language is such a general legal nature that the language obviously couldn‘t come into court.  And as I said, if the young victim then decided to come to court and testify, that would be a different matter.  But the settlement itself is kind of from a legal point of view irrelevant and probably inadmissible. 

ABRAMS:  And Jan, how do you explain, everyone has been asking me this

question, they say wait a second, he admits that there was negligence, that

·         and the lawsuit complained of negligence on the part of Jackson.  In the complaint it said Jackson negligently had offensive contacts with the plaintiff, which were both explicitly sexual and otherwise, as a direct result of the negligence, the plaintiff has suffered injury to his health, strength, and activity, injury to his body and shock, injury to his nervous system.  As part of the settlement, he agrees to negligence, and then on the other hand says, but this is not an admission of any wrongdoing. 

RONIS:  Right.  I‘m not a civil lawyer, but my understanding is that normally when somebody is found to be negligent as opposed to criminally liable, insurance policies, if they are in existence, and I‘m sure there must have been, will kick in and pay for the negligence of somebody.  They won‘t pay for the intentional criminal acts of somebody.  So it‘s the kind of language that lawyers would use to get the insurance companies involved. 

ABRAMS:  Jim Thomas, do you have any idea if insurance covered the 1993 amount? 

THOMAS:  No, I don‘t know if it covers the amount.  But I had heard the same thing that Jan did, basically is that the use of negligence would be covered, whereas criminal violations would not be. 

ABRAMS:  Ernie...

RIZZO:  Dan—yes, I can answer that. 

ABRAMS:  Go ahead Ernie, yes.

RIZZO:  Most of it was paid by an insurance company, two insurance companies.  He did come up with a couple of million, but most of it was paid by insurance companies.  And your other guests are right on target.  Insurance companies don‘t pay for a criminal act.  So you have to reduce it down to a common denominator, negligence, and then they‘ll pay.  There were two insurance companies, if I can recall back 10 years ago, who paid like 75 percent of the whole bill. 

ABRAMS:  Ernie, are we going to hear about other settlements or was this it? 

RIZZO:  There‘s been a couple more, but I don‘t know if you‘re going to hear about it.  Parents of kids who were paid 100,000, a new car, trips.  I don‘t know if that‘s going to play into this.  All I can tell you is if the kid from 10 years ago comes back and testifies, Jackson‘s dead in the water, because he‘ll never get past what the police department had on him back 10 years ago. 

ABRAMS:  And I‘d assume for some of these other cases that Jackson you know could argue, could say, look, you know they were gifts, et cetera, but there was no—as far as you know, was there any sort of formal settlement in any of the other cases? 

RIZZO:  No.  As far as I can recall, there was—he gave this one that money, paid for a trip, bought a house, bought a car...


RIZZO:  ... even bought Macaulay Culkin a brand new corvette when he was 12 years old.

ABRAMS:  As if he needed it, right? 

RIZZO:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Jim Thomas, Ernie Rizzo, Jan, I think you‘re going to stay with us. 


ABRAMS:  Thanks a lot.  Coming up... 


ABRAMS:  ... day nine in the Scott Peterson trial.  Today, one of the first police officers testifies about what Peterson offered as proof of his alibi.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was Peterson too quick to explain where he was when Laci went missing? 

Later, he‘s clearly one of the most controversial attorneys general ever, but now one influential columnist says he‘s the worst one America‘s ever had. 

And it‘s Virginia‘s attempt to get men to stop having sex with girls.  It‘s really gotten to the point where adults need to be told, don‘t have sex with children? 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  I‘ll respond at the end of the show.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, day nine in the Scott Peterson trial.  On the stand, a cop who asked Peterson where he was when his wife Laci went missing.  Was Peterson a little too prepared to give proof of his alibi to police?


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Day nine in the Scott Peterson trial.  Today Detective John Evers on the stand.  He was one of the first to respond to the missing persons call.  He testified Peterson was very quick to offer proof that he was 90 miles from his Modesto home when Laci vanished.  Evers revealed that while the police searched Peterson‘s vehicles, Peterson offered up his parking receipt from the Berkley Marina.  The receipt was in the ashtray of his truck. 

Now the key to the prosecution case today, Peterson‘s alibi.  They say, was he a little too fast to present it to the Modesto P.D. even before being asked to give evidence that he was, in fact, fishing that day? 

Let‘s go now to the courthouse, and MSNBC‘s Jennifer London who has the latest on what‘s happening there.  Hi Jennifer.

JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi Dan.  John Evers was a patrolman at the time of Laci‘s disappearance, and he was really building upon testimony from two other officers that we first heard about yesterday.  Today, Evers saying that at various times on 12/24/02 he conducted numerous searches of the Peterson home, sometimes with Scott and sometimes without.  Evers testifying that he did see a bucket with two mops.  He also talked about these dirty wet rags on top of the washing machine.  He also talked about two duffel bags that he described as looking disturbed. 

And Evers also talking about this crumpled up rug that we first heard about yesterday, saying when he saw the rug, he asked Scott, is the rug always like this?  And Scott said, no, the dog and cat must have been playing on it.  Now, under cross by defense attorney Mark Geragos, Evers admitted that he did not see this rug that he said he thought was suspicious until his fourth time inside the Peterson home.  And he also never mentioned the rug in his police report.  Mark Geragos asking, did you ever see any blood on this rug?  Any hair, any fibers?  Any evidence to suggest a homicide? 

Evers responded, no, to all of those questions.  Evers also saying about this mop and bucket, he didn‘t see any water near the mop and bucket, and he also didn‘t smell any bleach or any kind of disinfectant.  Evers also testifying that when he went to the park where the search was beginning for Laci, he saw Scott Peterson and described him as—quote—

“very upset.” 

Now, Dan, when Evers was done testifying just a few moments ago, we very briefly heard from the assistant to Laci Peterson‘s OBGYN.  She was testifying about Laci‘s due date. 

ABRAMS:  Jennifer London, thanks very much.  All right, remember this is all very important stuff, because what the prosecutors are saying is that the murder occurred in the house, and that there was Scott Peterson cleaning up afterwards with the mops and the rags, et cetera.  Today from Detective Evers, though, the key to the case for the defense, the lack of physical evidence, as Jennifer points out. 

On cross examination, he admitted nothing in the home that suggested a homicide had taken place.  Let‘s bring in our California legal team—

California criminal defense attorney, Jan Ronis.  In the courtroom today, Amber Frey‘s attorney, Gloria Allred.  Also in the courtroom today, former San Mateo prosecutor Dean Johnson. 

All right, Dean, you know you‘re sort of our objective guy.  What did you make of the testimony?  How important was Evers for each side? 

DEAN JOHNSON, FMR. SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  Well, I don‘t know that Evers‘ testimony really added a whole lot to what we‘ve heard before.  We‘ve been through the Peterson house three or four times already, and I think everybody gets it.  There was a rug, there were dirty rags.  There was a mop and bucket.  And this was suspicious.  The problem with this is that every time we go through with another witness, Geragos gets another opportunity to cross-examine, and he occasionally makes a point. 

Like, for example, the crumpled rug.  Out of Officer Evers we hear for the first time that Scott Peterson said, well, maybe it was the cats and dogs that were playing.  And later Geragos asks, well, why did you let Scott straighten it up?  Why didn‘t you seize that into evidence?  And Evers says, that seemed like a reasonable explanation. 

ABRAMS:  Except Gloria...

JOHNSON:  The theme of the...

ABRAMS:  Gloria, the position of the authorities would be, we just weren‘t treating it as a crime scene.  We were just showing up, trying to figure out where Laci was, right? 

GLORIA ALLRED, AMBER FREY‘S ATTORNEY:  Well, I think that‘s certainly an explanation.  It was a missing person report that was being filed, not a homicide report.  Still, you know, it seems as though Mr. Peterson comes up with a little explanation for everything.  A cat and dog for the rumpled rug by the door.  As to the rags, he suggested that they were sitting on top.  That the maid had put them inside the day before, then he put them on top because he washed his clothes after fishing. 

So he seems to have kind of a handy-dandy explanation for everything. 

He offered the name of the maid, but the question is, does this all add up?  And of course, he did tell the officer that the last time he saw Laci she was wearing black slacks and a white top.  That‘s what was in the missing person‘s report that the officer filled out.  That‘s not what she was found in. 

ABRAMS:  And Jan, it‘s important to put this into context.  I mean you could say, so what?  So they found some rags and a mop and a crumpled rug, what‘s the big deal?  Well, the problem is that the housekeeper had been there the day before, and everything else in the house looked sort of perfect according to the officers, and then you‘ve got this mop out there and these rags and this crumpled rug.  Prosecutors say that‘s because Scott had just killed his wife in the house. 

RONIS:  Yes, I would disagree.  I was kind of sitting here thinking of all the things that are described as his having had in the house, I kind of have hanging around my house.  I mean my house like his house apparently isn‘t perfect.  So I don‘t really see it that way...

ABRAMS:  So, even when you have—do you have a housekeeper, Jan? 

RONIS:  Well, I have some people helping me, of course.

ABRAMS:  OK.  All right.  All right.  I‘m not doing that to put you on the spot.  I‘m just saying that the day after the housekeeper comes, do you mop the floor? 

RONIS:  Well, the housekeeper in my house can leave because I‘ve got so many kids in an hour, and the next day it could look like a hurricane hit it.  So it may not be a good question to me.  But I don‘t think the fact that, you know, the housekeeper left the day before and there‘s a couple of items out of place is unusual a bit.  I mean and even the cross-examination seems to be very favorable for Scott‘s whole theory. 

I mean they‘re complaining that he had an answer for everything.  Well, there may be a reasonable explanation for everything that he‘s saying.  So, you know, if he didn‘t have these answers then they‘d be saying, well he didn‘t have an answer for anything.  So he‘s you know damned if he does and damned if he doesn‘t, excuse me language...

ALLRED:  Yes, but what‘s the reasonable explanation for the fact that he didn‘t say, couldn‘t say, or wouldn‘t say what he had gone fishing for?  If he had driven 90 miles to the Berkeley Marina to go fishing on Christmas Eve...

RONIS:  Yes...

ALLRED:  ... wouldn‘t he be able to say what he had gone fishing for?  He was asked that twice by two different people and he didn‘t give an answer either time. 

RONIS:  You know look...


RONIS:  ... I‘m a fisherman—I‘m not the best fisherman in the world.  When I go fishing I just hope to catch something, whether it‘s a sturgeon or a yellow tail or a salmon.  I mean you don‘t go out specifically for an identifiable fish.  So that‘s not—you know they beat that fishing story to death. 

ABRAMS:  Really?  I mean so someone says to you, what were you fishing for?  You‘d go, I don‘t know.

RONIS:  Well, you just go fishing.  If you catch something, great.  If you don‘t...

ABRAMS:  I understand.  But when someone asks you a question, what did you go fishing for?  You know...

RONIS:  He said fish. 


RONIS:  I mean...

ABRAMS:  All right.  All right.  Fair enough.  Let‘s stick around.  Because when we come back, we‘ll talk about whether the defense is doing a good job showing that the police have botched the case. 

Remember, for an interactive time line in the Peterson case, log on to our Web site, abramsreport.msnbc.com. 

Later, so many adult men are having sex and babies with young teenage girls that one state has felt the need to put up billboards like this.  We‘ll be right back. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  We continue with the Scott Peterson case.  The defense trying to paint the police and investigators as sloppy, not noticing, they say, until the fourth walk-through of the Peterson‘s home that a crumpled rug was in the doorway.  Prosecutors believe that Peterson may have dragged his dead wife‘s body over it as he took her out of the house and into his truck. 

You know, Dean Johnson, I don‘t know how that really helps the defense.  I mean, so it took the police officer four times of going through the house to see it.  Does that really matter? 

JOHNSON:  Well, not really.  This sort of armchair quarterbacking or 20/20 hindsight can be important if they point out something that the police reasonably should have done.  For example, if they thought this was a homicide scene and they thought there were potential residual blood stains, they should have used luminol to detect the blood.  That wasn‘t done.  The CSI didn‘t have his luminol...

ABRAMS:  But you know what Dean...

JOHNSON:  ... so that‘s...

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Dean, if they had done that, the defense would have said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) look at this.  From the moment...

JOHNSON:  Yes...

ABRAMS:  ... they walked into the house, they treated Scott Peterson like a suspect. 

JOHNSON:  Exactly, and there‘s a lot of that going on.  Geragos is simultaneously criticizing the police for being over zealous and under zealous.  If they do everything they‘re supposed to do at the crime scene they suspect him.  If they don‘t do everything, then they‘re sloppy.  But I wanted to say a lot of this, probably 90 percent of Geragos‘ armchair quarterbacking is really not effective because it doesn‘t really go anywhere. 

For example, if you suggest, oh, there was a clothes hamper there.  You didn‘t really look in the clothes hamper to see if Laci‘s clothes are there.  Well, there‘s no reason for the police to suspect that a year and a half later they would be stuck in the trial of the century and that Laci‘s clothing would be a critical part of the evidence.  So, some of it can be effective, but most of it is not. 

ABRAMS:  Gloria, we have any sense of when Amber Frey‘s expected to testify, your client? 

ALLRED:  No we don‘t, Dan, and I do expect that one of the officers who had contact with Ms. Frey would most likely be a person who would then be talking—you know, testifying prior to Ms. Frey actually taking the witness stand.  But I don‘t expect her to be testifying very soon.  I also want to say that, of course, we‘re only hearing from one officer today.  But there were a number of officers inside Laci and Scott‘s home that night, and others perceived some of the evidence before...


ALLRED:  ... some of the other officers did.  So the fact that one didn‘t necessarily see it until the fourth time around, I don‘t think it‘s conclusive on any...

ABRAMS:  Is...

ALLRED:  ... point whatsoever. 

ABRAMS:  ... Amber looking forward to testifying, getting this behind her? 

ALLRED:  She‘s really not looking forward to it, but she‘s not dreading it.  She‘s just going to do her duty when it‘s time for her to do it.  Right now she‘s paying attention to, really totally focused on her children, her little newborn who‘s only a little bit over a month old now, and her 3-year-old, and that—those are her priorities at this point. 

ABRAMS:  Are you warning her that this could get ugly? 

ALLRED:  Yes, I think she understands that she can anticipate a vigorous cross examination from Mr. Geragos.  I don‘t think that Mr.  Peterson or Mr. Geragos are looking forward to Amber‘s testimony, but she‘s just going to do what her duty is as a citizen. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

ALLRED:  She‘s going to get up there and tell the truth, and Mr.  Geragos can try to, you know, cross-examine her.  That‘s his job, but she...

ABRAMS:  And he will...

ALLRED:  ... it‘s not going to change what she has to say. 

ABRAMS:  Jan, Gloria, and Dean, thanks a lot. 

Coming up...


ABRAMS:  ... the state of Virginia rolling out a new ad campaign.  In case you didn‘t show, having sex with a minor in the state of Virginia is illegal.  A new statewide campaign has come along to remind you.


ABRAMS:  A “New York Times” columnist writes that John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in American history.  Come on.  We‘ll debate.  First the headlines. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  You know, if you didn‘t already know, it‘s wrong, illegal to have a sexual relationship with a minor in the state of Virginia.  A new statewide campaign has come along to remind you.  Virginia‘s Department of Health is rolling out an advertising campaign targeted at men between the ages of 18 and 29 who might be considering dating or having sex with a minor. 

Ads like this one which reads, isn‘t she a little young?  Sex with a minor, don‘t go there, have started to appear on billboards around northern Virginia.  The state is also targeting would-be predators in bars and restaurants with ads on coasters, napkins, and postcards.  The state considers statutory rape a big problem.  Officials say there were 328 statutory rapes in Virginia between 1999 and 2000, and during that time 219 girls between the ages of 13 and 14 gave birth after having sex with men over 18. 

Rebecca Odor is the director for Violence Prevention at the Virginia Department of Health, the agency behind the ads and she joins me now.  Thank you very much for coming on the program.


ABRAMS:  Now, am I just being naive when I say that adults should know that having sex with a 13 or 14-year-old is illegal, unacceptable? 

ODOR:  Adults actually do know this, and when we—focus group tested our message, one of our ways the focus group was to say, is this legal or is this illegal?  And they all overwhelming knowing that it‘s illegal.  However, men in this age group still know -- 67 percent of these men know another man who is having sex with a minor. 

ABRAMS:  And so this is basically an effort to say, look, if you know someone who is involved in something like this, step up.  Do something about it. 

ODOR:  Exactly.  Talk to your friends.  Talk to your buddies.  Tell them that this is not cool.  This is not acceptable behavior.  If we start to change the culture around this that it‘s not acceptable, that‘s what‘s going to put a dent into this behavior...

ABRAMS:  Well how about...

ODOR:  ... and that‘s why we‘ve targeted men. 

ABRAMS:  ... how about report your buddies?  I mean honestly, when you‘re talking about 13 and 14-year-old girls, you know, you want to talk about an 18 or 19-year-old going out with a 16 or 17-year-old, look, that‘s something different to me in my mind, because although it is clear that it is illegal in Virginia, you know, you can make an argument that two kids are in high school, you know, one may be a senior, one may be a junior, but when you‘re talking about 13 and 14-year-olds and adults, and the fact that the statistics, is this correct, that three—that these children are three times as likely to become pregnant from an adult over the age of 18 than from one of their junior high school classmates? 

ODOR:  That‘s correct, and that‘s nationally.

ABRAMS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I mean, but explain to us again why the need, though, to do this as an advertising campaign?  I mean there is something about it that would seem like, you know, you‘ve got to pay your taxes.  That people don‘t need reminders.  Hey, you know what?  You‘ve got to pay your taxes.  You don‘t steal.  What is it about this that you think needs this public reminder? 

ODOR:  Well, we have two goals of this campaign.  One is to raise the awareness of statutory rape, and that awareness is being raised.  And as you can see, our second goal is really to get men talking to each other about this.  You know, different than the tax issues.  Different than some of those other issues you mentioned.  We want men to talk to other men to say this is not acceptable behavior, because that‘s what‘s going to start to change the climate that this isn‘t acceptable and that this will cut down drastically on the amount of men who are targeting young girls to have sex with them. 

ABRAMS:  My concern is that we talk about it as if this is some sort of psychological issue.  Men need to start talking to one another.  Men need to start expressing to their friends their feelings.  We don‘t treat it as serious a crime as it is.  It seems to me that there‘s a danger that it becomes a sort of psychological infirmity as opposed to saying, it‘s criminal.  You‘re talking about hard time, in particular, when you‘re talking about children. 

ODOR:  There‘s a many prong approach to this, and one of them is the legal aspect that yes, this is illegal.  It‘s a felony for many cases, and for other ages it‘s a misdemeanor.  So it is illegal.  The laws in Virginia are very, very convoluted.  The second part is that we have a culture that supports men having sex with younger girls. 

ABRAMS:  Really?  I mean that‘s the part that I‘m missing.  I mean there is a culture...

ODOR:  That‘s because...

ABRAMS:  ... do you think it‘s national or Virginia where it‘s OK...


ABRAMS:  ... encourage to have sex with...

ODOR:  ... this is in America.

ABRAMS:  With...

ODOR:  This is in America.

ABRAMS:  ... 13 and 14-year-old girls?  Really? 

ODOR:  Yes, and our culture is supporting, and it‘s encouraging this.  Even if you‘re looking at what‘s being portrayed in the media are these younger and younger girls, and you can see them partnering with older men.  You can find older men targeting younger girls to have sex for various different reasons.  One, they think there are less STDs in that population...


ODOR:  ... they want to be the first.  This is—and it‘s supported by the culture around it.  So there‘s nothing there except for the law telling them not to do it.  So we need more things out there telling these older men this is not OK. 

ABRAMS:  I guess maybe I‘m just naive in this regard.  Rebecca Odor, thank you very much for taking the time.  Appreciate it. 

ODOR:  Thanks for having me. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a “New York Times” columnist writes that John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general ever.  Is that a bit much?  We‘ll debate. 

Don‘t forget your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  I will read them at the end of the show. 


ABRAMS:  It was the first line of “New York Times” columnist Paul Krugman‘s op-ed today.  Quote—“No question, John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history.”  John Ashcroft, the worst attorney general ever?  Worse than John Mitchell?  After all, Richard Nixon‘s attorney general went to prison for crimes committed when he ran the president‘s committee to re-elect the president.  And were certainly, you know, no big fan of civil liberties when he was in office. 

But here‘s Krugman‘s argument.  On the war on terror, he says, Ashcroft‘s Department of Justice has no major successful prosecutions.  One of the bigger cases, the “Detroit Three”, seems to be collapsing, and no major captures.  In Krugman‘s words, somewhere the anthrax terrorist is laughing.  Krugman also says Ashcroft tries to change the subject when he gets in political trouble. 

For instance, when FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley gave devastating testimony about failures at the FBI, four days later Mr. Ashcroft announced that Jose Padilla, who had long been in U.S. custody, was involved in a terrifying plot.  The plot to kill Americans with a so-called dirty bomb.  And Krugman is incensed over the Department of Justice memo on torture leaked to the various papers last weekend.

He says much of the memo is concerned with defining torture down.  Federal law against torture doesn‘t apply to interrogations of enemy combatants pursuant to commander-in-chief authority.  In other words, the president is above the law.

Does the attorney general deserve this sort of indictment?  Really, the worst ever?  I mean, I don‘t know how you know something like that unless you‘ve really researched it.  Let me ask my guest, Harvard law professor Sam Bagenstos, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Temple University law professor, Jan Ting, who also worked in the Justice Department as an assistant commissioner in the INS during the first Bush administration. 

Professor Ting, let me start with you.  I‘ve got to assume that this is going to get a lot of people who have worked in this administration very upset.

JAN TING, TEMPLE UNIV. LAW PROFESSOR:  Well I think it‘s a good example of the politics of personal destruction that we all claim to find so reprehensible these days.  We‘ve just come off the Reagan funeral, and everyone‘s reminiscing about how it used to be in the good old days.  But now we see, you know, back to the same old stuff, that if you disagree with a man‘s politics, he‘s the worst attorney general in history.  I just think that‘s terrible. 

ABRAMS:  Professor Bagenstos, I mean, apart from sort of the issue of whether he‘s the worst, I‘m not going to ask you to go through sort of a history of every attorney general, and obviously I think that‘s a little bit of an overstatement considering I‘d be surprised if Mr. Krugman actually researched the work of every single attorney general in history.  But let‘s put that aside for a moment.  Do you think that his indictment of the attorney general is fair? 

SAM BAGENSTOS, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR:  I think it is fair, yes.  I think that at a time when our nation faces probably the most serious threat to its existence, you know, in its history, at least since the War of 1812, what we have is an attorney general who‘s given us sensationalism and not results.  And I think that Paul Krugman really does a good job of explaining a lot of the ways in which that‘s true of this administration.  And I don‘t think that‘s personal.  I don‘t think that‘s a matter of personal destruction.  It‘s about Attorney General Ashcroft‘s conduct as attorney general and the success of his attorney generalship, or lack thereof. 

ABRAMS:  Professor Ting, let‘s put aside this worst business for a moment.  I did an editorial criticizing Ashcroft after I got calls from a lot of my friends around the nation who are assistant U.S. attorneys who work for him saying that he has essentially been taking away their discretion, that they are trying to try their cases and now the attorney general is putting out a set of rules where they either can or can‘t engage in plea bargains, when they must seek certain punishments, et cetera, and they say it‘s really—since they‘re the ones who know the cases, they know the judges in their district, that the attorney general has done a big disservice to them.  Your response. 

TING:  Well, I don‘t want to go on a tangent on the U.S. attorneys, but they all work for the attorney general, and the attorney general is the representative of the president.  If we believe in democracy, if we believe in electing our leaders who set policy, then policy has to come from the top.  Policy comes from the attorney general.  I think Mr. Krugman is off the mark in laying out a bunch of generalizations, some factual errors, and a conspiracy theory. 

I mean his conspiracy theory is that there‘s been all this kind of coordination of events in order to cover up Coleen Rowley.  Well, she was you know not only on the cover of “TIME” magazine, she was Woman of the Year.  So if there was some conspiracy to hide the facts, it didn‘t succeed very well, did it?  I mean the one thing that‘s substantive here I think is this discussion of the torture memos, and I think it‘s good that “The Washington Post” has made them available. 

They are long.  They are two memos, each about 50 pages long, and they basically say the same thing.  They lay out a lawyerly definition for what is torture.  I think the significant fact is that the United States made reservations when they ratified the convention on torture and basically they define torture as meaning cruel and unusual punishment as defined in the U.S. courts.  And the second issue I think is whether you can bind the president as to what he can do in war time. 

Could Congress pass a law saying you can‘t use land mines, or you can‘t use space-based weapons or you can‘t use weapons that are manufactured in foreign countries.  Does that bind the commander-in-chief?  Does that bind the military, or as they argue in this brief that, you know, you can‘t bind the military in times of war in that way. 

ABRAMS:  But Mr.—Professor Bagenstos, it is a little simpler than

that when you look at the torture memo, for example.  I mean do you think -

·         let me ask it to you this way.  What do you think, if someone were to say to you, what‘s wrong with Attorney General John Ashcroft and the job he‘s done?  How would you summarize it? 

BAGENSTOS:  Well, I mean, I think there are a couple of things here.  The first thing to say on the torture memo, this taps into a very fundamental problem with the way the Ashcroft administration has proceeded, and that is this unprecedented argument for unchecked power of the president and the attorney general.  The assertion that, you know, we‘re in a state of war against an entity that can never surrender to us, will never surrender to us during that, however long the president decides we‘re in a state of war, Ashcroft says, the president has the authority to override treaties that have been entered into by this country, laws passed by Congress pursuant to its express authority in the Constitution, to regulate the governance of the military, to put people in zones where law doesn‘t apply, Ashcroft and his administration have said in briefs to the Supreme Court, meaning Guantanamo or this enemy combatant status, there‘s this incredible assertion of unchecked executive authority, combined with an obsession with secrecy, which is really unprecedented and is sort of convenient.  Things can become not secret when necessary to attack opponents of this administration.  So I think they‘re fundamental problems. 

ABRAMS:  Professor Ting, you get the final 20 seconds. 

TING:  Well, again, back to the torture memo, I just want to say I‘m not happy about what‘s happened in Iraq.  I‘m not happy about what‘s happened in the prisons.  And I wish this memo had been written with a preface saying look, we‘re defining the outer boundaries of what the government can do in extenuating circumstances.  But having said that, I think—I hope people will go to “The Washington Post” Web site and read these memos.  They‘re long memos, but they‘re worth reading through. 

And I think there‘s a lawyerly discussion of constitutes torture and I think there‘s a lawyerly discussion.  You know, I ask everyone out there, do you think Congress can pass a law saying that there are certain things that can‘t be done in the context of the war on terrorism?  You can‘t use land mines, you can‘t use space-based weapons...


TING:  ... you can‘t use any weaponry...

ABRAMS:  All right, but look...

TING:  ... that‘s manufactured outside the United States...

ABRAMS:  But you know that‘s...


TING:  We have a system of...

ABRAMS:  Professor Ting...

TING:  ... of power...

ABRAMS:  ... you know that obscuring the fundamental question on torture...

TING:  I don‘t think it is...

ABRAMS:  ... because I‘ve read the whole memo...

TING:  ... fundamental question is...

ABRAMS:  ... I‘ve read the whole memo...


ABRAMS:  ... and the thing to me that I find most disturbing about it is the justifications, these legalistic justifications for torture.  It‘s really that simple.  I‘ll give you the final word.  I‘ve got to—I‘m out of time.

TING:  Well, you know I just have to say that when the United States ratified the convention against torture, it ratified it with reservations.  And the one...


TING:  ... reservation that we made clear from the outset is we only define torture as what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment as defined by...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

TING:  ... our courts. 

ABRAMS:  Well that‘s fine.  But it seems that basically this memo was justifying any kind of torture—anyway—all right, got to wrap it up.  Thanks a lot to both of you, Professor, Professor.

Up next, Vice President Cheney is saying that there is a link between al Qaeda and Iraq.  Is that true?  Coming up.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, your e-mails on the Scott Peterson trial.  One of you asks how many times can Mark Geragos ask for a mistrial?  The answer after the break.


ABRAMS:  My closing argument—why it is just indefensible for Vice President Cheney to continue to claim that Saddam Hussein had—quote—

“long-established ties with al Qaeda” and yet, even this week he is saying just that without citing a scintilla of evidence to support it.  The shrinking group of diehards who still perpetuate this unsubstantiated claim make various claims that certain individuals linked to al Qaeda may have been in Iraq with Saddam‘s permission or that agents of Saddam may have had contacts with certain al Qaeda operatives.

“The Wall Street Journal” editorial page recently referred to roster from Saddam‘s elite paramilitary group, said that a name matches the name of an al Qaeda operative.  These are interesting theories but hardly demonstrate long-established ties.  That‘s the quote.  Using this logic one could say that the U.S. government has ties to al Qaeda because a former U.S. Army sergeant was a long time government informant helped plot the 1998 embassy bombings or the fact that the United States provided Saddam with arms and intelligence in the ‘80‘s. 

We seem to have had a closer relationship with Saddam than he ever had with al Qaeda.  Afghanistan had long established ties to al Qaeda.  Iraq did not.  Even President Bush has conceded there is no evidence that Saddam was connected to 9/11.  I supported the war because I was convinced Saddam had stock piles of weapons of mass destruction.  Not based on my own research, but on that of UNSCOM and of the many weapons inspectors who had been there.  It turned out to be faulty intelligence, but even back then I criticized the administration for trying to link Iraq to 9/11 or al Qaeda.  To do it now, to suggest that long-established ties have been proven is just downright misleading. 

All right, I‘ve had my say.  Now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  We‘ve gotten lots of e-mails with some interesting questions and comments about the Scott Peterson case. 

A. Jenkins from Las Vegas, Nevada regarding what Laci Peterson was wearing when she was murdered.  Remember, prosecutors say her body was found with the same pants she had been wearing the night before.  They say that will help prove she was killed the night before. 

“You‘re misstating the evidence.  You said the prosecutors are proving the pants found on Laci‘s body are the same pants she wore on December 23, which means Scott killed Laci.  Well, Amy Rocha, the sister, testified they are not the same pants.  In fact, she testified she found them in the house.  Do us a favor, read the transcripts, be fair.  A man‘s life is at stake.”

A number of you wrote in similar comments, but you‘re wrong.  While Laci‘s sister Amy said that a picture of a model pair of the cream-colored pants did not appear to be the same ones she saw the night before, she could be mistaken, but there is no doubt she was not wearing the black pants Scott Peterson says that Laci was wearing when he left the house.  Amy didn‘t find the cream-colored pants in the house.  In fact, she found some of the clothing Laci had been wearing the night before, but not the pants.  Prosecutors say that‘s because Laci was still wearing them when she was killed. 

From Dallas, Texas, Byrle Darland.  “I‘m still puzzled by Laci‘s mom in her outburst of emotion the day Scott was arrested.  All I hear from everyone is no emotion from Scott, et cetera.  He cried more tears in his interviews than Laci‘s mom did in this emotional outcry.  She sounds like she‘s crying very emotionally, but when you look directly into her eyes there are no tears.  Her no tears with the emotion she was projecting is very puzzling.” 

I don‘t get it Byrle.  Are you suggesting that Laci‘s mom is hiding something?  Come on. 

Howard S. Miller in Los Angeles asks, “It seems that every other day the Peterson legal team is asking for a mistrial.  Is it possible to ever wear out this request?  Can the judge issue a warning like this will be the last request?”

Howard, I think yesterday‘s was actually the first mistrial request, but you‘re right to expect more to come.  The answer is as long as the jurors are not in the courtroom, I would think the judge will allow Geragos to make as many mistrial motions as he can think up, but although I‘ll say that I don‘t think it helps him with his future ones if he keeps making them again and again and again.  But we shall see how many of those that he actually asks for.

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you are writing from.  We read them every day at the end of the show.

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Chris talks with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

Have a good night and I will see you tomorrow. 


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