updated 7/15/2004 11:03:14 AM ET 2004-07-15T15:03:14

Guests:  Lisa Bloom, Dean Johnson, John Burris, Bill Majeski, Peter Smith, Ronald Meshbesher

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive in the Scott Peterson case.  Why did Scott Peterson say he—quote—

“screwed up” in his interview with Diane Sawyer back in January of 2003? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  And what did Scott Peterson have in his bag when he was arrested?  It sure looks like he was planning a long trip.  And we have photos of the evidence that led prosecutors to suspect Peterson was involved in Laci‘s disappearance. 

Plus, a top political fundraiser is charged with hiring a prostitute to blackmail a witness in a fraud case against him. 

And this congressman found guilty of running over and killing a motorcyclist.  Now a federal judge has ruled your tax dollars will pay any damages awarded for his actions. 

The program about justice starts now.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive in the Scott Peterson case.  As always, this is the place to turn to for information you won‘t see anywhere else.  Here it is—that Scott Peterson realized he—quote—“screwed up” in his interview with Diane Sawyer back in January of 2003. 

In court today behind closed doors attorneys were discussing how much of that interview is going to come into evidence.  It‘s clear that some, if not all, of the interviews that Scott Peterson granted to the media after Laci disappeared will be admitted.  And one of the biggest discrepancies that came out of the ABC interview was about exactly when Scott Peterson told police he was having an affair with Amber Frey. 

He told Diane Sawyer that he let police know about Amber the night Laci was reported missing, December 24.  But the day after the interview with Diane Sawyer, on January the 29th, ABC reported—quote—“Yesterday Scott Peterson said that he had told police on Christmas Eve about the fact that he had a girlfriend.  Police sources told us yesterday they dispute that.  They say they learned about it on December 30, not from Scott Peterson, but from the young woman who came forward.”

Now we‘ve learned that even Scott Peterson recognized how significant his mistake was.  According to a wiretap application filed by criminal investigator Steven Jacobson, someone called Scott Peterson that night and Peterson told him he had a surprise for him.

He said—quote—“I didn‘t notice it during the first interview with Diane, but I did today obviously.  I guess I told Diane Sawyer that I told the police on the 24th about Amber, but I did not, so I screwed up.”

The person on the phone said, did you correct it today?  Scott says no, no I didn‘t.  The other person says so you misanswered, is that what you‘re saying?  Scott:  I must have.  I did not tell police about her that night.  I don‘t know what the right thing to do is.

Let‘s bring in my legal panel, Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom, defense attorney John Burris, and former San Mateo County prosecutor Dean Johnson, who has been in the courtroom for almost all the trial. 

All right.  Lisa Bloom, so you know we‘ve been talking about this again and again that Scott Peterson had said that he told the police on December 24 about his girlfriend.  Now it seems even he recognized that he messed up so to speak.  Is that going to come into the case? 

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV:  I hope it does, Dan.  I think that‘s very important information.  You know you can tell when Scott Peterson is lying.  It seems to be whenever his lips are moving.  He doesn‘t even recognize at the time that he is lying.  He lies in a way to help himself.  That wasn‘t an innocent mistake saying that he told the police on December 24 about Amber Frey.  That was a lie and even Scott Peterson knows it. 

ABRAMS:  Dean Johnson, what do you make of this new information that Scott Peterson was caught on tape telling someone that he recognized that he—quote—“screwed up” in the interview with ABC? 

DEAN JOHNSON, FMR. SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  Well, I think if we had a tape recorder on Scott when he was trying to keep his story straight, we would hear him going (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a lot because he made a lot of mistakes.  One of the mistakes he made that he suddenly realized after listening to Diane Sawyer was this contradiction between when he told the police about Amber Frey.  There‘s still another one where he says that oh, I also told Amber Frey about Laci as soon as Laci went missing and of course Amber is going to testify that that wasn‘t true.  She found out about Laci when she saw Scott in the media...

ABRAMS:  But Dean, does this...

JOHNSON:  ... on television. 

ABRAMS:  ... does this come into court?  I mean is this admissible? 

Let‘s say for a moment...

JOHNSON:  Oh yes...

ABRAMS:  ... Scott Peterson does not take the witness stand, all right, because he does I think there‘s no question that this comes in.  But assume for a moment that Scott Peterson does not take the witness stand, can they introduce this into evidence that even Scott Peterson recognized that he had—which way does it cut? 

JOHNSON:  Oh—well, there‘s no question, first of all, that it does come into evidence under an exception to the hearsay rule.  It‘s an admission by a party opponent and it‘s actually the prosecution having the best of both worlds because they get to have Peterson on film being effectively, very effectively cross-examined by Diane Sawyer and then they put him in the position of do I want to get on the stand and have to answer this?  There‘s no question...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JOHNSON:  ... that it comes in.  I think it‘s very helpful to the prosecution because they have already seen one irrefutable taped statement with the detectives the night after Laci went missing where he directly contradicts himself.  So you don‘t have to make out any sort of impeachment or anything.  The contradictions are there for the jury to see. 

ABRAMS:  John Burris, though, can‘t the dense say, look, Scott Peterson even recognized he made a mistake.  There are discussions on this conversation about him not being clear as to what question he was answering, et cetera.  You know could this actually help the defense? 

JOHN BURRIS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well, I certainly don‘t think like some others think that this is absolutely fatal to him as it relates to his credibility.  I think that it can be helpful and it‘s certainly not the best possible thing any time you make statements that are contradicted even about yourself, but the fact that he acknowledged making that particular mistake and came clean at some point in time, certainly he could get the benefit of the doubt.  I mean...

BLOOM:  Oh come on, Dan...

(CROSSTALK)

BURRIS:  No, no...

BLOOM:  You know he doesn‘t say, I made a mistake...

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  He said, I screwed up.  It means he couldn‘t keep his lies straight.

(CROSSTALK)

BURRIS:  Let me finish - please let me finish the point.  I didn‘t interrupt you.  Obviously, it‘s not a good situation for him, but it‘s not totally fatal.  There will be other situations where he can offer an explanation.  This will not force him to go to the stand.  I don‘t believe it‘s going to come in, but it‘s certainly going to force him to come—go to the stand.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s play a piece of sound, Scott Peterson.  This is not in the interview with ABC.  This is on KNTV.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PETERSON, CHARGED WITH MURDERING HIS WIFE:  We‘ve talked about the affair.  The relevant facts are known. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

PETERSON:  ... my apologies.  It‘s inappropriate and it‘s known.  It‘s done, had nothing to do with this...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes.  See Lisa, this interview is after the ABC interview and he was unwilling to go there again.  A lot of the different interviewers asked him again and again about this.  Well, let‘s be clear as to when you told the police.  And he kept saying well you know we‘ve talked about it.  The relevant facts are known, et cetera.  He didn‘t want to answer it.

BLOOM:  He‘s slick, isn‘t he?  He‘s getting good.  He knows when he shouldn‘t answer questions anymore.  You know Scott Peterson also lied about what he was doing on December 24, which has nothing to do with Amber Frey.  The guy lied and lied and lied again immediately after Laci went missing, but he starts to get a little bit better at it and starts to just avoid the questions. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Go ahead, John. 

BURRIS:  There‘s no question he has a history of lying here, but I don‘t know that at the end of the day that that ultimately is going to be fatal when the lying is about his affair.  We all know he had an affair.  Everyone is going to know that and he lied about...

BLOOM:  He wasn‘t with Amber on the 24th

BURRIS:  The question...

(CROSSTALK)

BURRIS:  ... does that point to murder or not? 

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  We didn‘t know that at the time these interviews were being made.  I mean it‘s real clear if you look at the whole pattern of his statements, which is what the jury is going to say, is this a guy who had a real hard time from the very night Laci went missing keeping his story straight. 

ABRAMS:  And you know here‘s the other problem is that in the interview on ABC, Diane Sawyer asked him, tell me about the state of your marriage.  What kind of marriage was it? 

Peterson:  God, I mean the first word that comes to mind is you know glorious.  I mean we took care of each other very well.  She was amazing.  She is amazing.

He said, of course, there‘s that discrepancy talking about her in the past tense and the present tense.  But still, you know it seems a little difficult to accept, John, the idea that he‘s asked when the police knew about it.  He tells them that he told them on the 24th.  And you know he‘s lying to Diane Sawyer about when—this is not about talking to Amber Frey.  You know people say oh people have affairs this and that.  This is lying a month after the fact about what he told the authorities and when he told them. 

BURRIS:  As I said before, obviously lying is not very helpful and being inconsistent, but the point and the matter from the defense‘s point of view is what do you do with all of this?  And I think what you have to do is keep the focus on the prosecution.  You can ultimately handle these particular statements.  You don‘t obviously want to have 1,000 of them, but you can handle them over a period of time when they‘re focused around the lying and the state of their marriage.  Nobody really wants to be totally truthful about that.  That doesn‘t necessarily put him in the posture of killing her...

BLOOM:  But those aren‘t his only lies...

BURRIS:  They‘re just statements that he‘s making.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  The question, though, is...

ABRAMS:  Very quickly.

JOHNSON:  John, the question is, how much do you want this jury to swallow?  There is one great almost courtroom moment where Diane Sawyer asked him, you know did you tell Laci about the affair with Amber Frey.  He says oh yes and Laci was fine with that and she starts in on the cross.  You mean to say an eight and a half month pregnant wife found out that you were having an affair and she was fine with that...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

JOHNSON:  ... and he just mumbled some answer.  I mean it‘s just how much do you want this jury to swallow...

ABRAMS:  Let me take a quick break here. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Lisa, John, Dean...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... they‘re all going to...

BURRIS:  ... you have to deal with those particular...

ABRAMS:  All right.  They‘re all going to stay.

BURRIS:  ... points and see how they tie in.

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  They‘re all going to be back.  They‘re coming back in a minute. 

Coming up, details on what was in Scott Peterson‘s bag on the day he was arrested and we‘ve got some exclusive details on what it was he said when he was arrested. 

And later, he‘s raised more money for New Jersey‘s governor than anyone else.  Now he‘s charged with hiring a prostitute to blackmail a witness who was going to testify against him and yes, there is a videotape.

And former Congressman Bill Janklow convicted of running over and killing someone.  Now a judge says he won‘t have to pay a dime in damages if he loses the civil suit.  No, the taxpayers will.

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, what was in Scott Peterson‘s car the day he was arrested and what did he say and one of the answers is Viagra.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  New details about Scott Peterson‘s final moments of freedom before he was arrested for the murder of his wife Laci and their unborn son.  In another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive, we can report what Scott Peterson told police as he was being arrested.  Now remember, police found Peterson last April in San Diego.  He had gained some weight, dyed his hair blonde and grown a goatee. 

The California Department of Justice includes in its report about the arrest—quote—“Peterson was asked if he knew why he was being arrested and he replied because of my erratic driving.  The agent told him that was not the reason and asked if he knew of any other reason.  Peterson then said well, Modesto wants me about a murder.  Peterson later asked, have they found my wife and son? 

Court TV is also reporting about a suspicious list of items found in Scott Peterson‘s car, a Mercedes, I might add.  Following the arrest among the items police found were a driving license for John Edward Peterson, Scott Peterson‘s brother, approximately 15,000 in cash including 14,000 in $100 bills with paper wrapper bands, 24 blister packs of sleeping pills, 12 tablets of Viagra, four cell phones, a double-edged dagger with a T-handle, a water purifier, a filet knife, a cooking grill, a camp kit that included cooking utensils, and a rope, leather gloves, two folding knives, a folding saw, camp axe, hammock, binoculars, and of course who would go anywhere without your mask and snorkel. 

When Peterson was arrested, he said he was on his way to play golf, but no golf clubs were found in the car.  Prosecution says Peterson may have been trying to flee to Mexico.  Peterson‘s father says Scott was just living like a nomad, trying to escape the media spotlight and on his way to his parents‘ house in San Diego. 

My panel is back with me.  All right.  Dean, on this issue of the way Scott Peterson acted, he was sort of giving a kind of smart aleck response to the police, what was it, my erratic driving?  That stuff doesn‘t really matter, does it? 

JOHNSON:  No.  I mean it‘s not really here or there, but the stuff that‘s in his car, I mean, come on, Viagra.  This guy—the more we see about this guy the more we realize that he‘s just an incredible piece of work.  The image of Scott Peterson the perfect husband is just not true.  That he had an entirely separate life.  He took more stuff in that car than I ever took on a mountain climbing expedition.  He‘s got climbing ropes, hiking equipment, diving equipment...

ABRAMS:  You know...

JOHNSON:  ... any reasonable person, I think, is going to say this guy is about to flee...

ABRAMS:  Really...

JOHNSON:  ... to Mexico...

ABRAMS:  You know I‘ve got to tell you...

JOHNSON:  I can hear the response...

ABRAMS:  Lisa, I find this to be one of the less persuasive arguments.  I think that you can make a legitimate argument that Peterson is trying to sort of stay away from everybody, that he may be going to Mexico, may be going wherever, that he‘s maybe going on a camping trip, but you know I‘ve seen a lot of evidence that‘s been introduced about sort of consciousness of guilt...

BLOOM:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... and the effort to flee and this is not one of the strongest cases, just because he was essentially had the equipment that anyone...

BLOOM:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... would use to go camping. 

BLOOM:  Dan, first of all, water purifying tablets?  You don‘t need to purify water in the United States.  It‘s perfectly good to drink in San Diego.  Twelve tablets of Viagra—four months after his wife and kid go missing his priority is artificially enhanced genitals.  Are you kidding me? 

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  This guy has got rope, duct tape evidence to commit a crime.  He‘s got a double-sided dagger.  He has got a saw.  This is a survivalist guy.  This is a guy who can live out in the wilderness...

ABRAMS:  But...

BLOOM:  ... and I think he was planning for that possibility. 

ABRAMS:  But wait.  But if you‘re going to the wilderness...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... I mean but if you‘re going to the wilderness, what are you going to use the Viagra for?  I mean...

BLOOM:  Well I don‘t want to go there, Dan Abrams.  I really don‘t. 

ABRAMS:  All right...

BURRIS:  Dan, I don‘t think that...

ABRAMS:  Go ahead John.

BURRIS:  ... this in and of itself...

JOHNSON:  Dan, Dan...

ABRAMS:  Let me let John respond. 

BURRIS:  I don‘t think this is consciousness of guilt.  One could have any number of interpretations.  There‘s no standard as to how a person ought to camp, go snorkel, and be out on their own.  You can make your own decisions about that.  No one is going to give any expert opinion that all this activity was reflective of a person who was trying to leave the country... 

BLOOM:  What about the fake I.D.? 

BURRIS:  ... consciousness of guilt.  He can have whatever he wants...

JOHNSON:  That‘s the problem John...

BLOOM:  You can‘t carry fake I.D.s...

BURRIS:  ... free country.  He can have whatever he wants...

BLOOM:  Let me just...

BURRIS:  ... go wherever he wants to go...

BLOOM:  ... add two things to the mix here. 

JOHNSON:  John...

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on...

BLOOM:  Let me just add two things to the mix...

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on.  Hang on.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Lisa wants to add two things...

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on.  Let Lisa add her two things.

BLOOM:  He‘s got a visa card in his sister‘s name.  He‘s got a Chevron card in his mother‘s name. 

BURRIS:  So what?

BLOOM:  He‘s got a driver‘s license not only in his brother‘s name, but with the hair color matching his newfound blonde.  I mean...

ABRAMS:  All right.

BLOOM:  ... the guy is clearly trying to...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Dean Johnson. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Dean Johnson.  Dean...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Dean Johnson.

JOHNSON:  ... that‘s the problem with all these—the defense arguments.  You can take a piece of evidence and you can try to explain it away, you can say, yes, look, he has got Viagra and a snorkel.  He must be going for a little R&R in Cabo San Lucas...

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON:  ... but good lord, climbing ropes, camping equipment, Viagra, an illegal—apparently illegal dagger...

BLOOM:  A shovel. 

JOHNSON:  ... come on.  You know...

BURRIS:  What is that proof of...

JOHNSON:  ... put it in context.  This guy...

BURRIS:  Is it proof that...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  ... on his way to Mexico...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  John Burris.

BURRIS:  What is it proof of? 

ABRAMS:  John Burris.  John Burris.  Go ahead John.

BURRIS:  The point is what is the proof of?  Is it consciousness of guilt in terms of the relevancy of the case or this is an odd strange...

JOHNSON:  Yes. 

BURRIS:  I don‘t think so because it‘s too many different interpretations you can place.  Everybody looks at this like it only points to guilt.  It doesn‘t necessarily point to guilt.  It could be any number...

ABRAMS:  But it does...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  You have to agree it‘s not helpful John...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  John, you have to agree it‘s not helpful...

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  ... you dyed your hair blonde...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  We got to go one at a time...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.

(CROSSTALK)

BURRIS:  Of course, I wouldn‘t say it‘s helpful per se.  The issue is whether or not it‘s conclusive on any particular point.  Is it reflective of consciousness of guilt?  And the answer to that it‘s different interpretations.  It‘s not necessarily...

ABRAMS:  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Lisa, I‘m sorry...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Lisa, go ahead. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  He knew the cops were hot on his trail.  He had his little snide response ready.  He was high tailing it out of there and he had everything he needed to live you know in the wilderness.  He had a fishing rod.  He had four cell phones.  Why does Scott Peterson need four cell phones to go visit his parents...

ABRAMS:  But again, if he‘s going to Mexico, Lisa, wouldn‘t he need to get like service in Mexico?  I mean, again, seriously, I mean if you‘re going to say that every item is incriminating, the four cell phones on your way to Mexico, I mean when I go on vacation...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... I just put away my cell phone. 

BLOOM:  I‘m saying he needs four cell phones because he probably doesn‘t want to be traced and he wants to be able to trade cell phones quickly and still in phone contact.  Look, he also brought nice clothes.  It could have been in the city.  Perhaps, he was leaving his options open, but take it all together—the phony getup, the cash, the fake I.D., all the survival gear.  This guy was just going to visit his parents?  That‘s preposterous.

BURRIS:  I don‘t think they said he was going to visit his parents, but I think he had a right to do whatever he want and it‘s not necessarily reflective of a guilty mind. 

ABRAMS:  All right...

BURRIS:  How do you tie it in to guilt? 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me take a quick break.  Lisa and John, thanks.  It‘s good to see you guys.

Dean, stick around for one quick question coming—believe it or not, we haven‘t even talked about today‘s testimony.  The detective who found the pair of pliers with Laci‘s hair on them back on the stand. 

And he was convicted of manslaughter.  Now the taxpayers will foot the bill if former Congressman Bill Janklow loses a civil suit filed against him. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So we‘ve been talking about all these exclusives, we haven‘t talked about the testimony in the Peterson case.  It got up to a late start this morning after a closed-door hearing.  In fact, they just started.  MSNBC‘s Jennifer London joins us now to tell us about what has been going on in the courtroom so far. 

Hi, Jennifer. 

JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi there, Dan.  When testimony resumed later today, Detective Henry Dodge Hendee back on the stand.  The prosecution showing a number of photos that Hendee took himself of the area where Laci‘s body was discovered.  Hendee saying he wanted to show the overall area.  One photo in particular, Dan, hit the courtroom quite hard.  It was a photo showing the pants that Laci Peterson was wearing.  Now it was very badly decomposed.  I could not tell the color of the pants, but you could make out part of the tag inside the pants.  Laci Peterson‘s mother, Sharon Rocha, she‘s covering her eyes.  She‘s looking down.  At one point we see her wiping her eyes with a tissue.   

Scott Peterson is also looking away and at least one jury member was sort of you know using her hands to kind of clasp her face.  Now the defense has gotten its chance to cross-examine Detective Hendee and the prosecution—or the defense focusing on the search that happened in the San Francisco bay after Laci was discovered.  Geragos focusing on a particular search that happened in July over seven days.  Geragos pointing out that over these seven days, more than 150 nautical miles were searched.  Over 200 targets of interest were looked at and ultimately Hendee saying that to his knowledge they did not find anything that was relevant to the case.  Hendee saying that they were looking for very specific objects, body part remains, head, hands, feet and also the anchors. 

Dan, you mentioned court testimony getting off to a late start today.  That is because the two sides were meeting with the judge outside of the jury being present.  They were arguing over discovery issues, in particular some testimony from Detective Allen Brocchini coming into question.  In particular, the part where Brocchini testified that a college friend of Scott‘s had called in a tip about what Scott would do to dispose of a body.  Brocchini testifying that this tipster told him Scott would put a plastic bag over the head and use duct tape.  Now the duct tape is the part that has come into question.  It is alleged that Brocchini may have embellished that duct tape part.  And it was referenced in court today that the defense may have filed a sealed motion for a dismissal on willful violations on the part of the prosecution. 

ABRAMS:  Jennifer London, thanks a lot.  Dean Johnson, so they‘re basically asking not just that the charges be dismissed, but the charges be dismissed and the prosecutors not be allowed to refile the charges again.  They have almost no chance on that, right? 

JOHNSON:  Yes, I think it‘s almost a zero chance.  The alternative motions are for a mistrial, which of course would allow the prosecution to start all over again.  The argument on dismissal is that if we grant a mistrial, the prosecution is now at such an advantage having had a preview of the defense evidence and seen all their own mistakes that they can come back much stronger...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JOHNSON:  ... in the second trial and so they want a dismissal with prejudice, which means game over, no reset button. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JOHNSON:  We don‘t start again. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to tell you...

JOHNSON:  That really doesn‘t—I don‘t think either one has...

ABRAMS:  I‘ve said before, if the prosecutors can get out of this case now and be able to refile the charges that it may be worth doing based on everything that‘s happened in this case so far.  I think it would be an advantage for them.  Dean Johnson, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON:  Yes, they may secretly be wishing for that. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Good to see you.  We‘ll see you again.  Thanks a lot. 

JOHNSON:  All right.  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  A major political fundraiser charged with hiring a prostitute to blackmail a witness in a tax fraud case against him. 

And a judge rules that taxpayer dollars will pay damages for a congressman found guilty of running over and killing a motorcyclist.  Why do we have to pay for his actions?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a top political fundraiser charged with hiring a prostitute to blackmail a key witness in a fraud case against him and then sending the videotape maybe to the guy‘s wife.  The details after the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  A story right out of, you know, right out of a movie.  A real estate developer who is also a top fundraiser for New Jersey‘s governor charged with hiring a call girl to sleep with witnesses who might be testifying against him in a federal fraud case.  Well one did and this guy videotaped it. 

WNBC‘s Pat Battle has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPECIAL AGENT JOSEPH BILLY JR., FBI:  This arrest and ongoing investigation highlights some of the lowest forms of blackmail. 

PAT BATTLE, WNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Federal authorities allege that millionaire businessman Charles Kushner resorted to that blackmail to intimidate a witness in the long running federal probe into charges that he committed tax fraud and violated federal campaign contribution laws.  They claim he paid prostitutes to try to get the goods on cooperating witnesses. 

CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE, U.S. ATTORNEY:  One of our witnesses did, in fact, engage in sexual conduct with a prostitute hired by Mr. Kushner, his co-conspirators and his sexual conduct was captured on videotape. 

BEN BRAFMAN, KUSHNER‘S ATTORNEY:  We are taking the position at this time that these charges are entirely without merit, entirely baseless. 

BATTLE:  Now for the second time in as many weeks a major fundraiser for Governor Jim McGreevey is in the hot seat.  Last week, the U.S.  attorney announced the indictment of his longtime friend and political fundraiser David Domiana (ph), but the U.S. attorney says none of this is politically motivated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You guys are just fixated on the governor and I‘m not.  You know there is nothing in this document that was presented today that has absolutely anything to do with Jim McGreevey. 

BATTLE:  Kushner, though, is one of the governor‘s big money men, contributing some $350,000 to his campaigns over the years, some of that money allegedly came from his business, not personal finance, and sources say his own brother, a partner in the family real estate firm, is one of the cooperating witnesses named in this indictment. 

JIM MCQUEENY, POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don‘t think this—by the time the governor runs for re-election next year is really going to be a factor.  This is really a family factor, a horrible tragedy. 

BATTLE (on camera):  The multimillionaire real estate developer will have to wear an electronic monitoring device for the foreseeable future.  Had to put up two of his homes to secure his $5 million bond.  The man whom the governor once nominated to chair the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey could go to jail for 25 years and the other investigation is ongoing.

In Newark, Pat Battle, News Channel Four.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or not these allegations are true, you‘ve got to give the guy credit for ingenuity.  I mean he‘s hiring call girls and setting up videotapes and then sending it out and you know, well now he got caught.  Seems the details are really sort of unbelievable, but apparently this sort of treachery is not that not uncommon. 

Joined now by Bill Majeski, a private investigator and former New York City police detective.  Good to see you Bill. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  So you say you‘ve heard about this kind of stuff happening before? 

BILL MAJESKI, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR:  Sure have...

ABRAMS:  Come on.  Really? 

MAJESKI:  It‘s one of the oldest tricks in the book.  But you know the thing is I think with this particular situation it wasn‘t so much a blackmail situation as it was a vindictive act on the part of Kushner.  Apparently the witness was already cooperating and I think he was just kind of like sending a signal to him that he should stop, but it was really a foolish way to do that. 

He was spending an awful lot of money in the process.  He hired co-conspirators to try to initially get prostitutes and they couldn‘t find them and then he went out on his own and found the prostitutes. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MAJESKI:  I don‘t know where he would know a prostitute from, but in any event he found one to do the dastardly deed for him and videotaped the whole thing and then sent it to the wife of his former employee, who happened to be his, I believe his brother-in-law. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  So these other co-conspirators weren‘t able to find a prostitute?  I mean you know these two guys I guess say or they have this discussion about maybe getting a prostitute, right, and these other two guys come to them after awhile and say I‘m sorry, you know we weren‘t able to find anyone for you.

MAJESKI:  I think they just took his money and went south with it.  Because I—apparently he paid them about $25,000 to, you know, to further this scheme. 

ABRAMS:  But do you really—I mean you really do see cases—I mean we hear about threatening of witnesses in cases...

MAJESKI:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... right.  You know I‘ll kill your family...

MAJESKI:  Absolutely.  Yes.

ABRAMS:  But you‘ve actually heard of cases like this where they have sort of set someone up for sex...

MAJESKI:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... and then videotaped it...

MAJESKI:  Oh sure...

ABRAMS:  ... and tried to use it against them?

MAJESKI:  Oh I‘ve seen it happen in cases like this.  I‘ve seen it happen in political situations.  It‘s quite common to use it, but when you use something like this as blackmail, what you are doing is threatening to release the information rather than sending it over to the family immediately.  What he did was he created a situation where it backfired on him because the wife went ahead and brought it right to the prosecutor‘s office and just increased the charges against him. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MAJESKI:  But you know there is also an undercurrent here, too.  You know there‘s a lot of smoke around the governor and you know the reality is the fundraisers are the ones that know all of the information that goes on in political circles.  So there may be something more to all of these indictments and there, too, if a person is facing a lot of time and they have a lot of information, there may be tradeoffs on information. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and we‘ve seen the tabloids—a couple of tabloids do this in the past...

MAJESKI:  Sure. 

ABRAMS:  ... anyway with some celebrities.  Anyway, Bill Majeski, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

MAJESKI:  Dan, good seeing you again. 

ABRAMS:  Good seeing you too.

Coming up, a judge rules that the taxpayers will have to foot the bill for former South Dakota Congressman Bill Janklow‘s car crash that killed a constituent, even though he was convicted of manslaughter. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  We have a super size edition of e-mails tonight.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  A U.S. congressman kills a man in a traffic accident, serves 100 days in jail for manslaughter, then gets sued by the victim‘s family.  And you know who pays if they win?  Well we all do, apparently.  That‘s because a federal judge has ruled this week that former Congressman Bill Janklow was—quote—“on duty” last August when he ran a stop sign and ran into a motorcyclist, Randy Scott, on his way home after two days of appointments in his home state. 

And since Janklow was employed by the federal government, that apparently means his employer will be liable for civil damages, which means the taxpayers will pay if the Scott family wins that judgment.  Now Scott‘s family wanted to sue Janklow in state court so they could claim punitive damages and his son J.R. Scott says the taxpayers shouldn‘t have to pay.  Telling a local paper that where Janklow‘s concerned—quote—“It was his irresponsibility for doing what he did.  It wasn‘t the federal government‘s fault he ran a stop sign.”

Randy Scott‘s family says they will file an objection to the ruling that put the suit in federal court.  But how is it that the taxpayers have to pay in a case like this?  I mean, should taxpayers be forced to pay when a congressman kills someone in this kind of incident even after he‘s convicted of manslaughter? 

Ronald Meshbesher is the attorney for Randy Scott‘s family and Peter Smith is a professor at the George Washington University Law School.  All right, Professor, first just lay out the law for us.  People are going to say on its face, guy is convicted of manslaughter driving home essentially in his car and taxpayers have to pay for any damages? 

PETER SMITH, GWU LAW PROFESSOR:  That‘s right.  Under the federal statute if you sue a government employee for harming someone in the course of employment, typically the government is substituted for the government employee in the lawsuit.  And in a typical run of cases, this actually protects plaintiffs like the Scott family here.  Consider the alternative in a different regime where you could only sue the government employee but not the United States.  And imagine that the defendant were not a congressman but instead a postal worker driving home with limited assets and lots of credit card debt. 

ABRAMS:  But why not both?  I mean that‘s what I don‘t understand, is why is it necessarily an either/or? 

SMITH:  Well the judgment that Congress made here was to balance two competing interests.  On the one hand, is to ensure that the plaintiffs have a defendant with deep pockets to sue, and that‘s the government, which of course is financed by taxpayer money.  But the countervailing interest is ensuring that government employees feel free to perform their duties effectively without the risk of lawsuits hanging over their head...

ABRAMS:  But he‘s driving—I mean he‘s driving—we all drive home. 

If a postal employee was driving home from the post office, I am certain

that that person would be liable, meaning if they‘re driving home and they

·         Mr. Meshbesher is going to argue that he may have actually stopped at his relative‘s house. 

Mr. Meshbesher, let me bring you into the conversation.  I know you fought this ruling hard.  One of the arguments you made, was it not, is that he may have stopped at his mother‘s house and they‘re still saying it was in the scope of his employment.

RONALD MESHBESHER, SCOTT FAMILY ATTORNEY:  I did make that ruling, but actually the essence of my argument was that his act was so seriously criminal it took him out of the scope of his employment assuming he was in the scope of his employment.  The judge didn‘t address that issue very much.  He sort of dispensed with it rather quickly and that‘s my primary claim I might appeal to the judge from the magistrate‘s ruling.

ABRAMS:  The U.S. attorney—let me read some of what the U.S attorney argued because they were arguing against you on this.

Members of Congress are available for duty every day including holidays and weekends at all hours whether they‘re in D.C. or in their home district.  It would be a normal risk for a member of Congress to have an automobile accident while driving around his congressional district.

Professor, using that reasoning, then anytime a member of Congress has a car accident, he‘s not paying.  The taxpayers are. 

SMITH:  Well there are two important questions in this case.  One is just the question of whether taxpayers ought to bear the burden.  And in that case, it‘s simply a question of whether we want to spread the cost of damages by government employees so that we all pay a fraction of a cent.  The other question and I think the more difficult one in this case is whether the former congressman was actually acting in the scope of his employment. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

SMITH:  Ordinarily an employee on the way to work or on the way home is not acting in the scope of employment. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

SMITH:  What makes this case different, according to the judge‘s ruling and with some plausibility, is that a congressman is virtually always on the job when in the district.  Here the former congressman‘s district was the entire state of South Dakota, traveling as he was with one of his staffers, which makes it look something more like an employee acting...

ABRAMS:  Yes, but if the postal employee is driving one of his fellow employees home, I assure you that would not be the case.  I don‘t think you would dispute that. 

SMITH:  That‘s probably the case. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SMITH:  In fact, under the federal law, the judge makes the determination of whether the employee acted in the scope of employment under the state‘s law.

ABRAMS:  All right.

SMITH:  So here it‘s really a matter of South Dakota law whether he was. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Mr. Meshbesher, you‘ve been put now between a rock and a hard place.  And I understand that you are—you‘re going to appeal this ruling.  Let‘s say for a moment that you don‘t win and that you are put back in the position that you are today.  Are you still going to sue knowing that the money is ultimately going to come out of the taxpayers‘ pockets? 

MESHBESHER:  Well, that‘s up to my clients to do, but I understand that Janklow has insurance.  In fact, at his deposition he mentioned that he had full coverage, including an umbrella policy.  I would think under these circumstances that the victims of his actions ought to have the option of either going after the federal government or going directly after the wrongdoer.  And I think it‘s a big mistake for the magistrate to overlook that he was convicted of manslaughter and perhaps more important, this man has a habit, a custom of driving recklessly and speeding and going through stop signs.  That type of conduct should never be considered in the scope of employment.  It would be different if it was an isolated accident...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MESHBESHER:  ... but this was not the case. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Meshbesher, doesn‘t the law have to be changed here?  I mean this seems to me like this is a perfect example of a law that is being misused or misapplied, regardless of whether the magistrate is making the correct legal ruling, that this may be the case that leads people to say, are you kidding me? 

MESHBESHER:  Well, I think you are right and perhaps if it goes as high as the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals the law may be changed.  This is a close case in my opinion and different judges may see it differently and perhaps we may come out on top at the end. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and Professor, that is the odd thing.  That as a legal matter, it is as you point out, kind of a close case when you are evaluating within the scope of employment, but don‘t you think that this is a perfect example of why this law isn‘t working even if the judge made the right call? 

SMITH:  Well, if it‘s an example of a law not working, it‘s an example of South Dakota‘s definition of the scope of employment being too broad, but it doesn‘t demonstrate a problem in the federal law that requires that the plaintiffs sue the United States rather than former Congressman Janklow.  If I can just respond to Mr. Meshbesher‘s comment that the plaintiffs ought to have the option of suing both.  Imagine that an employee of the National Highway Traffic—Transportation Safety Board is rushing in his own car to the scene of an accident to recover evidence while it‘s still fresh and on the way sadly causes an accident causing injury to somebody.  In that case if he knew that he could be sued for doing so, he probably wouldn‘t rush...

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  ... to the scene of the accident. 

ABRAMS:  But that seems to me to be a different—I mean I understand your point there and it seems to me that there‘s a way to craft this law that says that when you‘re going home from work and you‘re not in—under an emergency situation—again, I haven‘t written the statute, but I think that there are ways that you could craft this law so that your example would not apply.  I would have—I‘d like to talk about this more, but I‘m out of time.  Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

MESHBESHER:  Thank you, Dan. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we are super sizing your e-mails tonight.  Many on them on the evidence in the Scott Peterson case—from a strand of hair found on a pair of pliers to the lack of forensic evidence at the Peterson home.  I‘ll answer your questions.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, why do we have Amber Frey‘s attorney Gloria Allred on the program?  Just one of the many e-mail questions from our viewers.  I‘ll answer that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  All right, today we are super sizing “Your Rebuttal” because you had so many thoughts on so many issues.  Last night we discussed the Scott Peterson case including (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I said a hair apparently Laci Peterson‘s found on pliers in Scott Peterson‘s boat would not be a major issue because a witness claims to have seen Laci at the warehouse where Scott stored his boat in the days before she went missing and they‘re married so it‘s not like she was a stranger, so her hair might be there.  I don‘t think it‘s going to be that big a deal.

Mike Proctor, Houston.  “I usually agree with you, but when you said the hair from Laci was a non-issue because someone placed her at the warehouse, I had to scream.  The hair was wrapped around the pliers.  That doesn‘t happen from just walking by or climbing around the boat.”

Fair point Mike, but mark my words.  When the jurors talk about this case after the verdict, I predict that the hair will not have been a major factor. 

I also said the fact that Laci‘s blood was not found in the house doesn‘t really help the defense.  Laci could have been strangled or suffocated.

Amy-Leigh Mack from Charlotte, North Carolina concerned about how the body was found without limbs.  “On yesterday‘s program you were wondering why everyone was concerned with the blood evidence as murder could be done through blunt trauma or strangulation, neither of which would involve blood.  The corpse of Laci Peterson was found without limbs and those limbs had been severed from the body.  I suspect that people and maybe I‘m one of the few who are ignorant think that if a body part is cut off that that would involve some blood being shed.”

Amy, the authorities believe her limbs were weighted down with concrete anchors leading her limbs to come off in the water, not in the home. 

And there are our usual it does not make sense e-mails usually in defense of Scott Peterson.  Katrina Lee from San Diego.  “Did he really think the disappearance and ultimately death of his wife would go unnoticed?  That his girlfriend would not know?  Just doesn‘t make sense.”

Katrina, remember, if this had not become a national story, Amber who was living in Fresno, might never have found out about it.  So it really does make sense. 

From Palm Springs, California Wayne asks, “Just why would Scott Peterson insist he was fishing where the body was found?  Does that make any sense if he were guilty?”

Well, yes.  Prosecutors would argue he was concerned people saw him there.  He never expected the body to wash up on shore. 

And I‘ve received a lot of e-mails about one of my frequent guests, Gloria Allred, the attorney for Scott Peterson‘s girlfriend Amber Frey.  This one from Cindy White in Charlotte.

“Dan, love your show.  Since Gloria is involved in the case, why do you put her on your show?  I get sick and tired of hearing Gloria‘s opinions.”

You know, a lot of you asking the same question.  She‘s not an advocate—sorry, she is an advocate.  She isn‘t supposed to be objective. 

Also, last night we showed you summer camp in the Gaza Strip for the next generation of Palestinian terrorists including kids as young as 10, some even younger.  I pushed Human Rights Watch on why they don‘t come to the forefront and criticize this as a violation of the human rights of children. 

Deana Abdel-Rahman in Texas, “You‘ve expressed strong disdain for what you call abuse of children, which to a common American with no true picture of a day in the life of a Palestinian sounds believable.  Get a real show and stop insulting the American intelligence.  By the way, I hear Wal-Mart is hiring.”

Well first of all, I am sure that all the Wal-Mart employees appreciate your insult.  But again, nothing justifies adults putting children in that position.  That is Palestinian adults violating the human rights of Palestinian children.  Period. 

From Chicago, Illinois Daniel Kynaston.  “If you take away the general misery, occupation and oppression that these societies face, then you take away the impetus for terror and the need for terrorists.  Contrary to what most people think terrorism is not done for its own sake.”

Well, Daniel, while you‘re doing your academic study on the causes of terrorism, innocents are dying.  And at this point we need to fight terrorists, not try to defend why they do what they do.  We only need to learn that to defeat them.  But regardless, that has nothing to do with the use of children. 

My guest from Human Rights Watch, Jo Becker, said the number of Palestinian children involved in these sort of actions are fairly small compared with other atrocities involving children around the world.  I said that‘s beside the point.  That considering the amount of time these groups spend criticizing Israel, if they want to be fair brokers, they need to focus on this issue, too. 

Brady Harris in Venice, California.  “A dozen children in Palestine that might kill Israelis are of greater concern to you than thousands missing in Sierra Leone or 70,000 being taught to be soldiers in Uganda.  Is that your point?”

No, no.  It‘s not my point.  First of all, Brady, there are far more than a dozen children on that videotape.  And then on top of that, you have the others who have been busted as would be suicide bombers.  Bottom line is, I‘m just saying that they should be criticizing them as well. 

On to Mary Kay Letourneau, the former teacher sent to prison for having sex with a 12-year-old student.  I said since she has two children with her former student who is now 21 and she has served her time, six years, the court should let them see each other if they both want to.  But there‘s still a court order in place that says she cannot see him. 

Catherine Brehm in Rockledge, Florida.  “While on the surface it might seem harmless if not important to keep the family together, the reality is this young man has been damaged.  His children and Mary Kay‘s children from her previous marriage have been damaged and given her disorder, it is more important to prevent further damage by keeping her away from him and their children.” 

Finally, my “Closing Argument” last night that it‘s time to end the color-coded threat terror system.  Not only does the public have no sense of what to do, but now law enforcement officials have found it confusing and vague as well. 

Former police detective T. Martin in Wrightwood, California disagrees.  “The national threat level does one important thing.  It makes people open their eyes and they can assist in stopping terrorist attacks.  Much better than the possibility of the police just magically coming across the information.”

Yes, but the coding is not helping in getting the information.  I mean that‘s the point that I was making. 

All right, you know what?  We don‘t have time for the rest of them.  There were a lot of good letters though yesterday.  So that‘s the e-mail address, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  I respond at the end of every show, so please send them in.  Make sure you say where you‘re writing from.   

Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Chris‘ guest tonight, Governor Bill Richardson. 

Thanks for watching.  That‘s tomorrow morning...

Thanks.  See you tomorrow.

END

END   

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