updated 8/9/2004 9:38:20 AM ET 2004-08-09T13:38:20

Guest: Anne Bremner, Scott Stewart, Robert Butterworth, Demaurice Smith, Paul Pfingst, M.J. Gohel, Janet Reno

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, former teacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her former 12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau will soon be together again. 


ABRAMS (voice-over):  He was called the victim.  She was called the rapist. They called it love.  Now after she served seven years behind bars, a judge rules they can see each other again, after Vili, who is now 21, petitioned the court.  We will hear from Vili and talk with his lawyer. 

And, new details about that—quote—“new evidence” in the Scott Peterson trial that has delayed the case. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I go back over everything that I could have done and I don‘t see that I in any way minimized the threat of al-Qaeda.  It was constantly before us.  We pursued it as vigorously as possible. 

ABRAMS:  Another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive.  Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno talks about recent terror warnings, the 9/11 Commission and what she thinks about John Ashcroft. 

The program about justice starts now.  


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First on the docket, reunited because it feels so good.  The path now clear for a former 12-year-old student to be reunited with his elementary school teacher with whom he was having an affair when he was just 12.  a Seattle court today dissolving the order that prevent Vili Fualaau and Mary Kay Letourneau from seeing each other after she was released from prison this week.

This exclusive video just in of Fualaau leaving the New York area moments ago, getting ready to fly home to Washington state where Mary Kay Letourneau is a free woman again.  Fualaau now 21 is legally the victim, so he had to ask the court to allow him to see Mary Kay. 


VILI FUALAAU, HAS TWO KIDS WITH LETOURNEAU:  Hardest part was being separated without choice. 


ABRAMS:  They have two daughters now, five and seven and she also has four children with her first husband.  My take—this was the right call.  He is an adult.  She served her time.  They have two children together.  No one benefits from them being apart at this point, but what was it about the then 12-year-old student that Letourneau found so attractive? 


FUALAAU:  Yes or who I am, I believe that I‘m not really that good looking so I ask myself that all the time.  Like what‘s the deal here?  Why does she love me or why does she say she is in love with me and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She said basically you were old beyond your years, wise beyond your years, very strong, very smart and that there was an instant attraction. 

FUALAAU:  I wouldn‘t say it like that. 


ABRAMS:  Joining me in a moment is Vili Fualaau‘s attorney, Scott Stewart, and Anne Bremner who has struck up a friendship with Mary Kay Letourneau and spoke with her just before her release. 

All right, Anne Bremner, let me start with you first.  Look, Vili Fualaau is the one petitioning the court.  He‘s saying I‘m yes the victim legally but I want to be able to see her.  Does Mary Kay Letourneau want to be with him now? 

ANNE BREMNER, FRIEND OF MARY KAY LETOURNEAU:  Yes and Dan remember, you covered our civil trial.  I defended the police department when Vili and his mother sued the police and the school district in a 10-week long trial asking for damages.  That‘s how I got to know Mary Kay Letourneau.  She was aligned...

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let‘s focus on what—does she want to see Vili? 

BREMNER:  Absolutely. 


BREMNER:  She loves him.  To her, this has been Romeo and Juliette.  She is the Joan of Arc of forbidden love and she absolutely does want to see him.  To her it‘s eternal and seven years didn‘t make a difference. 

ABRAMS:  Scott Stewart, you were the one who went into court on Vili Fualaau‘s behalf said to the judge, what?  What did you say to the judge about why they should be together?

SCOTT STEWART, VILI FUALAAU‘S ATTORNEY:  Well I didn‘t actually go into court.  I filed a motion.  Technically Vili is not a party.  It‘s the state of Washington v. Mary Kay Letourneau.  Vili needed to initiate the action in order to have the no contact order brought back in front of the occur, but once I filed the motion it was turned over to the prosecutor and the—actually Mary Kay at that point.

ABRAMS:  But he had to—Vili Fualaau had to say, as the victim, as a legal Matter, that I want this to move forward, right? 

STEWART:  You bet.  You bet.  And what Vili said is I‘m 21 and as a 21-year-old adult, I want to be able to associate with Mary Kay. 

ABRAMS:  And it seems pretty clear to me—I mean you know look, I spoke with Vili‘s friend, Noel, this afternoon and...


ABRAMS:  ... he was with Vili.  The moment he found out—I must have spoken with them, I‘d say, I don‘t know, 10 minutes after they found out.  He said Vili was in the bathroom crying because he was so happy. 

STEWART:  It was, you know, you win jury trials and get reactions from your clients.  I was in the Regional Justice Center, which is one of our courthouses over here, and I stepped out from a felony hearing, nothing was going on, and I had the benefit of receiving a phone call from the prosecutor confirming that the judge had signed the order.  I immediately called Vili, he was so ecstatic.  He was thrilled, screaming.  It was—believe it or not, it‘s raining in Seattle, I ran next door to my office, I got soaked on the way, got a copy of the order, read it to him and it was a continuous—just thrilled that he now has an opportunity to have contact with Mary.

ABRAMS:  I mean his friend was telling me he was so excited he was throwing up before he was heading to the airport today. 

STEWART:  Of course—I didn‘t have the opportunity to witness that, of course, but he was very excited on the phone. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  And Anne Bremner, do you have any sense of what Mary Kay Letourneau‘s reaction is going to be? 

BREMNER:  Well, you know she still wears—they had their own wedding ceremony and she still wears the ring inscribed with the song, “I‘ll Be There”, you know Michael Jackson, and I think that she, of course, will look forward to seeing him and she has always said that they would be back together.  We said it in our case that nothing would keep them apart.

ABRAMS:  More now of Matt Lauer‘s interview with Vili Fualaau. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When you think about spending time with Mary now, I mean, what would you love to do on the first evening you two get to see each other? 

FUALAAU:  I want to go on a boat cruise, maybe to the Bahamas or something or Miami.  I don‘t know somewhere tropical, really hot or maybe somewhere really cold. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think it will be hard to talk after seven years?  I mean so much has happened in both of your lives. 

FUALAAU:  I don‘t think it would.  If anything, I will be more talkative when she gets out because I was really happy when she was out and we were together.  I was really happy and when she was separated from me, I was very down, you know, I didn‘t want to talk to anybody.  I couldn‘t look anybody in the eye.  I couldn‘t explain myself.  Always depressed. 


ABRAMS:  Scott, this—you listen to Vili Fualaau talk about it, he sounds—he is a man.  I mean he‘s a 21-year-old man.  Do you have any reservations about him as—you know, look, you‘re his lawyer...


ABRAMS:  ... but in these kinds of cases lawyers have a tendency to take on with younger clients as sort of paternal role at times.  Do you have any concerns about him jumping back into a relationship with Mary Kay? 

STEWART:  Well, you know I‘ve obviously read the newspapers and such and all the concerns about the things that Vili has gone through over the past couple of years.  In my contact with Vili, he has been quiet, I think as you are hearing some of his responses with Matt Lauer, but he has been mature, he‘s been articulate and I think he‘s been very sincere in his desire to get together with her.  And look, he is an adult and I think as an adult, if it‘s a mistake, it‘s a mistake, but it‘s a mistake that adults get to make.  I hope it‘s not a mistake.  I hope they live happily ever after, but that‘s for time to tell I supposed.

ABRAMS:  More—let me play one more piece of sound from Matt‘s interview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And it‘s been a struggle through this whole time? 

FUALAAU:  Yes, through seven years, but I made it through.  I‘ve—

I‘m surprised I‘m still alive. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you really? 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You really thought there were times where...

FUALAAU:  I thought sometimes, you know, like—I‘m just going to give up, you know.  I can‘t deal with these depressions, emotions any more. 


ABRAMS:  Anne Bremner, very quickly, they literally haven‘t spoken in seven years? 

BREMNER:  There were some phone calls from the prison early on but she was put in isolation for those. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.  All right.  Anne Bremner and Scott Stewart, as I said before, you know I think at this point there was nothing else the judge could do.  He had to lift this order and I‘m glad that he did. 

But coming up, we‘re going to ask a different question.  Now we know Vili Fualaau and Mary Kay Letourneau will be seeing each other again, but is it really in Vili‘s best interests?  We‘ll ask a psychologist.

Later, new details about the evidence Scott Peterson‘s lawyers hope will clear him.  It was important enough for the judge to call for a recess in the trial. 

And on a day when we learn about—more about al Qaeda‘s plot against American institutions, we talk exclusively with Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno.  Her first interview in nearly two years and her first chance to publicly respond to the 9/11 Commission report.

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


ABRAMS:  Coming up, she spent more than seven years in prison for having sex with her 12-year-old student, now a judge says Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau can be together again.  The question—is it really the best thing for him?



FUALAAU:  People are telling me, Vili, you are very young, very handsome guy.  There‘s a lot of other girls out there.  Don‘t dwell in this relationship because it‘s making you sad, I hate to see you sad like this.  So you know try, try the relationships, try to make yourself happy and I have and other relationships haven‘t made me happy. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re talking about today‘s ruling from a Seattle judge that allows former elementary school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her now adult former student to see each other again, lifting a no order—no contact order between the two.  Of course, they had had a sexual relationship when he was 12 in school.  The question now is this a good idea?  Is it really in the best interest of Vili, Mary Kay, their two children for them to be together? 

I‘m joined now by Psychologist Robert Butterworth.  All right, Dr.  Butterworth, what‘s the problem?  I mean look, I understand the problem with an adult woman having sex with a 12-year-old boy.  I mean that‘s obvious.  The question is now, he is 21, they have two kids, they want to be together, psychologically a bad move? 

ROBERT BUTTERWORTH, PSYCHOLOGIST:  Well you know Dan, I agree with you but mine is a minority position.  Most shrinks are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) saying today this is not a good idea because they feel that he‘s still traumatized.  He‘s still under some type of psychological brainwashing and what‘s happening is that he‘s just reliving the traumatic experience that he experienced when he was younger. 

ABRAMS:  But wouldn‘t he realize that?  I mean isn‘t there some way to just say to people, the same way a lot of people get into bad relationships.  He is now 21 -- again, I‘m not talking about when he was 12.  I‘m talking about that.  That people get into bad relationships sometimes and it takes them being together to realize it.

BUTTERWORTH:  Yes, I think we need to let this thing play out because you know I keep remembering that psychological expression.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  They both have fantasies of what it‘s going to really be like for them to be together.  But you know who knows what‘s really going to happen.  I‘m sure the Vegas odd makers are saying that there is no way this will have a sustaining relationship, but they need to play it out.  He‘s an adult.  It‘s the victim making the decision and let‘s see what happens.  The positive side is if they can work it out, who benefits?  Not just them, but the kids. 

ABRAMS:  Here is what Vili Fualaau—again continuing with more of the interview with Matt Lauer—said about the idea of them getting married. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s the one thing you think people would be most surprised to find out about you and then what‘s the one thing people would be most surprised to find out about Mary Kay?

FUALAAU:  Well now, if we‘re still in love and if we‘re going to get married.  I think that would be a surprise. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s your hope?  I mean, when you think of a happy ending here, do you think it‘s possible first of all, to have a happy ending? 

FUALAAU:  I don‘t like to believe in that.  I like to believe, you know, whatever happens, happens.  You know whatever goes, goes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But if you had a version of a happy ending, would it include marrying Mary Kay and living happily ever after with Audrey and Alexis? 

FUALAAU:  I would really like that, to be with her and to start off where we left off.  And, you know, do the things that we said we were going to do. 


ABRAMS:  You know Dr. Butterworth, this is—I have talked to Vili.  He is a mature—even for a 21-year-old, he‘s a mature guy.  I‘m just as concerned with her.  I‘m actually more concerned about how she is going to react than how he‘s going to react.  Am I crazy on this? 

BUTTERWORTH:  No, because you know he is—you can tell by the words and the body language, there is still some uncertainties.  He keeps using a lot of if‘s and you can tell that there is a lot of anticipation.  But you know all along during this trial people have called her a pedophile.  Well if she‘s truly a pedophile, he is 21, she won‘t be attracted.  Now if she‘s not and this was just an aberration, the relationship should move on.  Only -- you know, with this situation only time will tell and if the victim is saying I want to take a chance and he is 21 and mature, as I said before, let‘s just give it a try.  Even though, again, most of the mental health community are up in arms about this. 

ABRAMS:  And very quickly, Scott Stewart, I asked you to stick around, the attorney for Vili Fualaau.  If you were to ask him what is it about her that you like so much, what would he say? 

STEWART:  You know I don‘t know that I could answer that.  We didn‘t get into that.  I—my knowledge of Vili‘s relationship with Mary Kay comes from what I saw over the media.  He got hooked up pretty young.  It‘s pretty apparent from listening to the taped interview with Matt Lauer that he simply finds her attractive and finds her interesting. 


STEWART:  He‘s—I agree with you, he‘s a mature, bright, well spoken young man and you don‘t hear from him someone that says that they are going to live happily ever after.  You hear from him someone who says...

ABRAMS:  That‘s right.  Yes.

STEWART:  ... let‘s see where it takes us and I think...

ABRAMS:  All right.

STEWART:  ... that‘s probably the correct direction for him to be looking. 

ABRAMS:  Scott Stewart, thanks a lot for spending the extra time to stick around. 

STEWART:  No problem.

ABRAMS:  Dr. Butterworth, thank you.  Appreciate it. 

Coming up, the Scott Peterson trial.  New details about that—quote

·         “new evidence” that‘s delayed the trial. 

We‘ll be talking exclusively with former Attorney General Janet Reno, get her take on the 9/11 Commission report and whether she believed her administration deserves any blame. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The biggest misunderstanding was understanding how important it was for the Attorney General to be immediately involved, directly involved following the events, developing information during the course of those months leading up to September the 11th.  That‘s key to it all.


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  New details about what evidence caused a delay in Scott Peterson‘s murder trial.  His defense attorney says it might even help clear his client. 


MARK GERAGOS, SCOTT PETERSON‘S ATTORNEY:  Judge Delucchi recessed until Tuesday specifically so that this new, potentially exculpatory evidence could be examined.


ABRAMS:  Potentially exculpatory.  Anything you have not seen is potentially exculpatory.  So what is it?  Duct tape and other items found near the remains of Laci Peterson, according to the “San Francisco Chronicle” today.  Apparently Modesto police never tested the tape found near the body.  Remember duct tape was also found on her maternity pants.  That piece, however, was tested.

My take—this will likely turn out to be a whole lot of nothing.  The defense should have the time to investigate and now they have it, but I will be stunned if that tape has a fingerprint that matches a Modesto transient.  Let‘s bring in our legal team—former San Diego district attorney and MSNBC analyst Paul Pfingst and criminal defense attorney Demaurice Smith.  Thanks to both of you.

All right, Mr. Smith, let me start with you.  How big a deal is this?  I mean is it just impossible to know or does the fact that the judge is delaying it for this many days tell you something? 

DEMAURICE SMITH, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  It tells me something, Dan, because it is extremely unusual to have a break in the evidence, not so much if it‘s correct that it‘s the duct tape, not so much because we have found new evidence.  But here the judge is allowing for a delay so that pieces of evidence that could have been known by both sides should be tested.  And I find that to be a little strange.  In my experience, being a prosecutor for 10 years, I have never had that happen. 

ABRAMS:  Paul.

PAUL PFINGST, FMR. SAN DIEGO DISTRICT ATTORNEY:   In a death penalty case, Dan, the defense has the judge really at a disadvantage because if the judge does not grant a request and Scott Peterson goes on to be convicted, it will be the number one exhibit in the appeal.  And since it is a death penalty case, the standard for appeal is very, very tight and so the judge really has to give them a chance.  But you are right, Dan, this is going to turn out to be a lot of nothing, just as we have been down this path, I think before with Mark Geragos promising to reveal the true killer time and time again. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Smith, this, more importantly to me, is just—and look it‘s not—there is no indication the prosecutors—quote—“did anything wrong this time around”, but I think it‘s a disadvantage for the prosecutors, every time this trial is stopped and delayed and then they start again and they don‘t work on Fridays and they have half days sometimes.  I mean it seems to me the longer this case is drawn out, the longer the cross-examinations take, the better it is for Scott Peterson. 

SMITH:  Look, Dan, I can‘t agree with you more but the one thing that I will have to point out here is each and every delay, so far, has been a delay that has been caused by some sort of malfeasance or something wrong that the prosecutors have done in this case.  They have failed to turn over evidence at times.  Just recently, the judge has stricken testimony from a witness for failure to turn over evidence.  One of the things that the prosecutor have to do in this case, and I think every good prosecutor would do, you set out the case and you turn over the information you have to turn over because ever prosecutor knows that the best thing going for them in a case like this is momentum...


SMITH:  Build a strong case at the beginning and push that case through to the end. 

ABRAMS:  Paul Pfingst, I mean do you agree with me on this...

PFINGST:  Dan, I can‘t argue with that. 


PFINGST:  The fact of the matter is if you are a prosecutor, especially Dan, in a circumstantial evidence case, momentum is a big part of the effectiveness of your presentation.  And if you keep jumping around from place to place and stopping and starting again, you are in big trouble.  And this probably was the prosecution‘s biggest roll in the last week.  They were starting to get some traction, build up a sense of momentum and now I think that has been hurt. 

ABRAMS:  You know look, you know—you were a former D.A. in San Diego...


ABRAMS:  ... all of you big time, big mocker D.A.s know each other out there and you guys all go to meetings together and talk and stuff.  Have you gotten a chance to talk to the D.A. Jim Brazelton about how things have been going?  And look, everyone is saying that this prosecution team is not doing such a fantastic job.  He‘s got to know that.

PFINGST:  Well, I think obviously it‘s all over the television.  No, I haven‘t spoke spoken to Jim in the past many months.  I spoke to him last year about the case.  But some of the things, frankly, are beyond their control.  I mean the fact is most delays happen not because of the prosecutors, but because the investigators don‘t turn over things on time or do things they are supposed to do and then the prosecution bears the brunt of it and some of that has happened here... 


PFINGST:  ... that the prosecution has had to take the weight for some of the mistakes in the police department, in the Modesto Police Department.  And that‘s just the tough job of being a prosecutor. 

ABRAMS:  Well next week will be a big week...


ABRAMS:  ... Amber Frey on the witness stand on Tuesday we‘re expecting and I will be there in Redwood City to cover the week—I‘ll actually be there Monday, Megan (ph) is reminding me, I‘ll be there on Monday for the whole week. 

Paul Pfingst, De Smith, thanks a lot for coming on the program.

SMITH:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.

PFINGST:  Bye, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a major break it seems in the war on terror.  Authorities now think one of the men arrested in London this week was the leader of a possible plot to attack financial institutions in the U.S., the one that led to the rising of the terror alert recently.

And another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive, Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno joins us to talk about the war on terror and whether she deserves any blame for 9/11.

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com, read them at the end of the show.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, it seems like a huge arrest in the war on terror.  Did authorities avert another possible attack?  Plus, my exclusive interview with former Attorney General Janet Reno.  First the headlines. 


ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  New information tonight about what is turning out to be a significant development in the war on terror.  Turns out one of the 12 men arrested on Tuesday in England with suspected ties to al Qaeda, believed to be responsible for the surveillance on the five financial buildings in the Northeast, we heard about earlier this week. 

NBC‘s Pete Williams has more. 


PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The discover of those extensive surveillance files found on a lab top computer in Pakistan is what led to the recent threat warning in parts of New York City, Washington, D.C. and Newark, New Jersey and U.S. officials now believe the man who wrote them is Esa al-Hindi, a top al Qaeda figure in Europe recently arrested during a roundup of terror suspects in England. 

NBC News has learned that officials now believe al-Hindi is the same person referred to by a different name, Issa al Britani, in the 9/11 Commission report.  That report says al Britani was sent to New York City to case—quote—“potential economic and Jewish targets.”  And a 9/11 report says al Britani came to the U.S. in early 2001, the very time when intelligence officials say their surveillance material found in Pakistan was first put together.  Officials believe al Britani is al-Hindi and had been serving as a key link in al Qaeda leaders from Pakistan to al Qaeda cells in the west.  That computer found in Pakistan is generating important leads. 

JAMES COMEY, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We got a lot of people who are tired because they‘ve worked so hard and they‘re out there redoubling it.

WILLIAMS (on camera):  Earlier this week, a senior administration official here in the U.S. said that al-Hindi was not cooperating with his interrogators, that the hope is he‘ll help reveal whether the plan he compiled was still active or not. 

Pete Williams NBC News, Washington. 


ABRAMS:  Thanks Pete. 

The new information we are learning about al-Hindi just caps off quite a week in counterterrorism here in the U.S. and abroad.  Let‘s go through some of it.

Last Sunday, Department of Homeland Security raised the terror alert to high for five financial institutions in New York, New Jersey and Washington. 

The next day, heavy police presence on the streets in New York, Newark and D.C.. 

Late Tuesday night, British authorities arrest 12 men believed to be plotting terrorist attacks in England and elsewhere.  One of them released without charges as it turns out today. 

But on Wednesday, two leaders of a mosque in Albany were arrested on charge stemming from an alleged plot to purchase a shoulder-fired missile. 

Yesterday authorities in Chicago arrested a man accused of plotting to blow up a federal courthouse with a fertilizer bomb.

And later U.S. officials announce that one of the men arrested in England on Tuesday is top al Qaeda figure Esa al-Hindi. 

And this morning an arrest warrant unsealed that reveals that another person arrested in England this week, Babar Ahmad is suspected of trying to raise money for terrorist acts through Web sites based in Connecticut.

It‘s one of those issues where I defer to the experts.  Joining me tonight is terrorism expert M.J. Gohel, CEO of the international intelligence think tank, the Asia Pacific Foundation.  Thank you very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it. 

Give me a sense...


ABRAMS:  ... do we know—we know that these two were connected, meaning the raid in Pakistan and the arrests in England.  Did one lead to the other as far as we know? 

GOHEL:  Actually, the reality is that the British operation has been running since March of this year.  In March, the British security services arrested approximately eight Pakistanis and seized about half a ton of in a ammonium nitrate.  This is a substance, which can be used to make explosives. 

So, this was an ongoing operation and in fact, the 9/11 Commission and the U.S. had mentioned al Britani, who‘s also known as al-Hindi and this information had been passed on to British authorities.  So this man was already under surveillance.  And I don‘t think that it has a lot to do with information from Pakistan, as indeed Pakistan‘s own interior minister admitted yesterday. 

ABRAMS:  So it‘s really—it‘s just a coincidence, the fact that they obtained this information in Pakistan, which indicates that certain people were casing financial institutions in New York, and then as it so happens, the same week, the person who cased those buildings is arrested in England? 

GOHEL:  Well, I think the fact is that a lot of these extremists, especially if they come from the same country—and in this instance, all the people arrested in the U.K. are of Pakistani origin, there are bound to be linkages.  They‘re bound to be cooperating with each other because this is what extremists do.  And indeed, some additional information may have come from Pakistan, but as I said, this was an ongoing operation in the U.K. and no one in the U.K. has officially admitted or accepted that they received any kind of significant information from Pakistan. 

ABRAMS:  So put it all into perspective for us for a moment.  How significant is the Pakistani information and the arrests in England in terms of the global war on terror? 

GOHEL:  Every arrest is important.  It‘s important to get every single bad guy out of circulation.  But we must I think maintain some sense of balance about this.  The people arrested are really mid level operatives.  They are not in the same category as say Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was arrested by the CIA and FBI in Rawalpindi in March of last year or Abu Zubaydah or Ramzi Binalshibh.  They were all arrested last year in Pakistan by the CIA and FBI. 

I think what‘s more significant here is that all these characters seem to be living and sometimes quite openly in Pakistani cities and not in the tribal areas or in south Waziristan or along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where most of the attention has been focused.  And one has to wonder why do these people insist on living in Pakistani cities in the middle of a war on terrorism when General Musharraf of Pakistan is supposed to be shoulder to shoulder with George Bush in this war.

ABRAMS:  Interesting stuff.  M.J. Gohel, thank you very much for taking the time.  Appreciate it. 

GOHEL:  My pleasure. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, my exclusive interview with former Attorney General Janet Reno. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What led to 9/11 was a failure on the part of the people involved at the time, faced with the information they were receiving from around the world. 


ABRAMS:  Her thoughts on the war on terror, John Ashcroft, and whether she deserves any blame for not doing enough before 9/11 -- up next. 


ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  When the 9/11 Commission held public hearings last spring, Attorney General John Ashcroft said a big share of the blame for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks should be placed on the Clinton administration, specifically the Justice Department headed by Janet Reno.

Ashcroft said Reno‘s DOJ had erected a legal wall between intelligence agents and criminal investigators.  A wall that kept them from working together to fight the terror threat.

Well earlier today I spoke with former Attorney General Reno, her first interview in nearly two years.  She had a lot to say about what she did to fight terror, her problems with the Patriot Act and some of the mistakes she says were made by the Bush administration, John Ashcroft, and she also talked about her battle with Parkinson‘s disease.  My first question, what she thinks about the recent terror warnings and the government‘s sometimes criticized color-coded threat chart.


JANET RENO, CLINTON ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I think the color codings are confusing and I think the most important thing we can do is to give the public as much information, the facts, not just judgments based on colors. 

ABRAMS:  You testified in front of the 9/11 Commission and before I get to reading to you a portion of that report that referred to you, I want you to listen to something that Attorney General Ashcroft had said about your administration and I want you to respond. 

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The simple fact of September 11 is this.  We did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies.  Our agents were isolated by government-imposed walls, handcuffed by government-imposed restrictions, and starved for basic information technology.  The old national intelligence system in place on September 11 was destined to fail. 

ABRAMS:  For nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to our enemies.  It sure sounds like he is talking about your administration. 

RENO:  He‘s simply mistaken. 

ABRAMS:  And what was your response in general to Attorney General Ashcroft‘s testimony in front of the 9/11 Commission? 

RENO:  I have not heard it all so I can‘t judge it in context, but what I have heard indicates a lack of understanding of what was done and what the issues were and what needs to be done in the future. 

ABRAMS:  Specifically, what do you think was the biggest misunderstanding? 

RENO:  I think the biggest misunderstanding was understanding how important it was for the attorney general to be immediately involved, directly involved, following the events, developing information during the course of those months leading up to September 11.  That‘s key to it all.  It is—you can‘t sit on the sidelines and make sure that people coordinate their efforts. 

ABRAMS:  Let me read from the 9/11 Commission report and one of the portions that referred specifically to you. 

Attorney General Reno issued formal procedures aimed at managing information sharing between Justice Department prosecutors and the FBI.  These procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied.  As a result, there was far less information sharing and coordination between the FBI and the criminal division than was allowed.

Your response.

RENO:  I think much was done to target al Qaeda, but what the bureau had to development was the capacity to identity what information it had, share it within the bureau, automate itself so that it could take advantage of cyber technology to identify information and to bring it together.  But the technology doesn‘t help if people aren‘t trained to share information and I think that was what the challenge the bureau faced.  I think that‘s the major challenge it faced. 

ABRAMS:  Did you, though, I mean specifically in your role as attorney general, specifically in the decisions that you had to make, did you make major mistakes in terms of not recognizing the threat that al Qaeda posed? 

RENO:  I go back over everything that I could have done and I don‘t see that I in any way minimized the threat of al Qaeda.  It was constantly before us.  We pursued it as vigorously as possible.  I sometimes worked late into the night, made myself available to FBI agents when there were critical issues involved.  I constantly checked with the bureau to see whether they were reaching out to all their offices around the world.  I pursued every lead that I could, trying to make sure that we were prepared. 

ABRAMS:  And what is your reaction to those who have just come out and blamed the Clinton administration, your role as attorney general, for allowing things to get to the point that they did and they say, which led to 9/11? 

RENO:  Nobody has indicated to me what led to 9/11 occurred previously.  What led to 9/11 was a failure on the part of the people involved at the time, faced with the information they were receiving from around the world, faced with the fact that there might well be a threat against the United States.  And anybody who looked at the intelligence information that had been received before and after should have been prepared and cognizance of the fact that there could be an attack on the United States. 

ABRAMS:  How is John Ashcroft doing as attorney general? 

RENO:  I have not been briefed on all the issues that he has to deal with so I couldn‘t really comment. 

ABRAMS:  How about as a layperson, as someone who is looking from the outside, reading the papers, getting a sense of what policies he has pursued, et cetera? 

RENO:  I think Mr. Ashcroft set a tone for the Justice Department when he suggested early on in an appearance before the Judiciary Committee that people who disagreed with what the administration was doing were somehow lesser patriots. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you about the Patriot Act.  You are supportive, are you not, of almost all the provision of the Patriot Act. 

RENO:  I had advocated when I was in Washington for many of the provisions—excuse me—many of the provisions of the Patriot Act.  But I think it‘s important to understand that there are other provisions with respect to search issues that give me cause for concern, and I think they could be addressed if we would only sit down and talk them out. 

ABRAMS:  You have lived much of your life in the state of Florida, and I don‘t need to tell you, in the last election, there was a lot of concern about the voting procedures in the state of Florida.  Do you have confidence that this time around there won‘t be those sorts of problems? 

RENO:  I think Florida, because the election was so close here and it was such a critical state has had attention focused on it.  But I think other parts of the nation have got to recognize that with machine voting, with other issues, when the elections get close, the tension is going to be focused. 

ABRAMS:  How is your health?  How are you doing? 

RENO:  This hand wiggles every now and then when my medication is towards the end of the day.  And this handwriting is sometime illegible but otherwise I‘m fine. 

ABRAMS:  And your plans for the future? 

RENO:  Well, I‘m still trying to perfect my Eskimo roll, but I‘m still good at getting out of a kayak and I love kayaking in white water.

ABRAMS:  Janet Reno, former attorney general, thank you so much for taking time to come on the program. 

RENO:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  We appreciate it. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, a lot of angry e-mails about my interview last night with the friend of the student who had sex with his teacher and about that young man‘s desire to be with Mary Kay Letourneau.  Not that man, but his friend.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, why I hope the administration is doing everything possible to keep someone who helped make 9/11 happen behind bars.  I‘ll explain it.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”, coming up.


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why I hope the administration is doing everything possible to keep someone who helped make 9/11 happen behind bars.  Mounir Motassadeq was convicted in Germany of 3,000 counts of accessory to murder, the only person convicted for helping the 9/11 hijackers achieve their mission.  He lived with 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta and with Ramzi Binalshibh believed to have been the architect of the attack.

He trained in al Qaeda camps, sent money to the hijackers, even paid some of their expenses.  He was convicted of all those counts and sentenced to the max, 15 years.  But then he appealed and won and was set free.  The reason—the German court ruled his lawyers should have been able to question his former roommate, Binalshibh, who is now in U.S. Custody.  Binalshibh has reportedly said Motassadeq wasn‘t involved. 

Well the U.S. government has lots of good reasons not to allow defense attorneys access to someone like Ramzi Binalshibh while he‘s still being interrogated, but the prospect of this guy going free should be an incentive to make some compromises.  There are other options.  Letting the German judges question him briefly or more likely just provide transcripts, even just some transcripts, whatever would be the minimum possible that would satisfy the German courts. 

Look, all those options have downsized when it comes to the government‘s effort to get as much as possible from Binalshibh.  But this is a guy who would be a danger to the U.S. if he‘s released permanently.  German prosecutors have said that without some access to Binalshibh the defendant probably won‘t be convicted of the accessory to murder charge again. 

It‘s a global war on terror, one we can‘t win without the help of other nations.  Their terrorists are our terrorists.  And I just hope the administration is serious about doing everything possible, even if it means making some sacrifices to keep this guy locked up. 

I‘ve had my say.  Now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night I interviewed a good friend of Vili Fualaau about the release from prison of his former teacher, Mary Kay Letourneau.  They had sex when he was 12.  She was released after serving seven years for child rape.  Vili now wants to see her again and he will, according to a judge. 

Debbie Anderson from Illinois, “Your interview with the friend of Mary Kay Letourneau‘s victim was absurd.  You both discussed the situation as if there was some great romance, but she‘s a convicted child rapist and pedophile.  If the situation were reversed and Mary was the victim, you and other media journalists would be treating this from a totally different perspective.”

Well Debbie, it‘s true, as a society I think many view a boy with a woman differently.  But remember, I interviewed the—quote—“victim‘s best friend,” the victim.  It sounds like you think I should go out of my way to be kind to the victim because according to you he‘s a victim. 

Andrea Bond writes, “Vili wants to see her now—wants to see her again now.  Seems to me just another example of the kind of issues and scars victims of such crimes carry with them into the future.”

Maybe so, Andrea, but look, they have two children.  That‘s a fact.  The question for me is what is best for those children.  It sounds like many of you are saying it would be better for the children if they weren‘t together even if they believe they‘re in love.  I don‘t know.  I‘m not saying I condone the relationship.  I‘m just saying that you know you got to make some choices here. 

The Scott Peterson case yesterday reported there‘s a delay so Peterson‘s attorney, Mark Geragos, can examine evidence. 

Barbara Torres writes, “Let‘s not blame the prosecutors for this week‘s vacation from court.  There‘s no new evidence that‘s going to set his client free.  Every Thursday Geragos throws up smoke and mirrors.”

Patty Matthews from Oklahoma.  “To our knowledge the prosecution did absolutely nothing wrong today concerning this evidence Geragos received two days ago and now wants tested.  Yet, your entire discussion was ragging on the prosecution.  Why?”

Because I have no confidence in them. 

Finally, in our let‘s be pandemic file we covered the story of the angry man that took a hostage and demanded that a judge resign.  She pretended to do just that, a hoax on TV.  He released the hostage. 

Rather than writing about our segment, George Myers from Rhode Island, “Your banner on tonight‘s show reads “Hoax Frees Hostage” just illustrates the state of grammar these days.  A hoax is a situation not a person.  A hoax cannot free a hostage.  Only the person perpetrating the hoax can free a hostage.”

Well thanks, George.  In our banner we can only use three words, OK.  So if you understand what the story is about, we‘ve overcome a far more difficult hurdle.  Grammatical accuracy is the easy part.  I guess we‘ll leave that stuff to you and we‘ll count on you correcting us. 

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  I go through them at the end of the show.

Thanks for watching.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. 

Remember, next week I will be in Redwood City, California.  Amber Frey, Scott Peterson‘s girlfriend on the witness stand in that case. 

See you then.


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