updated 9/30/2004 10:58:31 AM ET 2004-09-30T14:58:31

Guests: Dean Johnson, Rikki Klieman, Leslie Crocker Snyder, Yale Galanter, Gerardo Greco, Clint Van Zandt

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, the defense in the Scott Peterson case sneaking in alternate theories of how Laci might have been murdered. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  The lead detective admits they waited to question at least four witnesses who thought they saw Laci the day she vanished, including one who says he saw a woman who looked like her being forced into a van. 

Plus, two Italian hostages held by Iraqi terrorists are freed.  Some in the Italian government say it cost them $1 million ransom.  This as a new video is released of a British hostage pleading with Tony Blair.  Won‘t payoffs and public pressure on leaders just mean there‘ll be more kidnappings?  And might it spread beyond Iraq? 

And with the rules for the upcoming debate stricter than most courtrooms, how might the candidates still manage to let loose a zinger?  We‘ll ask people who spend their lives arguing cases, our legal team. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, Scott Peterson‘s defense team continues its assault on the prosecution case.  From abduction theories to Laci sightings to mysterious vans, a lot about what the prosecution did not do in this investigation came out in court today. 

We get the latest from Edie Lambert of NBC affiliate KCRA who is at the courthouse.  Hi Edie.

EDIE LAMBERT, KCRA REPORTER:  Hi Dan.  A seventh day of questioning for the lead detective in this case, Craig Grogan, and as you mentioned, he faced some pretty blistering questions, again, from the defense which wrapped up the cross-examination today.  A real wild-ranging series of questions, but they did focus very intently on people who thought they saw Laci or a van near Laci‘s home in the hours and days after Laci‘s disappearance. 

The most interesting of these witnesses is someone we‘ve discussed on this program before, a man who thought that he saw Laci first crouching near a van, and then looking afraid as she was forced into the van by a man.  And under cross-examination, Detective Grogan admitted that witness was not interviewed until May of this year.  We were already well into jury selection at that point. 

Now, this is one of several possible abduction theories that we‘ve heard so far and just this week, I‘d like to run down the list of what we‘ve heard so far.  You may remember it could have been a case of mistaken identity, a woman who looked a little like Laci, lived in the same neighborhood.  She was a deputy D.A. and someone had a death threat against her.  Maybe this was a case of mistaken identity.

It could have been a neighbor.  Kim McGregor, who broke into the Peterson home and stole clothes, perhaps she brought those clothes to the people who held Laci.  Again, we heard today about suspicious men in a van, and in the past we‘ve heard about all the homeless people in the neighborhood who could have targeted Laci for her jewelry or her baby, and also, all the registered sex offenders who were not investigated thoroughly enough. 

Again, Dan, the defense questioning has been very wide ranging today.  I don‘t have time to hit all the points, but one interesting point that Mark Geragos was able to bring out is that Grogan admitted that police talked about doing a test on the Peterson‘s boat, throwing a weight over the side of the boat, the same weight as Laci to see if the boat would capsize.  They decided not to do that.  As you know if they‘d done it and the test failed, they would have had to share that information with the defense. 

And an interesting point for the prosecution came from a witness who was taken out of order.  A San Diego sheriff‘s deputy involved in surveillance said Scott walked up to his car and said which agency are you with, state or local?  And there goes the explanation that all of Scott‘s erratic driving came because he was expecting that these people following him were in the media. 

So right now the prosecution questioning of Grogan continues.  Back to you.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Edie Lambert, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it as always.

“My Take”—a lot of might have, could have, should have with regard to the investigation, but, you know what?  No one is saying is the reason that they stopped investigating so much is because they believe they had a really strong case against Scott Peterson.  Is that so bad? 

Joining me now to answer that question, former New York state judge, NBC News analyst Leslie Crocker Snyder, criminal defense attorneys Rikki Klieman and Yale Galanter and in court all day today was former San Mateo County prosecutor Dean Johnson. 

Dean, you know, they make it sound like there was so much that the prosecutors or the police should have, could have done that they didn‘t do.  Is it as bad as it sounds? 

DEAN JOHNSON, FMR. SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  It really isn‘t.  I mean, you have to look at it against the background of what was done, and Grogan‘s testimony is pretty clear there was something like 32,000 pages of reports, 15 or 20 different agencies that were involved, thousands and thousands of police-hours following up just about every lead that they could.  This was not a rush to judgment by any means.  Eventually they did settle down and they listed their 41 reasons why they thought Scott had done it and why he put the bodies in the bay.  As far as the bodies being in the bay, the bottom line is they turned out to be right. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and that‘s, Rikki, what they‘re focusing on now.  They‘re going through cross-examining Grogan about whether the 41 reasons that they had for why they thought they‘d find the body in the bay were sort of illegitimate or you know may have still proved a rush to judgment.  But as Dean points out, the bottom line is they were right, they found it in the bay. 

RIKKI KLIEMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well they found the bodies in the bay but there‘s another factor here because we know from Geragos‘ cross-examination that they‘re going to have their own expert on the defense side who is going to talk about finding bodies in the bay.  And as a defense lawyer I can think of nothing I would like more for Grogan to say then I have 41 or 86. 

He would have been much better off just saying what they were.  Because if I‘m a defense lawyer like Geragos, I knock them down one by one by one and even if I can‘t get all 41, let‘s say there‘s 36 I knock out, reasonable doubt, reasonable doubt, reasonable doubt, reasonable doubt...

ABRAMS:  But Leslie, let‘s assume you knock down all 41, the bottom line is you‘re knocking down—you‘re knocking at all these reasons that they were right about.  I mean, it turns out there‘s a fact out there, and the fact is they found the body with their 41 reasons exactly where they thought they were going to find it. 

LESLIE CROCKER SNYDER, FORMER NY STATE JUDGE:  Not just that, Dan.  As we‘ve often discussed on this program, it‘s hardly a rush to judgment to suspect the person who‘s the husband, who‘s the most likely person statistically, who last saw the victim, all of their investigation on a positive note makes sense.  Geragos is very effective at trying to raise possibilities. 

I mean it‘s also possible that the little green men from Mars abducted Laci.  The truth is it‘s only going to be the only reasonable explanation, the bodies were found in the bay.  So I think this may be effective dramatically, but if the prosecution can put it all together at the end, doesn‘t mean anything. 

ABRAMS:  Yale, what do you make of it? 

YALE GALANTER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well Leslie is right.  And the big thing that she said is if they can put it all together. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

GALANTER:  The problem that the prosecution has had in this case, Dan, is they have locked themselves into a theory.  Scott killed during the early morning hours.  They‘ve got three witnesses who say they saw Laci walking the dog between 9:30 and 10:00...

ABRAMS:  Not particularly credible witnesses. 

JOHNSON:  Yale...

GALANTER:  Yes, but it still takes things away from the...

JOHNSON:  Yale, there‘s a big problem with that, though. 

GALANTER:  Hold on, Dean.  The problem, Dan...

JOHNSON:  All right.

GALANTER:  ... is that the prosecutors have locked themselves into a case, and a theory of a case, that has no expansion and no room to maneuver. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s true. 

GALANTER:  And that‘s why Mark‘s doing the excellent job he‘s doing, knocking down all these prosecution theories about the case...

ABRAMS:  Dean, what were you going to say about the three witnesses who say they saw Laci? 

JOHNSON:  The problem with the three witnesses is there are huge problems of credibility with those witnesses.  They identify Laci as wearing an outfit that she clearly wasn‘t wearing.  They locate her at places where she clearly couldn‘t have been.  Some of the locations where these witnesses place Laci are just off the maps that we have in the courtroom.  They can‘t all be right and some of them are clearly wrong. 

ABRAMS:  Let me tell you one of the other things that Mark Geragos snuck in today on the cross-examination of Grogan, and that is what a witness who was hypnotized by the authorities said about what she saw, and, again, Geragos is saying maybe that they should have focused—Diane Jackson, here‘s what we got from the police report.

This is I think our own—we‘ve got the police report here.  This didn‘t come out in court necessarily.  But on 1140 hours on 12/04/02 --

12/24/02, the day that Laci went missing, she drove by 516 Covena.  She saw three short of stature dark-skinned but not African American guys in the front yard of the residence.  The van was parked on the street.  Two of the individuals were standing at the back at the van and one was standing in the front yard near the van.  She first believed the van was white, but upon thinking of it more she thought either a tan or brown-colored van.  It was an older van and it had a door or both doors that opened to the rear.

You know, this sounds great, but if it were so great, Rikki, I would assume they would be just thrilled to call Diane Jackson to the witness stand. 

KLIEMAN:  Well, it‘s really questionable, Dan, how it got into evidence at all today...

ABRAMS:  Right.

KLIEMAN:  ... because it‘s about triple hearsay.  But nonetheless, it‘s in.  And I don‘t know if they have to call Diane Jackson because...

ABRAMS:  No way.

KLIEMAN:  ... one of the things Geragos wants to simply do is just raise the doubt.  Why wasn‘t this followed up?  Didn‘t this mean something to you?  And if I can just add quickly, Dan, one of the things Geragos, as soon as he knew about it, should have led with in this case, is the mistaken identity.  That‘s powerful because that assistant D.A. was threatened, and then when with the guy who threatened her doesn‘t show up for a meeting, they don‘t follow it up.  That‘s powerful...

ABRAMS:  Rikki is talking about a D.A. who called in and said hey, you know what, I just want to give you a heads up.  I was pregnant and I think someone was threatening my life.  She was pregnant in October.  There‘s no evidence that she had anything to do with this...

CROCKER SNYDER:  You know Dan...

ABRAMS:  Let me take a quick break here.  I‘ll come right back. 

Everyone‘s sticking around. 

And coming up, we‘ve got another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive.  We‘ve got the polygraph results from a woman who broke into the Peterson‘s home just weeks after Laci went missing.  This as the defense floats the possibility today that she may have been involved in Laci‘s murder. 

And two Italian hostages freed amidst rumors of a ransom payoff.  And a new video shows a British hostage pleading with Prime Minister Tony Blair to help save his life.  Are our allies beginning to blink just as the terrorists hoped? 

Plus, on the eve of the first presidential debate, President Bush and John Kerry are bound by 32 pages of rules, which will almost certainly stifle the debate.  Our legal team weighs in on how to get around it and land a zinger. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of every show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, was the woman who broke into the Petersons‘ home telling the truth when she told police she had nothing to do with Laci‘s disappearance?  We‘ve got the results of her polygraph in just another ABRAMS REPORT exclusive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

SCOTT PETERSON, ON TRIAL FOR MURDER:  I had nothing to do—my God Amber I had nothing to do with her disappearance.

AMBER FREY, SCOTT PETERSON‘S FORMER GIRLFRIEND:  Then who did?

PETERSON:  We don‘t have any ideas.

FREY:  Really.

PETERSON:  There was a robbery here and, you know, there‘s—they have...

FREY:  You think a robber had something to do with her disappearance?

PETERSON:  Across from the house where she disappeared there was a robbery that morning.

FREY:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and...

PETERSON:  Well, obviously...

FREY:  Robbers don‘t steal people, pregnant people for that.

PETERSON:  I‘m telling you the police—those are the leads they‘ve indicated.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Yes, well, I think those are the leads that Scott Peterson was hoping that they were going to follow.  But there was another robbery in addition to that one, and that was someone who went into the Peterson home and stole various items weeks after Laci went missing.  The woman was caught.  Her name was Kimberly Ann McGregor.

She went in.  She made herself a cocktail, hung out at the house for a while, took some items, took a camera.  We have got the results of her polygraph examination from police reports.  Here‘s what they asked her.

Did you cause the disappearance of Laci Peterson?

Her answer:  No.

Do you know for sure who caused the disappearance of Laci Peterson?

No.

Do you know where Laci Peterson is located now?

No.

And following the polygraph examination, a thorough review of the subject‘s polygraph was conducted and it was my opinion that the results of the polygraph were inconclusive; therefore I cannot render an opinion as to the subject‘s truthfulness.

So, you know, this doesn‘t come in, in court, but Dean, are they—is Mark Geragos really trying to suggest that maybe Kim McGregor had something to do with this?

JOHNSON:  Oh, yes, he‘s trying to suggest that along with about a dozen other theories.  And I think the Kim McGregor theory illustrates what‘s wrong with all of these defense theories, is that if you know one fact you can pop that balloon very quickly.  Supposedly, Kim McGregor was involved in the killing of Laci Peterson or her disappearance because she was obsessed with Scott and wanted to replace Laci in his life.  The problem is, Kim had never even met Scott Peterson until after Laci disappeared. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and I think she also had an alibi.  But they say—the point was that they didn‘t follow up enough.  Right, Dean? 

JOHNSON:  Yes.  Well, yes, but believe me, in terms of the drama of the courtroom, the jury is rolling their eyes at these theories.  They know some of them have just been painfully misleading, and it‘s become the theory du-jury (ph) and they just—they‘re laughing at that...

ABRAMS:  Yale, what do you make of that?

JOHNSON:  ... problem for the defense.

GALANTER:  I think Mark‘s doing exactly what he‘s supposed to do.  He is supposed to poke as many holes in the prosecution‘s case as he can and by floating all these various theories, it creates reasonable doubt.  We‘ve got to remember at the end of the day, and we‘re almost at the end of the day, the prosecution has got to get up and say, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have proven this case to you beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt, and if those jurors do not have an abiding conviction of guilt that Scott did it by what they heard in the courtroom, they‘ve got to let him go...

ABRAMS:  Leslie, you know...

GALANTER:  ... so Mark‘s doing his job...

ABRAMS:  Yes, Leslie, every time...

JOHNSON:  The problem...

ABRAMS:  ... yes, hang on a second.  Leslie, every time Yale mentions the word “reasonable” in reasonable doubt, he sort of rolls over it very quickly—reasonable doubt.  It‘s reasonable doubt, right?  I mean...

CROCKER SNYDER:  Well yes, you know, this is a point I‘ve made over and over to you and that I think you agree with.  If the prosecution can put this together properly, they‘ll be emphasizing the judge‘s instruction, which is that circumstantial evidence has to exclude only every reasonable other theory.  In other words, there can only be one reasonable conclusion.

It doesn‘t have to exclude every possibility.  I think Geragos has overstepped himself.  He‘s done a great job in many respects.  He‘s throwing too much—too many red herrings out there, and if the prosecution can articulate its case, there‘s only one reasonable theory, and that‘s Scott Peterson.  So, the others are possibilities...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CROCKER SNYDER:  ... but the law doesn‘t care about possibilities.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Rikki, you know, that makes sense, doesn‘t it? 

KLIEMAN:  Well, of course it makes sense, Dan.  It‘s what the jury instructions say.

JOHNSON:  It happens to be the law.

KLIEMAN:  The reality is that Mark Geragos, I cannot believe, thinks he‘s going to get an acquittal here.  I think Mark Geragos has two goals.  Number one:  Maybe a hung jury.  But number two:  Maybe to save Scott Peterson‘s life.  So, even though a jury might convict, Mark Geragos still has to hope that they would have residual doubt, and therefore not impose the death penalty.  And you could get residual doubt with possibilities. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

CROCKER SNYDER:  You know, Rikki, don‘t you think he‘s going for a hung jury most—first and foremost?

ABRAMS:  I think he‘s going to get a hung jury too...

KLIEMAN:  Sure.

CROCKER SNYDER:  I think—that‘s what I would say too if I had to guess.  We‘re all guessing.  Hung jury.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Let me take a quick break.  You know there‘s still a big question—everyone is going to stick around because the defense in the case is trying to raise these doubts with other theories of Laci‘s abduction that the police might have, could have followed up on, but they‘re sneaking them in while cross-examining the lead detective.  How are they able to do that?

And two Italian aide workers held by Iraqi terrorists are released.  But did it come at a price?  Some in the Italian government say they paid a ransom.  Question:  If it‘s profitable, might the kidnappings spread beyond the Iraqi border?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Want to go right back to the courthouse for some news on what‘s happening in the Peterson trial as we speak.  Edie Lambert is back with us.  Edie, what is going on?

LAMBERT:  Well again, lead Detective Craig Grogan facing more questions from prosecutors on redirect.  They‘re trying to hit some of those points that Mark Geragos had made on the cross-examination.  Mark Geragos had gone through several instances where Scott Peterson was very cooperative in the investigation.  But under questioning this afternoon by prosecutors, he said that Scott really overall wasn‘t necessarily that cooperative.

He asked questions directly when he had to.  He volunteered information only when it seemed to be self-serving, and they brought out the fact that he asked about the investigation, not every day, not every week, but maybe once a month.  They also brought out possible financial pressure on Scott Peterson saying that Laci had been looking at homes between 400,000 and $600,000 down in San Luis Obispo about five or six months before she disappeared and at the same time was telling her friends that she was planning to be a stay-at-home mom so there would not be a second income. 

Back to you.

ABRAMS:  All right, thanks Edie.  So Rikki, I mean you know that to me seems to be a more sort of palatable motive here than to just say oh Amber Frey, Amber Frey.  They‘re going to say, look, it‘s a combination of things.  Laci‘s pregnant. Laci‘s spending a lot of money.  He doesn‘t want to have a baby.  He wants to have his affairs.  I mean that‘s how they have to lay it out. 

KLIEMAN:  Well they have to lay it out in a way that‘s better than he would have killed his wife and unborn child because he wanted to live happily ever after with Amber Frey.  I think that motive is nonsense.  But the financial pressure motive has been almost like an afterthought and I just don‘t think that that simply flies.

If you look at it as a combination—we can go back to Leslie‘s point

·         this is going to be a closing argument case.  The prosecutor needs to do a lot with visual aids, with timelines, and look at the entire aggregate picture.  Then they‘ll succeed. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, you know, and one of the things I that sort of always drives me crazy about this case, Yale, is the idea that, like, Scott Peterson says he‘s being cooperative and the defense is trying to say he was cooperative, and yet he‘s lying the whole time.  To me, when you lie, you‘re not being cooperative. 

GALANTER:  Well Dan, you‘re right and we‘ve discussed that.  I mean the biggest problem for Geragos is the words that came out of his client‘s own mouth.  You know the Diane Sawyer interview, the lies on the phone, the lies to his mom.  That‘s the biggest problem.

I mean up until the Amber Frey tapes were introduced, the defense was really—had—you know, the whole momentum of the case.  After that, the jurors got an inside look as to what a piece of dirt Scott really was, and the tenor in the courtroom changed because you could see the jurors really didn‘t like him anymore.  And if jurors don‘t like you, the defense has an uphill battle and that‘s the problem that Geragos has now, is that these jurors really don‘t like Scott.

ABRAMS:  Let me play...

CROCKER SNYDER:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  I‘ll let you respond—one second Leslie—just quickly this piece of sound from Scott Peterson criticizing the investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETERSON:  Well I mean it seems like it‘s a waste of manpower in that pursuit and that‘s unfortunate.  That makes me sad more than it does angry, you know, when they‘re out there in the marina and I heard there‘s 88 officers, those are 88 officers, which could have been following up on investigative leads. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, the officers actually found the body exactly where they were searching.  Go ahead Leslie.

CROCKER SNYDER:  No, I mean that‘s outrageous and I think he just looks terrible.  I thought the question you raised earlier which we didn‘t address, how is all this coming in?  I mean if I were the judge, did the defense not object to a lot of the hearsay that‘s coming out by—that came out in Geragos‘ cross...

ABRAMS:  Some of it they did object to.

CROCKER SNYDER:  Well—and the fact that—I don‘t understand how the judge did not sustain that objection. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Dean—maybe Dean has an answer.  Dean, do you know what the judge ruled? 

JOHNSON:  Yes.  Here‘s how—sure...

ABRAMS:  Quickly.

JOHNSON:  ... I‘ll tell you how it happened.  It started out with this whole rush-to-judgment theory.  Once you start floating that theory around, then you get to talk about the officer‘s state of mind, so all of this stuff that Grogan was told comes in for his state of mind.  But it‘s gone way beyond that...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

(CROSSTALK)

CROCKER SNYDER:  Yes, it‘s gone way beyond that...

JOHNSON:  Now we‘re hearing cross—yes, it‘s gone way—we‘re hearing cross-examination about reports that were done in the media of what...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

JOHNSON:  ... Brent Rocha said that Scott Peterson said, reports that Grogan didn‘t even listen to, and there‘s no objection by the prosecution...

CROCKER SNYDER:  And what about...

JOHNSON:  The prosecution is just sitting there passive.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Anytime in these cases, if you allow every time—if you allow the defense attorneys to cross-examine the police about everyone who said everything to them...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... in the context of these investigation, I‘ve got to tell you, just being a reporter having a show about this, we get all sorts of wacko theories coming into this show...

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  ... from the Internet (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Anyway, all right, Dean Johnson and Edie Lambert, thanks a lot.  Judge Snyder, Rikki Klieman, and Yale Galanter we‘re going to have more with you later in the program.

We‘ll get to your e-mails as well in the Peterson case.  Several of you writing in to say that Amber was certainly not reason enough for Scott Peterson to kill his wife.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

Still ahead, John Kerry and President Bush prep for the first presidential debate and study their rulebook.  The rules mean that something like this can‘t happen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you go again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  How might they land verbal punches?  We ask three people who argue for a living, our legal team.

And Italy welcomes home two hostages from Iraq, but some reports say they paid $1 million ransom to the terrorists holding them.  Won‘t payoffs just lead to more kidnappings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, terrorists in Iraq release two Italian hostages, but some in the Italian government say Italy paid $1 million ransom.  Is kidnapping becoming a thriving business in Iraq and wouldn‘t that just mean more kidnappings, but first the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Iraqi terrorists released another video today of British hostage Kenneth Bigley, the 62-year-old engineer was posed pleading for his life by his tormentors, a terror group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  The same group responsible for the beheadings of two Americans kidnapped with Bigley.  In London, Bigley‘s son, Craig, made his own tape to plead for his father‘s life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG BIGLEY, IRAQ HOSTAGE‘S SON:  The people who are holding him, we once again ask you, please show mercy to my father and release him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And while British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his government won‘t negotiate with terrorists, he also said today Britain would respond to contact by the kidnappers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTERS:  Because these are outside people.  I mean they‘re not Iraqis that are holding these people.  They‘re outside terrorist groups and we‘ve tried to make contact with them and we‘re doing everything we possibly can. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  On the tape made by the terrorists, Bigley appears to be saying Blair is not doing enough. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Blair said he won‘t negotiate with terrorists. 

There should be negotiations with these people, to release hostages. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This after two Italian hostages were freed.  Relief workers kidnapped and held for weeks.  Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says no ransom was paid but a parliamentary leader told the BBC—quote—“Yes, it was paid.  It was right because the life of the two girls was more important than the money.  I think it was paid by the intelligence services.”

“My Take”—as I‘ve said before, I sympathize with the families, like the Bigleys, who have been dragged into this tragedy by terrorists and it‘s wonderful that two Italian women were released seemingly unharmed.  With reports circulating that some Iraqi groups are kidnapping Westerners for money, paying ransom, the Italian government may have done, despite official denials, just puts more people at risk and not just in Iraq but all over the world.

So as much sympathy as we have for Ken Bigley‘s family, the answer cannot be to negotiate.  See what the guests think.  Gerardo Greco is a reporter for RAI, the state-run Italian TV network and Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI hostage negotiator and MSNBC analyst.

All right, Mr. Greco, let me start with you.  What is the sense in Italy?  I mean the bottom line is it‘s the sense that the government paid or they didn‘t pay?

GERARDO GRECO, RAI ITALY REPORTER:  Officially, they didn‘t pay.  If you pay attention to the words of Secretary of State Mr. Frattini and officially nobody will tell you that this ransom has been paid.  But if you look at the first page of every Italian newspaper, you will see that this ransom, $1 million or something like that, has been paid.  Maybe the question is if there has been a negotiation or not.

And this question we can say yes, a negotiation has been made.  What kind of negotiation has been—economical or political negotiation?  We don‘t know.  Maybe the $1 million has been paid but not to the kidnappers, for example, to the contacts or to the...

ABRAMS:  Right.

GRECO:  ... people that work for this liberation.  We really don‘t know in the confusion of Iraq. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you, but a lot of—the majority of Italian people support the idea of having done everything possible, including paying a ransom to release these two women, correct? 

GRECO:  I think they would support not only the Italian majority, but I will say all the political parties agrees on that and this kind of emergency has been managed in some way bipartisan, let‘s say the prime minister, the Italian prime minister, Mr. Berlusconi, talked, I think, every day with the minority leaders, and they decided step by step what kind of policy to follow. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Clint Van Zandt, I mean this is really dangerous.  I mean not just that these terrorists may have an extra million bucks but the message it sends. 

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR:  Yes.  Oh, it sure does, Dan.  I mean, you know, number one, my heart, like yours, goes out to anyone who‘s taken hostage.  I would sell my house and everything I owned if I had to pay to get one of my kids back.

ABRAMS:  Right.

VAN ZANDT:  But the bottom line is you start this, we wind up like Colombia, South America, like Chechnya, where hostage taking for ransom is a cottage industry.  I mean I‘ve interviewed people in South America and I said what do you do for a living?  They say I kidnap.  I mean that‘s what they do and that‘s what we‘re building in Baghdad right now, is this second level of occupation as a kidnapper.

ABRAMS:  And the Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesperson, Sabah Kadhim said this.

The reason for the acceleration in kidnappings is simply because ransoms are being paid.  I mean...

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... straight out.

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.  Yes, absolutely.  As long as there is moneys to be made, and, look, Dan, you‘ve got gangs of just criminals on the loose.  You‘ve got small pockets of resistance all the way up to al Qaeda-sponsored organizations within Iraq, and they‘re either doing it for media attention, political attention, they‘re trying to destroy the election.  The two Americans, Dan, unfortunately, I think, they were murdered simply to punish the United States, and now this Brit, Mr. Bigley, who‘s left, the holders are just kind of waving him in front of us...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN ZANDT:  ... like the proverbial carrot, trying to get us to dance to the music. 

ABRAMS:  Punish the United States.  Torture the British. 

VAN ZANDT:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me—I‘m going to ask you a tough question here, Clint, and that is whether some of these pleas for mercy from the families not only may not help but actually make the terrorists feel empowered in some way.  Here‘s the son of Craig Bigley, again, talking to the terrorists and to the government. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

C. BIGLEY:  We want to thank you for this opportunity to see him alive again.  Please could you pass on once more our love and thoughts to him.  His continued captivity is putting great strain on his mother, Lil, my grandmother. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And it‘s awful to listen to, but when you‘re dealing with people...

VAN ZANDT:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ... who just don‘t care about human life, I wonder whether this—how this plays with them.

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, it plays two different ways, Dan.  Number one: 

Family members feel they have to do something, so we help them, we help them develop the words to say this, but the reality is these are the emotional fires that terrorists just—they warm their hands over.  They enjoy seeing all of us twist and turn and sit there and plead.  It empowers the kidnappers, the terrorists.  They walk around give each other high fives after something like this takes place. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Gerardo Greco, Clint Van Zandt, thanks very much for coming on the program. 

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.

Coming up, with 32 pages of rules restricting what George Bush and John Kerry can do in tomorrow‘s presidential debate, is there any way they can still manage to let loose a zinger?  Maybe.  We‘ll ask people who argue cases for a living.

And one congressman thinks it may be time for Congress to step in to keep the media objective.  Congress keeping people nonpartisan.  That‘s a good one.  That‘s my “Closing Argument”...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  You‘ve heard it 100 times.  The presidential debates could make or break the election.  The first face-off tomorrow night in Miami, but getting any major zingers for Senator Kerry or President Bush could be tough.  A 32-page legal document that lays out the terms of the debate seems to assure that.

We‘ll talk to our legal team about how the candidates might get around the new restrictions in a moment.  First, NBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell has the details. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CROSSTALK)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In their first face-to-face match up, the stakes could not be higher.  The debate may be the last chance to put Kerry on top or seal the deal for Bush.  With the contest so close, no detail is too small to leave to chance.  Everything dictated in a 32-page legal memo, including pre-approval for pens and pencils and dressing rooms equal in size and quality.  Experts say it‘s overkill. 

GEORGE FARAH, OPEN DEBATES ADVOCATE:  The Republican and Democratic Parties have hijacked the debate rules at the expense of voter education.  The campaigns have assembled a team of lawyers behind closed doors who have dictated how the presidential debates will be structured.

O‘DONNELL:  The strict control over the process an effort to avoid past gaves (ph).  Senator Kerry wanted the temperature in the room kept below 70 degrees.  In the end they settled on an appropriate temperature set by what‘s called industry standards.  Neither candidate wants to suffer the same fate as Richard Nixon, who looked sweaty compared to John F.  Kennedy.  Another rule, no candidate can roam on the stage, a demand by the Bush/Cheney campaign to avoid a repeat of 2000 when Vice President Gore got in Bush‘s face.

There will be time limits, too.  This year for the first time with visible and audible time cues, a strategy one Bush official claims could trip a long-winded Kerry who was ridiculed by his own running mate during the Democratic primary. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the longest answer I ever heard to a yes-or-no question. 

O‘DONNELL:  Sources say presidential adviser Karl Rove‘s goal was to ban much of the stagecraft that Kerry used effectively against William Weld in their 1996 Senate debate. 

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA), SENATE DEBATE:  Would you share with Massachusetts why Bob Dole would be good for Massachusetts? 

O‘DONNELL:  This year the agreement says clearly the candidates shall not address each other. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Trying to eliminate spontaneity from the presidential debates.  They don‘t want a question they can‘t predict, they don‘t want an actual confrontation, in which their candidate might slip up.

O‘DONNELL:  But the president‘s communications director, Dan Bartlett, argues all the rules will actually improve the debate. 

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMM. DIRECTOR:  When you have the type of structure we do here, you don‘t get the political grandstanding and speechifying that you get on the stump. 

O‘DONNELL:  Norah O‘Donnell, NBC News, Crawford. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Come on.  All right.  Come on.  “My Take”—these rule, they‘re ridiculous.  They effectively can‘t address one another.  Not a debate, it‘s designed to stifle debate.  What a disservice to the American people.  Truly politics at its worst.

But there‘s probably still a way to win.  So how do they do it?  Back with me is my legal panel—all right, before I go to all of you, you all read the document.  Let me just go through a number of debate sort of zingers and ask you whether you think that it might happen in this kind of debate.  First, Reagan v. Carter, 1980, remember this one...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Governor Reagan again, typically, is against such a proposal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Governor?  There you go again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Leslie, he says “you”.  So that probably wouldn‘t be allowed in this one, right...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  There you go again.

CROCKER SNYDER:  It wouldn‘t be allowed.  You know this is like having the worst micromanaging judge in the courtroom, and the lawyers just have to be more clever so the participants have to be more clever.  They are going to be well prepared.  They know the topics.  They can get their zingers in if they‘re clever, just like we see a lot of lawyers in the courtroom avoiding the rules of evidence.

You know, maybe Mark Geragos—I don‘t know.  But they can do it because as they answer in their own, they will then put in what, you know, for example, on the war in Iraq, Bush will claim that Kerry‘s flip-flopped when he talks about his own position.  They can get the zingers in but it can‘t be physical. 

ABRAMS:  And he can‘t say—he could say “those who say” or “if my opponent is suggesting a rhetorical question”.  Here‘s another one.  Vice-presidential debate, Dan Quayle and Lloyd Benson, 1988. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I served with Jack Kennedy.  I knew Jack Kennedy. 

Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.  Senator, you‘re no Jack Kennedy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Rikki, again, I mean, could he—could they do something like that without saying “you”?  Saying, you know, look, I served with Jack Kennedy.  You know I knew Jack Kennedy.  Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine and you know this president is no, you know, whatever.  Whatever the case may be? 

KLIEMAN:  Of course and you could do it in two ways, Dan.  First of all, you could do it in the rhetorical by saying, could it be said that you‘re no Jack Kennedy?  But also you can do this—when you don‘t get to do it as a zinger right in response, because you don‘t have the ability to respond by these rules, what you do is you wait for the next question, and in your answer to the next question, because it‘s all in debate number one going to be on foreign policy.

At a later debate, it‘ll be on domestic policy, so you‘ll always be on topic.  You just save those zingers for the next question.  You know there‘s a rule in court, Dan, if you‘re a criminal defense lawyer, sometimes it‘s worth it to take a contempt.  Well by debate two or three...

CROCKER SNYDER:  Oh, I don‘t like that...

KLIEMAN:  ... by debate two or three...

CROCKER SNYDER:  I don‘t like it.

ABRAMS:  No...

KLIEMAN:  ... it may be worth it.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I don‘t know about that.  The debate‘s a different game...

CROCKER SNYDER:  No, no...

ABRAMS:  ... you can have a judge mad at you.  If you have the public mad at you, you‘re finished.  All right, Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio in the debate over who‘s going to become New York senator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would be happy to.  When you give me the signed letters...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right here.  Right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When you give me...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right here.  Sign it right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘ll shake on this, Rick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, I want your signature because I think everybody wants to see you signing something that you said you were for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  See, you know, Yale, they‘re saying that you can‘t move over the way Lazio did there.  But you know I think many people felt that that made Lazio look bad.  I mean, you know, the bottom line is, is there an argument to be made that it‘s actually going to make both candidates come across better or is everyone just going to say, look, this was nothing, we didn‘t care about it?

GALANTER:  You know, I don‘t like being—I don‘t like it when a judge makes me strapped to a podium, and there are judges that order that, and Leslie will tell you, it‘s very uncomfortable.  I think the rules are too constricting.  The candidates do have a really unique opportunity, though Dan, because they know they‘re going to get 16 questions, they know what the topics of the questions are going to be.

Tomorrow night, it‘s foreign policy and homeland security.  So, what you‘re going to get is  -- the moderator is going to ask each candidate 16 questions, they can answer for two minutes.  They‘re going to have very canned, prepared sound bites and they‘re just going to wait for the right question to insert...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

GALANTER:  ... those prepared answers.

ABRAMS:  And I‘d assume you‘d all agree with me that the biggest advice is be careful, right.

GALANTER:  Be very careful.

CROCKER SNYDER:  Be prepared.

ABRAMS:  Be prepared.  Be careful.

CROCKER SNYDER:  And be disciplined.

KLIEMAN:  Be charming.

ABRAMS:  Be charming.  All right.  Leslie Crocker Snyder, Rikki Klieman, and Yale Galanter, three charming, careful people.

For a look at the 32 pages of rules governing the debate, log on to our Web site abramsreport.msnbc.com.  While you‘re there sign up for our daily newsletter.  It‘s back.  You can get a heads-up on the stories we‘re covering each day.

Coming up—prosecutors in the Scott Peterson case say Peterson had many reasons to kill his wife.  Many of you say prosecutors can‘t point to one single compelling motive.  So how can they win the case?  Your e-mails coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, some of you unhappy with “My Take” of the Pentagon should not put soldiers in jail just because they visited prostitutes in countries where it‘s legal.  Your e-mails coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—picture this.  Congress, the most partisan and politically charged body in our system of government, holding hearings and maybe even passing legislation about who is politically biased.  Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce which overseas media is threatening to hold hearings and even suggested that legislation might be in order to tame media bias.  I would love to know how the Congress would define bias and objectivity.  It‘s a great partisan political ploy.

I mean the majority of Americans have a gripe with the media when it comes to accuracy and bias.  The media has long been accused of being liberal.  Now some liberals accusing the media of becoming too conservative.  So you know partisans on both sides enjoying a legislative field day.

Now as my regular viewers know, I‘ve been critical of those in the media who allow their political leanings to corrupt what they claim is objective reporting.  Again, that‘s why I try to tell you “My Take” at the top of every opinion-based segment so you know where I‘m coming from on each topic.  But that doesn‘t mean that partisan oversight would somehow help.

It might help political careers but it won‘t change some of the problems with journalism today.  Representative Barton seems to believe many journalists are also unqualified he said because they didn‘t work for newspapers or other print media.  There are a lot of unqualified so-called journalists.  For whatever reason, there are also a lot of unqualified staffers working in many congressional offices.

Representative Barton said he would act to—quote—“protect the First Amendment.”  I wonder whether he‘s read it recently.  The first line says Congress shall make no law, breaching the freedom of the press.  But constitutional questions aside, the idea that a body that thrives on partisan bickering is going to somehow take the partisanship out of news reporting is beyond ironic.  It‘s just laughable.

All right, I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night we reported the Pentagon is proposing a year behind bars and a dishonorable discharge for any troops who visit prostitutes even in countries where it‘s legal.  I said this seems more like a morality ploy that restricts the rights of our hard working soldiers abroad.  If it‘s legal and the soldiers are single, I said warn them about the dangers, but a year behind bars.  Some of you not happy with “My Take”.

Navy wife and mother Carol Petersen.  “I‘m surprised at you Dan Abrams.  Why would you play into their hands by urging our young men to abandon their upbringing?  Shame on you.”

Carol, first of all remember I was talking about single, primarily.  But I‘m not urging anyone to go to prostitutes.  I‘m trying to protect young soldiers from jail.

Others agreed including former Naval Officer Allen Miller.  “I can imagine a better world where naughty things don‘t happen, but war is hell and the men who fight it are little devils.  What‘s next?  A Gideon Bible in every sea bag?”

From Lawton, Oklahoma, Pat Olgood (ph).  “I‘m a 61-year-old woman and this ain‘t my first rodeo.  It‘s absolutely ludicrous that the Army is going to prosecute soldiers for engaging in sex with prostitutes.  What are these young men supposed to do?”

Sue Kennedy in Chicago on my guest who supported the Pentagon‘s position.  “How is it his problem if Sergeant Joe Schmoe can‘t look his mommy in the eye because he bonged a hooker in Berlin?

Also last night, a new article in the October issue of “Vanity Fair” magazine takes an inside look at the legal battles after the 2000 election.   Includes exclusive interviews with a quarter of the Supreme Court clerks, young lawyers who often write first drafts for the justices.  Many said it was decided more on politics than on law.  A lot of sarcasm from our viewers. 

Jeff Ganus from Deatsville, Alabama.  “I‘m so happy to know that the clerks are willing to discuss the 2000 election and the justices‘ decisions at this point in time and not when the decision was relevant four years ago.

From Lincoln, California, Terri Brumitt.  “We should all be shocked, shocked that the Supreme Court might make a decision based on politics rather than the Constitution.  This has never happened before.

From Tom Lopez in Chapin, South Carolina.  “Now this is a breaking story.  Liberal Supreme Court clerks accuse the five conservative justices of being political in their decision to stop the Florida vote in 2000.”

On to the Scott Peterson case.  A couple of you voicing similar sentiments.  From Detroit, Michigan Shaun Black.  “It seems like everyone is missing the main idea.  Why?  Why would Peterson kill his wife?  She had another man?  She was leaving him?  Why would he risk everything especially when it seems like he had everything.”

Jeanie Robinson-Pownall, “Why would he kill his nice, pretty, bubbly pregnant wife?  I can‘t imagine, but I doubt he killed his nice wife for that Amber Frey.”  

Well it seems like the perfect life can often be not so perfect.  If prosecutors are smart, they‘ll argue that Scott just wanted to live a free life—free from the responsibilities of having a wife and child. 

Finally, Barb King in Nevada asks “Have you ever been told that you look like Tony Randall and Senator Bob Kerrey at various ages of their lives?  The three of you could pass for brothers.”

No, Barb, no one has ever told me that I look like either of them.  But let me just look.  No, I don‘t see the resemblance.  I—my guess is neither of them were told that either.

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Chris with a special preview of tomorrow‘s presidential debate.  We‘ll be off tomorrow for the presidential debate.

I will be back here on Friday.  Stay tuned to MSNBC.  See you Friday.

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

END   

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