Guests: Farris Hassan, Richard Fain, Marie Breheret, Brett Rivkind, Lanny Davis
RITA COSBY, HOST: Good evening, everyone. First up tonight, a LIVE AND DIRECT exclusive, my interview with Farris Hassan, 16-year-old Florida student who made worldwide headlines when he skipped school to suddenly travel to Iraq without even telling his own mother. He is finally breaking his silence, sitting down with me for his first interview since arriving safely back in the United States.
On December 11, on his own, Farris left America on a 20-day trip which would take him to one of the most dangerous regions on earth. But he finally told me he was fully aware of the risks that he faced and that he had been planning his incredible and secret trip for more than a month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: When exactly did you decide to go to Iraq?
FARRIS HASSAN, 16-YEAR-OLD WHO TRAVELED TO IRAQ: I would say in November. After seeing the news and the stress people were going through, I really felt compelled, and I was consumed by passion to do something, to go over there and volunteer for the Red Cross or something like—something along those lines to help the Iraqis rebuild their lives. I was looking forward to help maybe dispersing some food or just bringing a smile or two to some children there.
COSBY: Did you tell anybody about it?
HASSAN: Yes. I told two of my friends. They‘re the closest people to me, closer to me than my family.
COSBY: Did your parents know that you were going to the Middle East?
HASSAN: I had spoken with my mother earlier about going to the Middle East, and she said, Possibly, if it gets safer. I didn‘t really believe her when she said that, so from then on, I took matters into my own hands and I started planning the trip.
When I left, she had absolutely no idea what was going on. And she, in fact, found out that I was not in school on Monday from the dean of students. And she—the dean of students asked her, Where‘s Farris, and she said, I don‘t know. I have no idea where he is. And she was shocked when she got my e-mail, unfortunately. That make me feel guilty, and I regret the grief I cause my family.
COSBY: What about your dad?
HASSAN: My dad did not have complete knowledge of all the specific of my plannings, but he knew a bit more than my mother.
COSBY: But didn‘t know you were going to Iraq on that date, to that degree?
COSBY: He did not know that?
HASSAN: He did not know that.
COSBY: How much planning did it take to go to Iraq—from Ft.
Lauderdale to Iraq, that‘s not an easy trip.
HASSAN: Yes. My planning could have been better. It definitely could have been better, and I made a lot of bad decisions along the way, one of which was thinking of getting to Baghdad with a taxi from Kuwait City. That was definitely a bad idea. And if I had been able to get in through the Kuwaiti/Iraqi border when I arrived on Tuesday morning, I‘m almost sure I would have been killed. So my timing was poor.
I did—it did take a lot. I had to contact the Iraqi embassy to get my entry visa, to get my passport, but I‘m actually very surprised that I was able to get all of done and obtain all of those documents without any parental permission whatsoever. That shocked me, actually.
COSBY: Aren‘t you surprised? You‘re just 16 years old and saying, I want to go to Iraq. Nobody one said why? Where are your parents?
COSBY: So everything just went through smoothly.
COSBY: Where did you get the money to fly all the way to Iraq?
You‘re 16 years old.
HASSAN: The money was derived from investment money. My parents—my—both of my parents gave me $5,000 after I had demonstrated my knowledge of the stock market with helping my mother make 25 percent in, like, two weeks from investment tips. I read a lot of books in the last summer, probably, I think, four or five. And I get “Investors‘ Business Daily,” great source of financial news, every single day, and I read that. So the money was derived from my investment fund.
COSBY: What did you pack for this trip?
HASSAN: Not much. In fact, I only took my backpack and a small suitcase.
COSBY: And what‘d you put in those?
HASSAN: Ordinary stuff, just as if you were going to, I don‘t know, Colorado or California for a one-week trip. I took very little.
COSBY: Were you concerned that word of your trip was going to leak out? Did you tell your friends, Don‘t tell anybody?
HASSAN: Yes, I was very concerned. By that point, I had just—went through so much planning. I had gone too far to stop then. They, in fact, called me on my cell phone, saying, Farris, we‘re going to send the police to your house in order to stop from you going. You cannot go to Iraq. We‘re coming to your house right now. So they were asking me for directions to my house, and I sort of misleaded them a bit.
But finally, they did arrive at my neighborhood, and just as I was in the taxi pulling out of my neighborhood, I saw my friends pulling into my neighborhood. And we actually passed by each other. And I was going to lower the window to tell them—I felt moved by this, and I was going to - I almost was about to stop right then and there, but something in me held me back.
COSBY: So you actually drove right passed your friend, who was trying to stop you?
COSBY: And you kept on going?
HASSAN: They were able to reach me at the airport on the front desk phone, which I was very surprised by because I didn‘t tell them anything, any information. So I could tell they really—they called all the airports, all the airlines and went through a lot in order to reach me.
COSBY: And what did they say when they got you on the phone?
HASSAN: Oh, it was very emotional. She was crying. And I told her that it‘s just something I have to do. I just have to do this. And I told her I would call my mother as soon as I arrived in the Middle East and tell her everything.
COSBY: Briefly tell us the route you took from Miami airport to get to Baghdad.
HASSAN: Well, I flew from Miami to Amsterdam, then to Kuwait City. I took a taxi from Kuwait—from Kuwaiti City to the Iraqi border twice. Both times, I was turned away. After—from then on, I was stranded in Kuwait. From there, I traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, and I spent 10 days there.
COSBY: What was your parents‘ reaction when, all of a sudden, they got an e-mail how many days later?
HASSAN: My mother told me that she just completely freaked out.
COSBY: When did you send the e-mail? And what did it say?
HASSAN: When I was in the Kuwaiti airport, just before I left to go to the Iraqi border, I sent my mom an e-mail, telling her that I love her, not to worry about me, to trust my instincts, that I would be safe, and tell her that I planed on going to Baghdad.
COSBY: Did you get a response back?
HASSAN: Yes, I did, much later. I believe it was the next day.
COSBY: And what did the response say?
HASSAN: She gave me contact numbers. She told me not to go. She told me she was worried about me.
COSBY: How did you spend your Christmas Eve?
HASSAN: Well, that was probably one of the highlights, the happiest times of my trip. I went to three church services for Christmas Eve. The first one was at an absolutely amazing Greek Orthodox church called St. George‘s in downtown. As I was exiting, I was greeted by probably about 50 Palestinians refugees living in Lebanon. And they were all little kids with Santa hats, waving Palestinian and Lebanese flags. There was teenagers there with bagpipes and drums.
I told them that I was an American here visiting Lebanon, and they all shook my hand and they invited me go with them to a cafe nearby. And I was very surprised with the way they greeted me.
COSBY: You actually met, you were telling me, with one of the leaders of Hezbollah.
COSBY: How did that come about?
HASSAN: Well, fortunately, my—the family with whom I was staying with was able to arrange several appointments with amazing figures in Lebanon—not amazing for a good reason, but just amazing to a 16-year-old that I‘d be able to get invited to meet.
COSBY: Interesting figures?
HASSAN: Interesting figures. I interviewed the media relations officer for Hezbollah for two hours. And I prepared probably about 20 questions for him. I asked him everything, ranging from Iraq to America to Israel to in-depth Lebanese politics.
COSBY: Where did you meet this main figure with Hezbollah?
HASSAN: Oh, I had to travel through alleyways, and I finally walked -
this was in the southern Shi‘ite section of Beirut, the poorest section, so walking through alleyways, going up staircases, crooked staircases with bullet holes in the walls. And there was no sign saying, This is the Hezbollah office, of course.
COSBY: Were you worried about your safety?
HASSAN: No. I felt like I—no.
COSBY: Why not?
HASSAN: Well, with each group I immersed myself, I changed my persona. When I was with the Christians, I told them that I was a Lebanese Christian, an American Christian with Lebanese parents. And when I met with the Hezbollah leader, I gave him the impression that I wanted to paint Hezbollah in a good light when I returned to the United States.
COSBY: Did he believe you?
HASSAN: I think he did, up until we started talking about the—up until we started talking about Israel.
COSBY: Then you leave Lebanon after these experiences and go back to Iraq. How did you get back in, finally?
HASSAN: I took a plane flight from Beirut to Baghdad.
COSBY: Did you think your journey to Iraq would be dangerous?
HASSAN: I was fully aware of all the dangers.
COSBY: Did you know how bad?
HASSAN: Yes, I did. From the beginning. In fact, when I was leaving to Kuwait, I told my friend, You know, I think there‘s probably a 50-50 chance that I‘ll come out of Iraq without any harm. And I was fully aware of all the kidnappings that were going on, of all the bombings, of all the danger that was going on.
COSBY: And you were willing to take that risk? How does a guy, a 16-year-old from a private school in Florida, have the guts or the chutzpah to go over there?
HASSAN: Well, I don‘t know about guts. I‘ve always felt life is not worth living without taking great risks in order to achieve great things. I‘ve always thought that we will all die some day, whether it‘s at 66 years old or at 16 years old, and that if I am to die, I‘d rather have it happen in trying to do something good, trying to help my fellow man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: And that‘s just the beginning of Farris‘s incredible adventure. Up next, you‘re going to hear about the shocking scenes that this 16-year-old encountered when he finally arrived in Baghdad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: Did you see bombings? Did you hear bombings?
HASSAN: I had counted 22 explosions. After that, I stopped counting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I gave him a huh. I just welcomed him home. I mean, I haven‘t seen him in a long time, and I‘m sure he‘s been through a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: Well, the family of 16-year-old Farris Hassan is relieved and thankful that the Florida student traveled to Iraq and back without being harmed. Farris told me he knew that there was a good chance that he would be kidnapped during his trip. Despite the danger, he says he had to see what was going on in Baghdad for himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: Why did you want to go Iraq? Your parents are of Iraqi descent.
HASSAN: That is not the reason. My loyalties are to the United States and the United States only. I am mind, body, heart and soul an American. I have no loyalties to any other countries but the United States. If the situation in Iraq was happening in any other country in this world, in Thailand or in Africa or in Israel, I would have traveled there.
COSBY: What did you do when you got to Iraq?
HASSAN: In Baghdad, I had a driver who was arranged for me by family connections take me to—I was hoping to go to the Sheraton Hotel Ishtar. When I arrived there, however, I found it had—it was closed, to put it nicely. And I found out a few weeks earlier, it was hit by suicide bomb—a few car bombs and that had put the hotel out of commission. From there, I thought that the best place for me to stay was in a hotel that housed many Westerners and Americans and other journalists. So I moved to the Palestine Hotel.
COSBY: What did you see? What did you experience when you were in Baghdad? Did you see bombings? Did you hear bombings?
HASSAN: Yes. On my first day, I counted 22 explosions. After that, I stopped counting. I‘m sure many of them—there was six vehicle bombs that day. And there was, in fact, a gun fight. It just felt like it was just a couple blocks away from the hotel. I could hear the machine gun fire back and forth.
And that night, when I was—I spent Christmas night with the soldiers down at my hotel, guarding the hotel. I heard a helicopter crash. The whole ground shook and vibrated. It was a big explosion. That was probably about 11:30 at night. And I later found out a couple—the next day that it was—two helicopters had collided, and one of them had crashed and two Marine had died. And that really made the experience real to me.
COSBY: You actually moved about the streets, even though you don‘t speak the language there in Iraq. How did you do that?
HASSAN: Well, I knew that as long as I didn‘t open my mouth, I would be fine because I look Iraqi and I can blend in with the crowd. And I got some nice advice from an interpreter that I should pretend I‘m Kurdish, and that I speak a Turkish dialect of Arabic, so people wouldn‘t know I‘m American.
COSBY: Where else did you roam in Baghdad? Where else did you go?
HASSAN: I left the hotel and walked for about 25 minutes. I went to a restaurant and I went to just food shops. I was looking around for some food. After that, I realized that I couldn‘t survive out there for more than an hour outside of the hotel. It was too dangerous.
COSBY: Weren‘t you worried that they were going to discover you‘re an American and try to kill you, take you hostage?
HASSAN: Yes, I was—I was—I was aware of the danger. And I wouldn‘t say that I was scared. I wasn‘t frightened. I wasn‘t unnerved. But especially when I was in the restaurant, trying to find a menu and asking the hostess for a menu, and I could tell they were all looking at me funny, and especially after I took out my “Arabic At a Glance” guidebook—once I knew they could tell I was American, I knew I was in a dangerous situation and I left.
COSBY: You also reached out to some news organizations when you were there. Why did do you that?
HASSAN: Well, by my third day in Baghdad, I realized that I couldn‘t do any humanitarian work or research in the current—in my current situation because I could not leave the hotel. And I had absolutely no connections in Baghdad and I was completely by myself. So I approached the Associated Press, not to tell them my story. I just asked them if I could tag along with their news crew when they went out to cover stories in Baghdad.
COSBY: You told me before that you contacted another news organization.
HASSAN: The first organization I contacted in the Palestine Hotel was Fox News. And I told them I was a 16-year-old junior in Iraq for research, and I wanted—I was looking to do humanitarian work. Told them I was completely by myself and I wanted to meet with the producers to see they could help me out in any way.
The first time, the person—the Arabic man who answered the phone
told me that, oh, he‘d just give my message to the Fox News men. I waited
and that they‘d call me back if they were interested. I spent the whole night that day in my hotel room awaiting the call, but I did not receive it.
The next day, I gave Fox News a call and I asked them, you know, What‘s going on? I really am in a desperate situation. I‘m sure that your producers would like to meet me. And the man on the other end of the phone told me that he had given them my message and that if they were interested, they‘d give me a call. And then he hung up on me.
COSBY: So they never called you back?
HASSAN: They never called me back.
COSBY: They could have had this amazing story, but never called you.
HASSAN: Yes. Well, they could have helped me, but they never did.
COSBY: You eventually did get through to the Associated Press, and they published your essays. How did you feel about that?
HASSAN: I was worried that the publicity I would get would somehow glorify what I did and encourage other people to do the same, to travel to Iraq by themselves surreptitiously and create a mess.
COSBY: The Associated Press also called the U.S. embassy and said, We got to get this kid out of here. Did you realize, at that point, that you needed to leave?
HASSAN: I—the reason I greed to go to the Green Zone is because I thought it was a safer place and I was told that the headquarters of the humanitarian organizations that were still left in Baghdad would be in the Green Zone. So I would say the main reason why I went to the Green Zone was so I thought maybe I‘ll be able to get in touch with one of these humanitarian organizations and finally realize that goal.
COSBY: You show up the Green Zone. And then, at that point, U.S. officials say, We got to get you out of here, right?
COSBY: How did you finally leave Iraq?
HASSAN: Well, they told me that they could not force me to go and that it was my decision to leave Iraq. I finally had to leave on Friday, after the news story broke and my parents were doing interviews and I was all over the TV and the newspapers, this 16-year-old American in Baghdad. And I believe one of the news organizations released the information I was actually staying in al Rashid Hotel, and that frightened the military a lot that, you know—I‘m sure, at some point, Abu Musab Zarqawi checked his Jordanian hotstuff (ph) mail at Yahoo and saw the story. He‘s probably the last person you want knowing who you are and where you are. So at that point, for security reasons, I had to leave Baghdad.
COSBY: And the 101st protected you, 101st Airborne?
HASSAN: Yes, they did.
COSBY: How many guys were protecting you? And where did they take you?
HASSAN: Actually, for—the Green Zone is a very safe place, so not
I didn‘t have a very heavy escort. I took a helicopter from Baghdad to the airport and stayed in the military base overnight.
COSBY: And then where did you go?
HASSAN: From there, I had a State Department escort me from Baghdad to Amsterdam. They left me in Amsterdam. And from Amsterdam, I went to Miami.
COSBY: On your way back, you stopped at some of these cafeterias.
What did you see?
HASSAN: Well, in the military cafeterias, I saw Iraqi soldiers and American soldiers sitting down at the same table, eating dinner together and watching football and talking and laughing casually. And I was amazed that—you know, I really believe the Iraqis are starting to—are understanding that we‘re here to help them and we‘re their friends. And I could definitely see a bond and relationships being developed.
COSBY: Was this about publicity? Did you want all the attention, 15 minutes of fame?
HASSAN: No. I felt so guilty on when I was returning to the United
States and I saw on the news two soldiers had been killed in Iraq, and they
were sidelined. And my story was in the headlines, in the center. I just
I thought about the soldiers in Iraq, a soldier just watching what‘s going on, and he‘s thinking, you know, I‘m here, risking my life every day to help these Iraqis rebuild their lives, and my friend was just shot the other day, and this 16-year-old—this rich 16-year-old comes to Iraq, nothing happens to him, we go through a lot of trouble to get him back to the U.S., and he‘s getting all the press coverage, and no one‘s giving us attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: And it turns out that Farris Hassan is very lucky. Just this weekend, an American journalist was kidnapped. Jill Carroll—she‘s a freelancer for “The Christian Science Monitor”—was kidnapped, her Iraqi translator killed. Their car was ambushed in Baghdad. And they were apparently trying to meet with a Sunni politician. “The Christian Science Monitor” says that, so far, no one has claimed responsibility for her abduction.
And we‘re going to have much more of our exclusive interview with Farris Hassan tomorrow. Find out if he‘s getting punished by his school for skipping classes and going to Iraq, and what his parents had to say to him when he landed back in the U.S. Plus, why is he worried that his story may inspire copycats? Here‘s a preview of tomorrow‘s interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: What would you say to another kid who says, Look, Farris went there. He got all of this press attention. Why shouldn‘t I go?
HASSAN: I want to tell them that I came this close on several occasions to being kidnapped and dying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: And we‘re going to have much more of my exclusive interview with this incredible young man tomorrow night on LIVE AND DIRECT.
And still ahead tonight, a big response over the mysterious disappearance of a groom from his honeymoon cruise. The CEO of Royal Caribbean cruise line is going to join me live next to respond to some heavy criticism leveled by George Smith‘s family. They say the company dropped the ball big-time. That‘s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had found out from them that they believed he went over in Greek waters. And here we are in Turkey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAUREEN SMITH: Life will never be the same for our family again.
Because such a happy occasion turned into such a terrible tragedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: That was part of my very emotional interview with Maureen Smith. She‘s the mother of George Smith. He‘s, of course, the man who disappeared during his honeymoon on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship last July.
Tonight, a deeper look into what really happened the hours before he went missing. And joining me now is the chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Richard Fain. And also with me is Marie Breheret. She‘s the guest relation manager who was with George Smith‘s new wife, Jennifer Hagel-Smith, the day that her husband was found missing.
Richard, let me start with you. You hear those comments, you know, from Maureen Smith. Not just as the chairman of the cruise line, but as a father, how troubled are you by this case?
RICHARD FAIN, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, ROYAL CARIBBEAN: I don‘t even know what to say. It is every parent‘s worst nightmare. And your heart has to go out to anybody that loses their child under any circumstances or their spouse, especially a new spouse.
COSBY: What do you know about new reports that there may be a grand jury looking into, not just these allegation of rape on the ship separate than this, but also the disappearance of George Smith? Do you know if there is a grand jury that‘s been impaneled?
FAIN: Well, I‘ve read that in the papers. But I would look at any kind of impaneling of a grand jury as a good sign, because it probably means that the authorities are moving towards a conclusion. And that‘s something we all want.
COSBY: What about surveillance tapes? We heard that surveillance tapes were handed over from the ship with two authorities. Do we know if there‘s anything on these tapes?
FAIN: We handed over all the information that we had to the authorities, the tapes included.
COSBY: Did you look at the tape? Did you look at the tapes?
FAIN: I haven‘t looked at the tapes. We turned the tapes over to the authorities. And we let them look at them, and we let them study them. We also gave them access to the cabin, fingerprints, blood samples, all the kind of forensics that they wanted to do. And I think they‘re working on that. And I hope that‘s the basis they‘ll use for solving it.
COSBY: Does anybody from Royal Caribbean know if there‘s anything substantive on these tapes?
FAIN: I actually don‘t know the answer to that. We‘ve basically worked with the authorities. They‘re the experts on it. We‘ve tried to work with them and, frankly, not get in their way.
COSBY: Marie, I know that Jennifer Hagel-Smith, the new bride of George Smith, who we see in a picture here, was very critical and basically said that Royal Caribbean abandoned her that day. I want to show a clip from an interview that she did with Joe Scarborough. Then I‘m going to get you to react.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: You‘re in Turkey. You‘re obviously—you don‘t speak the language. Did they give you money?
JENNIFER HAGEL-SMITH, WIFE OF MISSING GROOM: No.
SCARBOROUGH: Did they give you transportation?
SCARBOROUGH: Did they give you any guidance at all?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: Marie, how do you feel about the fact that she basically says you abandoned her?
MARIE BREHERET, ROYAL CARIBBEAN GUEST RELATIONS MANAGER: It makes me sad to hear this, because I was basically with her all day long. All day long, I was physically holding her hand. I put my arm around her. I was with her.
We went in an empty cabin, where she was able to shower. We offered her some clothes. She choose the clothes she wore that day. I even gave her my own hair brush, makeup remover, cream. I brought my CD player and magazine, because I knew we had to wait. I didn‘t know for how long.
And when we were at the police station together, I don‘t speak Turkish. And the policeman didn‘t speak English. And one of them was able to speak French, and I was able to get a glass of water for her and some tissues, because she was crying.
COSBY: Was she acting like a grieving wife who didn‘t know where her husband was?
BREHERET: I would say she was confused, and tired, and kind of disoriented, like she didn‘t know what was going on.
COSBY: We heard that she was maybe even incoherent. Even her own attorney admits she was wearing clothes from the night before. Did she seem like she was still on something or was wearing off?
BREHERET: I asked the doctor later on that day. And he told me just because she‘s shocked.
COSBY: Did it look like any drugs were in her system?
FAIN: You know, no, we don‘t know anything about what was in her system. We can only comment on the actual facts that we know. And what we do know—and I think it‘s actually—it‘s interesting. One of the reasons that we have come out to respond to these allegations is because they have been so many, so wrong, so inaccurate, so consistently at variance from the truth, that we really felt, as a public company, we had to respond.
And also, on behalf of the men and women on that ship, who worked so hard to make sure that she was well-looked after, that the investigation was done in a conscientious, clear and successful way. And to have that so misrepresented and such inaccuracies quoted, as though they‘re the truth, we had an obligation to come out and say, “They aren‘t right. This is what happened. This is the way we looked at it.”
And if there was one thing that really, I guess, hurt us more than anything else, there was one point in which we said, “We just can‘t sit idly by and allow these kinds of inaccuracies to persist,” it‘s when the comments were made that she was abandoned on the pier and she was left alone. And I remember, no money, no food, no nothing. The word “nothing.”
And I kind of look at what they did. I look at Marie. I say this isn‘t nothing. They provided her clothes. And the idea that these were logoed items and therefore humiliated, Marie lent her a sweater, which covered any logos we had. So the statements just were so unfair to the men and women who, under very difficult circumstances—because, you know, it was a confusing time. It was a difficult time.
COSBY: Let any ask you about the captain, too, because the captain has made some sort of confusing statements. This is the captain who‘s no longer with the ship. Let me play a little comment. I‘m going to get you to react.
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MICHAEL LACHTARIDIS, FORMER ROYAL CARIBBEAN CAPTAIN: If you felt you break your nose and you start bleeding, and then you take a towel, and then you wipe it there, and then you go outside to get some fresh air, and then you‘re sitting on the railing and you fell over, so that‘s the whole thing. I mean, blood on the towel or wherever you pass by, to go outside to the balcony, to get some fresh air and you fell over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: You know, Richard, should he have maybe not made those comments? It‘s sort of diminishes what maybe could have happened. We don‘t know what happened to George Smith.
FAIN: You know, we don‘t know what happened to George Smith.
COSBY: Was that wrong? Was that out of line for the captain?
FAIN: I think it was the captain‘s honest view. And I think—you know, we want our captains to be honest when they say things.
COSBY: In hindsight, though, he said, “Look, it was an accident.”
Should he have maybe not put that in the log book right away?
FAIN: Actually, Rita, he didn‘t say—I‘m quite sure at the time he did not say it was an accident. I do think he said that he thought it was. In retrospect, maybe that‘s not the best thing for him to have said. And I wish he hadn‘t. But it didn‘t affect the investigation in any way. He even...
COSBY: Did he inform the FBI?
FAIN: Even while he had said that, he immediately warned the FBI. In fact...
COSBY: How soon? How soon did he inform the FBI?
FAIN: Well, within minutes, we had—I think the first reports came in at 8:30 in the morning. They had gone to look at it by 8:40. Just before 9:00, they had found that they had these three people unaccounted for.
Even before they knew that it was Mr. Smith we were talking about, they had contacted the local authorities, the FBI, the U.S. embassy. So we went through absolutely all the protocols that one should go through and that we go through voluntarily to make sure that these things are thoroughly investigated.
They did come. He sealed the scene. He stationed a guard outside the door. He notified the authorities and gave them all the access they needed. So, while he actually believed, based his experience and what he had seen in the cabin, that this might have been an accident, he...
COSBY: Even though there was blood in the cabin?
FAIN: Well, I can‘t comment on the blood. But I can comment on what he had seen in the cabin where he saw. And neither he nor the security guards nor Mrs. Hagel-Smith, none of them saw anything amiss in the cabin.
COSBY: Which is incredible, I think, based on some of the reports we‘ve heard on where the blood was.
FAIN: Well, you know, it‘s interesting. That‘s exactly the problem, because the statements have been so inaccurate about that.
COSBY: Was there a lot of blood in the cabin? Let‘s clear it up once and for all.
FAIN: Absolutely not enough of anything, blood, overturned furniture, or anything else that would that this was other than—that this was a crime scene. There was nothing...
COSBY: Nothing to indicate a crime scene, in your mind?
FAIN: Nothing to indicate that. No...
COSBY: Let me get...
FAIN: No furniture, no blood, no nothing that was visible. It doesn‘t mean that it wasn‘t a crime scene. And it doesn‘t mean he didn‘t treat it as a crime scene.
COSBY: Real quickly, I want to get you, because we just have a few seconds left. Very quickly. What do you say to the family who says, “We‘re not getting access to witness information,” that Royal Caribbean is not being cooperative? We just have a few seconds left.
FAIN: We‘ve been as cooperative as we can be. The family, unfortunately, cut us off. Within 24 hours, they asked us to cease all communications. Their experts are now coming on the ship. They have a forensic expert who‘s scheduled to come on.
We are trying to provide them information. I really am sorry that they cut off the communication, because we would have liked to have reached out. In fact, even after they said, “Please don‘t contact us,” we made two other attempts to reach out to them. And they made it clear they don‘t want to hear from us.
COSBY: Richard Fain, thank you very much. And, Marie, thank you very much for bringing us your side of the story. We appreciate it.
FAIN: Thank you. I appreciate the time to try and get the facts out.
COSBY: Thank you very much.
And when we come back, for the first time, attorneys for both the family and the cruise lines are going to face off against each other. That‘s coming up.
COSBY: Well, more information coming tonight from the cruise line in the case of missing honeymooner George Smith. But does this bring us any closer to solving the case?
Joining me now is Royal Caribbean cruise line attorney and former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis. And we also have with us Smith family attorney Brett Rivkind.
Brett, let me start with you. What do you want to hear from Lanny Davis and Royal Caribbean that‘s going to help you get closer to solving the case for the family?
BRETT RIVKIND, GEORGE SMITH FAMILY ATTORNEY: Well, you know, I hear Mr. Fain speaking. And he uses the word “truth” a lot. And it brings back memories of the movie “A Few Good Men.” I don‘t think he can handle the truth.
I think this is a fairy tale, just as in the late ‘90s. You have to realize this is a company that pled guilty to 27 felony offenses, including obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, destroying evidence, falsifying official log books, and lying to the federal government.
So the Smith family doesn‘t believe anything that this company says or releases in carefully worded press releases. They want proof. They want sworn testimony. They want documents.
He says they‘ve been cooperating with us. Well, you know what? The Smith family waited five months before they went out and hired an attorney. Meanwhile, the cruise line, day one—the captain never notified the FBI. That‘s just false. The captain notified the risk management department in Miami first and foremost. And the cruise ship lawyers were on that ship before the FBI got there, taking statements before the FBI did, and the FBI didn‘t even know about certain key witnesses until they saw them on TV. So what did the cruise line really tell him?
COSBY: Brett, hang on...
RIVKIND: What I want to ask him...
COSBY: Yes, go ahead. Real quick, Brett.
RIVKIND: What I want to ask him, if he was a father and it was his kid, and something like that happened, don‘t you think he would have wanted that ship stopped in Turkey, he would have wanted the FBI notified, fully informed of all the details, not a captain telling him it was simply an accident?
And he would have had each and every one of those passengers interviewed, questioned. And that ship would not have sailed until he demanded that the FBI get there, because there may have been a murder committed on the ship.
And if it was his kid, let‘s hear him say that the Turkish police, going on almost four hours after the cruise line first noticed blood and taking a total of six statements—two passengers and four crew members—not taking statements of people who were in the cabin right next door to the Smith‘s, who heard noises, not taking statements of any other passengers with material information, and then just sailing away. And before the FBI ever got on that ship, washing away, cleaning up the blood, and tampering with the evidence.
COSBY: All right. Brett, let me...
RIVKIND: Ask him if he would have accepted that if it was his kid.
COSBY: That‘s a good question. Lanny, let me ask you, because you are a father. You know, let‘s forget even just who you‘re working for right now. As a father, do you think—would you have wanted something done differently?
LANNY DAVIS, ROYAL CARIBBEAN ATTORNEY: Yes, I‘m a father. And I would want to be telling the truth. What you‘ve just heard is a lawyer who‘s had a one-sided series of false statements on television. You‘ve just heard a series of false statements from the very beginning.
Let‘s talk facts, rather than name-calling, which is what this lawyer apparently prefers to do on television. Let‘s talk facts.
Fact number one. As soon as the blood was noticed, the authorities, within 45 minutes, were called. The Turkish authorities came on the ship, took forensic evidence, turned over all the evidence to the FBI, including blood samples. The FBI came on the ship three days later, complimented Royal Caribbean for the sealed cabin.
Everything that Mr. Rivkind says is either false or misleading. He loves engaging in name-calling. That‘s what plaintiff‘s lawyers do, but he has no facts. He has no evidence. He misleads people.
And let me also say he forgets to say that the grieving sister told Royal Caribbean, “Don‘t call me. I don‘t want any further information.” Unfortunately for that, we have not been able to call.
If Mr. Rivkind tonight will invite us to call the family, we will sit down with the family and share all the information we have, because we have cooperated with the Turkish authorities, with the FBI. We have not engaged in name-calling, and misinformation, and total falsehood that this lawyer is doing for the sake of filing a lawsuit, not for the sake of finding out what happened to George Smith.
COSBY: All right. Let me interrupt you, because I want to go through some of the facts, you guys, on both sides. First of all, how much blood was there, Lanny, in the cabin? And why, when Jennifer Smith was brought back by—whether it was maintenance crews or crew guys; it‘s a little unclear who she was brought back by—why didn‘t they notice some blood in the room?
DAVIS: Because there was no blood to notice. Let‘s talk fact. Fact one. When they brought Jennifer back unconscious by a wheelchair, she laid down on the bed. She woke up at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning and went to the spa. She noticed no blood.
Fact two. The person next door says that he looked into the room from the balcony—that‘s Mr. Hyman—noticed no blood.
Fact three. The security people who took Jennifer back and lay her down on the bed asleep saw no blood. Now, those are three undisputed facts. Does Mr. Rivkind have any facts to contradict the three that I just stated? Yes or no?
COSBY: Brett, let me get to you respond. How much blood...
DAVIS: Yes or no?
COSBY: ... was there? And go ahead and response, if you could, to Lanny.
RIVKIND: All we can reveal to you at this time is blood was found in that cabin. The extent of the blood—we have not yet received permission from the FBI to discuss that. The photographs that we‘ve sought...
DAVIS: Thank you. Do you notice Mr. Rivkind is very good at making charges...
RIVKIND: But I will tell you blood was found—blood was found in the cabin...
DAVIS: Very good. What fact do you have?
RIVKIND: ... and the photographs will contradict the cruise line statements. What facts do you have, other than a company telling you things?
DAVIS: Thank you.
RIVKIND: There‘s been no sworn statements. This is a convicted corporate felon...
DAVIS: Thank you.
RIVKIND: ... who has lied before to the government, to the public, and falsified records. And the Smith family—and we accept your offer—but you didn‘t tell the American public that, when the Smith family finally decided to hire a lawyer five months later, I‘ve written more than two or three letters to your client...
RIVKIND: ... who they probably haven‘t told you about.
RIVKIND: And I said, “Tell me all the witnesses on that cruise ship that you took statements of. Tell me the names and addresses”...
DAVIS: Rita, I‘d like to respond to...
COSBY: Lanny, what I‘m going to get to you do...
RIVKIND: And one more point, Rita...
COSBY: Lanny, I‘m going to get to you respond. You guys, we‘ve got to go to a quick break. Lanny, I will get to you respond right after the break.
DAVIS: I‘d like to respond to his name-calling and...
RIVKIND: And one more thing...
COSBY: Hang on one second, Lanny. Both of you are going to hang on. I will get to respond, everybody. We‘re going to be right back with both of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE SMITH, GEORGE SMITH‘S FATHER: What it was, though, in Turkey, that was a crime scene and it should have been lockdown tight. You know, that ship—when you see blood dripping down the side of a boat, you know you‘ve got a crime scene. And that boat should have been stopped, locked down. Passengers should have been questioned. No one should have been allowed to get off the boat. You know, that was a crime scene, and it should have been treated as a crime scene.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: Those are George Smith‘s parents.
So let me bring back in Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines‘ attorney, Lanny Davis. And also with us, we have the family‘s attorney, Brett Rivkind.
Lanny, I promised I could get you time to respond. Go ahead.
DAVIS: Well, first of all, we‘ve seen exactly the tactics of name-calling rather than facts. And we just saw Mr. Smith—as much as my heart goes out to him—misstating the truth.
The truth is that it wasn‘t until 8:30 in the morning after the ship had docked when the blood underneath the balcony, two decks above, was first noticed. That was when the room was sealed. By that point in time, the passengers had mostly left the ship to tour.
At that moment in time, the authorities were immediately called. The Turkish police came on board, questioned the passengers as much as they could, took Jennifer into the police station in the terminal and questioned her. They took forensic evidence. They turned that evidence, including blood samples, over to the FBI. Contrary to what the attorney has said, that room was sealed, and it was sealed for six days. The FBI came on the ship...
COSBY: Lanny, what about the bloodstains?
DAVIS: The FBI came on the ship three days after the ship was sealed, went into the room, and complimented the Turkish police on the fingerprinting and the forensic investigation.
COSBY: Lanny, what about the bloodstain?
DAVIS: So I don‘t know what the...
COSBY: Bloodstain on the canopy? What about the bloodstain?
DAVIS: The bloodstain on the canopy...
COSBY: Why wasn‘t that preserved?
DAVIS: The blood stain on the canopy was preserved for the Turkish authorities to take blood samples, which were turned over to the FBI. At the end of the day, the tourists and the people on the ship were leaning over, taking photographs.
The Turkish authorities told us, after we asked them, there‘s no purpose in keeping that blood the way it is, which was a safety hazard, as far as we were concerned. Passengers were leaning over and taking photographs. We asked the Turkish authorities, is it OK to wash down that blood? Is there any forensic purpose to keeping it?
And if they had said yes, we would not have done so. The FBI to this day has never criticized us, because they have the blood, they have the samples, they have the evidence. Unlike Mr. Rivkind, I‘m talking facts. I‘m not name-calling.
COSBY: All right, Brett. You‘ve got just a few seconds left. I do want to make sure you respond. Do you believe that proper protocol was followed? You‘re a maritime attorney. Are you getting any sense from the FBI that they‘re not satisfied with the investigation, that they didn‘t get everything right away?
RIVKIND: Proper protocol wasn‘t followed. And, you know, he didn‘t respond to the question, whether, if that was his kid, he would have agreed with an investigation where two passengers were questioned that whole time that ship was in port in Turkey, and before the FBI got there, their lawyers got to the witnesses. They wiped off all the blood, and they contaminated that cabin, contrary to what Mr. Davis says. The facts are that the crew were in and out of that cabin. It wasn‘t sealed like he said.
DAVIS: That is another false statement.
RIVKIND: This investigation was—it is not. And I challenge you...
DAVIS: Another false statement...
COSBY: Let him answer though, Lanny. Please give him some time.
RIVKIND: I challenge you to come on, and I will show you and prove to you that that ship‘s crew went in and out of that cabin and they contaminated the evidence. And you‘ve got to wonder what else happened...
DAVIS: A lawyer making false statements doesn‘t make it true.
RIVKIND: ... what else happened from 8:30 in the morning, when they found the blood, until 12:30 the Turkish police were let on board the ship?
DAVIS: Your false statements...
RIVKIND: The Turkish police were two minutes away from the ship in the port. What happened to those four hours?
DAVIS: Your constant habit of making false statements on the air...
RIVKIND: I challenge you...
COSBY: Both of you, both of you, I‘ve got to interrupt both of you.
Both of you, I‘m going to invite you back very soon.
RIVKIND: Give me the names of the witnesses, Mr. David. Give them to me.
DAVIS: Again, Rita...
COSBY: A spirited discussion. I will have you both back.
DAVIS: ... making false statements on...
COSBY: They‘re continuing. They‘re probably going to continue off-air. Everybody, we‘re going to go to a break. We will have them back on very soon. We‘ll be right back.
COSBY: And coming up tomorrow night, more of my exclusive interview with 16-year-old Farris Hassan, the high-school student who made a solo trip to Iraq without telling his school or his mother.
And for more of my interview, you can go to our Web site at rita.msnbc.com. Again, rita.msnbc.com.
That does it for me. Joe Scarborough starts right now—Joe?
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