'The Abrams Report' for June 17

Guests:  Bill Fazio, Marc Carlos, Dean Johnson, Tom Lange, Micah Halpern, Christopher Whitcomb, Richard Ben-Veniste, Slade Gorton

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, a juror is seen laughing with Scott Peterson‘s brother outside the trial.  What does that mean for the case against Scott Peterson? 



ABRAMS (voice-over):  The voice of terror from one of the September 11 hijackers replayed on the last day of the 9/11 commission hearings. 

And it‘s the most famous low-speed chase ever.  Now on the 10th anniversary of O.J. Simpson‘s run from the law, we with the former L.A.  police detective who tried to convince O.J. to turn himself in. 

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, day 11 in the Scott Peterson trial brought some fireworks, but not inside the courtroom.  This morning, while going through security at the San Mateo Superior Court, Laci Peterson‘s brother, Brent Rocha, was overheard having a brief conversation with another man.  The problem?  The other man was a juror in the case. 

Now, it was basically at the end of the metal detector, it was brief, and it was caught on tape.  You could hear the juror ending his sentence, saying—quote—“lose today.”  Now, we don‘t know whether he was talking about the case or maybe a sporting event.  And we‘re not showing the tape because it does involve a juror.  The judge is planning to subpoena the tape. 

MSNBC‘s Jennifer London is at the courthouse now with more.  So, Jennifer, what is the status as we speak? 

JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Dan, every day Judge Delucchi reminds this jury not to talk about this case, not to read newspapers about this case, not to watch newscasts about this case, and certainly not to speak to anyone close to the case.  And that would certainly include the brother of the murder victim.  But as you mentioned this morning, Brent Rocha, Laci Peterson‘s brother, was seen chatting with one of the jurors.  The conversation very brief, lasting only a few seconds. 

It did appear friendly.  We saw them smiling.  It certainly didn‘t seem to be confrontational.  And to give this a little context, when you enter the courthouse, you go through a security system.  Everyone has to do it.  So you‘re going in with a lot of people, maybe members of the press, members of the public.  Maybe people that are there for an entirely different reason.  There are other courtrooms in this courthouse, so some might make the argument that these two didn‘t know each other and were just simply chatting, as they were collecting their personal belongings. 

But when you consider the fact that Brent Rocha has already testified, so this juror would know who he is, and when you also consider the fact that Brent Rocha has been sitting in this courthouse every day, so you would think he would know who the jury is, it kind of makes you wonder what was going on.  Again, the conversation very brief.  We don‘t really know what was said.  And at this time, Dan, quite frankly, it‘s not clear how this will affects case, if it will at all. 

ABRAMS:  And Jennifer, I think it‘s fair to say that it was almost not even a conversation.  I mean calling it—and I‘ve referred to it as a conversation as well, but I think calling it a conversation is almost an overstatement.  Literally they‘re standing outside of the metal detectors and they‘re both sort of waiting for their items to get back, and one of them makes a little comment to the other, and then the juror said something that ends with “lose today”, right? 

LONDON:  Yes.  And, again, as you mentioned, that might mean anything.  That could be a sporting event; it could be something not related to this case...

ABRAMS:  He could be talking about...

LONDON:  ... and I think you‘re right...

ABRAMS:  He could be talking about not wanting to lose one of the items that he put through the metal detector. 

LONDON:  Well, he could be saying hey, that‘s my cell phone, not yours or whatever.  We simply don‘t know.  And I think you‘re right, a conversation may be overstating it.  There was an interaction. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And there was a smile, a sort of brief kind of smile, et cetera.  Jennifer, if you can stand by for a moment.  I‘ve got to tell you, I think even that alone is going to lead to this juror getting dismissed in excess of caution.  But let‘s find out what our legal team thinks here—California criminal defense attorney Marc Carlos, former San Francisco prosecutor and current trial attorney, Bill Fazio and in the courtroom today, former San Mateo County prosecutor Dean Johnson. 

All right, Mr. Fazio, let me start with you.  Based on the description that I‘ve given you, again, one of these literally probably eight-second interactions as they‘re waiting to get their items after the metal detector, but something was said and there was a response, and a smile from the juror, where something was said about something, “lose today.”  It seems to me that in an excess of caution, the judge will probably dismiss this juror.

BILL FAZIO, TRIAL ATTORNEY:  Well, Dan, he‘ll probably interview the juror in chambers in the company of both counsel for the “people” and for Mr. Peterson and find out exactly what happened.  It might have been just a human reaction of social graces happening, who knows?  Everybody who‘s been a trial attorney has had that uncomfortable position where jurors come up to the attorney and ask them, where‘s a good restaurant, where‘s the bathroom, things like that, and you don‘t want to be rude, you don‘t want to be crude, so you just basically say I‘m sorry I can‘t speak to you. 

It‘s difficult.  I agree with what you were saying earlier.  These people obviously knew who each other was.  They shouldn‘t have had it happened, now they‘ll have to get on with it.  But I suggest that probably what will happen there will be an interview in chambers and if there‘s any discussion at all, which would indicate that there an impropriety conducted, and then one of the alternate jurors would replace him.  Otherwise, this person...


FAZIO:  ... may be allowed to continue.

ABRAMS:  And Marc Carlos, the fact, though, that the juror was smiling as he walked away, some sort of little joke, even—you know even if it‘s the sort of joke you make to someone you don‘t even know as you‘re both waiting for something, I think it‘s going to lead the defense to say this is not a guy we necessarily want on the jury.  Am I overstating it...


ABRAMS:  ... based on that sort of simplistic a reading? 

CARLOS:  Yes, well it‘s sort of like previous comments.  We as trial lawyers run across witnesses and jurors all the time.  And you can‘t help but be human and smile at them or nod to them or you know even say good morning. 

ABRAMS:  But that was—this was beyond that.  I mean...

CARLOS:  Right.  I know...

ABRAMS:  ... there was—yes...

CARLOS:  ... there‘s a little bit of talk.  But I think what‘s going to happen, a defense attorney has a duty to inquire into it.  He‘s going to ask the judge to examine this particular juror, find out what the conversation was about, whether he could have avoided the conversation, and then find out whether he can keep that in the back of his mind.  The defense lawyers...


CARLOS:  ... will be present.  And I think in the end, that juror is probably going to stay on...

ABRAMS:  Really? 

CARLOS:  ... if it was a brief conversation...

ABRAMS:  Because I—look, there‘s no question in my mind that the juror is going to say it was nothing...

CARLOS:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... that Brent Rocha is going to say it was nothing, and I

was just trying to walk away.  And, yet, Dean Johnson, I‘m still convinced

·         and again, I accept the fact that it‘s a superficial analysis simply based on this conversation.  But when you get any insight at all, even the fact that he seemed friendly to Brent Rocha and was making a joke with Brent Rocha, I think it‘s going to lead Mark Geragos to say I want to get rid of this guy. 

DEAN JOHNSON, FMR. SAN MATEO COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  Well, I don‘t know.  I have seen the tape several times.  It‘s not clear at all what was said, whether even the word “lose” was used.  Some people have heard “news.”  I think the panelists are probably correct, that the judge is going to talk to this juror, is going to hear what the attorneys have to say, is going to bring the jury back in and say, look, when I admonish you not to talk to anybody, I really mean it. 

If anybody is going to try to get this juror knocked off it‘s probably going to be the prosecution because this juror was one that seemed to be a pro-defense juror in the beginning, and they might not even do that, because the next alternate to come up that would replace this juror looks like he might be somebody that‘s even more pro-defense.  So I think from a strategy standpoint and also, from a harmless error standpoint, if you will, this is probably going to turn out to be a big nothing. 

ABRAMS:  So all three of you think in the end that this juror will stay on the case.  Is that right, Bill? 

FAZIO:  Yes.  I think he‘s going to stay on if that‘s all that happened. 

ABRAMS:  Marc? 

CARLOS:  I think so, too.  And I think that, you know, attacking the juror on—you know, if Geragos makes a big deal about it, it may look like he‘s grasping for straws.  I think if he keeps, you know, the contact to a minimum, what this juror said to the witness, I don‘t think it‘s going to be a big deal and he could probably...

ABRAMS:  All right.

CARLOS:  ... be the bigger person for it. 

FAZIO:  Yes, Dan—you don‘t want to be in a position, Dan, where you‘re basically asking for the juror to be excused and the judge denies your request and then you‘re stuck...


FAZIO:  ... with that juror. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Well, look, if all three of you say that the juror is going to stay, you know, maybe the juror is going to stay.  It really was a very brief conversation.  It did seem to be an extension of what was effectively pleasantries, but we shall see.  I still think that—well, if Dean‘s right, this is considered a pro-defense juror, maybe Mark Geragos won‘t do it.  We shall see. 

All right, if you could all just stick around, when we come back, there was testimony today, in addition to everything that happened outside the courtroom, about jewelry that Laci Peterson inherited.  Is the prosecution trying to establish some sort of monetary motive? 

Remember this is the place to turn for daily coverage and analysis of the Peterson trial.  For an interactive timeline of events in the case, go to our Web site, abramsreport.msnbc.com. 

Coming up, less than a day to go before terrorists say they‘re going to kill an American hostage, his family begs for someone to negotiate to save his life.  Can they?  Should they? 

And you know where you were 10 years ago today.  We‘ll talk with the L.A. detective who was on the phone with O.J. Simpson 10 years ago during that low-speed chase.

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


ABRAMS:  Coming up, more on today‘s testimony in the Scott Peterson case.


ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  Our continuing coverage of the Scott Peterson case.  Some interesting testimony today, and for that, we go to the courthouse and MSNBC‘s Jennifer London once again. 

So Jennifer, what were the highlights today? 

LONDON:  A couple of highlights, Dan.  First, we finished up with testimony from the Sergeant Timothy Helton.  He was on the massive search effort for Laci Peterson.  Under cross-examination, they talked more about this search in Tracy.  Remember, yesterday we heard that a tip came in that Laci was being held in the town of Tracy, which is about 30 miles away from Modesto. 

So the search team‘s following up on this search saying that they flew over the area with a helicopter using heat sensors.  They did get some heat radiating from some buildings, although Helton would not say whether it was from a human or perhaps an animal.  They simply did not know.  And under cross-examination, Helton did say they did not search any of those buildings, but they did have three officers who spent numerous days there, and Helton said they simply found nothing. 

Also, today the prosecution putting on the stand a couple of witnesses testifying about the jewelry that Laci Peterson inherited from her grandmother.  This jewelry was appraised in excess of $100,000.  In fact, Laci Peterson was having a new wedding ring made at a local jewelry store, and the shop owner there testifying that the ring alone was worth more than $50,000.  Perhaps the prosecution trying to show a financial motive, although the defense, under cross-examination, getting the witnesses to say after Laci went missing, Scott never called about the jewelry.  He never said hey, you‘ve got my wife‘s ring, I want to get it back. 

Also today, Dan, we heard from the Peterson‘s pool man.  And he is talking about the dog, McKenzie.  We‘ve heard a couple of other witnesses say that this dog was not aggressive, but he was protective.  He would bark when people even that the dog knew would come to the house.  The pool man saying look, I‘ve been servicing their pool since April ‘02.  This dog would always bark at me.

I would give this dog a treat, this dog would still bark at me.  He said this dog barked the entire time I was at the house.  This dog was barking even as I drove away.  Again, the prosecution, we believe, trying to show that if Laci was with the dog, nobody would have been able to abduct her, because this dog was very protective.  And, Dan, court has adjourned for the day. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Jennifer London, thanks very much.  Bill Fazio, this business about the jewelry, you know I‘ve read the arrest warrant, and we obtained that exclusively and reported on it.  And one of the things that they mentioned in there was not Amber Frey as the primary motive, but was money.  The fact that Laci had expensive taste, that she wanted a new car and she wanted a new home.  Do you think the prosecution is going to lay out a motive that‘s going to say he wanted money, he wanted Amber Frey, he wanted this and that, and they‘re going to spell it out. 

FAZIO:  I think that‘s one of the theories, of course, sex, money, greed, anything like that.  Money makes the world go round.  There was an argument early in the game that he had taken out an insurance policy, you may recall, Dan, on his wife, and if she died under circumstances that he would recover that money...


FAZIO:  ... so it cuts both ways. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but that turned out that it wasn‘t actually true. 

FAZIO:  Yes...

ABRAMS:  That was a false report from “The Modesto Bee”.

FAZIO:  Geragos might argue there was some information we heard earlier in the game that she was due—that Laci was due to inherit even more money when she reached 30 years of age...


FAZIO:  ... so he might turn it around and argue that this benefits her. 


FAZIO:  But I think the dog is more of an interesting argument, actually.  The prosecutor basically is going to put the dog as a witness by saying that this dog would have barked, and the dog didn‘t bark.  So therefore whoever took Laci must have been somebody who knew and was close to them, her husband. 

ABRAMS:  You know, Marc, I never find these dogs arguments...


ABRAMS:  ... yes, we heard it in the O.J. Simpson case, and I‘ve heard it...

CARLOS:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... in other cases too, and I just think that they‘re never really that persuasive. 

CARLOS:  No, they aren‘t, because you know people who own dogs know they can have the biggest barking dog in the world, but they‘re big chickens when it comes to anybody approaching them and you know it doesn‘t really mean very much.  You know back to the jewelry thing...


CARLOS:  ... you know I think the prosecution has to watch if they sort of throw out too many theories of why he would try to kill her.  This is a death penalty case, and what people have to realize that it‘s a very high—I mean the reasonable doubt standard is high enough, but in a death penalty case it really clinches down on the jury.  They have to really be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.  And if you put too many theories out there, it‘s going to backfire on the prosecution. 

ABRAMS:  Dean, do you have a sense of exactly—I mean I know what the theory was of the police officers based on the arrest warrant and, you know, it was primarily they said money and his desire not to have a child.  And they said that Amber Frey may have enhanced that motive.  Based on what you‘ve seen in the case so far, do you have a sense of what they‘re saying the motive is? 

JOHNSON:  Well, we‘re really not sure where they‘re going with this.  It‘s like so many things in this case.  The evidence can help the prosecution.  They can say, look, Laci had $100,000 worth of jewelry.  They were already pawning it.  They appeared to have possibly been in some dire economic straits.  But by the same token, it can be flipped around by the defense.  They can say Laci had $100,000 worth of jewelry.  She was in the habit of parading around the neighborhood with it, and there were a number of transients there, so maybe there was a botched robbery. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right...

JOHNSON:  ... there‘s all sorts of ways it can go.  Same thing with the dog... 

ABRAMS:  Dean Johnson...

JOHNSON:  Yes...

ABRAMS:  ... got to wrap it up.  Thanks very much and Marc Carlos.  Bill Fazio, your first appearance on the program.  It was great to have you.  We hope to have you back again soon.  Thanks a lot. 

FAZIO:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, where were you 10 years ago today?  Yes, that was 10 years ago today.  LAPD Detective Tom Lange was on the phone with O.J.  Simpson trying to get him to put down his gun.  He joins us when we come back. 



TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS:  I‘m Tom Brokaw, NBC News in New York, and you are looking at live television pictures at dusk in southern California.  The white Bronco that you see on the freeway going right on your screen contains O.J. Simpson, a fugitive at large, charged with two counts of murder.  We believe that it‘s being driven by his lifelong friend, Al Cowlings, and they are headed towards O.J. Simpson‘s old neighborhood in Brentwood. 


ABRAMS:  Can you believe that was 10 years ago when O.J. Simpson led police on a 60-mile low-speed chase along three Los Angeles freeways.  The beginning of the summer, the Houston Rockets were in New York for game five of the NBA finals against the Knicks.  During halftime NBC broke away from the game to cover the chase. 

Ninety-five million people tuned in as a frantic Simpson allegedly held a gun to his head in the back of a white Ford Bronco driven his friend Al Cowlings.  My next guest, former LAPD Tom Lange was on the phone with Simpson during the chase. 


O.J. SIMPSON, BEING CHASED BY POLICE (via phone):  I‘m not going to hurt anybody...

TOM LANGE, LAPD DETECTIVE (via phone):  I know you‘re not going to hurt anybody, but...


LANGE:  ... I know you‘re not...

SIMPSON:  I‘m just going to go with me. 

LANGE:  Please.  You‘re scaring everybody, though.  You‘re scaring them. 

SIMPSON:  Oh, just tell them I‘m all sorry.  You can tell them later on today and tomorrow that I was sorry and that I‘m sorry that I did this to the police department. 

LANGE:  Listen, I think you should tell them yourself...


LANGE:  ... and I don‘t want to have to tell your kids that.  Your kids need you. 

SIMPSON:  I‘ve already said goodbye to my kids. 

LANGE:  Listen, though, we‘re not going to say goodbye to your kids...


LANGE:  ... you‘re going to see them again.  You want to see them again. 


ABRAMS:  Wow.  Former LAPD detective and private investigator Tom Lange joins me now.  Tom, good to see you again. 

TOM LANGE, FMR. LAPD DETECTIVE:  Hi Dan.  How are you doing?

ABRAMS:  Ten years ago, it is really hard to believe.  You know, in retrospect, anything that you would have done differently on that day? 

LANGE:  No, as far as the chase, I don‘t think so.  At this time the murder investigation has to go to the back burner, because you have a potentially explosive situation.  You‘ve got a guy with a gun.  He‘s probably under a lot of stress, obviously, because of what‘s going on.  You‘ve got to assume it‘s a real gun, you‘ve got to assume it‘s loaded. 

You have a slow-speed chase.  You‘ve got the police behind him. 

You don‘t want him shooting himself.  That would have been really bad, or A.C. Cowlings or the police, certainly.  You‘ve got people running up to the Bronco after a while beating on the windows.  It‘s a situation that you have to try to gain control over, and it‘s all about the gun, get rid of the gun.  Try to talk to him.  Keep him busy so he won‘t think about the gun. 

ABRAMS:  Let me play another piece of sound from the conversation that you had with Simpson that day.


SIMPSON:  Just let me get to my house...

LANGE:  OK, we‘re going to do that...

SIMPSON:  I swear to you, I‘ll give you (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I‘ll give you me.  I‘ll give you my whole body. 


SIMPSON:  I just need to get to my house...



LANGE:  We‘re going to do that.  Just throw the gun out the window. 

SIMPSON:  I can‘t do that. 

LANGE:  We‘re not going to bother you.  We‘re going to let you go up there.  Just throw it out the window please.  You‘re scaring everybody.  O.J., are you there? 

SIMPSON:  This is for me...


SIMPSON:  This is not to keep you guys away from me. 

LANGE:  I know that.

SIMPSON:  This is for me. 

LANGE:  Nobody is going to hurt you.

SIMPSON:  This is for me. 

LANGE:  OK, it‘s for you.  I know that.  But do it for your...

SIMPSON:  This is for me, for me, that‘s all...

LANGE:  I know that.  I know that.  But do it for the kids, too, will you? 


ABRAMS:  You know, Tom, it‘s so odd to hear—to listen to that now.  You know I don‘t listen to it every day.  I haven‘t heard it in many, many years.  And to think that since then O.J. Simpson has—you know you helped save his life to a certain degree, and yet, since then, O.J. Simpson has accused you and your colleagues of corruption and misconduct and all sorts of other things. 

LANGE:  Well, not only that, Dan, but just interviewed recently on another network, he denied that these conversations ever took place, as his attorney did, sitting right there on live television in one of these interviews. 


LANGE:  So, you know, are we looking at the pathological side of Simpson?  You know I don‘t know. 

ABRAMS:  Did he ever say thank you to you for that? 

LANGE:  Come on.  No, of course not, no.  No—but, again, I think the important thing here is to remember that this was nothing to do with a murder investigation at the time.  It was officer safety, civilian safety, and actually, the suspect.  We have an obligation to make sure he doesn‘t blow his brains out. 

ABRAMS:  Did you think that that was a very possible outcome? 

LANGE:  Well, I didn‘t know.  And you certainly don‘t know.  You have to assume it is.  You can‘t make light of it.  There‘s one detective in this case who later on became infamous for other things, who suggested that I probably try to get some kind of a confession out of this guy.  That would have been absolutely ridiculous.  I mean what a bone-headed thing to say.  But that‘s what he said.  I mean this isn‘t about confessions and murder investigations.  You have to assume this gun is real and he may use it. 

ABRAMS:  And part of your job was not just to build the case, but was to protect life. 

LANGE:  Well, yes.  I‘m a police officer, and I am a homicide investigator.  But at that point things change and you have to try to take over the situation.  You have to try to engage him in conversation so he doesn‘t think about using that gun, because you just don‘t know what he‘s going to do with it. 

ABRAMS:  You know, I‘m not going to ask you the question—you know what...


ABRAMS:  ... Tom Lange, thanks very much.  It‘s good to see you again...

LANGE:  My pleasure.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Appreciate you coming back on the program. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, the 9/11 commission has its final round of hearings with testimony about the chaos that ensued after the hijackings began, and over what to do that day while the hijacked planes were still in the air.  We talk with two commissioners. 

And terrorists have said they will kill an American they‘re holding hostage tomorrow if Saudi Arabia doesn‘t meet their demands.  With his life at stake, should the U.S. and the Saudis negotiate as his family is now asking them to do? 

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


ABRAMS:  Time may be running out for an American citizen kidnapped in Saudi Arabia.  It‘s the U.S. policy not to negotiate with terrorists.  His family is pleading for an exception, first the headlines.


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Time may be running out for Paul Johnson, the American military contractor kidnapped and held for ransom, supposedly, by al Qaeda terrorists in Saudi Arabia.  The kidnappers have threatened to kill Johnson sometime Friday, unless the Saudi government agrees to release hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists held in prisons.  On the “Today” show Thursday Johnson‘s family pleaded for someone to make a deal for his release, or at least the most emotional plea came from his son, Paul Johnson. 


PAUL JOHNSON III, KIDNAPPED HOSTAGE‘S SON:  I just—you know, I just want to ask the president of the United States and the Saudi officials to please make this happen.  Father‘s Day is right here.  Bring my father home for Father‘s Day. 


ABRAMS:  But the State Department spokesperson, Richard Boucher, defended the shared U.S./Saudi position that there is no negotiating with terrorists. 


AMB. RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN:  Those policies are I think well thought out for a long period of time, because if we start making concessions and offering benefits for kidnappings, it will only lead to more. 


ABRAMS:  But are there cases when government should talk to, even negotiate with terrorists?  I‘m joined from Jerusalem by Micah Halpern, an Israeli terrorism expert and the author of “What You Need To Know About Terror,” and by former FBI special agent and CNBC terrorism analyst, Chris Whitcomb. 

Micah, let me start with you.  Look, Israel has faced this issue many times in its past where you know they say effectively we don‘t negotiate with terrorists, but then they do, right? 

MICAH HALPERN, ISRAELI TERRORISM EXPERT:  Yes, certainly.  Sometimes Israel or any government has to make a tactical decision to achieve a goal, and that sometimes means actually getting back the bodies of even dead soldiers, which is exactly what happened some seven or eight months ago here in Israel, where Israel actually released 430 Palestinian/Lebanese terrorists in exchange for three dead Israeli soldiers.  One, by the way, was a Muslim Israeli soldier. 

ABRAMS:  So, Micah, if that‘s the case, though, what about the conventional wisdom that, you know, you start giving in and you start giving them things, then they‘re just going to do it more? 

HALPERN:  Well, you have to balance things out.  In the particular case in Israel, let‘s say for instance, one of the most important motivating forces in the defense of the state is that parents lend their children to defend the state.  And in exchange, though, they want to make certain that those bodies come home, even if they‘re in a body bag, so that they at least have someplace to mourn their loved ones in the event that they might lose their lives fighting in the defense of the state.  So that‘s a very important tactical move in order to further the defense of Israel itself. 

ABRAMS:  But Chris Whitcomb, if they know—I mean look, the belief is if the terrorists know that, they‘re going to act on it and all they‘re going to do is try and kidnap and kill as many people as possible in an effort to get what they want. 

CHRISTOPHER WHITCOMB, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  I don‘t think so, Dan.  Look, what‘s the difference between a terrorist and a common criminal, a kidnapper, someone that‘s holding someone for ransom?  In the latter case we negotiate all the time.  That‘s a time-proven, accepted tactic from law enforcement.  If someone kidnaps, and we call them a terrorist, the U.S.  government says we don‘t.  Do we really deal with human lives this way over semantics?  The bottom line, Dan, is that the terrorists kidnapped someone.  They are going to gain some kind of notoriety.  It doesn‘t do them any good to kill the hostage, and it does the U.S. government good, obviously, to get them back. 

ABRAMS:  Chris, I guess I would argue the difference would be that in an individual case, you will have one person acting a particular way, and yes, you could argue others might follow.  But when you‘re talking about a group, if that group sees that it is effective to kidnap, it is effective to kill and will get things for that, it‘s going to help us that there‘s an argument to be made that it turns out to be a little different than law enforcement, no? 

WHITCOMB:  Well, look, Dan, I mean that‘s obviously an argument.  But you‘ve got to look at the end of the day and say what is the ultimate motivation?  The ultimate motivation is to put some sort of political message forward by taking—kidnapping someone, they do that.  The U.S.  has to come out and say we don‘t negotiate with terrorists.  They have to make that a policy.  But I can tell you without equivocation in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, where kidnapping is a very common occurrence, the U.S. government negotiates. 

Negotiation does not mean giving them all they want.  It means talking to them, buying time to take other action.  It means stalling.  It means...


WHITCOMB:  ... doing things that help us.  It does not necessarily mean giving them everything they want. 

ABRAMS:  I think that‘s a fair distinction.  Let me play another piece of sound, it‘s just heartbreaking to hear this, but look, this is why we‘re having this discussion, because Mr. Johnson‘s son has bravely gone out and tried to help his father.  Let‘s listen. 


JOHNSON:  I know they can make a deal to make it happen, and I really don‘t want to comment on it.  I really don‘t.  I mean, I just—the only thing I‘m asking is I know they were working on it hard, the Saudis...


ABRAMS:  All right, Micah, apparently a friend of Johnson‘s has also gone as far as to go on an Islamic Web site, read by terrorists and some of these others, and written the following.

If you have disregarded my pledge of safety to the man, I make Allah the avenger, the mighty, the great as my witness that I will never forgive you and I will curse you in every prayer and every hour.

He‘s invoking a protection, a Muslim can offer a nonbeliever, you know, any chance you think something like that can help? 

HALPERN:  No.  I mean, it plays well and it might be helpful in terms of the larger community in Saudi Arabia, which might even open up some intelligence sources, which may find where they‘re holding Johnson, so that there might be a break.  The ultimate reality, though, is that when the contractor goes out or when a soldier is out there, no matter where they are, they are potential—potentially at risk for kidnapping.  And it‘s something, which is very, very important.  It‘s one of the tools that every enemy uses against their other enemy in war...


HALPERN:  ... kidnapping. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Micah Halpern and Chris Whitcomb, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

WHITCOMB:  Thanks Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the chaos, confusion, mistakes that America‘s air defenses made on September 11.  It‘s all come out in the 9/11 commission.  They‘ve also played an audiotape of Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers, what he said on that flight.  We‘ll bring that to you.

And later, while the U.N. again proves it cannot be objective when it comes to the Middle East conflict.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.


ABRAMS:  The 9/11 commission held its final public hearing today and heard testimony on the confusion in the Federal Aviation Administration, the military, and the White House during and shortly after the attacks.  And shortly after the hearing opened, a chilling moment, what‘s believed to be the voice of lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, speaking to presumably other terrorists and the passengers on American Airlines Flight 11.  What follows are two statements made 10 minutes apart.  Both recorded at the FAA Center in New Hampshire. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have some planes.  Just stay quiet and you‘ll be OK.  We are returning to the airport.  Nobody move.  Everything will be OK.  If you try to make any moves, you‘ll endanger yourselves and the airplane.  Just stay quiet.


ABRAMS:  About 12 minutes after that transmission was received, Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.  Seconds later fighter jets at Otis Air Force Base, 153 miles from New York, were given orders to scramble, and there were more problems that day.  The military got a maximum of nine minutes warning from the FAA on all of the hijacked aircraft.  Vice President Cheney gave orders to shoot down the hijacked airlines, but only after the last plane had crashed.  Fighter jets sent to intercept the jet liners were never in a position to do so, and communication problems on Air Force One forced President Bush to try and make calls from a cell phone. 

Joining me now to talk to about the hearings and the report on the commission‘s findings due next month, two of the commissioners, former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democrat, and Slade Gorton, a former Republican U.S. senator from Washington State.  Thank you very much gentlemen for joining us.  We appreciate it.


ABRAMS:  All right, Commissioner Ben-Veniste, let me start with you talking about today.  It sounds like if everything had been working properly, that at least some of these planes could have, should have been shot down.  Is that fair? 

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE (D), 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Well, that presumes that they had trained for this, they had planned for this, all of which we found was not the case.  There was really a level of unpreparedness to deal with a catastrophe like this, a scenario in which planes would be used as weapons by suicide hijackers.  Our intelligence community knew a great deal of information.  Today we learned that had they communicated that information to those who were on the front line, both NORAD and FAA, perhaps something could have been done to harden our defenses, both on the ground and in the air. 

ABRAMS:  Senator Gorton, is it fair to say that significant changes have already been made, that if in place then, would have made a big difference? 

FMR. SEN. SLADE GORTON ®, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Significant changes have been made.  Probably there is a difference today.  There certainly is a difference in the protocols or the rules under which they operate.  But we also heard today very much at the last minute from one of the FAA people who did a magnificent job on 9/11 and who is now in New York that just two or three weeks ago there was an unidentified aircraft approaching New York, that what he said was 300 knots, and it took a great deal of time to sort out who could do what and how the military could get involved in it.  So whatever they have done, it isn‘t enough. 

ABRAMS:  Senator Gorton, let me ask you this question as one the Republican members of the commission, because this has become such a politicized issue.  And this is this question of any link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.  I read the report that was issued yesterday.  It seemed to me that the report was saying that there was no collaboration.  Not just with regard to 9/11, but no collaboration period that you have evidence of between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.  Is that a fair reading? 

GORTON:  We—what we have found—and remember, we‘re in charge of 9/11 and not anything that happened after 9/11 -- is that there were a number of contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq, but absolutely no partnership and certainly no connection between Iraq and 9/11. 

ABRAMS:  And in fact, that Saddam Hussein seemed to even rebuff the advances from Osama bin Laden, correct? 

GORTON:  He—one of the advances on joint operations he said no to. 

But contacts, yes.  Partnership, no. 

ABRAMS:  Just—I want to just - I apologize to Mr. Ben-Veniste, I‘m going to come back to him in one second.  But Vice President Cheney has just given an interview to CNBC‘s capital reporter, and he says, again, that there were clearly ties between Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda terrorists, and he says—he‘s calling “The New York Times” coverage outrageous, he‘s responding to a report as to how they‘re covering it.  You know I don‘t know if you want to take this one on.  But I‘m going to ask you based on what you saw and the evidence you saw, is it fair to say that there were clearly ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda terrorists? 

GORTON:  Well I‘m not exactly sure what he means by “ties.”  As we have found, there were a number of contacts on a number of occasions.  There was no partnership, and al Qaeda or excuse me—and Iraq played no role in 9/11.  Beyond that, I don‘t think we can go. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s why he was a U.S. senator.  Spoken well.  All right, Mr. Ben-Veniste, let me throw the same question to you.  Look, I read the report.  I‘m not basing this on “The New York Times” coverage.  I read your report.  And the way I read the report was Osama bin Laden wanted ties with al—with Saddam Hussein, but Saddam Hussein wasn‘t interested. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, look, there was no collaboration, there was no cooperation, and by any stretch of the imagination, there was no involvement by Saddam Hussein or Iraq in the planning, preparation, or any other aspect of the 9/11 catastrophe.  Somehow it had gotten into the public mind, as we know from polls, that 60 percent of the people in the United States believed that Iraq was behind 9/11.  This bipartisan commission has definitively said that‘s bunk.  There is nothing to that. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, that I—even the president concedes that there was no evidence of that... 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, that‘s pretty important. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Very quickly, I‘m almost out of time.  Are we going to get a unanimous report?  Mr. Ben-Veniste, please tell me we‘re going to. 

BEN-VENISTE:  We hope so.  We‘re working very diligently...

ABRAMS:  Senator Gorton, please, I‘ve got to—I think it‘s so important, I have to tell you, for the national psyche that this report is unanimous in every way. 

GORTON:  I think there‘s no question but that we will come up with a unanimous report on the history.  Just look at what you‘ve learned so far.  We‘re working very hard on recommendations.  We have some differences. 

They aren‘t partisan differences, and we‘re going to try to work them out. 

ABRAMS:  Please, please, please work them out.  I got to—I just—

I think it‘s so important.  I‘ve said this many times on the program.  We shall see.  Mr. Ben-Veniste, and Senator Gorton, thank you both so much for coming back.

BEN-VENISTE:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, why a letter from a U.N. appointed expert once again demonstrates the bias of the U.N. when it comes to the Middle East conflict.  It‘s my “Closing Argument” coming up and your e-mails.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, your e-mails on my “Closing Argument” that we were jut talking about, that there‘s no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.  Stay with us. 


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why a letter from a U.N.-appointed expert once again demonstrates the bias of the U.N. when it come to the Middle East conflict.  Jean Ziegler, appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission as an expert in food, wrote a letter on U.N. letterhead from the office of the high commissioner for human rights threatening an American company that makes bulldozers and sells them to Israel.  Ziegler suggested that because Israel has destroyed homes of suspected terrorists, and even crops with the Caterpillar bulldozers, that—quote—“might involve complicity or acceptance on the part of your company to actual and potential violations of human rights.”

Ziegler also cited the death of a protester who tried to stop a bulldozer near the Gaza/Egypt border.  What is this professor, an expert on food, doing making legal threats under the auspices of the U.N.?  The high commissioner‘s office claims Ziegler is an independent contractor who was writing in a—quote—“personal capacity.”  You‘re allowed to use U.N.  stationary for personal notes?  Sure can‘t do it here at NBC. 

And did Ziegler also write to the companies that make nails and tacks used by the Palestinian terrorists who put them in suicide bombs to make them more deadly or to the makers of cell phones used to activate other bombs?  Of course not.  No, because Ziegler is just another so-called expert hired by the U.N. with a history of antipathy toward Israel.  Just saying that‘s his opinion isn‘t enough.  The U.N. should chastise him and announce that he will not be given any more U.N. assignments.  But knowing the history of the U.N. on this matter, I won‘t hold my breath. 

All right, I‘ve had my say.  Now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Yesterday the bipartisan 9/11 commission released a report, which supported my “Closing Argument” from Tuesday.  That it is misleading for Vice President Cheney to say that there are long established ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.  He‘s saying it again today in an interview with CNBC.

From West Sacramento, California, Zelsdorf Ragshaft III writes, “Do you seriously think a bipartisan committee has all the necessary information to make that kind of judgment?  Seems to me al Qaeda is sort of a secret society and do not publish who their benefactors are.  You really cannot in all fairness be that stupid.”

All right, Zelsdorf, I do think they can make that judgment.  They can say there‘s no evidence based on the thousands of documents and interviews that they‘ve reviewed.  But even if you‘re right, that al Qaeda is so secretive that the 9/11 commission should not even say we‘ve seen no evidence to support any connection, that does not justify the vice president making comments that suggests otherwise.  If they‘re so secretive, then he wouldn‘t know either. 

Ben Patrick (ph) from Columbus, Ohio, “you stated the 9/11 commission has found no link between al Qaeda and Iraq.  That is not what the commission is stating.  They instead are stating that they have found no link between al Qaeda, Iraq and 9/11.”

And Brian Tidwell, “The 9/11 commission statement regarding no connection between al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and the September 11 attack does not imply that there are no connections.  What‘s wrong with you?  It is intellectually dishonest to assert this commission‘s statement is any way at odds with the vice president‘s statements on behalf of this administration.”

Did you forget that they went a step further saying that overtures from bin Laden and al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein—quote—“do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.”  While the commissioners are coming out and you just heard them on the program, saying that they agree with the president, that there‘s no evidence of a link between Saddam and 9/11, they want to be careful not to be seen—to seem political.  Read their report.  It contradicts the vice president‘s statements of long established ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. 

Finally, my exclusive interview with Salem Chalabi, president of the special tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein,, who for security reason, had to do the entire interview with his back turned, which has Frank Alexander asking, “If Mr. Chalabi is afraid to show his face, what makes him think the witnesses will show theirs in a trial?”  That‘s a fair question to ask Frank.  We shall see. 

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  We go through them at the end of every show. 

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” Chris Matthews, the guest, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and my pal Pete Williams is filling in today. 

Thanks for watching.  I‘ll see you next week, actually from Burbank, California.


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