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'The Abrams Report' for Dec. 27

Read the transcript to the 6 p.m. ET show

Guest:  Steve Emerson, Mark Juergensmeyer, Tom Goldstein, Ron Christie, Chris Birkett

LISA DANIELS, GUEST HOST: Coming up, does Osama bin Laden have a new man in charge in Iraq?


DANIELS (voice-over): In a new tape said to be from the al Qaeda leader, bin Laden tells Muslims to follow Iraqi based terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and calls on Iraqis to boycott next month‘s elections.

And a young girl disappears and is feared dead. A possible suspect may have confided in her lawyer just before she died, but the lawyer won‘t talk. Is she taking attorney/client privilege a little too far?

Plus, Christmas Day may be over but there is one man in Arizona who is still in the holiday spirit and may face jail time because of it, and all of this.

The program about justice starts right now.


DANIELS: Hi, I‘m Lisa Daniels. Dan is off tonight.

First up on the docket, a new audiotape out today with the voice of the don of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. The tape, which was broadcast on the Arab net work Al-Jazeera focuses on the current terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and as senior government official tells NBC News the tape does appear to be the voice of bin Laden. In it he gives a ringing endorsement to Zarqawi, calling him the emir of al Qaeda in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): (UNINTELLIGIBLE) brother, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the leader of al Qaeda organization in the country of the two rivers. And for the brothers in the group there to listen to him and obey him.


DANIELS: He also demands that Iraqis boycott elections there next month. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Every one who participants in this election will be considered infidels. We must be aware of the henchmen who speaks in the name of Islamic parties and groups who urge people to participate in this infidel election.


DANIELS: It‘s on the heels of an announcement from the largest Sunni political party in Iraq saying it was withdrawing from the election just 34 days before Iraqis vote. So, what‘s the significance of this new bin Laden tape, the second one in a month and what will happen in the upcoming elections with the largest Sunni political party in Iraq saying it‘s withdrawing?

“My Take”—I have no doubt that Iraqi elections are going forward.  When President Bush says he is going to do something, he will do it. The Iraq war proved that. But there is a big difference between elections going forward and having legitimate elections without legitimacy defined by the Iraqis, the elections aren‘t worth two cents.

Joining me now to talk about this, terrorism expert and MSNBC analyst Steve Emerson and Mark Juergensmeyer, director of global and international studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who has also met with the general secretary of the Islamic Iraqi Party and also the Sunni clergy from the Baghdad and Fallujah area. Gentlemen thanks for joining me today.


DANIELS: Steve, let‘s begin with you. These two audiotapes basically from bin Laden in less than a month, what‘s the significance?

STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, first of all, we don‘t know when this tape was actually made, Lisa. We think it might have been made actually well over a month ago, almost the same time that he made that first tape that was released on the Internet because he‘s not referring to anything temporal or concurrent in Iraq.

However, the real significance of the tape as I see it is not his calls for a boycott but rather his anointment of Zarqawi as the emir of al Qaeda. This is a significant decision that traditionally has never been made by bin Laden alone, but made by his consultative counsel—that‘s the group of advisors, a sort of Board of Directors. If that is the case, that means he has essentially been able to reconstitute his Board of Directors, which is very significant in terms of his ability to project (UNINTELLIGIBLE) outward.

DANIELS: Mark, do you agree with Steve that bin Laden is now back in business, so to speak.

MARK JUERGENSMEYER, AUTHOR, “TERROR IN THE MIND OF GOD”: Yes, he already has been (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I think the significant thing is the timing. Why now? Part of this is for al-Zarqawi‘s sake. He‘s trying to seek legitimacy. After all, he is engaged in something of a civil war within his own group. He is trying to persuade the Iraqis that he is not just a Jordanian outsider. He is a legitimate spokesperson for radical Muslim causes. And al Qaeda supposedly would give him this legitimacy, but that also could backfire.

ABRAMS: So, Steve, there seems to be this mutual admiration, a mutual pledge of allegiance going on between bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. Let‘s take a look at something on the tape.

Quote—“I consider the prince of mujahideen, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a true soldier of God. He is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and everybody should follow him and obey him.

Does that signal that al Qaeda is actually becoming stronger by branching out or could he make the case that it‘s actually al Qaeda becoming weaker?

EMERSON: Well, remember that it was about seven weeks ago that Zarqawi himself pledged biot (ph) or loyalty to bin Laden and says he wanted to be incorporated as part of the bin Laden organization. There was no response at that point from bin Laden himself. This appears to have been the response, which says yes, you are now a made member of the mob or a member of the bin Laden group and it appears to be an effort to project his strength.

So now, this is the traditional way that bin Laden has basically been able to essentially plan and expand his groups, his strength by incorporating people overseas. Remember, Ayman al-Zawahiri was brought in, in 1996. That brought in the entire Egyptian Islamic jihad into his fold that projected him into 10 other countries, the same way with bringing in Zarqawi officially into it. It gives him more largess. Now the only problem is, as Mark just pointed out, if the elections are successful, this will be a backfiring of Zarqawi and implicitly of bin Laden himself.

DANIELS: Mark, there seems to be something ironic to me that here bin Laden has always said that he is trying to unite the Arab world. Now comes along Zarqawi and his intentions basically, whether he means it or not, is to have a civil war. Aren‘t these two goals at odds with each other?

JUERGENSMEYER: Well, bin Laden wants to unite the Muslim world, but he wants to unite it under him. So obviously bin Laden has a lot to gain from this. The interesting question is what does al-Zarqawi have to gain from this? Now if it bolsters his credibility, that‘s a good thing for him. But Iraqis don‘t like outsiders. They are already suspicious of him because he is a Jordanian. They don‘t like the fact that he‘s killing a lot of Iraqis.  Yes, this al Qaeda connection may give him a certain credibility and saying that he‘s not just some character from a nearby disaffected country, but also that he‘s got this international credentials. But we‘ll see how far this will carry him in the months ahead. DANIELS: Steve, the bottom line is if the Sunnis do withdraw, will the elections take place?

EMERSON: I think they‘ll take place, but as you pointed out in your introduction, they‘ll take place without impromptu of legitimacy. It won‘t appear to be legitimate and therefore they won‘t stick terms of people recognizing its results.

DANIELS: Mark, there was talk with the Iraq‘s Electoral Commission considering whether to put some seats in the country‘s National Assembly.  If those 20 percent of the Sunni Arabs don‘t show up, would that fly?

JUERGENSMEYER: Yes, I think that‘s—it could fly. Now the Iraq Islamic Party is playing a very difficult game. It didn‘t say—remember, it didn‘t say that it called for a boycott of the elections. It simply said it was withdrawing from competing. In other words, they want to be a player. They want to be involved.

They know they are not going to win, so in a sense it doesn‘t make any difference whether they contest for elections or not, but they want to be a player. But at the same time they have to keep some credibility within their own constituency that has become very outraged over the whole business of Fallujah and it is being constantly goaded by the al-Zarqawi types who are trying to push them in a radical direction. They are trying to steer a very careful middle road and play both sides of the game.  DANIELS: Well I think the key word here, as I said at the beginning, is legitimacy. Steve Emerson and Mark Juergensmeyer, a big thank you to both of you. JUERGENSMEYER: A pleasure.

DANIELS: And coming up, the new members of the Senate hasn‘t been sworn in yet, but President Bush is already challenging Democrats to sign off on his picks for the federal bench. Just how ready are both sides for a big fight?

And a lawyer may know the truth behind a young girl‘s disappearance and possible murder, but she refuses to talk, saying attorney/client privilege prevents it. But with her client now dead and the privilege waved, why is she staying so quiet?

Plus, it may look like a scene right out of “Christmas Vacation”, but this is the real deal and it may not be as funny to the man who owns this house because he could end up in the slammer if his neighbors have their way. He‘s here to tell us why.

And make sure you send us your e-mails. Send them to abramsreport—one word -- Remember to include your name and where you‘re writing from and I‘ll respond at the end of the show.


DANIELS: Coming up, President Bush taking a stand renominating almost two-dozen judges to the federal bench. This after Senate Democrats blocked them the first time around. Do they stand a better chance now? The answer coming up.


DANIELS: And welcome back. Congress may still be on vacation, but President Bush is already putting Democrats on notice that he is willing to fight to get them to approve his picks for the federal bench. In his first term, Senate Democrats blocked the president‘s nominations for 20 judges, eight for district courts, 12 for appeals courts, using that magical filibuster to keep many of them off the bench. But the president wants all 20 to get a second shot and the White House says it‘s planning to nominate them again.

NBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell reports.


NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days after the election, President Bush promised bold action and a fresh start.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe there will be good will now that this election is over to work together.

O‘DONNELL: But he also said he would want a mandate and now in his last official move before Christmas, alerted Congress he plans to renominate 20 of his most controversial judicial nominees. All were blocked by Democrats who accused the president of trying to pack the courts with conservatives. Nan Aaron is with the liberal Alliance for Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats have already said no to these extremist nominees. And now, to send them up again to the Senate is really a slap in the face to these Democrats. O‘DONNELL: The incoming Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, said he too was troubled.  That it would now be—quote—“difficult to change the atmosphere in Congress.” But the president‘s decision to defend his nominees had been a principle campaign theme. BUSH: And I stand for the appointment of federal judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law. O‘DONNELL (on camera): The president‘s action also sets the stage for a fierce fight that is expected when Mr. Bush makes his choice to fill a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court.

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, CONSERVATIVE LEGAL SCHOLAR: There is no reason nor any expectation that the president will trim his sails, especially not after having won a resounding reelection and expanded the Republican majority in the Senate. O‘DONNELL (voice-over): That bigger majority will make it even tougher for Democrats who block judges with filibusters in the past and the president has made clear he is not willing to back down.

Norah O‘Donnell NBC News, the White House.


DANIELS: So here is “My Take”—the president should fight for the judges he believes in. He earned that right by winning reelection. It‘s not only the president‘s right to put in judges he believes in, it‘s actually his responsibility.

Do I agree with all of his choices? Absolutely not, but his actions show that this president is not afraid to fight for what he believes in. So the question now is how much of a fight are both sides ready for and what does it mean for what many expect to be the biggest confirmation battle of all when as expected, the president nominates somebody to serve on the Supreme Court.

Joining me now attorney Tom Goldstein. He‘s co-counsel in a Supreme Court case arguing that the president should not be allowed to make inter-session appointments and also former deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney, Ron Christie. Thank you both for joining me today. I appreciate it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to be with you.

DANIELS: All right, Tom, so let‘s start with you. By doing this, obviously the president is saying I‘m ready for battle. Here I come. Do you agree with that?

TOM GOLDSTEIN, FORMER GORE 2000 ATTORNEY: Oh absolutely. He is taking a stand. The Democrats have taken a stand and they are just on the collision course. It looks to be ugly. DANIELS: Was it the right move to make for a guy who said that he has political capital over and over again?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, it was the might move to make if you really want to send a strong signal to Democrats that you are not going to back down and that‘s what he obviously intended to do. Was it the right move in terms of actually filling the seats on the court? Probably not, but he was sending a different message, a more political message.

DANIELS: Ron, if you are a Democrat, I think you‘d smell what‘s going on here. He‘s basically testing the waters for the upcoming Supreme Court justice nominations. RON CHRISTIE, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I think that could be true if you were looking this from a political standpoint. In addition to serving as a deputy assistant for Vice President Cheney, I was also a special assistant for President Bush and in my two years and plus working on his staff, I knew exactly what sort of man he is.

He‘s a very principled, very thoughtful man and the president took very good care and very strong deliberation when putting up these 12 members for the Court of Appeals and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) district court. And the president is not looking to score political points or setting something up for a battle further down the road. These are men and women that the president believes will strongly interpret the Constitution of the United States and not bring their personal philosophies into the courtrooms.  That‘s what the president did when he nominated them before and that‘s what he will do when he renominates them in January.

DANIELS: OK, Ron, but this is the same president I remember in his acceptant speech on election night just now who said that his number one goal is to reunite this country. He spoke directly to John Kerry‘s supporters and said I will try to get your vote. What happened here...

CHRISTIE: Absolutely...

DANIELS: Is this the opening salvo for a man who wants to get their vote?

CHRISTIE: I got to tell you, the president meant what he said and he wants to unite the country and make sure that he is following the right course of action for all the American people not just Republicans. This is not a political fight for the president. This is one of strict philosophy for him. The president wants men and women who are going to be appointed to the bench who are going to follow the Constitution. And there might be some on the Democratic side who are quick to say that the president is trying to poison the well or he‘s trying to continue the acrimony in Washington. I absolutely disagree with that. The president of the United States has the right to put people forward to the Senate for their advice and consent and that‘s exactly what he‘s doing to try to put good men and women on the bench for all Americans. DANIELS: Ron Christie and Tom Goldstein, make sure you stay with us because coming up more on the president‘s attempt to resubmit the names of 20 judges. Will the Democrats be able to stop him this second time around?

And police thought they finally had a break in the case of a little girl who disappeared from a small Ohio town over six years ago, but the one person who might have information refuses to talk and you won‘t believe who it is. Back in a moment.


DANIELS: And welcome back. The newly elected Congress hasn‘t even convened yet and President Bush is making sure that Senate Democrats know they are in for a fight over judicial appointments. The White House released a statement saying—quote—“An effective and efficient judicial system is vital to ensuring justice for all Americans. The president nominated highly qualified individuals to the federal courts during his first term, but the Senate failed to vote on many nominations.” Now the White House says the Senate‘s actions are unconstitutional, but many disagree and point to the fact that Senate Republicans blocked many of President Clinton‘s nominees. Back with me now attorney Tom Goldstein, co-counsel in a Supreme Court case, arguing that the president should not be allowed to make inter-session appointments, also former deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney, Ron Christie.

Ron and Tom, thanks for joining me once again. Tom, I‘m going to go back to you. Something that Ron said, I want to follow up on you. He says that the president is motivated by a good heart—basically that he‘s not doing this for any political gain. But this is basically the president, these are his views, these are the people that he wants in. Do you agree?

GOLDSTEIN: Well I think that there are two things going on. The fist is absolutely these are the president‘s views, but we ought not hide or kid ourselves about them. He has said that he wants extremely conservative nominees to be appointed to the federal bench. He gives us his best example, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas. Those are people of great integrity but they are as conservative as you can possibly imagine and that‘s who he wants on the bench. And then also he‘s following through on a promise. It‘s not the promise to unite the country. These are actually very divisive nominees, everybody knows it, but it is the promise to his conservative base to follow through on them having gotten him elected.  That‘s what he is up to. CHRISTIE: And let me just jump on that if I might, because I actually have gotten the opportunity to know the president of the United States and I‘ve have I had the opportunity to work with him. And if it‘s one thing to sit and talk in a partisan manner about what the president‘s motivations are, and it‘s another to sit in the Oval Office with the president of the United States and listen to him as he deliberates.

I can tell you for a fact that the president is not doing something to return a favor to his conservative base. The president of the United States, if you go back on the record, said that he wants jurists who will interpret the Constitution of the United States of America. He didn‘t say he wanted a litmus test, as you suggest, by saying that he‘s going to appoint conservative justices. On the other hand, in his campaign, Senator Kerry said that he wanted people who were going to look at the Rowe v. Wade decision and vote in a certain manner...

DANIELS: OK, but Ron...

CHRISTIE: ... I just want to make my point though...

DANIELS: Your point is made...

CHRISTIE: My point being very quickly is that he‘s just looking at people to interpret the Constitution and not to get people based on the conservative or a liberal ideology. DANIELS: All right. But why are Republicans, then, blaming Democrats? They‘re saying they are doing this filibuster move solely to irritate the president, solely to make sure that the nominations don‘t go forward. Isn‘t this what the Republicans did under the Clinton administration to President Clinton? Any difference?

CHRISTIE: The difference here is that the president of the United States wants to have an up or down vote on these 20 judges. It is true that the Republicans back in the Clinton administration had some problems with judges. I think it is wrong for a Republican, I think it is wrong for a Democratic to hold up judges. We have a backlog of cases in the United States. We need to put qualified men and women on the bench. I think what the president has said and continues to say is that it‘s only just to have an up or down vote and let the Senate do its will.

DANIELS: Tom, let‘s take a look at one of the candidates, Honorable Priscilla Owen. She‘s a little bit controversial not only because of her very strong anti-abortion views but from the fact (UNINTELLIGIBLE) she‘s been filibustered four times. What can you tell us about her?

GOLDSTEIN: Well it‘s probably abortion that has held up her because it is the highest profile issue. We have Judge Owen, who at one point was criticized by the White House counsel, soon to be the attorney general of the United States, and I think that what you see is while the president has a lot of conservative nominees, and I don‘t exactly know who Ron is kidding by saying that the president doesn‘t care if the person is liberal or conservative, he just wants somebody who has a copy of the Constitution.

The president has set out with a lot of conservative nominees and abortion is an issue that really Democrats I think have judged the public can grab hold of and they can say look, we understand why this judge is being blocked. And that‘s what‘s going on with Judge Owen and with probably a handful of others. The great majority of judges that the president has nominated, of course, have been duly confirmed. We‘re talking about sort of the most extreme conservative members of the set of people that the president has nominated.


CHRISTIE: Lisa, I just got to jump in...

DANIELS: Yes, go ahead.

CHRISTIE: ... for one quick second. The most extreme, I mean, I don‘t know if my colleague here knows Brett Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh is a friend of mine and one of the smartest people I‘ve had the pleasure to get to know. He‘s on the White Counsel staff. You can say what you want and throw labels around, but he is a very thoughtful jurist. He has a very distinguished career from working on court of appeal issues. To use these terms such as extremists or putting out conservatives, I go back to the point that I continue to say, Lisa. The president of the United States wants to put people on the bench so that they interpret the Constitution and unfortunately it‘s the Democrats who have been very political and very partisan in this process. And I think unfortunately it is going to get worse in January...

DANIELS: But Ron, with all due respect, it sounds like your argument is saying I know the Republicans. I know where their heart is. Coming from the Democrats they have slightly less pure motives.

CHRISTIE: No what I‘m saying is that the president has only asked to have a straight up or down vote in the Senate. That‘s what he has asked before. That‘s what he‘s looking for and the Democrats are saying that the president has poisoned the well and the president is the one is not coming forward to work in a bipartisan fashion. I think that‘s wrong and it‘s irresponsible. Senators have an obligation. If they have a problem to go to the Senate floor, cast their vote and let the vote of the Senate confirm or deny these judges.

DANIELS: OK, let‘s leave it there. Ron Christie and Tom Goldstein, thanks for coming on the show. We appreciate hearing from both of you.

CHRISTIE: Thanks for having us.

GOLDSTEIN: Thanks so much.

DANIELS: And coming up, this woman could have the answer to what may have happened to a nine-year-old girl has been missing for years. The girl‘s family is begging her to talk but she won‘t, saying attorney/client privilege prevents her.

And it‘s the season to be jolly or perhaps to face jail time. That is that‘s what one Arizona man found out when the he put up his annual Winter Wonderland decor at his home. Some of his neighbors don‘t like it and want to stop it, but are they just being the Grinch who stole Christmas? We‘ll see, coming up.


DANIELS: Coming up, a 6-year-old girl disappears and the one person who may know something about where she is refuses to talk, saying attorney/client privilege won‘t let her, but first the headlines. 


DANIELS:  And welcome back.  We hear it all too often.  A young child disappears, never to be heard from again.  And that‘s exactly what happened to 9-year-old Erica Baker almost six years ago.  But what if somebody who might have some information about her disappearance refuses to talk because of her belief in one of the bedrocks of the American legal system, namely attorney/client privilege. 

Well, here‘s “Dateline NBC‘s” Edie Magnus.


EDIE MAGNUS, “DATELINE NBC” (voice-over):  It was just an ordinary moment on an ordinary day.  A rainy cloudy afternoon when feisty 9-year-old Erica Baker went out for a walk and simply disappeared. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s like having your heart snatched from you and you are forever looking for it. 

MAGNUS:  Now, almost six years later, Erica‘s mother, Misty, is still waiting. 


MAGNUS:  Still has the same outgoing message on her answering machine. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Erica, honey, if this is you, please leave as much information about where you are that you can. 

MAGNUS:  Hoping for any sign her daughter might still be alive.  Devastated by her disappearance and desperate for information, Erica‘s family finds itself locked in a heart wrenching battle with this woman who many believe could solve the mystery of what happened if only she would talk. 

MAGNUS:  (on camera):  You have become, in effect public enemy number one in the town in which you live.  And that could all go away if you would just tell what you know about a little girl‘s disappearance. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can‘t do that.  I wish I could. 


MAGNUS:  The story begins in Kettering, Ohio in February, 1999.  Erica‘s parents were divorced and she split her time between her mother Misty and father Greg.  Erica spent that weekend with her dad.  He dropped her off at home around 2:00. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She said I love you daddy.  I‘ll see you next weekend.  I said I love you, too, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was crocheting for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) brothers and she sat on my lap and I said honey, you are too big to sit in my lap, sit beside me.  If I could do it all over again, I‘d let her sit in my lap.

MAGNUS:  Soon enough, like the bubbly child she was, Erica was pestering her mom to let her go outside. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She asked me if she could take the dog for a walk and I said no.  And she said please, mom, I‘ll put on my raincoat.  And I said OK.

MAGNUS:  It wasn‘t her fault, of course.  Misty could never have known the horror that was ahead.  Several hours later as daylight faded and her daughter wasn‘t yet home, Misty grew worried. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Erica is afraid of the dark and I knew she wouldn‘t walk in the dark. 

MAGNUS:  Worry gave way to fear as the distraught mother went from home to home. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I could hear Misty outside just screaming Erica‘s name. 

MAGNUS:  Pam Schmidt is Erica‘s grandmother. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And the last time she came back, she was crying really, really hard and said mom, I just can‘t find her anywhere.  And I said that‘s it, I‘m calling the police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  911, what is your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My granddaughter has disappeared.

MAGNUS:  The response was swift and intense.  Rescues retraced Erica‘s footsteps.  An elderly couple had seen her in a park behind her home at about 3:45.  Erica was standing by a pond clutching her dog inside her raincoat and began walking across a small field.  Ten minutes later the couple again spotted the dog but this time, running free.  Somewhere in those 10 minutes, Erica Nicole Baker had vanished.  Police broke the news to Misty that the dog had been found at an animal shelter. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I said, oh god and then I knew.  If the dog wasn‘t with her, that‘s when I knew that something was terribly wrong. 

MAGNUS:  A massive manhunt was underway.  Helicopters circled overhead.  Hundreds of volunteers searched on foot for the child in the bright pink raincoat.  They even drained the pond but didn‘t find her. 

(on camera):  It was as if she vanished? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Without a trace.  This path goes all the way around a pond...

MAGNUS (voice-over):  Bob Green was just four months on the detective squad.  This was his first big case and it was a nasty one. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We worked basically around 16 hours a day, went home, got some sleep and then came back in.  And that went on—without days off.  I was caring a shovel and a pick ax in the back of my detective car, you know, in case of a tip that came up or whatever and I‘d go out and I‘d dig. 

MAGNUS:  Hundreds of tips came into special hotlines and soon enough there was one story in particular that kept coming up. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One of the regular calls that we kept getting is that Erica had been hit by a van...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... the people in the van had been doing drugs, that they had hit her, put her in the van and then disposed of her body afterwards. 

MAGNUS (on camera):  It was a story Detective Green kept hearing as well.  Police located the van, but found no evidence in it had either hit Erica or that the child was ever inside it.  They questioned all the people whom tipsters said were in the van that day but all denied any hit-and-run accident.  Detective Green, however, kept getting information about one of them.  A drug addict with a troubled past named Jan Franks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jan would be in jail and she would talk about it to inmates.  God please forgive me for what I did to that little girl.  You know, Jan Franks was heard doing that.  Jan would be on the street and she would tell people.  And I would be contacted from people on the street. 

MAGNUS:  Did you ever meet with her? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hours.  I spent hours with her.

MAGNUS:  What did she say? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She didn‘t remember she claimed at that time because of drug usage. 

MAGNUS (voice-over):  Jan Franks agreed to take a polygraph and Detective Green says the results were tantalizingly inconclusive.  Then he says she brought up something else. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She then suggested that she be hypnotized.

MAGNUS (on camera):  What was your impression?  That she wanted to help you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She wanted to get something off her chest.  Yes, that was my impression. 

MAGNUS (voice-over):  But the hypnosis session never took place because Jan Frank‘s lawyer called police asking for immunity from anything she might reveal.  That says Detective Green was a deal breaker. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It just wasn‘t going to happen.

MAGNUS:  Did Jan Franks know what happened to Erica or where she was?  Police never got answers to those questions because two years after Erica‘s disappearance, Jan Franks died of a drug overdose. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was not happy that they had let her slip through the cracks.  Now she was gone.  Now I might never find out any information about where my daughter is. 

MAGNUS:  Misty was angry, but Erica‘s grandmother, Pam Schmidt was thinking who else might have known the dead woman‘s secrets?  What about her lawyer?  What did she know?  Attorneys are supposed to keep conversations with their clients confidential.  In Ohio they take and oath promising attorney/client privilege.  Could Frank‘s lawyer break that?  It seemed a long shot but one day Pam thought she found a way to let the attorney talk, a loophole in Ohio law. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We got very excited hoping this is the one chance, the one break that you‘ve been waiting for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Grandma calls me and says I want to read something to you.  She reads this law over the phone and I said can you fax that to me? 

MAGNUS:  On the books in Ohio is a 50- year-old statute, which says that if a client dies, an attorney can reveal what they‘ve talked about if the client‘s surviving spouse agrees.  Detective Green immediately met with Jan Franks‘ husband, who agreed to sign a confidentiality waiver allowing her attorney to talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I remember him telling me, you know, if my wife were alive, I‘d protect her.  But she is not alive and I can‘t do anything to help her.  So I‘ll sign your waiver. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was ecstatic. 

MAGNUS (on camera):  You thought maybe this might actually resolve the mystery? 


MAGNUS:  ... tell you where your daughter...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... I thought oh, she can tell us some information, we can find out which direction to go in.  We can finally find Erica and she could be home. 

MAGNUS (voice-over):  But, it wouldn‘t be so easy. 

(on camera):  Do you know anything about Erica Nicole Baker? 


DANIELS:  That‘s “Dateline NBC‘s” Edie Magnus reporting. 

So why won‘t attorney Beth Lewis talk now?  If her client is dead and therefore can‘t be implicated in any crime, what does she have to lose by speaking out?  She could help Erica Baker‘s parents find out what really happened to their little girl. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can‘t tell you.  If I know anything that would have been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) client.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s toying with people.  I see that as a form of terrorism as far as upon my family. 


DANIELS:  But many lawyers agree with Lewis‘ position.  And tomorrow we‘ll hear from her and debate her decision. 

Coming up, he says he is just promoting the holiday spirit but his neighbors say one man‘s gigantic, and we mean gigantic light display and loud musical performances are simply ruining their holiday spirit.  Christmas may be over but it sounds like there are still a few Grinches out there.  We‘ll talk to the man whose holiday decorations are causing a fuss in one Arizona town next.

Plus, I say computer problems and sick employees are no excuses for major airlines leaving passengers stranded over the holidays and losing all their luggage.  Dan may be out today, but you won‘t see THE ABRAMS REPORT leaving you without any service.  That‘s my “Closing Argument” coming up.


DANIELS:  And welcome back.  Christmas has come and gone and for many it was a holy night but at one house in Scottsdale, Arizona as the famous carol goes, while it was certainly bright, it was far from a silent night.  For the last 18 years, Chris Birkett has poured in about $90,000 of his own money and nearly 20 hours of very hard work per day the month before Christmas turning his front lawn into his very own Winter Wonderland.

And forget all that holly that his house is decked with.  His house has 150,000 lights, 300 extension cords, four bubble machines, three snow machines, 35 candy canes and one castle.  But now Birkett‘s holiday cheer has turned into his neighbor‘s biggest fear.  They say the outrageous display prevents their family from a basic Christmas right, namely, peace and quiet. 

The Majercins were so annoyed over a similar Halloween display that he had, that they initiated charges of—quote—“unreasonable noise.”  So now Birkett who refused to mediate with his neighbors but offered to build a fence and even buy their house, faces a maximum fine of $2,500 and six months in prison.

“My Take” on all of this, there is a fine line between being a Santa and a Scrooge.  All too often I hear people justifying their actions by cloaking it in lofty phrases like I‘m doing this in the holiday spirit, or I‘m doing it for others.  That‘s how my next guest I believes justifies his actions.

He says he‘s promoting holiday cheer.  I fear that he may be promoting his own ego.  Joining us now Chris Birkett, the man in the middle of the Christmas controversy and Chris, I‘ll let you counter what I just said in just a moment, but I‘m wondering you‘ve been doing these—building these promotions and these holiday cheer houses since you have been 12, what‘s the pleasure you get in all this? 

CHRIS BIRKETT, AT CENTER OF CHRISTMAS CONTROVERSY:  What‘s my pleasure?  Well, you know, we have families from all around our local communities that come around and actually see the display and it performs for you just like you‘re watching a movie and when you see the looks on the adults, the kids or even the 80-year-old kids that are here, faces I always tell everybody, you would do it too.  I mean, the happiness is definitely here at Winter Wonderland.  So, there‘s a lot of pleasure in that.  And I don‘t think there is anything wrong with giving the last free thing to the community in Scottsdale, Arizona to have a little fun for the holiday. 

DANIELS:  Well, I can imagine the people seeing that display that their faces must be outrageous, but I also imagine that your neighbor‘s faces must be a little bit shocked too.  You claim that this display is only 64 decibels.  Now that, just to put it into perspective, is the sound that a dishwasher would make.  I find that hard to believe. 

BIRKETT:  It‘s actually 62 decibels.  Right now as we speak, the show is on while I‘m out here and we—I don ‘t know if you can hear it through the mike, but it is running right now just how it runs to audiences.  We went ahead and designed it from a company complete system integration at 62 decibels, but the 62 decibels are all directed just at the audience.  You‘re—if you step at the Majercins‘ house, you actually can‘t even hear it with my new sound and light wall and we have actually taken care of all of their problems because we have dedicated it to the audience.

DANIELS:  Well, how do you explain that two Scottsdale police officers said in their report, two separate police reports, that inside their neighbors‘ homes they could hear the music that plays four hours a night and they could hear all the other (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from your display? 

BIRKETT:  Well, actually, what happened if you read the police report, we‘re at 80 decibels for Halloween, which is a little more than the dishwasher but the police report says that they could actually hear the people outside louder than my display music.  But they said they could lightly hear when they were at their kid‘s front room which is, I don‘t know, 10 feet away from my display.  When they stopped and listen, they could hear the noise.  But the big thing about it is they said they just heard the people, which is, you know, we have freedom of assembly here in the United States the last time I looked.  People were assembling and the biggest thing about it is they could hear the people louder than my display. 

DANIELS:  But, Chris, there are rights of privacy as well and I want to have give you a chance to respond to what I said because in my eyes not only are you not compromising, but you refuse to go to mediation and the second thing is that you said and I want to get this right, that you plan on doubling your Winter Wonderland display to include 300,000 lights next year and to increase your display times two because you are going to have one in the front yard and the one in the back?  This doesn‘t seem very Christmas spirit of you. 

BIRKETT:  Yes, actually you want to know what‘s funny?  The media is a

funny thing because things that you say get twisted around and I don‘t know

if you‘ve actually known that, I‘m sure in the field that you are in, I

actually told a reporter that it‘s really kind of sad for me because I last

·         next year I was going do journey to the Caribbean with 150,000 lights in my backyard and it‘s been on the books for planning with me and my cousin Sean (ph) for right now over five years and it‘s—I said it‘s sad that it‘s going to be cut short. 

But he didn‘t write that.  He actually said that oh, he is going to double it next year.  And also from there, we put a sound and light wall up to help them with the sound and lights.  We have also said that we were going to reduce the lights, to 95,000 lights for next year, not to increase them by double and the biggest thing about it, you said oh well, you know, a lot of people say about oh it‘s your ego, well, I don‘t think at 12 years old when I was a kid putting up Christmas lights instead of buying, you know, other things I could be doing, putting up Christmas lights, I don‘t think it‘s a harm.  So...

DANIELS:  All right, Chris Birkett, thanks so much. 

Coming up...

BIRKETT:  Thanks.

DANIELS:  ... one of you thinks if men were treated the same way women are by airline screeners, well, we wouldn‘t need massive complaints to change the TSA screening policies.  Dan is taking on this and a lot of you are writing in.  I‘ll read your e-mails coming up.


DANIELS:  Were you stranded at the airport this weekend?  If you were, I‘m sure you were not very happy with the lame excuses you got from the airlines.  I say they‘ve got no excuse.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.


DANIELS:  I‘ve been looking forward to this.  My “Closing Argument” now—only one thing annoys me more than incompetence and that is making excuses or passing the buck.  This past holiday weekend, U.S. Airways and Comair, a Delta subsidiary, they were guilty of both.  It wasn‘t bad enough that Comair canceled all its flights on Christmas Day.  It then blamed the mess on a failed computer that manages flight assignments and on Thursday severe weather in much of the nation. 

For its part, U.S. Airways canceled more than 300 flights last week.  And then to add insult to injury, it lost thousands and thousands of pieces of luggage just in time for Christmas.  U.S. Airways also liked that weather excuse, but when that didn‘t cut it, they pointed the finger at their own employees who called in sick.  My question is what type of operations are these two corporations running? 

I understand.  I get it.  Nobody controls the weather, so I‘ll buy that excuse but not the other two.  Computer problems and sick employees?  These are excuses that I expect to hear from a kid who shows up to junior high without their homework, not from multimillion-dollar corporations.  It‘s no wonder U.S. Airways is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy. 

My only point is this.  We all have a job to do and people rely on us to do it with competence.  My job tonight is to host this show.  If you thought I was totally incompetent, by all means, write to MSNBC and complain.  Maybe I was.  But if you do, I guarantee you one thing.  I‘m not going to be making up excuses like I was just a substitute or it was too cold outside for me to concentrate.  And I will not accept anything less from others. 

So this past weekend, the job of Comair and U.S. Airways was to get us travelers home.  Now based on forecasts, they knew the weather was going to be bad.  They knew a record number of travelers would be flying and what was their excuse?  Something along the lines of, “the dog ate my flight plans.”  That‘s my “Closing Argument”. 

Coming up in 60 seconds, one of you wrote in last week that you weren‘t going to watch the show anymore, yet you are still sending us e-mails.


DANIELS:  OK, I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last week Dan brought you a story about a soldier who prosecutors say actually had a family member shoot him in the leg.  It‘s all part of a plot, they say, to avoid being redeployed.

Anna Krengel from New York writes, “To me this is a very clear case of self-defense.  P.S.  They should have kept their mouths shut about how it happened.”

But Mary in Maryland writes, “I am sad to hear a person who serves our country would take a copout of having a family member shoot him to not have to return to serving his country which he chose to do.  But we should take a moment and praise the men who are fighting for our country now and those who are deployed now after already serving and choose to return.”

And Mary, I agree with you 100 percent.  My brother is a Marine reservist who served in Iraq, so not a day goes by when I don‘t think of all the hard work that our troops are doing overseas and also the sacrifices that their families are making back here at home. 

Last week Dan read an e-mail from a viewer claiming he was no longer going to watch this show after Dan disagreed with the Justice Department‘s interpretation of the Second Amendment and argued that the right to bear arms does not mean individuals have the right to own a gun.  That viewer, James T. Ballance from Virginia writes in again.  This time he qualifies his comments. 

Quote—“It was not my intention to imply that I was not going to watch your show anymore because I disagreed with your opinion on the matter in question.  I was merely trying to use a play on words to describe how important this issue is to me.  The fact is I have a low opinion of lawyers in general, but a few like yourself have in my mind risen above the level of pettifogger or ambulance chaser.”

Now James, I know—I feel like I speak for Dan that he would take that as a big compliment.  And make sure you send your e-mails to the abramsreport—that‘s one word --  We‘re going to go through them and read them at the end of the show, as always.

Now to our “OH PLEAs!” segment from Lake Station, Indiana where a would-be robber stands to learn a very important lesson from the phrase “location, location, location.”  Police say that the man, Dan Griggs, broke into a lottery machine at a convenient store and stole 50 bucks before walking out with three cartons of cigarettes he didn‘t pay for. 

One big problem—the get-away car.  When Griggs walked back to his car, he discovered he had locked his keys in it.  That wasn‘t even his only mistake.  The convenience store Griggs picked to rob, it happened to be across from a police station right across the street.

So when Griggs discovered that he was locked out, he ran back to the store to steal another item, this time a broom that he used to break into his car.  But by then the neighborly police who had watched the whole thing play out from their window were on to Griggs, they chased him and he sped away.  The police ended up forcing his car into a ditch. 

Griggs tried to run away, but he was caught and police are now charging him with robbery.  We can only hope that additional charges of stupidity are added to that list of offenses.  If you‘ve got a story you think will make us say, “OH PLEAs!”, then please send it to us at

That‘s going to do it for us tonight.  Thanks for joining us.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.

Have a great night.



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