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'The Abrams Report' for Jan. 13

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

Guest: T.R. Paulding, Gerard Smyth, Pam Bondi, Clark Kent Ervin, Joe Angotti, Ron Kuby, Aitan Goelman, Harvey Kash, Carl Lanzisera

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, a serial killer has a date with death row in two weeks.  He wants to die.  But his former lawyers are trying to force him to fight it? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s so simple.  It‘s my damn decision. 

ABRAMS:  Michael Ross admitted murdering eight women.  He says he‘s ready to die for his crimes and wants to help end the victims‘ pain.  So why are a group of lawyers fighting to keep him alive? 

And in the end, did the punishment fit the crime in the aftermath of the CBS story?  Were those who got the ax more responsible than Dan Rather and the head of CBS News? 

Plus, jurors are now deciding whether a radical defense lawyer crossed the line from defending a terrorist to actually helping the cause.  Many defense attorneys rushing to her aid. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, Michael Ross admits to killing eight women.  The state of Connecticut wants him to be the first person executed there since 1960.  He says OK, fine.  Ross has given up fighting for his life, but the state‘s public defenders, his former lawyers, are waging a battle to make him continue the fight.  They‘ve taken the case to the State Supreme Court saying Ross should not be permitted to give up.  Ross says he wants to keep his date with the executioner, in particular for the victims of his crimes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL ROSS, WANTS TO BE EXECUTED:  They‘re crazy.  January 26 will come and this will not be me.  This will help them, you know, like I said, it‘s not going to help them and it may be a year or two or three or four or five, they‘re going to look back and say you know, that was the day that we were able to begin to let go of the anger. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ross‘ lawyer used that prison interview with a psychiatrist to show he‘s competent to make the decision.  Ross also talked about his fear of being executed. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSS:  I have always had nightmares of the execution.  I used to have a common one here that I haven‘t had for a long—when I was here that they would lead me into the execution chamber, in fact, it was the electric chair, and strap me into the chair and I would float out over the prison and watch the crowd as they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) execution just like it was New Year‘s Eve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  “My Take”—the court has declared Michael Ross competent to make the decision.  I‘m no expert, but he sure seems at least competent to me.  That standard is real low for competence.  Two juries have imposed the death penalty and I think that anyone fighting his execution at this point is probably doing it because they‘re opposed to the death penalty in all cases, not because of this case. 

He should be executed as planned less than two weeks from today, I believe.  Joining me now, the Connecticut chief public defender, Gerard Smyth, who says it is clear that Ross is not competent to make this decision—he‘s taking his case to the State Supreme Court—and Michael Ross, attorney—Michael Ross‘ attorney, T.R. Paulding and Florida prosecutor Pam Bondi.

All right, thank you all for taking the time to come on the program.  I appreciate it.  Mr. Paulding, let me start with you.  You‘re Mr. Ross‘ current attorney and your position is what?  You‘re representing him and are you saying he should be able to make this decision? 

T. R. PAULDING, MICHAEL ROSS‘ ATTORNEY:  Yes, what I‘m saying, Dan, is I have seen no evidence so far that indicates to me that he is not competent to make the decision and obviously my position as his advocate is to be his voice.  So it‘s really not important what I say.  What has been more important is that so far the lower court recently found him competent for the third time and then recently a federal judge just found him competent as well. 

ABRAMS:  And when we talk about competence—let‘s be clear so our viewers understand this—you know, someone doesn‘t have to be, you know, someone who would be the most acute, the most understanding.  The bottom line is competence is a very low standard, is it not? 

PAULDING:  There‘s varying tests for competency, but I think you‘re essentially correct.  And of course, in Michael Ross‘ case, his levels are highly acute, highly intelligent, and highly aware.  But in his case, the standard that was used and he analyzes whether he was able to rationally and logically make these decisions to not pursue further appeals.  And so the judges, as I say, have both so far found that he satisfies that standard. 

ABRAMS:  So Mr. Smyth, what‘s the problem? 

GERARD SMYTH, CONNECTICUT CHIEF PUBLIC DEFENDER:  Well the problem is that we‘ve been representing Michael Ross for 17 of the last 20 years and our attorneys who have had significant contact with him as well as our experts believe that he is incompetent to meet the standard for waiving his appeals.  He‘s on four different types of medication.  He‘s attempted suicide three times.  His own father believes that he‘s incompetent.  And if he‘s not competent to waive his appeals, then he shouldn‘t be permitted to do so. 

ABRAMS:  Here—let me—listen to a little bit more of Michael Ross‘ psychological interview. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSS:  If the public defenders came and told me we start trial tomorrow and I guarantee 100 percent that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) known (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in and whatever and I believe 100 percent that I would get a life sentence, I still would not do it because it‘s not (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So you don‘t think it‘s possible that as a competent person, he is saying, I want to put this behind me.  I‘m done.

SMYTH:  Dan, I think it‘s possible for a competent person to do that.  And in fact, under the law, a person has the right to do that if they are competent, but we don‘t believe that he is competent.  And the findings by the courts to the effect that he is competent were done in a non-adversarial proceeding where Mr. Paulding and the state‘s both attorney were seeking a finding by the court of competency. 

There was no opportunity to test the conclusions of the court-appointed psychiatrist, no cross-examination.  No third-party witnesses such as public defenders who have represented him so many years.  No defense experts and we do have psychiatrists of our own who have reviewed the materials and believe that Michael Ross is incompetent. 

ABRAMS:  Do you oppose the death penalty in all cases? 

SMYTH:  Myself personally and my office are opposed to the death penalty.  I mean it‘s a personal view, but the position in my office is that we would urge the legislature to repeal the death penalty. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  And you heard my statement at the beginning that “My Take” on this is that you and your office would likely be doing something here for whoever it is.  They would be making some sort of argument here to try and prevent whoever it was from being executed, not because of the facts of the case, per se, but because you just oppose the death penalty on the whole.

SMYTH:  Well, people have made that suggestion and accusation against us.  The fact of the matter is that we have to operate in good faith.  We can only make an allegation that someone is incompetent if we have evidence to support that and that‘s the case here. 

ABRAMS:  Pam Bondi, as a—look, I don‘t think it‘s bloodthirsty to say this guy has made it quite clear that he‘s ready to go.  He is a serial killer.  Two juries have found him—that the death penalty would be appropriate.  And you know, it seems to me that you know, we‘re really talking about meddling here with the death penalty, less than about the facts of this case. 

PAM BONDI, ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY:  Yes and Dan, I completely agree with you.  I think Mr. Smyth, I respect his opinion, but I think often political and personal views when you feel so strongly about the death penalty, that can sometimes cloud your judgment and here he‘s not represented by the public defender‘s office any more.  He has an attorney.  And everybody needs to understand the standard is competency at this time. 

We have many people who have been executed who in the past were found not competent.  But at the time of sentencing...

ABRAMS:  Right.

BONDI:  ... he has to be competent.  And we have a psychiatrist who‘s evaluated him and we also have a judge who said he‘s competent.  And that‘s the standard under the law.  I mean and at some point you have to start looking out for these victims‘ families. 

(CROSSTALK)

BONDI:  These people have been going through this since the ‘0‘s. 

ABRAMS:  And you have to let the guy make the choice... 

BONDI:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  This is Michael Ross trying to convince the psychiatrist that he is competent.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSS:  I‘m not a religious fanatic.  God‘s not speaking to me at night.  I don‘t have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Michael do you hear me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So Mr. Smyth, I mean there he is basically saying, look, I‘m not hearing things.  I understand what is going on. 

SMYTH:  Well, you have to keep in mind, Dan, the standard of competency and someone has to understand all of the available options and has to be able to make rational and voluntary and intelligent choices without being impeded by a mental disease or defect.  Even the state‘s psychiatrist has diagnosed Mr. Ross as having chronic depression...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SMYTH:  ... clinical depression, although...

ABRAMS:  Yes, I mean, you know, look, clinical depression...

SMYTH:  ... he says it‘s in remission...

ABRAMS:  ... but clinical depression is not going get you out of the death penalty, right? 

SMYTH:  Well...

ABRAMS:  I mean...

SMYTH:  ... that evidence didn‘t get him out of the...

ABRAMS:  Right.

SMYTH:  ... sentence itself.  But the question is, is he actually volunteering to be executed or is his decision influenced by his suicidal issues? 

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, Pam Bondi, the thing is we can‘t start evaluating everyone to the point of saying is this person depressed and as a result...

BONDI:  Exactly.

ABRAMS:  ... you know is that affecting their decision when it comes to something like this? 

BONDI:  Exactly Dan.  I would think that most people on death row are clinically depressed.  And you know, many, many people have mental issues, especially serial killers.  But does that meet the standard?  No.  And what you said—two juries have found him guilty of four murders.  He‘s been sentenced to death, and this is his choice.  And a judge and a psychiatrist have found that he can be executed. 

ABRAMS:  And I have to say I respect Mr. Smyth, you know, for coming on the program and talking about this and his position.  Because it seems clear to me he‘s just opposed to the death penalty and this is a legitimate legal effort here, but I expect that it will fail.  But we shall see.  You never know.  The death penalty is a very dicey topic. 

Gerard Smyth, T.R. Paulding and Pam Bondi thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

BONDI:  Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a former watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security warned the government that it‘s easy to sneak a weapon through screeners at our airports.  That air marshals are falling asleep.  Then he lost his job.  Now he talks about some of his other findings.  This stuff is pretty frightening.  He joins us...

And a lawyer on trial for passing along messages for a terror leader.  Prosecutors say she helped him communicate with followers of his radical Islamic group while he was in prison.  She even admits that she knew that he advocated violence. 

Plus, hear the one about the lawyer who couldn‘t take a joke?  We talk to two men who got arrested for telling lawyer jokes inside a courthouse. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, is the Department of Homeland Security more worried about politics than keeping America safe?  That‘s what one former employee says.  We‘re going to talk to him, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  For the first time, a Department of Homeland Security insider is talking publicly about how much still needs to be done there.  That department we rely on so much.  In addition to saying we need more money to protect our skies, our borders, our lives, he says it‘s being spent in the wrong places and that politics may be taking precedence over safety. 

With me now, Clark Kent Ervin, former Homeland Security Inspector General.  Thank you very much sir for coming on the program. 

CLARK KENT ERVIN, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY INSPECTOR GENERAL:  Thank you very much Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Politics taking over at Homeland Security? 

ERVIN:  Well, my concern has been that there hasn‘t been enough attention throughout the department over the course of the last two years on the core counterterrorism mission of the department.  There are lots of examples of that that we found during the course of my tenure as inspector general of the department.

ABRAMS:  How does that relate to politics—I‘ll get to the politics

·         first to deal with—how do you think that that is political? 

ERVIN:  Well that itself is not political and I don‘t know that it was my words that the department is more focused on politics than other things.  But certainly I think the department was not pleased to hear from watchdogs like me and my organization that there were problems that needed to be corrected and perhaps concerned about the fallout from such criticism. 

ABRAMS:  How bad are things? 

ERVIN:  Well, we have a long way to go before we‘re as safe as we can be.  I want to be fair to the department.  We‘re certainly safer than we were in the area of aviation security.  That‘s how we were attacked, after all, on 9/11.  We‘ve made considerable strides.

Cockpits are hardened.  Some pilots are armed.  There are more air marshals now.  But as you know, a team of auditors from my office in 2003 went to 15 airports throughout the country and attempted to sneak guns and knives and explosive devices past the screener workforce, and all too often even after 9/11, two years after 9/11, they were able to do so. 

ABRAMS:  So what can you do about that?

ERVIN:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... if you were to say—if they were to say to you all right, fine, what do we do tomorrow?  What would you say? 

ERVIN:  Right.  We actually made recommendations in our report on this

·         recommendations that have been with the department for quite some time now.  And those recommendations are basically in three areas.  There needs to be more training of screeners.  There needs to be the deployment of equipment and technology.  And there needs to be management supervision and attention to these problems when they‘re noticed on the part of the screener workforce.

To give you one example in terms of technology, the department is only now beginning to deploy throughout the country technology known as back-scatter that allows TSA to see through clothing to make sure that no weapons are hidden underneath the clothing.  It‘s possible to do that in a way that does not compromise the privacy of an individual passenger.  Also walk-through detection equipment is being used.

A puff of air is blown on to a passenger and trace explosives can be detected that way.  So we‘re pleased to see—I‘m pleased to see that these technologies are being deployed but there‘s no time to waste in implementing those recommendations throughout the country and all the recommendations that we made within our...

ABRAMS:  So you left—you had a number of concerns/complaints about what was going on.  And I know that you‘re not going say it‘s a single individual or organization‘s fault.  But who is to blame?  Is it Congress‘ fault for not giving enough money?  Is it Tom Ridge‘s fault for not allocating the funds properly?  I mean where does the blame lie? 

ERVIN:  Well, unfortunately I think there‘s a lot of blame to go around.  I think the problem fundamentally has been a lack of management expertise and experience to deal with what is, after all, a huge bureaucracy.  It‘s the third largest agency in the federal government, 180,000 employees, 22 disparate and to some degree dysfunctional components coming together.  So there‘s been a lack of management expertise and focus on these issues. 

Congress has not helped the matter because of the wide-ranging jurisdiction that‘s been exercised.  Some 88 committees in either the House or the Senate collectively have some role to play with regard to the homeland security oversight.  I am supportive of the notion that the 9/11 Commission pushed that responsibility for oversight of homeland security be consolidated in to one committee in the House and one committee in the Senate.  And I hope that Congress moves forward to reorganize itself along those lines. 

ABRAMS:  Well this is—you know, there‘s no more important thing to me than making sure that the Homeland Security Department is a department that we can rely on almost blindly as citizens because we can‘t see what‘s happening behind the scenes and we count on them so much.  So Clark Kent Ervin this is important stuff and I appreciate you taking the time to come on the program. 

ERVIN:  Thank you very much for having me, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, CBS fired a producer and asked three other senior staffers to resign over that flawed story, but not Dan Rather or the head of CBS News.  Now that every one has had some time to reflect on the report and the responses to the report, we ask, does the punishment or the punishments really fit the crime?  Did the right people get the ax? 

And the old joke goes—how do you tell when a lawyer is lying?  His lips are moving.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Well, how do you know when a lawyer can‘t take a joke?  When he gets a couple of hecklers arrested inside a courthouse for telling lawyer jokes.  We talk to a couple of senior citizens. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  I‘ve got to learn to speak.  Remember to include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Three days ago, an independent panel issued a report saying CBS‘ story about President Bush‘s National Guard service never should have aired.  CBS reacted quickly, firing, asking four people to resign.  Not Dan Rather, not the head of CBS News.  The network reported its decision right after the report came out saying this. 

Quote—“asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs, “60 Minutes Wednesday” executive producer Josh Howard, Howard‘s deputy, senior broadcast producer Mary Murphy.  The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated.  The correspondent on the story, they went on, CBS News anchor Dan Rather is stepping down as anchor of “CBS Evening News”.”

To me it sure sounded like CBS kind of was forcing Dan Rather out.  I asked CBS‘s chairman about that on Monday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESLIE MOONVES, CBS CHAIRMAN:  We started discussing Dan Rather leaving his anchor chair this past summer, long before this story came up or even the idea for this story came up.  In November he announced that on March 9 he‘d be leaving the chair.  Just as NBC did five years before Brokaw left, they announced Brian Williams or whatever the amount of time.  We had a logical succession and it was all in place.  And it would have been in place with this story or without it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So now a time to reflect—did some of the producers here get a raw deal?  And did some of the higher ups get off kind of easy?  “My Take”—the producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, had to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and probably the supervising producer on the piece as well, Mary Murphy.  But Josh Howard, the executive producer of the show for less than a week—I mean a lot of explanations were offered as to why Dan Rather wasn‘t more involved in planning of the story.  I‘m sure Josh Howard was literally putting the lamp in his office at the time. 

But it‘s the aftermath I don‘t get.  Rather immediately defended the story, attacked the critics.  Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS, must have known about that.  I think the aftermath hurt as much or more than the report itself.  So we ask did the punishments fit the crime? 

Joining us now, Joe Angotti, former “NBC Nightly News” executive producer and broadcast professor at Medill School of Journalism.  Good to see you. 

JOE ANGOTTI, FORMER “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” EXEC. PRODUCER:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So let‘s start with these four producers and executives.  Fair that all four of them were fired or asked to resign? 

ANGOTTI:  Probably fair.  And you know, it‘s one of broadcasting‘s dirty little secrets that it‘s the producers who really do all the work on a story.  I suspect that Dan Rather knew less about the story than any of the people who were working about it, certainly less than Mary Mapes and certainly more—less than the executive producer of the Wednesday “60 Minutes”.

ABRAMS:  But it sounds like someone like—I mean let‘s take Josh Howard, the—I mean because I agree with you.  Mary Mapes and I think the supervising producer have to take the heat.  They‘re the hands-on people here.  But then you‘re talking about the guy who‘s been on the job less than a week, Josh Howard, he gets the ax.  Betsy West, the senior vice president, also gets the ax.  Why?  Well, because she was supposedly told by the head of CBS News after the fact in particular to figure out what happened to come up with some answers and apparently the answers weren‘t good enough. 

ANGOTTI:  I‘m not sure what the vetting process is at CBS.  But I can tell you at NBC, the people who were in those positions that you just mentioned would have been the final authority on whether or not the story went on the air.  In other words, they would have had extensive conversations with Mary Mapes.  They would have had extensive conversations with all of the people who did the research, made the phone calls, and they would have had—they would have been the ones who said yes, let‘s go with this story or no, I‘m sorry, Mary, we‘re not going with it. 

ABRAMS:  But what about the aftermath?  And let‘s talk about—first about Dan Rather.  I mean there was an extensive defense by CBS, by Dan Rather of this piece after the fact, after questions were raised and that involves both Dan Rather and the president of CBS News and yet no repercussions.

ANGOTTI:  Unfortunately, there‘s this knee-jerk reaction that goes on in all of journalism, I think, where the first reaction is we‘re defending our people.  We‘re defending our story.  We were right and how dare you challenge us.  It happened at NBC when the G.M. truck explosion was fabricated.  For a week or two NBC defended its position, said we didn‘t do anything wrong and...

ABRAMS:  But is that OK?  I mean all right...

ANGOTTI:  No. 

ABRAMS:  ... so that‘s what happens inside, you know, inside the beltway so to speak when it comes to the media, but you know, that an OK answer?  I mean should the president of CBS have said it‘s time to end this sort of knee jerk defense of our reporters and producers? 

ANGOTTI:  Absolutely he should have and maybe this will bring an end to that.  But the first reaction from a news professional—a news executive should always be we‘ll consider the charges and we‘ll investigate to see whether or not there‘s any merit to any...

ABRAMS:  If you had been asked after that report came out what should happen to Dan Rather and Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News, what would you have said?

ANGOTTI:  Well you know, it‘s easy for me to be sitting in this ivory tower right now...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

ANGOTTI:  ... and say—but I would have said that they should probably keep their jobs.  There‘s no doubt in my mind that Andrew is going to be resigning within the next three, four, five months just like the president of NBC did after the G.M. story.  So, it‘d be real hard to fire Dan Rather. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Joe Angotti, thanks a lot for coming on.  Appreciate it. 

ANGOTTI:  OK.  Sure.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, prosecutors say this lawyer helped her client, a known terrorist who plotted failed attacks the U.S., to pass messages to his radical Islamic followers.  The jury is deliberating her fate.  She could face some serious time behind bars.

Plus, you‘re trapped in a room with a tiger, a rattlesnake and a lawyer.  You got only (UNINTELLIGIBLE) two bullets.  What should you do?  I‘ll talk to two people who say, you know, you shoot the lawyer twice.  They like to make fun of lawyers.  They got arrested for telling lawyer jokes at a courthouse, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, jurors are now deciding whether a radical defense lawyer who defended a terrorist helped him pass messages to his followers.  First the headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s not a word of terrorism, not a word of violence—kill, violence, they‘re never part of any of these conversations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well maybe the “T” word, terrorism, wasn‘t part of the table talk, but attorney Lynne Stewart enjoyed prison chats with one of her clients, convicted terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, chats the government secretly taped but there‘s no question she did pass on his message to Egypt‘s deadliest terror group to end its cease-fire with that country‘s government.  This just a few years after that group massacred 58 foreign tourists at a historic site.

Now a New York federal jury is in its second day deliberating whether Stewart and two others could face some serious time, up to 20 years for Stewart, for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.  They say she lied to the government by trying to talk over his conversations with a translator to keep them secret.  Stewart insists she was just trying to help her client. 

She says Sheikh Rahman is an incredible person, who is doing a life term for conspiracy to blow up five New York landmarks.  As for his message to end the cease-fire, Stewart says to me it was not saying take out the guns and mow them down.  It was more like an advisory.  This is what I‘m thinking about. 

“My Take”—it‘s every defense lawyer‘s right to advocate for their client no matter what laws the client has been accused of breaking or in this case, convicted of breaking.  But when you pass messages for clients after signing an agreement with the government not to, you become more than a lawyer.  You move from advocate to publicist and before you do that, you better know for sure what your client is talking about and what it means to the people he‘s talking to.

I‘ll be stunned if she‘s not convicted of any of the charges she‘s facing.  Ron Kuby is the famed criminal defense attorney in New York and a radio talk show host.  He, too, once represented Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman.  And Aitan Goelman is a former federal prosecutor who worked in the very office prosecuting Stewart. 

All right, Ron, any sympathy?  Why should any one have any sympathy for Lynne Stewart? 

RON KUBY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY :  Well first of all, Dan, when you say she passed messages to her followers, you make it sound like she walked out of the jail, picked up the cell phone (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dialed it up, said Ayman, Ayman (ph), the Sheikh says the drunken monkey sings at midnight.  Be ready in sector R and hung up the phone.

That‘s not what happened.  She made a statement to “Reuters”, a news agency, in which she said that the Sheikh is considering withdrawing his support for the cease-fire.  She gave her client‘s opinion about one of the most important issues of the day facing his country and his people.  Should she have done it?  No, she should not have done it.

Was it aiding and abetting terrorism?  No.  Neither was it transmitting clandestine messages.  She‘s the first person on earth to be charged essentially with the crime of aiding and abetting terrorism for speaking to the news media. 

ABRAMS:  Aitan, but didn‘t she hold a press conference too? 

AITAN GOELMAN, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  She transferred a message to a “Reuters” reporter in Cairo and she knew where it was going, and she intended it for it to go to Sheikh Rahman‘s followers.  I mean in Ron‘s example where she has some kind of coded message about a monkey singing at midnight, maybe, you know, Lynne Stewart sends that message.  She doesn‘t really know what she‘s doing. 

But here the message wasn‘t, you know, I‘m considering withdraw support from the cease-fire.  It‘s I‘m withdrawing my support from the cease-fire.  And when you talk about Sheikh Rahman, I mean Mike Tiger (ph), who‘s Lynne Stewart‘s very able attorney, describes him as sick, blind, old man, kind of harmless.  And he‘s been described in the media as a spiritual leader. 

But this isn‘t something like the Maharicis (ph), was the spiritual leader for the Beatles.  I mean this guy is someone who the guys with guns, the guys with knives, the guys with the suicide bombers listen to...

KUBY:  Right.  First, that didn‘t happen and it‘s worthwhile noting...

GOELMAN:  Thank God...

KUBY:  Well—but you portray the picture of Sheikh Omar as sort of the Dean Witter Reynolds of terrorism.  The Sheikh speaks, people respond.  That‘s not true .  That‘s not what happened.  That‘s wasn‘t what Lynne Stewart was doing.  She wasn‘t passing messages to followers.  She was passing messages, a message to the news media to be widely disseminated...

ABRAMS:  Let me play this piece of sound—Ron, I mean it‘s pretty clear—there are a couple of charges here. Are you really going to defend the fact that she didn‘t violate the rules that she agreed to abide by with the government?  Listen to this piece of tape—number 10 here.  This is her seemingly trying to fool the guards into not paying attention to what Rahman is saying to the translator.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRANSLATOR:  Lynne, look at me and talk a little bit because...

STEWART:  I am talking to you.  I am making notes.

SHEIKHH:  Why?

TRANSLATOR:  I don‘t know sir.  They are standing very close. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  They‘re standing very close and there‘s another—let‘s play number 11 here as well. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRANSLATOR:  I am telling the Sheikh about the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and they took hostages.  “The New York Times” never said that they wanted to free the Sheikh.

SHEIKH:  And Ramzi Yousef.

TRANSLATOR:  But their demand is to free the Sheikh and Ramzi Yousef.

STEWART:  Good for them.  I didn‘t read that either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  There‘s another point there, Ron, on the tape where—I know you‘ve seen these tapes...

KUBY:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... where Lynne Stewart seems to be sort of speaking in kind of gibberish in what clearly seems to be an effort to distract the guards? 

KUBY:  Right, there‘s no doubt that she did precisely that, Dan.  The question is, to what end?  She did it so that the Sheikh could be informed as to what was going on in his country and so that she could express his opinion about this issue.  Should she have done it?  No.  Did it violate a jail rule?  Yes, it did.  And in the past when she committed these acts, well before 9/11.  Lawyers violate jail rules all the time.  You get excluded from the jail for three months or six months.  If it was particularly egregious, they file a complaint with the Bar Association.  Then you face disciplinary proceedings, but 15 years for aiding and abetting terrorism? 

ABRAMS:  Aitan.

GOELMAN:  This isn‘t just a jail rule.  I mean these are special administrative measures put into place for a reason.  Because he‘s not just some other prisoner.  He‘s not just a blind old man who‘s in jail.  He‘s someone who people listen to. 

I mean if you‘re represent John Gotti and you go out and hold a press conference or call a reporter and know that it‘s going be transmitted and says—and say John Gotti wants so and so rubbed out.  He wants this witness killed.  That‘s not an opinion.  That‘s not political advocacy. 

That‘s not making sure your client isn‘t buried alive.  That is

transmitting a message to kill. 

KUBY:  Right, but that‘s not what she said and that‘s not what happened in the aftermath.

GOELMAN:  He withdraws his support for a cease-fire.  A cease-fire means a temporary cessation of hostilities.  There‘s a war going on, then there‘s a cease-fire.  Once a cease-fire is over, the guns start shooting again...

KUBY:  He was expressing...

GOELMAN:  That‘s saying go ahead, blow up terrorists, blow up tourists again. 

KUBY:  He was expressing his opinion based on what was going on in Egypt about what he feels as a spiritual leader should or should not be done.  If some misguided...

GOELMAN:  The Islamic group is not a roundtable...

KUBY:  ... a group of individuals...

GOELMAN:  This is the guy who...

KUBY:  ... responds to that negatively, you can‘t hold him accountable and you certainly can‘t hold Lynne Stewart accountable. 

GOELMAN:  When a fatwah says kill the Jews wherever they are—that‘s not expressing opinion.  That‘s an order.  That‘s a religious decree. 

(CROSSTALK)

GOELMAN:  That is signing a death sentence...

ABRAMS:  Ron...

GOELMAN:  ... for innocent people. 

ABRAMS:  Ron, let me read you from what she conceded.  She conceded—and this is a—I knew there was a possibility the government would cut me off from him for releasing this statement.  But he told me he wanted to get the statement out to his people.  It‘s a mistake, but it‘s—but is it an indictable offense?  Is this materially aiding a terrorist organization? 

I mean that is—look you‘re right that before 9/11, would this have been as big a deal?  No?  But you know what?  You take them as you find them.  And the bottom line is now it is a bigger deal and now she‘s being charged and she has to live with what‘s happened in this world since that happened. 

KUBY:  Right.  Although you would think when you‘re talking about people‘s culpable conduct, you would measure that conduct by the standard of the time in which the conduct was committed, not based on something that happened two years later. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Aitan Goelman, Ron Kuby, good to see you. 

GOELMAN:  Thanks, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, what do you call 500 lawyer at the bottom of the ocean?  My next guest would say it‘s a good start.  I talk to two men who were arrested for telling lawyer jokes at a courthouse.  There they are. 

Plus, last night I said I thought a New Jersey man was more than stupid for shining a light into the cockpit of an airplane but shouldn‘t face up to 25 years in prison.  And that all these laser incidents are being blown out of proportion—many of you not surprisingly disagree. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you hear this one?  Two senior citizens are telling one-liners about lawyers while waiting outside a courthouse.  One is there to answer to a DUI charge.  The other is there to give his buddy moral support.  Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? 

Well on Monday Harvey Kash and Carl Lanzisera, I think I got that right, were arrested for exactly that—telling lawyer jokes.  The duo also coincidentally the founders of a group known as Americans for Legal Reform were allegedly being too loud.  A lawyer further up in the line took exception to the humor and the noise.

Once the grandfathers passed through security, they were spun around, handcuffed, frisked, and detained for four hours before being released.  The man are now due back in court on the disorderly conduct charge February the 8th.

Joining us now are the two men who were arrested, Carl Lanzisera and Harvey Kash and their attorney who happens to be Ron Kuby. 

All right, gentlemen, thanks very much for coming on the program.  All right, Mr. Kash, why don‘t you give me a sense of what happened? 

HARVEY KASH, ARRESTED FOR TELLING LAWYER JOKES:  Well, the line was outside the courthouse, which it normally is, but this was quite a bit longer I guess because they were starting with the New Year, the courts, and it was a little chilly.  And we were—I guess we were there for about 10 or 15 minutes, and we got a little bored.  And the lawyers don‘t have to wait in line because they don‘t have to go through the metal detectors.  They just flash a badge and they just go in. 

So we were saying things like hey, the peons and the peasants have to stand out here but the lawyers just go in and the kings go in by themselves.  And we did this a few times and then we started to amuse the people who were there who were sort of laughing at what we were saying, we started to tell a few jokes like why do they bury lawyers 100 feet in the ground and everybody else six feet in the ground.  Because down deep they‘re nice guys or what‘s the difference between a baseball and law?  In baseball if you‘re caught stealing you‘re out...

CARL LANZISERA, ARRESTED FOR TELLING LAWYER JOKES:  And...

KASH:  And Carl will tell you a couple of others.

LANZISERA:  How do you tell a lawyer is lying?  His lips are moving. 

What do you say to a lawyer with a 50 IQ?  Good morning, Your Honor. 

ABRAMS:  So you guys are sitting there telling these jokes.  Now how loud are you?  I mean did they get you because you were yelling and screaming on the line? 

KASH:  It was a long line so we had to be somewhat loud. 

LANZISERA:  It was cold...

KASH:  It was cold...

LANZISERA:  It was cold...

KASH:  ... and we were outside. 

LANZISERA:  In fact, it was so cold I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  What?  Do you know which lawyer reported you? 

LANZISERA:  We—it is a secret. 

KASH:  They won‘t tell us. 

LANZISERA:  They won‘t tell us.  We have no clue.  He was afraid—we‘re terrorists.  We‘re quite vicious people...

ABRAMS:  So...

LANZISERA:  ... and they were afraid to give up his name. 

ABRAMS:  How—about how long are you telling these jokes on line for?

LANZISERA:  At least 15 minutes...

KASH:  Yes, 10 or 15 minutes...

LANZISERA:  ... much more...

KASH:  Yes.

LANZISERA:  And then we went through the metal detectors.  They let us in the building one at a time.  After they went through the metal detector the lieutenant said that you—we were outside disturbing the peace and we vehemently denied it.  He spun us around, four guys put handcuffs on us, shoved us in a room, patted us down, took our wallets, did a search on us for warrants. 

Four hours later, they let us go.  And the lieutenant said oh you‘re very nice guys, but meantime, he said can I do anything for you?  So I said yes, I want to know that lawyer that got us in all this trouble here today.  I lost a day‘s work.  So he said no, I can‘t give that up to you.  I said fine. 

He did bring me to the desk people and introduced me.  We found the lawyer.  We brought him back to the central desk.  But no one is giving us the name.  He‘s a mystery person. 

ABRAMS:  Is this going to provide you with a little more material in terms of...

LANZISERA:  Well, when we go into court we would like to know that. 

We would like to face our accuser. 

KASH:  We‘re thinking of doing what—I don‘t know if you heard about the terrorist who hijacked a plane full of lawyers and they threatened to release one every single hour until their demands were met. 

ABRAMS:  OK.

KASH:  This is what we‘re talking about and this is what we did that was so terrible and we‘re sort of puzzled about the whole business. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Ron Kuby...

KASH:  But we know...

ABRAMS:  Ron, are they into legal trouble or is this just going to get dismissed? 

KUBY:  Oh I can‘t imagine them deciding to go forward.  They have a court date, though, February 8.  We haven‘t been notified that they‘ve dismissed the charges.  They‘re charged with disorderly conduct.  Theoretically, they could go to jail for this.  It‘s inconceivable the even a judge would allow this case...

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, what happened to the DUI charge that one of you were charged with?

KASH:  That—I am not allowed to discuss that particular aspect of the case.  But that case has been going on now for 20 months.  I‘ve been at that case longer than Scott Peterson was before he went to trial.  So I don‘t discuss that case.  I won‘t discuss that case. 

LANZISERA:  As you know, Nassau County was—is taking cause illegally and that‘s...

ABRAMS:  All right.  I don‘t want to hear about...

KUBY:  Dan Abrams, take my clients please.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Yes.  All right.  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Carl Lanzisera, Harvey Kash...

KASH:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS:  ... Ron Kuby, thank you all very much.  And, you know, thanks for the jokes. 

KASH:  OK. 

ABRAMS:  Last night I said the people who shine lasers into the cockpits of airplanes as pranks are not near the top of my list when it comes to terror threats.  Many of you saying why am I not taking this more seriously?  Your e-mails coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, you would think a guy and his girlfriend would learn their lesson about speeding after getting pulled over by the cops.  It turns out it took at least four speeding tickets in a morning.  Different times, different cops for them to get the message.  “OH PLEAs!” is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night we talked about the threat of aiming laser pointers at airplanes.  Thirty incidents reported in the past two weeks, including one New Jersey man who was caught and charged under the Patriot Act.  If convicted, he is facing up to 25 years in prison.  I said while this is criminal and the people doing it must be stopped, this is not near the top of my list when it comes to terror threats.  And 25 years as a maximum seems extreme to me for this particular case. 

Geri Kraft in Seattle, Washington.  “Twenty-five years in prison is just about right for use of a laser to intentionally harm an airplane pilot.  If you were intentionally blinded, would you be happy that the perpetrator got off with a slap on the wrist?

Geri, there‘s nothing to indicate that this was an intentionally blinding of the pilot.  If that were the case, if prosecutors were even alleging that, they‘re not, then I might agree with you. 

Donna Rockwood, “I know your argument is that the punishment does not fit the crime.  Once again I say tell that to the judge and jury of those who lost their lives on 9/11.”

Well again, Donna, we‘re that talking about any fear of these lasers being used to fire missiles.  I think this is a nuisance, a dangerous one at that, but it has nothing to do with 9/11. 

And Kristofer Biskeborn.  “There is only one reason to shine a laser at an aircraft.  To see if you can make it crash.  These people demonstrated a dangerous mix of malice, disregard for the lives of others, and curiosity, in addition to idiocy.”

That may be true.  And again, prosecutors don‘t believe there was any intent to see if he could make the plane crash.  The law is all about intent. 

Roger Williams in Murrieta, California.  “This is just a chest pounding display of foolishness by a bunch of politicians acting like monkeys anxious to get some attention.”

And from Tyler, Texas, Josh Duncan.  “We have more real important stuff to deal with than this nonsense.”

Coming up in 60 seconds, you think it‘s bad getting a speeding ticket? 

Try four in one morning. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Sometimes you got to wonder whether cars think on their own or whether the people driving them don‘t think at all.  That seemed to be the problem for a Wisconsin couple.  On New Year‘s Day, 21-year-old Piotr Pac and his girlfriend Emilia Goralczyk were heading home after their New Year‘s weekend celebration.  They say rushing to get Piotr back to work on time. 

So they decided to put the pedal to the metal.  They were able to rack up four, four speeding tickets in just over three hours, three hours and six minutes to be exact.  The first three went to Pete.  At 5:59 he was cited for going 100 miles per hour.  At 6:56, oh just 84 miles an hour, 7:28, 77 miles per hour.  At least he was slowing down.

Then the relief pitcher came in, took a break to let his girlfriend drive.  Emilia decided to up the ante again.  At 9:05, she got caught doing 108.  Together they accumulated almost $1,400 in fines.  When asked about this run-in with the law, 21-year-old Piotr simply said—quote—“you have to have an exciting life because otherwise, life is boring.”

He hasn‘t decided yet if he‘ll pay the tickets or heed the advice of his attorney and ask the judge for leniency.  And has Piotr learned his lesson?  It‘s safe to say no.  Just days later, he got another speeding ticket for doing 72 in a 35-mile-per-hour zone.  “OH PLEAs!”.

That does it for us tonight.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Thanks for watching. 

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

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