Guests: Jim Nolan, Clint Van Zandt, David Deane, Joe Tacopina, Lou Palumbo, Phil Gordon, Bob Kahn
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, Virginia police discover a body 50 miles away from where college freshman Taylor Behl disappeared. A press conference expected at any moment.
ABRAMS (voice-over): The body found behind a barn in a rural area, a police task force searching for Taylor is on the scene. We will get the latest.
And a Phoenix search and rescue team saved hundreds after Katrina, now FEMA says they are no longer welcome because in an effort to protect their firefighters they brought along guns on a mission. Phoenix‘s outraged mayor joins us.
Plus, is the Supreme Court ready for an evangelical Christian on the bench? If confirmed, Harriet Miers would be the first since the ‘30‘s. Should she, can she leave her religious beliefs at the door?
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. A developing story in Virginia, in the past few hours, remains of a body were found in a shallow grave in rural Virginia. The remains have not been identified, but they are investigating whether it is missing college freshman Taylor Behl. Police investigating Taylor‘s disappearance, flew to the scene about 50 miles to the east of her college campus. That is a live picture we are showing you from a helicopter shot as the authorities are there on the scene.
She was last seen more than four weeks ago. The discovery comes as a secret grand jury has convened for the first time to hear testimony and gather evidence in the case. We are continuing to look at these live pictures of the scene taken from a helicopter where you can see clearly police activity. And of course the question now is whether that body that was recovered in a grave is that of Taylor Behl.
Who better to ask than Jim Nolan, “Richmond Times-Dispatch” reporter joins us, as well as Clint Van Zandt, former FBI profiler, MSNBC analyst joins us as well. All right, Jim, I was seeing that your paper, the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” has reported the property where the grave was discovered was one of a numbers of—quote—“locations of interest” identified by task force investigators even before they found any body there. Is that true?
JIM NOLAN, “RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH” REPORTER (via phone): Yes it is, Dan. What we have been able to determine is that investigators through their interviews with various people connected to Taylor Behl and possibly to her disappearance came up with a list of locations, a number of which they‘ve already searched. We are reporting now that one of the reasons they searched this location is because it was identified by a friend of a man who has been interviewed by police as a location that is familiar to the friend. And that friend told police where she believes that location is.
ABRAMS: Now you say it‘s a friend of someone who was questioned by police. Do you know who that person was who was questioned by police?
NOLAN: Well we‘re not prepared to release that yet, Dan. We are just trying to confirm for ourselves that it‘s the person that we think it is. But we do know that investigators have, in fact, located this place by virtue of looking at a photograph and showing a photograph to someone who is associated with someone the police have interviewed before on the case.
ABRAMS: So let‘s be clear. They found this grave in a rural area of Virginia, not based on a random search, not based on someone just coming upon it, but literally the investigators had targeted this area as part of the Taylor Behl investigation, and as a result they found the body there?
NOLAN: Well they were showing a number of pictures to a number of people who they were interviewing, Dan, and it‘s my understanding that one person who they showed these pictures to say oh yes, I recognize that. That‘s a place in Mathews County. I have been there before with this other person. And from that, the police said, well we are going to take a look at that. My understanding is two detectives drove down there this morning, did an inspection of the property and found the shallow grave.
ABRAMS: Well that—look that is a very, very important detail when we are talking about this case. That this was not just randomly discovered, but that the police had targeted this area, they found a body in that area and we are expecting a press conference at any moment, where we may learn more about exactly what they found.
Clint Van Zandt, you were the one who informed us about this before the story broke. You said look I‘m getting calls. They found something there. What do you know?
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER (via phone): Well basically, what is being reported, what we have to consider, Dan, is again, this is an hour‘s drive east of the VCU campus. So what law enforcement had to do in a worst-case scenario is to develop what we call basically a body disposal site, where might a suspect or multiple suspects, where did they go...
VAN ZANDT: ... what areas do they go to, and then look at those areas, see if we can roll them in or roll them out as somewhere where Taylor could be held, she could be hiding or in this particular case perhaps where there is a body. The police have diligently pursued this. And unfortunately, now they have the site.
And as you know, Dan, this will now become almost like a archaeological dig. Because this is—Dan, this is the time that the victim has a chance. Hover this victim is, if it‘s Taylor Behl or someone else, they have a chance to talk to investigators and that‘s by what law enforcement can find, what linking physical evidence and that‘s what they have to come up with, so that‘s why they‘re going to take their time.
ABRAMS: Now Clint, I think it is important here that we are careful here and not saying that we somehow know it is Taylor Behl‘s body. We do not know that...
VAN ZANDT: And that‘s correct.
ABRAMS: But it would be a coincidence, would it not, if the authorities had found another body in a shallow grave in rural Virginia in an area that had been targeted by the authorities investigating this case?
VAN ZANDT: It would be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) coincidence. And as Jim Nolan knows, you know Richmond is a tough town. They had I think two homicides yesterday. So have we found other bodies when we are investigating missing person or homicide cases that are unrelated to the case, the answer is yes. Does this sound like one of these cases? As you say Dan, probably not statistically.
ABRAMS: All right and if, if, if they do find her body, that becomes a crucial piece of evidence in the case.
VAN ZANDT: Well, it does. And then again, here you have the multi-jurisdictional aspect of it. You have a separate prosecutor and a separate law enforcement agency over in that part of Virginia, so there is going to have to be great cooperation between that agency, between the Richmond police, the VCU campus, the FBI, but you know everyone...
VAN ZANDT: ... is going to be working to put this together and find out hover this victim is. Number one, let‘s identify him and number two, let‘s find out who‘s responsible for putting them in that shallow grave.
ABRAMS: We are waiting for a press conference from the authorities there. We were told it would be at 5:30 Eastern Time. It obviously has not started, now 37 minutes later. We are expecting some sort of announcement from them as to the police activity at the scene there. We will bring that to you live as soon as it happens.
Clint mentioned something like multi-jurisdictional. David Deane is a former Virginia prosecutor; Joe Tacopina, a well-known criminal defense attorney. They join us now as well.
Mr. Deane, let‘s talk about Virginia. Clint talking about the fact that you have an alleged crime that occurs in Richmond. Let‘s assume for a moment, assume, that a crime is committed in Richmond and let‘s assume that a body is found somewhere else. How do they work that out?
DAVID DEANE, FORMER VIRGINIA PROSECUTOR: Well, the jurisdictions can obviously work together, the Commonwealth‘s attorney offices in Mathews County and in Richmond will obviously work together. There has been a multi-jurisdictional grand jury that‘s been set up...
ABRAMS: Why don‘t you explain to us what that means?
DEANE: A multi-jurisdictional grand jury is a type of special investigative grand jury and that body is a powerful tool that‘s used by Commonwealth‘s attorneys in order to put pressure on witnesses that they feel have not been forthcoming with investigators. That they feel may have been untruthful with them. It allows them to subpoena witnesses, put them in a room, put them under oath and require them to tell the story. They can then be held in contempt of court. They can be incarcerated if they are not willing to testify...
ABRAMS: What about the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination? They can‘t say, look, I don‘t want to testify; I don‘t want to incriminate myself.
DEANE: They can invoke the Fifth Amendment, but the presiding judge at that grand jury can say I am compelling you to testify. If the presiding judge does that, the evidence that‘s provided by that witness cannot be used against that witness except for perjury. So...
ABRAMS: Yes. Joe Tacopina, before I ask you about that, I want to just remind my viewers that we are waiting for a press conference at any moment where we should have more information about anything that is happening there. I‘m being told that the police chief from Richmond, Rodney Monroe, will be holding the press conference.
All right, Joe, we are talking about the investigation here and I was surprised when I heard about this in Virginia. They can literally force people to testify.
JOE TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well you know, they can do that pretty much anywhere, Dan, in the sense that if a person wants to assert a Fifth Amendment right, like you brought up, they don‘t want to go before the grand jury, which you know anyone, even an innocent person doesn‘t have to if they through counsel want to assert a Fifth Amendment privilege and not feel their testimony could tend to incriminate themselves. What happens then is the prosecutor has to make a decision.
When I was a homicide prosecutor, I was very careful to make these decision, Dan, because when you make a decision to compel testimony, go to a judge and say this person‘s testimony could be very vital to this investigation, we are going to compel his testimony, when you do that, you also give them that immunity that was just discussed. If you give the wrong person immunity...
TACOPINA: ... you could wind up giving you know someone who is culpable in the crime you‘re investigating immunity for what they are testifying before that grand jury. So you have to be careful about who you‘re just giving out immunity to and that‘s the danger with these investigatory grand injuries. I really have to know what you‘re doing.
ABRAMS: And Joe, so it really can happen in any case where people can be effectively forced to testify?
TACOPINA: Absolutely, because if you are granted immunity, I mean look, you can‘t just say I don‘t want to testify because I have a haircut appointment...
ABRAMS: ... you say I don‘t want to testify because I‘m afraid I‘m going to incriminate myself.
TACOPINA: And then what happens is—look, there is no Fifth Amendment privilege against perjury. That‘s one thing you have to understand (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I understand you can‘t—there is no Fifth Amendment you know privilege against future lies. It has to be against something that you are concerned about in the past. And when you choose not to testify based on your constitutional right, a prosecutor and/or a judge has the power to say well, we are going to compel you to testify and give you the immunity so your Fifth Amendment...
TACOPINA: ... privileges are not disturbed.
ABRAMS: Joe, I‘m sorry to interrupt you. What we want to do is we want to take a break here. We were just told by the Richmond Police Department that in about three minutes, they are going to hold a press conference where they are going to announce any news in the Taylor Behl case. Again, we have—they have found a body in a shallow grave in Virginia. The question of course is, is that the body of the missing Virginia college student. We‘ll take a break. We‘ll be right back.
ABRAMS: We are continuing our special live coverage. This is a helicopter shot of a rural area in Virginia, about 70 miles east of Richmond. The question is, whether the authorities have found the body of missing Virginia college student Taylor Behl. Now, they have found a body that we know. And we also know that the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” is reporting that the way that they found that body was after interviewing certain people connected with Taylor‘s disappearance, so this was not an accidental find.
No one stumbled over the body, et cetera. This was part of the investigation. And as a result of that, they found a shallow grave. The question is, whose body did they find? She has been missing for weeks now. There has been an all out search in the Richmond area. A number of possible witnesses and possible suspects have been interviewed.
There is one man named Ben Fawley who is actually under arrest at this time, not in connection with this case, but in connection with having child pornography in his house. But he has admitted to having a sexual relationship, he says, with Taylor, who was only 17. He also says that he was kidnapped, according to the authorities.
That he says he was kidnapped on the same night that Taylor went missing, so he is behind bars, but again as of right now, not in connection with this case. And they have interviewed other people as well. As we wait for the press conference to begin, the Richmond police chief, Rodney Monroe, expected to provide us with much more information in the next few minutes.
Again, we initially heard it was going to be three minutes, then we heard a few minutes ago it was going to be five. So we are expecting at any moment, that the Richmond police chief is going to walk out and provide us with more information about exactly what they have found in rural Mathews County in Virginia.
Joe Tacopina, is it typical that the authorities would arrest someone like Ben Fawley on other charges and say, you know what, at least we‘ve got him behind bars just in case we decide to charge him in connection with this case?
TACOPINA: Oh yes, Dan. I mean look, it‘s not like they arrested him on jaywalking or something. They arrested this guy on 16 counts of possession of child pornography in his house, so he has a problem—if he has nothing to do with this case, he has a problem you know independent of this. So, yes, I mean I think, look, this guy clearly is where the bull‘s eye is right now because that crazy story about being kidnapped on the same night she goes missing, you know he‘s a guy who has child pornography and while “A” doesn‘t necessarily equal you know “B”, it certainly points one‘s interest in his direction.
And than when you have a 38-year-old guy having a relationship with a 17-year-old girl, I mean you know there‘s a whole host of factors, collateral factors that really give this guy the prize as the main target. The question is—I mean the bottom line, I think we will know soon enough, Dan, who is the friend—who was this girl friends with that she made, you know, connection for the police.
If it is Fawley, then I think we have the suspect and he will be arrested and charged with this. And then it‘s going to be another DNA case. I guarantee you. Is there a hair follicle on her body? Is there you know anything that shows that he was there. Is this his property? There are other witnesses that put him in that location, because you know aside from any stories he gave that may prove to be inconsistent...
ABRAMS: Yes, the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” reported a law enforcement force says police were led to the scene by a photograph identified by an ex girlfriend of the man they interviewed in connection with the investigation. The police are there now. We are waiting for the shot to be set up. Let‘s listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Rodney Monroe with us. We have Virginia Commonwealth University chief, Mr. Willie Fuller, FBI site agent Don Thompson, Virginia State Police Lieutenant Steve Chummily (ph), and Lieutenant Packet Cidaro (ph), and the Commonwealth attorney from—the assistant Commonwealth attorney from the city of Richmond, Michael Callus (ph). And the chief is going to speak.
CHIEF RODNEY MONROE, RICHMOND, VA POLICE DEPT.: All right, I‘m going to read a brief statement and we are going to take just a few questions afterwards. On today‘s date, the task force investigating the Taylor Behl disappearance is based on its investigation of the case was led to Mathews County, a location that we determined needed to be searched. Upon that search, the remains of an individual was located on property here in Mathews County by two detectives that make up a part of that task force who are detectives from VCU University.
That scene has been secured. The FBI has come in and begun the process of collecting evidence and will process that scene. The Virginia state police will investigate the actual discovery of this—of the remains. At this time, we do not, I repeat, we do not know who the remains belong to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you contacted Taylor Behl‘s family?
MONROE: Yes, we have. Just out of courtesy, based on the attention that we knew that this was going to cause. She was contacted earlier this morning and made aware of our discovery as well as our search.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did law enforcement learn of this location and decide to search this area to find this body?
MONROE: During the past week, we had gone into a mode of searching
locations that we knew Taylor to have visited, based on statements, based
on photographs, based on a host of other things. That is what led us to
this particular location.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chief, can you tell us anything more about exactly
what was found in the shallow grave?
MONROE: All we can say at this time are human remains. How long they have
been there, we don‘t know. The medical examiner from Richmond was here on
the scene to take an initial look. It‘s a very large scene. It‘s going to
take quite a bit of time for that scene to be processed very meticulously,
because we don‘t know how wide that actual scene exists. So with that,
it‘s going to take us some time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you describe the scene? You said it‘s very large.
MONROE: Wooded area. Wooded area...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And are you saying that Taylor had visited this
MONROE: We have information to believe that Taylor has been in this area, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you spoken to the property owner, the property owners of this area?
MONROE: Yes, we have who‘s given us consent to further our search.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this by a house?
MONROE: It‘s off of a dirt road.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So there‘s no buildings nearby where the gravesite is?
MONROE: No, there are not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when precisely as you can say were the remains discovered?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this today or...
MONROE: Today, yes. And again it‘s just based on—I have to say and I have to give credit—it was just based on some good investigative work in which the two officers—and again, these are two officers from the Virginia Commonwealth University who make up a part of the task force who came down here on an investigative lead and actually made the discovery themselves.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us more about exactly what is happening down there at the scene right now?
MONROE: Right now the FBI from—and Don may be able to answer more as relates to the processing of the scene because we have turned that process over to the FBI.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the homeowners related to Ben Fawley?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any connection between this site and the other sites in the area that you were looking at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same owner, people living there, or was there any connection at all? We were told there was more than one site that you were looking at in this...
MONROE: Geographically yes. I‘m going to have to be honest. I‘m not aware of where I am right now, so to put a picture to where those sites are I don‘t know. Only—I can only comment on that one particular site off the dirt road that we‘re searching now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long ago do you believe Taylor was in this area?
MONROE: I‘m not going to comment on that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us anything about suspects, people of interest?
MONROE: We are going to stay away from that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the remains female?
MONROE: We are going to stay away from all of those things. We will not know who or what evidence those remains present until we have an opportunity from the medical examiner‘s office to make that determination.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know how long it could take to make a positive I.D.?
MONROE: It could be a few days.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any idea how long those remains were there?
MONROE: No. We have not been able to make that determination. Again, that is not something that can be made until the medical examiner has an opportunity to process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, you had said that Taylor Behl had been in this area before. Can you tell us how many times or why she may have been out here? It‘s so far from where she usually hangs out.
MONROE: I just can‘t comment on that. That is a part of the investigation. But somewhere in that investigation, it led us to believe and to know that she had visited this area. How many times, I‘m not going to comment on that either.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us more about this tip, when it came in, how?
MONROE: It was not a tip. It was based on investigative work, based on the review of statements, based on the review of photographs, and locating various areas in which she may have frequented.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say if you had a photograph of this particular place that if that‘s what led you here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot say...
MONROE: I cannot say.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think at this time the chief has answered all of the questions...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... there‘s a lot of questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you all very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were these photographs on a Web site, Chief?
MONROE: I‘m not going to comment...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you Chief very much.
ABRAMS: The police chief of Richmond telling us the following, that remains of an individual have been found about 70 miles from Richmond, Virginia, that the FBI will process the scene, that at this time, they say they do not know who the remains belong to.
But with that said, they went to this area as part of the investigation
into the disappearance of missing Virginia college student Taylor Behl and,
quote—“we have information to believe Taylor has been in this area.”
Clint Van Zandt, I think at this point, it would be or the family of Taylor Behl something of a miracle if it wasn‘t her.
VAN ZANDT: I think it would, Dan. This is—you know I appreciate the chief giving him himself some room saying it is going to take a couple of days. The reality is that a forensic dentist will compare the dental records of Taylor Behl and any other missing person to the teeth found in the body that‘s been found and they will be able to tell you with a high degree of certainty whether or not that is Taylor and they can do that pretty quickly.
ABRAMS: Yes. But the idea—Lou Palumbo joins us as well on the phone, a former New York City police detective. Lou, the idea that the chief is saying they can‘t tell whether it‘s male or female, that would have to be a pretty decomposed body, wouldn‘t it?
LOU PALUMBO, FMR. NASSAU COUNTY, NY INVESTIGATOR (via phone): Yes, I would agree with that and I don‘t want to assume that the body has the head attached because as Mr. Van Zandt just identified, if there is a head still and they can take the dental records, it will certainly expedite the identification of who this individual is.
And the other thing I‘d be curious is to know if the body is clothed for the purpose of identification...
PALUMBO: ... through the clothing. And just to go back very briefly to prior discussion regarding the multi-jurisdictional...
ABRAMS: You know what? Hang on. I don‘t want to get yet to the jurisdiction stuff. I want to stay for a moment focused on the crime scene...
ABRAMS: ... here. David Deane, you heard the police chief there saying it is a large crime scene. That would seem to indicate that the—I mean I think he means that were going to have to investigate in that entire area. That doesn‘t necessarily mean that there are—and I apologize for the graphic nature of what I‘m about to say, but that doesn‘t mean that there are body parts throughout that area, does it?
DEANE: No, I certainly wouldn‘t assume that. Obviously, the investigators want to take their time, any footprints in and out of that area. It certainly didn‘t strike me as meaning that the grave was a large area, but that any type of ingress, egress out of that area would certainly be important to find any type of hairs or clothing or footprints. And they‘re obviously going to take their time and find every little bit that they can.
ABRAMS: All right. Let me do this. Let me take a break here. We are going to try and talk to some people who are on the scene there, try and talk to the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” again, see if we can get any more information for you.
Be back in a moment. More of our breaking news coverage in the disappearance of Virginia college student Taylor Behl.
ABRAMS: Coming up, more on that body found in rural Virginia, exactly in the area where the authorities were looking for missing Virginia college student Taylor Behl.
ABRAMS: We continue now with our breaking news coverage of a body found in rural Virginia. You see there the pictures of the police activity. The police have just held a press conference where they have announced that they have found a body. The question remains is it that of missing Virginia college student Taylor Behl?
So far the authorities there say that they cannot determine exactly whose remains they are, but they do know that there is information to believe that Taylor had been in that very area, 70 miles away from Richmond where she was beginning school. And we also know that the authorities were led there after speaking to the ex-girlfriend of one of the people who was questioned in connection with this case.
That‘s very important, because it means that this was not an accidental find. This was not a case where someone came upon a body, as is often the case in these cases. This was police work that led them to where they are. It was police work in this case, Taylor Behl‘s case that led them to the area where they are. They say that the crime scene is large, that it is a wooded area, that it‘s going to take some time, but we were just talking to Clint—we‘ve got Jim Nolan, all right Jim Nolan, “Richmond Times-Dispatch” broke the story. Jim, do you know anything else?
NOLAN: Well Dan, we do know that the body was found in a wooded area behind a barn off of a dirt road in a very rural county in Virginia about 70 miles from VCU, which is where Taylor Marie Behl had started school earlier in August. What we can tell you is that as you said, it does appear to be a police work type of discovery that brought it about. I think over the last week Chief Monroe was saying that police were going, just basically going over interviews they had done.
They were reviewing pictures that they had obtained through search warrants and they were re-interviewing various people. From those interviews, they spoke with someone who recognized one of the pictures that they were shown and was able to pinpoint the exact location. Now what is interesting about this is that this was the product of detective work by the VCU Police Department...
NOLAN: ... a department that is much smaller and in the early goings of the investigation was the lead investigative agency in this investigation. They came back to it, they were reviewing some of their old files and they developed the leads that took them down there today not really knowing what they were going to find and of course they found—they made a very grisly discovery.
ABRAMS: Jim, the police chief said we have information to believe Taylor has been in this area. Do you know what they are basing that on?
NOLAN: We are not really sure about exactly what they are basing it on, but we do know that Taylor had made several friends upon coming down to VCU and at a different point she had made trips with certain friends. She may have had pictures taken of her in different locations. And we don‘t know exactly whether any of those photographs ended up being photographs taken in this location. But I‘m sure that‘s something that the police are looking into right now. It‘s probably one of the things that led them in that direction.
ABRAMS: Now you heard one of the reporters in the press conference ask, is the home that is there owned by any relatives of Ben Fawley? Of course Ben Fawley is considered—was considered a—quote—“person of interest” by the authorities. He‘s now been arrested on 16 counts of having child pornography in his home, items that were found as they were searching his home in connection with this case.
He is believed to be one of the last people to have seen her. He says that he some sort of relationship with her, also now claims he was kidnapped on the same night that she went missing. Do you know anything else about whether it‘s his ex-girlfriend or his friend that led the authorities to this area?
NOLAN: Well we‘re not prepared to report anything specifically on that. We do know that as you have reported and as we‘ve reported that Ben Fawley has been a person of interest, is still very much a focus of some of the investigation into Taylor‘s disappearance, and has been questioned extensively by police. Whether or not he is connected to this property, we can‘t say at this point.
ABRAMS: All right.
NOLAN: We do know that the property is not his property, whether or not he had access to that property or not is interesting.
ABRAMS: All right.
NOLAN: What‘s also worth mentioning is as we know Fawley did file a report saying he had been abducted and driven to an unknown location and dumped on a dirt road at some point. At some point, he made it back to Richmond. The timeline there and the statement that he gave to police is certainly something that they are reviewing very carefully.
ABRAMS: Of course. I mean you know the idea that somehow he is kidnapped on the same night that Taylor goes missing, the very least you have to say that they are going to be looking into that.
NOLAN: Right. The chief also said, Dan, just so...
NOLAN: ... the listeners know that it might be several days...
NOLAN: ... before they get...
ABRAMS: I don‘t believe that.
NOLAN: ... a firm identification...
NOLAN: ... on who the body might be.
ABRAMS: My—I believe that they will know much quicker than that, but we shall see. All right, Jim Nolan, great work on this story. We appreciate you taking the time. David Deane and Joe Tacopina, Lou Palumbo, Clint Van Zandt, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
NOLAN: Thank you Dan.
ABRAMS: All right. We will be right back.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. They stepped up and answered the call to duty, but FEMA sent the Phoenix Urban Search and Rescue Team home packing, why? Because the team brought armed officers to the hurricane zone. FEMA says that‘s a direct violation of its code of conduct. Phoenix City leaders say they were just trying to protect their own.
Melissa Blasius with KPNX, our Phoenix affiliate, has the story.
MELISSA BLASIUS, KPNX REPORTER (voice-over): This video shot by Phoenix‘s Urban Search and Rescue Team members in New Orleans. You see them saving people from flooded streets. They say it was a chaotic and lawless environment.
SGT. WILLIAM WICKERS, DEPLOYED WITH SEARCH & RESCUE TEAM: People were surrounded by alligators, literally surrounded by alligators. There were situations where there were shots fired in the neighborhood and decisions needed to be made whether we were going to stay there.
BLASIUS: Phoenix City leaders stand by a decision to send four armed Phoenix officers also sworn as U.S. marshals to the disaster area, but FEMA sees it differently. Federal officials demobilized the team during a second deployment to Hurricane Rita followed by this letter.
MAYOR PHIL GORDON, PHOENIX: Stunning, unbelievable, bewildering and outrageous.
BLASIUS: The letter says Phoenix broke the rules by bringing firearms and dispatching unauthorized personnel.
DAVE SIEBERT, PHOENIX CITY COUNCIL: I think this antiquated policy of FEMA was probably written by some pencil pushing bureaucrats that were not front-line troops.
BLASIUS: Mayor Gordon sent this letter of response sent to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have asked for a written letter of apology.
BLASIUS: The mayor also wants FEMA to change its rules.
DAVID GONZALES, U.S. MARSHAL, AZ DISTRICT: We think this was a model in the United States. We think all rescue teams should be—should have armed escorts or armed U.S. marshals wherever they go.
BLASIUS: A FEMA spokeswoman says the agency will consider Phoenix‘s recommended changes.
ABRAMS: That was Melissa Blasius with our Phoenix affiliate KPNX reporting.
Joining me now is the mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon. And Bob Kahn, assistant chief with the Phoenix Fire Department. Gentlemen thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
ABRAMS: All right look, Mayor, on its face to most people, this sounds absurd, the notion that you know, your team brings in some marshals, who had actually been deputized as marshals, to come in and protect some of the firefighters, what is FEMA telling you about why they are going after you like this?
GORDON: And that‘s why we are asking the questions, because they won‘t. All they have done is send us a two-page letter that has suspended one of the most experienced USAR teams in the nation, because four U.S. marshals were there with their arms to protect the team and also to protect FEMA‘s equipment. And instead of just saying that that‘s not what they wanted or...
GORDON: ... calling us, they suspended this team and actually sent them home early at a time when they were needed. It‘s incredulous.
ABRAMS: We should say we called FEMA. We haven‘t gotten a response. Let me read from the letter that Mike Tamillow, from FEMA, sent to you.
Task force members operating outside the scope of work and the dispatch of additional unauthorized personnel has significant implications. Respective task force members, as well as their sponsoring agency, can be held organizationally and personally liable in these cases. Again, the possession of a firearm and unauthorized personnel on a mission all fall into these categories.
All right, so Mr. Kahn, I mean it sounds like they‘re saying that there were unauthorized people there, et cetera. I mean did you guys know what the rules were with regard to FEMA?
BOB KAHN, PHOENIX FIRE DEPARTMENT: Yes, we knew the outline, we knew the activation orders. We considered this a security attachment of U.S. marshals to our FEMA team, to our Urban Search and Rescue Team, for their security and for the benefit of the deployment to make them safer while they were doing their job.
ABRAMS: And when was—when exactly did this happen?
KAHN: We did this on both the deployments both on Katrina to New Orleans. The team made over 400 rescues and also to Hurricane Rita.
ABRAMS: And how did they find out that you all had guns?
KAHN: It was known. Actually, when we were there, it was very apparent. We weren‘t hiding it. They were U.S. marshals. They were carrying the guns. It was known in a conference call in early September before we went to Rita. We had the conversation.
Most of the issues were centered around actually not the security but who was going to pay for the U.S. marshals. It really didn‘t seem to be a problem at that time. And then an incident six days into the Rita deployment became an issue.
ABRAMS: Mr. Mayor, one of the possibilities I guess that FEMA seems to be suggesting is that you all could have to pull out of FEMA, which would mean you‘d have to give back a lot of the equipment that you use even on your local search and rescue, et cetera, isn‘t that right?
GORDON: Dan, first of all, this is ridiculous and it has got to get solved and it‘s going to get solved. These were U.S. marshals, by the way, not part of the team. They were U.S. marshals, so they were there for security. They weren‘t part of the team. There was no rule broken.
GORDON: But to answer your question, this is federal equipment that is stored at the Phoenix facility that allows the deployment to occur. It‘s not equipment we use. We don‘t want to pull out. We want—in fact, our firefighters are hurting not because of this letter, but because they can‘t do their job. They can‘t go into harm‘s way to save people.
In fact, they were sent home early. This is ridiculous. It‘s going to get changed. And that‘s what we are arguing about, is this is bureaucratic gobble-gook...
ABRAMS: And it seems you‘ve got a very important senator on your side, Senator John McCain sent the following letter to the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff.
The law recognizes deputized marshals as federal marshals and now to penalize them for their selfless efforts to aid in the recovery makes no sense. The Urban Search and Rescue Team in Phoenix is one of the best in the nation. In my view, to prohibit their participation in future emergency response efforts, would not be in the public interest and could result in the difference between life and death for disaster victims.
Mr. Mayor, my prediction is they are going to drop this whole thing. My prediction is that they are going to change the rule in FEMA, to make it a little bit more malleable, to make it one where it depends on the situation, more et cetera. We will see. I‘ll be stunned if they don‘t. But if they don‘t we‘ll have you back on. We appreciate you taking the time and waiting as we did that breaking news before.
ABRAMS: Thanks a lot to both of you.
GORDON: Thanks Dan.
ABRAMS: And thanks for your efforts, Mr. Kahn. I mean you guys are out there doing the hard work. We really appreciate that.
KAHN: Thank you sir. Appreciate it.
ABRAMS: Coming up, the extreme left and right hijacking the Supreme Court confirmation process, I say it needs to stop now. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to find missing sex offenders before they strike again. We continue this week‘s search in Arkansas.
Steve Zeller, 49, 6‘3”, 175, convicted of sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl. If you‘ve got any information on his whereabouts, he hasn‘t registered with the Arkansas authorities, 501-682-2222...
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—how the fringes in both parties are trying to hijack the Supreme Court confirmation process. The latest salvo, the far right complaining that Harriet Miers, the president‘s nominee to replace Sandra Day O‘Connor, is not conservative enough. Now, they don‘t know for sure that she isn‘t but they have a litmus test and unless they can be pretty much guaranteed that he or she will support their position on abortion, gay rights, church and state issues, for example, they don‘t want the person nominated, whether he or she is qualified or not.
Kansas Republican Sam Brownback said—quote—“I would like a nominee with a proven track record on important issues to all Americans, questions on her views on the Constitution need to be answered.” It‘s so funny and at the same time pathetic is that the same language came from certain Democrats when we were talking about John Roberts.
Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat from California said I need to know exactly where he stands and I need to know whether he‘d fight to protect the rights and freedoms of the American people before she voted against him.
Both sides knew and know that even once the hearings start, they‘re not going to get the sort of answers they claim to be seeking. And it‘s in large part their own fault. They‘ve politicized the system so that any president who appoints a justice with much of a record does so at his peril. The nominees‘ opinions and positions will almost surely be politicized if not misstated. We should want justices who have been engaged in the national debate over the most important issues of the day.
Writing law review articles or judicial opinions, but now a nominee only has to answer specific questions about issues if he or she has written something on the topic. What kind of incentive does that create? Bottom line, it seems together these nominees are exactly what the country should have expected. It is true John Roberts has a bit more of a defined and impressive conservative record and resume, but the president promised conservative nominees.
John Roberts and Harriet Miers are as far as any fair-minded person can tell right now, both conservative. Not necessarily what those on the far right might have wanted, not the proven ideologues they seem to believe they‘re entitled to, and certainly not what many Democrats would have wanted, either. But what we should all have expected and now the rest of us should say enough. We will not let the extremes impact until we get on the supremes.
Coming up, how you get in on the first ABRAMS REPORT auction, bidding on my press passes for two of the biggest trials in years to help two worthy charities. Coming up.
ABRAMS: The bidding is furious. A reminder about the first ever ABRAMS REPORT auction. We‘re auctioning off my press pass from the Scott Peterson trial, and from Santa Maria, my pass to the Michael Jackson case. I will autograph both of them with all of the money going to two very worthy charities. The money raised from the Peterson pass will go to Habitat for Humanity, building houses for Katrina victims now.
And the proceeds from the Jackson pass will go to CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocate, a group that tries to make sure that abused and neglected children get representation in court. The auction is taking place on eBay. The bidding is now open.
All right, so where is the bidding at, you ask? The Michael Jackson pass right now the highest bid is 1,288. And a lot of you writing in saying you‘re going to bid at the end. The Scott Peterson pass right now at 1,525 is the highest bid for that.
Get on there. Beat the bids. It‘s for a great cause. It‘s the only reason we‘re doing it, so please get on there and help out.
That‘s it. Chris Matthews up next. See you tomorrow.
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