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Burden of Proof

Will Gore-Lieberman Ticket Impact the Law?

Aired August 8, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore prepares to announce his running mate. But will a Gore-Lieberman ticket impact the law?


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: The vice president asked me if I would do him the honor of running with him and I said, "Believe me, it's my honor."

KIKI MCLEAN, GORE SPOKESMAN: The fact is Joe Lieberman is the perfect partner for Al Gore. These are two men who share a history of fighting for America's working families, standing up for consumers as the attorney general in Connecticut, fighting the big insurance companies, standing up for Patients Bill of Rights, and making sure that we have the strength in a new generation of leadership to do what's going to be necessary for the future of our working families.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Within the hour, Vice President Al Gore is expected to introduce Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. The formal announcement will be made at the Gore campaign's national headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Most of the media coverage of Lieberman in the past 24 hours has focused on his record in the U.S. Senate as well as his religion. Lieberman is a lawyer and spent six years as Connecticut's attorney general.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us from New Haven, Connecticut is Yale law professor Akil Amar; here in Washington, Daniel Marlay (ph), Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal and former Connecticut attorney general Clarine Nardi Riddle, who once served under Lieberman as deputy attorney general.

COSSACK: And in the back, Ryan Demero (ph), Joshua Meadows (ph) and Renee Durham (ph).

Clarine, let me go right to you. You served with Senator Lieberman. What kind of an attorney general was he?

CLARINE NARDI RIDDLE, SERVED AS DEPUTY UNDER CONN. ATTORNEY GENERAL LIEBERMAN: He was a terrific attorney general. He was inclusive. He was balanced. He was judicious. He exercised a lot of common sense, and he was tough when necessary. And also, he had this extra sense that I used to call -- that he used to -- every time we had to make a decision, a critical decision, he'd always say, "What was the effect on the consumer? What was the effect on the working person?" He always thought about the people in Connecticut first and foremost in each case. He didn't let them be facts and figures in the case as many lawyers we tend to do get...

COSSACK: These are all the wonderful things. Now can you think of anything that you could say about him that isn't so wonderful?

RIDDLE: Not really. I'll be really honest. He was a terrific attorney general.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, you're the current state attorney general in Connecticut. I'm going to ask you two questions. The first one is, in the event that Senator Lieberman becomes the vice president of the United States, are you going to go after that U.S. Senate seat? That's the first question. The second question is, what is the job of the attorney general of Connecticut and what kind of job did Senator Lieberman have as the attorney general?

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL: If Joe Lieberman is elected vice president, as I hope and expect he will be, certainly I'd be interested in succeeding him once again. I was honored to succeed him as attorney general and I'd be honored to be considered for United States senator.

The job of attorney general really is to be the people's lawyer, to represent the public interest and to have the citizens of the state as your client, so to speak. And so we have the great luxury, which very few lawyers are -- have, of waking up in the morning and deciding what is the right thing to do, what best serves the people's interest. And Joe was a very activist attorney general in areas like environmental law, preventing contamination of the air, water, natural resources, much more activist than any of his predecessors in consumer protection, in child abuse and neglect, in collecting money for children who have been abandoned by one parent or another in a whole range of areas where the office had been really quite passive. And most attorney generals had been passive before him. He was one of a handful of much more proactive attorney generals.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, in fact, Clarine, correct me if I'm wrong, but when Senator Lieberman became the first attorney general of Connecticut, before he became the attorney general, it was a part-time job, was it not?

RIDDLE: Correct, correct. I mean, an attorney general could decide that it could be full-time before him under the statute but they were allowed to have it as a part-time. And so the statute was changed to turn it into a full-time position and he ran under those conditions. COSSACK: Clarine, you worked with him. We've heard a lot now in the last day or two that he's an orthodox Jew. What was the effect of his orthodoxy upon his ability to do his job?

RIDDLE: You know, Roger, it's interesting. We knew that he would be leaving for sundown on Friday, and then at sundown on Saturday night, he would possibly be going out to affairs, political affairs. But that was it. I mean, that we knew was there but what I...

COSSACK: Well, let me give you a suggestion. The issues, as you know, don't take place in neatly little compacted compartments. They might affect -- something might happen on a Saturday afternoon, which needs the attention of the attorney general or needs the attention of the vice president. Was he available?

RIDDLE: He was definitely available. If there was ever an emergency or if there was ever an issue of the state that involved the health and welfare of the state of Connecticut citizens, he was there. No question about it. No question about it. If staff had to make that judgment with him, there was no question.

Did he sit in our staff meetings and talk about his religion? No. That was going to your first question. That didn't enter in.

COSSACK: Akil, ever lawyer wants to get to the United States Supreme Court. My colleague, Roger, went to the Supreme Court, I'll point out and so did Senator Lieberman as the attorney general in the case of Thornton versus Caldor (ph). Why is that case important?

AKIL AMAR, YALE LAW PROFESSOR: Well, it's a case about religious liberty. And I think Dick Blumenthal put it just right. Joe Lieberman's job was to be the people's lawyer but also the lawyer basically, in effect, for the state. And that case involved the state statute and it was Lieberman's job to defend the statute. Now the Supreme Court in the end wasn't persuaded but Lieberman did an excellent job. He's an extraordinarily able lawyer. Everyone in the law has great respect for his legal ability and his fairness and open- mindedness.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, let me ask you about the Supreme Court case. In the case, there was a man in 1979 who was a Presbyterian and he wanted to have the Sabbath off, Sunday off. And his employer said no and he was demoted and he felt like he got fired. There was a Connecticut statute which said an employer cannot fire you for observing the Sabbath.

Then at the time -- by the time it filtered through the court and Senator Lieberman was then the state attorney general, he went up to the United States Supreme Court to enforce this Connecticut statute, which the Supreme Court then said was unconstitutional because it tangled religion and government. Let me ask you this: Do you think -- and maybe Clarine can help us -- was Senator Lieberman fighting for that statute because that's the job of the attorney general or was he fighting for the statute because he believed it was a constitutional one? BLUMENTHAL: I can't answer the second part of the question because we actually have never talked about that statute. But certainly, on the first point, he was representing the state, and the statutes of any state are approved by the legislature. They embody the will of the people, not to put it in sort of too trite popular terms. And the attorney general as an advocate, like any advocate, has a responsibility to defend state statutes. And I've been in the position sometimes...

VAN SUSTEREN: Whether you agree with them or not? We don't know if he agreed with them or not but he was obliged to. That's the job?

BLUMENTHAL: He was obliged to and, you know, as attorney general, going back to your first question, you can do it with more zeal, vigor, enthusiasm or less. And I've gone to the Supreme Court on statutes where I felt it was extraordinarily important where the public interest really was at stake. And I suspect that Joe did, Senator Lieberman did on this one, too. But, you know, it really is one of his qualities that he is a fighter. And an attorney general has to be an advocate, a fighter for what he or she thinks is the right thing to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: We'll take a break. Up next, why did Senator Lieberman lean toward an ultimately vote against Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court justice? Stay with us.


On this day in 1974, President Richard Nixon announced in a nationally televised address that he intended to resign, effective noon the next day. On August 9, Nixon officially ended his term as 37th president of the United States and Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in.



COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers. You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log on to We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back to BURDEN OF PROOF. We're talking about Senator Lieberman and his impact on the law. Let's go to the telephone. We have -- on the phone we have Lanny Davis, who's a good friend to both Senator Lieberman and the president, Bill Clinton.

Lanny, what can you tell us about the fact that Senator Lieberman took to the floor and had some rather harsh comments about President Clinton? Can you shed some light on this?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, certainly, at the time that he made that speech, many of us were troubled about the president's conduct and still supporting his presidency. And Senator Lieberman expressed, I think, the views of both his colleagues and of much of the country in making that distinction. I talked to him before he made that speech and I talked to him after he made the speech. And I am convinced today that he is in large part responsible for the ultimate acquittal of President Clinton, because by expressing the outrage, the moral outrage that he did and giving vent to those concerns, he was able to credibly make the distinction between the conduct that was not defensible and the performance in office, which surely still has a high approval of the American people.

COSSACK: Lanny, before he made that speech, was he contact with the White House at all and did they try to talk him out of it?

DAVIS: The answer is, yes, he was in contact. I believe he did speak to the president ahead of time. And, no, I don't know of anyone, including myself, that attempted to talk him out of that speech. I called him as an old friend back to college days. He is the godfather of my son. He knew my strong defense of President Clinton and we talked with great personal feelings about how sad he was but his need to express himself. And Al Gore's decision to reach out to the conscience of the Senate to Mr. Integrity, to Mr. Bipartisan, Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, words not uttered by Governor Bush or anyone on the platform last week in Philadelphia, says a lot about Al Gore and certainly says a lot about Joe Lieberman.

COSSACK: All right, Lanny Davis, thank you for joining us.

Let's now go to Akil Amar -- Akil, there was some, I suppose, little bit of controversy regarding Senator Lieberman's first support and then vote against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas. Can you explain to us what happened?

AMAR: Well, I think it was ultimately a vote of conscience and character. Even if you disagree with it, I think you have to respect Senator Lieberman. Senator Lieberman was one of only 10 Democrats who early on supported President Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas. Forty Democrats basically were leaning the other way but 10 Democrats, bipartisan Democrats including Lieberman were willing to give Clarence Thomas the benefit of the doubt before the Anita Hill allegations came forward. And I think he leans toward Thomas in part because he respected someone who had grown up in hard circumstances, smart kid like himself who managed to do great and hard work, get into Yale law school. And like Clarence Thomas, Lieberman didn't grow up in particularly wealthy circumstances. His father didn't go to college. He even today is not a wealthy man. He lives in the town I live in, New Haven. He doesn't have the biggest house in town or even the biggest house on his block. He's different maybe than the other candidates in that respect.

But when the allegations came forth, he was troubled and he especially, I think, listened to the voices of women, including his daughter, and just had enough doubts about the case that that ultimately swayed his vote. It was not an easy vote for him, and I think he agonized until the end. And whether you agree or disagree, it was just a vote of conscience and character and there was nothing partisan or nasty about it. VAN SUSTEREN: Akil, you raise the issue of women.

Let me switch gears, Clarine, and go to you. Back in the mid- 1980s, there was a woman in Connecticut who wanted to be a Boy Scout leader, and the Boy Scouts in Connecticut said, "She's a guy. She can't be a Boy Scout leader." What was Senator Lieberman, then the attorney general, how did he handle that?

RIDDLE: Well, it was an interesting case. The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, our CHRO in Connecticut, had a case that they decided that she should be able to be a scout leader. And she had been denied that in the Boy Scouts. So they ordered the Boy Scouts to take her as a scout troop leader and the Boy Scouts filed a suit in court. It went all the way up to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

It was premised on the question of whether or not the Boy Scouts was a public accommodation and one of the...

VAN SUSTEREN: Much like the one with the gay out of New Jersey went to the Supreme Court this past time.


RIDDLE: Absolutely. It's very similar, actually. And the question that the court spent most of their time on was whether the Boy Scouts organization itself, being a public accommodation, the old traditional tavern, recreational facility kind of sense, whether or not it had to have a fixed site because, as we know, Boy Scouts are held in basements, in homes, in a variety of different settings, campgrounds or whatever. And the court said, "Well, that's not going to determine the question for us." But then they said -- but they didn't quite say it was a public accommodation. And then they went on to say, well, but her alleged discrimination of this case was not a public accommodations discrimination.

VAN SUSTEREN: So Senator Lieberman win or lose?

RIDDLE: Lose. We lost. She was a wonderful woman, Mrs. Pollack (ph), and she really cared about the Boy Scouts. And they said, "We'll let you do anything else but be a troop leader."

COSSACK: Dick, I want to go back to this Clarence Thomas issue just one more time. There was some other part of this that caused a little controversy, and that was when Senator Lieberman didn't vote initially when he was supposed to but voted after the decision was done. And there was some accusations made, which he denies and has always denied, that in fact he kind of waited to see which way the wind was blowing before he cast his vote. Talk to me about that.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, one of the sort of raps or negative comments about Senator Lieberman has been that he is supposedly indecisive. This is a kind of negative that's been around for a while when he was in the state Senate, when he was in the United States Senate picking those very selected, isolated instances that involved very tough decisions. And as Akil Amar has said, this was an issue of conscience and character. And I spoke to him about it literally within hours of his making that decision and he was genuinely torn, not on the politics, not on personal issues, not what it meant to him, but on what was best for the country, and as a matter of principle, what would impact on the law, the prerogatives of the president, the powers of the Senate, the issues of harassment, the factual -- they were all very complex. And he waited until the end because I think he was consulting and thinking to the very end of the decisionmaking process. And it shows something good about Senator Lieberman, which is that he is so thoughtful and so careful about decisions of this magnitude. I don't think he is indecisive. Some of the lawsuits that he brought against the major oil companies when he was attorney general, against the major insurance companies, against the major supermarkets, these took a lot of courage and he did it. So he knows how to make decisions and I think he'll be a decisive vice president.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Up next, a closer look at Joseph Lieberman's legislative voting record and what legal impact his selection would have on a potential Gore administration. Stay with us.


Q: Why is the family of Florence Griffith Joyner suing a St. Louis Hospital?

A: The lawsuit claims that the hospital failed to detect a brain abnormality. Joyner died in her sleep in 1998 when she had a seizure and suffocated.



COSSACK: In just a few minutes, Vice President Al Gore is expected to formally announced the addition of Senator Joseph Lieberman to the Democratic ticket. Lieberman received his law degree from Yale law school in 1967. He's been in public service in Connecticut and Capitol Hill for the past 30 years.

Akil, in Connecticut, Senator Lieberman will be able to run both for the Senate and for the vice presidency. What happens if he wins them both?

AMAR: He'd basically be just like Lyndon Johnson in 1960, who was in the same position, a sitting senator up for reelection who appeared on the ballot. That also happened with Lloyd Bentsen but Lloyd Bentsen didn't win. But what will happen is that he'll -- if he wins both, he goes and becomes vice president and he steps down from the Senate. And the governor of Connecticut, John Roland, picks a replacement for just a temporary period. And then the people of Connecticut get to vote on a new permanent senator. And it might be Dick Blumenthal.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, in...

BLUMENTHAL: From your mouth to whoever's ear. VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, I'm trying to figure out what kind of vice president he's going to be. We always look at the history of the person. You are a very active attorney general. You've gone after the tobacco industry. Compare -- is there -- when Senator Lieberman was attorney general, were they active like that, aggressive, or did he just defend the state?

BLUMENTHAL: He was very proactive, very aggressive, imaginative, creative in using the law. And he sort of made the position of attorney general not only full-time but in a different way, a people's advocate. He and Bob Abrams in New York, a group of attorneys general who were very like-minded in their approach to many of these environmental consumer protection cases, just to take two areas as examples.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that somewhat a departure from what attorney generals used to be like even a decade back behind Senator Lieberman?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I'd like to think that the present group of attorneys general has expanded on the role that some of the pioneers like Joe Lieberman and others really took the office. But I think it is true, yes. Before Joe Lieberman, if you look at the walls of my office, I suspect of most offices, as attorneys general around the state go, they were part-time, they were largely reactive, largely defense oriented. I've looked back at some of the very old yearly reports of attorneys general for Connecticut and in some years, back in the early part of the last century, their work was principally defending lawsuits against the state, even land claims...

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, boy, how different it is today. And we've certainly seen with attorney generals like you, Dick.

But that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching. Tonight on "NEWSSTAND," the unfriendly skies; passengers' rights and the airlines' responsibility. I'll be taking your calls and your e-mails.

COSSACK: And today on "TALKBACK LIVE," does religion make a difference in politics? Log on and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific. And tomorrow on BURDEN OF PROOF, a live interview with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. That's at 12:30 Eastern time, 9:30 Pacific. Join us then for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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