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Robert Philip Hanssen Attorney Plato Cacheris Holds News Briefing on Espionage Charges

Aired February 20, 2001 - 11:25 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: With more on the developing story of the FBI agent arrested earlier today on espionage charges, let's go to Jeanne Meserve in Washington -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Robert Philip Hanssen is his name. He was arrested Sunday night on charges of spying for the Russians and for the Soviets. His arraignment in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia has just been completed.

Bob Franken was there. Bob, what are the charges against him?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, interesting. These are charges that date back quite a way. Federal Judge Theresa Buchanan said that he was charged with two charges: number one, passing top secret documents to the Soviet Union on March 20, 1989, quote, "as part of conspiracy to injure the United States to the advantage of a foreign government, namely the U.S.S.R., containing national defense information."

Secondly, he was charged with -- on Oct. 1, 1985 -- telling the Soviet Union that there were three KGB agents who were actually double agents working for the United States intelligence forces.

Now, during the proceeding, which was very brief, he stood very silent. He was wearing a black shirt and gray slacks, looked around the courtroom, even when he was told that if he was convicted he could face up to life imprisonment or even, under special circumstances, the death penalty.

Now, I'm looking around because it looks like Plato Cacheris, his lawyer, is about to speak.


PLATO CACHERIS, ATTORNEY FOR ROBERT PHILIP HANSSEN: Not a connection, but there is some relevant material.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about that?

CACHERIS: Not right now.

QUESTION: What was the demeanor of your client? You had the chance to talk to him this morning. CACHERIS: He is quite upset.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate?

CACHERIS: He's just emotional.

QUESTION: When were you brought into the case?

QUESTION: Was he arrested in the park last night? Or was it at his home? Can you clarify what he was doing at the time?

CACHERIS: I don't know. I don't know. I met him this morning for the first time.

QUESTION: When did you get the call, Mr. Cacheris?

CACHERIS: Yesterday.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how?

CACHERIS: Talked to his wife.

QUESTION: How does he intend to plea?

CACHERIS: At this point, not guilty.


QUESTION: Was his wife in court today?

CACHERIS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Was his wife in court today?

CACHERIS: She was, yes.

QUESTION: How strong is the case against him?

CACHERIS: I have no idea.

I told you, I just got in it this morning, so I don't know.

QUESTION: Where is he now?

QUESTION: Will he be held here?

CACHERIS: Will who?

QUESTION: Will he be held here? Where will he be held?

CACHERIS: Well, that's not known yet.

QUESTION: Have you talked to Justice Department officials?

CACHERIS: Yes. QUESTION: How do you evaluate what you've been told about their case? CACHERIS: I'm telling you, it's very embryonic. I've been handed a lot of materials. I haven't read it yet. They always talk the day they've got a great case. But we'll see.

QUESTION: His preliminary feelings on what has happened? Can you characterize it for us?

CACHERIS: The preliminary feelings...

QUESTION: His preliminary feelings on what has happened?

CACHERIS: Well, it's a serious matter; an FBI agent is charged with espionage. And we'll have to see what the quality of the case is.

QUESTION: Can you speak to the fact that there was some talk about him tipping off Felix Bloch on the feds' case against...

CACHERIS: Never heard that. You're telling me something I have never heard of.

QUESTION: How long have they been watching him? Do you know that?

CACHERIS: I'm telling you, I don't know any of these things yet. I may learn them if they're true.

QUESTION: What do you know about this man's character, Mr. Cacheris?

CACHERIS: That he is a FBI agent, for 25 years. As far as I know, he has got a good character.

QUESTION: To your knowledge right now, he was not caught delivering any document or package of sorts last night in a park in Virginia?

CACHERIS: I don't know.

OK. Thank you very much.

FRANKEN: Plato Cacheris, the attorney representing Robert Hanssen. You might remember him from the Monica Lewinsky case. He represented Lewinsky. He also represented Aldrich Ames, who was the Central Intelligence Agency spy who is now serving a life sentence for giving away secrets for a very long time to the Soviet Union -- secrets that, as a matter of fact, many believe resulted in the death of some double agents.

Of course, we just spoke a moment ago ability one of the charges that has been leveled against Hanssen. Let me review that one, if I may. And that was that on Oct. 25 of 1985, that he identified for Soviets the three KGB agents who actually were double agents working for U.S. intelligence forces. The other charge had to do with the 1989 passing of documents to the then Soviet Union. Now, he faces a possibility, under certain circumstances, of the death penalty. Interestingly, he also faces a fine of either $250,000 on each count, or probably more importantly double what he might have gotten paid for what he did if, in fact, the charges prove to be true. And the amount of money that was identified as the amount that he received was $1,400,000.

Now, of course, these are charges that date back a long time, over a decade. But he was arrested after allegedly dropping off classified documents at a -- what they call a dead drop in northern Virginia on Sunday night.

So obviously there is a belief that he has been spying for a long time. These are charges that in fact do date back a long time. We're going to have a news conference in a little bit over an hour where FBI officials, Justice Department officials and the CIA people, Jeanne, are going to be giving us a much more detailed view of exactly what the charges are against this man.

MESERVE: Bob, we heard Plato Cacheris describe his client as quite upset, emotional. Does that match the demeanor of the man you saw in court?

FRANKEN: Actually, as a matter of fact, he was -- he just looked around the courtroom. He was -- made no comments at all. He just stood there, looked around a little bit, did not seem to recognize anybody. So, no, it did not look like he was that way. But of course Plato Cacheris has seen him out of the public view.

MESERVE: What does it signify, Bob, that the charges that were revealed in court date back to the '80s, that they are not more current?

FRANKEN: Well, it would seem to give us some idea of just how long he might have spied for the Soviet Union, which, of course, is now Russia. They are saying that in his 27-year career with the FBI, he might have spied as long as 15 years. This might give us some sort of parameter. These are also just a glimmer, of course, on what officials are saying really was serious damage that was done to the United States.

MESERVE: Bob Franken, thanks.

Once again, Plato Cacheris was a lawyer for Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent who Bob has been referencing.

One intelligence agent telling me -- excuse me, intelligence analyst saying to me that this is a case of megaton size for the FBI. We'll be following it through the day.

Right now, back to Atlanta.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good deal. Thanks much, Jeanne.



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