Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Interview with John Relman, Chuck Vance

Aired January 3, 2002 - 19:30   ET



JOHN RELMAN, ATTORNEY: Pure and simple, this is a case of discrimination.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Was it discrimination or did an American Airlines pilot have good reason to boot an Arab-American Secret Service agent? Plus, a heated debate over new ads that take on the Catholic church's policy on condoms.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, John Relman, attorney for the ejected Secret Service agent and former agent Chuck Vance, president of Vance International. And later, Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, and in New York, William Donohue, president of the Catholic league.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

As you know at airports today, security is tight. So tight, a lot of people are getting extra scrutiny, but when one of President Bush's personal Secret Service agents by the name of Wahlid Shater (ph) got bounced off a plane last week, it created quite a stir.

American Airlines said he was booted because his paperwork was not in order. And besides, he appeared to be carrying a book that was believed to be written in Arabic. But his attorneys charge discrimination, insisting he was ejected only because he was Arab- American and that the book, in fact, was a history of the Middle East written in English.

Is this a case of racial discrimination? Have the airlines gone too far? Or are they just doing their job? We'll debate it. And then you might see a billboard like this one popping up in your neighborhood, condemning Catholic bishops for opposing the use of condoms. Fair play or Catholic bashing? That's next. But first, a Secret Service agent flunks airport security.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: Mr. Relman, here's the story, as I understand it. A man with a loaded gun boards an airplane. His papers are not in order. He admits they're not in order. He's asked to clarify them. He becomes belligerent and angry, He gets tossed off the plane. It makes total sense. I don't see a hint of discrimination in that. Where's the discrimination?

JOHN RELMAN, ATTORNEY FOR EJECTED SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Well that's American Airlines story, but it's actually not accurate at all. What happened was that there was nothing out of order with his papers. And he was not belligerent.

The only facts that are relevant here are whether American Airlines made a legitimate good faith effort to verify that he was a Secret Service agent, as he claimed to be. He was on his way to protect the President.

If that is the case, they need go no further. He gave them the numbers. He was prepared to cooperate in any way for them to call and verify who he was. The pilot refused to do it and he never made any good faith effort to do that.

In fact, the American Airlines statement that came out today says as much, that he said well, the number could have been a phony one. It could have been a fake one.

CARLSON: This good faith effort, well, let me ask you this. Now you haven't used his name on television. His name is Wahlid Shater (ph), apparently. You treat him like he's in the witness protection program. And my understanding is you acted that way because of fears for his safety concerns, that somehow safety will be jeopardized if we know his name.

And yet, you appear to have no understanding of the position of the pilot, who's in charge of this entire plane. A guy gets on with a loaded gun, gets mad, and all of a sudden, your position is that he didn't try hard enough to verify this guy's a Secret Service agent?

RELMAN: Well, first, let's say it. I mean, he didn't get mad. And second of all, the agent had requested that his name not be used. And we're respecting that request. But the fact of the matter is, the procedure is he shows his identification.

It's a badge. It's a photo ID. It's not something that can easily be faked. I think Chuck will address that. Again the only question is, we don't object to him being asked further questions. If they want to ask further questions, if they want to try and verify that he is who he says he is, that's perfectly appropriate. Let them do that. The point is he was there.

CARLSON: Well, quickly...

RELMAN: He gave numbers, but they didn't do it.

CARLSON: ...your position is American Airlines is lying about him being angry? That's what you seem to be saying?

RELMAN: That's correct. We say that our agent has said he was not angry. He did not act in any way that should have indicated there was a problem with him getting on the plane. He was not unprofessional in anyway.

PRESS: Chuck Vance, President Bush himself, because this is one of his agents, was asked last Friday actually his opinion on this case. Just had a quick statement on that. I'd like you to listen to please, if you will.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's an inquiry going on specifically what took place, but if he was treated that way because of his ethnicity, that's -- that will make me madder than heck.


PRESS: Now I'd like to suggest to you why the President should be madder than heck. Mr. Relman just said he's a Secret Service agent. He's assigned to the President. In fact today, he was on his way to Crawford, Texas. Today, he was on duty in Crawford, Texas, guarding the President.

He had his badge. He had his credentials. He was carrying a gun. He had a government-issued ticket. There were three different law enforcement officials at the airport who checked his papers and verified that he was, in fact, a Secret Service agent, who he said he was. And yet the pilot, also the pilot was offered a Secret Service number or the White House number, refused to call.

Now wouldn't you have to say that maybe with the best of intentions, this pilot made a mistake? And American Airlines ought to just admit it and then it'd be all over?

CHUCK VANCE, FMR. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Well, Bill, let me go on record real quick to say having been a Secret Service agent for 14 years, I certainly respect and admire the agent. And I know what it's like on Christmas Eve Day to go down to a place like Crawford, Texas.

On the other hand, we have to realize the circumstances here. We have -- you know, we lost two American Airlines jumbo jets September 11. We've had also had high alerts put out by the FBI and the Justice Department. We've got a man who has a set of credentials. And I'll disagree with John on that, is that I've seen Secret Service credentials. I've worked cases myself, that have been counterfeited. And there have, in fact, been federal agents or alleged federal agents who have gotten on board aircraft with false credentials and guns.

So consequently, that pilot was put in position to make a determination at that point. And not that I necessarily agree with him, but I think he had was justified somewhat in making it.

PRESS: Chuck, let me tell you something. (202) 456-1414, OK? It's the White House number.

VANCE: Right. PRESS: I mean, it's not hard to get. Why didn't he call the White House? Why didn't he call the number given him by the agent to say, is this one of your agents? And it's over with?

VANCE: OK. My answer is because he's not a security expert. He's a pilot. He's worried about getting that plane off the ground. He's worried about getting the passengers on. And he shouldn't be the one that makes the determination of whether or not that guy is valid or not valid.

RELMAN: And that's exactly the point. That's precisely the point of what this is all about. When you have untrained pilots, who are given unfettered discretion, you get what we saw this past week, which is Richard Reid walks on a plane, wires coming out of his sneakers. He's paying with cash. He has a newly minted passport, the whole works.

American Airlines defends the pilot's decision to keep him on the plane. On the other hand, they keep a Secret Service agent off the plane and they defend that as well.

VANCE: That's totally false.

RELMAN: And that's what happened...


CARLSON: Actually, Richard Reid was stopped in Paris, as you know, and kept off the plane, made to spend the night in Paris because of concerns...

PRESS: But he got on the plane the next day.

CARLSON: That's exactly right, but that's exactly my point. Your client was kept off a plane. He wasn't thrown in prison. You're claiming that his civil rights were violated here. The guy tries to gets on a plane with a loaded gun and his papers aren't in order, and he's not again, incarcerated, but just asked to get off the plane. How were his civil rights violated?

RELMAN: That's not true. If American Airlines could demonstrate why they didn't make the call to verify, that's all they had to do. This is not Richard Reid. All you need to get is one supervisor who says he is a Secret Service of the President. And you know what? I'd be happy to have him fly. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: As you know, Mr. Relman, they've already answered that question in, I think, in a satisfactory way. They've said how do we know? He could provide the phone number of his brother-in-law or some fellow terrorist?

RELMAN: All...

CARLSON: My question to you is, hold on, American Airlines has come out with I think a pretty cogent story. You don't believe it, but it's still a story for why they kept him off the plane. No signature no phone number, they didn't know the Secret Service number. You have not provided a countervailing story for why this discrimination. There's no evidence.

RELMAN: The countervailing story, Tucker, is -- and you're just wrong about that because the countervailing story is that the discrepancy they talk about in the papers is that when he was moved from the first plane, which was mechanical failure to the second plane, the American Airlines agent crossed out the flight number because there are no new forms available at the gate, writes them in.

She was there, she was available, she could have provided the explanation. But instead, the pilot somehow uses that as an excuse after the fact to say this is why I didn't call the number. It all doesn't matter. If he is who he says he is, chuck would agree, everybody would agree, we want him on the plane. You know, this is like having an extra air marshall on the plane.

CARLSON: Sure, who he said he was. He had a loaded gun.

VANCE: The fact of the matter is that how do you determine? There needs to be a better system of determining that the man is an agent. If you've got a guy in these circumstances, coming on an aircraft with an gun.

Now when you talk about discrimination, I'm not sure you've got it, because how many other people were on that plane with guns that they didn't kick off?

RELMAN: But Chuck, here's why you've got it. You've got it because there's no other explanation why he doesn't call. He has a feeling about this guy. He sees him, he's Arabic-American.

Then a report comes from a flight attendant who rifled his possessions, found some books. She says it's Arabic material. And suddenly now, this is the reason why they say they're keeping him off the plane.

In fact, that's false. It was a book in English. It was a standard college text in English about Middle Eastern history. This is hysteria we are dealing with.


VANCE: We're dealing with hysteria, and that's exactly correct.

PRESS: Thank you. We are dealing with hysteria. And that's my point as well. So Chuck, you'd have to say, I mean from what -- I think you would agree, that whether the pilot acted rightly or wrongly, this is clearly a case of racial discrimination?

VANCE: Well no, I would agree that it's a case of racial discrimination. My point was, how many other people that were coming on board with a gun did they eject from the aircraft? There was only one man. And he just happened to be an Arab-American.

PRESS: Well, I don't know how many of those had guns, but let me ask you this.


VANCE: There was nobody else on that plane.

PRESS: Put it this way, if this guy were an Anglo agent named John Smith, he would have been in Crawford, Texas. He would've been on that plane. And you know that's true.

VANCE: You know what I think, Bill? I think these pilots, and I've seen it before because I've seen it in my experience, they're very concerned about anybody going on those aircraft with a gun. So they'll look. And particularly in these circumstances, they'll look for a reason.


CARLSON: Now (UNINTELLIGIBLE), just the moment we have left here. I sense a payoff here. You've said that you're not going to be asking for monetary damages. You're not seeking any money. I expect that's subject to change. Will you pledge here that you're not going to take money from American Airlines for the supposed civil rights violation?

RELMAN: We represent our client. Our client has said that if there were money in a settlement, that it would go to the victims.


RELMAN: Right now, there's no lawsuit. Right now, we're trying to engage...

CARLSON: Are you planning to ask for money in a lawsuit is the question?

RELMAN: What we want from American Airlines is we want American Airlines to implement procedures and policies and training for these pilots because there's...

CARLSON: Do you want money is my simple question. Are you going to ask for money?

RELMAN: The answer is no, we are not going to ask for money. We are asking American Airlines to changes the procedures and policies or to implement new procedures and policies, so that these pilots don't go untrained. Because you know, any kind of profiling like this is bad security. It's bad security because you overlook people who should be examined. And you focus only on certain types of people.

CARLSON: Mr. Relman, Mr. Vance, thank you both very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Next Catholic condom controversy. Coming up on CROSSFIRE, Catholic versus Catholic. Wait until you see the ads. Shocking. Be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. If you live in Washington, D.C. or one of a number of cities around the world, you may have seen the ad, "because the bishops banned condoms, innocent people die." It's a message brought to you by a renegade Catholic group, Catholics for a Free Choice. Its leaders blame the church's birth control policy for spreading AIDS. The church calls that assertion outrageous. Some have even questioned whether the ads should be banned under truth in advertising statutes.

Are the ads fair or are they blood liable?

Joining us tonight, Frances Kissling, head of Catholics for a Free Choice. And from New York, William Donohue, president of the Catholic League.

Bill Press?

PRESS: Mr. Donohue, let me ask you this. First of all, I might point out that not all our viewers will have yet seen these ads. So just in case they haven't, we'd like to show one that is being posted here in the Metro, the subway in Washington.

It says, "Catholic people care. Do our bishops? Banning condoms kills." Now Mr. Donohue, bishops may not like that kind of publicity, but even you would have to admit every single word of that ad is true, isn't it?

WILLIAM DONOHUE, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE: You know, they should have a Pulitzer Prize for common sense. And the Catholic bishops in this country would get it. There's not a single person in the history of the world, the blanket statement, who has ever died as a result of a sexually transmitted disease because they followed Catholic teaching. And you know that.

It is preposterous. As a matter of fact, take Africa. In Uganda, why is it that it's the one success story in the entire continent? Because the Catholic church got involved and taught abstinence to the people.

Same thing is going on in South Africa. Yet we live in this world of condom mania. The biggest superstition in this country is that the lousy condom will save us. And yet the HIV virus is smaller than the holes in the condoms. And we continue with this incredible assertion that somehow the Catholic bishops who teach abstinence -- who tell the people that you should have heterosexual unions in the institution of marriage, no adultery, no pre-marital sex. How in the world anyone could blame Catholic bishops for the results of STD is amazing. Unless of course, you have anti-Catholic agenda, which really gets to the heart of my question.

PRESS: Well, there's no anti-Catholic agenda. In fact, every health organization in the world, Mr. Donohue, points out that AIDS is a disease of epidemic proportions, that it is spread through unsafe sex, and if people are going to have sex, that the way to protect themselves is the use of a condom. In fact, all statistics show that the more the condoms are used, the more the death rate goes down, and vice-versa.

So by in fact encouraging people not to use condoms, aren't you in fact leaving them open to disease and/or possibly death?

DONOHUE: You know, could you name me one single health expert in the entire world who's ever been able to demonstrate that if you follow the Catholic church's teachings on sexuality, that you die of AIDS?

PRESS: That's not the question.

DONOHUE: Well, yes it is...

PRESS: Answer the question.

DONOHUE: No, that is the question.

PRESS: No, it's not, no.


PRESS: No, the question...

DONOHUE: Bill, let me say this to you.

PRESS: The question is...

DONOHUE: Wait a minute. Orthodox Jews teach you shouldn't each pork. If some of their people cheat and don't cook the pork the right way and they get trichinosis, are you by your logic, going to blame the orthodox Jewish rabbi because some of its people didn't follow their teachings?

This is madness. You can you say the Catholic church is too rigid. It's tough teaching. OK, we can have an honest debate on that. And I'm going to address your question about the anti- Catholic...


CARLSON: OK, I'm going to have to stop you there, Mr. Donohue, because I have to ask a question of Frances Kissling. The Catholic church infecting people with AIDS are responsible for the deaths of innocent people. I have to say I think that that's outrageous and revolting and beyond the bounds of acceptable and civil debate. I also think it's wrong, because I think as Mr. Donohue said, you can disagree with the Catholic church, but you can't disagree with the essence of the message, which is, abstinence. And people don't get AIDS from abstinence. There's no arguing with that.

FRANCES KISSLING, CATHOLICS FOR A FREE CHOICE: There's no arguing that those who are abstinent will not get AIDS. But there is the reality that the Catholic church treats nine million people a year who are currently infected with HIV AIDS worldwide. That's the number. They say 25 percent of the people who have AIDS or HIV are treated by us in our 100,000 hospitals worldwide. In those 100,000 hospitals, people who already have AIDS, some of whom are sexually active, many whom are not Catholic, are not told by Catholic church officials or by Catholic health givers because Catholic church officials have told them -- they're told nothing about condoms.

CARLSON: And I suppose...

KISSLING: And you have do say that the reality is that if they treat nine million people with AIDS, if they do not tell those people that condoms can prevent this...

CARLSON: Oh, please. Frances, that is the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard. Hold on. Let me ask you this question.

KISSLING: They have some responsibility for the four million children...

CARLSON: As if...

KISSLING: ...and the seven million women.

CARLSON: If I may ask my question. As if the Catholic church were the only source of information about birth control and human sexuality.


CARLSON: In fact, throughout the world, in the poorest parts of the world, in the most remote parts of the world, international NGO's drop hundreds, literally, of millions of condoms. Some people use them, others don't. That's not the responsibility of the Catholic church. For you to blame it is outrageous.

KISSLING: No, it's not outrageous. Because again, the fact really is, if you treat -- if you say I'm a caregiver, I'm going to treat nine million people, praise me for my care of nine million people with AIDS, yes.

But if you refuse to even tell those people, we're not talking about Christopher Street. We're not talking about San Francisco. We're talking about South Africa. We are talking about Uganda. There are still people in those countries who do not know about condoms, who do not know how AIDS is spread who have AIDS.

CARLSON: That is not the fault of the Catholic church.

KISSLING: Yes, it is the fault. It is the fault, actually.

PRESS: Mr. Donohue, let me ask you. And I want to come back to your earlier statements about abstinence. Because it seems to me the madness is -- I mean, I would agree with you. OK? Let's make that clear. If somebody abstains from sex, if they have no sex at all, they're not going to get AIDS. They're not going get pregnant.

KISSLING: Unless they're a hemophiliac. PRESS: But -- OK, that's all right. That's true. Thank you from HIV also injections.

But let's stick to the sex topic here. Wouldn't you have to agree, though, that a lot of people in this world, abstinence just doesn't work? I mean, if you're living Alice in Wonderland, if you think that abstinence is the answer for everybody, sir.

DONOHUE: Let me say something to you, Bill. We don't tell kids in the high schools in this country, "You shouldn't smoke, but in the event you might, because some of you will, why don't you try some of these low tar cigarettes?"

We don't say to them, you know, "You shouldn't drink and drive, but if you're going to do it, try the light beer." We simply say, "Knock it off." And if enough people in this country, from Hollywood to the churches told people that message. Why is it that we have one message on abstinence when it comes to cigarettes? And when it comes to sexuality, we say use your lousy little condom?

PRESS: Well, let me suggest to you that, you know, sex is maybe more of a basic drive than smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer. And for those people who are not even Catholics, who are not going to buy that abstinence is the only answer, wouldn't you have to agree at least, if they're going to break from the Catholic position of abstinence, they ought to practice safe sex and use a condom?

DONOHUE: Yes, I suppose I understand the argument that if you're going drink and drive, wear your seatbelt. But the heart of the question here, what this debate is about all tonight, and that's why I've already won, because you're on my side. You couldn't be on hers. There's no logic there whatsoever, is that you had can't blame the Catholic church because some people are promiscuous. They're practicing promiscuous anal sex. And they wind up with AIDS. And somehow, that's Bishop Murphy's fault? Well, this is absolutely insane.

CARLSON: And in fact...

PRESS: The blame on the church is that you're encouraging people not to use condoms and therefore practicing...


CARLSON: Mr. Donohue raises an interesting point, not simply the one he literally made, but also the question of larger culpability. You mentioned South Africa. I was interested that you did, because as you know the president of South Africa has refused to fund perhaps withheld AZT from pregnant women with HIV, thereby all but guaranteeing their children will be born with HIV.


CARLSON: You could spend your time -- you could put out ads on that, which is a moral outrage, repugnant to all civilized people. And instead, you're wasting your time with this ludicrous, vicious little ads.


CARLSON: ...attacking the Catholic church.

KISSLING: First of all, they're not vicious and they're not ludicrous.

CARLSON: They're totally vicious.

KISSLING: The fact of the matter is that if the bishops want to be health caregivers in the public policy, if they want to be part of community health, this is a public health issue. They have to be subjected to the same scrutiny that anyone else would be. We wrote to the president of South Africa and we...

CARLSON: I don't see his name on billboards. I think I know why, because it wouldn't be fashionable. So instead you attack...

KISSLING: That's not the point.

CARLSON: Of course it's the point.

KISSLING: There's nothing fashionable about criticizing the Catholic bishops. If you think that is a prize, you are really off base.

CARLSON: Well, you seem to have a career out of it. But I'd say it's one of the most fashionable things to criticize.

DONOHUE: Absolutely.


DONOHUE: The fact of the matter is, look, the fact of the matter is in 1991, Frances Kissling said in a Mother Jones interview that it was her goal to overthrow the Catholic church. She's about as much a Catholic as I'm a black man, except that I'm not anti-black and she's anti-Catholic.

And her fat friends with the deep pockets at the Ford Foundation and the Macarthur Foundation are the only people who keep her from falling down on the street. She has no members. She's twice been condemned by the Catholic bishops. She ex-communicated herself from the Catholic church for operating abortion clinics illegally in Mexico. And I'm supposed to say she is legit?

KISSLING: (INAUDIBLE) totally incorrect information.

DONOHUE: No, no, you lost.


CARLSON: All right, here we go.

PRESS: Frances Kissling, thank you. Bill Donohue, when they run out of arguments, they go to personal attacks.


...CROSSFIRE. We're going to take a break now. When we come back, there's been some very important quotes of the day we want to bring to you, including, yes, a sad word about a former first dog.


PRESS: Now time for our quotes of the day. And mine, Tucker, is about a big news event today. After a six-month investigation, all charges against New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli were dropped by the federal prosecutor. The quote actually is a quote not of today, but of something that was said on this very show on June the eighth about Senator Torricelli. Please listen.


CARLSON: Robert Torricelli in deep trouble. Accepted apparently cash, Rolex watch, 10 custom suits, antiques, jewelry. Federal prosecutors looking into it. Doesn't look good for Bob Torricelli.


PRESS: Tucker, Bob Torricelli is awaiting your apology.

CARLSON: Well, Bill, I'd like to explain to you the difference between no charges brought and innocent. This is headed to the Senate ethics committee. Good luck there, Senator Torricelli. But it still provides no answer to the question, what about the 10 suits and what about the Mercedes Benz and what about the antiques? Where did these come from? He hasn't actually, as far as I know, denied receiving them from this crooked campaign donor.

PRESS: Mary Jo White, the toughest prosecutor in this country. Do you think if he had done anything illegal, she wouldn't have found it? You've got to admit you had were wrong.

CARLSON: And let me explain the distinction between illegal and unseemly and morally wrong. Just because something isn't illegal, doesn't mean it's right. And I'd still like to hear an explanation for what exactly he was doing with those gifts and who gave them to him, but I'll doubt we'll hear it. Maybe we'll here it...

PRESS: Even calling for him to resign, they were all wrong.

CARLSON: OK, my quote comes from a former president and his wife, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Their dog died, recently, Buddy, sadly, former First dog. This the statement the Clinton's released. "We are deeply saddened by Buddy's death. He was a loyal companion and brought us much joy. He will be truly missed."

Now I have to say, and I'm bragging when I say this, I have not believed a single word this president has said from "I solemnly swear" to "that's all folks." All of it was lies. And yet, in this case, I give him the benefit of the doubt. I suspend my disbelief. His dog died. I believed he means these words. Here's to you, Buddy. It wasn't your fault.

PRESS: Passing a (INAUDIBLE) for Buddy. And you know what? Losing your pet.

CARLSON: That's right. And it's enough to make me believe in the former president.

PRESS: All right, I -- from the left, I'm Bill Press. Good- night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night and every week night here on CROSSFIRE. See you then.




Back to the top