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Hanssen Attorney Holds Press Conference

Aired May 10, 2002 - 09:17   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news for you now. Robert Hanssen has just been sentenced to life in prison. You might remember that he had pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy for passing classified information on to the Soviet Union, later on to Russia over a 20-year period.

He just appeared before judge Claude Hilton at the U.S. Court of the Eastern District of Virginia, where he was sentenced for life in prison. That, of course, is what federal prosecutors announced they would stand by, which was a plea agreement, under which they would ask for a life sentence rather than the death penalty for Robert Hanssen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We have breaking news for you now. We just confirmed that Robert Hanssen, the spy, has been sentenced to life in prison. Let's hear from his attorney outside U.S. District Court.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PLATO CATCHERIS, ROBERT HANSSEN'S ATTORNEY: Not in my judgment. I wasn't at all the sessions. In fact, we weren't hardly at any of them. But you know the government filed a pleading in which they told the court they had no reason to abort the plea agreement. And that meant that he had cooperated as he was supposed to do under the terms of the plea agreement.

QUESTION: How have you seen him change throughout this process?

CATCHERIS: Sorry?

QUESTION: How have you seen him change?

CATCHERIS: He's lost a lot of weight because the food in the jail is lousy.

QUESTION: Why did he do it? If you could address the cameras, why did he do it?

CATCHERIS: There are a lot of complex reasons as to why he did it. I don't know that I want to get into them. What has been said is there were monetary reasons, there were ego reasons. There's a whole panoply of reasons. None of them are valid, otherwise he wouldn't be here today. QUESTION: The government didn't mention making provisions for the pension to his wife. Is that something that has gone forward?

CATCHERIS: That has gone forward and has been approved.

QUESTION: Where was his family today, and who is supporting...

CATCHERIS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Where was his family today, and who is supporting (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CATCHERIS: There was no family member in court today.

QUESTION: Any friends?

CATCHERIS: Some friends, yes.

QUESTION: Why no comment about remorse regarding the FBI, specifically?

CATCHERIS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Why did Robert Hanssen make no comment whatsoever about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) FBI (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CATCHERIS: As I told you earlier, he wrote the statement himself. It was his statement, and why he said what he said is his business. I don't know why he didn't say any more.

QUESTION: Why was his family not here today?

CATCHERIS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Why was his family not here?

CATCHERIS: Because they didn't want to face this group.

QUESTION: How are they? How are the family?

CATCHERIS: They seem to be doing very well.

QUESTION: Mr. Catcheris, in his statement, Mr. Hanssen thanked his colleagues for their support. Are there some FBI agents who have come to his support?

CATCHERIS: I don't know that.

QUESTION: What did you mean when the government (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Were there...

CATCHERIS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) questions about...

CATCHERIS: Well, as you know, from the pleading that was filed by the prosecutors, they raised some concerns by the Hanssen damage assessment team and by the Department of Justice inspector general. They questioned the complete accuracy and cooperation of Mr. Hanssen. I don't think that -- but they concluded by saying the agreement should go forward. Therefore, I thought the comments that were made by those two were niggling.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CATCHERIS: Yes.

QUESTION: Plato, you've obviously represented some high-profile espionage spies before this. Can you assess the damage that Hanssen has done compared to Ames and others? That's obviously -- the damage assessment is one of the only lingering questions still as to what...

CATCHERIS: I would leave that really for the intelligence community to assess. Obviously, this is a serious case, otherwise the punishment wouldn't have been as extreme as it is. There would not have been threats of the death penalty, which there were. But I think it was serious, I'll say that much.

QUESTION: Can you say what he said in the courtroom for the people who weren't in there?

CATCHERIS: Can I say what he said? I can't. He apologized to his family, basically, and to his colleagues for the shame he felt for the activities that he had undergone that brought him to court.

QUESTION: Plato, you made reference to the fact that there were niggling questions. Was there ever any doubt in your mind that the plea bargain was in jeopardy?

CATCHERIS: No. I felt that what...

ZAHN: All right. You were just watching Plato Catcheris, Robert Hanssen's attorney, talking about the impact of Robert Hanssen's espionage. When asked specifically to assess the damage caused by his client, he wouldn't say anything other than saying it was serious.

Hanssen, you might remember, was arrested last year, charged with selling intelligence to Moscow for $1.4 million in cash, in diamonds. He later apologized for his behavior saying, quote, "I am shamed by it. Once again, U.S. District Court just dulling out a life sentence for him.

We have David Ensor standing by, who was inside the courtroom when this happened -- David, please describe to us the proceedings earlier -- good morning.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The -- good morning.

The whole thing took less than 10 minutes. And during it, Robert Hanssen stood, looking very gaunt and pale, and said, "I apologize for my behavior. I am ashamed. I have torn the trust of so many." He talked about hurting deeply his totally innocent wife and many others. He said, "I am struck by the government's generosity, by its goodness and by its charity." He after all did face a possible death penalty. He is only getting life without parole.

He said, "I wish to thank family, friends and others, especially those who are helping to support my family in this difficult time." And he said at the end, "For all this, I stand ready to accept the judgment of the court."

The prosecutor -- the U.S. Attorney, Randy Bellows, said that Hanssen "... took our nations most critical secrets and made them his personal merchandise to sell to our enemies." He said that Hanssen was the "... cruelest kind of thief. That he had hurt every single man, woman and child in this entire country, and for that he must pay."

As I say, it was a fairly brief session, preordained what the result would be. You probably know that there has been some discussion in the last week or two. Some in the government do not think Hanssen has been sufficiently cooperative with the interrogators. But today his attorney said he has done enough, and it obviously was in the end the government's view that he has as well. They've given him a life sentence, not an execution -- Paula.

ZAHN: David, I think it's interesting that you said Robert Hanssen said he accepted the judgment of the court. Because when his attorney Plato Catcheris came out, he was asked by reporters why Hanssen spied in the first place. And he said there are a lot of complex reasons why he did it. He said monetary and ego reasons, and then he went on to say, "... none of them valid."

ENSOR: Well that is Plato Catcheris expressing his opinion, of course. And I think judging by what Hanssen said, he now accepts that they're not valid either. He was contrite, he apologized.

But there are sort of two Hanssens, there always have been. There's been the church-going Catholic who is an FBI agent and proud of it. And there has been this incredible traitor who will do anything against his country -- Paula.

ZAHN: David Ensor, thanks for coming outside the courtroom to keep us up to date on that decision that was made in U.S. District Court. A judge handing out a life sentence to celebrate its spy, Robert Hanssen.

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