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Peterson Trial Updates; Cleland Press Conference

Aired August 25, 2004 - 13:35   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Taking a look at the stories now in the news, John Kerry again calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign. The Democratic presidential candidate's remark follows a report out yesterday that blames Rumsfeld, in part, for the abuses at the Abu Ghraib and other prisons. In about 15 minutes, the Pentagon will release the Army's report on that investigation. CNN planning to carry it live of course.
Former Senator Max Cleland gets personally involved in the swift boat controversy. The Vietnam vet in Crawford, Texas right, now at the gates of the Bush ranch. He's delivering a letter to President Bush, asking him to publicly condemn the ads that attack John Kerry's Vietnam record. The Bush team plans to give a letter to Cleland from Vietnam vets who support Bush. We'll have much more on this next hour.

Russian authorities studying flight data recorders from two airliners that crashed mysteriously, cockpit voice recorders as well. The passenger jets crashed almost simultaneously after taking off from a Moscow airport late yesterday. Authorities downplaying the possibility of terrorism, but say the investigation continues. We'll go live to Moscow in 30 minutes' time.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now from the Pentagon as we wait for the release of a report for the second time in two days. We're awaiting on a new report on the hows and whys of Abu Ghraib, this one by Army Major General George Fay. As you know, we've been calling it the Fay Report.

It's expected to lay out much of the blame for inmate abuse and humiliation on U.S. Army intelligence. When the Army major general comes to the podium, along with other commission members, we will take that live, and let you know the results of the second report to come out with regard to the investigation into Abu Ghraib Prison -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Dramatic developments at the U.S. military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an Australian suspect who allegedly fought for the Taliban brought before the panel on war crimes charges.

Details now from Susan Candiotti, live now from Gitmo.

Hello, Susan.


Yes, that proceeding is just now back after a lunchtime recess. It's in that building you can see over my shoulder. The question is, how did a former Australian cowboy, to hear the Pentagon tell it, wind up fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks. That is one of the charges against Aussie David Hicks, the attempted murder of coalition forces.

He is appearing before a five-member military commission, the second of four so-called enemy combatants scheduled to appear this week. Hicks has been held in Guantanamo since early 2002, since his capture in Afghanistan. He has been able to escape his orange prison uniform this day in favor of a tailored-blue suit. He is clean shaven. He has been politely answering the questions of the commission, simple ones, such as, "Are you satisfied with the military appointed attorney representing you?"

Hicks is also the only one who is also hired his own American attorney. Hicks' family flew here to Guantanamo yesterday to be here to observe the proceedings. They're not happy with them at all. His father denies his son is a terrorist.


LT. SUSAN MCGARVEY, TRIBUNAL SPOKESWOMAN: People saw how the prosecution was able to present their side of the story, the defense could present their side of the story, and the panel and the presiding officer would hear all the issues and address them fairly. So I think that, as this plays out, people will see it as a full and fair trial.


CANDIOTTI: That was a spokesman for the U.S. military who was defending the fairness of the proceedings here. Finally, we can tell you that Hicks did have an opportunity to meet for 15 minutes with his father and his stepmother before the proceedings began this day. It was the first time they had seen each other in about five years. And we are also told that meeting was not monitored, that he did have physical contact with his family, and that he will have an opportunity to meet with them again for about a half hour at the end of the day.

Back to you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Susan Candiotti, Guantanamo Bay, thank you -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Want to take you back to Crawford, Texas. Jill Dougherty standing by with more on of course the meeting. We are waiting for Max Cleland and the president with regard to this memo.

Jill, what's the latest?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kyra, I'll tell you, this is really developing into quite a little story. Again, Max Cleland, former senator, on his way, and now in Texas here, trying to deliver a letter from veterans who are senators to President Bush.

And in that letter, they are saying, President Bush, you should denounce this Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who have been putting together those attack ads. So, Max Cleland takes the letter to the ranch, wants to meet with the president. The president delegates the Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to greet Max Cleland. And Patterson says, you can give me the letter. But Max Cleland says, no, I don't want to give you the letter, I want to give the president the letter. And in lieu of that, I'll give it to the Secret Service, and they can get it to the president.

But apparently Patterson says, no. So, the stand-off develops. Max Cleland is now on his way over here to where we are. This is the Crawford Middle School where all the media are in their filing center. He was expected to make some statements, and now we have apparently Patterson, who has a letter of his own -- this is the Bush supporter -- on his way with a letter from Bush supporters who are Vietnam veterans that he wants to give to Max Cleland. So, they are both on their way here, and I presume will be talking to us very shortly.

Hope you can follow that, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: It reminds me of, you know, passing notes in school back and forth. It's kind of confusing.

All right. So, let me ask you two questions. Do we know how far Max Cleland will go? I mean, I want to ask you, could this get ugly? Are we going to see some type of confrontation here? And has the president come forward and said in no way will he come face to face with Max Cleland?

DOUGHERTY: Right. Well, you know, the question here is -- Cleland said -- Senator Cleland said that he was hoping that this actually would put an end to all of this. But obviously it isn't, because you have this political theater going on of exactly what we described.

And the problem is the essence of it isn't dying out, that it's a very complicated story. And so, you continue to get developments and developments. Don't forget, you know,one of the lawyers for the Bush campaign resigned today because he was advising legally members of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- Mr. Ginsburg.

So, it continues because there are so many details to all of this that are constantly coming out.

PHILLIPS: Drama unfolds, the political theater -- we'll continue to cast the characters. Jill Dougherty there in Crawford. Thanks so much -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. From a political circus to a legal circus we go. Amber Frey has left the building for now. Scott Peterson's former mistress has concluded her testimony at his murder trial. The court hears from a police wiretap expert today.

The latest from CNN's Rusty Dornin in Redwood City -- Rusty.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, there are a lot more empty seats in the courtroom than there has been for the last week-and-a-half.

We've been hearing phone calls that were recorded by Amber Frey in cooperation with the Modesto Police Department during her testimony. But now we're hearing from a wiretap investigator who was also recording his calls. Scott Peterson did own several cell phones. They were tapping into those.

The ones that we've been hearing this morning were in early January, right about the time that the police were looking in San Francisco Bay searching there and found a boat anchor. Conversations are between Scott Peterson and his parents and some friends. Two different conversations: He lies to his mother and his father about where he is. He says he's in Bakersfield. One time he was up in Berkeley, another time he was in in Gilroy, which is still sort of in the Bay Area.

He also says the police department called him and told him about these anchors. That was not true; the police never called him. He actually heard it from his -- from Sharon Rocha who called him. Also, he lied to Sharon Rocha about where he was.

Prosecutors say they want to prove that, you know, he wasn't reacting as he should have, that he wasn't telling the truth and those sorts of things. All during these calls, Defense Attorney Mark Geragos was objecting to various things, especially an anchor -- apparently Brent Rocha did ask Scott Peterson didn't he make some anchors. Mark Geragos objected to that. He didn't want so see the word anchor on the screen. He didn't want it introduced.

We're also going to be hearing a tape of when Scott Peterson calls a realtor and wants to sell the house. Those are the calls that will be coming up. The court is in recess right now -- Miles?

O'BRIEN: CNN's Rusty Dornin, thank you very much -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Once again, we take you live to the Pentagon. At any minute now, we are expecting the second of two separate independent investigations that were done into the abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

You'll remember yesterday that former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger came forward with reporters on his and his commission's independent investigation into what took place in Abu Ghraib. Now today just -- I'm being told less than a minute-and-a-half away -- by a another investigation by Army Major General George Fay.

He is expected to lay out much of the blame for inmate abuse and humiliation on U.S. Army intelligence, getting specific about the intel that came from those that were working in the Abu Ghraib Prison all the way up to the Pentagon ranks in that chain of command.

We're going to take you there live as soon as they step up to the podium -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's go over to Jill Dougherty, who is standing by in Crawford, Texas. She's been watching a little political theater unfold there. And no doubt, the Bush White House of course watching this report drop in at the Pentagon very closely, as well.

Lots of things to keep track of these days in an election year, isn't there, Jill?

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely, Miles. And this one is happening very quickly. Again, just a brief update. Max Cleland -- the senator, supporter, of course, of Senator Kerry -- comes with a letter that he wants to give to the president personally. The president doesn't greet him, but sends out the Texas Land Commissioner to greet him and take the letter. But Max Cleland won't hand it over to him. He wants to give it directly to the president or maybe even to the Secret Service who could give it to the president.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are preparing their own letter. This is coming from the campaign signed by some Congressmen who support -- and are Vietnam veterans -- who support President Bush. So, nobody actually ended up delivering either message, either letter.

And they are on their way -- in fact, Max Cleland just arrived here at the school where we are. The reason they're here is because this is where the media and the cameras are. And he presumably will be answering some questions. And then, we understand that the Texas Land Commissioner is not far behind him -- I'm sure with his own statement -- Miles?

O'BRIEN: Jill, I got to ask: How it that the poor Texas Land Commissioner got the tap for this one? This is not necessarily in his job description, is it?

DOUGHERTY: I guess not, Miles. But you know, when you're out here at the ranch, you have to kind of ask people to help you out. And actually, I do not know specifically why he asked him -- could be a friend; obviously a supporter. But he felt that that would be the right way to do it.

Obviously, President Bush has been trying to stay out of this as much as he can. He's been asked and, in fact, demanded from the Kerry campaign to denounce the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by name. And he hasn't done that, although he did say that he wants an end to all of those 527 groups that put together these attack ads. And he did even get to the point where he said "that ad."

But here I think it's the president wanting to not insult a former senator, but also not wanting to get involved in it either.

O'BRIEN: You know, it is interesting to me that Max Cleland and company say they want to end this whole issue, and yet perpetuate it by doing just what we see now. So, clearly the Kerry campaign, for whatever reason, wants to keep this thing alive.

DOUGHERTY: Well, yes. You know, you'd have to -- as a natural question, Miles. And it would seem that they continue -- the Kerry campaign continues to say we want to get back to the issues, we don't want to talk about this anymore. And yet, this is obviously getting a lot of media coverage, coming right here.

So, you can -- I guess you'd have to ask the campaign what's the rationale behind this.

O'BRIEN: All right. Live pictures there, Max Cleland in his rented Cadillac as he prepares to disembark the vehicle, get into his wheelchair, and make his way over to reporters.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, they're about to release the report. I'm going to ask the control room -- what do you want to do here?

All right, we're going to stay with Max Cleland. We'll be monitoring General Fay as he releases the particulars of that report -- a second report in as many days detailing abuses, that whole scandal at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, Afghanistan, as well -- involving the U.S. Military. We're watching that one very closely for you.

Meanwhile, with Max Cleland on his way to reporters there, Jill, how close are you to where Max Cleland is right now?

DOUGHERTY: Oh, just -- I guess about 100 yards, but it's little out of our view from here. But I can watch pictures from our camera that's over there.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, so -- I mean, what we have here is a decorated Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs in that war, and it is obviously a difficult person to refute in any way harshly in this whole matter.

DOUGHERTY: Right. And the message that is coming from senator -- former Senator Cleland is that in impugning...

O'BRIEN: You know what, Jill, I think he's talking now. Do we have an open mike?


O'BRIEN: Do we have a mike? Can we hear him?


MAX CLELAND, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: ... and with Jim Rassmann, who credits John Kerry with saving his life.

These scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's credibility in war, his courage, his valor, are false, and George Bush is behind it.

That's why I tried to deliver a letter at the president's home and hand it to either him or one of his aides, but that was unsuccessful. And I'm sorry it was, because the letter is signed by some nine distinguished members of the United States Senate, all of whom have worn the uniform. One of them, Senator Dan Inouye, is the sitting -- only member of the Senate to be sitting there as a holder of the Medal of Honor. The question is, where is George Bush's honor? The question is, where is his shame? To attack a fellow veteran who has distinguished himself as -- in combat, regardless of the political combat involved, is disgraceful.

I know that. Hundreds of thousands and millions of veterans around America know that.

For those of us in the Vietnam era, we're having to go through Vietnam again.

We're having to go through the divisive aspect of politics dividing our nation and dividing us one from another. That is not what we ought to be doing in America. We can do better than that.

And Republicans, like Senator John McCain, who have been the subject of scurrilous attacks like this before, say this is dishonest and dishonorable. Others are speaking out across the nation.

This country can do better than this and I think on November 2nd, I think this country will do better than this.

But it's not really about an election. It's not really about candidates for elections. It's about our country. It's about the soul of our country.

If the president of the United States does not stick up for veterans who distinguish themselves in war when they come home, who will he stick up for?

So, this is a very serious issue with me, with members of the United States Senate with whom I've served, and those who wore the uniform in this country.

We can't let these attacks continue. It's one thing to provide political combat here in America; it's another thing to try to go behind somebody's military record and trash them in a campaign of character assassination.

Keep in mind, this president has gone after three Vietnam veterans in four years. That's got to stop.

This country is better than that.

He went after John McCain when he got behind. When McCain won the New Hampshire primary and came south to South Carolina, the slime machine got cranked up. The smear campaign started and McCain actually went on television and asked the president stop it -- he did not.

And then when the president came after me in Georgia in 2002, Chuck Hagel asked him to stop putting me up there on the television with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and they did not.

And now nine members of the Senate and millions of Americans around the country are asking George Bush to make one phone call to his friends here in Texas and say, "Stop this insanity."

This country does not need this at a time when we all need to be united against real terrorists abroad and a real threat to our country.

The president's trying to cover up the fact that we have a mess in Iraq, which he created. The president's trying to cover up the fact that there are 1.8 million jobs out there that are gone and were created by his misbegotten economic policies.

He's trying to cover up for the terrible presidency that he's given this country. That will be taken care of on November 2nd.

But I'm asking the president, nine members of the United State Senate are asking the president, the American people are asking the president to put a stop to this scurrilous attack on John Kerry's character.

I'd like to introduce...


CLELAND: And Jim Rassmann.

Jim, comments? Any comments?

RASSMANN: This isn't simply an attack like it was with Senator McCain and Senator Cleland. This is one where they couldn't even keep their stories together. This is one where they couldn't keep their act together, couldn't keep their lies straight, and they've been shown to be falsifying almost everything.

This is really bad, people. And I think the president is trying to get his way out of it by putting this in with all other 527s. This is not that way.

All he needs to do is make one statement that this is all fabricated, it's been shown to be in the press, and he needs to get rid of it. And he can do it, but so far he's refused.

QUESTION: Senator, can I ask? You've accused the president directly of trashing Senator Kerry's military service. You said that -- where is his honor and his shame?

CLELAND: That is correct.

QUESTION: But the president spoke several days ago here in Crawford, in fact very publicly praised his military service. How can you say that, when the president publicly has said that Senator Kerry should be proud of his record?

CLELAND: Because every day in the public press it's revealed more and more that people in the swift boat ads actually served on the Bush campaign. The lawyer for the Bush ads against Kerry actually is serving double-duty with the Bush campaign. It is unbelievable to me that the president can sit by idly and watch this happen while every day we have revelations that, number one, the swift boat ads are false and fraudulent in their attack against John Kerry, but that the president and his campaign are tied to them.

And that's exactly what's wrong here. It's not only dishonest and dishonorable, as John McCain has said, it's illegal.

Beyond that, we should not have this kind of politics going on in this country, and more and more people are reacting negatively against it and I think that they're going to show their feelings at the polls.

QUESTION: You were handed a letter when you were at the ranch just a short time ago by some other veterans who said, "You can't have it both ways, you can't build your convention around -- much of your campaign around your service in Vietnam and then try to say that only those veterans who agree with you have a right to speak out. There is no double standard for our right to free speech; we all earned it."

Do all veterans have a right to free speech?

CLELAND: Absolutely, and especially those who served with honor and bled on the battlefield. They do not deserve to be trashed by somebody who didn't go.

So we have a situation here, as I mentioned, where this president can put an end to this kind of politics in this country and we can go on with the business of dealing with the real questions surrounding Iraq, surrounding our challenge abroad.

But the president has created more enemies abroad than friends and lost more jobs here than he's created.

I mean, we're in deep trouble as a country. We don't need this kind of politics.

And that's one of the things that brought me to Crawford, Texas, carrying this letter from nine distinguished members of the United States Senate, all of which have worn the uniform, and one of which won the Medal of Honor, saying, Mr. President, please disallow these ads so we can get back to the real business of bringing our country up to speed and doing what we need to do, moving our country forward.

QUESTION: The Bush campaign called this a publicity stunt and nothing but political theater. How do you react to that?

CLELAND: Well, you know, it's genuine.

I mean, I'm one of the three Vietnam veterans that George Bush went after. He came to my state five different times and they ran millions of dollars worth of ads with me and Saddam Hussein up there. That's pretty good political theater.

And they went after John McCain in 2000.


CLELAND: And he's a POW. And now they're going after John Kerry.

The pattern is very clear, and George Bush can put a stop to it.

We're asking George Bush today to put up or shut up; to say, you know, I'm going to step forward and step up to the plate. And we ask him to do it right now and put an end to this.

QUESTION: He said he did denounce that ad. That's not good enough for you obviously?


CLELAND: He did not denounce that ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's flip-flopping. He's tells you one thing and does another thing -- flip-flop.

QUESTION: Senator, have you all tried to go back to McCain and ask him to do more? And what does this say about McCain, somebody you know who continues to campaign with George Bush given what McCain has said about this tactic?

CLELAND: John McCain is a distinguished American, an honorable man. And his politics are up to him.

But when these ads first came out, he realized that they were dishonest and dishonorable and he has continued to say so.

QUESTION: Senator, can you explain what the genesis of this trip was? Because yesterday, Senator Kerry gave a speech in New York that said, let's move on; let's discuss the issues of this campaign. And now you fly down here and draw further attention to the swift boat ads, further attention to this controversy.

What does the Kerry campaign want? Does it want us to focus on the swift boat ads, or does it want us to focus on the issues?

CLELAND: We want George Bush to put up or shut up. We want George Bush to stand up, come to the plate and say, "This is wrong." An attack on the valorous service of a fellow American is wrong.

And he is behind it, and his campaign is behind it. And so, the accountability rests at his door.

And these ads are still running and they should be taken off the air.


QUESTION: ... president about the other veterans. Are these swift boat veterans who are doing this? Are they dishonorable? Are they stooges for the Bush campaign? What...

RASSMANN: Let me answer that.

QUESTION: Please do.

RASSMANN: I was present during one of the incidents that they've brought into question. I was an eyewitness. I had bullets flying around me and now they're telling me that I'm a liar.

I am not a liar. I know it when a bullet comes near me.

I know that the crack over my head and the splashes in the water are just exactly what I say they are. And for these people to come out 35 years after the fact and lie as they're doing is unconscionable.

When we bring in the Bronze Star citation for Larry Thurlow that plainly says twice in the body of the narrative that he was under fire when he performed the acts for which he received the Bronze Star and that all the units were under fire; when we have people from the boats that were behind us from Don Rose's (ph) boat step forward and corroborate what we say and say we were under fire from both banks, it puts the lie to people like Thurlow. It puts the lie to people like Chenowith.

What they're doing is unconscionable, and George Bush is behind it.

CLELAND: Thank you all very much. Thank you all very much.

JERRY PATTERSON, TEXAS LAND COMMISSIONER: I'd like to say a few words. I'm Jerry Patterson. I spoke briefly back there, and I have a letter to give to...


O'BRIEN: All right, we are listening to Max Cleland, former senator from Georgia and former Lieutenant Jim Rassmann, a former Green Beret whose life was saved by John Kerry in the Mekong Delta in 1969. Although, that is a point of dispute, given what has all transpired here with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

I should tell you, we got an e-mail from somebody at the George Bush campaign, Taylor Griffin, saying -- we'll just quote, I'm going to read it to you.

"This is so frustrating. We would never go on the air and purposing, knowingly, and willingly lie. We are anchors correct. Can the president say it more clearly: He honors Senator Kerry's service, and all the groups, including this one, should stop advertising."

That's from Taylor Griffin with the Bush-Cheney campaign.


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