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Timothy McVeigh Asks for a Stay of Execution

Aired May 31, 2001 - 17:00   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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I am Judy Woodruff in Washington. We take you live now to Denver, where one of the attorneys for Timothy McVeigh, Nathan Chambers, talking to reporters about an application, just filed, asking for a stay of execution of Mr. McVeigh. Here's Nathan Chambers.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

NATHAN CHAMBERS, MCVEIGH ATTORNEY: ... we have requested that the execution now scheduled for June 11, be stayed. We requested this stay to allow us sufficient time to investigate, file and litigate a motion pursuant to civil rule 60B. Rule 60B is the procedural mechanism that would allow the district court to grant relief based upon fraud on the court.

The factual and legal basis for our petition is laid out in the petition that we filed. We will not at this time expand upon or explain further the arguments that are made in the petition. We will not argue the merits of our petition on the courthouse steps, but we will wait and make our arguments in front of Judge Matsch. At this time Mr. Tritico and I will be pleased to consider any questions that you may have.

QUESTION: Nathan, was the delay due to a broken Xerox machine?

CHAMBERS: That was part of it.

QUESTION: Thank you. What was the rest of it?

CHAMBERS: It was a substantial document. There's...

QUESTION: Did Mr. McVeigh want changes made?

CHAMBERS: He didn't.

QUESTION: Mr. Nigh said this morning that you received documents only yesterday. Is that correct?

CHAMBERS: That's correct.

QUESTION: Can you characterize those documents?

CHAMBERS: Other than to say that it's an FBI 302, I cannot. QUESTION: The Justice Department says those documents were not related -- directly related -- to the Oklahoma City bombing investigation?

CHRISTOPHER TRITICO: What was that?

QUESTION: The Justice Department said that the 302 document was not directly related to the Oklahoma City bombing investigation. Is that true?

TRITICO: Well we are not going to comment on exactly what the content of that 302 is. We can tell you it's a 302 and we believe that it has merit on Mr. McVeigh's case and we'll be litigating that when we get in front of Judge Matsch.

QUESTION: Any indication from Judge Matsch as to when you will have this hearing?

TRITICO: We haven't gotten any word yet on when we are going to have a hearing.

QUESTION: Nathan, what degree of confidence do you have that you have received all the documents that Mr. McVeigh is entitled to?

CHAMBERS: None.

QUESTION: Why?

CHAMBERS: All I can say is we have developed information, evidence, that leads us to believe quite strongly that we have not received all the documents. Our basis for that is in the petition that we have filed and we are not going to discuss it any further right now.

QUESTION: Do you think the government's guilty of fraud?

CHAMBERS: We are not going to argue the merits of our motion here. We have laid what we believe in our petition. It's on file, you can read what is in public and we will argue it in front of court.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRITICO: We haven't asked for any specific amount of time. We are going to wait until we get a hearing and see how it unfolds.

QUESTION: Are you guys going to get a hearing?

TRITICO: I am sorry?

QUESTION: How much time do you need?

TRITICO: We need all of the time -- all of the time it takes to get ready.

QUESTION: Which is?

TRITICO: We don't know yet.

QUESTION: Weeks? Months?

TRITICO: Maybe.

QUESTION: You indicated that there was some significant information. Can you talk about the specific information, what is significant about it?

CHAMBERS: No, we are not going to discuss the content or the substance of the documents that we have received. We think that it would be a violation of an order that's been in place of this case for a long time.

QUESTION: What did Tim say when you provided him with the information today?

CHAMBERS: We are not going to discuss -- I have not talked to him today. Our colleagues, Mr. Nigh and Mr. Burr did and they had a conference in Indiana and we're not going to discuss the nature of our dealings with our client.

QUESTION: You said that you asked for a stay and you said that there was a fraud on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that's the procedural mechanism under which you're filing this. Can you explain what the relationship is between the request for a stay and the fraud on the court?

CHAMBERS: Dan, it's in the pleadings. We are not going to argue it here.

QUESTION: Do you think you'll get a hearing?

CHAMBERS: That's going to be up to Judge Matsch. We don't presume to speak for...

QUESTION: You don't have an automatic right (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

QUESTION: Chris, a lot of people can't understand of what this is all about, why it's going on like this. Can you explain what you think is important for people to understand about the process at this point?

TRITICO: Yes, I think it's important for everybody to understand that the Constitution works for everybody and the government has a responsibility and an obligation to ensure that every citizen get a fair trial. That's what this process is all about.

QUESTION: The attorney general characterized some of these documents in basically trivializing some the nature of some the documents. Can you comment of what he has said about the documents, if it's true...

TRITICO: I have no intention to get into a public debate with General Ashcroft. We will address General Ashcroft's comments when we get into the courtroom. But I am not going to stand out here on the street and argue with the attorney general. I don't agree with him, but I am not going to argue with him.

QUESTION: Are you at all concerned that Timothy McVeigh is sort of trying to become a hero here, referring to it today as based on principle as opposed to personal reasons. It sounds like Timothy McVeigh's trying to defend the rights of Americans and I think that some people find that offensive.

TRITICO: Well, I don't -- I don't know how you can find it offensive that anybody would stand up for the principles outlined in the Constitution whether it's Timothy McVeigh, me, Nathan Chambers or anybody else.

CHAMBERS: Thanks.

WOODRUFF: Well, as INSIDE POLITICS gets under way, as you see, we went straight to Denver where attorneys for Timothy McVeigh have just announced that they have filed an application seeking a stay of his execution -- the execution has been scheduled for June 11 -- because of documents that they say have been withheld, still being withheld by the FBI.

They say this case requires another look. Let's go now to Terre Haute, Indiana where CNN's Susan Candiotti is outside the prison where Timothy McVeigh is being held -- Susan.

CANDIOTTI: Hello, Judy. It was here this day that two of McVeigh's other attorneys met with him for two hours and where he signed off on that motion to try to stop his June 11 execution date. Now, we have more information from you that I have learned regarding the controversy surrounding this latest document turned over by the government to the McVeigh defense team that Mr. Nathan Chambers cited just a little while ago.

That is called a 302 form, filed by the FBI. It is a summary of an interview. Now McVeigh's lawyers say that this is evidence, once again, since they got it within the last 24 hours, that the government still hasn't turned over additional information to them. However, I have learned, according to a source, well-informed source, in this matter, that indeed, here's what that document is all about.

It was an interview that was conducted by a now former FBI agent years ago after the Oklahoma City bombing. The interview is said to have been done with one of McVeigh's defense investigators. However, the sources say, this interview had nothing to do with the Oklahoma City bomb case. So that indeed would be new information. The government publicly insists as well that the case had nothing to do with the Oklahoma City bombing, but would not in any other way categorize what the information was all about.

And so, now what we have before us is this new filing, a 340-page motion, 300 pages of it have to deal with exhibits, and now it is before trial Judge Richard Matsch. He must decide what to do next. He can ask the government for a written reply, or he may indeed grant this evidentiary hearing before deciding whether to issue a stay.

But everyone expects, all legal experts do, that Judge Matsch will probably make a decision quickly, because that's the way that he operates and after all, the execution, come tomorrow, is just 11 days away. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Susan Candiotti reporting from Terre Haute, Indiana. And again, Timothy McVeigh's attorneys apparently alleging that there has been what they call a fraud upon the court, and therefore this case is wide open once again. All right, now lets bring in our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. Kelli, what is the Justice Department saying about all of this?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, the Justice Department still insists that all relevant information has been turned over to Timothy McVeigh's defense team. Now, as for the latest document that McVeigh's lawyers say was turned over just yesterday, Justice says that was from another investigation totally unrelated to the Oklahoma City bombing. But it was turned over anyway in the interests of caution. That document is under seal.

In response to McVeigh's request for a stay of execution, Attorney General John Ashcroft released a statement. It reads in part, quote, "The Department of Justice is prepared to oppose vigorously any attempts to by Timothy McVeigh to overturn his conviction and sentence or to force a new trial. No document in this case creates any doubt about McVeigh's guilt or establishes his innocence."

Now on justice source tells -- says that the department expects to be asked by the court to submit a statement before a decision is made on whether to grant a stay of execution. The source also says lawyers at justice have been working on that argument in anticipation of this latest move by McVeigh's defense team -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Kelli Arena, thank you very much. I know that you are following the story very closely.

Well, joining us now to talk about the McVeigh case and slip-ups by the FBI, former Attorney General Janet Reno. She joins us from Florida, where she is considering a run for governor. And we are going to talk about that in just a few moments. But Ms. Reno, I would like to begin with today's story, namely the request by attorneys for Timothy McVeigh that his execution be postponed, that this case be opened up again. Are you surprised by what they've done?

JANET RENO, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I can't comment because I have not been briefed on the matter.

WOODRUFF: Is the government case, Ms. Reno, undermined in any way by the fact that these documents were either not turned over or, for whatever reason, were not a part of this case when the trial took place?

RENO: I cannot comment because I have not been briefed on what the documents are, and what the nature of the information is.

WOODRUFF: Well, aside from the specifics of this case, let me just ask you this: His attorneys are talking about what they call a fraud upon the court. They're saying it's an old doctrine that says, basically -- and I know that you are familiar with it -- that when a court has -- a fraud upon the court has been perpetrated by one of the parties to a legal proceeding, a judgment by the court is thereby deemed to be void. Is this something that is appropriate in a situation like this?

RENO: Judy, I have not read the pleadings, and one thing I've learned long ago, never comment on something that you haven't read.

WOODRUFF: Is there any comment you can make at this point, Janet Reno, about...

RENO: No...

WOODRUFF: ...about the McVeigh situation?

RENO: No, I don't think that it's appropriate because it is pending. I have not been briefed since I left office, and I think it would be better for the matter to be determined in court.

WOODRUFF: All right, let me just quickly then turn to another story that's very much in the news today, and that is, accused FBI counterspy Robert Hanssen pleading not guilty to some 21 counts of espionage. Now, he has requested a jury trial, and my question is: should the government continue to push for the death penalty in this case?

RENO: That would clearly be inappropriate for me to comment on. That's something that the attorney general should address.

WOODRUFF: As I know you know, Ms. Reno, the FBI director Louis Freeh opposed the death penalty, but your successor as attorney general, John Ashcroft has asked for the death penalty. There are those in the intelligence community who say, someone like Robert Hanssen needs to be under for whatever information may come up later. Do you have a view on this one way or another?

RENO: No, I don't. I think that -- again, before we make a judgment...

WOODRUFF: Well, let's...

RENO: ...on the requesting the death penalty that you should have all the facts before you.

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we -- can understand why some of this may be delicate for you to comment on. But -- you can understand why we are asking the questions.

RENO: Yes, you have learned after eight years that I don't comment on pending matters and particularly where I have not been briefed.

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we are going to continue this conversation with former Attorney General Janet Reno and get to a subject that I think she will want to answer some questions on after a short break.

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