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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Aired May 20, 2003 - 21:00   ET

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

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. His first interview since his cousin, convicted killer Michael Skakel broke his silence in "People" magazine. RFK Jr. says they got wrong guy for the savage murder of Martha Moxley.
In his life of privilege he's known tragedy all too well. Son of a slain senator, nephew of an assassinated president. He'll talk all about it in an intense exclusive hour.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE tonight, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. -- we call him Bobby -- the son of Robert F. Kennedy, nephew of the nation's 35th president. He's a prominent environmental lawyer, a senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, president of the Water Keeper Alliance, an avid writer -- his articles have appeared in major publications like "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" -- and a former assistant district attorney in New York City.

Lots to talk about tonight. The first thing we'll discuss is his first cousin, Michael Skakel, who's in jail serving a sentence for killing Martha Moxley, about which Bobby Kennedy wrote a major article for "The Atlantic Monthly."

How did you get involved in this, I mean, other than he was your cousin? Is that what drew your interest?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR., COUSIN MICHAEL SKAKEL SERVING 20 YRS. TO LIFE FOR MURDER: Well, yes, I knew -- in terms of me writing the article?

KING: Yes.

KENNEDY: Yes. I've known Michael very well. We didn't know each other much as kids. Our families were a little bit estranged. They were very -- the Skakels were very Republican and were not -- they were not close to us when we were growing up.

But I got to know him when I got sober in 1983, and Michael had already been sober a few years. He's sober now for I think 21 years. And I developed a very close friendship with him.

Ever since the accusations started -- Michael in the original murder was never a suspect. He was -- he has an airtight alibi. He was eight miles away...

KING: They were kids, right?

KENNEDY: They were kids. He was -- he had just turned -- he had just turned 15 two weeks before, and he was a tiny, little kid. He had a 20-inch waist. He actually weighed less than Martha Moxley. He was the smallest kid in his class, the smallest kid at camp.

KING: And he wasn't a suspect.

KENNEDY: He was not a suspect, because he was -- the murder took place at 10:00. He left the house with four witnesses at 9:30, and they went over to their cousin's house, the Terrien's house, eight miles away to watch the American premiere of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," which was a TV show that one of my cousins, Rush Skakel, had seen when he was England -- living in England. And it was premiering in the United States, and he got them all to come over to their house to watch it.

They came back from that house at 11:30. Martha was already dead. And there were four witnesses that he was at the house at the time, and there...

KING: And he was not with her at the time.

KENNEDY: No, that he was at -- that he was eight miles away.

KING: Right.

KENNEDY: And Johnny Skakel, his brother, who was one of those witnesses, was tested by polygraph and passed the polygraph. And they just thought -- he was never regarded as a serious suspect.

KING: So, for years this murder went unsolved, right?

KENNEDY: That's right. And Michael was also tested on sodium pentothal, which is truth serum. And he also -- he also passed that.

So -- and I knew that Michael didn't do it, because I have a very close relationship with him. And I also knew he couldn't have done it, because I knew all of the other people who had seen him elsewhere at that time.

KING: How did he get convicted?

KENNEDY: Anyway, I didn't want to write this article. It was the worst thing for me -- you know, for my -- it wasn't a good career choice for me. It's kind of a sidetrack. And, you know, to associate myself with this crime and with somebody, who 99 percent of the American public at that time believed that there was no question that he had did it, was something that probably was not, you know, a prudent career choice for me. But I knew he was innocent, and I had a unique perspective, where I saw the way -- the exact way in which he had gotten railroaded and convicted.

And I tried for years to get another reporter, an independent reporter, who didn't have the paint to be kind of biased that I would have because I was his cousin, to write this article. But the one thing that they all wanted was access to the Skakel family, and the attorneys for Tommy Skakel had ordered all of the Skakels not to talk about the crime with each other or with anybody else. So, I couldn't deliver that.

And so, after he was convicted, I did what he would do or what anybody else would do, which was...

KING: And are you saying he was railroaded?

KENNEDY: Absolutely.

KING: By?

KENNEDY: He was -- he was railroaded through really by -- partially by the press, led by two writers, Mark Fuhrman and Dominick Dunne, who wrote articles.

Dominick Dunne wrote a series of books suggesting that a member of the Kennedy family had done this. He wrote a book called, "Season in Purgatory," I think in 1993. Then he did a miniseries on it. He went around the country appearing on this show and many others, and saying very, very clearly that Tommy Skakel had committed the crime.

Then he kind of turned the case over -- he gave some evidence over to Mark Fuhrman, who he had met at the O.J. Simpson trial. And Mark Fuhrman wrote a book saying that Michael Skakel had committed the crime.

KING: "Murder in Greenwich," right? Is that the book...

KENNEDY: Right.

KING: ... or something like.

KENNEDY: And he concluded that Michael Skakel must have committed the crime.

And those books put tremendous pressure, and the appearances on TV put tremendous pressure, on the Connecticut state prosecutors to do something, to take some action. And there was a series of suspects, many of them who had much greater evidence against them than any of the Skakels.

But if they had -- they were in a position where if they prosecuted anybody but a Skakel that it would look like they were kowtowing to the Skakel family, and that is the portrait that had been painted by Fuhrman and Dunne in their books...

KING: But once the trial begins, they've got to produce evidence, right? I mean, how did they convict him? Dunne didn't testify. Fuhrman didn't testify. They may have spurred it. But why did -- why was that case, from your point of view, lost?

KENNEDY: Michael was not well-represented in terms of his counsel, and there was a lot of evidence that there were -- there was evidence -- there was a lot of evidence that the jury didn't see. And the witnesses for Michael were not prepared. I think Michael had an attorney who was a very affable fellow, but...

KING: Mickey...

KENNEDY: Mickey Sherman. But that he was overconfident in this case. He believed that he could not lose this case. He believed his client was innocent, that another person was guilty, and that there was no way that the jury could -- or the prosecutors could surpass the threshold of reasonable doubt.

KING: You did this article sort of like investigating it yourself, right? You had a point of view, but you questioned many people, didn't you?

KENNEDY: I had a point of view. I went in knowing that Michael Skakel was innocent, and knowing what the sequence of events that had ended up with essentially a miscarriage of justice, how he got prosecuted and how he got convicted of a crime that he didn't commit.

And it's hard for me to talk about it in, you know, in a seven or eight minute sound byte, which is why I haven't done television on it, with one exception which was "48 Hours."

And what I would urge people to do who are interested in the crime is to go read my "Atlantic Monthly" piece. I had a lot of magazines bidding for this piece, but I chose "The Atlantic Monthly," which offered me considerable less than any of the other ones, because of their reputation for scrupulous fact-checking.

The article does not rest on my credibility. It rests on the recitation of facts, the layer upon layer of facts which were scrupulously and rigorously and painfully fact-checked by "The Atlantic Monthly." And I don't it's possible to read that article and to go away still believing that Michael Skakel committed this crime.

KING: Of course, you present a very strong case. Did you contact people involved with the other side? Did you contact Dominick Dunne? Did you contact Mark Fuhrman? Did you contact any people associated with the prosecution?

KENNEDY: I contacted -- I contacted other people who -- or tried to speak to other people, who were suspects in the case. I did not speak to the prosecution. And I didn't speak to Dominick Dunne or Mark Fuhrman, because their points of view are clear, they're on the table, and their factual recitations are patently false, which can be...

KING: Their scenario is false.

KENNEDY: Right, absolutely and demonstrably false. And if you read my piece, it demonstrates why they're false.

KING: Someone mentioned that the difficult part was in the tape -- the thing that convicted him was the tape recording. KENNEDY: Right.

KING: And that that tape recording was somehow -- was it doctored or they edited it?

KENNEDY: Oh, what happened was that Michael, when he had come back at 11:30 at night, had been high. He had been smoking pot, and he had been drinking. And he went out and he peeped through windows of women, including what he thought was Martha Moxley's window. But it was actually -- it turned out to be her brother's window. And he thought for years that it was Martha Moxley's.

He didn't tell that to the police at the outset for obvious reasons. He was a teenager...

KING: Embarrassed.

KENNEDY: ... and they didn't question him very thoroughly anyway.

But he did tell immediately after that his aunt, who was a nun, and he talked about it almost compulsively for years and years.

So, that -- you know, that was one of the principal things that was -- the discrepancy in those stories was one of the principal things that was used to convict him.

Now, what happened was that he recited that story in a tape- recorded interview with a writer, who was going to do a biography of his life. And he described an event, where Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy Moxley, came to his door the next morning and woke him up.

And he described his mental state then. He said, I was panic- stricken, because I thought maybe she had seen me. And he was talking about seeing her -- him looking through the window.

KING: Right.

KENNEDY: And he says on the tape, I was panicked. I thought maybe they had seen me. I was so embarrassed, and I was panicked.

And the way that the prosecutor used then is he played that tape, and Michael's words appear on script while the tape is being played, and the word "panicked" and other key words explode in kind of red blood...

KING: Like, "I did it."

KENNEDY: ... while he's doing it.

Plus, they are showing underneath, they're showing pictures of Martha Moxley's body. And anybody who sees this tape is going to assume that he's confessing to the crime, and that he panicked because he committed the crime. But he is really talking about a completely different event. Now, Leslie Stahl did a piece on this at CBS, and went and looked at the tape herself and went through the scenario about how it was misused to deceive the jury. And she confronted Jonathan Benedict. And it's a very fair program. It wasn't sided towards me. She confronted Jonathan Benedict, who's the prosecutor, and said, if I did this at CBS, they would fire me, because this is about deceit. You were trying to deceive someone.

KING: Well, didn't Mickey point that out to the jury in summation?

KENNEDY: Mickey couldn't -- first of all, Mickey couldn't point that out, because the prosecutor was very clever. What he did was -- the rules say that the prosecutor gets the -- the prosecutor gets the original summation. Then the defense gets a rebuttal. Then the prosecutor gets to rebut the rebuttal.

KING: Right.

KENNEDY: Well, the prosecutor did not play that tape until his second rebuttal. Therefore, Mickey Sherman had no opportunity after that to go in and explain that to the jury...

KING: Could he have done...

KENNEDY: ... and Mickey, unfortunately, didn't object.

KING: Didn't object.

KENNEDY: He didn't object, which he should have at the time. And now, there's a question about whether that can even be an issue for appeal, because many of the objections that should have been made during that trial were never made and they weren't preserved. And as a result, Michael's chances on appeal are dramatically diminished.

KING: Do you have a suspect?

KENNEDY: I don't know who committed the crime, Larry, and nobody else does, except for the person who committed it. I do know that there are a number of people who have much stronger evidence against them than Michael Skakel. One person in particular who was...

KING: Ken Littleton is one you had mentioned.

KENNEDY: Well, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to mention any names. But one of the persons -- people who was a -- who worked for the Skakels and lived in the house at the time and who has admitted that he was within feet of the murder outside alone at the time the murder took place, has failed five separate lie detector tests. He has refused to take sodium pentothal...

KING: That is Ken Littleton.

KENNEDY: ... which -- right -- which all of the -- which all the Skakels did. He has -- he's been -- he has changed his alibi five times. And he has -- he's been in and out jail since, and he's been associated with...

KING: Why wasn't he...

KENNEDY: ... a series of other murders that are very, very similar to this one.

KING: Why wasn't he investigated?

KENNEDY: He was investigated, and he was the primary suspect for many years. But following the publication of Dominick Dunne's book and Mark Fuhrman's book, he was granted immunity and Michael Skakel...

KING: Well, since he had immunity, he's completely clear. Even if he did...

KENNEDY: He's immune for life. If he comes out and confesses to the crime today...

KING: If he says, I did it, they can't do anything to him.

KENNEDY: ... they can't do anything to him.

KING: How is Michael doing?

KENNEDY: He is -- Michael's a very social person, and he has been -- and he really needs human contact. And he has been pretty much in isolation I think for 23 hours a day. And he's had some health problems. And he -- you know, he misses his son. He has not seen his son since he went to prison. He has a 3-year-old boy.

KING: Who's doing the appeal for him?

KENNEDY: Hope Seeley. And the Skakel family has tremendous confidence in her.

KING: And does she have confidence in the appeal?

KENNEDY: I think she thinks it's a tough case, because most of the appealable objections were not preserved.

KING: Really?

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: So, this was, in your opinion, lost legally?

KENNEDY: Yes. This is a case that should never have been lost. I mean, there was so much reasonable doubt here. There were clearly other suspects with tremendous amounts of -- you know, the chief investigator for 25 years on this crime, who's the chief police officer in Connecticut, he's the chief of investigation for the state of Connecticut. He's now the police chief of the town of Easton, and he's the head of the Police Chiefs Association of Connecticut.

He's the most -- you know, he's probably the most prestigious police officer in the state. And he investigated the crime for 25 years, and he does not believe that Michael Skakel did it. He believes that an innocent man is in jail.

KING: A few more things on this, and then we're going to touch other bases.

What about purported reform school confessions?

KENNEDY: Well, if you look at the so-called confessions, most of them weren't confessions. In fact, there's only one real confession, and that's to this fellow Coleman, who first said that Michael confessed six times in front of other people.

Then when the other people came forward and said Michael did not confess, then he changed. He said that in front of the grand jury. Then when he went to the preliminary hearing, he said Michael confessed twice.

When Mickey Sherman said, why did you say six times the last time? He said, because I shot heroin just before I testified. He was in jail at the time. And Mickey Sherman said, how much heroin? And he said, I shot 25 bags just before I testified.

He admitted lying about it. His facts were all wrong. He said that Michael had told him on their first meeting -- you know, Michael never confessed to anybody who knew. He said that the first time he met him, Michael kind of threw out all of this stuff to him, and said that Michael had told him that he had gone to the garage and found a golf club and there was a big party at their house and then he had gone out into the woods.

Well there was no garage at the Skakels' house, and there was no party that night. So, all of this -- all of the facts were wrong. He admitted later that he had made up the story. And he died of an overdose prior to trial. But the judge allowed his taped testimony to be played in front of the jury.

KING: That's appealable maybe.

KENNEDY: I would think so. Although, again, I don't believe that the objection was preserved.

KING: You don't sound optimistic about winning this appeal.

KENNEDY: Well...

KING: Unless you find who did it, and if the guy who got the immunity did it, he's going to stay in jail.

KENNEDY: That's a possibility.

KING: How's the -- oh, let me get a break and come back.

We'll be right back with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Lots more to talk about. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DORTHY MOXLEY, MARTHA MOXLEY'S MOTHER: The Skakels have very good lawyers. Mr. Margolis would not let anybody talk to the Skakels for years. And Mr. Kennedy says that the Skakels cooperated. They cooperated until they realized that the boys were suspects.

And in the beginning Tommy was the suspect because we believed Michael's alibi. But then Michael, Michael destroyed his own alibi.

So, you know, justice was served, I think. I really believe that Michael Skakel killed my daughter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Just a couple of things on that, and then I want to go to other bases.

How has Ethel taken all of this, your mom?

KENNEDY: My mother loves Michael Skakel, and she also knows that he's innocent. When she heard about his conviction, she wept. And that's the first time that I had ever seen her cry in my life.

KING: Why do you think Dominick Dunne has been so vituperative on this?

And that's the first time you've seen her cry?

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: Really?

KENNEDY: I think -- you know, Dominick Dunne is what Dominick Dunne is. He's not a journalist. He's a gossip columnist, and he entertains people. That's how he makes his money. And he has this formula, where he finds notorious crimes, and he connects them to wealthy people. And it's a formula that's worked very well for him, it's produced a whole bunch of miniseries and best sellers. And it's a formula that has appeal to the public.

The problem is he doesn't really even pretend to be accurate. You know, if you read his columns in "Vanity Fair," he is always talking about rumor says this and rumor says that and I heard this from -- you know, from an anonymous source.

The problem is that -- and that's irresponsible and it's damaging and it causes -- you know, it's really almost -- it's almost criminal in the kind of harm and damage that it causes to people's reputations.

And he did the same thing to Lily Safra. He accused her of killing her two husbands, which, you know, now he admits wasn't true. He's done it to a whole lot of people.

And the problem is that he is given a platform on shows just like this one -- not just this one, but many others -- to come on and say this stuff that he is willing to do -- he's willing to say these things when most journalists would be circumspect and careful.

KING: Is it hard because you're in it? Is it a plus or a minus to be a Kennedy?

KENNEDY: For me -- well, I think every member of my family would consider it a huge plus. I mean, we've had...

KING: It wasn't a plus in Connecticut.

KENNEDY: Well, Michael Skakel isn't a Kennedy either. I mean, you know, his relationship to the Kennedy family is tenuous, and he was -- so he got none of the benefits out of being a Kennedy ever in his life.

But he got all of the, you know, kind of the costs. He shouldered the costs. So it's kind of -- it's ironic for him, because he's a -- you know, he's a guy, the Skakels have their own family pride and they -- as I said, their own identity...

KING: So they don't have a Kennedy advantage?

KENNEDY: No.

KING: Where -- let's discuss some other bases.

It was right around the time of your father's death, right?

KENNEDY: June.

KING: Yes. Where were you?

KENNEDY: I was...

KING: How old were you?

KENNEDY: I was 14-years-old and I was in prep school -- in boarding school at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda -- in Rockville, Maryland.

KING: You were where in the line of children?

KENNEDY: Third. I'm third of 11.

KING: How were you told?

KENNEDY: I was told by a priest, who woke me up. It was a Jesuit boarding school, and he woke me up.

KING: Because it happened early in the morning in California -- late at night in California.

KENNEDY: Late at night in California. And I was woken up maybe 5:00 in the morning, and I was brought down to -- there was a car waiting for me outside. I was put in the car and brought to an Air Force base and put on -- I guess it was U.S. One (sic) or it was Hubert Humphrey's plane -- it may have been U.S. Two -- and flown out to California.

KING: How did the priest...

KENNEDY: And at that point, my father was still alive. So, I was with my father when he died.

KING: Were you at the bedside?

KENNEDY: Well, my brother, Joe, was at the bedside. We sat with him all night and held his hands. And he was on respirators and stuff at the time, and then the little kids went to sleep and left my mother and Joe with my father. And Joe came in, in the morning, and said he's gone.

KING: How did the priest handle it, the priest who told you?

KENNEDY: The priest was -- he was -- you know, he was, get out of bed. And, you know, he was a tough priest who was sympathetic, but you know, I think he was used to tragedy.

KING: Your mother didn't cry then, or you weren't with her?

KENNEDY: I didn't see my mother cry during the time after my father died.

KING: She didn't cry during the service.

KENNEDY: No.

KING: What was it like at 14? That's a difficult age. You knew what death was, right?

KENNEDY: Yes. And my uncle had already died. So -- and my grandparents had been killed in an airplane crash. And so, we -- and other members of my family...

KING: The Kennedys know death.

KENNEDY: Right. I think that's true for most big families. There was a lot of -- you know, if you know enough people, if you have a big enough family, you're going to know people who have died.

KING: Not tragically, though. Most big families, yes, there are deaths, but not tragic deaths. I wonder if you ever get immune to it.

KENNEDY: You know, I don't think so. But I also -- I don't look at my life and I don't think anybody in my family looks at my life and say that we've experienced, you know, more than our share of tragedies. I don't...

KING: No?

KENNEDY: No. I think we had magical lives, and we had so many wonderful things happen to us. And I don't think anybody in my family has spent even a second or has ever spent a second feeling sorry for themselves. And you know, there -- I recognize and I've always recognized this. That when my father died, I had tremendous support. I had a family that loved me, that supported each other, that stuck together, that tried to maintain his values, and tried to propagate the values that he stood for.

And that his life seemed meaningful to me. It didn't seem like it was a waste, of seeing like -- you know, he was a soldier in a battle who had died for a cause, and that there is nothing, you know, ultimately and it's sad and it's tragic, but that's what life is about.

And that there's a lot of kids who were my age at the time you know, black kids in Harlem or Oakland or other places in the country, inner-city children, who had lost their fathers or brothers or whatever, to gunshot and they didn't have the support system that we had.

So, I never -- I always felt like we were very fortunate that -- you know, we had our share of sadness, which everybody has in their lives, but that we also had an extraordinary support system that most people don't have.

KING: A good way to put it.

What are your memories of your uncle?

KENNEDY: I have really great memories of Uncle Jack. He was -- I went to the White House a number of times to visit him.

At one point when I was a little kid, I wrote him. I had gotten new stationery for Christmas, and it had my name on the top of it. So, I wrote everybody I knew letters.

And I wrote him a letter that said, "Dear Jack, I would like to see you soon. Bye, Jack." And I still have a copy of the letter, because during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he took notes on the back of the letter at a cabinet meeting.

And Jackie, after he died, sent me the letter back, so I have this -- you know, I have the copy with his notes and doodles on the back about Castro.

But he invited me to the White House, and when I went -- I was always interested in animals from when I was a little kid. So, I brought him -- I went out and I caught a salamander. It was a big -- about a nine-inch spotted salamander. And I brought it to him, but I put in chlorinated water in a vase from my mother's house, and it died from the chlorination.

But when I got there, he was -- it was he and I were alone in the Oval Office, and I presented him with my gift, and he said, you know, it doesn't look well. And I said -- and he was poking at it with a pen to try to get it to move. And I said, no, it's just sleeping. It's fine. But he was saying, oh, it really doesn't look well to me.

KING: We'll be right back with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Lots more to talk about. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and we want to talk a lot about the environment as well, but a couple of other bases.

Your cousin, John, Jr. Where were you that terrible day?

KENNEDY: I was at -- I was on on the Cape actually waiting for John and Carolyn, and my wife -- it was my sister, Rory's, wedding, and John was flying up for the wedding. And my wife was very, very close to Carolyn, and we were going to -- we were going to spend time with them that night. So -- and then they just didn't show up.

KING: How did you find out about that?

KENNEDY: Well, by early that morning, I had...

KING: You had a suspicion.

KENNEDY: I had a deep feeling that they had -- that something bad had happened.

KING: Did you ever wonder why he flew? I mean, that night, you know...

KENNEDY: He had done it before, and...

KING: Oh, he had, in that time of day.

KENNEDY: Oh, yes. Yes, he had -- you know, he flew up there every weekend, so -- and he had bought the plane just for doing that, because he loved the Cape and he loved the Vineyard. And it was an easy way for him to get out of the city on Friday night, and not do a seven-and-a-half hour drive up there, but to fly his plane up.

KING: How much of your faith keeps you going?

KENNEDY: I would say -- I mean, that's the most important part of my life, I would say, is my faith, which I think, my God, it's the best gift I would say that my father and my mother gave to me and ...

KING: Never lost your faith in God though?

KENNEDY: No, no. I see God in my life, every day in my life, so I see confirmation of the existence of God. I have prayers that are answered within 24 hours reliably. I...

KING: You do?

KENNEDY: Yes. And I just see -- I see manifestations of divine intervention in my life every day. So that, for me, I feel like it would -- that I don't even need faith because I see so much evidence of the existence of a God in my life.

KING: Though don't you also see evidence of the non-existence, when you see death and floods -- don't you ever say, why?

KENNEDY: Well, I would ascribe the -- you know, the Catholic rationale of why there is evil in the world. There is -- you know, God made -- if there weren't evil, there would be no choices. And God gave human beings the gift of free choice, which means he had to create a world in which there was seduction and there was evil and that bad things could happen, and that we could choose between good and evil.

And so, you -- you know, you have to have a world where there is pain, and ultimately what I can see is that in all of the events, including the tragedies, the personal tragedies that happened in my life, in 99 percent of them it's very easy to see if you give God time that something good comes of all of them. In some of them it's difficult to see the good, but in that case you just do need faith. But most of them you can see the good that comes out of it, you know, within months or a short time.

KING: Before we get to the environment, you overcame a personal addiction, right?

KENNEDY: Right.

KING: To?

KENNEDY: To drugs and alcohol.

KING: How did you stop?

KENNEDY: I went to a 12-step program.

KING: Do you continue in it?

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: It's -- and so you are an addict?

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: Even though you've been sober for how long?

KENNEDY: In recovery.

KING: For how long?

KENNEDY: I've been sober for almost 20 years.

KING: But you still need that step tomorrow? You still need...

KENNEDY: Yes, and, you know, the 12-step program -- I have not had an urge or an impulse for a drug or a drink in 20 years. It's not something that's part of my life anymore.

But I still have a lot of other character defects and faults that I need a mechanism for dealing with, you know, anger, honesty, all of the things that all of us struggle with on a day-to-day basis. KING: We'll be right back with more of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

What got you -- you were an assistant district attorney, right?

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: Did you consider that -- in other words, what moved you into environmental issues?

KENNEDY: I was interested in the environment from when I was a little kid, from when I was 7 years old or even earlier. And I was -- I spent most of my time outdoors when I was a kid hunting and fishing from when I was 7. I started training hawks when I was 11 years old, and I still do that today. I just stepped down as president of the New York State Falconers Association. And I spent a lot of time fishing and, you know, I breed hawks and I have a wildlife rehabilitation center at my home.

But since I was a little kid -- in fact, when I was 7 years old, I went to my father -- or when I was 10 years old, I went to my father and said that I wanted to write a book on the environment on pollution.

And so, I was interested in it all of my life, and I started working for -- or doing pro bono work for these fishermen up in the Hudson Valley, legal worker. They were suing polluters on the Hudson River, and I started doing work for them, and I fell in with them and I've been working with them for 20 years, so they're really keepers.

KING: The late Phillip Wylie told me once that when you talk to people about generations not yet born, about the air they're going to breathe and that kind of thing, talking in one ear and out the other because man doesn't care about generations not yet born.

How would you answer that?

KENNEDY: I would say that that's true to a large extent, that our political leadership and our corporate leadership is driven by much more immediate concerns. They have short horizons. The politician is looking at the next election, and he doesn't look beyond it. His job is to get reelected. The CEO is looking at the next shareholders' meeting or dividend distribution, and his job counts on that.

What environmentalists do is we're not -- you know, our job is not to protect the fishes and the birds for their own sake, but to protect the interest of the next generation and having assets that enrich their community. These are community assets.

And what we do is we're really emissaries for those future generations. We try to inject their interests into the political debate...

KING: But isn't that hard? Because if the Wylie statement is true, that's hard.

KENNEDY: I think that that's right.

Well, I wouldn't say it applies to all people, because I think that most people have good values and they do feel an obligation to their children and the next generation. In fact, that's one of the impulses that drives, you know, ambition, is really to take care of the next generation.

But it is an impulse that is largely muted out in our political and economic process, that the present shouts and the future whispers. And our job really is to amplify the voice of the future.

KING: What about those who say, look, it's fine to say that, but we need oil, and we need smokestacks and as a community, we absorb that. So, it's fine to think of that, but we're still having to fill up the tank...

KENNEDY: I'll tell you what, Larry, a good economic policy 100 percent of the time is identical to good environmental policy. If we want to measure the economy based upon how it produces jobs over the generations and how it preserves community assets.

If, on the other hand, the people who are making those arguments are people who are saying -- you know, who have said, the only way we can fix our economy is by bringing more oil in, those are people who want to treat the planet as if it were business in liquidation, convert our natural resources to cash, have a few years of pollution- based prosperity, and you can do that and you can produce an instantaneous cash flow and the illusion of a prosperous economy.

But our children are going to pay for our joyride, and they're going to pay for it with the muted landscapes and poor health and huge cleanup costs that they're never going to be able to afford.

With oil, we have a lot of solutions that Congress has just, you know, passed a month ago now a $20 billion energy bill that is just a giant subsidy for big oil and big coal. And the biggest -- and those industries are already rolling in record profits. They've quintupled their profits since 1999. It's a gift to them, and it's a gift to Saudi Arabia. And it's not good for our economy, and it's not good for our national security.

What -- if we raised fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon, we'd get twice the oil that's in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If we raised it by seven miles per gallon, we'd get more oil than is now coming from the Mideast. We could eliminate all Mideastern oil import and the need to go to war in the Mideast and the need to spend $60 billion a year protecting those pipelines with military -- with our military might, if we just raised fuel efficiency by seven miles per gallon.

It makes economic sense. It makes national security sense. And that's what we ought to be doing.

KING: Why can't that be sold?

KENNEDY: Well, it can be sold to the American people, but a good energy policy, it can't be sold to Congress, because in the last election cycle, the energy companies with oil and gas put in $48 million into the Republican Party, including $3 million in direct contributions to President Bush.

As a result, we have two Cabinet secretaries -- where the president and vice president who come from that industry, two Cabinet secretaries and the six top officials, who all came out of the oil and coal and gas industries. And they are writing a national policy that benefits the oil and gas -- oil and coal companies, but is not any good for the public interests.

If you ask the public what they want, 65 percent of the people in the most recent Gallup Poll, both Republicans and Democrats, want less dependence on -- they want more conservation and stronger environmental laws; 7 percent want them weakened. But this administration is listening to the 7 percent of people, because those are the ones who made the campaign contributions.

KING: But doesn't the guy who head the oil company have children? And doesn't he want cleaner air?

KENNEDY: Of course. And that -- you know, but the problem is that -- and you wonder sometimes what goes through these people's heads.

But the problem is that if you look at his self-interest, his self-interest is in making a lot of money and then trying to find a place in the world where he can protect his children from the outcomes of -- you know, of the plunder that's now going on from those companies. So, even -- it is in his self-interest to make as much money as possible.

KING: We'll be right back with Robert F. Kennedy. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The environment was one of Al Gore's strengths. Did he use it enough in the campaign?

KENNEDY: No. And I think that was one of the disappointments that the environmental community had with Vice President Gore, who is my friend and I support. But I had advised him from the beginning, and I think it was a mistake that he didn't play to his strength, not only because people care about the issue and they need it articulated to them, but also I think it would have helped him because I think people had the impression that he didn't really stand for anything, and that I think that this would have persuaded people that he really did have some core beliefs. KING: Why do you put it on the line so much? I mean, you go; you get arrested. You stand out front. Why?

KENNEDY: I think the biggest fear that I have is doing something against my conscience, and not -- you know, living the kind of life that I think is going to make my children proud after I'm gone. So...

KING: So, if you need to stand in front of that plant, you stand in front of that plant.

KENNEDY: Right.

KING: How do you react when people call all of those people as kind of leftwing whackos?

KENNEDY: You know, environmental -- that's the way that industry discredits its opponents, because it doesn't want to argue the case on the merit, and you know, to me, there is no stronger advocate for free market capitalism than myself. I believe that the free market is the most efficient and democratic way of distributing the goods of the land, and that we should have property rights in this country. I think that's what an environmental advocacy is about establishing property rights, about protecting democracy, about protecting the free market.

If you look at pollution, -- you show me a polluter, I'll show you a subsidy. I'll show you a fat cat who is using political clout to escape the disciplines of free market. And every instance of pollution is also a violation of the free market.

And these are the values that I think that my father stood for, that I believe America stands for, there are central values that I think I share with most Americans, and I don't think it's leftwing and I don't think it's rightwing. I think they're very, very centrist, and I think they define our country, and that's what we ought to be fighting for.

KING: Do you think your Uncle Ted is as strong on this issue as you are?

KENNEDY: Yes, I do. I think -- I mean, he doesn't spend -- he doesn't spend -- he's got a lot of other issues that he's looking at and that he's fighting for all of the time. But on 99.9 percent of the phone calls that I make to him, he does what I ask him to do.

KING: Are you...

KENNEDY: There's a couple of times that we've disagreed, but, you know, he -- this is an issue that's close to his heart.

KING: Are you ever going to run for office?

KENNEDY: You know, I've thought about it in the past. I don't know the answer to that. I live my life one day at a time, and if at some point I believe that that's the way that I -- that's what I have to do to be most effective, I'll do it. KING: We'll be back with out remaining moments with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Who is the next rising Kennedy, politically?

KENNEDY: I -- there is a lot of them out there, and I would get in a lot of trouble if I picked one of them, but thanks for the offer, Larry.

KING: Were they always, the Kennedys, politically motivated? Your uncle who died in World War II...

KENNEDY: Right.

KING: ... Joe...

KENNEDY: And my great-grandfather...

My great-grandfather was Honey Fitz, who was the mayor of Boston.

KING: Honey Fitz, the mayor of Boston.

KENNEDY: Right. He used to describe himself as the greatest mayor Boston ever had, and...

KING: It's in your blood, isn't it?

KENNEDY: It's definitely part of our family culture, and it's what we talk about over the dinner table at home. It's what we talk about -- you know, I talk to my brothers and sisters almost every day, and my cousins as well, and I think all of us, that's one of the things that -- you know, that we talk about.

KING: Did you stay close to Jackie?

KENNEDY: Yes, she was my -- she was my son Conner's godmother. And John was my son Finbar's (ph) godfather. So -- and you know, I had a very close relationship.

KING: What's next, Robert? Any big thing on your agenda? We've only got a minute left.

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: I -- you know, right now we're fighting to get fuel efficiency in our automobiles, which is the best thing that we can do for our national security, and that's the best thing that we can do for our economy.

KING: It's always good seeing you, Robert.

KENNEDY: Good to see you again, Larry. Thanks for having me.

KING: Thanks, Bobby.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

I'll be back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN" is next. We'll be back with another great guest on the next edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

And we thank Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for this illuminating hour.

Have a great night, and good night.

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