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Legal Briefs with Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, Nelda Blair; 9/11 Commission Findings Still Political Hot Potato

Aired March 27, 2004 - 08:00   ET


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CO-HOST: SAN MIGUEL: If you're just joining us, good morning. It is Saturday, March 27. From the CNN center in Atlanta, this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING. I'm Renay San Miguel.
CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CO-HOST: Good morning, everyone. I'm Catherine Callaway. Thanks for being with us.

SAN MIGUEL: Coming up this hour, charge and counter charge about 9/11. The man who ignited a firestorm with a burning critique of Bush administration, still feeling the heat from a wave of criticisms. Still ahead, we'll tell you how the fight has reached a new fever pitch.

And could the Kobe Bryant trial be a cause for concern? We'll tell you how the spotlight of the trial may cause come women to avoid the glare.

And meet the Bushman, he's trying to scare up a little of your spare change, but not everybody likes his tactics.

First, though here are our headlines.

CALLAWAY: Another bombing in Iraq. Five Iraqis are wounded this morning by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. The powerful blast shattered windows in a nearby apartment building. And in Mosul, the U.S. military says the city hall was hit this morning by small arms fire in one or more rockets. Initial reports say that at least four people have been injured.

And in Taiwan, it is a sea of yellow rain coats and red flags, as demonstrators fill the streets of Taipei. The government says more than 450,000 people attended the rally there, supporters of the presidential challenger, Lien Chan, are protesting his defeat. And they demand a recount of the incumbent President Chen Shui-bian; he had a whisker thin victory just a week ago.

And the man who led U.S. forces to Saddam Hussein's hiding place reportedly was one of his closest bodyguards. The BBC reports that the man gave up Saddam's location after he was picked up by U.S. forces last December. However, the bodyguard will not receive the $25 million reward, because he didn't give up the information willingly.

SAN MIGUEL: Our top story this hour, in Washington, former counter terrorism chief Richard Clarke's 11 testimony is still a political hot potato. But President Bush stepped away from the controversy to take his reelection campaign to the southwest.

White House correspondent Dana Bash is at the president's ranch in Texas. She joins us now live with the latest.

Hi, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Renay. And the president was talking about the economy, he was talking about jobs and about the fact that he says that the economy is doing well. But meanwhile, back in Washington, the whole controversy over Richard Clarke has certainly, as you said, reached a new decibel level.

Senate Republicans have joined in the White House effort to try to discredit Mr. Clarke. They say what the former counter-terrorism aide says now in his book and on Capitol Hill, and what he said to Congress just a couple of years ago are quite different stories.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: It is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media, in front of the press. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress, it's a far, far more serious matter.


BASH: Now, what Senate majority leader Bill Frist is saying is that he wants to declassify some testimony that Richard Clarke gave to the congressional version of the inquiry of 9/1 that was back in 2002, because he essentially is saying that perhaps Mr. Clarke perjured himself. Now, they're not saying they want to prosecute him, necessarily, for perjury.

But the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, actually did get into the fray yesterday as well after really staying away from it for about a week. He said that essentially the White House should put up or shut up. If they do think Richard Clarke is contradicting himself under oath, that perhaps they should go after him for a perjury charge.

Now, so after a week of really high-level controversy, the story continues and will continue throughout the weekend. We will hear from Richard Clarke again tomorrow and also hear from the National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. She will be on the same program Richard Clarke was on last week, "60 Minutes," to try to tell her side of the story. Still a controversy over why she's not testifying in public before the 9/11 Commission -- Renay.

All right, Dana Bash, live from Crawford, Texas.

Thanks so much, Dana.

More on the political front; presidential candidate John Kerry will stump in Missouri today, a day after laying out an aggressive plan for job recovery. The likely Democratic nominee says if elected, he will reverse the nation's job losses by creating 10 million jobs in four years. And in a direct response to Republican attacks that he'll raise taxes, Kerry also says he'll lower corporate taxes by 5 percent, offer businesses tax credits for new hires, and eliminate tax breaks that send work overseas.

CALLAWAY: And now to the military front, where the Army has charged Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia with desertion, following his criticisms of the war in Iraq and his refusal to return to the country after a two-week leave. The National Guardsman left Iraq in October and did not return, calling the conflict a, quote, "oil driven war." He faces up to a year in prison and a bad conduct discharge.

And in Phoenix, Arizona, prosecutors allege that probation is just too lenient for a priest convicted in a fatal hit and run. They had sought a six-month jail term for the Bishop Thomas O'Brien, but instead the judge yesterday gave O'Brien four years' probation and a 1,000 hour -- 1,000 hours of community service.

SAN MIGUEL: In New York, the jury in the Tyco larceny trial will be back on Monday. Jurors are expected to let the judge know then whether they can resume deliberations in good faith. If not, the judge has indicated he'll have little choice but to declare a mistrial, despite the objection of the Manhattan district attorney.

CALLAWAY: And stay with us. The movie "The Passion" prompts a confession that reopens a closed case. And our legal team will tackle that issue coming up.

SAN MIGUEL: And the Bushman bushwhacked city hall. We'll tell you how a panhandler tangled with a big city D.A.

We'll be right back.


SAN MIGUEL: Well, two Cinderella's were silenced last night. The University of Alabama at Birmingham fell to the University of Kansas Jayhawks by a 26-point margin during the NCAA March Madness.

And the sting of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets was too much for Nevada Wolf Pack to handle. Tech won that game 72 to 67.


SAN MIGUEL: Kobe Bryant's accuser talks about sex with other men. An alleged killer confesses after watching "The Passion of the Christ." And a grand jury is seated to hear the case against Michael Jackson. Three compelling topics for the legal panel this morning.

From Miami, we welcome back civil liberties attorney Lila Rodriguez-Taseff. And from Houston, we are joined by former prosecutor Nelda Blair. Good morning, ladies. Thanks for being with us.


NELDA BLAIR, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Thanks. SAN MIGUEL: We start with Kobe Bryant. The accuser testifies on her own sexual history in closed session. And she's asking for a speedy trial because of media attention and threats against her life as this goes on. As a matter of fact, in the letter to the judge from the accuser's mother, we have a full screen as to a brief comment from that.

"My daughter has lived in four states in the past six months. Her safety is at risk; she has to move again. She can't live at home, she can't live with relatives, she can't go to school, or talk to her friends."

Lida, I'm wonder if you're afraid that all of this, concerning this case, is going to scare off future rape victims from coming out.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Absolutely not. Alleged victims have the right to be treated with dignity and respect through the process. And we would hope that this case comes to a speedy resolution for the sake of everybody. But the reality is, is the most important interest to be protected here is the interest of the person who can spend the rest of his life in jail. And that's Kobe Bryant's interest.

Colorado law provides that victims have the right, and it's an ethereal right, kind of mushy, kind of out there that says that they have a right to speedy resolution of a matter. And that is what's hoped here. But the reality is that that right does not trump the constitutional rights of the defendant to go to trial when the case is ready to go to trial, so he has a fair shot at either being acquitted or for justice to be done.

BLAIR: Lida, Kobe Bryant is having a fair shot on the basketball court every night, going on with his life, while this woman is moving from town to town, job to job, can't talk to her friends, has had hundreds -- hundreds of death threats against her by e-mail, and otherwise mutilation threats. This is not the normal situation for a victim and you know that.

What normally happens is yes; we protect the rights of the accused as well, because you are innocent until proven guilty. But not at the expense of a 19-year-old woman who can't even live her normal life. Even the prosecutor has received death threats. This is a situation that needs to be resolved. The judge needs to get this case to trial, and get it over with.

SAN MIGUEL: What do both of you think about the precedent, the possible precedent that's being set here in concerns of rape shield laws? The Colorado law says that this kind of information about past sexual history can come out, but it's behind -- it has to happen behind closed doors. What do you think is happening with that?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Well, there's nothing really happening with that. The sky is not falling. Victims -- alleged victims have as much right to be protected from their sexual history being disclosed today, than they did before the case was brought. The judge and the Colorado Supreme Court agrees with this, are handling it perfectly. They're providing a closed forum for these issues to be aired. The issue here is whether or not this woman's sexual history is relevant to whether or not she's making up these charges and to a motive, or to her state of mind. Those are perfectly legitimate uses of this information.

BLAIR: I agree that that's the reason. And that they're legitimate reasons. To have this woman and her past sexual partners and friends testify for two days in closed session on every aspect, and I understand some of the even hard core aspects of her previous sex life, has nothing to do with whether she told Kobe Bryant no on that night. Shame on the Colorado Supreme Court for not putting a better hold on it.

SAN MIGUEL: We want to move on now to this case -- very interesting case here. You know, as if "The Passion of the Christ" had enough publicity going for it already, within such a release about a month ago or so. A gentleman name of Dan Leach said he saw the movie, "The Passion of the Christ" and then confessed to murdering a woman, who police had ruled, initially in January, as a suicide.

Lida, let me start with you on this. Does the defense have anything to hang its hat on here regarding the confession? I mean it doesn't look like to me it was coerced or done under any kind of duress here.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Absolutely doesn't look coerced. But the reality is that the caha -- that the Texas authorities had ruled this to be a suicide. They had investigated this. This is a 19-year-old woman who was pregnant, who was despondent. This man confesses after watching a movie. I mean come on. We've got to look very closely and authorities need to look very closely behind this confession to determine whether or not he's mentally ill, whether or not this confession is -- makes any sense...


RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: And the reality is, Nelda, even in Texas, you know very well that people confess to things they didn't do for all sorts of reasons, including media attention; which we're giving it.

SAN MIGUEL: Even in Texas, Nelda.


BLAIR: Here it comes. Here it -- oh yes, even in Texas. Here it comes. He's mentally ill. Here it comes. He's going to be -- now you want him to be not competent to stand trial. You want him to be legally insane so he can get off of conning this woman after watching "CSI" on television, into writing a note about how bad her life is. Conning her into putting a pillowcase over her head in order to give her some kind of pseudo therapy. And then strangling her and leaving her that way. He's not only confessed --

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Oh, no! Then why did the prose -- but...

BLAIR: He's not... RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: But Nelda, why did the...

BLAIR: He's not only confessed -- Lida, let me finish. He's not only confessed...


BLAIR: ... but he's also given a courthouse interview -- a jailhouse interview to the newspaper of how he did it and why he felt bad.

And let me mention one other thing. The real legal point on this one is whether or not this woman's pregnant. And we're not sure yet of the autopsy report. If she was pregnant, the new law in Texas, that makes a fetus a person, could make him guilty of capital murder. Which means he could get the death penalty. That's the real question.

SAN MIGUEL: That's a very -- that's an excellent point that's for another time. We have to move on because we're going to give both of you about 20 seconds each to talk about Michael Jackson.

Grand jurors finally selected. A super-secret process. Had a lot of media lawyers grumbling about the restrictions on -- you know, you couldn't even shoot the shadows of the jurors. That was off limits. Lida, we'll start with you.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Well, you know, this is an assault on the freedom of the press in this country. This is really troubling. The reality is, is if we want to trust our criminal process, we have got to believe in it and it has to be open. And it's always been a problem with these super-secret grand juries.

SAN MIGUEL: Nelda, 20 seconds for you.

BLAIR: Listen, absolutely. The problem is that you don't like that part of it, but this is the judge's courtroom. This is this judge's courtroom, it's a media case, and whatever the judge wants to do or not do is his decision. That's the way it's going to go.

SAN MIGUEL: All right. Ladies, we're going to have to leave it there. Another good segment this morning. Thank you so much. Lida Rodriguez-Taseff from Miami and Nelda Blair from Houston, thanks so much. We'll see you next time.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Thank you, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: You bet.

BLAIR: Great.

SAN MIGUEL: One more legal note for you. For years, a character known as The Bushman has sat on Fishermen's' Wharf in San Francisco and scared people for their spare change. The district attorney sued him and lost.



THE BUSHMAN: Growl! Growl!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's a nut and I love him.

THE BUSHMAN: If you really work hard at this job, you can make up to $60,000 a year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixty-thousand dollars?

THE BUSHMAN: That's being left alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We gave him a dollar.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did we give him a dollar?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he jumped out at us, didn't he? Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you scared?


THE BUSHMAN: Growl! Growl!


SAN MIGUEL: The district attorney, however, was not scared or amused and Johnson was charged with being a public nuisance. The city spent $25,000 on a three-week trial and it lost. And Johnson has returned to his familiar spot. The city it's not giving up, though. The Bushman has received at least two more citations since the trial. Seems it's Halloween every day in San Francisco.

CALLAWAY: Why don't they just give him the $25,000 and then you know what? He wouldn't be panhandling.

SAN MIGUEL: Gotten rid of the middleman right there.


CALLAWAY: It would have been all over with.

Well, one of "American Idol's" more famous singers to get the boot? Well not to be counted out just yet. We'll have that story coming up. Look at him.

SAN MIGUEL: His 15 minutes still lasting.

CALLAWAY: And we'd like your thoughts on whether or not you think the who knew what/when of 9/11 should be used as part of the presidential political campaign. Just e-mail us as And we'll read them on the air. Stay with us everyone.


SAN MIGUEL: Time for a check of the stories making headlines right now.

In New York, jurors in the high profile, Tyco trial have been given the weekend to cool off but must return for Day 8 of deliberations on Monday. Bitter disagreements among jury members could lead to a mistrial in the case against former Tyco executive Dennis Koslowski and Mark Schwartz.

And in Phoenix, the prosecutor in Phoenix says he's not happy with the sentence handed down to Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien. Yesterday, O'Brien received four years' probation for a fatal hit and run accident involving a pedestrian. Prosecutor Rick Romley says the judge sent a message that prominent people get special treatment.

Our e-mail question of the morning has been whether or not the who knew what/when debate of 9/11 should be part of the political campaign. I want to read a couple more e-mails very quickly now.

George in Alabama says, "Excuse me, of course it should be a part of the political process. Some people, mostly liberal Democrats, are somehow overlooking a rather obvious fact. Without national security, your 'job' will suddenly become of less importance to you."

CALLAWAY: And also, here is one from Steve. It says, "Certainly, who knew what prior to, and after 9/11 should be a topic of debate during the election campaign. If the country is being deceived by 'anybody' directly involved leading up to 9/11, or after 9/11, we have the right to know. By the same token, all involved parties should be required to testify under oath before the American people."

So, there are two e-mails. We've received quite a few this morning. Keep sending them and we will read them on the air for you this morning.

SAN MIGUEL: Again, it's wam, Thanks for writing in.

Are you all Hung up? William Hung is everywhere these days.


SAN MIGUEL: The singing challenged entertainer -- very diplomatic there, is in Richmond, Virginia today.


WILLIAM HUNG, "AMERICAN IDOL" REJECT: She bangs, she bangs oh, baby when she moves, she moves. I go crazy.


SAN MIGUEL: He's getting more mileage out of that than Ricky Martin did. About 10,000 people turned out in San Diego -- 10,000 people turned out in San Diego to hear the "American Idol" reject's oddball rendition of "She Bangs." But this singing is music to his fans' ears.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no professional training. I already gave my best. I regret nothing at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no professional training. I already gave my best. I regret nothing at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no professional training. I already gave my best. I regret nothing at all.


SAN MIGUEL: Hung's got an album and a music video coming out next month.

I just hope he's able to return to college. What? He's an engineering...

SAN MIGUEL: He's a student. He's a very bright engineering student...

CALLAWAY: ... student, right?


CALLAWAY: Fifteen minutes of fame thereabout.

SAN MIGUEL: I was going to say 15 going on 30 minutes now.


CALLAWAY: He'll make lots of money.

SAN MIGUEL: Exactly.

CALLAWAY: Stay with us. Just ahead right here on CNN SATURDAY MORNING, we have coming up for you at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, we have "Weekend Housecall," helps you spring out of winter into activities injury free; tips on that.

And speaking of spring, 9:15 a.m., rally around the television for some must have spring gardening tips.

And at 9:30 a.m., we will move to a solemn story. This one, of course, is on the serial killer that we've been talking about this week. A mystery that has been unsolved for 30 years. We'll have all the details and the developments on that story. Stay with us for that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL HOCHMAN, SKI TEST DIRECTOR, "SKI" MAGAZINE: Helmets are now the fastest growing segment of the ski and snowboard business. Why, because for the first time, they're light and they're protective. And guess what? They're not even hot. The reason is simple; polycarbonates have entered the business. This is ultra hard, that's for protection. There are also holes in the top here. That means that moisture and heat can vent right out.

The other thing, this thing weighs about 380 grams, about equivalent to about 15, 16 sheets of paper if you're counting. Why is that helpful? Because now if you're doing inverted moves, going upside-down, you don't have a big, heavy thing on your rock. Does that help with the average skier? No. But just in case, you're protected, it's light and you're comfortable. Use your head.


SAN MIGUEL: Here are the top stories this hour, more violence in Baghdad this morning. Five Iraqis are wounded when a roadside bomb blasts a passing SUV.

And in Mosul, the U.S. military says the City Hall was hit this morning by small arms fire and one or more rockets.

The man who led U.S. forces to Saddam Hussein's hiding place reportedly was one of his closest bodyguards. The BBC reports the man gave up Saddam's location after he was picked up by U.S. forces last December. However, the bodyguard won't get the $25 million reward because he didn't give up the information willingly.

NASA will make a second attempt today to fly an aircraft at 5,000 miles an hour; that is seven times the speed of sound. The X-43A will make the test flight over the Pacific Ocean.

"Weekend Housecall" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta begins right now.


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