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Interview with Joe Wilson; Former High School Athlete's Rape Conviction Overturned

Aired May 4, 2004 - 07:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, 7:30 here in New York. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Soledad is away today. Heidi Collins is here in New York City. Welcome back yet again. Great to have you here.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. I think we have one good day weather-wise this whole week.

HEMMER: Oh, really!

COLLINS: It rained when I got here. It's going to rain the rest of the time. It rained the last time I was here.


COLLINS: But not bad.

Anyway, we'll let you know what we're going to be talking about this half-hour.

Ambassador Joe Wilson will be here in just a few moments. He says the White House orchestrated a smear campaign against him that went as far as putting his wife in possible danger by exposing her as a CIA operative. He will be naming who he believes was behind the campaign. You see him there. We'll speak with him in just a few moments.

HEMMER: Also, talking to a controversial sex crimes case that changed the life of two young high school students. Supporters of Marcus Dixon say he received cruel and unusual punishment because he's black and his accuser is white. His 10-year sentence was just overturned. We'll talk to his legal guardians and his attorney this morning about his case now.

COLLINS: For now, the former American hostage Thomas Hamill speaks in public for the first time since he broke away from kidnappers in Iraq.


THOMAS HAMILL, FORMER HOSTAGE: I'm looking forward to returning to America. First and foremost, I would like to thank the American public for their support of all deployed in the Middle East. Please keep your thoughts and prayers with those who are still there. I am feeling well and having few problems with my injury. I would like everyone to know that (AUDIO GAP), and I am looking forward to reuniting with my wife in the morning. And thank you so very much, and God bless.


COLLINS: The 43-year-old contractor is getting medical treatment at a military facility in Germany. You saw the wound there on his arm. Hamill escaped from his captors on Sunday and linked up with U.S. troops.

U.S. Army soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison have committed -- quote -- "grave breaches of international law" -- that according to a secret Army report made available now to CNN. Photographs surfaced last week showing Iraqi prisoners at the jail being abused and humiliated. The report blames the treatment on an undermanned military police brigade that was not properly trained. It also claims key senior leadership failed to comply with established policies and directives. We will have much more on the report throughout the show today.

St. Louis blues hockey player Mike Danton heads to court today to face federal charges in connection with a murder-for-hire plot. Danton has been in jail in Illinois. Prosecutors say Danton and a 19- year-old woman tried to hire a hit man for $10,000 to kill his acquaintance.

And the federal government has fined the richest man in the world for violating an antitrust rule. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has agreed to pay an $800,000 penalty. The Justice Department says he violated stock buying requirements when he bought shares in a pharmaceutical company. The fine is not related to the Microsoft corporation or the antitrust suit against the company.

HEMMER: OK, best picture...

COLLINS: A pretty stiff fine.

HEMMER: Yes. Best picture today is Thomas Hamill, huh?

COLLINS: Oh, yes.

HEMMER: Really good to see him.

COLLINS: Thin, but so good.

HEMMER: Yes. Apparently, his family said he lost a whole lot of weight, but now he's got plenty of time to get it back, OK?

COLLINS: There you see him now.

HEMMER: What a wonderful image from Germany earlier today. It just happened about 35 minutes ago, in fact, the first shot of him.


HEMMER: As a career diplomat, Ambassador Joe Wilson knows something about the politics of truth. In fact, it's the title of his new book, which blasts the Bush administration for allegedly leaking his wife's secret CIA identity after he challenged the pre-war evidence about Iraq. Wilson believes he knows who is responsible for an alleged White House smear campaign.

Ambassador Joe Wilson our guest here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you. Nice to have you back here.

Hi, Bill. Good to be here.

HEMMER: It's been some time since we have talked. You said this to a newspaper on Sunday, and other newspapers we should point out. The most damning thing I learned while living through the swirl of rumors after the attack on my wife and me was that the conspiracy to destroy us was most likely conceived and carried out within the office of the vice president of the United States by people at the very center of power. Who in the vice president's office?

AMB. JOSEPH WILSON, AUTHOR, "THE POLITICS OF WAR": Well, what I have learned from people who have been willing to talk to me, who are close to the investigation and close to the White House, and some of whom have actually printed this, is that in the office of the vice president, most likely his chief of staff, if not the vice president himself, his chief of staff, being Scooter Libby, began to do what they call a work-up on me, which is get everything. It's an intelligence operation to do learn everything they could about me as early as March of 2003.

HEMMER: How does the White House gain by outing your wife?

WILSON: Well, that's a question you have to pose to the White House, because it's clear to everybody who watched this that they gained absolutely nothing other than if you accept the logic that by exposing my wife's identity and engaging in a smear campaign against me, they intimidate and prevent others, scare others and keep them from coming forward and talking about what they might or might not know about White House efforts and administration efforts to twist the intelligence to support the war.

HEMMER: If I could, back to that quote, though. You say a conspiracy. Very serious charge, especially hitting at the top of the U.S. government. Why conspiracy? And your proof lies where?

WILSON: Well, you have two phone calls made to six journalists. Mr. Novak was made aware of my wife's identity within two days of my having gone to print with this opinion piece in "The New York Times," saying what I did not find in Africa. They were cocked and loaded and ready to go. And instead of going after the person who put the lie in the president's State of the Union address, they decided they would go after my family and myself.

HEMMER: Well, there is an investigation headed by the Justice Department. Where does that stand today?

WILSON: Well, you'd have to ask the investigators, but...

HEMMER: Do you think there will be a conclusion on this? WILSON: Well, let me say this: The special prosecutor and the FBI team that's working with them are very serious folks, and they don't like leaks anymore than the first President Bush liked leaks when he said that leakers are the most insidious of traders.

Now, the investigation itself may or may not yield a name. The fact that they haven't been able to bring it to closure yet is not the fault of the FBI or the special prosecutor. It is likely the stonewalling of people in the White House.

HEMMER: If I could go back to last summer, though, you wrote a piece in a newspaper, and you basically came out and said the claims about Niger were never true. And you say that even though you told the White House, it still made its way into the president's State of the Union address. Looking back right now, are you saying that the White House tried to undercut you and your wife because you were trying to undercut the war effort and the argument there?

WILSON: Well, I was not undercutting the war effort or the argument. What I was doing was calling my government to account for what it had said, what the president had said. And this was well after we had conquered Iraq and were occupying Baghdad. This was a question of holding your government accountable. This was a question of civic duty. It's as simple as that.

HEMMER: And in the interest of fair disclosure, you're a John Kerry supporter. Is that correct?

WILSON: Absolutely, sure.

HEMMER: How will you be assisting his campaign in the run-up for the White House in November?

WILSON: Well, last summer, I was invited to endorse him. I was asked to endorse him, which I was delighted to do. I'm not a paid member his campaign. I serve on a policy committee, the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee. And I'm pleased to go out and speak on his behalf as a surrogate speaker.

HEMMER: Well, we asked the White House for comment on this. They pretty much brushed us off, said it does not -- you, as an author, do not deserve to be commented on for the things you allege in your book. We'll put that out on the table for our viewers to digest.

Also your wife, how has she been affected ultimately in light of this?

WILSON: Well, her career...

HEMMER: Is she still working or not?

WILSON: Her career is irretrievably changed, for sure. She still goes to work every day. She works in the area of weapons of mass destruction, and every day she attempts to make this country a little bit safer for our citizens.

HEMMER: So, she's still being paid by the CIA?

WILSON: And she's still working at the CIA.

HEMMER: Ambassador Wilson, the book is out, "The Politics of Truth." Thanks for coming in with us today.

WILSON: Thanks, Bill.

HEMMER: Here's Soledad -- Soledad? Heidi.

COLLINS: Soledad, Heidi, whatever.

We want to get now -- we want to take you to the Middle East. That is more violence there as more than 50 former U.S. diplomats slam President Bush's policy in that region. In Gaza today, Israeli troops launch an assault. Palestinian sources say two people were killed, dozens more injured. The helicopter attack came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would come up with an alternative plan for withdrawal from the region.

And several former diplomats today will hold a news conference to release an open letter to President Bush, which says the president's policy is costing the U.S. credibility. It reads in part -- quote: "By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proven that the United States is not an even-handed peace partner. You have placed U.S. diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position" -- unquote.

HEMMER: About 20 minutes now before the hour. Bill is my name, by the way.

COLLINS: Bill, oh, so you haven't changed it.

HEMMER: My apologies.

In a moment here, the prisoner abuse controversy in Iraq today. How might that affect the coalition goals there? Next hour, we'll talk live to an expert who knows that region all too well.

COLLINS: And what many call an extremely harsh sentence for a former high school football star is thrown out. We'll talk with his relieved loved ones just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Marcus Dixon is free this morning. Georgia's top court yesterday threw out a 10-year prison sentence. The former honor student and star athlete had been serving for aggravated child molestation. In a moment, we'll get reaction to the ruling, and hear from Dixon's family and his attorney.

But first, here's Eric Philips.


ERIC PHILIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nineteen-year-old Marcus Dixon said on his first night of freedom, he was thankful.

MARCUS DIXON, RAPE CONVICTION OVERTURNED: I just want to say to everybody, how thankful I am to have supporters and all of the letters of encouragement and cards and everything. It really helped me through the time I had in prison.

PHILIPS: It's the end to a 14-month-ordeal for Dixon and his adopted parents. The news from the Georgia Supreme Court was like music to their ears.

KEN JONES, MARCUS DIXON'S GUARDIAN: Marcus was crying. I was crying. We was both doing the dance.

PHILIPS: Finally, tears of joy, rather than sorrow for this 19- year-old former high school star athlete, honor student and college hopeful. It all came crashing down with a court conviction last May. He and a classmate had engaged in sex in this classroom at Pepperell (ph) High School in Rome, Georgia. Oprah Winfrey interviewed the accuser.

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: And you are aware of the fact that throughout the country that there are people who say that if Marcus had been a white boy that he would not be in jail. You are aware of that, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter what color he is. It's not his color that has to do with anything about it. It's his actions that make it wrong.

PHILIPS: She was 15. He was 18. She said it was rape. He said it was consensual. The jury believed Marcus and threw out the felony rape charge, but still convicted him of statutory rape, a misdemeanor and aggravated child molestation. The second conviction meant a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison.

Defense attorneys appealed, and the Georgia Supreme Court agreed, overturning the conviction saying: "The legislature most recently declared that sex between teenagers less than three years apart should be punished as misdemeanor statutory rape and not felony child molestation."

Prosecutors plan to ask the Georgia Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

Eric Philips, CNN, Atlanta.


COLLINS: Earlier, I spoke to Marcus Dixon's guardians about their reaction to his release.


PERI JONES, MARCUS DIXON'S GUARDIAN: It was wonderful. We just wanted to lock the door and keep him in.

COLLINS: What did he say when he walked through that door? What was his reaction to actually being home?

P. JONES: His first thing was, he said, I think I've grown about six inches, because his head was so close to the ceiling. And he noticed every single thing we've changed, which is not very many things. The house is basically like it was when he left.

COLLINS: Ken, I want to ask you. Obviously, Marcus was released on bond last night. But how is he doing this morning? I understand the phone woke him up today because there's so much going on. How is he doing this morning? Has it set in?

K. JONES: Well, I had to leave the house so early this morning. I wasn't there when he got up. My wife was still there. So, I had to run to my job and open the school up.

COLLINS: All right...

K. JONES: So, I didn't get to see him first thing this morning.

COLLINS: All right...

P. JONES: He was all smiles.

COLLINS: I'm sure that he...

P. JONES: He was all smiles this morning.

COLLINS: I'm sure he was, and I'm sure there will be plenty of time to talk with him about all of this. But on first reaction, how could you say he coped with being in prison over the last several months?

P. JONES: He did well up until the last two weeks. The last two weeks were the most horrible. He mentioned that he was going to need serious counseling because of the way they treat you in prison. And he mentioned several times what happens -- you know, what's going to happen if I die in here. I mean, so he was really depressed, and I think he felt like he was going to be in there for eight and a half more years.

COLLINS: Tell us a little bit more specifically about what he told you about that stay. Why have it gotten so much harder in the last couple of months?

P. JONES: Well, you know, we kept him motivated all along. It's just going to be a little bit longer. It's just going to be a little bit longer. And he had gotten to the point where he had heard that over and over. And, you know he was just -- it was so bad there that he couldn't psyche himself up anymore, you know. And he wasn't there with friends or family. You know, there were no friends and family there with him. And so he had to do it all on his own.


COLLINS: You can see the full interview with Marcus' guardians, as well as his attorney, in our final hour. That's coming up at 9:00 a.m. Eastern -- Bill.

HEMMER: Heidi, thanks for that.

A Texas man accused of trying to kill his wife by tossing a radio into the bathtub while she was taking a bath. William Joseph Wolf (ph) charged with attempted murder. His wife caught the radio. Then discovered her husband had taken out a life insurance policy out on her, and that he had been on an Internet site researching electrocution. Wolf (ph) faces 20 years in jail if convicted -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Still to come, the price of gas seems to be constantly surging upward. Andy Serwer will be along with some reasons why, right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: All right, welcome back. Gas prices keep ticking upward. What's fueling the rise and all eyes today on Alan Greenspan yet again today. Andy Serwer, the only one "Minding Your Business" this morning is here for us.

Good morning.


HEMMER: Any sight in the future we're going to stop this thing?

SERWER: Maybe.

HEMMER: Really?

SERWER: Maybe. Well, we'll see. We've got problems in the Middle East. We've got surging demand, as Jack Cafferty likes to call it, surging demand here domestically. And that's what's causing gas prices to go up, up another three cents last week. We are now at $1.84 nationally. That's 30 cents higher -- 33 cents higher than this time last year.

The price of oil is about 50 percent of the cost of gasoline. The other prices are distribution and marketing, that sort of thing. And that's been going way, way up. As we mentioned, tensions in Iraq and also in Saudi Arabia.

I like this one, though. In 1981 the price of gas was $1.41. Inflation-adjusted, that's $2.92. Does that make you feel any better?

HEMMER: Oh, slightly.

SERWER: It really makes me feel that much better, though, when inflation-adjusted it costs more, right?


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, has your paycheck been inflation-adjusted to that degree? SERWER: Well...



HEMMER: Hybrid cars are benefiting, are they not from this?

SERWER: That's right. And people are really looking more and more at these hybrids, which are half-gas or diesel motors and then half-electric motors. Still a very small percent. There it is. Hey. Hi.

HEMMER: Come on in.

SERWER: You've got to be a certain type of person to drive one of these.

CAFFERTY: Is that a car?

SERWER: That is. Now, listen, it's still very small, about, what, 24,000 units last year and total car sales over 16 million. So, you can see it's a very small percentage. The Toyota, of course, leads in this. It's the Prius (ph), and their sales are really, really jumping. You get about 50 miles to the gallon on one of those things.

HEMMER: It's slowly creeping up. A lot of people think you need another decade before they really truly take off.

SERWER: Right. And there is fuel cells, there's a whole different technology as well.

HEMMER: Markets were up yesterday in a big way, actually. Alan Greenspan again is talking?

SERWER: Yes. Today is going to be a big day, because the Fed is going to come out with a report. They're going to talk to us about the economy, and we're going to see whether or not they're going to raise interest rates. They probably, probably, probably will not. That's yesterday's numbers. Some anticipation of his remarks perhaps.

I think we're going to look for today, though, Bill, is he's going to remove the statement, that's the key, saying we're patient with watching interest rates. And what they are going to do is lose the word "patience." There is no longer going to be patience, setting the stage for an interest rate hike in June or August.

HEMMER: Setting the table, OK.

SERWER: That's right.

HEMMER: Thank you, Andy.

CAFFERTY: Your buddy Warren Buffett yesterday was quoted at that thing that you went to where you were talking about his oracle. SERWER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: He said short-term rates are going to raise a lot soon.

SERWER: Yes. Well, be prepared, right?

CAFFERTY: So, and he knows about these things.


SERWER: He knoweth what he speaketh.


CAFFERTY: That's why they call it an oracle.

SERWER: Yes, that's right.

COLLINS: We call you the oracle around here.

SERWER: Yes, I knew that.


CAFFERTY: Not the same.

SERWER: The oracle of New Jersey.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Cedar Grove. The oracle of Cedar Grove.


CAFFERTY: The presidential candidates are looking for the best way to connect with the voters. And oh, my, it is so lame. Senator John Kerry spending $25 million on TV ads in spots that tell us his life story from when he was just a little boy to Vietnam to the Senate. The president is on a two-day bus tour through Michigan and Ohio, attempting to reach working-class voters in two states where more than 500,000 people have lost their jobs.

Letterman quipped last night that he ought to be able to draw good crowds in Michigan. Nobody there has a job.

So, the question is this: How well do the candidates' campaign tactics work? We're getting some good stuff.

John in Willard, Ohio. Where is Willard?

HEMMER: Northern Ohio.

SERWER: He doesn't know. He's making that up.

HEMMER: Yes, I have no idea.

SERWER: He's making it up. HEMMER: West of Cleveland.

CAFFERTY: Every time I ask you where a town in Ohio is, you say, it's just west of Cleveland.

SERWER: It's west of Buffalo. No, it's west of Buffalo, that's what his answer is.

CAFFERTY: John in Willard, Ohio: "I believe the campaign tactics are very effective, because the American people are very gullible and naive. Politics has become almost a game of deception and not of reason."

John in New York: "Very well. Through campaign money alone, George Bush has succeeded in defining John Kerry. Now, Kerry has been forced to spend a record amount of money to define himself. How shameful that the world's so-called beacon of democracy holds its election via TV commercials."

However, it does pay all our salaries for, you know, a few months during an election year. So, we don't mind that.

SERWER: Indeed.

CAFFERTY: Simon: "No matter what tactics these professional politicians use, they still will be unable to get more than half the nation's eligible voters to care enough to vote in November."

Bob in Claire, Michigan: "I don't agree with you, Jack. I and a lot of other people do want to know about the background of the candidates, as well as their stand on issues. We elect to the office of president a whole person, and I, for one, want to know about the whole person."

Sometimes we only elect part, I think, of a person. Sometimes.

SERWER: Which ones were those?

CAFFERTY: I can't talk about that.


CAFFERTY: And Tammy writes: "They are getting news coverage, aren't they? They can't pay for publicity like that."

I'm not sure they want publicity like this, but...

HEMMER: And leave it to you to find the silver lining in all this. They help pay our salaries.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes, TV just makes a ton of money. It's raking in off these politics.

HEMMER: The only thing about Ohio and Michigan, battleground states, Bush lost to Gore in Michigan I think by about 5 percentage points in 2000. They are neck and neck right now. SERWER: Yes.

COLLINS: They are.

HEMMER: And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but very close and hence the reason why...

SERWER: And Nader still gets 3 percent of the votes in those states.


SERWER: It's just very interesting stuff.

HEMMER: Let's get a break here. Best picture of the day, Thomas Hamill is now released and back in Germany. He should be reunited with his wife tomorrow. Thanking the American public for their prayers and their support.


HAMILL: I'm looking forward to reuniting with my wife in the morning, and thank you so very much and God bless.


HEMMER: Thomas Hamill now recovering at a military hospital in Germany, escaping his captors, linking up with U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Much more on this story when we continue after this.


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