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Interview with David Duke; NYPD Blues; The Crash of Flight 8501; Turning the Pages on Terror; Million Dollar Coach

Aired January 03, 2015 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. It's a brand new year and we've got lots to talk about. We're going to drill down on some of the biggest stories of the week.

First, it's a burning question on Capitol Hill. Did a powerful Republican House leader talk to what many call a hate group? I'll ask the group's founder, David Duke, the former Klan wizard is here.

Cold War in Gotham. Cops turn their backs on New York City's mayor. Are they now turning their backs on enforcing the law?

Plus what we still don't know about 9/11. The missing 28 pages from a congressional report on that infamous day and why they are locked away in the basement of the U.S. capitol. Former senator Bob Graham is here to weigh in.

And "Serial," the wildly popular podcast about a murder case that is captivating millions. Might it lead to a new trial for a man serving life? Who better to ask than Alan Dershowitz.

That and much more so stick with us.

Welcome to the program. We start with a burning question roiling the nation's capital. Did the third ranking Republican in Congress once speak to a white nationalist organization founded by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke? That question will be on the minds of members of Congress this week when they begin reconvening in Washington after their Christmas recess.

Steve Scalise was a Louisiana state representative on the rise back in 2002 when he reportedly addressed the European American Unity and Rights Conference. He was invited by a longtime political adviser to Duke. After initial reports broke last week, Scalise said he didn't remember addressing the group but said in a prepared statement that it was, quote, "a mistake I regret," which sounds like he was there.

But then that political adviser who initially told "The Washington Post" that Scalise was there backtracked and said that Scalise addressed a civic association. As the contradictory statements are parsed, Republicans can ill afford the Scalise situation given their lack of recent success in making inroads in the minority community.

I've got a lot of questions and who better to ask about Congressman Scalise's appearance than David Duke himself.

So, 2002, did Steve Scalise speak to the group that you founded?

DAVID DUKE, FORMER LOUISIANA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Frankly, I'm not sure. I was in Russia at the time doing research for my doctoral dissertation. I since got a PhD, and I was in Moscow, in fact, in the National Archives almost every day, I did a telephone hook-up.

And by the way, it's got -- we got to make something really clear here. You know, they say former Klan leader or whatever. This was 37 years ago in my life. OK? And --


SMERCONISH: But true. I mean, admittedly, it's over a long time period, but true.

DUKE: And it's also -- it's also true that Robert Byrd was in the Klan, but a lot of people were friends of Robert Byrd, right, in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans. It's really a biased situation because I denounced -- first of all, I was never violent but I denounce even then violence. I left it because I didn't want to be associated with that kind of taint.

I have never supported white supremacism. Yet I read about it in the paper. This wasn't a hate group. In fact, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization was an organization in its charter dedicated to true civil rights and stopping the discrimination against people, the best qualified people should be gauged and that every people have the right to preserve their heritage, their freedom and their values. So --


DUKE: Yes, I did found EURO.

SMERCONISH: You founded EURO. OK. And this is a huge story. It's a nationwide kerfuffle now.

DUKE: I know.

SMERCONISH: So I have to believe, common sense would tell me, David, that as the story has broken you picked up the phone or you've gotten on line and you've said to the people with whom you're involved in that group, hey, what's the deal?

So what's the deal?

DUKE: I certainly did and I've got conflicting reports. One person said that he was a no show, that he was scheduled to come. Other person said that he -- you know, said that he did come. I mean, I just don't know what the truth is. I think that it seems that Mr. Scalise thinks that he may have, that's why he is covering --

SMERCONISH: Why else -- why else would he say he regrets it?

DUKE: He is covering -- he's covering himself. But we've got to go to a deeper aspect of this, and the fact that if any United States congressman went to a group called La Raza Unida, and presidents have done that, too, which is the United Race, which is an activist, advocacy group for the interests of Mexican-Americans and Latino Americans. If that was happened, nobody would have a blink of an eye.

SMERCONISH: Well, you would. And you'd beef --

DUKE: No, I wouldn't.

SMERCONISH: And you'd beef about that, in the same way that people are beefing about this.

DUKE: No, no. Actually I don't, sir. The fact is I believe that every people has a right to work for their interest, to preserve their heritage, to -- in fact, I believe every people on earth have that right. I believe that every nation and every people has the right to be free and independent.

Now that's what I preach every day. You can hear it on my radio show. You can see it on my Web site, my books, my writings. And -- but it goes beyond that. Of course, if he would have gone to an African- American advocacy group, who is concerned about African-Americans like the NAACP, Republicans, Democrats go to that, no problem.

If he had gone to a Jewish advocacy group, even advocacy for a foreign country, which is Israel, and the interests of the Jewish people, no problem. But he came to a European organization, big problem. And don't forget, he was an elected official.

So what is America all about? Don't we -- aren't we supposed to believe that if you're an elected official, when you serve in Congress, you are representing all the people of your district. Not the people just who voted for, not the people you agree with. Aren't you supposed to listen to people?

SMERCONISH: Just to close the loop what you know of Scalise and the meeting. Eric Erickson makes I think a real good point. If you come to a David Duke event you pretty much remember you were there.

DUKE: Well, look, certainly, as far as the media is concerned, it's a very controversial group. In Louisiana, you know, I got 65 percent of the European-American vote. In that district that he represents, I received 60 percent of the vote. All his constituents. Sixty percent of the vote, to be their governor and to be their United States senator.

So maybe the national media, which is I consider to be very racist against European-Americans, and I think that they have really caused the incitement of African-Americans against European-Americans, and I also think that they have also facilitated European-Americans being angry at African-Americans. I think the violence is --


SMERCONISH: But totally separate issue.

DUKE: No, it's not a separate issue. SMERCONISH: I'm simply -- I'm simply trying to find out was the man

there. I can't understand why there would be such confusion.

DUKE: Look. I'm telling you.

SMERCONISH: I'm certainly going to remember.

DUKE: I'm telling you -- I, you know --

SMERCONISH: I'm going to remember. Just let me finish this.


SMERCONISH: I'm certainly going to remember.

DUKE: Right.

SMERCONISH: The day that David Duke was on my television program. I would think that he would remember whether he addressed you're there.

DUKE: Well, I wasn't even there. I was in Moscow over the telephone and he -- if he did come, he would have come at a different time.

So here is the situation. I was not his supporter, he was not my supporter. I did not contribute to him. He did not contribute to me. OK? He was not a member of my organization. He was an early young representative who just got elected in Louisiana and he was pushing a tax program and he was coming to constituents. And again, I believe that every elected official has a responsibility to hear out people who are right wing, left wing --

SMERCONISH: No matter their viewpoint?

DUKE: Of course.

SMERCONISH: Help me stay focused on this incident.

DUKE: Yes, I am.

SMERCONISH: You said this week that if he is crucified -- I think that was your word choice.

DUKE: Yes. Yes.

SMERCONISH: Then you're going to name names. What are we talking about?

DUKE: I would tame names of any Democrat -- and I know some Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives who tried, in fact urged me to support them, legally, in fact I did. The governor of the state of Louisiana, Mr. Foster, wanted my support.

SMERCONISH: In other words, you're saying there are members of Congress today who have relationships with you --

DUKE: Have had relationships. SMERCONISH: Have -- but they choose to keep those private.

DUKE: And that's fine.

SMERCONISH: And you honor that.

DUKE: And I respect somebody's privacy.

SMERCONISH: But you'll call them out?

DUKE: But I would call them out if they -- hypocritical.

SMERCONISH: New David Duke was in the last three years, your open letter to the world and you go back and you talk about World War II and you talk about atrocities on both side of the aisle, but you never use the H-word. You never use "holocaust". I don't want to get into this whole debate today, but you raised it.

Do you believe in the holocaust?

DUKE: Well, I say --

SMERCONISH: Does the -- new David Duke in 2015 believe that the holocaust occurred?

DUKE: Well, of course, I believe there were terrible atrocities.

SMERCONISH: No, but I want you to say it differently.


SMERCONISH: I want you to say the holocaust occurred.

DUKE: I don't care what you call -- I don't care what you call it. But the point I make --

SMERCONISH: I want to hear you say it.

DUKE: OK. I believe --


DUKE: -- in the, quote-quote, "holocaust". But let me tell you something, why is it that there is no movies, very little -- very little attention about the greatest holocaust in the history of the world, which was the holocaust against Christians by the Soviet communism. And that's what -- that's my point, is that we have a controlled media today that talks about the holocaust, but they don't talk about the death and destruction of tens of millions of Christians --

SMERCONISH: I want to talk about everything.

DUKE: -- which was bigger than --

SMERCONISH: I want to talk about everything which is why you're here. DUKE: Well, my book is "The Secret Behind Communism."

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

DUKE: And it deals with that issue. And you can write to me at and find out about it.

SMERCONISH: OK. David Duke, thank you.

We're going to take a quick break. But when we come back, New York Police literally turn their backs on the city's mayor. We'll tell you what else they're turning their backs on.

Plus, the missing 28 pages, can they tell us who planned and funded the terror attacks on 9/11?

And another multi-million-dollar college football coach, should the players now get paid, too?


SMERCONISH: It's winter in New York but that's not the only reason that things are chilly. There is a cold war of sorts between the mayor and the police department, the relationship was rocky even before he took office but then Eric Garner, an African-American, was killed by police and a grand jury chose not to indict the officer.

Mayor Bill de Blasio seemed to side with the protesters and then a gunman shot down two officers in cold blood and that relationship got worse with cops literally turning their backs on the mayor.

This week we learned from "The New York Post" that arrests, traffic tickets and parking violations are way down. It's not clear if it's a planned job action or just a spontaneous reaction but it's a problem.

Let's take a look at the latest weekly numbers compared to last year. Criminal court summons down 94 percent, traffic violations down 94 percent, parking tickets down 92 percent. Overall arrests down 66 percent.

I'm sympathetic to the police. Full disclosure in my legal practice I spent 15 years working for a police officer's widow on a pro bono basis in what was then the highest profile death penalty case in the nation.

I think that the police behavior in the current case has reached a tipping point and that it might undermine public confidence in officers, and they need to rein it in. The idea that they would not enforce the law because of a political spat with the mayor is abhorrent if it's true.

Joining me now to dig deeper into this issue is Ed Mullins. He's the president of the New York Sergeants Benevolent Association.


This is a great topic. I'm glad you brought it up. This is a topic that has a lot of interest in the people in New York and it needs to be clarified. The drastic reduction in numbers that you just highlighted would appear to be an obvious concern to the public in New York City of police not making arrests, issuing summons.

What is being left out of that equation is the daily protests that are occurring around the city of New York where, you know, hundreds in that times, you know, in thousands of police officers that are responding to these protests, our duties are technically being reassigned from the daily functions that we've been doing to working these demonstrations throughout the city of New York.

In addition to that, we've had the tragedy of two police officers being killed which has totally diverted, you know, almost 10 days of one funeral to another funeral, officers running around taking care of families, but also doubling up on patrols and concern of further assassination attempts. So what we haven't discussed is there's been no delay in 911 response, the public is still being served.

By no means is this an organized thing. Is there a cold attitude that's going back and forth with the mayor? Yes, but not at the expense of public safety.

SMERCONISH: There's no wink and a nod.


SMERCONISH: Taking place among officers and saying, hey --

MULLINS: It would be illegal for, first of all, any of the representatives of the police officers or of the rank-and-file to do such a thing, and we would not encourage that where public safety would be jeopardized. It's just not something to be done.

SMERCONISH: You're -- what I'm hearing you say, Mr. Mullins, primarily is that the manpower necessary to keep the demonstrations, the demonstrators and those around them, safe is drawing manpower that would otherwise be used to make arrests in the kind of cases that the "Post" data.

MULLINS: I believe -- I believe that there is an impact to that. I believe when you see these demonstrations every day, now I can't tell you specifically that that's the direct cause, is there some morale other issues in there? Sure, there are. I'm sure that that has some of an impact. But that's not the total, you know, answer to what's taking place.

SMERCONISH: I guess I ask the question because I'm one of those who puts police on a pedestal.

MULLINS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: I recognize that they are in a special position in our society because of what they do. And I'm worried that they are going to cause a lack of confidence in law enforcement generally if people see them. I think turning their back on the mayor is abhorrent. I have to say that to you because I'm worried that the public will look at that and say, well, if they'll turn their back on him, why wouldn't they turn their back on me?

MULLINS: Well, here's the one thing, I appreciate your expression and your concern for that. What I can tell you is that the police are not slowing anything down to jeopardize public safety. Number one. As far as the police turning their back on the mayor, you know it's funny is that when we look at the hundreds of demonstrations that have occurred and we hear the mayor talk about, you know, freedom of speech and First Amendment, the members of the police -- from across the nation they did this at the funeral -- have a First Amendment right like every other American.

And they made a statement without breaking a single law or saying a single word. And everyone's entitled to agree to disagree but they, too, are entitled to do that. Now when we're talking about making a statement in regards to making a statement that would, you know, jeopardize public safety they are two total different topics. And the public need not to be concerned.

Particularly so, you support police, the people that are here in this city are receiving police protection, response from the police. But we do no good responding to you if we can't respond safely.

SMERCONISH: I'm interested in learning in our minute that's left together, where did things go so wrong between law enforcement and this mayor? Was it when he acknowledged having had a conversation with his son and said that he told him he has to take special care if he has a police interaction?

I ask that question because that's the sort of thing I hear from African-American callers to my radio program day in and day out, and I confess that I have three sons, I've never had to have that kind of a conversation with them. Is that when he lost the confidence of so many?

MULLINS: No. Things are a building process of what happened. If you look back when the mayor campaigned, he campaigned really labeling the NYPD as a racist police department. And it was all over stop and frisk which we all agree that the process that was there was probably being abused and more of a statistic quota type thing that was in place. And there has to be checks and balances to it.

But this has been an ongoing process that's occurred. And the mayor kind of has a history of actions that have been somewhat anti-police. We all talk to our children. I talk to my children about how to deal with the police. But I don't do it in a sense that they're the bad guy. I think every mom and dad in this country tells their child if they are lost, if there is a problem, go to a policeman.

I would love to know what did the mayor tell his son if he can't trust the police who should they go to?

SMERCONISH: Mr. Mullins, thank you for your time. MULLINS: Thank you for having me.

SMERCONISH: We appreciate it very much.

The mayor has tried to mend his relations with the city's cops, he attended to funeral for one of the slain officers and he's likely to attend the other tomorrow as well. And he spoke to graduates of the police academy but while the graduates sat quietly, others spoke out.

My next guest says it's time for police and the mayor to move forward and face each other and find common ground.

Amy Davidson is a staff writer at "New Yorker" magazine. Her article is titled "No One Here Should Be Turning His Back."

Amy, welcome. You asked, quote, "Who are police officers turning their backs on when they refuse to face the mayor? And whom are they protecting?"

What's the answer to those two questions?

AMY DAVIDSON, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, you know, I think that when they turn their back on the mayor whose statements on the Garner case were not so out there, I mean, he basically said that he acknowledged that people in the city were disappointed by the lack of grand jury indictment. He called for protests to be peaceful. He made the point that it's only peaceful protests that have ever really accomplished change.

And he talked about the experience of his son Dante as a young biracial person in New York City and what that meant for him and how he sometimes worried about how Dante would -- would experience interactions with the police.

None of that is so far out there that you would think that the police, by turning their back on the mayor, were narrowly protesting a particular city policy or anything like that. They've talked about the lack of respect, the lack of honor. It felt like they were turning their back on the whole city.

SMERCONISH: Law enforcement say there's a reason why a guy who was hell bent on killing cops ended up in New York City and did those despicable things that he did as opposed to going to some other locale. The argument being that the comments of Mayor de Blasio, Al Sharpton and others extended the welcome mat.

What's your thought on that?

DAVIDSON: Before he got on -- you know, before he came up from Baltimore to New York he shot his girlfriend in Baltimore. Young black woman. This was not somebody who just was sitting there peacefully and suddenly was converted to a life of crime by peaceful protests about police power. This is a guy who'd had a life of petty crime and had already acted violently that day.

It feels -- one thing that is troubling about the police idea that this is all de Blasio's fault, that this is the protesters' fault, is that it takes the responsibility off of the guy who actually pulled the trigger. The guy who actually killed two police officers. The blood is on his hands. To say that any real questioning or dialogue or protests about a really serious issue in our society, what are the limits of police power, what is the best way to police our cities, what's the best way to be safe and to be civil.

SMERCONISH: I told Mr. Mullins when we were talking about this that I worry about the standing of law enforcement in the eyes of the public. I'm an attorney, back home in Philadelphia there is a standard jury question which asks potential jurors would you be inclined to believe the testimony of someone in law enforcement because they are a member of law enforcement?

And many times I've said that in answering that question myself I'm one of those who would say yes, because I hold members of law enforcement in a special position, on a pedestal. I worry that there's a decline in confidence on the part of the public in police by these incidents, these high profile incidents whether it's the Garner case, whether it's Tamir Rice, whether it's the Ferguson case, and then the turning of backs on the mayor is going to exacerbate that issue.

DAVIDSON: You know, I think that's really interesting because what's the answer to that at a moment like that? One is to know that the police themselves are greatly concerned when something goes wrong. One thing that I think struck people about the Eric Garner case is that the video showed the police department's own rules being violated. There's not a moment where you can really talk, where you can be open, it's exactly that problem of wondering whether this distance is made greater in moments like this by things like turning your back.

SMERCONISH: Amy, thank you. Thank you, Amy Davidson.

Coming up, the 9/11 victim families that are fighting for access to secret information. Can missing documents help us figure out who planned and funded the attacks?

Also, planning for the unthinkable. How can we keep track of passenger planes so it doesn't take so long to find them if they crash?

And guilty or innocent, why I'm not so sure that the "Serial" podcast can really help us figure it all out.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

While recovery efforts go on in the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501, I keep thinking about the need for real time transmission of data from the cockpits of commercial airlines. If I can track my kids through their cell phones, why can't we do likewise when hundreds of lives are in the hands of just two pilots.

Arthur Wolk is a pilot. He's an aviation attorney. He's the founding partner of the Wolk Law Firm and he joins me from Philadelphia.

Arthur, this has been your business for 46 years. What is it that you think went on that you haven't heard anybody else express thus far?

ARTHUR WOLK, PILOT AND AVIATION ATTORNEY: Michael, there's an emergency air worthiness directive. And an emergency air worthiness directive is one of the most critical items that the government can issue regarding the safety of aircraft.

And on December 10th, 20 days before this accident, the governments of Europe and the United States issued one on the Airbus A-320, and that is that at certain altitudes the attitude sensors, the things that tell the pilot and the autopilot what the nose of the airplane is doing, freeze up at high altitudes in bad weather such as thunderstorms. And they will cause the airplane to dive directly to the earth and the crew can't do a thing about it.

That has not been mentioned by anyone but fits classically within the circumstances of not only AirAsia 8501 but Air France 447, where they blamed the crew instead of the airplane.

SMERCONISH: Should this plane not have flown in that weather?

WOLK: This weather was horrible and there are no lethal consequences to delaying a flight. They should have delayed this flight or canceled this flight. But lots of airlines, lots of times when they shouldn't, will dispatch aircraft in foul weather in the hope that their flight crews will be able to use their airborne radar to avoid serious weather conditions.

This crew used its radar, but they tried to climb, they were denied the full climb that they requested, they deviated and they were able to deviate around some storms, but there's a point when the weather gets so bad that an airplane shouldn't be dispatched. This was such an evening.

SMERCONISH: Does the fact that the pilot made that request to climb comport with Arthur Wolk's concern about the safety directive perhaps not have been followed in this case? In other words, put the pieces together for me.

WOLK: All right. The airplane is flying in thunderstorms. It's turbulent. Icing conditions exist as they do in the tops of thunderstorms. The pilot is deviating to get around the worst of it. He now tries to climb to get above as much of the clouds, and therefore turbulence that he possibly can. Icing conditions occur. Those icing conditions affect the instruments of the airplane because of this problem identified in the emergency air worthiness directive.

There is really nothing he can do. Once the icing conditions prevent adequate information from getting to his computers to control the airplane. So the pilot is between the literal rock and a hard place and that's -- makes him a passenger just like everybody else, when control is lost.

SMERCONISH: Andrew, thank you. I haven't heard about that directive from any one else. I appreciate your having been here.

Still ahead, the former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee tells us why the president should release 28 missing pages from the congressional report on 9/11 and what they may tell us.



KAITLYN STRADA, FATHER KILLED IN 9/11 TERRORIST ATTACK: Mr. President, please declassify the 28 pages that hold truths regarding who was behind my father's murder, for me and for the other 3,000 children who lost a parent on 9/11. As a father, wouldn't you want your children to not have to live with unanswered questions without ever knowing the truth?


SMERCONISH: That was Kaitlyn Strada, her father was killed on 9/11, 13 years removed from 9/11. The American people don't have all of the information available about the attacks that shook America to her core.

A congressional committee conducted an investigation. Today, buried in a filing cabinet beneath the U.S. Capitol are 28 pages from that investigation that were first classified by President George W. Bush. Reportedly those 28 pages have interesting details about possible Saudi involvement in a planning and funding of the attack.

President Obama has promised 9/11 victim family members that he will release them. But he hasn't. He should.

Mr. President, please release the 28 pages as you promised. We can handle the truth.

One person who has read those documents and wants all Americans to have the same access is former U.S. senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham. He was chair of the Senate Intel Committee when the 9/11 report was finished back in 2002. He's in Boston.

And Terry Strada, we heard from her daughter, her husband Tom lost his life at ground zero. Terry is co-chair of 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism. She's part of a lawsuit looking for civil damages from the people behind the attacks.

Welcome to you both.

Terry, what still don't we know 13 year removed?

TERRY STRADA, HUSBAND KILLED ON 9/11: What the 9/11 families know is that Saudi Arabia played a major role in financing 9/11 but the American people are not aware of this fact.

SMERCONISH: You believe we'll know if we get the access to the 28 pages.

Senator Graham, you read those 28 pages. What's in them?

BOB GRAHAM, FORMER U.S. SENATOR & GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA (D): Well, I can't give details because they are classified, Michael. But you correctly state they primarily deal with who financed 9/11, and they point a strong finger at Saudi Arabia.

SMERCONISH: Senator Graham, we're talking about the work that was done by the Intel Committee distinct and different from the 9/11 Commission. How did the 9/11 Commission handle this issue when they conducted their investigation?

GRAHAM: Well, they did not pursue some of the leads that we had left them with. Our joint inquiry lasted during the year of 2002, the citizens commission was established shortly thereafter. Many of the lines of investigation that we had begun to unearth, particularly in the fall of 2002, in my opinion have not been adequately pursued.

SMERCONISH: Lawrence Wright has written on this and he notes that the Prince Bandar himself has requested that the 28 pages be released. In other words, that there is an argument for the Saudis, they think they are being besmirched by the lack of release. Can you tell me anything else, Senator, about their position in this regard?

GRAHAM: Well, I personally take that with a very jaundice view. To me, it sounds like there was an understanding between the White House and the Kingdom that they would concoct this idea of asking the White House to release, the White House refused, in fact, they actually issued their refusal while representatives of Saudi Arabia were in the air flying to Washington. They got there, heard that their request had been rejected, got back on the plane and flew back to Saudi Arabia.

I think it was a very transparent contrived way to try to find an excuse for Saudi Arabia.

SMERCONISH: Terry, this controversy has been going on for a while. In 2003, 44 members of the U.S. Senate signed a letter and said we want this information released. Those signatories included Secretary Clinton, then Senator Clinton, and Senator Kerry, now Secretary Kerry.


SMERCONISH: Have they fallen silent since taking on their new responsibilities or are they still championing this cause?

STRADA: They are silent on the issue. We have not heard from them. Also, Vice President Biden signed the letter as well. We've heard nothing from anybody.

SMERCONISH: So, what's going on here? What do you think is driving this?

STRADA: They are protecting the Saudi regime over protecting the American people. And that is the travesty and that's what we're trying to bring to the attention of the American people that they can get involved in this. There is a Web site,, they can go to this Web site, they

can read the letters that we have written to the president, read the letter written in 2003, and they can take action. They can call their representatives and they can get involved and they can ask them please read the pages and support this.

SMERCONISH: I hope you get resolution before the 2016 cycle begins. But if you don't, this ought to be an issue for the presidential campaign where in a debate forum, they are asked, will you release those 28 pages? I hope it happens now on President Obama's watch.

Senator Graham, I don't want to get too far in the weeds on this though I have read up on the subject. Is this all about a deal that was made between the Wahhabi extremists and the Saudi family to buy peace in that country? Is that the origin as far as you can tell of this issue?

GRAHAM: Yes. And I think that has real implications for the United States because Saudi Arabia has been the principle supporter financially and otherwise of these extremist movements. Al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Shabaab, the al Qaeda franchise in Somalia and now is are all the products of Saudi's desire and commitment to its clerical leadership to extend this extreme form of Islam.

And our failure to call the Saudis to account I think has contributed to their feeling of impunity, that we can do whatever we want to do because the Americans even under the most severe provocation are not going to respond.

SMERCONISH: I know this week you are all going to stand up with members of Congress. I wish you Godspeed in that regard. It's hard to look at your daughter, beautiful by the way, and not say release the 28 pages.

STRADA: Thank you. Thank you very much. Yes, exactly. We hope that we'll be successful this time around.

SMERCONISH: So do I. Thank you.

Thank you, Senator Graham as always. Appreciate your time.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Michael. Happy New Year.

SMERCONISH: You too, sir.

Serial, it's a true murder story and wildly popular podcast. But is it fair to the murder victim? I'm going to do into that with Alan Dershowitz. Big money college football -- if coaches can make millions why shouldn't student athletes also get paid?


SMERCONISH: I usually agree with Alan Dershowitz. But maybe not today. We both torn through "Serial", the most successful podcast ever. It averages more than 2 million visitors per episode. It's reported by Sarah Koenig and it comes from the team behind NPR's "This American Life". It's a real life murder mystery that has those millions of fans hanging on every clue.

Adnan Syed is serving life in convicted of killing his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee 15 years ago. And the question for the audience is, did he do it?

We hear about their romance, the breakup, the evidence, and a key witness, a buddy named Jay who testified that Adnan showed him the dead body before the two proceeded to bury her. There is no dispute whether the podcast is well produced and engaging entertainment. Is society well served by it? I've been tweeting after listening to each episode. I adopted my hash tag which is entertainment not evidence. I worry that the public is getting a distorted view of the case.


SARAH KOENIG: When I first met Adnan, I was struck by two things. He was way bigger than expected, barrel-chested and tall.

In the photos I had seen he was a lanky teenager with struggling facial hair and sagging jeans. But now, he was 32. He spent nearly half his life in prison and the second thing which you can't miss Adnan is that he has giant brown eyes like a dairy cow.

That's what prompts my most lines of inquiry. Could someone who looks like that strangle his girlfriend? Idiotic I know.


SMERCONISH: Alan Dershowitz is hearing something different. He's one of the best known defense lawyers, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law. He's also the author of "Terror Tunnels." And he joins me from Miami.

Professor, we have this societal problem of no snitching. No snitching campaign. In this case a guy snitched. Isn't that good and isn't he being villainized in the podcast -- you know I refer to Jay.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROF. EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Of course, it's a good thing to snitch on guilty people. It's not a good thing to make up a story about an innocent person.

And what we don't know for sure is whether Jay was a whistleblower or somebody who was making up a story for whatever reason. And I think it's useful to have a good reporter, look hard at the evidence. Harder than the evidence that the case did and present to the court of public opinion both sides of the issue about whether Jay was telling the truth or Jay was lying.

Many of the people who heard this believe Jay, some don't. I think this podcast served a very important public service. It's going to make sure in the future judges are more careful about how trials are conducted. They don't want to be second guessed.

And as far as the victims' family is concerned, obviously, they have a tremendous interest in learning the truth. And in learning whether or not this conviction really was against the right person.

SMERCONISH: I worry that the information, the evidence, if you will, is being unspooled for entertainment value, cliffhanger moments and so forth.

Two items come to mind. We were 8 hours in before I learned that Adnan Syed had not taken the stand in his own defense, which I find to be of interest. We were ten hours in before I learned that Adnan Syed's attempt at appeal is in part predicated on him saying he wanted to plead out in this case.

So, where that information wasn't shared up front from the get-go that's where I start to feel that bias has crept into the presentation.

DERSHOWITZ: Well, I think not only should that information have been shared and I'm not here to defend every aspect of the podcast. But it should also be mentioned that no reasonable lawyer ever puts his client on the witness stand except if he feels the case against him is overwhelming because it takes the attention away from the witnesses the prosecution put on the case.

And as far as a deal, I've had many clients who claim innocence, needing to make a deal if they think that the risks of going to trial far exceed the benefits of having a plea and a short sentence.

So, none of these are dispositive, but they should have been up front.

SMERCONISH: Quote-unquote, "You are a really nice guy and I like talking to you."

Now, if I said that about Alan Dershowitz, it would make sense. In this case, it was said by the reporter to a man who's doing life.

DERSHOWITZ: Well, first of all, she's clearly needs to ingratiate herself with him in order to get him to open up.

Second, you can be a nice guy and have done a terrible, terrible thing in the past. The most important thing is this gives the public an insight into doubt, into how the legal system deals with doubt. Anybody who has listened to the podcast comes away saying he may very well have done it, some think he probably did it but everybody's going to say there is some doubt about Jay's story which he's changed repeatedly.

And I think it's important for the public to know that cases are not based on absolute certainty. We say beyond a reasonable doubt but then we change the standard based on new evidence. And we say that even if there was possibly a reasonable doubt at trial, we're not going to give you a new trial unless you can conclusively prove that the new evidence will establish your innocence.

So, the public learns a lot from this.

SMERCONISH: Final question for Professor Dershowitz. Have you personally reached an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed based on "Serial"?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, I think based on what I've seen there is a strong case of his factual guilt, and a weak case for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Let's remember that our system says better 10 guilty go free than one innocent wrongly confined. So, in this case I say, if this were a civil case, there would be enough to say he was guilty by a preponderance. But based on the new evidence, I think there is a reasonable doubt.

SMERCONISH: All right. On that we disagree. I'm concerned about the victim in this case and who is speaking for her.


SMERCONISH: Thank you.

Up next, Michigan hires former 49er coach Jim Harbaugh for big bucks to lead their football program. Should college athletes be asking show us the money?


SMERCONISH: This week, Jim Harbaugh, one-time star quarterback at the University of Michigan and a successful football coach at the San Francisco 49ers, came back to his alma mater to head of that storied football program. Harbaugh will be paid $37 million over 7 years, a lot of money for a public university, particularly the guys who played for him.

I know they get scholarships and room and board the money to pay the coach comes out of the proceeds from the games.

Still, I think that if college coaches make tens of millions, players ought to get paid too.

To get some perspective, I'm joined by CNN's sports anchor Andy Scholes.

Andy, they showed him the money.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: They certainly did. And the rumors started floating that even a year ago Harbaugh would be a possibility at Michigan, it was pretty much get him or bust, because anything else was going to be a failure. There weren't any other big names out there. The boosters for the university wanted Jim Harbaugh. The fans wanted Jim Harbaugh.

So, once this season went south for 49ers, those rumors ramped up and the Michigan ended up getting their man. And the rumors was 6 years, 48 million which would have been the highest contract ever. It ended up being less than that which many think was a bargain. Because Harbaugh was the hottest coaching name that was available.

SMERCONISH: I see that he's number two in terms of the payment for college coaches, and if you look at it as a percentage of the program I think he dips down to number 4 -- dips down doesn't seem to proper way to describe it given all the money.

But here's what I wanted to say, the University of Michigan, they can afford this because of the money that the program throws off. I wonder if at a lesser school there will be temptation to stay competitive to dip into funds that would otherwise go to academics. Your thoughts on that?

SCHOLES: Well, you know, the football program, they are the funding source for most athletic departments. I think 65 percent of all athletic departments are funded solely from the football program to pay for other sports like baseball, swimming, lacrosse, that don't make money for schools.

So, I'm sure smaller schools would go out tempted to go out there and to try to overpay to get revenue coming in from the football program. Because in small towns and places like Ann Harbor, where they have to fill a stadium that holds 108,000 people, when the team is not going well, fans are less likely to come to the games and make the trip and stay at the hotels and eat at restaurants. So, the football coach not only affects the whole community. It accepts of his economy.

SMERCONISH: Yes, and it is also of course, is that aspect of college that most resonates with alumni, after they leave and plays therefore a huge role whether they are going to continue to support the alma mater. Let me ask you about this final subject, because I know you have been paying attention to the movement in some quarters to compensate college athletes.

What does a salary number like that which Jim Harbaugh get paid, due to that whole debate?

SCHOLES: Well, you know, this debate has been going and going on for years. And it's going to continue because it looks like right now, college athletes -- they're not going to paid their true value. I think a study was done a few years ago where a college football player at the University of Texas is worth $100,000 a season. Now, could they pay 80 to a 100 player that and still be profitable? Probably not. Even they are the University of Texas, and that's the argument.

If the University of Texas is going to pay their athlete that much money, then show a school like University of Houston, smaller school like private school like TCU, they can't afford to do that. So, it would be an uneven playing field, and if you're paying players big money at big schools like that, all of the talent could end up being there and it's really going to make the college football the gap between the haves and have-nots grow even bigger. And that's something they don't want to do.

SMERCONISH: Andy Scholes, thank you so much.

When we come back, a couple of final thoughts, including a comment on sartorial splendor, and an honor I never thought I'd earn.

Stick with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Finally, I was nervous getting dressed today. Political operative Roger Stone has assumed Mr. Blackwell's mantle. And every year, he crowns the best and worst dressed. Lucky for me, I made the former and not the latter list.

To quote Stone, "He used to be more conservative and frankly a lousy dresser. But as he has moved from Philly radio to Sirius XM Radio and CNN, his look has steadily improved. He mixes jeans with tasteful sports jackets. His neckwear on camera is solid. Smerconish makes the grade."

It's probably the only time in my life I'm going to be on the same list as the Prince Phillip and Uzo Aduba, and never again will I question Stone's judgment, even if he does an image of Richard Nixon tattooed on his back.

Thanks for joining me. Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter if you can Smerconish.

See you next week.