Robert Matas on The Abrams Report – TRANSCRIPT

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[b]’The Abrams Report’ for July 21[/b] Read the complete transcript to Wednesday’s showUpdated: 9:19 a.m. ET July 22, 2004Guest: Dean Johnson, Lisa Pinto, Trent Copeland, Kevin Joiner, Robert Matas, Solomon Wisenberg, Sean Maloney DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up—is the Michael Jackson D.A. trying to silence possible critics by telling them they could be witnesses in the case? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ABRAMS (voice-over): In a speech this week Tom Sneddon admitted he‘d sent letters saying he intended to call certain people as witnesses in the case in order to—quote—“keep them off of TV.” Can he do that? ABRAMS: Coming up, is the D.A. in the Michael Jackson case trying to silence critics by telling them they‘re possible witnesses? Is that misconduct? First the headlines. (NEWS BREAK) ABRAMS: We‘re back. The lead prosecutor in the case against Michael Jackson has been accused of having a vendetta against Jackson. And it‘s no secret he hasn‘t been a big fan of the media coverage. But now D.A. Tom Sneddon may be going too far to get the case presented his way. Robert Matas of the national Canadian newspaper, “The Globe and Mail” attended a closed-door meeting of the National District Attorney‘s Association in Vancouver yesterday. There Sneddon lashed out at the media and offered some advice on how he‘s kept some people involved in the case from talking to the press. According to Matas, Sneddon said—quote—“We sent letters to some people saying we intended to call them as witnesses in order to keep them off TV. And Sneddon even said, we were able to get some lawyers, if not off, at least more restrained.” That one you‘re hearing—that last quote you are hearing here for the first time. Matas wasn‘t able to include it in his article. Before we talk about whether that is misconduct, reporter Robert Matas who broke the story joins me now from Vancouver. Mr. Matas, thanks very much for taking the time. We appreciate it. ROBERT MATAS, “GLOBE AND MAIL” REPORTER: Thank you. ABRAMS: So put this into context for us. What was he speaking about when he made these comments? MATAS: Well, it was a summer conference for District Attorney‘s Association. It was a very informal affair. It was about 200 district attorneys. They were there in their jeans and shorts and T-shirts. It was a panel on how to deal with the media in high-profile cases and there were some other prosecutors that were also on the panel and his area for the time that he was allotted was to speak about the Michael Jackson case and how he handled it. ABRAMS: And it seems from the way you wrote the article that even you seemed a little surprised that he was that frank about it. I think you wrote—after that quote you wrote something like he was quite frank about it or in surprising fashion or something along those lines. MATAS: Yes. Well, I was there because there was a prosecutor from a Canadian case that was also on the panel. When I heard his comments, I went back to our office and went through the electronic library and looked for other comments he had said. He seemed to be saying something he hadn‘t said before—maybe because of the situation that it was a relaxed summer conference. ABRAMS: So it hit you when he said this, wait a second, he‘s admitting that he‘s sending letters to people saying, hey, you are going to be a witness in this case in an effort to keep them off of TV. MATAS: The context in which it came up was he talking about—he started the first time around when—I guess in 1993 when he investigated Michael Jackson. He said the media was different. The media always waited for—the mainstream media at that time second sources before they would come out with something. And now they‘ll just do what they have to do to be first. This is his perception, what he was saying. And then he started talking about defense lawyers and saying defense lawyers were going on TV every night talking about things that, as the prosecutor, he felt he had an ethical responsibility to the case and he couldn‘t respond. So he modeled this gag order to try and control things and level out the playing field. And he said he wanted the gag order to apply not just to the defense lawyers, but to the people that are involved on the defense team. The witnesses and anyone else who‘s going to comment with inside information, with the evidence, the contents that he wouldn‘t be able to respond to. (CROSSTALK) MATAS: And that‘s when he came out with this statement that he sent some letters out to some people. ABRAMS: But let‘s be clear. These letters were sent out to people just so that they would stay off of TV? MATAS: Well, he said the letters were sent out to some people that he intended to call as witnesses to keep them off TV. I mean that‘s the phrase he used. And he said, we were able to—he referred to some lawyers. He said it succeeded in getting some lawyers restrained. ABRAMS: All right. MATAS: So… ABRAMS: Robert Matas, if you could just stay with us in case we have a couple of questions on this. I appreciate it. My take—if the D.A. is telling anyone that they may be witnesses in an effort to silence them, it seems to me that is misconduct. Let me bring my panel back here again—criminal defense attorney Trent Copeland, former prosecutor Lisa Pinto. Trent, what do you make of this? COPELAND: You know, Dan, if I was playing word association it would be outrage, it would be anger and it would be a whole host of words just like that. I mean this is outrageous conduct. And you know Dan it comes from a D.A. who from the very beginning, and the irony is that he would be addressing a group of D.A.s on how to deal with the media when this is the guy who has blundered his way through dealing with the media throughout this entire process. I‘ve got to tell you, he should probably expect a bouquet of flowers from Michael Jackson—and Mr. Matas, that is—and he should probably also expect an all-expense paid ticket to the county of Santa Barbara because he‘s coming here to talk about this… ABRAMS: Yes. COPELAND: … in a closed-door section, I would assume… PINTO: Trent… COPELAND: … this is a big deal Dan. ABRAMS: Lisa Pinto… PINTO: Trent… ABRAMS: … I… PINTO: … you have got to calm down here. ABRAMS: Yes, I don‘t know what Lisa‘s position on this is… PINTO: … he… ABRAMS: … and I‘d be interested, Lisa just to take a step back for a minute and evaluate this as prosecutor to prosecutor… PINTO: Right. ABRAMS: … about what he‘s saying here. PINTO: Well I think he—you don‘t know who he intends to call as a witness to start with. But look, in this post Geragos era that we live in where the defense (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is trying everything on cable news every night, it is a whole new ballgame for those of us on this side. ABRAMS: You can tell them they‘re witnesses? PINTO: Well maybe some of them were. We do not know. But what is certainly appropriate is for him to play his cards close to his chest, prevent potential witnesses from being in any way tainted, for example, by tabloid money or having their—having been harassed, as we saw in the Kobe Bryant case, this woman doesn‘t even want to go forward because she‘s been so badgered and harassed by a hostile media… COPELAND: Lisa, Lisa… PINTO: … and I think these are appropriate steps… COPELAND: Lisa… PINTO: … to protect the integrity of the case… COPELAND: Lisa… PINTO: … and represent the people of the state of California. PINTO: Lisa, you are stretching it. It‘s called an abuse of process. There is a real remedy for this, Dan, and this isn‘t some novel thing. I mean you cannot engage in a judicial act, and this is a judicial act, sending subpoenas out without a good-faith basis to… ABRAMS: Well that‘s the question… PINTO: Trent, you don‘t know… (CROSSTALK) ABRAMS: But that‘s what I‘m not… (CROSSTALK) ABRAMS: Let me go to Mr. Matas on this. Mr. Matas, it is sort of ambiguous, is it not, as to whether he was suggesting that these people would not have been witnesses otherwise, correct? MATAS: Well he didn‘t elaborate. So I suppose it could be read either way. ABRAMS: And I should say this is the response we got from his spokespeople because we called them to find out what it was he meant by that. We were hoping for some clarification. This is the response we got. Being a prosecutor is a tough job, especially in a very high profile case. Because of the gag order, none of us can respond to untruths and innuendoes swirling around. This is bound to be frustrating to the media, but as a public relations agency we understand this and try to impart as much information as we can under the circumstances. You know, it doesn‘t sound to me, Lisa, like they‘re saying Mr. Matas got it wrong. PINTO: Well first of all, this was a casual gathering of prosecutors. If they knew a reporter was present, he spoke off the cuff. I would conjecture that possibly some of the attorneys involved were possible rebuttal witnesses. Maybe they knew something… ABRAMS: I hope so. PINTO: … about Geragos‘ behavior or about Michael Jackson‘s… ABRAMS: Yes. PINTO: … legal actions and in some way he needed to protect them… ABRAMS: Well… PINTO: … and shield them from the wrath… ABRAMS: All right. I hope so. Because if he is speaking to prosecutors he should be a lot clearer than that about exactly what he meant. There weren‘t supposed to be—you know they didn‘t even know reporters were there. Mr. Matas did some good journalistic work getting this information out. But I can tell you he was the only one there in terms of journalists, so we‘re not going to get to talk to anyone else about what was said or wasn‘t said. Apparently, the D.A. doesn‘t want to clarify this. But I think this is serious stuff if he was sending out any letters to people just to keep them off TV. All right, Robert Matas, Lisa Pinto and Trent Copeland, thanks very much. PINTO: Thank you. MATAS: Thank you. :nav Source: [url=][/url]

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