DAN ABRAMS

Dan Abrams, one of America’s best legal minds, joins us to  break down the strategy of the Mueller investigation and the White House defense. Plus, he’ll share a little known story about the murder trial that propelled President Abraham Lincoln onto the American political stage.

Aired on August 23, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> PRESIDENTS AND LEGAL ISSUES.

IN MANY RESPECTS THE LAW HAS BECOME ONE OF THE DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS OF MANY PRESIDENCIES, INCLUDING THAT OF THE CURRENCY OFFICE HOLDER.

ONE OF OUR MOST FAMOUS PRESIDENTS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOUND HIMSELF AT THE CENTER OF LEGAL QUESTIONS, MANY OF WHICH HAVE PARALLELS TODAY.

IN ADDITION TO PROVIDING INSIGHT, HE'S ALSO WRITTEN A NEW BOOK WHICH REVEALS A COMPELLING PART OF LINCOLN'S OWN LEGAL HISTORY AS A TRIAL LAWYER.

WE'RE ALWAYS HAPPY TO HAVE DAN HERE WITH US TODAY TO TALK ABOUT HIS NEW BOOK, IT'S CALLED 'LINCOLN'S LAST TRIAL' AND ALSO TO HAVE A CONVERSATION THAT WILL HOPEFULLY HELP US TO UNDERSTAND THE LEGAL ISSUES SWIRLING AROUND PRESIDENT TRUMP AND HIS ADMINISTRATION.

DAN, ALWAYS GOOD TO HAVE YOU.

GOOD TO BE WITH YOU, JACK.

THERE'S A LOT FF US TO TALK ABOUT IN TERMS OF THE ADMINISTRATION AND LEGAL ISSUES.

I WANT TO START OFF WITH THE BOOK.

IT'S FASCINATING.

YOU AND I BOTH, OUR BACKGROUNDS ARE IN THE LAW AND CHRONICLING THE LAW.

WE ARE BOTH INVOLVED IN HISTORY AND OTHER ASPECTS OF THINGS.

YES.

AND THIS BOOK ACTUALLY GOT STARTED BECAUSE SOMEBODY STUMBLED ACROSS A TRANSCRIPT THAT NOBODY EVEN KNEW EXISTED.

TELL ME ABOUT HOW IT GOT STARTED.

THEN WE'LL TALK SOME MORE ABOUT THE TRIAL ITSELF.

SO 1989, IN THE GARAGE OF THE GREAT GRANDSON OF THE DEFENDANT, THEY FIND, WRAPPED IN A BOW, A 100-PLUS PAGE TRANSCRIPT OF A TRIAL.

AND IT NOW IS THE ONLY TRANSCRIPT THAT EXISTS OF ANY CASE THAT LINCOLN EVER ARGUED BECAUSE BACK THEN, WRITING A TRANSCRIPT, WASN'T TYPICAL.

IT WAS HARD WORK.

AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

AND --

YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT WRITING IT, YOU WERE WRITING IT.

IT'S A TIPPED PEN, GOING IN THERE AND DOING THAT.

IN THIS CASE THE FAMILY OF THE DEFENDANT HAD SOME MONEY.

LINCOLN KNEW THE RIGHT PERSON, THE PERSON WHO WOULD ACTUALLY TRANSCRIBE THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES FOR HIM, AND HE HIRED HIM AND SAID, LOOK, FAMILY'S GOING TO COVER THIS.

ET CETERA.

SO JUST THE FACT THAT THERE WAS A TRANSCRIPT MADE WAS UNIQUE.

AND THE FACT THAT WE DIDN'T KNOW IT EXISTED UNTIL 1989.

BUT REMEMBER, THIS IS NINE MONTHS BEFORE HE GETS THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION.

SO HE'S BECOMING SOMETHING OF A LUMINARY.

IS HE THERE YET?

NO.

IS HE ABRAHAM LINCOLN YET?

NO.

BUT HE IS WELL-KNOWN IN THE WEST AS A GREAT LAWYER, BUT HE'S NOT A HUGE NATIONAL FIGURE YET.

NO QUESTION, THOUGH, THAT AT THIS POINT HE'S EVALUATING THE POSSIBILITY OF RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT.

AND SO TAKING ON THIS KIND OF CASE, THIS IS A MURDER CASE, AS IS THE CASE TODAY WHEN YOU REPRESENT THE DEFENDANT IN A MURDER CASE YOU CAN BE VERY UNPOPULAR IN TOWN.

YEAH, I REPRESENTED -- I'VE DEFENDED A NUMBER OF THEM.

PEOPLE WANTED JUSTICE, RIGHT, BECAUSE HIS CLIENT KILLED SOMEONE, HE ADMITTED IT.

IT WASN'T A WHODUNIT.

IT WAS A SELF-DEFENSE CASE.

PEOPLE WERE ANGRY.

AND THERE'S ABE LINCOLN TAKING A RISK OF BEING THE GUY'S LAWYER, AND BEING DESPISED IN THE COMMUNITY WHEN WE'RE NINE MONTHS BEFORE HE EVENTUALLY GETS THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION.

IN A LOT OF WAYS, TALK ABOUT RISK, THIS IS NOT JUST THE RISK OF LOSING THE CASE OR NOT JUST THE RISK OF SAYING, OKAY, AS A LAWYER, MAYBE HE'S NOT THAT GOOD, HE LOST THE CASE, THAT'S NOT NECESSARILY A CORRELATION, REALLY GREAT LAWYERS HAVE LOST CASES.

BUT HE IS NOW LOOKING AT THE HIGHEST OFFICE IN THE LAND.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT HE WAS WILLING TO JUMP IN ON THIS?

I THINK HE WAS 'A,' CONVINCED THAT THE DEFENDANT DIDN'T DESERVE TO BE CONVICTED.

I THINK HE WAS ASKED BY HIS LONGTIME FRIEND AND FORMER LAW PARTNER TO DO IT.

AND I THINK THAT ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS, UNLIKE TODAY WHERE WE'D SAY, NINE MONTHS BEFORE, YOU'VE GOT TO START THINKING, YOU'RE ALREADY WELL INTO THE PRIMARIES, YOU KNOW, FOR HIM, IT WAS I STILL GOT TO BE A LAWYER FOR NOW.

I'VE GOT TO MAKE A LIVING.

I'VE GOT TO DO WHAT I DO, AND I'M NOT GOING TO WORRY TOO MUCH YET ABOUT HOW THAT'S GOING TO BE PERCEIVED.

AND LINCOLN WAS VERY SELECTIVE ABOUT THE KINDS OF CASES HE WOULD TAKE.

HE WAS NOTORIOUS FOR SAYING NO TO CASES WHEN HE DIDN'T BELIEVE IN THEM.

AND IT IS CLEAR FROM THE DEFENSE, AND THERE'S ONE POINT IN THIS CASE, AND THERE ARE DESCRIPTIONS FROM PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE IN THE COURTROOM ABOUT HOW ANGRY LINCOLN GOT AT ONE POINT DURING THE TRIAL AT THE JUDGE FOR A REALLY IMPORTANT RULING IN THE CASE THAT JUST SHOWS YOU HOW PASSIONATE HE WAS ABOUT THIS CASE, AND THIS DEFENDANT.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE IS FASCINATING, THE VICTIM HAD WORKED FOR LINCOLN?

THERE WAS A PERSONAL CONNECTION THERE.

PERSONAL CONNECTION.

YEAH.

AND LINCOLN LIKED HIM.

HE SERVED AS AN INTERN, BUT HE STILL FELT THAT FROM HIS PERSPECTIVE, JUSTICE WAS TO REPRESENT THE DEFENDANT HERE.

IT WAS A CLOSE CASE.

IT WAS, WE'RE NOT GOING TO REVEAL ANYTHING.

NOT GOING TO GIVE IT AWAY.

WHEN YOU SAY TO SOMEBODY WHO'S DONE A WORK OF HISTORY, THAT IT READS LIKE FICTION, THAT, I THINK, IS A PRETTY GOOD COMPLIMENT.

I HOPE SO.

WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME TRYING TO MAKE IT LIKE ANY MODERN DAY CRIME THRILLER.

IT IS.

AND THAT'S --

THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY HAPPENS TO BE ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

YES.

AND IT HAPPENS TO BE TRUE.

LET ME SEGUE FROM THAT.

WE MENTIONED IN THE TOP THAT ANYBODY WHO'S A STUDENT OF LINCOLN KNOWS WHEN HE WAS A PRESIDENT WHAT SORT OF LEGAL ISSUES SUSPENDED THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, ACTUALLY PUT SOME JOURNALISTS IN JAIL BECAUSE HE DIDN'T LIKE WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT.

PEOPLE WERE SUING HIM AND THE PRESIDENCY.

IT LEADS US INTO PRESENT DAY.

LET'S TALK ABOUT ISSUES AND ABOUT PERSONALITIES.

A LOT OF WHAT'S SWIRLING AROUND ABOUT THE PRESIDENT RIGHT NOW HAS TO DO WITH ROBERT MUELLER'S INVESTIGATION.

I'M NOT SO SURE THAT EVERYBODY UNDERSTANDS THE NOTION OF A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR.

WE GO BACK TO PRESIDENT CLINTON, THE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR STARTED OFF WITH WHITE WATER, A REAL ESTATE DEAL HE DID WHEN HE WAS GOVERNOR, AND THEN IT EXPANDED.

FROM WHAT YOU'RE SEEING IN TERMS OF ROBERT MUELLER AND HIS INVESTIGATION, WHERE DO YOU THINK THIS THING IS GOING?

AND LEGALLY, IS IT A LEGITIMATE INVESTIGATION?

SO LET'S REMEMBER THAT THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL STATUTE THAT KEN STARR WAS WORKING UNDER WAS A CONGRESSIONAL ACT.

SO NOW THAT'S EXPIRED.

THAT'S NO LONGER ON THE TABLE.

NOW YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT REASON HERE, BASICALLY, THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT DETERMINING THAT IT'S NO LONGER CALLED AN INDEPENDENT COUNSEL, THAT WAS FOR THE STATUTE, IT'S A SPECIAL COUNSEL IS NECESSARY TO INVESTIGATE SOMETHING WHERE THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CAN'T DO IT EFFECTIVELY ON ITS OWN.

I THINK IT WAS PRETTY CLEAR, BASED ON WHAT THEY KNEW AT THE TIME, THAT EVERYONE AROUND THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT JUST ABOUT THOUGHT IT WAS NECESSARY TO HAVE SOMEBODY LOOK INTO RUSSIAN MEDDLING IN THE ELECTION, PERIOD.

AND THE QUESTION OF WAS THERE ANY CONNECTION TO THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN?

AGAIN, LET'S BE CLEAR, THAT DOESN'T MEAN DONALD TRUMP, IT MEANS PEOPLE CONNECTED WITH THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN.

AND WE'VE ALREADY SEEN, IN THE CONNECTION WITH MUELLER'S INVESTIGATION, GUILTY PLEAS BY MEMBERS OF TRUMP'S CAMPAIGN IN CONNECTION WITH WHAT THEY WERE SAYING ABOUT CONTACTS WITH THE RUSSIANS.

THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT THERE WAS COORDINATION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN.

YOU KNOW, WHEN PEOPLE SAY COLLUSION'S NOT A CRIME, YOU HEAR THIS, AND THAT'S TRUE, BUT IF THERE WAS COORDINATION BETWEEN -- LET'S CALL IT THE JONES CAMPAIGN AND THE RUSSIANS IN CONNECTION WITH HACKING HILLARY CLINTON'S E-MAILS.

RIGHT.

THEN YOU'VE GOT A POSSIBLE CRIME.

YOU'VE GOT A CRIME.

AND SO IT'S JUST TOO SIMPLISTIC TO SAY COLLUSION'S NOT A CRIME EVEN THOUGH THAT'S FACTUALLY TRUE.

YOU THEN HAVE TO ASK THE NEXT QUESTION, WHICH IS, OKAY, WELL THEN WHAT ARE THEY LOOKING INTO?

THEY'RE LOOKING INTO COLLUSION.

THEY'RE LOOKING INTO CONSPIRACY.

THEY'RE LOOKING INTO POSSIBLE COMPUTER AND HACKING CRIMES.

YEAH, AND ABOUT WHAT?

RIGHT.

WHERE IS THE GOAL?

BUT IT ALSO -- PRESIDENT TRUMP MAY TURN OUT TO BE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT THAT THERE WAS NO SORT OF BIG PICTURE COLLUSION BETWEEN THE RUSSIANS AND HIS CAMPAIGN, YOU KNOW?

AND THAT'S WHAT HOPEFULLY WILL GET SOME ANSWERS.

WE'LL SEE.

LET ME ASK YOU ONE OTHER THING, BEFORE I LET YOU GO, MOST RECENTLY, RUDY GIULIANI, WE KNEW HIM FROM A LONG TIME AGO, I HAD CASES AGAINST HIM WHEN HE WAS THE U.S. ATTORNEY, ARE YOU SURPRISED FROM THE LEGAL PERSPECTIVE AT HOW VOCAL AND HOW OUT FRONT HE HAS BEEN IN TERMS OF HIS REPRESENTATION OF THE PRESIDENT?

NO, BECAUSE WHAT YOU'VE SEEN IS AN EVOLUTION IN THE TYPE OF LAWYERS REPRESENTING DONALD TRUMP.

OVER TIME THAT THIS INVESTIGATION HAS GONE ON, PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS BECOME VERY FRUSTRATED WITH THE INVESTIGATION.

AND GIULIANI IS A GREAT WAY TO VENT ABOUT THOSE FRUSTRATIONS, FOR WHAT PRESIDENT TRUMP WANTS, RUDY GIULIANI IS THE RIGHT GUY.

YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

AND WE'LL SEE.

THE PRESIDENT IS FOND OF SAYING, WE'LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

YEAH, EXACTLY.

DOWN THE ROAD.

DAN, ALWAYS GOOD TO CHAT WITH YOU ABOUT SOME OTHER THINGS.

WE'LL HAVE YOU BACK.

GREAT.

TOMORROW WE'LL CONTINUE OUR CONVERSATION WITH DAN, TACKLE THE THORNY QUESTIONS OF SO-CALLED FAKE NEWS AND GROWING ACCUSATIONS THAT THE WHITE HOUSE IS RUNNING A DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN TO DISCREDIT THE PRESS AND THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION.

SO WE'LL HAVE A LOT MORE TO TALK WITH DAN ABOUT TOMORROW.

Funders

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