PRESIDENTS & THE LAW

With President Trump facing possible legal trouble here in New York, we take a look back at another commander in chief whose courtroom showdown rocked the state. ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Dan Abrams will join us to lay out the case.

Aired on May 29, July 10 & December 23, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JACK FORD.

PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS FOUND HIMSELF AT THE CENTER OF SEVERAL INVESTIGATIONS HERE IN NEW YORK THAT COULD EXPOSE HIM TO LEGAL TROUBLE PERHAPS WHEN HE LEAVES OFFICE.

BUT HE IS NOT THE FIRST PRESIDENT TO FACE PROBLEMS IN THE EMPIRE STATE.

PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT HAD TO FIGHT TO DEFEND HIS LEGACY AFTER LEAVING OFFICE OVER A CENTURY AGO.

THIS AFTER A FRIEND TURNED RIVAL SUED OUR NATION'S 26th COMMANDER IN CHIEF FOR LIABLE, SETTING THE STAGE FOR A CASE THAT ARGUABLY RANKS AMONG THE TRIALS OF THE CENTURY.

THAT COURTROOM SHOWDOWN IN SYRACUSE IS NOW THE FOCUS ON THE NEW BOOK 'THEODORE ROOSEVELT FOR THE DEFENSE.'

OUR GUEST TONIGHT IS BEHIND THAT STORY.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO HAVE WITH US HERE ON 'METROFOCUS' MY GOOD FRIEND FOR A LOT OF YEARS, ABC NEWS CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT DAN ABRAMS.

JACK, GREAT TO BE BACK WITH YOU.

TAKES US BACK TO OUR OLD DAYS.

RIGHT.

WE'VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR A LONG TIME.

WE'RE NOWPAST THE DECADES INTO MANY DECADES.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE BOOK.

I'LL PREFACE IT BY SAYING I THOUGHT I KNEW A WHOLE LOT ABOUT ROOSEVELT, RED A LOT OF THE BIOS.

I FOUND HIM JUST A FABULOUSLY ENTERTAINING AND CURIOUS FIGURE, BUT I DIDN'T KNOW THIS STORY.

YEAH.

LET'S START OFF WITH HOW YOU DISCOVERED THE STORY AND SOME OF THE DETAILS.

SO IN OUR FIRST BOOK 'LINCOLN'S LAST TRIAL' WE FOUND THIS TRANSCRIPT THAT HAD BECOME A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY FOUND IN 1989 THE ONLY TRANSCRIPT.

WE TOLD THE STORY SURROUNDING THAT TRANSCRIPT.

IT WAS A GREAT STORY, BY THE WAY.

THANK YOU.

WE TALKED ABOUT THE BOOK.

IT WAS A MARVELOUS READ.

IT WAS A FUN STORY AS ABRAHAM LINCOLN AS THE LAWYER.

SO WE SAID, YOU KNOW, THIS MAKES SENSE FOR US TO SEE WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE IN TERMS OF TRANSCRIPTS AND TRIALS.

AND WE CAME UPON THIS.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT ON THE STAND FOR EIGHT DAYS DEFENDING HIS LEGACY, HIS HONOR AND AS YOU POINT OUT THEODORE ROOSEVELT IS AN INTERESTING CHARACTER.

NO MATTER WHAT YOU THINK OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT, HE IS SUPER COMPELLING.

THE IDEA OF HIM BEING ON THE WITNESS STAND FOR EIGHT DAYS.

FRANKLY ROOSEVELT TESTIFIES IN HIS DEFENSE.

IT'S AN AMAZING STORY THAT, YOU KNOW, IS OCCASIONALLY MENTIONED IN A THEODORE ROOSEVELT BIOGRAPHY.

WHAT'S THE GENESIS?

I MENTIONED FRIEND TURNED RIVAL.

WHAT WAS IT THAT HAPPENS THAT BRINGS THEM BOTH INTO A COURTROOM.

SO WILLIAM BARNES WAS A NATIONAL REPUBLICAN LEADER.

AT THE TIME HE WAS THE HEAD OF THE NEW YORK REPUBLICAN PARTY.

ROOSEVELT WAS BASICALLY ACCUSING HIM AND THE HEAD OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF BEING IN CAHOOTS TO PREVENT CITIZENS FROM GETTING TO VOTE FOR THEIR SENATORS, AMONG OTHER THINGS.

BACK IN THE DAY IT WAS THE PARTY INSIDERS WHO PICKED THE SENATE.

IT WAS THE STATE HEDGE SLAYTURE, SO THE PARTY BOSSES HAD ENORMOUS -- NO POPULAR VOTE OF SENATORS.

AND IT ENRAGED ROOSEVELT.

HE THOUGHT IT WAS WRONG.

HE THOUGHT THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE ABLE TO VOTE AND HIS POSITION WAS THAT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY WERE WORKING TOGETHER TO MAKE SURE THAT THAT STAYED THE CASE AND THEY ACCUSED BARNES OF BEING CORRUPT.

BARNES SUED THEM.

BARNES SAID, THIS IS HURTING MY REPUTATION.

BARNES HAD FUTURE POLITICAL AMBITIONS, TAKES HIM TO COURT, SUES HIM FOR $50,000 WHICH AT THE TIME WAS A LOT OF MONEY.

A LOT OF PEOPLE WARNED BARNES.

THEY SAID BE CAREFUL HERE, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO GO DOWN THIS ROAD?

AND ROOSEVELT WAS VERY CONCERNED WHEN HE GOT SUED BECAUSE THIS TRIAL WAS ABOUT MUCH MORE THAN WHETHER WILLIAM BARNES WAS CORRUPT, BECAUSE BACK IN THE DAY THE LEGAL STANDARD WAS THAT ROOSEVELT HAD TO PROVE IT WAS TRUE.

VERY DIFFERENT FROM NOW.

VERY DIFFERENT FROM NOW.

IN THE END THE PLAINTIFFS WENT AFTER ROOSEVELT.

THEY BASICALLY SAID YOU DID THE SAME STUFF, YOU'RE A HYPOCRITE AND ROOSEVELT TOOK THAT INCREDIBLY PERSONALLY AND FELT VERY STRONGLY THAT HE NEEDED TO DEFEND HIMSELF AND HIS HONOR.

LET'S JUST SAY THAT HE WASN'T SO GREAT AT TAKING INSTRUCTION FROM THE LAWYERS OR THE JUDGE.

CAN YOU IMAGINE HAVING HIM AS YOUR CLIENT AND NOT TAKING YOUR INSTRUCTIONS?

YOU KNOW, AT TALES THIS IS A SERIOUS THING TO ROOSEVELT.

THERE WERE TIMES WHEN THE RULINGS THAT WENT AGAINST HIM WOULD CANCEL HIS WEEKEND PLANS SO HE COULD HUDDLE WITH HIS LAWYERS FOR THE WEEKEND.

THERE WERE DEFINITELY TIMES WHEN HE WAS ON THE WITNESS STAND WHEN IT WAS CLEAR HE WAS ENJOYING HIMSELF.

YOU'RE SORT OF SURPRISED THAT THE STORY HAS CONTINUED ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE EXTENT OF THE MEDIA COVERAGE.

JUST READING THE 'NEW YORK TIMES' COVERAGE OF THIS TRIAL TAKES DAYS.

IT IS SINGLE SPACED, BASICALLY TRANSCRIPTIONS BECAUSE IT WAS SUCH A BIG DEAL, BIG HEADLINE, FOLLOWED BY WHAT ARE REALLY TRANSCRIPTIONS OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN COURT.

NOT EVERY WORD, BUT A LOT OF IT.

THINK ABOUT IT.

WE'RE 1915.

WORLD WAR I IS HEATING UP.

BIG DECISIONS HAVE TO BE MADE ABOUT U.S. INVOLVEMENT.

AND THAT TRIAL AND THE SINGING OF THE SINKING OF THE LUCITANIA KNOCKED IT OFF THE FRONT PAGE.

IT BECAME A SENSITIVE ISSUE FOR THEM IN THE TRIAL BECAUSE THERE WERE THREE GERMAN AMERICANS WHO WERE ON THE JURY.

BACK THEN A LOT OF GERMAN AMERICANS HAD GREAT SYMPATHY WITH THE GERMANS.

MANY GERMAN AMERICANS HAD BEEN VERY CRITICAL OF ROOSEVELT'S POSITION UP TO THAT POINT WHICH HAD BEEN WE GOT TO GET INTO THIS WAR.

THE GERMANS ARE UP TO --

A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE HOW WILSON WON REELECTION BY VOWING TO KEEP US OUT OF THE WAR.

YEP.

AND ROOSEVELT PUSHING VERY, VERY HARD TO SAY WE OUGHT TO BE IN THIS.

SO IT SUNK DURING THE TRIAL.

HIS LAWYERS ARE CONCERNED ARE WE GOING TO ALIENATE THESE THREE OF OUR 12 JURIES THAT ARE GERMAN AMERICANS.

AS A WHOLE GERMAN AMERICANS HAVE BEEN VERY SUPPORTIVE OF THE GERMANS AND VERY ANGRY WITH ROOSEVELT FOR COMMENTS TDE.

AMAZINGLY WORLD WAR I ENDS UP CONNECTING TO THIS TRIAL AS WELL.

YOU ALWAYS LOOK FOR PARALLELS.

SO WE NOW HAVE A PRESIDENT WHETHER YOU SUPPORT HIM OR OPPOSE HIM, I THINK EVERYBODY WILL AGREE HE IS SOMEBODY THAT IS NOT AFRAID OF A FIGHT AND SOMETIMES WILL SEEK OUT FIGHTS.

SO DO YOU SEE PARALLELS.

THERE ARE DEFINITELY PARALLELS.

THERE ARE ALSO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES.

TH THEODORE ROOSEVELT BELIEVED IN EXECUTIVE POWER.

HE BELIEVED CONGRESS SHOULDN'T BE GETTING INTO HIS BUSINESS.

HE CALLED PEOPLE NAMES.

HE CALLED PEOPLE EUNUCHS.

QUAINT.

THEN THAT WAS A BIG DEAL.

HE WAS A REPUBLICAN FROM NEW YORK WHO WAS VERY OUTSPOKEN, KNEW HOW TO PLAY THE MEDIA, WAS ALSO CRITICAL OF THE MEDIA AND IN FACT AT ONE POINT HE USED THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO PROSECUTE MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA BECAUSE HE DIDN'T LIKE WHAT THEY WERE SAYING.

A COUPLE OF PAPERS HAD BASICALLY SUGGESTED THAT HE'D SKIM SOME OF THE MONEY ON THE PANAMA CANAL DEAL OR PEOPLE CLOSE TO HIM.

AND HE WENT CRAZY.

SIMILAR TO YOUR PRIOR BOOK WHERE ABRAHAM LINCOLN THREW JOURNALISTS IN JAIL BECAUSE HE DIDN'T LIKE WHAT THEY WERE WRITING DURING THE CIVIL WAR.

AT LEAST THERE THERE WAS A WAR, SOME REMOTE JUSTIFICATION.

WHAT ROOSEVELT DID HERE WAS -- EVENTUALLY THE CASE GOT THROWN OUT, BUT HE HAD A LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MEDIA.

HE'S THE ONE WHO CALLED THEM INITIALLY MUCKRAKERS WHICH AT THE TIME WAS A BIG INSULT WHICH THE PRESS TOOK IN THE END AS A BADGE OF HONOR.

SO THERE WERE A LOT OF COMPARISONS.

ON THE OTHER HAND, HE WAS SOMEONE WHO CARED MORE ABOUT NATURAL RESOURCES THAN ALMOST ANYTHING.

MOST OF OUR NATIONAL PARKS ARE THANKS TO THEODORE ROOSEVELT.

HE CARED ENORMOUSLY ABOUT HONESTY.

I THINK EVEN DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTERS WOULD SAY, YOU KNOW, COME ON, SOME OF THE STUFF HE'S SAYING, YEAH, MAYBE IT'S NOT ENTIRELY TRUE BUT IT'S ABOUT STUFF THAT DOESN'T MATTER.

ANYTHING THAT WASN'T THE TRUTH MATTERED TO ROOSEVELT.

THIS IS THE SECOND IN YOUR STRING OF GREAT DISCOVERIES OF GREAT COURTROOM DRAMA.

WE HAVE A THIRD ONE COMING TOO.

WE HAVEN'T ANNOUNCED WHAT IT IS YET.

IT'S ANOTHER ONE WITH A TRANSCRIPT.

ANOTHER GREAT CASE WHERE MOST PEOPLE DIDN'T KNOW THERE WAS A TRANSCRIPT.

AND THE TRANSCRIPT TAKES YOU ON WHERE YOU NEED TO GO FOR THIS JOURNEY.

IT'S GREAT HISTORY.

IT'S GREAT COURTROOM DRAMA.

WITH TEDDY ROOSEVELT AT THE CENTER HOW COULD IT NOT BE ENTERTAINING.

CONGRATULATIONS AND WE'LL GET YOU BACK NOW ON THE NEXT ONE.

I APPRECIATE IT.

DAN'S GOING TO BE BACK HERE TOMORROW NIGHT AS WE CONTINUE OUR CONVERSATION THIS TIME FOCUSING ON SOME OF THE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE.

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