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Former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen Pleads Guilty to Espionage Charges

Aired July 6, 2001 - 10:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live now to Alexandria, Virginia. That's where we expect to hear from defense attorney Plato Cacheris, the attorney for accused spy Robert Hanssen, who this morning pleaded guilty to serious charges.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PLATO CACHERIS, HANSSEN ATTORNEY: Yes, but the death penalty was a very real possibility. The death penalty is no longer an option in this case, and the government receives, as a consequence, the full debriefings from Mr. Hanssen as to the breadth of his activities with the Soviet Union. So to that extent, they want that information. They are now going to get it, and Mr. Hanssen's life has been spared.

QUESTION: Mr. Plato, can you explain to us your understanding of why Mr. Hanssen spied for the Soviet Union and the Russians?

CACHERIS: I'd rather not.

QUESTION: Has he expressed any remorse at all at this point?

CACHERIS: Yes. He very much wanted to make amends. That's a big reason for this disposition today. And he wanted to tell his former agency what he had done and how he had done it, matters of interest to them.

QUESTION: Why did he not make that statement himself?

CACHERIS: What statement?

QUESTION: His remorse, his regrets, his feelings, why he did it. Why didn't he address any of that in the court, sir?

CACHERIS: That is an appropriate matter to be taken up at the time of sentencing, and I think at that time he will say something of that nature. I'm not trying to put words in his mouth, but that would be the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Could you also tell us what you said in the court about the fact that he had a premonition he was going to be arrested? CACHERIS: Yes. He's told us from the beginning, Preston and John and I that when he went on February 18 to that last drop site at the time he was arrested, he felt he was going to be arrested, and he went anyway.

QUESTION: Why?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) or why that retirement period in '99 and why ...

CACHERIS: Well, he stopped spying on two occasions; in '81 and in '92, he just stopped for reasons that are personal to him, but he unfortunately resumed in '99.

QUESTION: As you well know, it's been suggested that he was acting under some sort of psychological compulsion. What do you say...

CACHERIS: That's not credible. That's not credible.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CACHERIS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: When does the debriefing stop?

CACHERIS: At the government's option. Probably very soon.

QUESTION: Mr. Cacheris, does he have a lot to tell them? Are they going to learn things they didn't know? And what sort of things are they going to learn?

CACHERIS: They are going to learn things they did not know.

QUESTION: Like what?

CACHERIS: Well, for example, as I said in court today, his activities commenced in '79 to '81, and that period, the government knew nothing about, and they will learn about that.

CACHERIS: And the fact of his non-involvement from '92 to '99, they'll want to know about that. And how he did what he did, I think, is important for the government to learn.

QUESTION: How about other moles?

CACHERIS: I don't know anything about any other moles.

QUESTION: What things are...

CACHERIS: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: What's part of the forfeiture order? How much is he giving back?

CACHERIS: It's like he never had it. Well, there's $800,000 in a bank in Moscow. I'd volunteer to go get it, but they won't let me.

(LAUGHTER)

That's being forfeited.

QUESTION: Is he seeing family?

CACHERIS: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Has seen his family since he's been arrested?

CACHERIS: Every week. His family is very supportive. They see him every week. And the reason they're not here now is because nobody would promise me they wouldn't stick a camera in their faces or ask questions. They want to preserve their anonymity.

QUESTION: Does he explain why he started doing this and why he wanted to do this?

CACHERIS: Yes, but I don't want to get into that publicly.

QUESTION: How much would a family get under this...

CACHERIS: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: How much will the family get under the survivor's benefit? What's the annual?

CACHERIS: The benefits are preserved for the wife. The exact amount, I don't know. I haven't done the figures. Whatever it is, it's by statute.

QUESTION: Were his religious beliefs, did they have anything to do with (OFF-MIKE)

CACHERIS: Probably. Yes, I don't want to go any further than that.

QUESTION: You mentioned the premonition, but that he went anyway.

CACHERIS: He mentioned what?

QUESTION: You mentioned that he had a premonition that he was going to be arrested...

CACHERIS: Yes.

QUESTION: ... and he went anyway. Did he talk to you more at length about how that came about and why he went anyway?

CACHERIS: Yes, he did, but I don't think I should publicly disclose what he's told us. He felt that when he went to that prop site on the 18th, he was going probably be arrested.

QUESTION: Can he still face the death penalty? QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the government isn't satisfied with his cooperation? CACHERIS: Technically, yes, but I think it's unlikely. Technically, if he doesn't cooperate truthfully and fully, they can abort the agreement, but that's highly unlikely.

QUESTION: They're trying to give (OFF-MIKE) lost a lot of weight. What is his current predicament?

CACHERIS: I don't want to be critical over the food in the establishments he's been in, but that's a big reason for it, and I probably should visit for a weeks myself.

QUESTION: Is there anything in the (OFF-MIKE) about where he will be incarcerated?

CACHERIS: There is a recommendation that we believe the judge will accept that he go to Allenwood, which is a high-security facility. And the reason for that is it's convenient to his family. And as someone asked earlier, his family very much stands with him and very much will be visiting him.

QUESTION: That's in Pennsylvania?

CACHERIS: Yes, Pennsylvania, about a 3.5 hour drive.

QUESTION: Is he in good spirits?

CACHERIS: I thought he was. I thought he was.

OK?

QUESTION: Is he wearing shackles on his legs?

CACHERIS: You know, somebody asked me that. I didn't notice.

Did you see?

He was not.

CACHERIS: He was not wearing shackles.

I'm sorry?

QUESTION: What's your question? I don't have any more questions. I'm leaving.

QUESTION: Were there family members here today?

QUESTION: As part of his long spying career, has he said how easy it was to remain undetected for so long?

CACHERIS: Has he said that? No, but it's pretty obvious. He was in control. He never met any Russians. I mean, he was in control of when he got in contact with them and when he didn't. They didn't know him. So to that extent, he was controlling the operation.

QUESTION: Was he just so good at it or the FBI system so poor? CACHERIS: I think he was pretty good, to be honest with you.

QUESTION: Plato, you represented Aldrich Ames, too. In terms of damage to national security, how would you rate these two? Was Ames the worst of the two? Or...

CACHERIS: Well, they're probably both very close.

Preston, you worked on that. Do you think they're...

PRESTON BURTON, ATTORNEY FOR ROBERT HANSSEN: I think about the same.

CACHERIS: About the same.

QUESTION: There are quite a number of studies that are being done now of the FBI to determine how these kinds of things can be avoided in the future.

CACHERIS: Right.

QUESTION: Would it be your expectation that Mr. Hanssen will have any information that could be useful to any of those who are doing studies?

CACHERIS: Absolutely. I think they're going to want to know how he did it and how he got away with it. And I think that he would give invaluable information to his interrogators about those subjects.

QUESTION: How much money did Mr. Hanssen make during his (OFF- MIKE)

CACHERIS: They say $1.4 million, the papers say, but he didn't get all that. As I said, some money is sitting in a Moscow bank, unclaimed.

QUESTION: Do you think it really is sitting there?

CACHERIS: I have my doubts.

QUESTION: What about the diamonds?

CACHERIS: They were insignificant.

QUESTION: What did he do with the money? That's a lot of money and he doesn't seem to have accumulated any personal assets.

CACHERIS: I don't know what he did. He...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CACHERIS: Living expenses basically.

Yes?

QUESTION: Have you verified (OFF-MIKE) CACHERIS: I don't know that anybody can verify it. Ask Mr...

QUESTION: Mr. Cacheris, do you expect that the government would seek any of the forfeiture money at all? Will they seek any of this?

CACHERIS: What?

QUESTION: Will the government seek any of the forfeiture money in your expectations?

CACHERIS: I don't think so.

QUESTION: And the family keeps the house, as far as you know, forever?

CACHERIS: Yes.

QUESTION: Who's negotiating with Russia about the $800,000?

CACHERIS: What's that?

QUESTION: Who's negotiating with Russia about the $800,000?

CACHERIS: I'd like to, but I don't know.

QUESTION: What's the most striking aspect of this case, from your perspective, having handled a number of matters like this? What stands out most in your mind? What distinguishes this one from the others?

CACHERIS: Well, I think the fact that he controlled it and never met any Russians, and they didn't meet him. They didn't know who he was, let me put it that way. I think that's striking because in all other espionage cases that I've been involved in -- we've been involved in -- there's usually a handler. There was not one in this case. To me, that as an espionage technique, I thought was striking.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) about what really motivated him or...

CACHERIS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: There's been speculation about what really motivated him, whether it was the money or that kind of intrigue. Can you talk to us about...

CACHERIS: I don't want to talk about that, thank you. All right?

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about -- there were moments, you said, when your client stopped engaging in the espionage activity.

CACHERIS: Yes.

QUESTION: Why? Second thoughts? Fear of being caught? Did he talk to you at all about that, why he... CACHERIS: Well, but, I don't want to get into that publicly, to be honest with you. He did stop though. I think it's a matter of, let's just say...

QUESTION: Will we hear more about that at sentencing?

CACHERIS: I don't know. That's January 11, right? OK. Well...

QUESTION: That second retirement, was that similar to the first, where he was confronted by his wife? Was it the same type of situation?

CACHERIS: I've read those stories, but I'm not going to confirm them, OK?

QUESTION: Mr. Hanssen was a very religious man. Did he -- can you say anything at all about his views of capital punishment, his concern about the death penalty, and was that the critical factor for him in these negotiations?

CACHERIS: No, it was not. It was a critical factor for his lawyers.

QUESTION: Plato, can you shed any light at all on motivation here? Obvious, clearly, it was money?

CACHERIS: Well, I'm not going to dispute that, but beyond that there's no other motivation than I can get into.

QUESTION: Money would be it?

CACHERIS: That's what's been said, and I'm not going to dispute it.

KAGAN: We've been listening to defense attorney Plato Cacheris as he stands outside Alexandria, Virginia courtroom. He was -- he has been defending accused spy Robert Hanssen, who today pleaded guilty to espionage charges in a U.S. District Court. A plea agreement with the federal government, the basic deal, Mr. Hanssen will cooperate fully and let the government know what he did and how he did it in spying for the Soviets and the Russians since 1979. In exchange, Robert Hanssen will avoid the death penalty.

Our Kelli Arena was inside the courtroom for today's proceedings -- Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, Robert Hanssen pled guilty to 15 charges of espionage and conspiracy as opposed to the original 21 counts against him, as you said, in exchange for life in prison without parole. The CIA and FBI will have access to Hanssen over the next six months. He will not be sentenced until January 11. Also, his wife Bonnie will receive part of his government pension as a part of this plea agreement.

In court, Hanssen's, one of Hanssen's lawyers, Plato Cacheris, outlined a time line for us for when his espionage activities were conducted. According to Cacheris, from around 1979 or 1980 he spied until 1981 and then stopped voluntarily. He picked up again in 1985 to about 1991 or '92, then from 1992 to 1999 did not transfer any classified information. No espionage activity. Picked up again in 1999 until he was arrested in a park in northern Virginia actually making a drop of classified information.

Mr. Cacheris also pointed out that Robert Hanssen knew, had a premonition that he would be arrested that very day, but did choose to go ahead and drop off the information, Daryn. And he did, we didn't hear much from Robert Hanssen. He did answer questions directed at him by the judge, basically that he understood the charges against him and that he would not be able to appeal once he did plead guilty -- Daryn?

KAGAN: Kelli, we heard one of the reporters there notice and point out to Mr. Cacheris that she thought that Robert Hanssen looked like he had lost a considerable amount of weight. Would you agree with that? And also, what would you say his demeanor was in the courtroom today?

ARENA: He did lose a considerable amount of weight. He looked very gaunt. I mean when he first walked in he looked around the room and actually smiled. You should know that there were about half, two dozen FBI agents who had worked on the case who were there, and he looked at each one of them when he first walked in. When he was addressing and answering direct questions from the judge, he had his hands behind his back, very thin fingers, very tightly woven together, obviously fidgeting and a bit uncomfortable during that process. That was the only time during the whole hearing that he looked visibly uncomfortable. He was, again, dressed as he was back in May in a green jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" on the back but did seem much more at ease during this appearance than we saw him last time around, Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelli Arena in Alexandra, Virginia. Kelli, thank you. More on the story in just a bit.

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