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Family of Missing Girl Victimized by Cruel Hoax; Bush Takes Responsibility for Yellowcake; Did Nixon Order Watergate Break-In?

Aired July 30, 2003 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again everyone.
We don't often warn you ahead of time that the pictures you're about to see are deeply disturbing and I can't recall ever giving such a warning when it doesn't involve blood, guts, and gore, so this is one of those rare stories.

Today we saw a father's heart broken, his hopes ripped apart, live on national TV. He thought he was getting his long lost daughter back and he wasn't. He found out just before facing the cameras that he had been the victim of an unimaginable cruelty, a woman pretending to be his daughter.

To say it's hard to watch this man's face is an understatement. As is sometimes the case around here we concede this is not the most important story of the day. It is, however, clearly the most compelling and it's where we begin the whip.

David Mattingly in Indianapolis, Indiana with the story of the hoax, David the headline.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, almost 17 years after a family loses their little girl in an abduction they are victimized a second time, this time by a cruel and elaborate hoax -- Aaron.

BROWN: David, thank you, we'll get back to you at the top tonight.

To the White House next, the president holding a rare news conference, a lot of possible headlines. Our senior White House correspondent John King with us tonight, John pick one.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, perhaps the biggest, the president taking personal responsibility for that now discredited claim in his State of the Union address about Iraq allegedly trying to improve its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Bush also conceded today that to quiet all the criticism about the war the United States had better find some evidence of weapons of mass destruction -- Aaron.

BROWN: John, thank you.

And, on to questions about the budget of the Federal Air Marshal Program, Jeanne Meserve will cover such matters for us, has that, Jeanne the headline. JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, homeland officials had proposed carving money out of the air marshal's budget to meet other shortfalls but the outcry from Congress has been so intense that tonight those officials are talking about ways to beef the program up -- Aaron.

BROWN: Jeanne, thank you, we'll get back to you and the rest shortly.

Also coming up tonight on NEWSNIGHT, one of the enduring mysteries of Watergate 30 years later. Did President Nixon know about the break-in ahead of time? Someone in a position to know says, yes, he did. We'll look at what Jeb Stuart Magruder is saying now with scholar of Watergate Richard Reeves.

We'll also look at what life has been like for a man freed after spending years in prison, years in prison for a crime he did not commit. So, now he's had a year of freedom. What's it been like? Not as easy as it sounds.

And, around the world of news in, oh, roughly 150 seconds or so, we'll look at tomorrow's newspapers tonight, all that and more in the hour ahead.

We begin with Shannon Marie Sherrill, a young child taken from her family, not once, but in a sense twice. The first time was 1986 when the six-year-old vanished during a game of hide and seek outside her home near Indianapolis.

The second time today when it was revealed that all their hopes built up in recent days were nothing but the product of a horrible hoax. Well, that's all the trauma this family ever needed. A dad's heart can only take so much as we saw today live on television.

Reporting the story tonight, CNN's David Mattingly.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): After 16 years and ten months of heartache, the Sherrill family dared to believe it was possible their long lost daughter could soon come home but then the terrible truth.

SGT. DAVE BURSTEN, INDIANA STATE POLICE: After exhaustive investigation it has been determined that the woman who contacted Dorothy Sherrill, claiming to be Shannon Marie Sherrill who was abducted in Thorntown, Indiana on October 5, 1986, was actually the perpetrator of a cruel hoax.

MATTINGLY: According to Indiana State Police a Topeka, Kansas woman for reasons unknown claimed to be three different people in an elaborate attempt to pass herself off as Shannon Sherrill.

LT. JEFF HECK, INDIANA STATE POLICE: I don't know, I've probably never seen anything like this and I can tell you four days later or four days into this I hope I never see anything like it again. MATTINGLY: Shannon was abducted without a trace in 1986 at the age of six. She'd be 23 next month but her age-enhanced photos bear little similarity to the 35-year-old suspect identified as Donna Walker.

TODD MEYER, BOONE COUNTY PROSECUTOR: The judge could agree wholeheartedly with my argument and give this woman the maximum sentence but the maximum, according to the laws of Indiana, are four years and perhaps that's something that, you know, as a state the legislators we need to look at.

MATTINGLY: Shannon's father, Mike Sherrill, was not told of the deception until minutes before the police announcement.

MIKE SHERRILL, FATHER: I thought they were going to bring Shannon in here. I thought this was something.

MATTINGLY: Devastated and saying it was like he lost Shannon for a second time, the grieving father still finds a reason for hope. All the attention on Shannon, he says, might produce future leads.

SHERRILL: I'm hoping that her picture gets out again and everybody starts looking for her again. Next time I hope it's not going to be a hoax.


MATTINGLY: Suspect Donna Walker is at large but authorities are confident she will be found soon. What cinched this case, they say, were the findings from the police in Virginia Beach, Virginia, that she may have tried something like this before -- Aaron.

BROWN: How did they -- how did they know who she was? Did she tell them what her name, her actual name was?

MATTINGLY: What they were able to do, the names that she was providing to them and the variety of characters she was presenting herself to them as over the telephone they sent all of these names to Virginia Beach and it was the Virginia Police Department that was able to tell the police here that those names aren't matching up. This is similar to what we've seen before and this could be your suspect.

BROWN: I'm sorry, put one more piece of the puzzle together if you can here. How did they know to send it to Virginia Beach?

MATTINGLY: That's something that they haven't quite been too forthcoming about. We hope to find out more about that once the case does go to court, once they have apprehended her and try to prosecute this case.

BROWN: And, the crime that she'll be charged with is or crimes?

MATTINGLY: There are two different crimes. One is a felony and one is a misdemeanor, both involving deception, the felony carrying three years, the misdemeanor one year.

BROWN: David, thank you, David Mattingly in Indianapolis tonight.

Mary Beth Schneider has been covering the story for the "Indianapolis Star" and she joins us from Indianapolis tonight.

Let me go back to some of the things I was asking David. Do you know why they focused on Virginia Beach or were able to connect this woman to Virginia Beach? Have you been able to piece that together yet?

MARY BETH SCHNEIDER, REPORTER, "INDIANAPOLIS STAR": Well, really the woman told the police that she was living in Virginia Beach and she also used other names. I mean to further this deception she had her husband call, a friend call. Both those people were actually her and they traced all those calls, not to Virginia Beach then but to Kansas.

BROWN: She was able to convincingly speak in a male voice?

SCHNEIDER: Yes and we've been learning today an awful lot about Donna Walker and as heartbreaking as the story is it seems to only get more heartbreaking. This is apparently a person who was abused as a child with parents were in a satanic cult and now may have, you know, many, many multiple personalities.

We talked to somebody that Donna Walker had lived with their family 11 years ago in Denver, Colorado and said that she may have as many as 97 multiple personalities.

BROWN: Wow. Let me throw out a number of things. I don't know how many of these you can answer or not. Is there any indication why she picked this family and this child and this situation?

SCHNEIDER: No, and it's so sad. I mean you would think that if somebody was trying to gain something, you know that they would be a family that had something to give. These people had nothing but love really to give to their daughter and somehow she picked them out of all the people that she could have.

BROWN: Can you tell us any more about how the family today was told there was, as I'm sure you know, a fair amount of consternation that they were told very shortly before they went before the cameras and that was part of the very difficult emotional moment that we all say?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, that was -- it was very hard to watch. Personally, I don't know a lot about that but I do know that the police have been hoping that they would be able to catch Donna Walker and the, you know, the smallest amount of information getting out might prevent that from happening.

As it turns out when they went to try to arrest her in Kansas, in Topeka, she was not there. Now they believe she's on the run. They know she's on the run and, you know, who knows when they'll find her?

BROWN: Was there any suggestion over the last 24 hours or so that this was not what it appeared to be that it was in fact a hoax? When did you start to get wind of the fact that it might be?

SCHNEIDER: I think some of the media began to, you know, be concerned about that fairly early on as certain things didn't seem to match up. The police were also very questioning of some things.

They did not want to release very much information but at the same time, you know, and the police say that they -- by Tuesday afternoon they knew it was a hoax but they also said that they wanted to believe it was true.

After Elizabeth Smart, I think there are still so many people who believe miracles happen, that children come back to their parents even after 17 years. All these people wanted it to be true and it just wasn't.

BROWN: And, were you at the press conference today?

SCHNEIDER: No, but I did watch it on television.

BROWN: Were you I guess surprised when you heard the words come out? What was your reaction?

SCHNEIDER: I think it confirmed what I had feared.

BROWN: You had started to believe that?


BROWN: And was that just your instincts, your reporter's instincts, or was there some piece of information or pieces of information that you put together over the last 24 or 48 hours that made you believe that?

SCHNEIDER: That was just my gut feeling because I was not the reporter that was dealing with this day after day after day. I was called in today to work on the story.

BROWN: It's a horrible and complicated ending, isn't it? I mean the things you added today make it even more troubling. Thanks for your time tonight.


BROWN: I know you're filing tonight.


BROWN: Thank you Mary Beth Schneider of the "Indianapolis Star."

On to other matters now, in some respects I suppose a bit easier to understand. The president held a news conference today, a rarity for him. Bill Clinton had held 33 news conferences at this point in his administration. President Bush, the elder, had held 61. This was George W. Bush's ninth but he did cover a lot of ground and almost unheard of in a presidential news conference he made some news as well. Here's our senior White House correspondent John King.


KING (voice-over): The president took responsibility for making a now discredited claim that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in Africa but insisted the overall case for war was strong.

BUSH: I analyzed a thorough body of intelligence, good, solid, sound intelligence.

KING: And he vigorously defended his national security adviser who initially blamed the CIA but later acknowledged the White House was warned the claim about trying to buy uranium in Africa was dubious.

BUSH: Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person and America is lucky to have her service period.

KING: In answering 17 questions over 52 minutes, the president acknowledged his tax cuts are a factor in growing budget deficits but said the economy needed a boost, said new intelligence suggests al Qaeda might try to hijack international flights heading to the United States, called for a law banning gay marriage but urged Americans to be tolerant of homosexuals.

BUSH: I am mindful that we're all sinners and I caution those who may try to take a spec out of the neighbor's eye when they got a log in their own.

KING: It was the ninth former news conference of the Bush presidency and his first since launching the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush took issue with critics who suggest the administration did not have a plan to win the peace.

BUSH: I never expected Thomas Jefferson to emerge in Iraq in a 90-day period and so this is going to take time.

KING: The president says U.S. troops are on the hunt for Saddam Hussein. Across town, Secretary of State Powell put it this way.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Saddam Hussein is no longer bad news, he's a piece of trash waiting to be collected.

KING: And, Mr. Bush held firm in refusing to make public classified documents about possible Saudi involvement in supporting the September 11 hijackers.

BUSH: It is important for us to hold this information close so that those who are being investigated aren't alerted.


KING: That last answer, the president's continuing refusal to make public those documents dealing with Saudi Arabia and 9/11 not sitting well tonight with key members of Congress, even some Republicans now saying they will try to mount an effort on Capitol Hill to use the power Congress has to make those documents public if the president won't give in -- Aaron.

BROWN: Congress about to recess, depending on how the energy bill goes in the Senate, and the president about to head to Texas. What's the next month like for him?

KING: Well, he's heading to Texas but this will not be the traditional vacation, in part because last year the president started traveling more and more but most of all because there is the campaign just ahead. Mr. Bush will spend most of the month of August traveling.

Congress will not be in session, as you noted, so he will have the political stage to himself with the exception, of course, of the Democrats trying to run against him, a lot of fund-raising and a lot of speeches in which the president said today he will talk mostly about two issues, the war on terrorism and more and more and more the economy.

BROWN: And, was there an acknowledgement from the president at all today that the failure to this point to find weapons of mass destruction is causing him problems?

KING: Yes, there was actually quite a candid statement from the president, which after he vigorously defended the pre-war decisions and after he vigorously defended his post-war plan, the president then went on to concede this point. He says he understands full well that until they show evidence and find evidence of the weapons programs that this debate will never quiet down completely.

He says he met today with David Kay. He's the former weapons inspector now leading the hunt in Iraq and he says in time that evidence will come forward but the president in the past has brushed off the criticism. Today, he said he realizes he has something he has to prove.

BROWN: John, thank you very much, good to have you with us tonight, our Senior White House Correspondent John King.

Ahead on the program, safety in the skies and questions about cutbacks in the Air Marshal Program.

And later, he was freed from jail after serving time for a crime he did not commit but his troubles weren't over, a year of freedom later on NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: We talk a lot about the new normal around here. Here's another way to look at it. Things that used to be good for a chuckle or two can now scare you silly or just make you angry, the bureaucracy for one.

It used to be the stuff of late night monologues back when bungling didn't put lives at risk. Now it does and suddenly lines like, did you hear the one about the agency that grounded the air marshals on the day of the terror alert, well that just doesn't seem to get big yucks anymore.

Today, the agency responsible for this latest slip up did an about face. Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve.


MESERVE (voice-over): On one hand reports of possible terrorist hijackings. On the other, reports of cutbacks in the Federal Air Marshal Program. The contrast red meat for congressional Democrats.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Cuts in the air marshals should not happen now and it should not happen ever not until we know that the war on terrorism has clearly been won.

MESERVE: Homeland officials acknowledge they do want to move money away from the Air Marshal Program to help cope with the Transportation Security Administration's budget shortfall of almost $1 billion.

It means advanced training of air marshals would be curtailed and some hiring too. Some members of Congress are already putting up roadblocks. Meanwhile, homeland security officials insist the same number of missions is being flown.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The Americans should know that every air marshal that we have is being deployed and additional resources are being directed to that very critical mission.

MESERVE: Congressional Democrats say they have tried five times to increase funding for TSA but have been rebuffed by the administration and congressional Republicans every time. They say the administration is not spending anywhere near enough to make the country safe and merely shifts funds around to cover the most pressing and publicized security shortcomings.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The bottom line is the Homeland Security Agency is like the proverbial bed where there are five children and enough covers for four.


MESERVE: The administration predictably disagrees with that assessment but it's trying hard to diffuse the controversy over air marshals now authorizing the TSA to solicit help from other federal law enforcement agencies to boost the number of air marshals flying -- Aaron.

BROWN: I want to go back to something. There is -- this is a question, Jeanne. There is no question that they were, in fact, pulling back when this became public, is that true?

MESERVE: Well, it is true that there was a proposal to re- program some money. It is also true, we're now told and I should say this is a developing story that has morphed several times during the day that some air marshals did receive notification last week that their schedules were going to change and those changes were attributed to budgetary problems.

Now, the Homeland Security Department is still investigating this. Officials tell me at the moment they don't know if, in fact, those changes for a short period of time did go into effect and some high risk flights were left uncovered.

They say they don't know who authorized the changes that it wasn't any high level policy decision. Even though these things are supposed to be based on risk assessments, they don't know if the person making the scheduling decisions had the latest risk information or if they made the changes before the information about the possibility of hijackings had come in.

BROWN: And, what evidence is there, if any, that the Air Marshal Program as opposed to any other and every other way that money is spent on security these days, the Air Marshal Program is, in fact, effective?

MESERVE: Well, it's very hard to quantify that, in part because we don't have any idea how many air marshals are in the sky and we don't have any idea how much it costs. All of this is classified information because of the nature of the program.

There are some people who say this is a needle in the haystack approach and it really isn't very effective. There are other people who say it does help and it's part of this layered approach that the TSA and Homeland Security have tried to put in place to stop hijackings. Is anything foolproof, absolutely not.

BROWN: Jeanne, thank you very much, Jeanne Meserve in Washington tonight.

A few other stories making news around the country today. We start with the videotaped police beating in southern California. Today the Los Angeles district attorney said he will seek a new trial against one of the officers involved, former Inglewood policeman Jeremy Morse. Jurors deadlocked yesterday on the principal charge against him, assault under the color of authority during an encounter with an African American teenager.

Waco, Texas next and the killing of Patrick Dennehy, a preliminary autopsy report is out tonight and, as expected, it shows the Baylor basketball player died of gunshot wounds to the head. Police yesterday recovered a .9mm pistol shell and shell casings near the body.

Follow-up now in the Tulia drug cases, the Texas Parole Board today recommended pardons for 35 people, most of them Black, who were convicted on drug charges stemming from a single undercover agent who operated in the small town, his testimony, his word. He now faces perjury charges.

And, finally, to Boston where Sean O'Malley was installed formally today as the new archbishop in the city. He vowed to heal the diocese torn apart by the priest sex scandal, not everyone persuaded. Protesters out in force, some shouting insults, one man spat on a priest.

Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, the continuing controversy over classified documents and 9/11. We'll talk to the former director of the CIA, James Woolsey about that and more after a break.

Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Some leading Senators today signed on to something that if it comes to pass would be a first. John King made mention of it at the top of the program. They're gathering support to persuade or, if it comes to it, to force the White House to make public 28 pages of the congressional 9/11 report, pages they say deal with Saudi Arabia. The president says to do so would jeopardize national security. The Senators, including Republican Sam Brownback, believe otherwise.

They say the details are embarrassing perhaps but vital also to the public's understanding of the relationship with Saudi Arabia, just one of the subjects we'll try and cover with Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA during the Clinton administration, currently serves on the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Board and he joins us tonight from Aspen, Colorado, good to see you, sir again.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be with you, Aaron.

BROWN: Any reason why -- the people who have seen these pages, who have read the report say that it does, in fact, talk about the Saudi connections and the like. Why not release it?

WOOLSEY: Well, it's hard to say without anybody outside the classified circles having seen it because the president says it deals with sources and methods and some important Senators and now not just of the opposing party but also Senator Brownback, who is a very serious man on these issues, say they think it ought to be released and that it essentially would not harm national security. We've got a direct conflict here between responsible people who are looking at the same 28 pages. It's interesting.

BROWN: Is our national relationship with Saudi Arabia such that they ought to be protected in this way if, in fact, that's what those pages deal with?

WOOLSEY: Well, the Saudis are complicated. They've been a huge problem in not working with us on terrorism investigations in the past. Prince Nayef, the Interior Minister, has been particularly bad on this over the years. He's the one Saudi minister who has said on the record that 9/11 was, in fact, done by the Jews. He's a real problem.

But, I think there are other factions in the Saudi royal family and there's something of a contest here. Now, in the aftermath of the attacks in Saudi Arabia a couple of months ago, the Saudis are probably scurrying around trying to figure out how they can help on things that would harm both the United States and Saudi Arabia but not undermine things that they want to keep private so it's kind of a mess.

BROWN: I want to try a couple of different areas too. A surprise that to this point, are you surprised at this point that there hasn't been more success in the search for weapons in Iraq?

WOOLSEY: Well, I think people need to keep in mind the volumes here. Anthrax, for example, Saddam admitted making 8,500 liters back when he was finally confronted in '95, when his son-in-law defected, who was the head of the biological weapon program.

And that sounds like a lot, but, you know, that's about 8.5 tons, that's less than half a tractor-trailer load, and if it was reduced to powder, it'd be, say four or five medium-sized suitcases worth.

So some of material they are looking for here may not be massive. And it may have been, in part, destroyed. It may have been hidden. It may not have been produced in some of the volumes that people thought.

But I think it's incontrovertible that he had strong chemical and bacteriological programs and was trying to do something. It's not entirely clear exactly how far he had gotten along on the nuclear side.

I imagine they'll find a lot of evidence of what, in fact, happened as they're able to debrief Iraqis who are no longer afraid of the Ba'athists coming back to power. I think that's the key thing.

BROWN: Are you surprised they haven't found it yet? That's pretty direct. Are you surprised?

WOOLSEY: Well, I -- they may have found more than, so far, they are saying, because they don't want to get tripped up by releasing things partly. They've got the right guy looking for it now. David Kay is a very serious man, and he's really experienced in these areas, and he's very objective. He's a fine public servant.

And I think they may finally, just as they've gotten around to Paul Bremer running the civilian authority, General Abizaid, they've got a very good team now. But took them awhile to get this all together, particularly to get Kay over there. He probably should have been there right at the beginning.

BROWN: And one more before we let you go. Are you -- have your views on the nature of the attacks against the Americans soldiers over there changed over time, from what you thought 90 days ago or 60 days ago to how you see those attacks today?

WOOLSEY: Not a lot. I think this is still principally a problem of the Tikritis, the clan of Saddam's that are Sunni Arabs inside the Sunni Triangle, and a few places like Mosul, where they were able to establish some base of operations. So far it does not look like it involves the Kurds at all, which is 20 percent of the country. And the Shi'ite areas in the south and central part of the country look reasonably quiet.

This fellow Sader (ph), who is one of the Shi'ite religious leaders, is close to the Iranians, and he's trying to cause some trouble, but most of Shi'ite religious leaders are keeping things calm.

That's the key, if the Shi'ites stay calm and working with us, we've got a very good chance of, I think, suppressing the Ba'athists in the Sunni Triangle and making this all work. If the Shi'ites turn against us, we got serious troubles.

BROWN: Good to see you again, sir. Enjoy your time in Aspen. We are a bit envious of that. Thank you, sir, very much.

WOOLSEY: Thanks, good to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BROWN: And still to come on the program, a Watergate question 30 years later that may finally have an answer, as a Nixon administration figure tells what the president knew, and when he knew it.

Break first. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS: I'm Christine Romans with this MONEYLINE update. The Dow and the S&P down for the third day in a row, the Dow down 4 points, the Nasdaq lost 10. Bond prices rose, though, for the first time in five days, after yields rose to seven- month highs.

Watch LOU DOBBS TONIGHT weeknights at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Now, back to NEWSNIGHT with Aaron Brown.

BROWN: And still ahead tonight, conviction of a crime he did not commit, and the struggle to survive even after he was freed. That's coming up later. So are morning papers. Much more ahead.



BROWN: What did the president know, and when did he know it? No, this isn't about 9/11 or nuclear material mentioned in the State of the Union speech.

The president in this case is Richard Nixon, and the question concerns Watergate. And that question -- what did the president know, and when did he know it? -- was the central focus of the investigation that ultimately resulted in Nixon's resignation.

In a PBS documentary that aired tonight, one of the president's men, Jeb Magruder, revealed that the answer goes farther back than many actually thought, that the president himself gave the go-ahead to the break-in at the Democratic national headquarters in June of '72, that the president knew it all from the beginning. Here's an excerpt.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The day was Thursday, March 30, 1972. Attorney General Mitchell, the head of the Campaign to Re-elect the President, met with his deputy, Magruder. Gordon Liddy's proposal to bug the telephone of the chairman of the National Democratic Party, Larry O'Brien, was the last item they discussed.

JEB MAGRUDER, 1972 DEPUTY CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CREEP, COMMITTEE TO REELECT THE PRESIDENT: We didn't like the idea. It was going into the Watergate, Democratic National Committee headquarters, and bugging Larry O'Brien's phone.

So Mitchell said, Call Haldeman, find out, do we really have to -- is this really important? So I call Haldeman, and he talks to me, and I say, You know, we -- we're not sure it's worth doing. And Haldeman said, Yes, the president wants it done. He said, Is John there? And I said, Yes. And he -- I give the phone to John, and Haldeman talks to him.

And then the president comes on the line, talks to Mitchell. I could hear the president talking to him. And it was simply, you know, John, we need to -- we need to get the information on Larry O'Brien. The only way we can do that is through Liddy's plan, and to -- you need to do that.

Nixon was saying, We want Liddy to break into the Watergate.

Mitchell gets off the phone and says to me, he says, Well, Jeb, tell Maurice Stans to give Liddy $250,000, and let's see what happens.


BROWN: (audio interrupt) ... Magruder's story now.

We are joined tonight from North Haven, Long Island, by Richard Reeves, historian, author of "President Nixon: Alone in the White House."

It's nice to see you again, sir.

Do you believe Mr. Magruder now?

RICHARD REEVES, AUTHOR AND SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I don't believe Mr. Magruder. He's changed his story four or five times over this. There was -- and even during the crisis days, if you listen to the tapes. There's a tape in which Bob Haldeman says, I don't know what to say about Magruder, he doesn't know what the truth is anymore at all.

However, I think -- there's no doubt in my mind, after I've spent a lot of years on this, that, in fact, Nixon knew everything. He initiated everything, except for some of this wackier crazyisms of Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy. And there is one piece of evidence in the tapes that supports, at least to me, what Magruder said tonight, and that is almost exactly a year after that March 30 conversation in 1972, Nixon, who -- dealing with Nixon, you are always trying to figure out which level of lie he's take -- he's telling at the moment. But in this case, he was telling -- he was talking to Secretary of State Rogers, who he wanted as a credible figure to the public.

And in it he said that, you know, Magruder is going to try to bring Haldeman and me into it. And Nixon didn't say things like that casually. I think he said that -- it was three days before Magruder testified that he -- that he -- that he did think that Magruder knew he and Haldeman were on it from the beginning.

Which, I mentioned one thing, there were two Watergate break-ins, one on May 7 -- May 27, and then the one that got caught out at June 17, when they were going back to fix the bugs they had placed the first time.

There is no doubt in my mind that Nixon sent them the first time and probably picked the date too, because on that date, he was in the Kremlin, the first meeting between the president and Soviet leader.

BROWN: Couple of other things. Perhaps this is self-evident, maybe not. Why does it matter? I mean, he's gone, it's -- he's -- I mean, he's literally gone. He's dead now. I mean, he was forced out of office. Does it really matter one way or another whether he ordered it, or whether he didn't order it?

REEVES: Well, on -- in an -- in the abstract, it doesn't. He was punished as if he ordered it. But the -- particularly if you were of a certain age, I didn't know whether tonight watching it made me feel young again or older than I am.

BROWN: I know that feeling.

REEVES: For those of us who -- right -- who fill in every dot and whatnot, it's an interesting piece of business, but not from a source of great credibility.

BROWN: Yes. The PBS thing tonight, I think, was -- although I didn't see it, I was working -- focused on the hearings, and I've always wondered if you think that it would have ended the way it ended, had it not been for the hearings. All the attention was -- a lot of attention was placing on the reporting, Woodward and Bernstein and the rest.

But to my mind, it was the hearings that put it into the American consciousness.

REEVES: It was a great show. They point out during it that, you know, you could walk anywhere in the United States, down a hallway, into a cab, and you'd hear the hearings. It was great, great entertainment, with a lesson.

So that, yes, I think that played an important part. I, however, am one who believes that if it wasn't Watergate, it would have been something else, that, in fact, Richard Nixon was, in his own strange way, planning a coup against his own government. He governed by surprise. No one knew he was going to go to China. No one knew he was going to take us off the gold standard.

And to govern that way, you have to have great secrecy, and to protect secrecy, you need lies.

BROWN: Mr. Reeves, it's nice to see you. You're looking well. Thank you for joining us tonight.

REEVES: Can -- I want to say one thing. Can I, Aaron?

BROWN: Yes, if you can do it really quickly.

REEVES: On watching that show?


REEVES: Everyone on it was a white male. The country looked -- the power of the country looked totally different then than now.

BROWN: Interesting observation. Thank you, Richard, good to talk to you.

Richard Reeves out in Long Island tonight.

We'll take a break. When we come back, a man freed from prison after serving time for a crime he didn't commit. His year of freedom.

Break first.


BROWN: We've seen it happen dozens of times by now, people found innocent through DNA evidence, released from prison after years of doing time for a crime they did not commit. The tears, the joyful reunions.

What we rarely show you is what happens next. How does a man recoup lost years? How does he find work? How does he fit into a free society? And how does he stay free when he was perhaps not exactly a Boy Scout when he was sent away?

Larry Johnson had been in serious trouble with the law before he was wrongfully convicted of rape two decades ago. He was released from prison a year ago tonight. And adjusting to freedom, strange as it sounds, has not been easy.

Here is NEWSNIGHT producer Catherine Mitchell.


CATHERINE MITCHELL, NEWSNIGHT PRODUCER (voice-over): This was the day Larry Johnson had dreamed of. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going through your minds? What are your thoughts?

LARRY JOHNSON, EXONERATED ON JULY 30, 2002: Well, I -- it's just like their picture cameras there, you know, it's flick, flick, flick, flick, flick.

MITCHELL: Last July 30, Johnson became the 109th person to be freed from prison because of DNA evidence after serving 18 years for a crime he did not commit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), does it feel good to be out of jail?


MITCHELL: At his homecoming, Johnson seemed dazed of the crush of friends and family, many of whom he hadn't seen in 18 years, and some of whom he'd never met.

JOHNSON: For me, it's still kind of shocking, but alarming, and everybody's coming up to me, grabbing me and hugging me and everything.

MITCHELL: But the euphoria of the first full day of freedom would soon be tempered by the challenge of trying to rebuild 18 years of a life lost.

One year later, Johnson is dealing with the reality that freedom isn't easy. He is homeless and had a string of jobs, but none have lasted very long.

(on camera): What's the last year been like for you?

JOHNSON: It's been a lot of up and downs. Mostly downs. And to me, it's, in a sense, it's somewhat like prison, really. A lot of people still treat me as though, you know, I'm a criminal.

MITCHELL (voice-over): The hardest part, he says, is the way his family has treated him.

JOHNSON: They don't understand me. And I just can't come out here and then be what they want me to be. I'm going on 50 years old. I've been in an environment which they call hell for 18 1/2 years.

MITCHELL: After a series of living situations that didn't work, including a few cold nights in a car given to him by a sympathetic friend, Johnson is staying with his oldest sister, Antonia Rice, who, according to Johnson, is the only family member still offering support.

Rice says her brother needs some form of compensation to get back on his feet, an unlikely scenario in the state of Missouri, which offers no reparations for the wrongfully imprisoned.

ANTONIA RICE, LARRY JOHNSON'S SISTER: They can't bring you back your 18 years of life, you know, because he done did the time. But help him do something, you know, show him that you care. You are there for him.

MITCHELL: Johnson is a member of a growing number of men and women, now 132 nationwide, who were exonerated because of DNA evidence.

BARRY SCHECK, CO-FOUNDER, THE INNOCENCE PROJECT: You are the heroes to all of us. It's a miracle that you have not just survived, but prevailed.

MITCHELL: At a recent event in New York hosted by a nonprofit legal clinic called The Innocence Project, 34 exonerees gathered to talk about what they call life after exoneration.

The consensus? It's tough.

(on camera): What's the hardest thing you've had to deal with?

JEFFREY SCOTT HORNOFF, EXONERATED IN 2002: I've been out six months and three days. Initially, I was saying that every day was like Christmas. But inside, you know, I also knew that it wasn't. It's been a roller coaster emotionally.

MITCHELL (voice-over): All of these men are having problems adjusting to their newfound freedom, and so far, most have received a little more than a few dollars and a bus pass to help them on their way. Only 16 states and Washington, D.C., offer any form of compensation for the wrongfully imprisoned.

Not only are they rarely compensated, but the exonerated actually receive less support from the system when released than those who are guilty.

SCHECK: The exonerated, people who didn't do it, they, ironically, have the toughest time of all, yet they have the greatest claim to be made whole, to receive compensation for all that was taken from them.

MITCHELL: Few studies have been conducted on this unique group of people. But an Innocence Project poll found that adjustment problems after exoneration are prevalent. Forty-four percent are homeless or do not have a place of their own. Forty-six percent are jobless. And 40 percent are clinically depressed.

DR. LAURIE LOLA VOLLEN, DIRECTOR, DNA ID TECHNOLOGY AND HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: They share profound losses, financially and psychologically. They have an overwhelming experience when they get out to rebuild their lives that is so difficult that it is almost impossible for them to do it successfully.

MITCHELL: Larry Johnson knows this fight all too well. But despite his troubles, he still hasn't given up hope.

JOHNSON: I figure if I can survive 18 1/2 years, regardless of what I went through in there, I can surely survive it out here, no matter how complicated or confused it may be.

MITCHELL: Johnson has substituted his dreams of freedom for dreams of a fresh start.

JOHNSON: I want to live here in New York, and...

MITCHELL: He wants to move to New York City, where he hopes to find the comfort of anonymity. But he says he can't do it on his own.

JOHNSON: It's the same with going to the penitentiary there. They give you a starter, you know, they give you the clothes and shoes and a little room. If the state can do at least that little, or that much for me there, it wouldn't hurt for them to do that out here.

Hopefully, somewhere down the line, things will change for the better. And I've been saying that for a whole year as well. But I'm not going to give up on saying it.

MITCHELL: Catherine Mitchell, CNN, New York.


BROWN: Morning papers after the break.


BROWN: OK, time to check morning papers from around the country, and I don't think we'll get around the world tonight.

Just an -- to me, this is an interesting decision that editors made. And a lot of them made it, and I don't honestly think I would have, but maybe that's why they have the job and I don't. Well, actually I do sort of have the job, but it's different.

A lot of papers put the president's statement on gay marriage on the front page, in the center of the front page. "The Oregonian" did, Portland, Oregon, "Bush Seeks to Ban Gay Marriage" is their headline.

Also in "The Oregonian," this is actually a "New York Times" story, comes off the Times wire service, a very good story, "U.S. Puts Off Oath for Iraqi Woman Judge." The problem here is, conservative Muslims there are outraged that a woman would have such a job. Gives you an idea of the complexity of the situation in Iraq, part of it.

"San Francisco Chronicle," "Bush Eyes Law to Block Gay Marriages," not surprising that it would be there. Also, "Confident Davis Moves to Fight Mode," the recall, we'll be spending a lot of time on that.

"Washington Times" front page is the gay marriage too. "Bush Will Not Compromise on Gay Marriage." And then takes a pretty clean pop at Senator John Edwards, who's worth, like, $20 million, right? Four months late on his taxes. The Edwards say they never saw the tax bill. That never works when I say it.

I wanted to do this one. The "Detroit Free Press" spends most of its front page on just a horrible tragedy. "Superhot Gas Choked Six Lives." It's a fire that claimed six lives in Pontiac. And the big story, and then, "Couple Dreamed of Better Life," and "Hearts Are Heavy, Minds Are Dazed." Really nice idea by a very nice newspaper, the "Detroit Free Press."

Quick look at morning papers. The weather in Chicago, by the way, tomorrow is "Ship-shape."

We are back tomorrow, 10:00 Eastern time, we hope you are too. Till then, good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT.


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