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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Janklow Meets With Reporters in South Dakota

Aired September 22, 2003 - 11:01   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Live this hour, we're hearing from Republican Congressman Bill Janklow involved in a fatal car accident on August 16. He is speaking on that accident. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. WILLIAM JANKLOW (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I'm not going to go into it because all I do is cry when I do.

Last week I went back to work. Today I'm going back. The folks in the House couldn't be more supportive. They carry the transportation legislation we've been working on and through appropriations process, not counting the special funding, we received a very substantial number of projects that partial funding for them, for different projects in the state. Other things that involve veterans affairs and agricultural issues. Others have been carrying the ball. And I have to say this.

Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson and their staffs have been unbelievable. They've called. They've worked very closely with my staff. One of the first calls I received was from Tom Daschle, Tim Johnson. All they ever say is, What can we do to help? And it's really the best of what government ought to be once the elections are over.

And so with that as a lead-in, I'll be glad to respond to questions.

(CROSSTALK)

JANKLOW: Let me just say one thing. And I'm not trying to maximize anything. Sometimes I ramble a little from -- when I talk. And Mary Dean (ph) tells me quit rambling, and she's not here because I asked her not to come. So if I ramble, just cut me off and move on to the next question. All this will get better. The brain's a funny thing and it works funny sometimes.

QUESTION: Why did you decide that now was the time to talk?

JANKLOW: Because I knew I had to do it at some point in time. And I'm to the point where my speech isn't affected any more like it was. It does a little. Sometimes I really stutter to the point I can't talk. It comes for awhile and then goes away. Sometimes in midsentence, and sometimes when I start to talk.

And I'm to the point now where I can talk and I can think a lot more clearly. Every day I think I think clearly, but sometimes I'm in the middle of a sentence and I stop and I'm embarrassed and I say, What are we talking about? And if they tell me, then I can pick up on it. And they do.

It's just that -- I don't know. I just figured now's the time.

QUESTION: What about your future at all?

JANKLOW: I think about my future all the time. All the time. I have thought a lot about it.

I have been in public service since 1966. I became a legal aid lawyer and worked for almost seven years bringing legal services to people who never paid for a lawyer. Started the Indian Legal Aid Programs in the country. I was the chief prosecutor of this state. I was the attorney general for four years back during tough times. I was in this courthouse trying a case when it was wrecked in Minnehaha County. I served as governor for eight years. And I practiced law for about seven years after that.

Nobody's ever argued that half my clients were free. I didn't charge for them. I like taking on cases for people that were getting the shaft and couldn't afford a lawyer. I did very well with the cases I got paid for, and I was able to do that.

I served eight more years as governor and then I went to Congress. I've got almost 40 years of public service.

I don't know what's appropriate at this point in time, candidly. And I do give it a lot of thought. There's things more important than politics to me. I understand mortality. Probably better than most.

A few years ago I was sick, I was very sick. My pancreas was removed.

As a result of what happened a month or so ago, I understand mortality. I'm just trying to figure out what's appropriate. That's not a good answer, but it's the truth.

QUESTION: With the symptoms you're describing, how hard is it to be an effective member of Congress?

JANKLOW: I'm effective. I'm getting better every day. There were days when I couldn't walk.

I can -- I don't want to maximize this, but I can move my toes up but I can't move them down. This morning I could move two of my other toes up. I mean, it gets better literally every day.

I haven't -- my speech is fine today. I talk slower because I want to stay focused. But I'm just -- they told me I'm going to have three or four months of these headaches. I get the headache at the same time every day. I've developed -- and it's going away, but a sensitivity to light. I could not have sat in front of these two lights three weeks ago. The pain, literally the pain or a loud sound of a phone ringing was unbelievable. They put towels, thick muffled towels over the phones in our house so that I wouldn't -- but I'll heal.

So I'm getting better all the time. What's happened in the last three weeks is incredible. The next three weeks will be the same.

KAGAN: We've been listening to Congressman Bill Janklow of South Dakota. This is the first news conference he's had since the fatal traffic accident he was involved in last month in rural South Dakota. Police say that Janklow was speeding when he ran a stop sign, killing a man on a motorcycle. He is now charged with manslaughter and he faces a preliminary hearing this Thursday.

Earlier he in the news conference, he was speaking to the family of the man who died in that accident, Randolph Scott. And he begged the Scott family for forgiveness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANKLOW: I'm 64 years old. And I've never dealt with anything -- you can't prepare in life to deal with the enormity of what I'm dealing with and what I put other people through.

Saying I'm sorry to some people isn't -- is rhetoric. There's no way that I know how to express the sadness and the sorrow and the grief that have been brought to Mr. Robertson's (sic) family. None. Just let me say that I couldn't be sorrier for what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Number of issues here, legal issue, political issues and, of course, a man has lost his life. Let's bring in our legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joining us from New York this morning. Jeff, good morning.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Howdy.

KAGAN: Understandably that this is a man in a lot of pain. You can hear the regret for what has taken place. And yet you have to think his defense attorney on one hand is cringing that days before his hearing, he's up there on national television making comments.

TOOBIN: Well he's not an ordinary defendant. He's a member of Congress. And you know despite what he said, there is a political calculation at work as well as a legal calculation. He has not said that he is going to retire from the House, so he may be up for re- election in about a year. He is a major political figure in South Dakota. he was a long-time governor.

I think he feels correctly that the public needs to hear from him sooner rather than later. He's expressing his remorse. He's expressing how hard this has been on him.

And so, independent of how this might affect his legal case, he is figuring out his political future as well.

KAGAN: And what he needs to do as a man. As we said, this is second degree manslaughter. How serious are those charges? TOOBIN: Well it's a felony and it could land him in prison. It could get him thrown out of the House. It's not always that a traffic accident, I don't think anyone thinks this was anything but an accident, is charged as a felony. But this was charged as a felony.

And I think one background fact that may be informing the prosecutors decision here is Congressman Janklow, former Governor Janklow, has a long history of traffic infractions. He used to joke about the fact that he had a lead foot. And you know those jokes sound a lot less funny now. And I think he may be paying the price for it legally and perhaps politically.

KAGAN: We've seen these sound bites played on national television on some old campaign stops where he makes a joke about his lead foot or about all the speeding tickets that he's gotten. That, of course, would be admissible, would it not?

TOOBIN: It might be. Depending on how the defense is structured and how the prosecution works. The issue is predisposition, the issue is sort of intent, whether he really was driving as fast as the government says he was.

If they can prove that he's bragged about driving that fast in the past, that very well could be admissible.

KAGAN: And then finally Thursday, what do we expect from that preliminary hearing?

TOOBIN: Those are usually pretty routine. The case will move along to its next stage. The real issue here is the trial. Will he be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or will there be some plea bargain along the way?

You can be certain that in a case like this there will be negotiations about reaching some sort of resolution without a jury trial. Just a question of whether a felony is something he's willing to plead to, or whether the prosecutor will accept something less.

KAGAN: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you for that.

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