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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Whitey Bulger Found Guilty; Interview With Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey; Cutting Lower-Level Drug Offenders Slack; Hannah Anderson's Father of Speak

Aired August 12, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A wicked long sentence in store for a wicked, wicked man, a verdict in the Whitey Bulger trial.

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, he was on the run for 16 years with some inside help at the FBI. Some feared he would never have to face justice, but now, at the age of 83, James "Whitey" Bulger knows he will almost certainly die behind bars.

Also in national news, mandatory minimum sentences, they have helped pack our prisons with small-time drug offenders, but the Department of Justice says these punishments no longer fit the crimes. We will talk to Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who is not so sure that this change is a good move.

And there is still so much we don't understand about autism, but a striking new study claims that a very common medical procedure is associated with a greatly increased risk of your child developing it.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead. It has been a long time coming. We no longer have to use the word reputed before mentioning mobster James "Whitey" Bulger. Straight-up mobster will be just fine.

Mere hours ago, a juror convicted Bulger of 31 of 32 counts, including involvement in 11 murders. Bulger was the leader of South Boston's underworld in the '70s and '80s, and now that he's convicted, he faces life in prison plus 30 years. Bulger is the man who inspired Jack Nicholson's character in the movie "The Departed and his trial has played out like a Scorsese special, complete with foul-mouthed witnesses telling tales of extortions, double dealings, shakedown, beatings, killings.

As the trial unfolded, there was even a wanna-be witness found dead from poisoning, though it's believed to be unrelated.

Our Deborah Feyerick is live outside the courthouse in Boston.

Deb, thanks for being here. Explain what happened in the courthouse today.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was pretty incredible. Whitey Bulger stood while the verdict was read. He portrayed absolutely no emotion. He simply looked straight ahead. It was almost as if he knew what the outcome was going to be -- 31 out of 32 counts, he was found guilty on. He will likely spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

But, Jake, for eight of the 19 families of the murder victims, there was heartbreak and great disappointment. They wanted Bulger implicated in the murder of their loved ones, and in fact they got no resolution, no justice. There was this moment when everyone in the court almost caught their breath as they read the names, Michael Milano not proved, Al Plummer not proved, William O'Brien not proved, James O'Toole not proved.

It wasn't until the eighth individual, which is Paul McGonagle, did everyone hear what they finally wanted to hear and that is that there was enough evidence to prove that Whitey Bulger was guilty in that murder. They were looking to see whether he was either principal or co-conspirator, an aider and abettor.

The one woman whose father she always believed was killed by Whitey Bulger she says she is beside herself. She said that now her father returns to this sort of gray world of remaining a cold case. She said there was no resolution for her. A couple of the victims' family members simply got up and they walked out of the court, they just didn't know how to respond to the fact that now a question that they thought would be resolved after decades in fact still remains open and that is perhaps the greatest heartbreak, no matter how long Whitey Bulger spends in prison -- Jake.

TAPPER: Deb, when is sentencing exactly?

FEYERICK: Sentencing will be November 13.

At that time, if Whitey Bulger wants to, he will be able to give a statement. There was all this talk he was going to take the stand and he was going to testify in his own behalf. But, boy, he was mad as a hornet when the judge told him he would not be able to claim a rogue prosecutor gave him immunity for his crimes, immunity he believed which gave him cart blanche to kill people.

You know, his lawyers are putting a spin on this, but, in fact, their client, even if he begins an appeal process, he turns 84 in September. That means that Whitey Bulger is not going anywhere but prison -- Jake.

TAPPER: Deb Feyerick, thank you.

Now that Whitey Bulger has been found guilty of 31 counts, the family of his victims now wait three months for his sentencing, as Deb just said. Bulger's life of crime and his trial will likely leave a lasting impact on the city of Boston, in addition to some interesting legal implications.

Let's explore those Paul Callan. He's a CNN legal analyst and a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. I also want to bring in Kevin Cullen, a "Both Globe" who has been covering the trial. And he co-wrote the book "Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice," which we recommended on the show.

Paul, I'm going to start with you.

Let me ask you to clarify something. Bulger was found guilty for his role in 11 murders, but he was not specifically charged with murder. Why?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, a very interesting situation.

The feds have the ability to prove these cases a lot more easily than local state authorities. The state of Massachusetts could have charged him with stand-alone murder charges in each of these murders, but the federal rules of evidence make it easier to get evidence into evidence, and also by being able to charge him with all of these crimes, they were kind of able to dirty him up in front of the jury, as opposed to doing it one by one in a murder case that would be harder to prove.

In the end, they wind up probably with the same sentence, life in prison. He will probably die in prison. So it is probably a good tactic. But the federal government, the U.S. attorney's offices have a much higher conviction rate than state prosecutors. That's why this was done.

TAPPER: Kevin Cullen of "The Boston Globe," you wrote an extensive book about the trial. I'm sure you have spoken to the victims' family members multiple times. Obviously, some are not happy. We just heard from Deb Feyerick. There were seven victims the jury could not find without a reasonable doubt that Bulger played a role in their murder and the jury could not come to a finding at all in the murder of Debra Davis, the girlfriend of Bulger's partner Steve Flemmi.

I want to play something that her brother Steven said after the verdict and get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN DAVIS, BROTHER OF ALLEGED BULGER VICTIM: She knows I'm a fighter. In the end of this, I will be the last man standing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Very, very emotional brother of one of the victims of Whitey Bulger's criminality, although the jury did not find that he played a role.

Can you talk about the frustration these families feel today?

KEVIN CULLEN, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Jake, I would make a slight correction on that. They did not say that they did not find a role in that. What they said is that they could not reach a finding. That's a very big difference from a not guilty or a not proved. It's considerably different. Basically, the jury said they only had the uncorroborated word of Steve Flemmi saying that Whitey killed Debra Davis. Now, I spoke to Stevie Davis before he came out and faced the cameras. I saw him outside the courtroom and I gave him a hug and I said you and I both know what happened. Stevie I think he will go back and forth the next couple of days, as a number of the victims' families will.

But he knew. I was with him at lunch and he knew that the evidence on his sister's murder was among the weakest things that were put forward. There just wasn't enough corroborative evidence. So he will get over that. I think there's a tendency. We might be doing what Whitey exactly wants, which is to focus on, wow, he go a no finding on one of the women murdered.

Well, you know what? He was found guilty on murdering Deborah Hussey. So he is a murderer of women. He always said he wasn't. A jury just found that he is. They found him guilty on all 32 racketeering counts. And they did throw out some of the murders and that's the way it goes.

If he thinks he had a good day because he was convicted of 11 murders instead of 19, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell to Whitey Bulger.

TAPPER: Kevin Cullen, I appreciate the correction and I appreciate your reporting. Thank you so much. And, Paul Callan, to you as well.

Coming up on THE LEAD, the rules are changing for small-time drug dealers. Attorney General Eric Holder now says they will not be sent to jail for mandatory minimum sentences. But George W. Bush's attorney general, well, he's not quite buying the new plan and he will join me next.

Plus, afraid of flying? How about taking the train instead in half the time? Tesla inventor Elon Musk is hinting it can be done and he will announce his plans later this hour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In the national lead, in recent years, the U.S. has lost its credit rating, millions of manufacturing jobs. We're not even the fattest country anymore. Mexico owns that one. But there is at least one thing the U.S. still does better than any other country, throw people in jail.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Although the U.S. accounts for only 5 percent of the world's population, it holds 25 percent of the world's prisoners. A big reason for that, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

Take a look at this list. If you're caught with these amounts of drugs, federal law dictates a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. And the penalties only get harsher from there. It doesn't matter the circumstances. You're not a unique snowflake. It goes all across the board.

But all of that could be changing after Attorney General Eric Holder today made this announcement in San Francisco.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is why I have today mandated a modification of the Justice Department's charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no tries to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The attorney general's basic pitch, he wants the Tony Montanas of the world in prison, not the kids running the corner.

But these laws aren't getting wiped off the books. Holder is ordering prosecutors to simply not list drug amounts in their indictments for the smaller fish.

I want to welcome Judge Michael Mukasey, former attorney general under President George W. Bush.

Judge, thanks for being here.

What's your reaction to the attorney general's announcement today?

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, my reaction is, I generally agree with the goal of getting rid of mandatory minimums. I agreed with it when I was a judge.

But the way to do that is to pass a law, not to simply say you're going to disregard the law. In fact, Congress put in place another law that says that the mandatory minimums don't apply when certain criteria are met and that a sentencing judge need not sentence under the mandatory minimum.

And those criteria are that a defendant has no criminal history, that there was no violence used and so on, and the defendant is not the leader of an organization, and also that the defendant has disclosed everything he knows to the prosecutor. But that's applied at the time of sentence.

What the attorney is saying is, he's going to disregard mandatory minimums. He's disregard that remedial law that Congress put in place and instead prosecutors are going to make that decision at the charging stage, when you know very little about a defendant right after he's arrested and many of those criteria may not be met.

TAPPER: So you support the idea of getting rid of minimum mandatory sentencing, is that right?

MUKASEY: Yes, I do, but I support it by having legislation passed, not by having somebody say, I'm not going to enforce the law by essentially hiding the amount of drugs that a defendant had in his possession so that the mandatory minimum is not triggered. That's not the way to do it.

TAPPER: Why do you support the goal of reducing mandatory minimum sentencing or getting rid of it?

MUKASEY: Because that mandatory minimums often impose a certain -- a rigidity in sentencing that's not appropriate in an individual case.

For example, I had a case involving a young woman who was asked to take -- by her boyfriend, which often happens, to take a package to another city. She was caught at the bus station. The package had a large amount of drugs in it and she was subject to the mandatory minimum.

And because she didn't follow the agent's device of not going home, she wasn't she couldn't it couldn't be said that she had cooperative. And therefore, she was subject to the mandatory minimum. That was unfortunate and she didn't -- she got a five-year sentence when I don't think she was a person whose background warranted that.

TAPPER: In 2008, when you were attorney general, you spoke out against the U.S. Sentencing Commission's decision to reduce penalties for crack cocaine offenses under mandatory minimums. As you know, a person with 28 grams of crack gets the same sentence as a person with 18 times of that amount of powder cocaine. Why did you oppose the reduction of mandatory minimums for crack cocaine?

MUKASEY: Well, I think studies have shown that although crack cocaine is far more serious than powdered cocaine, it was perhaps not as serious any longer as had been suggested. But make no mistake: crack cocaine is instantly addictive and has a great deal of violence associated with it, which was the reason why the disparity was there in the first place.

TAPPER: Are you familiar with the legislation being put forward in the Senate by Senators of Lee and Durbin?

MUKASEY: I'm not familiar with the legislation. I understand it mitigates or does away with mandatory minimums and certainly steps in that direction would be very welcome.

TAPPER: Do you think --

MUKASEY: Again, that's a law, not somebody saying we're not going to enforce the law.

TAPPER: Right. No, I understand.

Do you think as a general principle, we imprison too many people in this country?

MUKASEY: I think that we ought to examine the level of imprisonment. On the other hand, we have a very different society from societies that other countries have, and that has given us great advantages, we're the richest country in the world, notwithstanding some of your intro. I think we're still leaders in a large number of things but we have a very diverse population, unlike the populations of some other countries that are perhaps less diverse and so we have people interacting in ways that perhaps they don't in other countries and we have a different history.

But the incarceration rate I think is high and it's something we ought to reexamine, but not by simply not enforcing laws.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, when you were attorney general, did you try to prod Congress to act to get rid of mandatory minimums?

MUKASEY: We certainly discussed it with various committees of Congress and it was a nonstarter at that time I think because politicians -- let's face it -- get elected by being tough on crime and talking about mandatory sentencing. It's hard to imagine a politician being elected based on getting rid of mandatory minimums and prison overcrowded. It doesn't get a lot of votes.

TAPPER: Maybe it's something you and the attorney general can work together on, perhaps.

Former Attorney General --

MUKASEY: I'd be happy to do that.

TAPPER: Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD, insulting the opposing team is part of the game but did one fan take it too far? We'll tell you what was tossed at a Baltimore Oriole outfielder and why Major League Baseball is looking for the fan who threw it.

Plus, his daughter was kidnapped, his wife and son killed. Now, Hannah Anderson's father is ready to talk about reuniting with his daughter for the first time since she was rescued.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now, it's time for the sports lead. It could be a terribly backward racial gesture. It happened in Baltimore. The Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones says someone threw a banana at him in center field during Sunday's game in San Francisco. Jones had a home run and drove in four runs in the game. The Giants said they received no reports of anyone throwing an object on to the field but they are reviewing video.

Back now to national news. We're learning new details about the dramatic rescue of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson, following the massive manhunt for the man who kidnapped her after killing her mother and brother.

James DiMaggio was killed by police after they closed in on him and the teenager in a remote camping in Idaho's Cascade Mountains took by some horse back riders. Hannah was reunited with her father on Sunday and very shortly, we'll hear from him shortly for the first time since he was rescue.

Our Paul Vercammen is standing by on scene.

Paul, the FBI is interviewing Hannah now. What are they learning?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just learned this, by the way, from the San Diego County himself. Off camera he told us that DiMaggio had a shoulder weapon that he fired once and then the FBI agents who had snuck into that camp ground area returned with lethal force. If you've seen some of the video, they went into that remote back company absolutely armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and more. They had been warned that DiMaggio was extremely dangerous.

We're also finding out that Hannah did not know that DiMaggio had allegedly killed her mother and her little brother, their bodies found in the, ashes of DiMaggio's burned down home, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Paul, thank you so much.

We're going to hear from the father in just a few minutes.

When we come back, it's almost as common as getting an epidural. But could inducing labor make it more likely for your child to be diagnosed with autism? A new study released just moments ago is connecting the two, association not causation. But the results are even more worrisome if the baby is a boy.

Plus, while the president is spending time in Martha's Vineyard, others you are living it up in Iowa. Who's headed their next and what does it say about the 2016 presidential race?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In national news, get this baby out of me! If you're a mom, you've likely said it. If you're dad, you've likely heard it while getting your hand crushed by maternity strength. But as tempting as it can be to jumpstart the birth process, some questions now about inducing labor and autism.

The money lead: five and a half hours, that's how long it takes to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. And what about if we told you that one day it might only take a half hour? And I'm not talking about teleportation, "Star Trek" style.

And the politics lead: HBO, Showtime, Ron Paul TV? Ron Paul TV, the former congressman and libertarian gets his own premium channel, all Ron Paul all the time. How much would you pay for that?

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