Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of former weapons inspector Scott Ritter’s appearance on “CNN Newsnight with Aaron Brown” on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003.
CNN’s AARON BROWN: Scott Ritter has a knack for making headlines.
Last year, the former weapons inspector, who used to drive the Iraqis crazy, started driving the White House crazy by saying that there was no evidence that the Iraqis still had weapons of mass destruction and that war was a huge mistake. Then there were accusations, fiercely denied, that his old boss at the U.N. had turned the inspection program into a U.S. spying operation.
This all became a bit of a circus, with Ritter as the ringmaster. Now comes another furor, but this is a very different sort: reports that Scott Ritter was arrested in 2001 for trying to lure a teenage girl he had met on the Internet. It was a misdemeanor charge. It was ultimately dismissed and the record sealed. Some of this has leaked out this week.
Mr. Ritter joins us tonight from Albany, New York. Nice to see you, sir.
SCOTT RITTER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Thank you.
BROWN: All right, here we go. What happened in June of 2001?
RITTER: In June of 2001, I was arrested by the Colonie Police Department and charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
BROWN: And what was that Class B misdemeanor?
RITTER: Aaron, we’re dealing with a case that has been dismissed and the record has been sealed by a judge’s order. And I’m obligated, both ethically and legally, not to talk about that case.
But I will tell you this. I stood before the judge in an open court session, public session. And that judge, together with the police of Colonie and the assistant district attorney and my attorney, agreed for an adjudication in contemplation of dismissal. And the case was dismissed and the file sealed.
And we should never forget that, when a case is dismissed, what the law says is that, by dismissing the case, it brings with it the presumption of innocence. And by sealing the file, it’s designed to prevent the stigma attached with any unsubstantiated allegations from arising. So, as far as I’m concerned, as far as everyone should be concerned, this is a dead issue.
BROWN: Well, first of all, obviously, it’s not a dead issue, because it’s been out there all week. So let’s – I want to go back to some of this.
Scott, we spent a fair amount of time today looking at New York law on this. There is nothing in a sealed case, zero, that prevents you from talking about it. The point of the seal is to protect you from the state, not to protect the state from you.
Now, you can – it seems to me, you can choose not to talk about the specifics of this. That’s always the right of the guest. But I’m not sure that there is – I’m not sure what the ethical question is about talking about it. And none of our lawyers can find the legal one, OK?
So, what happened in 2001?
RITTER: Well, Aaron, What I’ll say is this. What I’ll say is this, Aaron, is, in 2001, I stood before a judge.
BROWN: Why? Why were you before the judge, Scott?
RITTER: Because I was arrested, Aaron.
BROWN: Why were you arrested?
RITTER: I’m not asking for your forgiveness or anybody else’s forgiveness.
BROWN: I’m not…
RITTER: I am held accountable to the law. And I was held accountable to the law. And that’s what everyone should remember here. I stood before a judge and the due process of law was carried forth. And now we have a situation where the media has turned this into a feeding frenzy. This is not an extrajudicial proceeding, Aaron. I do not stand before you where I have to testify to anything. The case was dismissed. The file was sealed.
BROWN: Scott, Scott…
RITTER: End of story.
BROWN: Scott, respectfully here, you’re creating a straw dog in me. And I’m not playing that game. I am not the prosecutor. I am trying to give …
BROWN: Excuse me. Let me finish here.
I’m trying to give you an opportunity, if you want to take it, to explain what happened. And here’s the point of that. And you know this is true. You are radioactive until this is cleared up. Until people understand what this is about, no one is going to talk to you about the things that you feel passionately about.
And as uncomfortable as it may be, I submit to you that it is in your interests to explain what happened. Otherwise, lord only knows what people will say.
RITTER: Well, Aaron, lord only knows what people are already saying. And, frankly speaking, I have no control over that.
But, again, with all due respect, Aaron – and I totally understand your question and where you’re coming from – but the bottom line is, the rule of law must apply here and we must never lose sight of that. I think you hit on something. I was a credible voice. I am a credible voice. And I will be a credible voice in regards to issues pertaining to Iraq.
And, obviously, what you’re not mentioning here is the timing of all of this. Why did this come up now?
BROWN: No, we’ll get to the timing of all of this, OK?
RITTER: No, because I have already told you…
BROWN: No, no, no, honestly, believe me…
RITTER: I’m always honest here.
BROWN: We’ve done business together before. And I think I have a reputation in these things of being fair. And we’ll get to the question of timing. But I think we have to deal, I believe – and I guess I get to call the shot on this one – that we have to deal with the issue itself first. Let me try it a different way and then I’m not going to spend the rest of our time beating my head against the wall.
Did you ever go into an Internet chat room looking for teenage girls to have a sexual encounter of any sort with? How about that?
RITTER: Aaron, again, I have to respectfully reply by noting that I am obligated legally not to discuss matters pertaining to a
BROWN: Can you tell me, under what provision of what law are you referring to?
RITTER: Well, Aaron, you know I’m not a lawyer. And I have sought legal counsel on this. And I’m strictly abiding by legal counsel.
BROWN: So, I can dance around this a thousand ways and you’re not going to tell me why you were arrested at that Burger King on that day in June. Is that right?
RITTER: Aaron, I will respond the same way, this way, until Sunday. I was arrested in June 2001, charged with a Class B misdemeanor. I stood before a judge and the case was dismissed. The file was sealed. And I certainly wish you and everyone else would respect that.
BROWN: OK. Again, I’m not going to beat my head against the wall. If you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t want to talk about it.
Let’s talk about the ramifications of it. It is my view, and, certainly I think as far as this program is concerned, and I think others, that you are, in a sense, radioactive, that these charges, I would submit, until they’re responded to, will keep it that way.
But, in any case, in this moment, for the moment, nobody cares what you think about Iraq. You think that’s why this stuff was leaked?
RITTER: Well, I have no way of knowing why this happened. But the effect is obvious. I was supposed to be on an airplane yesterday flying to Baghdad on a personal initiative that could have had great ramifications in regards to issues of war and peace.
I wish people would keep the eye on the ball here. It’s about war and peace. It’s about the potential of conflict with Iraq, many thousands of Americans dying. And whether you agreed with me or disagreed with me on the issue, there’s no doubting – and you can’t rewrite history – I was a very effective voice in the anti-war effort in the campaign to keep inspectors on the ground.
BROWN: What is stopping you from going to Baghdad?
RITTER: Well, look, what’s stopping me is the reason why I’m sitting here before you, Aaron.
If I went to Baghdad and tried to talk responsibly about issues of war and peace, this issue would have come up. And it would have been a distraction and it would have actually been a disservice. There are people in Baghdad right now pursuing the initiative that I started. And I want to give them every chance of success. I don’t want to provide any distractions.
BROWN: Well, one way or another, I hope all this stuff gets cleared up and you can get back to talking about the issues you care about. But, again, I’m not quite sure how that’s going to happen.
I appreciate your time. This is not easy for either of us. Thank you very much.
RITTER: Thank you.
BROWN: Scott Ritter, from Albany, New York, tonight.