Rather allowed to subpoena CBS' investigator

April 22, 2008 5:24:41 PM PDT
A judge on Tuesday allowed lawyers for Dan Rather to subpoena the investigator CBS hired to check the truth of a disputed story about President Bush's Vietnam-era military service.

Judicial Hearing Officer Ira Gammerman, an acting judge in Rather's $70 million lawsuit against CBS, gave the go-ahead for various fact-finding efforts by the anchorman's lawyers after a hearing in Manhattan's state Supreme Court.

Gary Meyerhoff, one of Rather's lawyers, said his team wants to see what the investigator, Erik Rigler, found. He said Rigler checked out leads to which Rather did not have access. He also said he believes Rigler either did not complete his report or it was ignored by a panel that studied and reported on the Bush story, which was narrated by Rather.

Rather sued CBS and his former bosses in September, claiming they removed him from his "CBS Evening News" anchor post and gave him lesser assignments after controversy over a "60 Minutes II" report in September 2004 about President Bush's Vietnam-era military service.

Rather claims the defendants' actions damaged his reputation and cost him significant financial loss.

The report, aired two months before the 2004 election, stated that Bush avoided military service in Vietnam by using his father's connections to get into the Texas National Guard.

Once he got in the National Guard, the report said, Bush shirked and failed to complete his duties.

Rather was removed from his anchor post in March 2005, six months later.

Meyerhoff said the Rather legal team also wanted to investigate possible bias on the part of the investigating panel that was appointed by CBS, but Gammerman refused to let them subpoena the panel's two key members.

The panel, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press CEO Lou Boccardi, said the network "failed miserably" to authenticate the memos on which the Bush story was based.

The panel's report said Rather relied on a trusted producer and didn't even see the story before he introduced it on the program. CBS rushed the story on the air and then blindly defended it when holes became apparent, the report said.

Rather, who has been in court for almost every hearing, said he was pleased the case was proceeding. He said proving "the truth of the story is all I've ever wanted."

CBS lawyer James Quinn said "we're happy" to have Rather's legal team speak to Rigler. He said the investigator, a former FBI agent, "concluded he could not authenticate the documents" that were the basis of Rather's Bush story.

"They know that," Quinn went on. "The irony is that if it (the investigation) was so biased, why did they conclude that Mr. Rather did nothing wrong?"

"It's in CBS' best interests to prove, not that the story was wrong, but that it was true," Quinn said.

Rather, who was making $6 million a year at the time he was fired, complained that CBS banished him from prime time to pacify powerful business and political interests who were unhappy about the report.

"We have nothing to hide," Quinn said. "It's one of those sad cases where a person at the end of his career wants to go back after people he feels mistreated him."

Two weeks ago, Gammerman dismissed Rather's claims against three CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. executives because, he said, they acted within the scope of their employment. He let the claims against the corporations continue.