The Chuck Philips Interview, Part One: Philips’s Letters to Proctor
On Monday night I spoke with Chuck Philips for about an hour and a half. As far as I am aware, this was Philips’s first detailed interview since he was laid off from the Los Angeles Times back in July.
We discussed James Sabatino, the man who according to The Smoking Gun provided forged documents to Philips (although Sabatino has written me to deny the allegation). We discussed Waymond Anderson, the convicted murderer whose innocence Philips championed, only to see Anderson turn on him and accuse Philips of helping Suge Knight threaten Anderson. We talked about Philips’s relationships with Anthony Pellicano and Suge Knight. We discussed what Philips is doing nowadays.
All of this will be revealed in future posts.
Because the interview was long, I will split it up into several parts, starting in this post with Philips’s reaction to my post from Sunday night. In that post, I published letters that Philips had written to Alexander Proctor, the man Anthony Pellicano allegedly hired to terrorize Anita Busch and blow up her car. I wrote on Sunday that those letters appeared to reveal an agenda on Philips’s part.
Philips confirmed that he wrote all of the letters that I mentioned in my Sunday night post, including the letters to Alexander Proctor, James Sabatino, Roland Campbell, and Spencer Bowens.
Philips defended the language he used in the letters, including the letter he wrote in which he said to Proctor, a potential witness in the Pellicano case:
They deceived Pellicano and his lawyers for six months, knowing it was a violation of his constitutional rights. Not only did they illegally spy on the guy they are prosecuting for spying, they failed to file required federal 302s describing what they learned.
I asked him whether he regretted taking such a firm position on the propriety of the government’s conduct in the Pellicano case, given that he was writing news stories about the topic that were supposed to be objective. Philips said he did not regret it, because he believed what he had written to Proctor. “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything in a letter that I’m ashamed of,” he said.
Philips brought up Nikki Finke’s claim that Philips’s coverage was one-sided. He said there was nothing wrong with writing stories that question the government. He said that a reporter’s job is not to take copy from the government, or to believe defendants, but to seek the truth.
I asked Philips again about his statement to Proctor that the government had done illegal things, such as illegally spying on Pellicano. Weren’t you definitively taking sides on a disputed issue? I asked. Philips declared that the federal government had sent in a person, Sandra Carradine, to get information from Pellicano while he had a lawyer. “The government isn’t allowed to do that,” Philips said. “That person becomes a government agent.”
But didn’t federal law enforcement officials dispute whether they had done that? I asked. Philips acknowledged that they had. “The government said she was doing it on her own.” So, I said, it was a disputed issue, but you’re saying it’s true. Philips argued that the court had ruled that the defense was entitled to a hearing regarding that issue. But did the court make a factual finding to resolve the dispute? I asked. No, Philips said; because Pellicano represented himself, the hearing never happened.
I repeatedly asked Philips whether he saw a problem in taking sides on a disputed point that he was covering for the paper, and he repeatedly asserted that what he had said in the letter was true, citing the judge’s ruling that there should be a hearing regarding the issue.
Philips said that the whole premise of the search warrant on Pellicano’s office was that Steven Seagal had hired Anthony Pellicano to get back at Anita Busch — yet, Philips asserted, Seagal had nothing to do with the fish and the rose left on Busch’s windshield. John Rottger wasn’t involved either, he said. If you look at the basis of why they went into Pellicano’s office, Philips said, it wasn’t true.
“I believe they monitored the phone calls of Proctor and Pellicano but not Seagal,” Philips said to me. “I think they wanted to get into Pellicano’s office for other reasons.” I asked him what reasons, and he said he didn’t know, but he knew that the reason they were going in there was not because of Steven Seagal. “They used him to get through that door,” Philips told me — meaning they used Seagal to get through the door of Pellicano’s office.
Philips claimed that the FBI had told him off the record that they didn’t believe Seagal was involved in the threat on Busch. I asked whether the FBI agents might have initially thought Seagal might be involved (based on taped conversations between Proctor and a government informant), but later changed their mind. Philips said he believed that the federal government knew from the beginning that Seagal was not involved — otherwise, he asked, why didn’t they get a search warrant for Seagal’s premises, like they did for Pellicano’s? Instead, Philips said, they held Seagal in a conference room while the warrant on Pellicano’s office was being executed, and they didn’t say a word about the search to Seagal.
I asked Philips if he had ever asked anyone at the FBI why they didn’t raid Seagal as well. He said they wouldn’t talk to him. I asked whether that was standard operating procedure for the FBI, and he said something that he repeated throughout the conversation, across the range of topics we discussed: that his job as a reporter is to find the truth and not just report what the government says.
I asked Philips why, in his letters to Proctor, he repeatedly presented Proctor with a specific factual scenario that would benefit Pellicano if Proctor agreed to it. And why repeatedly mention that Proctor’s initial conversations with Patterson, the government informant, had not been recorded?
Philips said: “This is a private conversation. I’m trying to have a conversation with this guy through a letter in jail. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to mention that there is no recording of the initial conversations.”
Philips said he wanted to know if Patterson, the government informant, had a reason to do what he was doing. “‘Are you being set up?’ was my idea,” he said, referring to the possibility that Proctor was being set up by Patterson. Philips said he thought this was a “worthy” idea, and he wanted to explore that possibility with Proctor. But, he said, he wasn’t trying to tamper with a witness or feed a specific story to Proctor.
I pressed him on why he hadn’t simply asked open-ended questions of Proctor. Philips started talking about how the whole idea that he was trying to feed Proctor answers was wrong. But why was it necessary to tell him that the conversations hadn’t been recorded? I again asked.
Philips said he thought it was odd that the initial conversations between Patterson and Proctor had not been recorded. He repeated that he wasn’t trying to feed a story to Proctor.
Philips repeatedly and strongly took issue with the idea that he wrote stories benefiting Anthony Pellicano because he was friendly with him.
He sounded especially peeved at Nikki Finke, saying he didn’t understand what Nikki Finke had against him, as he had never done anything to Nikki Finke. Philips denied Finke’s allegation that Philips and Pellicano had smiled at one another, and saluted each other, at Pellicano’s wedding. Philips asserted that his presence at Pellicano’s wedding was not unusual; there were probably eight reporters there, he said. He said that Pellicano was happy, which was unusual because Pellicano had had a rocky relationship with his bride. Pellicano was probably waving at everybody, Philips said.
Philips also addressed Anita Busch’s allegation, reported on this blog back in May, that Philips showed up at the reading of Pellicano’s verdict, seemingly without a pad of paper or a pen. He conceded that he was there, not because he was reporting the story, but because he wanted to find out what would happen. Philips said he had his notebook, but it was in his back pocket. He also had a pen, but didn’t have it out. When he started seeing that everything was going the government’s way, he said, he got up and left.
Philips volunteered that the idea that he has done stories about Suge Knight or Anthony Pellicano because he’s on the take is “just so simplistic.” “Where’s the money?” he asked. If he took money, where is it?
I asked if he had ever socialized with Pellicano. He said he had used Pellicano as a source on many stories, and that Pellicano had fought him on a lot of stories in the past. He thinks Pellicano admired him because he stood up to Pellicano. When it comes to guys like Pellicano, Philips said, “I just have a fascination with them.”
Philips said that the U.S. Attorney had tried to portray the Pellicano deal as a wide-ranging operation. “I found that to be completely bogus.” It was just a handful of people, he said. It wasn’t what the government claimed it was.
I asked Philips what he was doing nowadays. Had he sought any other newspaper job? He said he hadn’t. Was he working on a book? Not currently, he said. He said he was kicking around a couple of story ideas. But mainly, he said, “I am at the beach enjoying myself.”
As I mentioned earlier, we also spent a lot of time talking about James Sabatino and Waymond Anderson and Suge Knight and others. But all of that is a story for another day.