The N&O has released audio of a lengthy (more than two hours) discussion between DA Tracey Cline and N&O journalists. Virtually the entire interview dealt with the ethical breaches revealed in the “Twisted Truth” series. But for 5 minutes, 32 seconds, the two discussed the lacrosse case. Here’s the audio excerpt:
Four particularly striking items from the interview.
First: As you’ll see if you listen to the above, Cline is very, very careful about what she says. After N&O reporter Andrew Curliss initially brought up the topic, she almost snarled, biting out, “What do you mean, my role in the Duke lacrosse [case]?” She then repeatedly paused (a couple of times for a significant period), cut herself off, and retreated to generalities.
Second: Contradicting both the DNA evidence and the attorney general’s findings, Cline described the case as “acquaintance rape situation.” In an acquaintance rape claim, of course, both sides acknowledge that sexual contact occurred, and the only question at play is a matter of consent.
Third: While Cline consistently refused to give a direct opinion on Crystal Mangum’s various tall tales, Curliss noted (correctly) that her description of a prosecutor’s role—a willingness to try hard cases despite a lack of evidence, as long as the prosecutor believes in the “victim”—is almost identical to how Nifong described his motivation in the lacrosse case. Curliss then noticed that Cline was smiling, and asked her why. She coyly responded, “I’m just smiling.”
Fourth: Further confirming her reputation for slipperiness with the truth, Cline managed to offer differing descriptions about three aspects of her role in the case—again, in less than six minutes. The contradictions:
Whether She Had Any Involvement in the Case
Cline claimed that she never talked to Nifong about why he took the case, even though, as the chief sexual assault prosecutor for the county, the case normally would have been assigned to her. Cline further claimed that the case simply “didn’t come to my desk.”
But earlier in the interview, she conceded that the case “was originally going to be mine,” and that, originally, the case did come to her desk. She admitted that she had been the prime mover behind the ethically dubious NTO (which operated under the premise that even lacrosse players for whom the state had no evidence were even in Durham that evening could be required to give DNA).
Whether She Discussed the Case with Nifong
When asked directly about whether she spoke to Nifong regarding the case, Cline confessed, “I think I may have generally given him suggestions,” although she refused to reveal the content of those discussions. But then, less than a minute later and after a lengthy pause, she seemed to deny that she had spoken to Nifong about the case: “If he had asked my opinion, I would have given it to him.”
Whether She Would Have Tried the Case with Nifong
At the start of the discussion, Cline seemed to concede that she would have served as second chair at trial, recalling that “Mike had asked me if the case went to trial if I would help him, because he hadn’t tried a case in a long time.” But then, less than two minutes later, she denied that she would have served as second chair, telling Curliss, “I don’t think so.” She offered no explanation for why this was so, or who would have served as second chair in the trial if she had not done so.
A critical point: this interview occurred on the 28th of July. According to the e-mail stream released by the N&O, at the time of this discussion, Curliss hadn’t uncovered the tape of a 2007 exchange between Cline and the N&O’s Michael Biesecker, in which Cline apparently commented on the lacrosse case. What did she say? Would her 2007 remarks contradict what she told the N&O reporters in 2011? And why has she refused to respond to at least five requests (two from the N&O and three from me) to release the tape?