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Iranians Vote; President Obama Selling Out Gay Community?
Aired June 12, 2009 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: (voice-over): Tonight, here are the questions we want answered.
Is this the end of Iran's Ahmadinejad? Millions turned out today to vote for president. Tonight, both he and his challenger claiming victory. What does it all mean for Iran's nuclear ambitions?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We tried to send a clear message that we think there's the possibility of change.
Plus, tonight's "Great Debate": Is President Obama selling out the gay community? The president hasn't yet kept his promises on don't ask/don't tell. And even Dick Cheney is more liberal than Obama when it comes to gay marriage. Find out why some in the gay community are losing patience.
RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish.
BROWN: And sex, drugs, and murder in Italy. A British student is brutally killed. What really happened? And could this young American girl have done it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's 100 percent innocent.
ANNOUNCER: This is your only source for news. CNN prime time begins now. Here's Campbell Brown.
BROWN: Hi, everybody.
We have got those questions, plus tonight's newsmaker. He is one of the unsung heroes of the miracle on the Hudson, co-pilot Jeff Skiles. And he has a warning about pilot training and who may be flying your plane.
But we start tonight, as we do every night, with the "Mash-Up," our look at the stories making an impact right now and the moments you may have missed today. We are watching it all, so you don't have to.
A milestone today in the cigarette wars: Congress is giving the feds sweeping new power to regulate tobacco. They will now be able to ban certain chemicals from cigarettes, limit where they're advertised, and veto new products. The House went 3-1 in favor of the new regs.
But if you thought a lopsided vote would discourage a fierce debate, well, think again. It is Washington, people.
Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: Currently, a head of lettuce receives more regulation than tobacco products.
REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R), NORTH CAROLINA: If a head of lettuce has more rules than tobacco, then I think we should reduce the regulations on lettuce.
REP. STEVE BUYER (R), INDIANA: This bill increases the success rate now of quit smoking by two-tenths-of-1-percent, two-tenths-of-1- percent. You proud of that? So, don't come to the floor and act like that someone is the champion here, because we're not -- two-tenths-of- 1-percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to yield?
BUYER: Yes, I will yield and help you with math.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm asking you the source. If I could...
BUYER: It's 2 percent...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the gentleman yield for a moment?
BUYER: Two-tenths-of-1-percent? Two percent. You think that's great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Now, President Obama, who, let's be honest here, is a bit of a closet smoker himself, hailed the vote from the Rose Garden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Over a decade, leaders of both parties have fought to prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children and provide the public with the information they need to understand what a dangerous habit this is.
And, after a decade of opposition, all of us are finally about to achieve the victory with this bill, a bill that truly defines change in Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Still, some anti-smoking crusaders say Congress didn't go far enough, like Jeffrey Wigand, remember him, the legendary whistle- blower who exposed big tobacco's scheme to get us hooked on cigarettes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Do you actually feel vindication right now and that this is not one of these typical political compromises that take place in Washington, D.C.?
JEFFREY WIGAND, TOBACCO WHISTLE-BLOWER: Well, as with all things that come out of Congress, it's not perfect. And, I mean, there are multiple areas that still kind of concern me.
I mean, they're going to be -- have the FDA regulate additives, but one additives that has particularly been exempted is menthol. And that bothers me because it serves as a gateway to kids. It also has been targeted primarily to African-Americans. And we also know menthol changes the metabolism of -- of nicotine.
But it is historic, but it's the beginning of continued history- making.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Tobacco kills about 400,000 people in the United States every year.
In Italy today, 21-year-old American student Amanda Knox took the stand in her murder trial. He is accused of conspiring with two men to rape and kill her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher. Knox testified she didn't do it and her father insists the truth will come out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURT KNOX, FATHER OF AMANDA KNOX: I think today went phenomenally well. I think what everybody has now had a chance to see is who is Amanda vs. what she's been portrayed as, you know, up until now.
I think she was very articulate in answering all of the questions. She fully intends to answer all of the questions tomorrow. I think she did a great job today. And, you know, I -- as we continue to have this trial unfold, I think we're going to see more and more that she's innocent, as she is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And we are going to have more on this fairly sordid tale of sex, drugs, and murder a little bit later in the show.
Now Sarah Palin and David Letterman part four or five. We forget. But we're going to stay on this until one of them stops talking. So, today, it was the Sarah show, the Alaska governor trashing the talk show host on NBC's "Today Show" and right here on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you willing to forgive and forget?
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: I will always forgive whomever is asking for forgiveness. It goes beyond, though, David Letterman's crude, sexist, perverted joke about a 14-year-old girl being "knocked up" by Alex Rodriguez. I think he's like 30-some years old. I think that that's, you know, pretty perverted.
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": He did not mention Willow by name. And he then went on to say he was not referring to your 14- year-old daughter.
PALIN: You and anybody else are extremely naive to believe that very convenient excuse of David Letterman's the other day. It took a couple of days for him to think of that excuse that, no, he wasn't talking about my daughter who was there with me at the game, the 14- year-old. He was talking about some other daughter.
Well, I think it's a weak excuse. And -- and, regardless, it was a degrading comment about a young woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Well, as for David Letterman, he seems to want this all to just go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Earlier in the week, I made some jokes that upset Sarah Palin. And I was telling jokes about her family and stuff. She got really upset. And I think everything's fine now.
LETTERMAN: I think everything's going to be great, because she called today and invited to take me hunting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Yes. I think not.
Sarah Palin clearly not big on late-night laughs, but, today, another Republican was a pretty good sport. Check out this moment. This is from "The Colbert Report" on location in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT") STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": I am not the only one who would like to give you troops a special "Colbert Report" Baghdad shot-out.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Laura and I send our greetings to our service men and women.
Your achievements in Iraq have earned you a special place in American history. You're men and women of great courage and endurance, and that's going to come in handy. I have sat through Stephen's stuff before.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COLBERT: I have got to say, I miss that guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: But, wait, more Bush news just around the corner. Let's check in with the other president in the family. There he is, George Herbert Walker Bush, jumping out of a plane today to celebrate turning the big 85. Can you believe that? This is the president's third birthday skydive. And check out the soft landing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations. And, happy birthday, Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, Mr. Bush, what do you think?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like this. I like this. I'm glad to do it again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Barbara going to let you do this again?
G.H.W. BUSH: Not until my 90th birthday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, Barbara, are we ever going to see you do this?
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Never.
G.H.W. BUSH: It sends a message around, with these guys, all around the globe, that just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Headline News' Robin Meade went up in the plane with the president and back down again. And we're going to have more moments from her exclusive reporting a little bit later in the show.
But, for now, that is the "Mash-Up."
And we move on now to our first big question tonight. Is Iran on the brink of a new revolution? At this hour, we don't know who won today's presidential election. Polls are closed and about 20 percent of the ballots counted. And both Iran's hard-line president and his top challenger are both claiming victory.
Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Tehran tonight to show us the mood on the streets.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The mood throughout the election hours was extraordinary. There was an unprecedented turnout, according to Iran's election officials, much higher than anything we have ever seen in all of the elections that we have covered.
Many of the people who we have talked to, certainly amongst the young, the very young, who came out to vote, the women, all of these people told us that they want change. They took that from Obama's playbook. And they kept telling us they want change, here at home and in relations with the rest of the world, including the United States.
People told us they were sick of the way President Ahmadinejad had mismanaged the economy. They told us they were very tired of how he had brought ridicule contempt on Iran, in terms of his denials and his belligerent posturing.
So, what they said that they want to see, change and a new president.
BROWN: Now, that was Christiane Amanpour again.
Who -- no matter who ultimately wins in Iran, the world very much watching, as Christiane pointed out, for signs of change and what this may mean for the U.S. relationship with Iran.
Here to talk about that, CNN senior political analyst Jeffrey Toobin with us, as always, Rudi Bakhtiar, director of media relations for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. And she's a former reporter and anchor for CNN as well. Reza Aslan, "Daily Beast" columnist and author of "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror," and in Washington, Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Welcome to everyone. Reza, let me start with you.
I guess we don't, obviously, have the results yet. But if Ahmadinejad does go, what in your view does it mean for U.S. relations with Iran?
REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, "HOW TO WIN A COSMIC WAR: GOD, GLOBALIZATION, AND THE END OF THE WAR ON TERROR": Well, look, regardless of who becomes the next president, whether it is Mousavi or Ahmadinejad, the United States is still going to open up relations with Iran.
There's really no more choice in the matter. It would obviously be a lot easier if it were not Ahmadinejad. It would be a lot more politically palpable as well in the United States. But the fact of the matter is, is that, as you were reporting, there is an enormous sense of change in Iran.
Even if Ahmadinejad manages to squeak by and win reelection, as, by the way, every president has in the 30 years of the Islamic republic history, he's not going to be able to ignore this overwhelming mood for change and for better relations with the rest of the world.
It's necessary because the budget is on the -- on the verge of collapse. The economy is doing very, very poorly. They need America.
BROWN: Do you agree with that, Elliott?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I don't, because it looks as if this election is not being won by Ahmadinejad. It looks like it's being stolen by Ahmadinejad.
These early returns from the government suggesting he's winning 2-1 are really not persuasive. I think they're not persuasive to those young Iranians that Christiane was talking about. So, it seems to me that what you're going to see in the -- in the next few days is a delegitimatization of this government. And you may well see violence in the streets. People aren't going to take this sitting down.
BROWN: What does this mean for us, for the Obama administration right now, in terms of their thinking, Jeff?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, I think it's exquisitely difficult.
As Elliott points out, if Ahmadinejad is ruled the victor by a landslide, that is not going to have a lot of credibility in the world community or probably even in Iran.
But the Obama administration is still committed to opening up this dialogue. How do you open a dialogue with a country that is even more discredited in the eyes of Americans than the pretty desperate straits it was already? I just think it makes a difficult job harder.
BROWN: Rudi, you -- regardless of what happens here, you have been talking to a lot of people who are on the ground there. You have a lot of family there. And you can't deny the fact that there does seem to be, looking -- listening to Christiane a moment ago, real enthusiasm for this election.
What do you think if fueling it? What is behind it?
RUDI BAKHTIAR, PUBLIC AFFAIRS ALLIANCE OF IRANIAN AMERICANS: Well, first, let me say that the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans is a national grassroots membership organization that focuses on domestic issues for Iranian Americans solely.
Having said that, this election is front and center on all Iranian-Americans' place right now, mostly because we have family back there. We're in touch with our family back there. There is a 30 percent unemployment rate in Iran. Inflation is in double digits, and, you know, our aunts and uncles and our friends and cousins would like to see a better situation for themselves in Iran.
BROWN: Elliott, let me go back to sort of the bigger picture here. Does it even matter who wins, given that the supreme leader ultimately still holds most of the power? Are we putting too much emphasis on this?
ABRAMS: I think we have been putting too much emphasis on it, and a lot of newspaper stories have called Mousavi a reformist. He's not a reformist.
This is a little clique of people inside this very conservative clerical group that's running the country. They're going to still be running the country. He's no reformist. But I think it may turn out to be a more consequential election than, at least, I expected, if they steal it blatantly, because that's really going to have an impact on the people of Iran.
BROWN: What do you think, Reza?
ASLAN: Well, first of all, we're a long ways from talking about stealing the elections. About 20 million of 50 million votes have been counted. We have no idea where these votes come from. They could come from the villages. They could come from Tehran. It would be -- it makes a huge differences about where these votes are from.
Secondly, we have to get away from this overly simplistic idea that the supreme leader is in charge of Iran. Yes, of course, he has final veto power. Yes, of course, he's the most powerful figure in Iran, but it's not the 1980s anymore. Power in Iran is dispersed in a whole bunch of different places, including the Revolutionary Guard, as well as the Expediency Council that Rafsanjani rules, not to mention, you know, these other Orwellian subcommittees.
ASLAN: And the president is not an inconsequential figure.
ABRAMS: All ayatollahs, all ayatollahs. ASLAN: Now, as a matter of fact, that's not the fact. The Revolutionary Guard is a military organization and they are increasingly acting like an independent actor -- an independent agent, I should say. And the president's job is not inconsequential. He runs the budget. He's the face of the country. That does mean something.
BROWN: But let me go just -- let me bottom-line it, because I don't want to run out of time without addressing this. And, Jeff, you can take it and, Elliott, Rudi, everyone's take on this. What does this mean for their nuclear ambitions? Does that change at all? And if that doesn't change, what does it really matter?
TOOBIN: Well, what's striking to an outsider is that, for all that we're sort of putting one into the liberal and conservative camp, they seem pretty close together on the issue of nuclear ambitions. They both say that they want to develop at least peaceful nuclear power. And that's going to be something that's going to be very tough for the Obama administration to deal with.
BROWN: Elliott, go ahead.
ABRAMS: I agree with that. I think that it is the supreme leader who really has his finger on the button. He doesn't seem to want to take it off. And regardless of who wins or who steals this election, it's going to be very, very tough for the Obama administration to make any headway in negotiation with these guys.
ASLAN: There is no button. And the Obama administration has already said that it's going to allow Iran to have a civilian nuclear program. That's off the table. There's no more discussion on that point.
The issue is, is how do we get Iran not to weaponize that program? We have a long ways to go before that -- that's the case.
BAKHTIAR: I think it's also important to talk about the women's movement here, which started right after the revolution in Iran, when women had their licenses revoked as lawyers. They had judges, like Shirin Ebadi, a laureate, were forced to step down, and they have been fighting for women's issues since then.
And I think we saw a real powerful person in Zahra Rahnavard standing next to Mousavi and speaking about human rights, speaking about women's rights openly. That's something that I never saw when I was there four years post-revolution.
BROWN: So if there were a change in leadership, you would be fairly hopeful, given your concerns and where your focus is?
BAKHTIAR: I think a lot of Iranians have expressed a lot of hope with regards to Mousavi and what kind of change he would bring. BROWN: Well, we will see what happens. Again, we don't have those results, still very much up in the air. We will be updating you as we do learn more information.
Thanks, everybody on the panel.
Tonight's newsmaker coming up, the co-pilot who helped land that plane in the Hudson. He's got some frightening information about who may be behind the controls of your plane operating with very little experience and little sleep. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SKILES, CO-PILOT OF U.S. AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549: Truck drivers work under more restrictive flight duty time regulations than we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Plus, tonight's "Great Debate." Is President Obama selling out the gay community? He promised to overturn don't ask/don't tell, but has so far has not made a move in that direction. Dan Savage explains why some of the president's biggest supporters are furious.
BROWN: Welcome back, everybody.
This week, the National Transportation Safety Board held hearings into the remarkable water landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 back in January. Tonight's newsmaker was the man who along with Captain Chesley Sullenberger helped safely guide the jet into New York's Hudson River after both of its engines were knocked out by birds.
The co-pilot and first officer, Jeff Skiles, believes there is still a very clear danger to the flying public that has nothing to do with wildlife. Listen.
BROWN: Officer Skiles, welcome to you.
BROWN: You pilots, I know you know, are under a lot of scrutiny right now in many ways. And you say what many people fail to understand is the pressures that pilots are facing these days. Explain what you mean.
SKILES: Well, there's a lot of pressures on the industry. It's simply not as attractive a career field as it once was, for one thing.
And, secondly, we're having problems with changing our flight duty time regulations that we work under, which are very loose. Truck drivers work under more restrictive flight duty time regulations than we do. BROWN: Wow, when you put it like that. I know you also say this isn't just about pilots, that you pilots actually worry that the conditions are putting passengers at risk.
SKILES: Well, what we're finding is that as experienced pilots retire, the people who are replacing them have very substandard experience levels compared to what they have had traditionally.
The airlines just do not have the experience applicant pool to choose from when they're selecting pilots these days due to the conditions that we work under, the very low pay, and just the general working conditions.
BROWN: So, just to give us a sense, how many hours of flight time do you have? And how does that compare to, I guess, the minimum requirement?
SKILES: Both Sully and I have 25,000 flying hours. I have slightly more. He has just slightly less. But -- and we're finding that new-hire pilots coming into the industry over the last several years can have as little as a few hundred hours.
BROWN: Wow. So, would you -- with just the minimum required training, a few hundred hours, do you think that you, Captain Sullenberger would have been able to land that plane on the Hudson?
SKILES: Well, the thing is, is that you can teach somebody how to mechanically fly an airplane, particularly if you have got an autopilot to help out, but that critical decision-making ability can only come from time in the seat, from years of flying airplanes.
I equate it to when I taught my teenage daughter how to drive. When she got her license, dad couldn't tell her anymore about driving a car. She had a license and she knew what to do. But obviously nobody thinks that a 16-year-old is going to be an experienced driver. At some point, it comes, but it's not at 16. It's at 25 or 30, and it comes only because of years of experience behind the wheel driving a car. And it's the exact same thing in aviation.
BROWN: Well, be specific, because you found yourself in an extraordinary circumstance. How did your training, that years of training, help you in that moment?
SKILES: Well, while we didn't have a specific training or specific procedures for what we were doing, it was just our years of experience in the cockpit and knowing how to prioritize what we had to do, because we had very little time to deal with, very little time to react to what the situation was, and just years.
And years of experience and, like I said, that ability to prioritize and decision-making ability was what really helped us that day.
BROWN: You have been in the cockpit, I know, back in the cockpit, for a couple of months now. When pilots come up to you in airports, now that you have quite a bit of notoriety, I guess, what's the number-one thing they say needs to change to make the skies safer?
SKILES: You know, I'm constantly being thanked by pilots, not only for what I did that day to make the profession look better, but also for what I have done since in interviews just like this, advocating for our pilot issues.
The number-one thing that I think needs to be done is, we need to increase the experience level of pilots entering this profession, not just -- not just for us as pilots, but also for the traveling public. And I personally would advocate for the fact that we're flying airline transport pilot -- or airline transport aircraft. So, why is it that both pilots in the cockpit don't have to hold airline transport pilot's licenses?
BROWN: All right, a fair point. We're going to end it there.
First Officer Jeff Skiles joining us tonight, appreciate your time. Thanks so much.
SKILES: Thank you.
BROWN: On Monday, our newsmaker is filmmaker Robert Kenner. His new documentary "Food, Inc." may leave a bad taste in your mouth. It's about how the things we eat in this country are produced. That is on Monday.
Sex, drugs, and murder -- the sensational trial of an American student in Italy. The question tonight, is Amanda Knox guilty? That's a little bit later in the show.
And then next, a congressman enters rehab, Madonna's adoption goes through, and a plane crash caught on tape -- all that coming up next.
BROWN: Now we have got to look at the other must-see stories of the day.
Erica Hill is here tonight with us -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have a few of those, even on a Friday, let me tell you.
We have just gotten this in. It is a CNN exclusive. For the first time, we're hearing from a former detainee who has just been transferred out of Guantanamo Bay military prison. In Bermuda, Don Lemon caught up with one of the four Chinese Muslims who have been at Gitmo for seven years and were recently transferred to Bermuda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: People say that you're a terrorist. How do you respond to that? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm no terrorist. I had not been terrorist. I will never be terrorist. I am very peaceful person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Also today, three other detainees were actually transferred out of Gitmo to Saudi Arabia. That is 10 sent out in recent days.
Prosecutors in Texas say they will review that video of a deputy constable using his Taser on a great-grandmother during a traffic stop. Now, it happened near Austin a month ago. We have been talking about it this week, but the video didn't actually surface until this week. Police brass defended the deputy, saying the 72-year-old was combative at the time, created a dangerous situation after she was pulled over for speeding.
The officer claims that she actually warned her about the Taser five times. The district attorney may put the case, though, to a grand jury to consider criminal charges.
And an incredible survival story of one entire family caught on camera, amazing to watch. Take a look at this. The pilot of this C- plane -- there's the plane right there -- he says a gust of wind hit it just as he was taking from Lake Hood in southern Alaska. His wife, two children, and two dogs were on the plane with him. Incredibly, no one was hurt, including the cameraman.
The NTSB, by the way, is now using this video in its investigation.
Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy is back in rehab. In a statement, the son of Senator Ted Kennedy said he checked himself in earlier this week, but didn't reveal what he was being treated for or where. Kennedy has of course struggled with alcohol, prescription pills, and bipolar disorder in the past.
And Madonna becoming a mom again. Malawi's highest court overturned a lower court's rejection of the singer's request to adopt a 3-year-old girl. Madonna says she's ecstatic about today's ruling. You may recall she adopted her son David in Malawi in 2006. There is no word yet on when she will bring her new daughter home, Campbell.
BROWN: All right. Erica Hill with all the news for us tonight -- Erica, thanks.
President Obama promised to end don't ask/don't tell, but so far he's done nothing, and that has a lot of his biggest supporters fed up.
So, tonight's "Great Debate": Is Obama selling out the gay community? Writer Dan Savage and an Obama supporter Stampp Corbin with two very different points of view.
Plus, a former president drops out of the sky, and only CNN jumped with him. We have a video. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
G.H.W. BUSH: And it's a great, exhilarating feeling. I don't feel a day over 84.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 41ST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a great exhilarating feeling. I don't feel a day over 84.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Time now for our "Great Debate." And tonight's premise, President Obama is selling out the gay community. Critics point out he hasn't made good on campaign promises like this one on gays in the military.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have stated repeatedly that Don't Ask, Don't Tell makes no sense. Why would we spend money kicking out Arab-speaking linguists that we need right now in order to apprehend terrorists because of some hang-ups that are outdated and outmoded and make no sense? We are going to overturn it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Joining us now, a guy who's pretty fired up about this, Dan Savage, whose column "Savage Love" is syndicated nationwide. On the other side of this, Stampp Corbin, who is co-chair of Obama, the Obama campaign's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council.
And, of course, we want your opinion too, so vote by calling the number at the bottom of your screen. First, we're going to start each night as we always do, opening statements from each of you. You each have 30 seconds on the clock.
Dan, once again, the premise, President Obama is selling out the gay community. Make your case.
DAN SAVAGE, NATIONALLY SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, Don't Ask, Don't Tell Barack Obama promised action. He was the fierce urgency of now and what we've gotten since he was sworn in is the fierce urgency of whenever and maybe I'll get to it.
Barack Obama although Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a congressional statute as the law, has the power as commander in chief to do a stop loss, ordering the military to stop discharging Arab linguist Dan Choi, West Point grad, two tours of duty in Iraq, Arab linguist being kicked out of the military under the Barack Obama administration. And Barack Obama could make that stop today with a stroke of his pen and he has not. And he has not done anything about Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
BROWN: All right. You get your point here. Stampp?
STAMPP CORBIN, FMR. CO-CHAIR, OBAMA LGBT COUNCIL: Well, you know, I think what we need to understand here is President Obama has been in office simply 21 weeks. And I understand my community's desire to have Don't Ask, Don't Tell immediately overturned.
There is some question, I'm not a legal scholar here, about whether the president does have the power to issue a stop loss order that in essence turns over a law that has been enacted by Congress. So where I agree, it is absolutely unconscionable that LGBT Americans continue to be kicked out of the military. Perhaps the president doesn't have the ability to take immediate action.
BROWN: Well, Stampp, though, let me follow up here because regardless of whether he has the power or not, it's pretty clear the Obama administration has not made ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell a priority in any way. So how can you ask people to be patient when there's no indication at all that he's going to act?
CORBIN: Well, you know, there is some indication that President Obama's going to act. He's just nominated Representative McHugh for Secretary of the Army. And McHugh has indicated that he also supports the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So that is an indication, I believe, that the president is getting his ducks in a row in order to be able to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And I think the video that you just showed of him shows his commitment. I understand, however, that my community --
SAVAGE: I'm sick of hearing about the president's commitment. I want to see action from the White House.
There's two things that have to be at work here -- either political cowardice or animus. Vast majorities of the country support the immediate repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, majorities of conservatives, independents, Democrats, majorities of weekly regular churchgoers. There is no political risk in moving Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And Obama is moving on every other item on his agenda. It's not that he's got so much on his plate he can't move on this.
CORBIN: Well, Dan --
SAVAGE: So there's something at work here, cowardice or animus. And it's looking more like animus...
CORBIN: Dan -- Dan, specifically --
SAVAGE: ... specifically based on what happened in California today which is more pressing and urgent than the Don't Ask, Don't Tell as far as I'm concerned.
BROWN: OK, let's -- all right. OK, Stampp, go ahead. Make your point. CORBIN: OK. Dan, the point is that you know and I know that the president does not make law. President Clinton didn't make Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He signed it into law. Congress made Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
SAVAGE: And Don't Ask, Don't Tell --
CORBIN: And so what you're saying to me is that President Obama has the ability to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He doesn't. He can use it --
SAVAGE: President Obama has the ability to immediately suspend the enforcement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
BROWN: All right.
SAVAGE: It was that part of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell bill passed by Congress. The law that you're saying has no power to suspend, Congress included a provision giving the president expressed permission in crisis and wartime to suspend it.
BROWN: All right. Hold on. Hold on one second.
Dan, let me ask you this because look at President Clinton's experience with this, too. You know, he took this issue on very early and it very much hurt him politically. I mean, couldn't you argue that it's smart politics for Obama if you really want this to get accomplished to wait until the right time, the right moment?
SAVAGE: You could argue that if 2009 were 1993. It is not. The polls as I've already cited show the country has had a sea change on this issue specifically since 1993. And if it's not now, when?
CORBIN: The country -- the country has had --
SAVAGE: A year from now it's midterm elections. A year after that, it's the reelection campaign.
CORBIN: Excuse me -- excuse me, Dan. Excuse me, Dan.
We got what we wanted, what we requested from President Clinton at this time. And if we were sitting here in 1993 on the Campbell Brown show, you would be extolling the virtues of President Clinton because he was going to lift the ban. Six months later, we got Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which you are now talking about saying that this is the worst thing in the world. It is. But we got that from a president who tried to execute on our rights --
SAVAGE: I'm not defending Bill Clinton.
CORBIN: No, no, who tried to execute on our rights before he had his ducks in a row.
BROWN: OK. All right, guys. Hold on because I've only got about a minute left, even a little less than that.
SAVAGE: (INAUDIBLE) in California today.
BROWN: Well, what I'd like you to do and maybe that's something you both agree on as I just don't want this segment. We try to do this on every show is trying to find a little bit of common ground between the two of you. Where do you think you can both agree on this issue in particular?
CORBIN: Well, I think that we can agree that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a major priority for the president and for my community. And that I don't think that we should not pressure the president to move more quickly on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I just think it's premature to say the president is selling us out.
SAVAGE: The president has sold us out in California today. He filed a brief and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act that is so insanely bigoted that the HRC, Human Rights Campaign, which is the most mainstream middle of the road gay group called it false and damaging legal arguments. People are incensed.
CORBIN: I agree.
SAVAGE: Barack Obama's White House today issued a document that compared gay marriage to incest.
CORBIN: I agree on that. I agree. We were not -- we were not talking about -- we were not talking about DOMA.
SAVAGE: That is the only action the Obama administration is edging on gay rights issues since they were sworn in.
CORBIN: We were not talking about DOMA.
BROWN: All right.
CORBIN: We were talking about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I agree with you on DOMA. That brief was --
BROWN: OK, there we go.
SAVAGE: Then you agree with me on the fact that the Obama administration has taken no action on its promises to gay and lesbian community whether we've been sold out or abandoned. It's shameful.
BROWN: Gentlemen, we've got to go. We're out of time. But you agree. We found our common ground.
A discussion we will be continuing. There's still a lot to talk about on this issue. I appreciate your very strong views.
To Stampp and to Dan, thanks so much for your time tonight, guys.
CORBIN: Thank you, Campbell.
SAVAGE: Thanks, Campbell.
BROWN: Let's see how you voted in tonight's "Great Debate." Forty-seven percent of you agree, President Obama is selling out the gay community, 53 percent disagree.
Again, not a scientific poll, by any means. This is just a snapshot of our viewers who called in tonight. Thanks, everybody.
And breaking news now from Iran to tell you about. The election results just in. We're going to go live to Christiane Amanpour in Tehran when we come back.
BROWN: Welcome back, everybody. Every night we bring you a breakout story from around the globe, the kind of stories that we believe break through all the noise. And sex, drugs and murder, pretty much always does.
Deborah Feyerick has the story of U.S. college student Amanda Knox on the witness stand for the first time in her trial in Italy. Take a look.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Primly dressed in white, her hair in a ponytail, American student Amanda Knox was escorted into court to tell her story, the high point in a lurid sensational case.
AMANDA KNOX, ACCUSED OF MURDER: You're taking this right now.
FEYERICK: This 21-year-old whose MySpace nickname was "Foxy Knoxy" finally began answering a catalog of accusations including sexual assault and violence, including murder. The victim, Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, was discovered seminude in the house they shared in Perugia, her throat cut, blood everywhere. That was in November 2007.
Knox, her Italian boyfriend, and another man were arrested soon after. One of the men has already been convicted of murder. Italian authorities concluded it was a drug-fueled game of group sex and assault that turned deadly.
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I would not be surprised if the jury and the judge ultimately did convict. There is enough. There is, for example, her DNA on the handle of a knife and on the blade of that knife, the victim's DNA.
FEYERICK: The trial had been closed to cameras, but the presiding judge let them in today, only to throw them right back out for causing too much disruption. Crammed in a press room, the cameras focused on a single TV as Knox denied almost everything.
AMANDA KNOX, ACCUSED OF MURDER: Marijuana --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marijuana.
FEYERICK: Knox said on the night of the killing she and her boyfriend smoked pot, had sex, and went to sleep, but at his house, not her own.
BLOOM: In my view, the weakest part of this case is motive. I mean, are we really to believe this 21-year-old college student with no prior criminal history of any kind would murder her roommate, knife her to death? Why? Because she refused to participate in some sex game?
FEYERICK: Knox also had excuses for the conflicting stories she told after her arrest, testifying she'd been beaten by her interrogators and led on by a translator.
KNOX: They called me a stupid liar. And they said that I was trying to protect someone.
FEYERICK: Knox faces life in prison if convicted.
Deborah Feyerick, CNN.
BROWN: When we come back, we'll be talking to two reporters who have intimate details of the story in this case. They've been doing a lot of research into it. They'll share that with us.
Plus, breaking news, information coming in. We're getting election results from Iran. Christiane Amanpour will be joining us, as well. Stay with us.
BROWN: Back with our next big question -- sex, drugs, murder, is Amanda Knox guilty? How does a college kid from Seattle who has never been in trouble before end up in an Italian jail charged with the brutal murder of her roommate?
Jeff Toobin back with us to talk about that along with "In Session" anchor Jamie Floyd. Both have been tracking the story. And in Washington, Judy Bachrach. She wrote an in-depth article on the case for "Vanity Fair," as well.
Welcome to everybody. Judy, let me start with you. You heard Amanda Knox's testimony. She was in court today in Italy as we mentioned. I know you've done so much reporting on this case.
Do you think she's guilty? Or do you think she's the victim of circumstance here?
JUDY BACHRACH, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VANITY FAIR": If she is guilty, then I'm a monkey. This girl did nothing. And the worst of it is that everybody in Italy knows it.
The prosecutor knows it. The police have messed up the evidence that so much that it's completely tainted. The knife, for instance, that your own reporter mentioned earlier, was a knife that was in the kitchen of Amanda Knox and her roommate, Meredith, and then turned up in the kitchen of her boyfriend. So naturally, it had everybody's DNA on it.
In other words, almost every piece of evidence is tainted and some of it is largely suspect. And the girl herself has been locked up, incarcerated for over a year and a half. And she has not fit for one of those years, she wasn't even charged with anything. And now she's finally charged a year and a half later and everybody in Italy knows she's innocent. And they continue with the prosecution.
I lived in Italy four and a half years. I know how troubled their judicial system is. But I think that Italy has a lot to apologize for. This is a national shame. And they are all culpable in their own way for letting this go forth, including the Italian press and the British press.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I just think -- the thing that people don't realize about this case is that someone has been convicted of killing this woman. There is the guy --
BROWN: One of the guys, he's already in jail.
TOOBIN: He's already in jail and he's been convicted based on DNA evidence, and seems like pretty good evidence of killing this woman with a knife. Why is this woman on trial now?
BACHRACH: The reason she's on --
JAMIE FLOYD, ANCHOR, "IN SESSION": Well, I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why she's on trial. Because as in our country, certainly over there, the authorities went out in front of the story. They put themselves on the line, naming this young woman and her boyfriend and they don't want to admit a mistake. It's that simple. They don't want to admit they made a mistake, nor does the media.
BROWN: But, Judy, you also found in your article -- I had read that Italian officials were baffled by sort of her bizarre behavior after the murder. I mean, is that kind of what got her in all of this trouble?
BACHRACH: There is no doubt that Amanda's behavior after the murder was, as they often say, completely unacceptable and completely weird. The next day or two days later, she was out with her boyfriend necking in a store where she bought sexy lingerie and he talked about having wild sex with her. She went to the police station with her boyfriend, and they were giggling and laughing and ordering pizza.
So, of course, what she did was reproachable. She did not have a really reasonable reaction to the horrible massacre of her own roommate. That does not make her guilty. That makes her peculiar.
And from that, the judges, the prosecutor, everyone in Italy decided she was guilty. And there's one other issue. They did not like her social life.
The judges themselves in a most incredible moment actually wrote that they disapproved of her sex life. Therefore, she must be guilty of murder.
TOOBIN: Well, just think about also. Here she is, she's interrogated in Italian with an interpreter there, where even if her comments were somewhat unusual as Judy says, which I think is probably conceited. But what she actually said to the police I think is very much under controversy. And the other point is, her Italian is somewhat better now because she's been in an Italian prison for a year.
TOOBIN: Talk about a tough way to learn the language.
FLOYD: And even if she's been interrogated in English, the studies increasingly show that if you take a young person, someone under the age of 25 and interrogate them in the way this young woman was interrogated or even here in our country, those techniques can elicit a wrongful confession. People do, in fact, confess to crimes they did not commit, even murder.
BACHRACH: She even asked for a lawyer.
FLOYD: I think anything this young woman said is completely suspect.
BACHRACH: She even asked for a lawyer and they told her it wasn't a good idea, that it would just simply mess things up if she got a lawyer.
TOOBIN: They were probably right.
BACHRACH: And they hit her. They hit her.
BROWN: All right. We're going to stay on top of this. A very strange case, it'll be interesting to see if she is able to get a fair trial in what is amounting to like the O.J. of Italy, I think.
Many thanks, Judy, Jamie, and, of course, Jeff, as always.
BACHRACH: Except she's innocent.
BROWN: We will --
TOOBIN: Good point.
BROWN: No comment.
We're going to be right back. Christiane Amanpour live from Tehran with breaking news of a winner in today's presidential election. Stay with us.
BROWN: Breaking news to tell you about right now from Iran. New results from the presidential election. Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour joining us on the phone from Tehran with the very latest -- Christiane.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Campbell, it's 5:30 in the morning. The election officials of the interior ministry here in Iran have come out with the latest figures. Seventy-two percent of the ballot box is counted, more than 25 million votes. They're giving 65.7 percent of the vote to the president, Ahmadinejad, and 31.4 to his main rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, defying all predictions and the exceptionally heavy turnout that we saw at the ballot box today.
Right now, the Mousavi camp is saying that they are accusing the establishment "of manipulating the people's vote." We're going to have to see how this plays out, Campbell.
BROWN: Again, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour with us from Tehran.
Jeff Toobin sitting here with me now. And that was something we discussed a little earlier in the show whether this is going to create more difficulties for Obama, for the White House, given a taint possibly surrounding the election if these results hold.
TOOBIN: Well, and those results are pretty extraordinary results, two to one, total landslide. If that -- you know, the interesting thing is, will that be seen as a landslide or evidence of dramatic fraud? Because certainly the expectations were that this was going to be a close race and that was not a close race.
BROWN: Or would go the other way. Not at all.
BROWN: Jeff Toobin with us tonight. Again, Christiane, as well. We are going to be tracking these numbers all through the evening. We will bring you the very latest as we have more information.
Have a nice weekend, everybody. That does it for us. We will see you back here on Monday.
"LARRY KING LIVE" coming up next.