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CNN NEWSROOM

Dr. Laura Uses N-Word; Rep. Waters on Ethics Charges

Aired August 13, 2010 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And at the top of the hour, happening right now, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters getting ready to address ethics charges on Capitol Hill this morning. She's been staying under the radar and away from TV cameras for days but any minute now she'll face them head on reading a prepared statement on the allegations.

We're watching it for any developments. As you know Representative Waters is accused of violating House rules for allegedly using her position to secure bailout funds for one united bank. Her husband owns stock in that bank and he served on the board. The bank ultimately obtained more than $12 million in T.A.R.P. funds, according to an ethics committee statement. We're monitoring this story as it develops. So keep it right here on CNN.

Our other top story. Dr. Laura has earned fame and fortune by giving people advice on her radio show. Maybe she should have employed some of her own wisdom before opening her mouth this week. Here's her jaw-dropping exchange with an African-American caller. The woman was concerned about her inter-racial marriage but the conversation turned pretty testy after Dr. Laura used the "n" word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER: Yes, I think you have too much sensitivity and not enough sense of humor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it OK to say it?

SCHLESSINGER: Well, it depends on how it is said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it ever OK to say that word?

SCHLESSINGER: It depends how it's said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you're not black. They're not black. My husband is white.

SCHLESSINGER: I see. So a word is restricted to race? Got it. Can't do much about that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't believe someone like you is on the radio spewing out the (bleep). I hope everyone heard it.

SCHLESSINGER: I didn't spew out the (bleep) word. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody heard it.

SCHLESSINGER: Yes, they did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope everybody heard it.

SCHLESSINGER: They did and I'll say it again (bleep). Why don't you let me finish a sentence? Don't take things out of context. Don't NAACP me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know what the "n" word means and I know it came from a white person. And I know the white person means that.

SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can't have this argument. You know what, if you are that hyper sensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, that exchange ignited quite a fire storm of criticism. The Reverend Al Sharpton calls it "despicable." Dr. Laura issued this apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHLESSINGER: I talk every day about doing the right thing. And yesterday I did the wrong thing. I didn't intend to hurt people. But I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the "n" word all of the way out - more than one time. And that was wrong. I'll say it again, that was wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Dr. Laura ignited outrage before. She has referred to homosexuality as quote "a biological error" and she has said that women may share the blame if their husband cheats on them.

So let's get more perspective, shall we?

In Chicago, we got CNN political analyst Roland Martin and here in Atlanta, Josh Levs checking on the buzz on the internet. Roland, let's go ahead and start with you. Look, this woman is no "Dear Abby," OK, and we know her past record. She's not the most sensitive, loving person that you call in to for advice.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, absolutely not. I think she really mix two different things up. First of all, this woman was calling, an African-American woman married to a white male, was calling to say how do I deal with his friends and family members making these comments, and she automatically jumps to well, why is it racist and all of a sudden, comedians say these things. And so that's a whole different question - how do you deal with that?

I mean, it's no different - I mean, how would she respond, Dr. Laura, if a woman called in and said, "you know what, my husband's friends makes sexist comments. They use the "b" word, the "c" word around me. And I'm offended by it, what should I say or do?"

I don't think that would have been her reaction. Now, she clearly has an issue in terms of comedians and others using the "n" word on the stage. Look, I have addressed this issue when I (INAUDIBLE) I put the "n" word on the cover to say, African-Americans, either we stop using the word privately to each other or you can't get mad when somebody else uses it. That was a different argument.

PHILLIPS: Is there a different story between Dr. Laura using it and a comedian using it?

MARTIN: Right. Absolutely. First of all, you know, I would hope no one uses the word but the reality is people who are on stage, comedians, whether they talk about black folks, white folks, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, Jews, men, women, they talk about everybody. And so it is commonly expected in our society that when someone is on the stage, there's a different sort of - there's a line you can't cross when they are on the stage but when you are a radio talk show host, when you are in mixed company, if you are at a party or whatever, you don't pull a stage route, you know, off the stage. That's not what you do. And so we accept that in our culture. That's understandable.

PHILLIPS: All right. Moving away from the "n" word and this comment she made, "well, you shouldn't marry outside your race." Let's listen to this again real quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHLESSINGER: I certainly wouldn't want to think anybody else was -

Don't marry out of your race. If you're going to marry out of your race, people are going to say, "OK, what do blacks think? What do whites think?"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: All right. That's a little harsh.

MARTIN: First of all, it's crazy because I'm married to a black woman and I get that question, what do blacks think? First of all, this lady was talking about several things here in terms of the comment. The real issue was why does her husband, why does he allow these things to be said and he doesn't check his friends or his family members.

She even said, you know, they use racial epithets around her as if she's not even sitting there. That is a real issue for this woman and Dr. Laura totally just blew the whole thing off. But how do you even erase this whole notion of - "well, look, just don't marry outside of your race." That's nonsense. People marry folks like them every day and they still hear comments. So am I supposed to say, "well, if I heard it, walking down the street and I'm married to a black woman, I really shouldn't say anything? That's nonsensical. Dr. Laura is nuts in this area.

PHILLIPS: It was just bizarre. It just seemed archaic, you know. This seemed like it even wasn't happening. Roland, hold on a second.

Josh, what are people saying on-line? Is this getting buzz? Like have you checked her Facebook page? What, you know?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a ton. It's getting a ton. You know, as soon as we put this up on Facebook, we started getting tons and tons of them. Here's actually one of them at the top. I think Roland (INAUDIBLE) about.

Very interesting. Here's one from Sheryl. "Dr. Laura seems unaware of the racist attitudes and acceptance of racist behaviors embedded in our culture. How can a member of the dominant class of whites have anything to say about what people of color say about themselves."

You know, Roland, you've done radio for years and years. You're an analyst on all sorts of topic, when you talk about race, do you think it's inherently offensive or for white people to even go near that conversation? Should it remain more of an internal black conversation?

MARTIN: No, because first of all, you can have a real conversation. What Dr. Laura should have done as a radio talk show host - she failed radio 101. She should have addressed the woman's concerns and then pivoted to the issue of why it that it is accepted when certain folks use certain statements and other people can't.

Now, she talked about race. Well, look, I know women who are friends who might call each other the "b" word, but if a guy uses that same word, it's like, "wait, a minute, you can't use that word." Let's just be honest. That's a gender issue there as well. And so she failed to actually do that.

It is an issue among African-Americans. I've raised this issue before. I debated Dr. Michael Dyson (ph) on this. How can we sit here and just, folks, use it freely among one another, on buses, down the street, on stage, and then say, "if you're white, oh, no, it's wrong for you to use the word."

I don't find it endearing. I don't find it, a word that's perfectly OK, whether you drop the "er" and put an "a" on it. That makes no sense to me. So whites can have a conversation but it's how you have a conversation. You don't say the "n" word six, eight times and think you're going to have a decent conversation.

LEVS: I tell you. And so many people are saying exactly the same. I'll just show you one from Cyrus Webb. "I don't agree with what Laura did it but it has to be discussed. Blacks have been hiding this "r" word we have taken it back way too long. If they don't mind saying it to each other, they shouldn't mind others saying it."

You know, in the end, what's really coming out of this whole Dr. Laura incident here and Kyra, you know this as well, is a renewal of a national conversation about the intensity of this word and what it means in so many different ways and the feelings associated with it. Ultimately, that's the opportunity here, to have another national conversation about what's going on with this word. Who's using it and who should stop. Hopefully, I think you're saying - everyone.

MARTIN: Josh, it goes just beyond the word as well. Because it also has to deal with the stereotypes. This woman - she called and said, wait a minute, in a relationship, people are saying who are my husbands friends and family members, how do I deal with that and that's the whole problem, Kyra. We have a race discussion. How do we confront those around us who hold racial stereotypes, who hold gender stereotypes?

And so if we don't check the folks around us, we will never be able to confront the whole issue of race because we let people get away with it at home and church and amongst others around lunch, dinner or whatever. And we don't say, "wait a minute. That's not right. You shouldn't me making those kinds of comments. So why do you hold those kinds of stereotypes." That's the real debate that we really don't like to have, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans.

PHILLIPS: Well, we always had that debate. That's not an issue.

Now, Roland, you're going to stay with me, because we are following California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Apparently, she's getting ready to make a statement. We are tracking that right now. She's been staying under the radar and staying away from the cameras but apparently she's going to face the cameras head-on now with a prepared statement about these allegations of corruption.

So we're going to monitor that, take that live when it happens. Roland, you'll stick around and talk with me about it?

MARTIN: Sure.

PHILLIPS: Great. Roland, thanks. Josh, thanks so much.

All right. We're going to take a quick break. More from the CNN NEWSROOM straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Louisville, Kentucky, check out the surveillance tape. Police want to catch this couple that's robbing pharmacies and stealing prescription drugs. Their MO, well the woman in the drive- through distracts the pharmacist, and the partner jumps the counter and rifles the shelves. And bolts off with the drugs. Police say the duo usually hits on a Sunday morning.

Mount Holly, North Carolina, trusted and respected church couple. He's the treasurer and she's the secretary. Well, systematically, they stole money from the church bank account, $360,000, money they say they only meant to "borrow." Well, investigators say they wrote hundreds of checks to themselves. Now, a church deacon hopes they can replace the money with lots of bake sales and fund raisers.

And a nice story out of Oregon, Ohio. Better late than never. A Korean war vet who left high school to join the Navy back in the early '50s finally earned his diploma. It was a proud day for Philip Shinaver.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILIP SHINAVER, HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE AT 79: I sure am proud I finally got my diploma. I got maybe about 14 days or so until my birthday. I'll be 80 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy early birthday.

SHINAVER: I was afraid they wouldn't get around to giving this to me before I made it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, he did get it, and he got that diploma at a school board meeting on Wednesday.

All right. We want to take you live now to some of what's happening right now. California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Has she begun giving her statement or she's just thanking folks for being there?

All right. She's going to address the ethics charges that she's been accused of, allegations that she put T.A.R.P. money toward her husband's bank. Let's go ahead and listen in.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: I want to have an opportunity to read the statement of alleged violation and have shown a lot of interest in the ethics matter is that is now pending before the committee on standards of official conduct.

I'm indeed eager to be able to have an opportunity to present my case and that is why I have requested that the standards committee schedule a hearing as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the committee has not yet specified a date for a hearing on this matter, and given the congressional schedule, it is possible that no hearing would be held for months, even after the November elections.

Such a delay is unacceptable, considering that the investigation has dragged out for almost one year. It does not provide due process. It prevents my constituents and the American public from getting answers and it delays me from being able to respond to the charges spelled out in the SAV. I'm pleased that the committee released the SAV and related documents earlier this week as I had insisted after waiving my right to have the SAV remain private until the adjudicatory hearing.

I'VE arranged this press conference to present my facts in the case. And clear up ambiguities and misinformation. I recognize the transparency that I'm providing may not eliminate an adjudicatory hearing. To reiterate, I'm, in fact, anxious to share these facts with you and the public because I have not violated any House rules.

I fully disclosed all of my financial information as requested by House rules, and, in fact, went above and beyond what was required by repeatedly disclosing my and my husband's financial interest during financial services committee hearings. Neither my staff nor I engaged in any improper behavior and we did not influence anyone, and we did not gain any benefit.

We're here today because I believe my actions and the allegations against me are not easily understood. Today, I want to be absolutely clear about one thing. This case is not just about me. This case is about access. It's about access for those who are not heard by the decision makers, whether it's having their questions answered or their concerns addressed.

For the past 14 years, I have served in elective office, both at the state and national level, and I've made one of my top priorities opening doors and providing access for small, minority and women-owned businesses. In fact, my advocacy and assistance in providing access for the National Bankers Association is why we're here today.

The National Bankers Association consists of 103 minority banks, and I have worked with this association and their concerns for many years. I have spoken at their conventions on many occasions. I have participated in hearings about their issues, and I've worked with our federal agencies on their behalf, including the Treasury department, FDIC and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

My telephone call to then secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson during the worst economic crisis this nation has faced in 80 years was to provide access to the National Bankers Association, which was concerned about the fact the Treasury had placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship.

It was represented to me that many minority banks had over leveraged their capital in Fannie and Freddie, and the association wished to know whether or not their members' capital was lost or if the government was responsible for protecting the capital that they had invested in preferred stock.

They had attempted to get a meeting with the Treasury Department but had received no response, and so they sought me out to assist them in setting up a meeting. The question at this point should not be why I called Secretary Paulson but why I had to.

The question at this point should be why a trade association representing over 100 minority banks could not get a meeting at the height of the crisis. When I contacted the Treasury secretary, I did not suggest any solution to the problem of the National Bankers Association. I did not ask for any favors from the National Bankers Association. I did not ask for a meeting for any individual bank including One United Bank.

I did not suggest who would be participants in that meeting. I did not attend that meeting, and there was no such thing as the Troubled Asset Relief Program known as T.A.R.P. at that time. There has been a great deal of confusion over a conversation I had with the financial services chairman Barney Frank.

The conversation I had with Chairman Frank was a conversation several weeks after this meeting had taken place and after T.A.R.P. program had been announced. One United Bank was now raising questions about assistance from T.A.R.P. because my office's assistance to the National Bankers Association was strictly to provide access for a discussion about the impact of the financial crisis on small and minority banks broadly and because there was no T.A.R.P. program at the time of the meeting.

I did not wish to get involved with One United Bank about any individual assistance or about this new T.A.R.P. program. Because my husband had once served on the board of One United Bank and still held investments there, I felt I should seek assistance from Chairman Frank, a representative from the state where the bank was headquartered and someone with a record of commitment to the health of minority banks.

It's also important to note that no government agency or their representatives have ever said that I requested any special assistance or compensation for anyone or any institution or that I influenced the T.A.R.P. process in any way. There has also been a question about whether or not I instructed my staff not to get involved with One United Bank, and their interest in assessing T.A.R.P. funds.

My staff had only been involved in understanding the impact of the financial crisis on small and minority banks broadly and assisting in setting up the meeting with the Treasury Department for again, the National Bankers Association. I told my chief of staff that I had informed Chairman Frank about One United Bank's interest, that we were only concerned about small and minority banks broadly, that Chairman Frank would evaluate One United's issue and make a decision about how to proceed and given the e-mails that the committee has offered as their evidence, we communicated with each other clearly.

So, it's not just about us. It's about those who lack access. I was honored to serve on the Conference Committee of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. I'm happy to say that much of the legislation I authored, access for women and minority rights, for shareholders, a more accountable consumer, financial protection bureau and assistance for struggling and unemployed home owners were included in the final legislation that was signed by President Obama.

I'm particularly proud of the offices of minority and women inclusion that will be set up at the federal government's financial institutions, such as the FDIC, all of these agencies continuing with my work about access. Will now have these offices of minority and women inclusion.

Hear me clearly. Because of the need for access and the work that I have done over many years, I've now opened up new opportunities by creating the Offices of Minority and Women Assistance at the FDIC, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve among others to deal with the historic lack of access that minority and women individuals and institutions have had in hiring, decision making, contracting and procurement opportunities. And over the past year, I and nine other congressional black caucus members of the Financial Services Committee have been meeting wit the National Bankers Association, the National Newspapers Publishers Association, the National Association of Black-owned Broadcasters, the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, the National Association of Securities professionals and the the National Bar Association, among others, discussing the plight of minority businesses, their lack of access to capital and the lack of support from their government in banking, advertising and consulting contracts.

Access is key to understanding the scope of this case. This case is not just about them. This case is about fairness. In fact, the investigative subcommittee ignored or disregarded key pieces of exculpatory evidence to my case, and that is extremely troubling. A truly robust investigatory process would have taken all the available evidence into consideration.

I believe that if this had been done, we would not be here today. Fairness is also key to understanding the scope of this case. The case is not just about that. The case is also about my constituents and the American people. I have truly been touched by the outpouring of support from my constituents in Los Angeles and from friends in places like Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, New York, Illinois, Florida and even from abroad.

I know the way that the American people view Congress. They hear talk of partisanship, of power, of money, of influence. For congressional critics, it's easy to see a report of an ethics case and completely wash your hands of it all, but my constituents and supporters have seen the many inaccurate accusatory portrayals of my work, and they know me better than that, and they've encouraged me to fight.

I admit, there are some who do not believe in my philosophy or my methods, but no one should question my devotion to public service. Therefore, I'm asking us all to pause for a moment, set aside our cynicism and consider two things, the facts of the case and my life's work in trying to provide access to those who have been denied.

PHILLIPS: All right. You are listening to California Congresswoman Maxine Waters there, addressing the ethics charges being weighed against her. She's on Capitol Hill there. She hasn't talked to the TV cameras, but she did talk exclusively to our Roland Martin on the radio just a few days ago. Roland, she's basically saying exactly what she said to you, denying all of these charges that she didn't do anything wrong, that she didn't do any favors for her husband's bank, that she didn't do anything unethical with the T.A.R.P. money. Where is this going to go from here?

MARTIN: Before I answer that, also, she may very well take questions, Kyra. So if that happens, definitely just go ahead and obviously jump right in. First of all, this is a smart, bold move by Congresswoman Waters. She's putting the pressure on the Ethics Committee to set a date to release information, and, so, clearly, that's what she wants them to do because what she's basically saying - this reminds me of 1988 when Max Robinson, the former anchor of ABC, stood before students at Howard University and said "never lose your integrity or your creditability because in the end that's all you got."

So in many ways she's saying I'm fighting for my name here. And so the question now becomes will the Ethics Committee step up and release all the documents? Will they set a date? Because she wants this to be a public trial as opposed to what members of Congress normally do - they want to have these things in private away from the cameras where no one knows.

PHILLIPS: So what's the possibility of that? Would - OK, she's not going to take questions. So -

MARTIN: OK.

PHILLIPS: Actually - yes. We'll follow this here. Her grandson there, her chief of staff, right? What -

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Yes. Her grandson is her chief of staff.

PHILLIPS: What do we know about him?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, obviously all of the attention has been focused on her. Her grandson, actually, was also corresponding - her chief of staff was corresponding back and forth with Secretary Paulson's office and others as well. Obviously, that's what chief of staffs do in terms of representing the the interests of the member of Congress.

PHILLIPS: He's not named here at all, just her. And he's the chief of staff.

MARTIN: Remember, she's the member, so, therefore, the Ethics Committee, they are speaking to the allegations against her. But he is a part of this because he had a certain role to play in terms of communicating back and forth with the National Bankers Association as well as Secretary Paulson.

PHILLIPS: All right. So, we'll see if, indeed, a hearing is called, and we'll take it from there. Yes?

MARTIN: Well, absolutely. Again, this is -- as a member of Congress, what she's doing is going after them saying, "Look, I want my name cleared."

Again, Kyra, we don't see this a lot. Most members of Congress don't want to be this out front, this open. She's taking a huge risk by basically saying, bring it on. That's what she basically is telling them.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: Right. She's ready for it and denying everything. MARTIN: She's also very well known to be one of the biggest pitbulls in Congress. So, this is vintage Congresswoman Maxine waters.

PHILLIPS: It could get more interesting. Right.

MARTIN: Yes, it could.

PHILLIPS: Appreciate it. Keep us updated on this.

MARTIN: Will do.

PHILLIPS: You always seem to be the first to get the information. All right, appreciate it.

MARTIN: In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina didn't just devastate the city. It exposed a justice system in a crime-ridden city that simply wasn't working, and only now is that cleanup under way. Sixteen New Orleans police officers are under indictment or have pleaded guilty in post-Katrina related shootings. Here's our investigative reporter Drew Griffin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): On this summer evening, not yet three months in office as New Orleans's new mayor, Mitch Landrieu's getting to know the city's poor neighborhoods.

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS, LA: He tackled me! He tackled me. Did you see that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He almost tackled the mayor.

LANDRIEU: Why are you tackling for, you think you are a funny, huh? You think you're funny, don't you?

GRIFFIN: Landrieu and his new police chief, Ronal Serpas, are leading a walk in a show of police presence and support on this crime- riddled street.

This woman appeals for help to stop gunfire in a nearby park so children can play in safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) going boom, boom, boom. I went down there one day last week with my granddaughter. I had to lay on top of her. She's 5 years old.

GRIFFIN: On this street, guard dogs are no protection against gunshots in the middle of the night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saturday night between 11:00 and 11:30, my mother's house got shot up. There is bullet holes right there. A drive-by.

Come on. Let's go inside. Let's go.

Look. The bullet, it went through that window and went to the third room of my mother's house. Bullet went through here.

GRIFFIN: The new mayor concedes people are reluctant to trust police, with 16 officers now under indictment for pleading guilty in shooting deaths in the week after Hurricane Katrina. Two of the victims killed on this bridge.

(on camera): When you read the revelations in the Danziger Bridge case, not just the crime itself but the cover-up, can people in this city right now have faith in their police department?

LANDRIEU: No, I don't think so. The department is supposed to protect and serve. And right now, it's not doing either of those things well. My top priority as mayor is to make this city safe. It can't be safe without a police department that people trust.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Civil rights attorney, Mary Howell, says police failures have not only fed mistrust but have encouraged crime.

MARY HOWELL, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: At the same time that we're having these terrible problems with corruption and brutality in the department, we also lead the nation in crime and in homicides and in violent crime.

GRIFFIN: In this first year in office for Mayor Landrieu, New Orleans has been averaging a murder every other day. Landrieu asks the Justice Department to come in and help reform his police force.

LANDRIEU: As a kid that grew up in the city of New Orleans, you know, you get very, very frustrated that things have been allowed to get this bad, but you have to acknowledge that, and then you have to right the ship and you have to turn it around and force it to go in the right direction. And that's what we're intent on doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: OK. Forcing it in the right direction, turning it around. You and I were just talking about when I was an investigative reporter in New Orleans more than a decade ago, one of my biggest stories was a cop running drugs in the housing development. This has been an institutional problem for years. So, what makes the mayor think that he can do anything differently this time around?

GRIFFIN: The mayor is being very realistic, and he has been through this before. In fact, the new police chief was part of that movement, the whole Mark Morell (ph) trying to change the department. (INAUIBDLE) was part of that under a chief named Pennington.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: Well, Richard Pennington was brought in -- exactly -- to take away corruption.

GRIFFIN: There's a lot of critics in New Orleans who say we have seen this all before. That's the problem. What happened the last time they tried to reform this police department, which was just insanely corrupt was the bad cops kind of laid low. And they didn't get rid of them. And then once the hard-charging mayor left town or was termed out of office, they all came back up to the surface.

So, you really have to strip the department bare, bring it up from the ground up. And what the mayor is doing is bringing in the Justice Department to basically look over the shoulder of everything his department is doing to make sure that there are no weeds out there that they haven't plucked and thrown out.

PHILLIPS: This is going to be one of the toughest things to do as you well know.

GRIFFIN: This mayor publicily said "I've got one of the worst police departments in the nation." That's the police department he has now. So, you can imagine the kind of fisticuffs -- political fisticuffs that are going to come between him and cleaning up this force. But the people, as you know, really want it desperately. They don't trust the police department with very good reason.

PHILLIPS: Hey, there's some good cops within that department, too.

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: Good cops have been victimized because they have not been able to get promoted and been forced to not file reports because had you done that, you get tossed.

PHILLIPS: Yes. That cost many of times is life threatening. Drew, thanks. We'll stay on the story for sure.

Drew will have more on the actions of the New Orleans Police Department in the aftermath of Katrina on CNN this weekend. Tune into his special, "SHOOT TO KILL." That's this Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern time.

A twist of fate for a crew cleaning up the Gulf oil disaster. They find a message in a bottle. A letter of grief from a military mom 1,300 miles away. Wait till you hear what happens.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Checking top stories.

There's a legal tug of war looming over the man accused of stabbing people in three different states. Elias Abuelazam is an Israeli citizen who was rying to fly home when he was arrested at the airport in Atlanta. Police say he's linked to 18 knife attacks in Michigan, Virginia and Ohio.

Embattled California Congresswoman Maxine Waters taking her case to the people. The ten-term Democrat is under investigation by the House Ethics committee. Just minutes ago, she held a news conference and denied that she helped steer bailout money to a bank with ties to her husband. The JetBlue flight attendant who cussed out an unruly passenger, then deployed an emergency slide wants his job back. Steven Slater's lawyer says that's his life, but it's up to JetBlue. The company is conducting an internal investigation.

Cleanup crews have discovered a lot of things since the Gulf oil disaster. Tar balls, dead fish, oil-slicked birds. But this was something these workers were not expecting, a message in a bottle. Tossed into the Atlantic from Barbados, washed up in the shores in Mississippi. And at first, the cleanup crews thought it was a prank. Then they pulled the scrolls out of the narrow top of the bottle and red the letters. Letters from a grieving mother from Wales who lost her son fighting the war in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG KIRCHOFF, FOUND MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: It seems too good to be true, you know. Both fighting different tragedy, one in war, us fighting the battle, you know, with the oil spill. And it just seems like it was meant to be. You know, what a perfect ending to the story, you know, that's drawn people 1,300 miles apart together.

So, it does seem like we were destined. Our crew was destined to find this bottle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Two tragedies, two continents, one twist of fate. Joining us on the phone from Wales is the soldier's mom, Sarah Adams. Sarah, glad to have you with us.

SARAH ADAMS, SOLDIER'S MOM WHO WROTE MESSAGES IN A BOTTLE (via phone): Hi. Thank you for having me.

PHILLIPS: So, I'm curious. How did you find out that these workers got the bottle and read your letters?

ADAMS: I was off Wednesday on holiday from work, and I had a call on my mobile from a lady from the "South Wales" (INAUDIBLE), sort of our local newspapers to say that the guys in Mississippi had e- mailed her and were trying to contact me. They had Googled my name or James' name and found an article that "The August" (ph) had done about James, and they thought that they would be able to help.

PHILLIPS: What was your reaction when -- because you probably never expected anybody to come across this bottle, or did you?

ADAMS: No, not really. We were if complete shock. And, you know, a week after we came off holiday, after we told friends and family what we had done, I think then that was it for us, you know. We had forgotten about it, maybe, because for us, it was just writing to James. It wasn't about being found.

PHILLIPS: Do you by chance have any excerpts from the letter that could you read me? Could you tell me anything you said in the letter specifically? ADAMS: It was just a letter, really, about my feelings for James. And one part of it says "I am and always will be so proud of you, James, not just because you were a soldier but more so because of the wonderful, honorable young man you were. Your ability to put a smile on everyone's face is now legendary, and your gorgeous smile will stay with me always."

PHILLIPS: Aww. And I hear the tears through the phone, and I know that when you talked to the workers, they felt that same love and even said they felt a connection to your son, right?

ADAMS: I think so. And I think that the point was made that it was meant to make, and I'm amazed that it survived anytime in the sea. But I think that somehow it was meant to turn up there and with those guys.

PHILLIPS: It was indeed. And what a beautiful way to lift up your son, and what a beautiful and magical story. Sarah, thanks so much for calling in. It meant a lot to us.

ADAMS: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: You're so welcome, and we lift up your son, Private James Prosser for fighting that war in Afghanistan. Making you very proud and obviously, as Americans, we thank you so much for his service. Sarah, thank you.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOMER SIMPSON, "THE SIMPSONS": Mr. Burns, can you make me thin again?

MR. BURNS, "THE SIMPSONS": I guarantee it. One, one, one! Oh, I'll just pay for the blessed liposuction!

SIMPSON: Woo-hoo!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: All right. Well, we're not talking liposuction here. But the state of South Carolina does say it has an interesting plan. It has nothing to do with statutes, policies, budgets or jobs. It's about obesity. The Palmetto State wants to spend $2.4 million on weight loss surgeries for 100 state employees. South Carolina thinks it could save a lot of money later by spending that money now, trying to prevent expensive medical coverage associated with overweight employees. We're talking about possible diagnoses of asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and the like.

So, starting in January, on a first come-first come (sic) basis, the state's 100 heaviest employees will be eligible to go under the knife, at as much as $24,000 each. The state will follow their recovery and response to see if indeed it's a cost-effective option.

Well, we're talking about this story on our blog, and here's what some of you have said.

William said, "Government or private employers should not pay for weight loss surgery or programs. These people added the pounds without help, they can take it off the same way."

JCW in South Carolina says, "Wow, our state has that much of a surplus they can devote money to this? Why don't they stop making budget cuts on state jobs and focus on making schools better?"

Patty says, "Why not use the $24,000 per person surgery to build a gym with personal trainers and and allow all the employees to use it? It's more cost effective for all state employees to lose weight."

And Bobby says, "I think it's a great idea that South Carolina is doing this. It's time that morbid obesity be recognized by the insurance companies as a disease and makeavailable this life-saving procedure to everyone. "

We love hearing from you. Thanks so much for logging onto CNN.com/kyra and sharing your comments with us.

Now, let's take it to South Carolina state senator Robert Ford. He's joining me on the phone from the Charleston area. And you think this is a good plan. So, Senator, tell us why.

ROBERT FORD, S.C. STATE SENATOR (via phone): Okay, it's a great plan, but along with the plan, Ms. Phillips is also a program on what those negative callers that you just talked about have talked about. We are going to have a health care clinic available. We have gyms available. State employees get a big discount. They get 35 (INAUDIBLE) percent or more.

Before we do the operation, before we encourage the operation, we working with health care professionals to make sure that this is the bottom line for that particular employee. Because maybe a lot could be done before we send them under the knife. So, before we get to the knife, we want to make sure that they're healthy, that they can get healthy, that it is not a major risk to the state. And the bottom line, we simply want healthy people in South Carolina.

Most people come to Charleston because we have some of the best food in the country. I think Charleston represents a community where the second-best food is served, but that food makes people overweight and make people obese. But it's some great food. Of course, number one is New Orleans, where I'm originally from.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it is good food. I have been to your beautiful state many times, and I've enjoyed those Lowcountry Boils.

But Senator, what do you say to folks that are saying, wow, that's $24,000 per person, you could build an amazing gym with $2.4 million and have these personal trainers and get people in there to deal with the psychological aspect as well as the physical aspect. And that's where the long-term effect will have the biggest payoff. Really investment in their health, both mentally and physically instead of sending them into surgery. Which, by the way, can be very, very dangerous.

FORD: Yes, but that's why I say it. Surgery is going to be the last -- is going to be the bottom line. Well before we get to the surgery, like I said earlier, we going to have -- we got discounts already set up with gyms all over the state of South Carolina where employees who is overweight (AUDIO GAP) can join this gym at amazing discounts. We got medical professionals, we've got health clinics already set up-

PHILLIPS: But can you afford - Senator, can you afford to spend $2.4 million on weight loss surgeries?

FORD: Oh, yes. When you talk about the cost of health care. And this - we're going to have - it's a massive program that deals with everything to make South Carolina the healthiest state in the country.

Remember, now, keep this in mind, the surgery is the bottom line. Before we get to the surgery, we going to have a lot of preventive stuff, a lot of preventive ways to make sure that people in South Carolina, that our state employees and citizens, Kyra, understand we got to get healthy.

As a matter of fact, we are going to open a major clinic you can in October, we're going to start walks throughout the state on a daily basis for people with Type 2 diabetes.

There's a lot of things that go into legislation. The bottom line is (AUDIO GAP) to be healthy. We throw away all kind of money in government on a regular basis, so, really, really, I cannot understand nobody who feels that what we done is wrong.

What people have to do, Ms. Phillips is this, understand this. Those of us, the 170 members of the South Carolina general assembly also live and work and play in our community. We know what it takes to pass legislation that will be best for all of the people of South Carolina. That bottom line -- they got to understand. Their comments is welcome, but we also look at all of those things before we pass the legislation.

PHILLIPS: Well, I'll tell you what, this will be interesting to follow. We'll see how this all pans out. Senator Robert Ford, appreciate your time, sir.

FORD: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: All right. Take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Climbing Kenya's Mount Kilimanjaro would be a daunting task for anyone, but this trio of brave vets who lost limbs serving their country saw it only as their latest challenge. Army sergeant Neil Duncan and former Army sergeants Dan Nervens and Kirk Bower are just back from the 19 thousand-plus foot summit. Duncan told "The Washington Post" he was thrilled and, quote, "incredibly sore all over."

The group's six-day climb was part of the War Fighters Sports Challenge. That's a series of seven extreme sporting events for permanently disabled vets. Hats off to you guys for truly making your mark.

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PHILLIPS: Well, it's our daily tribute to our vets called "Home and Away." and we'll tell you how you can get involved in a second, but right now we want to honor Sergeant Chase Armstrong Haag from Portland, Oregon. He was killed in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad in 2006. Jason's mother wrote to us and said, "I could not have been more blessed to have a son such as you. A man who was true to himself and friends that would defend another's honor, a man that walked through life with a quiet self-assurance but never thought of himself first. Whatever you tried or were asked to do, you gave it your all."

We'd love to honor more fallen heroes like Chase, but we need your help. Go to CNN.com/homeandaway. Type in your service member's name in the upper right-hand search field, pull up the profile, send us your thoughts, your pictures, and we promise we'll keep those memories alive.

That does it for us. Hope you have a great weekend. CNN NEWSROOM with Tony Harris starts right after the break.

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