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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Deal Brewing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell?; Congress' Prince of Pork; Polygamist Prophet on Trial
Aired December 8, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for watching, everyone.
Breaking news off the top: deal-making on don't ask, don't tell. Is a deal coming into sight? The Senate postponing a key vote tonight on lifting the law banning gays from serving openly in the military. We have the latest on why, on where the sticking points are, and why it all could come down to the vote of a single Republican senator.
Also tonight, "Keeping Them Honest": Congressman Hal Rogers. You may not know the name, but he's known as the "Prince of Pork," tens of millions of dollars every year for pet projects in his sleepy rural district, so many taxpayer dollars, so many goodies, they call his hometown Mr. Roger's neighborhood. Yet, he says he's a budget-cutter. And now -- get this -- he's about to be in charge of the congressional committee that directly controls how your money is spent.
Later: polygamist leader Warren Jeffs facing a new trial on sex crimes charges. For the first time, you are going to come face to face with the self-proclaimed prophet and hear how a follower, shockingly, justifies sex with minors.
We begin tonight with the breaking news, late word out of Washington that supporters' last, best hope of ending the military's don't ask, don't tell policy just got a little bit better. The Senate deal-making going late into the evening right now on that defense bill, which includes repeal language on don't ask, don't tell.
Now, a vote was scheduled for tonight. It was pushed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, but now it's been postponed. It was put off, according to our Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, who you're going to hear from in just a moment, put off because that deal-making, talks with Maine Republican Susan Collins, who you see there, appear to be going well.
She's one of several moderate Republicans who might be needed to get the 60 votes required for bringing a bill to the Senate floor. So, she's obviously being heavy -- heavily courted for her vote.
Now, the details of this are a little confusing, but -- but just stick with me, because we think it's important to let you know what -- what we have heard is happening behind the scenes. Even though she's holding out, Senator Collins is already on record supporting the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Let me start by making my position crystal-clear.
I agree with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that the don't ask, don't tell law should be repealed. It should be repealed, contingent upon the certifications of the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, that was Senator Collins back in September saying she will vote for the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. So, why, you might ask, is she now holding out on even bringing the bill to the floor to start debating?
Well, she wants to get her way on procedure, on how much time to allow for debate, how many amendments each side would get, and when the vote would take place. Now, the hope among repeal supporters was that she'd give in by tonight's vote. The fear was that she wouldn't, and the vote would fail, so it's been postponed.
But sources now tell us that -- tell us she appears to be coming around. Late tonight, she issued this statement -- quote -- "Senator Joe Lieberman and I continue to negotiate in good faith with the majority leader to try and come up with a fair process under which the important defense authorization bill could be considered in the limited time remaining in the session. Without a fair process, the motion to proceed to the bill would likely fail in the U.S. Senate."
Now, she also wants the vote to take place only after takes up the tax deal that was struck on Monday between President Obama and Republican lawmakers. She claims that that issue could be dispensed of within a day or so.
But it's a very tight schedule. Now, you may remember, Senator Lieberman, who was on this program last night, wants Congress to work even right up even up until Christmas and beyond, if necessary. He's hoping to win Collins' support, as well as that of two other Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
I talked to Senator Lieberman last night on the program, and he was cautiously optimistic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Very bluntly, there are a lot of folks out there who think, look, this is just dead, that -- that, you know, maybe everyone doesn't realize it's dead yet, but it's just dead.
You say what, that it's not, that there's still the possibility of repeal?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Yes, I do. And I understand that feeling. Look, if -- if the opponents of repeal of don't ask, don't tell are so much against don't ask, don't tell that they're willing to stop the whole defense authorization bill by filibustering every amendment that's put up, every motion to send to conference, they can probably run out the clock, particularly if we try to get out of here a week before Christmas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, that was Senator Lieberman last night.
Let's get the latest right now. Joining us, Dana Bash from Capitol Hill, Dana -- Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Nancy Pfotenhauer, former McCain campaign adviser and currently president of Media Speaks Strategies.
So, Dana, what's happening right now?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a fast-moving story, and it is very fluid. But I can tell you the supporters of don't ask, don't tell repeal are more hopeful than ever.
And, Anderson, earlier in the day, I can tell you the prevailing view around here was that Harry Reid was effectively setting a repeal up for failure by pressing for a vote tonight that everybody thought would fail.
But sources on all sides of this say that there really are genuinely progress -- genuine progress -- there's genuine progress going on among negotiators.
And you mentioned the fact that Senator Collins, in particular -- she is the Republican that everybody is focusing on -- is holding out for more time to debate and also more amendments.
What Senator Collins is saying tonight -- and Democratic sources agree -- is that they do have agreement on 15 amendments, 10 Republican and five Democrat. The thing that is outstanding is how much time will they have to debate and when will that debate take place?
COOPER: So, when you say amendments, what, other folks want to insert amendments into this bill? What kind of amendments?
BASH: It could be open, and that is what she is demanding, that Republicans, any Republican would have the opportunity to offer an amendment.
And it really could be on anything. I mean, you would expect that Republican opponents, if this debate is going on, on the floor, one of the key amendments that they would offer would be to strike out the don't ask, don't tell repeal from the defense bill.
But it could be a host of things having to do with don't ask, don't tell or anything else.
COOPER: So, Paul, this just sounds like, you know, basically, you know, kind of the backroom deal-making.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it does, Anderson. If I had any hair left, I would be tearing it out.
This is Senator Collins' position, as I understand it. This -- this defense authorization bill has been worked on by the Senate since February 23. That's when the Senate started working on this, on the committee that Collins serves on. There have been 11 full committee hearings on the bill, 22 subcommittee hearings on the bill, two full days of markup, where they actually write the bill, thousands and thousands of hours by staff and senators put in this.
And, now at the 11th hour she says, well, it's just not enough.
It's really -- it's -- it's got to -- now, Harry Reid, I think, being very gracious, he has 58 senators. The Republicans only have 42, but he's going to let them have two-thirds of the amendments, 10 amendments for their side, only five amendments for Reid's side.
And -- and what Collins is trying to do, apparently, is drag this out, so that -- and force an instant vote on this tax package, which has had no hearings, no vetting, isn't even in legislative language yet, and puts $900 billion on to the deficit without a second thought.
I just think that you have got to sort of question what the heck is going on with this senator.
COOPER: Well, Nancy, from a Republican perspective -- perspective, how do you see what -- what Senator Collins is doing?
NANCY PFOTENHAUER, FORMER ADVISER TO MCCAIN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, first of all, just to -- to maybe correct the record or at least register a counter perspective to whether the tax bill matters from a timeliness standpoint, the burden of proof is on who's pushing don't ask, don't tell, something that could be taken up at any point.
And bringing it up when we're fighting two wars is a bit much. It's only happening because it's a lame-duck section -- session. The tax-extenders, however, must occur, or we hit this economy with a crippling tax increase within a matter of weeks.
So, it is only responsible to deal with the tax question first. As far as amendments being offered to the defense authorization bill, I find it stunning that people here are challenging the fact that the Senate, the U.S. Senate, which is supposed to be the most deliberative body in the world, would want to debate and offer amendments on a bill of this significance.
BEGALA: But, Nancy, they have had nine-and-a-half months, for goodness sakes. What...
PFOTENHAUER: This is about debate on the Senate floor...
PFOTENHAUER: ... and being able to offer amendments.
So, Paul, are you saying they should not be able to offer amendments...
PFOTENHAUER: ... and that we should somehow curtail debate on a major piece of legislation?
BEGALA: I'm saying they need to vote on this thing. Of course they're going to have amendments. Reid's offering 15, for crying out loud.
It just -- this kind of dilatory tactic, it -- it -- she says she's for the -- the -- the equality in the military, and she apparently is for funding the military. Let's just have the vote. I mean, it's just -- it's I'm glad the Democrats are cutting a deal with her. This is what they need to do. But holy smokes...
COOPER: Nancy, let me ask you, just for folks out there who don't...
PFOTENHAUER: Keep beating up Senator Collins.
COOPER: Nancy, let me ask you this.
PFOTENHAUER: It's going to help the other side.
COOPER: OK, please, let me ask you a question here.
For folks who are not following this, because this kind of gets into the weeds, when you keep talking about adding in amendments, why is that, from your perspective, so important to be able to add in, I guess, as many amendments as -- as folks want?
PFOTENHAUER: Well, on the House side, the way these -- the way the voting is done, there's very little debate. Votes are stacked. They will do 20, 30 votes. It's almost like punching a card when they do that.
The Senate is designed, it is the body -- the body, the branch where debate is supposed to occur. When you curtail that debate, you are curtailing the deliberative process. The Senate is supposed to be the most deliberative body in the world, not just in this country.
COOPER: OK. Got it.
PFOTENHAUER: So, why -- I think the burden of proof is on people who want to shortcut it.
COOPER: Dana, how does how -- do these back -- you know, backroom deals, how does it transpire? I mean, what does it look like? Do we know? Do you know? BASH: Today -- today, it looked really as simple as the Senate was having a vote on something completely different, and Senator Reid, Senator Lieberman, who -- who you interviewed yesterday, who is a very, very big player in this, and Senator Collins were literally just off the Senate floor having a discussion about how this is going to work.
The aides to these senators continue to work as well, but that pretty much is how this is going down.
COOPER: And are there enough GOP votes to -- to -- to pass this, if it actually does get to that point?
BASH: Well, you know, the question is -- if the question is on the policy, the answer seems to be yes.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska came out today and said that she now supports repeal. She is the third Republican senator on the record. If you -- if you get all the Democrats, which, by the way, is not 100 percent yet, that would be 58.
BASH: You get all the Democrats, then do you have more than 60 on the policy.
But the issue still, as we have been talking about, is the process. And the process is really what's driving this right now.
COOPER: Paul, you have been -- probably been involved in a lot of these kind of backroom deals. What -- what does it look like? Is it -- I mean, is it contentious? Is it -- you know, what's it like?
BEGALA: Actually, these are all fairly pleasant people, to tell you the truth.
BEGALA: Senator Lieberman, Senator Collins actually get along very well. Harry Reid is a very mild-mannered guy. I think he's a pretty tough guy, but he is a very mild-mannered guy.
And I -- I have heard -- I happen to know this -- that the president has personally weighed in on this. Now, liberals are really mad at him right now, and I think with some justification. But the president has put some of his own credibility on the line. He's called Senator Collins. He's called Senator Snowe, her colleague from Maine, who has not been part of the discussion so far.
His -- his political aides have also dispatched Organizing for America, the president's political arm, to Maine to try to organize in support at this. So, at least liberals who may be mad about President Obama about taxes should be pretty happy he's stepping up for equality in the military.
COOPER: Just, very briefly from each of you, Nancy, how do you think this is going to resolve?
PFOTENHAUER: I -- you know, I think it's a -- it's a roll of the dice right now. I really do. Really, this is an issue that is -- is one that the public has weighed in on, and they are sending conflicting messages.
They're in favor of it on the one hand, but they -- they are deferential to the military leaders, the ones who are the service -- service leaders on the other, and the service leaders split 3-1 against it. So, there's mixed messages.
I -- I think people are in favor of moving this direction, but they are questioning doing it at this time, when we're at war.
COOPER: Paul, where do you think this is -- I mean, how long do you think this is going to break out and how do you think it's going to end?
BEGALA: You know, as you know, Anderson, we have talked about this a lot. I have been sort of pessimistic about the ability for this to -- to pass because of this phalanx of Republicans in the Senate who oppose it.
But I think now that you're looking at passing this legislation, which does a lot of good for the military, in addition to allowing, finally, gays and lesbians to serve with honor and equality in the military.
COOPER: Dana, what -- any sense of when, timeline on this?
BASH: I'm with Paul. I have been incredibly pessimistic, but -- but feel differently right now. The timeline, that is the -- that is the question, because the calendar is not...
COOPER: Tomorrow, possibly?
BASH: Tomorrow is possible. I wouldn't hold my breath, because they're still wheeling and dealing...
BASH: ... over the tax cuts first. And that is really the key thing here.
BASH: The calendar is not on their side. They want to get out before Christmas Eve. They have these issues.
And, by the way, the START treaty, that is a huge priority for the president. That is weighing in on what -- what do they really want to do vs. other things.
COOPER: Dana, a long day of reporting for you. I appreciate it.
Nancy, Paul, stick around. A quick reminder: You, too, can weigh in. Let us know what you think, live chat up and running right now at AC360.com.
Up next: The congressman chosen to oversee your tax dollars, how they're spent, he promises to take an axe to government spending? How about his own record on spending your money? We're "Keeping Them Honest."
And later, you will meet a former follower of a radical Muslim group right here in America. You're going to see why he is -- now says he's recanting his -- his violent views and distancing himself from that group, people who say things like this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOUNES ABDULLAH MOHAMMED, REVOLUTION MUSLIM: We're commanded to terrorize the disbelievers. And this is a religion, like I said.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You're commanded to terrorize the disbelievers?
MOHAMMED: In -- the Koran says very clearly in the Arabic language (SPEAKING ARABIC). This means terrorize them. It's a command from Allah. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight: a politician who says we should all grab a shovel and start digging the government out of debt, who says he's committed to ensuring, in his words, that taxpayer money is being used appropriately. Sounds good.
He's Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky. He will be the new chairman of the congressional committee that decides how your tax dollars are actually spent. And he's been called one of the biggest money-wasters in Congress. Of course, that comes from folks who don't actually live in his district, which is the beneficiary of an awful lot of that money.
Now, I want to show you something he posted on his Web site, a column he wrote for "Roll Call" magazine. "It's time," he writes, "to grab a big shovel with a sharp blade to start digging ourselves out of this $14 trillion mess."
The congressman goes on to write, "We have got to go line by line and take an axe to programs that we simply can't afford."
Well, it sounds tough. And, as new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he's going to be in a position to do just that. But, "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, Congressman Rogers only seems to talk the talk, not exactly walk the walk.
Take a look at this. These are the earmarks, the pet projects for 2010 that Congressman Rogers got his rural district. There's 52 of them totaling $98.9 million, according to the nonpartisan group the Center for Responsive Politics, putting him in the top 20 percent of all congressional earmarkers.
Now, some earmarks are totally -- of course totally legit. And you can judge for yourself if some of his are. For instance, he got a quarter-billion dollars in the last two years, including $52 million for a national center for hometown security. It's located right there in Somerset, Kentucky, which is Congressman Rogers' hometown, population -- wait for it -- 11,000.
Well, the local airports have also gotten earmarks over the years, $17 million, even though the last commercial airline, well, they pulled out in February due to a lack of passengers. It's right down the road, by the way, from the Hal Rogers Parkway.
In August, Citizens Against Government Waste named him their "Porker of the Month." And according to "The Lexington Herald- Journal," the congressman this summer pushed through a $5 million measure for conservation groups that work with cheetahs -- cheetahs in the wild.
Now, I was surprised when I heard that, because I -- I didn't realize there were cheetahs in the wild in Kentucky. It turns out there's not.
Cheetos, yes. Cheetahs, no. There is at least one cheetah- lover, however, in the state. Her name is Allison Rogers, and she's the congressman's daughter, who just so happens to work for a group called the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Now, the congressman denies any conflict of interests, because he says he's always been a champion of wildlife. And that may be. But conflict or not, it -- it kind of goes against the grain of his own statements about cutting spending and comments from his fellow Republicans on the campaign trail and after.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have been to the floor for 20 years saying that earmarking was a corrupt practice.
REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Federal spending's out of control.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It just tells you how irrational this spending culture has become that's driven by earmarks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a power that's been abused by the Congress.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We need to change the culture of spending.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: All this pork is bad. The old pork was bad. The new pork is bad.
RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY SENATOR-ELECT: Earmarks is part of the problem, and we must stop it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This country worked really well for 200 years without earmarks.
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: And I'm all for saying let's just not have any earmarks.
REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Earmark after earmark after earmark.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: All right, so that's how a lot of them ran on it. As you might imagine, some of those who have been railing against government pork are angry that Congressman Rogers is going to be in charge of spending in the new House, especially Tea Partiers.
Erick Erickson today blogging, asking, did you vote Republican for nothing?
But it wasn't bloggers or Tea Partiers who secured this so-called Prince of Pork his chairmanship. It was the House leadership, Eric Cantor and John Boehner. And what have they been saying about earmarks? Well, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The earmark process here in Congress is a symbol of a broken Washington and a symbol of out-of-control spending.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Most Americans know that the earmark issue is emblematic of a greater problem in Washington, that Washington's spending too much, it's incurring too much debt, bringing on the need for higher taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Congressman Cantor and Congressman Boehner back in April. The previous month, they had pledged a one-year moratorium on earmarks. And according to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, earmarked money is down about 40 percent so far in 2011 budgeting, largely due to that pledge. Let's give them credit for that.
But it's only a one-year pledge. And when it expires, the big- spending congressman will, in all likelihood, still be running his committee.
We invited Congressman Rogers on the program. He declined.
Back with us, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Nancy Pfotenhauer, former McCain campaign adviser and president of Media Speaks Strategies, and joining us as well, senior political analyst David Gergen.
Nancy, as a Republican, does you -- do you admit that this kind of looks bad for Republicans?
PFOTENHAUER: I think it was a real misstep and cause for great concern. And I think the public's not going to put up with it.
You know, I think there's a -- there's a real danger here that Republicans are interpreting the last election as them being hired. It was the Democrats being fired. It's very similar to what occurred in 2008. If they believe that they were just hearing lip service during the election, then that does not bode well for them.
As -- you said it earlier, I mean, what we have -- what we have seen from Congressman Rogers, who's been since an appropriator since 1983, OK, when I was in college, a long time ago, he has all talk, no walk. So, the bar is very high for him to clear.
COOPER: Paul, let me just play devil's advocate here in defense of the congressman, because, you know, that's sort of my job here, to try to play devil's advocate of all sides.
Look, there are those who say, well, look, he's doing what a lot of congresspeople do for their district. He just happens to do it more efficiently. Why shouldn't he be in charge of this committee?
BEGALA: And, in fact, the founding fathers very plainly gave the power of the purse to the Congress.
There's a strong constitutional argument that says that Congress ought to be able to do these earmarks. The problem here is hypocrisy, OK? And -- and I will say, in defense of John Boehner, the speaker- to-be from the Republican Party, he's had almost 20 years in the Congress and has never, to my knowledge, proposed an earmark. So, he has been pure on this. He has walked the walk.
I think Mr. Boehner ought to get credit for that, even from Democrats like me. But, come on. When this gets almost a quarter-of- a-billion dollars of earmarks while the Democrats are controlling his committee...
BEGALA: ... how do you think he's going to do when he's controlling it himself?
COOPER: David, what do you make of this? I mean, Appropriations chair, it's one of the most powerful jobs in Congress. Should he have it?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it reeks of hypocrisy. I mean, he's gotten 235 earmarks over the last three years. He's -- he's right up there at the top, as -- as -- as you reported, earmarkers.
But I have to say, there -- you ought -- I think it's also important to underscore that the House Republicans have indicated they want to ban earmarks next year. They have been pretty strong about that... PFOTENHAUER: Right.
GERGEN: ... stronger than the -- than the Senate Republicans.
And I -- and I -- while it -- while it smells -- and, you know, I think the Tea Partiers are right to be upset about this -- let's wait and see what happens next year. I think that's the real test.
And I must tell you, Anderson, over the last few days, while we have been talking about the tax compromise, there is much to be said about this compromise that has just emerged, but it is $900 billion in new deficits, none of which is paid for. None is paid for.
Now, if this Congress is going to be serious, the next Congress is going to be serious, we're going to have -- we're going to have to turn this whole thing -- we're going to have to do a U-turn in what we're -- the kind of policies we have been seeing coming out of Washington.
COOPER: So, Nancy, is -- is -- or, actually, David, let me follow up with you.
Is -- is this the guy to make -- help make that U-turn, though? I mean, if he's -- you say -- even if -- if earmarks are -- are banned, and he's not going to be able to do this, given the track record, is -- you know, is this a good track record to have?
PFOTENHAUER: And I...
David -- David, go ahead.
GERGEN: Well, I'm from a religious faith that believes in redemption, Anderson.
GERGEN: So, let's just see how it goes.
I -- I -- you know, his track record certainly suggests otherwise, but I -- I'm -- I'm -- look, I think the Republicans are -- I understand that they made terrible mistakes in the Bush years letting the deficits, letting spending get as much out of control as they did. And they have to bring it -- that they're on trial for that now.
So, I -- you know, I think you have to wait and see, but the early signals are not encouraging on this particular appointment.
BEGALA: In other news, they're going to put Lindsay Lohan in charge of their temperance movement.
BEGALA: I mean, come on, David. You're being very charitable here, man.
PFOTENHAUER: You know, that -- I think an interesting thing to watch is what happens with Congressman Flake. I mean, it was -- Boehner definitely balanced this when he -- you know, when the announcement came out that Rogers was going to get the chair, he also appointed Congressman Flake from Arizona, who's been a real deficit hawk and particularly focused on earmarks for years.
But the question is, will he be put in charge of a subcommittee that's allowed to do investigations about profligate spending? So, it's not good enough just to put Flake on there to balance out Rogers. It's got to be -- he's got to really have some teeth. And we're still waiting to see what will happen on that.
GERGEN: Yes, but let me -- I just want to come back to one point, Anderson.
For the last two days, we have been hearing about protecting the middle class, protecting the middle class. When we get serious about deficit reduction, you know who's really going to get hit hard? It's going to be the middle class. A lot of the mortgage deductions are going to get trimmed back. A lot of other things are going to get trimmed back.
And, you know, I think that Washington is not being straight with people. Yes, we have got this. We have got -- have a need to get these tax cuts extended. It has to be done and so forth and so on, but the trouble is coming for the middle class. And the sooner the president and the Congress level with the American people, the better.
COOPER: Not an easy thing to do in Washington.
David Gergen, appreciate it, Nancy Pfotenhauer as well, Paul Begala. Thank you very much.
BEGALA: Thanks, Anderson.
PFOTENHAUER: Thank you.
COOPER: Ahead: a story we have been following for years, Warren Jeffs, the leader of the largest polygamist sect in North American, awaiting trial now in Texas. His followers think he's a prophet. They still think that, even though he's been in prison. Authorities say he presided over marriages of young girls, had sex with them himself. Gary Tuchman confronts him outside the courtroom -- his report coming up.
And an extraordinary turnaround, if you believe it -- last year, we met a man who calls himself Yousef al Khattab, a born-and-raised American who converted to Islam, joined a radical group right here in New York that tried to recruit people outside a mosque on the streets. He told us a lot of shocking things back when we first met him, like this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOUSEF AL-KHATTAB, ISLAMIC THINKERS SOCIETY: I love Osama bin Laden. I love him, like, I can't begin to tell you, because I haven't seen that he's really done anything wrong from the Sharia.
If you're asking me if I love him as a Muslim, I love him like more than -- more than I love myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: By the way, he used to be Jewish and used to live in Israel. He now says he's totally changed his tune. He says he was wrong and that he was just misunderstood. Do you believe him? Well, you can judge for yourself -- next.
COOPER: Disturbing story today. A 21-year-old Baltimore man has been arrested for allegedly planning to bomb a military recruiting station in Maryland.
Federal agents say Antonio Martinez, a Muslim convert who now goes by the name Muhammad Hussain, was upset by U.S. forces fighting Muslims overseas and plotted to blow up the armed forces career center in a suburb of Baltimore.
Now his arrest this morning came after a sting operation when he allegedly attempted to detonate an inert device that an undercover FBI agent had given him.
But what really caught our eye here in this story is that part of the criminal complaint against Martinez, it says that last month he was seen viewing a Web site of a group called Revolution Muslim.
Now, we've been monitoring this group, Revolution Muslim, for a while now, confronting them on their extremist rhetoric. In case you haven't seen our reporting on them, Revolution Muslim is a radical Islamic group -- these are some of the members -- that try to recruit members right outside a mosque on the streets of New York City. With fiery rhetoric, loud voices. The folks who run the mosque, by the way, they don't approve of them. They say they don't want these folks doing this, but they say they can't stop them, because it's a public sidewalk.
Now, the members of Revolution Muslim say it's their job to terrorize non-Muslims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOUNES ABDULLAH MOHAMMED, REVOLUTION MUSLIM: We're commanded to terrorize the disbelievers, and this is a religion, like I said.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're commanded to terrorize the disbelievers?
MOHAMMED: The Koran says very clearly in the Arabic language, (SPEAKING ARABIC). This means, "Terrorize them." It's a command from Allah.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, last year we met another member of this group, a man who called himself Yousef al-Khattab, who said he loved Osama bin Laden and that the September 11 attacks were justified.
Now, however, tonight he's changing his story. This born and raised American, a Jew who once lived in Israel and converted to Islam, now says all those things he said back then, he says he didn't mean. So how did that happen?
Well, Drew Griffin tonight, "Keeping Them Honest."
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By all accounts, Yousef al-Khattab was pivotal in creating a wave of home-grown American jihadists over the past three years. The Web site he ran, Revolution Muslim, and online messages inspired several would-be radicals. One plotted an attack in New York. Others planned to fight U.S. troops overseas. One blogger on the site is now thought to be in Yemen working with outlawed cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
The site praised Osama bin Laden and applauded a Muslim U.S. Army major, Nidal Hasan, now charged with killing 13 people at Ft. Hood. The site described the U.S. as a terrorist state that was attacking Islam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the abolishment of America's war against Islam.
GRIFFIN: Revolution Muslim, by Khattab's own account, was a bug light for Muslim misfits. Now he is saying it was all wrong.
(on camera) People were scared of you guys. They truly were.
YOUSEF AL-KHATTAB, FORMER LEADER OF REVOLUTION MUSLIM: And they should be. It was an idiotic thing, looking back at things now.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): By CNN's count in just the last 18 months, eight of the 27 reported cases of home-grown terrorism saw U.S. terror suspects frequenting, blogging on or directly linked to Revolution Muslim and another extremist New York group Khattab played a role in. KHATTAB: Do I regret the part that they were on there? Honestly, I regret anybody that would hurt an American civilian. That I regret. I think that's disgusting, and I think that was never the message.
GRIFFIN: Though law enforcement are encouraged by this transformation and the demise of the Revolution Muslim Web site, they are cautious about Khattab. The American-born Jew turned radical Muslim was a rock star in the world of militant Islam. Just last year, Khattab himself was praising a man he seemed to hold in reverence.
KHATTAB: I love Osama bin Laden. I love him. I can't begin to tell you, because I haven't seen that he's really done anything wrong from the Sharia law. I love him more than -- more than I love myself.
GRIFFIN: Now he says we somehow misinterpreted.
KHATTAB: Just keep saying context as I say this. I love him like I love any Muslim, even those young brothers that did disgusting things, some of them admittedly and some of them accused.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Do you take any responsibility for any of the would-be terrorists who came to your Web site, who perhaps were inspired by the posting about Nidal Hasan, "Congratulations"...
KHATTAB: Not at all. That was my point. That wasn't my -- as they say in Arabic they say (SPEAKING ARABIC). My intention was not at all to inspire somebody like to do an act like that.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Khattab says he is taking a risk, granting this interview, denouncing his past. Because he says he will now be an enemy of the radicals he once embraced. But his message to them now is, he was wrong. And so are they.
KHATTAB: If you think this is the direction, to come to the United States and bomb and blow up civilians, you're terribly wrong, and that was never, ever the message that I wanted to give. It was never my intention.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Whether it was your intention or not, it certainly happened.
KHATTAB: Well, that's not my fault, that's like somebody reading "Helter Skelter" and saying that he was, you know -- influenced him to do the same thing. I can't help that.
COOPER: You know, Drew, it's a little disingenuous for him to say it's like reading "Helter Skelter" and that, you know, encouraging someone. I mean, what it's like is if he ran a Web site that had pictures of Charles Manson, praising what Charles Manson did. Then you could say he is encouraging it, and that's basically what they were doing. They had pictures praising Osama bin Laden and praising Major Nidal Hasan. GRIFFIN: Yes. I mean, he's a very confusing guy, saying he's misinterpreted. No way. It just doesn't float with counterterrorism officials.
I think what you have here, Anderson, is he's right. His Web site, his teachings, his preachings, they were a bug light for Muslim misfits. And you know, those bugs got zapped by the FBI.
And I think that this guy was really afraid that he eventually would become one of those bugs, getting zapped by the FBI, picked up, thrown in prison for life, or, like some of his other friends, on the run now in some far-flung country, pursued by the FBI, most likely for the rest of their lives.
COOPER: You know, it's interesting, a lot of the folks who run these kind of Web sites, they seem very happy to encourage other folks to, you know, go out and blow themselves up from the safety of their, you know, their little room where they have this Web site. Does no one else -- is this Web site now down?
GRIFFIN: The Revolution Muslim Web site based in the United States is down. It is resurfacing overseas as another Web site. I won't give you the name of that, Anderson.
GRIFFIN: You'll be directed to it. But the other member of this group is now overseas. He is trying to start a new Web site. It's the same...
COOPER: Was that the guy you talked to, the guy who talked about...
GRIFFIN: That's right.
COOPER: So he's now gone overseas?
GRIFFIN: By our account, he's in Morocco, overseas, or in Morocco. Both the same. We believe he's in Morocco now, and trying to start again, start anew.
These two men have had a falling apart. Khattab is trying to stay in the United States, trying to get his act together, and I believe trying to get off the FBI's radar, because he's really afraid he's going to end up like these people who have been arrested, the one who was arrested today.
COOPER: Right. And obviously, you know, authorities wouldn't comment on it, but I mean, if they're proselytizing like this on the streets of New York, clearly, the New York City Police Department, which has a very good intelligence service, you know, was clearly watching them and aware of their activities.
But fascinating development. I mean, did this -- did this surprise you, Drew, when you got this call, you know, that you heard it, this guy had allegedly changed -- had a change of heart? GRIFFIN: What surprised me is he was willing to go on camera and say this.
COOPER: Right. Because they were really annoyed at the reporting you had done on this and that we had aired on this.
GRIFFIN: Absolutely. Still annoyed. They're going to be annoyed tonight by everything we've just put on the air.
COOPER: Well, such is life. Drew, appreciate it. We'll continue to stay on this group.
Still ahead, why Warren Jeffs, another interesting group here in America, the leader of that polygamist sect, the FLDS, well, he was back in court today, this time in Texas. We're going to show you what happened when Gary Tuchman came face to face with him. We're also going to talk to the great author, Jon Krakauer.
Plus, the candidate who admitted she once dabbled in witchcraft crash lands on tonight's RidicuList. We're issuing a reckless speech citation, because -- hyperbole alert -- death and taxes are not the same.
COOPER: "Crime & Punishment" tonight, new developments in a story we've been covering, literally now, for about five years. Warren Jeffs. You may recall, he's the leader of the FLDS, which is a polygamist sect that split from the mainstream Mormon Church over the issue of polygamy. Members of the FLDS, they practice polygamy. The sect has long been accused of performing marriages between young girls, very young girls, and much older men.
We first reported on Jeffs, it was back in 2006 when he was still a fugitive. Shortly after our reports, Jeffs landed on the FBI's most wanted list and a few months later, in August of 2006, he was captured in Nevada. The following year he was got convicted on two counts of rape in connection with the marriage of an underage girl. Utah's highest court recently overturned that conviction, and Jeffs could face a new trial in Utah.
In the meantime, he's been extradited to Texas to stand trial next month on bigamy and sexual assault charges. Today a judge denied Jeffs' request to delay that trial, and Gary Tuchman, who has been on this story from the start, tried to confront Jeffs outside the courthouse.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A shackled Warren Jeffs, the leader of the largest polygamist sect in North America, who has preached he is the closest living person on earth to God.
(on camera) Mr. Jeffs, should your followers still consider you a prophet? What do you have to say to your followers, sir? (voice-over) He may not have answered my questions as he entered a Texas court for a preliminary hearing on sexual assault and bigamy charges, but that doesn't matter to his devoted followers, like Bill Shapley, a polygamist and member of Jeffs' FLDS Church.
(on camera) Do you still consider Warren Jeffs your prophet?
BILL SHAPLEY, FLDS MEMBER: Yes. By all means.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): We talked to Shapley at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in rural El Dorado, Texas, where many hundreds of Jeffs' followers live. In 2008, more than 400 children were taken from this ranch by investigators. They've all been returned, as we saw in a previous visit.
But authorities say they have evidence from the ranch that Warren Jeffs not only presided over marriages of girls under 18 but actually had sexual relations with girls himself. And that's why he's been extradited to Texas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've known him for many, many years and I've never seen a flaw in him.
TUCHMAN: Shapley says Jeffs is being persecuted because of his religion and defends the concept of children getting married.
SHAPLEY: How old was Mary, the mother of Jesus? Do you know?
TUCHMAN (on camera): You tell me.
SHAPLEY: I don't know for sure, but she was about 14.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Bible was not specific about Mary's age. And it was 2,000 years ago. But...
(on camera) You're saying because Mary, the mother of Jesus, was young, that it's OK for young girls to marry?
SHAPLEY: It shows that the Lord doesn't look upon age as the criteria. I think he would look more upon the emotional development of the person and their preparation. I know girls that are 18 or 20 that aren't prepared to get married.
TUCHMAN: But do you know girls who are 14 or 15 who you think are prepared to be married?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Current church elders say children under 18 are no longer getting married, but there's no denial within the FLDS community that it did happen.
(on camera) Warren Jeffs was found guilty of two felonies in the state of Utah, but the convictions were overturned because of faulty jury instructions. Meanwhile, Arizona has dropped charges against Warren Jeffs, because the state of Texas has a more serious case against him. So now Jeffs sits in a jail in Reagan County, Texas, awaiting his trial here in the Lone Star State. Jeff Garner is the county sheriff.
SHERIFF JEFF GARNER, REAGAN COUNTY, TEXAS: I had a conversation with Mr. Jeffs the night he got here, explained to him what the rules were. All I asked of him was that he follow the rules, and everything would be fine. He assured me that he would, and we've not had any issues since.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Warren Jeffs could spend the rest of his life in jail if convicted on any of these accounts.
SHAPLEY: I'm not too concerned about it right now.
TUCHMAN (on camera): How come?
SHAPLEY: Because I believe the Lord's going to deliver him.
TUCHMAN: Deliver him means what?
SHAPLEY: Set him free.
TUCHMAN: Mr. Jeffs, do you think you can win this case?
(voice-over) If Warren Jeffs also has faith he'll be set free, he's not telling us.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, San Angelo, Texas.
COOPER: As Gary said, the FLDS is the largest polygamist sect in North America, a fundamentalist group that operates far outside the mainstream Mormon church.
Jon Krakauer, author of the remarkable book, "Under the Banner of Heaven," has followed this case of Warren Jeffs closely. He joins me now.
Jon, it's amazing when you hear that followers, some of them are still following the FLDS, say -- say, well, look, the Virgin Mary, you know, how old -- look at her. She was young when, you know, back in the Bible, and then of course, doesn't really know how old she was, and then it doesn't actually say in the Bible.
JON KRAKAUER, AUTHOR, "UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN": Right. And I don't think those arguments would fly in Texas. I mean, Texas is going to be a much tougher place to win any kind of acquittal or probably turn than Utah was.
COOPER: And you say the case in Texas is pretty -- in your opinion, rock solid.
KRAKAUER: It's bomb proof. I mean, the evidence they have that was taken from the YFZ Ranch and also really strong evidence that was taken from the red Cadillac when Warren was arrested in 2006 in Nevada.
So, you know, the FLDS, they're going to try to quash this evidence. They're going to try to argue that the search warrant should be considered invalid.
COOPER: Right. Because the raid on that Yearning for Zion Ranch, which was in Texas, was based on a hoax -- a hoax phone call.
KRAKAUER: Right. But that evidence, there have been seven trials so far in Texas against Warren's subordinates. All seven of them have ended in guilty verdicts, and in each of those, Warren's attorneys moved to have that evidence expressed. And the Judge Walther is a very good judge, and she said, "No way." It was -- the search warrant was issued in good faith. There's wide legal precedent. This search warrant is solid. So that looks pretty good.
You know, one thing I've got to say. It's funny that Gary interviewed Bill Shapley. People may not know it, but Shapley -- Warren has issued this proclamation, warning the U.S. government if they don't stop persecuting him, God is going to unleash this torrent of fire, and the world will be destroyed.
COOPER: Yes, I actually got that, and I want to read it to our viewers here. It says, "And we give His warning, not of man as He has thus directed us, His servants. And let all be warned that the Lord Jesus Christ, who created all things, who sees and knows all things and has all power, shall fulfill His word."
You say that's a veiled threat?
KRAKAUER: It's a very strong threat, and part of that, you might notice, he says he will -- he will destroy the world through his servants, his servants being the followers of the FLDS Church.
But what's interesting is that, when Warren issued that revelation, that proclamation, he was sitting in a lockup in Kingman, Arizona, and that proclamation was smuggled out of the jail, probably by Bill Shapley. Shapley is one of Warren's emissaries, and Shapley has this long history with the church. He has six wives. He has 56 kids. He was a real higher up.
COOPER: Fifty-six kids?
KRAKAUER: That's right. That's right.
COOPER: I mean, how do you take care of 56 kids? I mean, just from a pure, like, responsibility standpoint.
KRAKAUER: Well, you don't. You don't. There's -- the child abuse in that church is rampant. There's a lot of problems in that church, in the family life.
COOPER: It's amazing to me, because, you know, you meet a lot of religious leaders of small groups, as well as large ones who are incredibly compelling, and you can understand why people may follow them. I don't -- you know, you look at Warren Jeffs. You hear -- I mean, I've heard him saying, I've heard him talk. He's not -- you know, if he was working, like, in a video store you'd barely pay attention to the guy.
KRAKAUER: Right, I know. It's one of those...
COOPER: No offense to people who work in video stores, frankly.
KRAKAUER: Right, right. But he has been, you know, decreed the prophet. He was -- he was anointed by his father. He's a very Machiavellian figure who knows how to control people through fear. He controls, or controlled all the property in the church, everyone's homes, and he would kick people out of their homes, marry their families off to other people. Warren...
COOPER: And he had, like, a special secret room for girls, right?
KRAKAUER: Well, in this new -- in the temple, the new temple that was built in Texas, when they raided it, they found this secret chamber which he had built, this special bed on which young wives were raped by Warren and the other higher-ups in the church. And this is all rumored and everyone said, his defenders said, "Oh, this is just -- this is just hyperbole," and it does exist.
COOPER: It was fascinating. After that thing was raided, like all of a sudden the FLDS went on a P.R. campaign. You know, I think they were on "Oprah" at one point. I mean, they used to chase Gary Tuchman and anyone who visited them off, you know, with threats. The sheriffs who were controlled by them back, you know, in their other compound, used to chase them out of town, and all of a sudden they're sort of appearing on, you know, on "Oprah."
KRAKAUER: I know, it was a very effective P.R. campaign. All of a sudden -- they -- you know, they got "The New York Times," "National Geographic" to write these puff pieces in return for -- mostly for photographs of these lovely girls in their prairie dresses. "The New York Times" and the New York -- the "National Geographic" were bought. They wrote these articles that made the church, they're just a bunch of quaint Americans who have some slightly unusual habits.
That was shameful of both those publications. I mean, this -- this is -- you know, this is child rape, as a matter of church doctrine and practice. And the evidence -- it's not rumored, it's absolutely -- absolutely bomb proof.
COOPER: Yes, Jon, I appreciate your continuing to focus on this. The book is "Under the Banner of Heaven," which if you haven't read it, you really should, if you're interested in this topic. It's a remarkable work.
Jon Krakauer, thanks. Good to see you again.
Coming up next tonight, are WikiLeaks supporters behind cyber attacks on two major credit card company Web sites? Also Sarah Palin's Web site. Details on that ahead.
And she said she's not a witch, but that's not what landed Christine O'Donnell on our RidicuList tonight. Her latest comments ahead.
COOPER: Following a number of stories. Susan Hendricks joins us with the "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, an apparent cyber- attack on the corporate Web sites of Visa and MasterCard today. Supporters of WikiLeaks claim to have launched the attack in response to moves by the credit-card companies against WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is blaming WikiLeak supporters for her site being attacked. A cyber attack brought down her political action committee site this week.
Protests and violence in Haiti today after election results were announced. Mobs burned the headquarters of the government-backed candidate. Thousands marched on the streets claiming fraud in the election and the airport in Port-au-Prince was shut down.
Amazing video -- check it out -- of this cruise ship that ran into trouble, you could say, in rough weather, returning from Antarctica, just getting slammed with waves. The ship is reportedly on its way to Argentina despite engine failure. No one injured there.
And it is the 30th anniversary of the day the music died. On this day in 1980, John Lennon was killed in New York City. In New York today, people gathered to pay tribute outside the Dakota where he lived and at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Hard to believe, Anderson, it's been 30 years.
COOPER: Yes. It's amazing. Susan, thanks.
Time now for the RidicuList, our nightly journey through the valley of the absurd. Tonight we're adding a new name, Christine O'Donnell. Now just listen to this, what she said at a political event in Virginia yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTINE O'DONNELL, FORMER DELAWARE SENATE CANDIDATE: The other tragedy that today marks -- and tragedy comes in threes. Pearl Harbor, Elizabeth Edwards' passing, and Barack Obama's announcement, extending the tax cuts, which is good, but also extending the unemployment benefits.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: "Tacky and thoughtless, party of one, your table is ready."
Now I don't know if you quite caught what she said, O'Donnell claiming that yesterday was a tragedy for three reasons, because she says tragedy comes in threes. The attack -- the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Elizabeth Edwards' death and President Obama extending unemployment benefits.
Now, Pearl Harbor, more than 2,400 dead, obviously a tragedy. Elizabeth Edwards losing her long, valiant battle with cancer, definitely tragic.
Unemployment benefits extended for 13 months, tragic? Really? On par with death? Well, you can agree or disagree with extending the benefits, but equating it with death?
When O'Donnell talked to reporters after her speech, she sort of backed off from saying that the extension of jobless benefits was a tragedy.
She said that's not what she said. The real tragedy was, if we extend the benefits, we have to cut spending programs. And that was the flaw in President Obama's announcement.
COOPER: Again, all right. Still, political opinion. Doesn't quiet rise to the level of tragedy. But definitely risky, right on to the RidicuList.
Late details of efforts to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" coming up. Breaking news, right ahead.