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Interview With Obama Campaign Senior Strategist David Axelrod; Rush Limbaugh Under Fire; Republicans Prepare for Super Tuesday

Aired March 5, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It is 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin with more advertisers abandoning Rush Limbaugh and Limbaugh's latest explanation of why he labeled a Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, a slut and a prostitute.

Today, despite an apology on Saturday, the list of departing sponsors grew, now stands at 12. On Saturday on his Web site Limbaugh wrote the following -- quote -- "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke."

He goes on to say: "I think it's absolutely absurd that during these very serious personal times, we're discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree members that American citizens should pay for these social activities."

And he also said: "My choice of words was not the best, and in an attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."

Today Limbaugh put a new spin on his apology, suggesting the point he was making was right even though he used the wrong words to make it.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The apology to her over the weekend was sincere. It was simply for using inappropriate words in a way I never do.

And in so doing, I became like the people we oppose. I ended up descending to their level. It's important not to be like them, ever, particularly in fighting them. The old saw, you never descend to the level of your opponent, or they win. That was my error last week. But the apology was heartfelt. The apology was sincere.


COOPER: That's, of course, up to you to decide.

But "Keeping Them Honest" in his apology Limbaugh actually mischaracterized what the student was saying in her testimony. She wasn't calling on taxpayers to pay for social activities. She was calling on the federal government to require that private health insurance cover birth control pills.

Furthermore, she wasn't talking about this to allow for sexual activity in her testimony to congressional Democrats. She was talking about how important she thinks access to birth control pills are for women with a variety of medical conditions.

Now, in his original comments, Mr. Limbaugh made it sound like she was talking about promiscuity. He chose to paint her as a sex addict who wants to sleep around at taxpayer expense.


LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She is having so much sex, she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.


COOPER: He said that on Wednesday. Thursday, he said this.


LIMBAUGH: So, Ms. Fluke, and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we're going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the video online so we can all watch.


COOPER: That's Rush Limbaugh's portrait of Sandra Fluke and other women advocating mandated birth control coverage.

Here's a portion of her testimony, what she actually said about a classmate who like many women takes the pill for reasons totally unrelated to birth control.


SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: After months of paying over $100 out of pocket, she just couldn't afford her medication anymore. And she had to stop taking it. Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary as a result.


COOPER: Well, the pill, she says, might have prevented that. And in fact oral contraceptives are prescribed for many other medical conditions, from uterine bleeding to ovarian diseases to disfiguring acne.

That's why she said she's for a federal mandate, that institutions offering health insurance must include birth control pills in the coverage. This is something 28 states already do. It's not as Mr. Limbaugh suggested taxpayer-funded birth control or a federal subsidy to have sex.

This issue has turned into a political uproar with the GOP candidates weighing in or trying to avoid the question. On Friday and over the weekend, Democrats taking umbrage and President Obama reaching out to her.

I talked about it shortly before airtime with David Axelrod, senior strategist for the Obama 2012 campaign.


COOPER: David, Rush Limbaugh made the point today that the president's approval ratings have been sliding among women and that he raised this issue to try to score himself some political points. What's your response?

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, I guess Rush was in collusion with us by being vile and inappropriate in his comments.

I mean, no, that's ridiculous. If Rush has any concerns about this, he ought to look in the mirror because this was a -- this was an event of his own making. The president sought to comfort a young woman who had been vilified nationally for speaking her mind on a matter of importance to her.

Rush distorted what he was saying and he called her horrible names. And in so doing, he slandered not just her but all the women of America. So, I think it was entirely appropriate for the president to offer support for that young woman, even if Rush doesn't like it.

COOPER: It is unusual, though, for a president of the United States to reach out to an individual like this. I mean, are you really saying politics had nothing to do with it?

AXELROD: It's also unusual for someone with a large audience to vilify an American, a young American, speaking out as she did.

So there's a lot about this that was unusual. I thought it was unusual that so many leaders on the other side of this debate in terms of the political debate took a pass on this whole thing, a powder on this whole thing. Everyone should have stood up and said this was inappropriate, as apparently many of Rush's advertisers now have said it was inappropriate.

I was kind of shocked, Anderson, when Governor Romney, all he had to say about the thing is, well, that isn't language I would have used. What about the spirit of what was said? I thought that was a cowardly answer, and it was a test of leadership and one that he failed.

COOPER: There are conservatives who say, look, there are people on the left, satirists, comedians on the left or entertainers on the left who have said some pretty extreme things as well, and yet there's not a call for politicians on the left to distance themselves from them.

AXELROD: Let me just say there's been a coarsening of our politics from left to right.

I don't excuse anybody's inappropriate and intemperate and in this case vile language, whether it's aimed at someone on the left, right, middle. In this case, it was particularly egregious because it was a young woman who wasn't even in politics, just a young student expressing herself in a public forum.

So I don't excuse any of it. Now, I will say this. There are very few entertainers who swing the weight Rush Limbaugh does in the Republican Party. I think one of the reasons why Governor Romney and others were so timid in speaking out is Rush is because the de facto leader of the Republican Party.

So, to take him on would be to risk your own standing within the party. And so that separates him from the others.

COOPER: Do you think this is something that does have political benefit for the president, that brings out women to vote, brings out people to President Obama's side?

AXELROD: You know, I don't know the answer to that, Anderson.

And we're a long way from an election. I think more than anything else, what it did was underscore, A., that our politics is too coarse and that we ought to be thoughtful about the language that we use in the public square. But it also creates an environment in which public policy debates go into a completely inappropriate realm.

And I think we all ought to push back on that. We will see. I mean, I think the one political dimension of this is that some folks are willing to stand up and say, this was wrong, just flat-out wrong. And I applaud those who did on both -- in both parties.

And then there were some who were timid and walked away, and I think that was a little window into what kind of leaders they would be.

COOPER: I want to ask you about something Mitt Romney said today. I want to play this for our viewers.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And, Mr. President, one more thing. Why didn't you call me when you were working on this thing? Why didn't you pick up the phone and say, is what you have done there in Massachusetts a good model for the nation?

And I would have said, no, no, what you're doing is wrong. It's going to make a mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: There was a recent "USA Today"/Gallup poll that found a clear majority of registered voters from a dozen top battleground states called the health care passage's bill a bad thing. How does the president overcome that between now and November?

AXELROD: Anderson, first of all, now that you mentioned "USA Today," let me point out that in 2009 Governor Romney wrote an op-ed in the -- in "USA Today" publicly recommending that the president pattern his health care plan on the plan in Massachusetts including a mandate that is the subject of some controversy. That was his proposal. He made it publicly.

The president didn't need to call him because he made his opinion known in the public square. We also used many of the same advisers who helped fashion that program in Massachusetts which, by the way, Governor Romney should feel proud about. I don't know why he runs away from that. That was probably his singular achievement as governor of Massachusetts.

In terms of the polling, I must say that same "USA Today" poll was the one poll out of perhaps 20 in that period of time that suggested that the Governor Romney was in the lead so I -- you know, I'm hesitant to comment on numbers within that poll. The president always knew that health care reform was a difficult political issue but here's the reality of it. Today 2.5 million young people up to ages 26 are covered on their parent's insurance because of this health care plan.

A hundred and five million Americans now don't have a lifetime cap on their insurance so that if they get sick they won't get thrown off of their insurance. Seventeen million kids no longer can be excluded simply because they have a preexisting condition. And these are just some of the benefits that have already accrued to the American people because of this health care plan. If the Republican nominee wants to argue that we should take those away, we say, let's have that debate right now.

COOPER: David Axelrod, appreciate your time. David, thank you.

AXELROD: All right, Anderson. Good to be with you.


COOPER: And one last note. For fairness, obviously, we invited Rush Limbaugh to come on the program, give us his side of the birth control issue. We didn't hear back.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper.

Up next: the highest stakes yet for the four Republicans who want to be president, a Super Tuesday preview. We have new polling tonight. Will there be any surprises? We'll get our panel's prediction.

Later, John McCain calling for U.S. airstrikes against Syria. And what the Syrian regime is saying now, trying to discredit the activist and cameraman known as Danny.


DANNY, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: They have called me lots of things, a Zionist. They have called me Mossad. They have called U.K. intelligence, and now CNN journalist.

I mean, just let me explain something. Our Syrian government and the Syrian TV is untrustable.


COOPER: We'll show you what Syrian state TV is saying about him and his explanation."Keeping Them Honest."

First, let's check in with Isha -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, we'll bring you the latest tonight from the tornado zone. New video coming in. Taken by people staring death in the face and a little girl's story being told, a story of a miracle that sadly almost was. That and much more when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, 10 states one day at least two presidential campaigns on the line and perhaps one last chance for another. Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. Tonight, new CNN/ORC polling shows a Romney/Santorum tie in the state of Ohio which is crucial for Senator Santorum, certainly. The other candidate is barely in the running. Georgia, though, is Gingrich country. He's outpolling Governor Romney by nearly two to one. Hoping his own -- old home state will reignite his candidacy.

John King has got a preview.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we enter Super Tuesday with Governor Romney starting to fill in the map with Romney red. These 10 states that are not filled in, though, those are the 10 battlegrounds on Super Tuesday.

Let's do this. Let's use red to circle the states Romney expects to win. Vermont and Massachusetts. He expects to win Virginia, only Ron Paul opposing him on the ballot there. Expects to win in Idaho. So there's one, two, three, four. Those are the ones they expect to win.

Now here are the ones they think they might win. They think they have a chance in North Dakota. Ron Paul, the main competition there. They think they have a chance now in Tennessee. That's a surprise. Santorum was well ahead not that long ago and this is the biggest battleground, the contested prize of Ohio.

Imagine if Romney could do that, win six out of 10. They think that will be a huge night. They think five out of 10 is a very good possibility. So the question then is, what would an impact like that, what would a big Super Tuesday impact for Governor Romney have on the race? Well, here's where we start coming in to Super Tuesday. You need 1144 to clinch the nomination. Romney's not even close, he had a little over 200. But he's well ahead of everybody else. Senator Santorum, the closes one.

Let's play out that scenario. Bang. You see Romney winning. Now I gave him North Dakota here. Gave him Ohio here. Santorum gets Tennessee. If that's the scenario, how it plays out, Gingrich wins Georgia, Ron Paul wins Alaska, here's where it's roughly where you'd be in the delegate projection. Romney then at over 400. Well ahead of any of his rivals. Again, a long way to go. But what a convincing lead that would be.

Now what if this happened, for example? Let's just say that Ron Paul picked up North Dakota. We'll switch that one over there. Takes a few taps. And let's say that Romney somehow came back and actually took Tennessee. We'll switch that one here. Then you would have a race that looked something like this. Romney pulls up even more. Gingrich at that point would be in second place because of his Georgia win on Super Tuesday. Santorum down.

Either way you shake it up, the possibility heads that we end Super Tuesday with Romney above 400 and no one else even close to 200.

That, Anderson, is the big Romney Super Tuesday strategy. They hope to come out. They know they'll be far from the finish line but they think they can be prohibitively ahead of everybody else.

COOPER: John, thanks very much.

Let's check in now, the "Raw Politics," with Obama 2012 pollster Cornell Belcher, GOP strategist Rich Galen, and chief political analyst for CNN, Gloria Borger.

Cornell, as John mentioned, Ohio, the big prize tomorrow night. Not the most delegates but in terms of a general election bellwether. How critical is it for Mitt Romney to pull off a win there?

CORNELL BELCHER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: I think he needs to pull off a win there and he needs to pull off a win big. But the problem is he's not able to pull off a big win in any of these states when you look inside the CNN polling. You know, the same sort of story that we've been seeing state to state is also we're seeing in a critical state like Ohio where he's doing better with upscale -- with upscale voters.

Santorum is doing better with blue-collar voters and Santorum is doing much better with evangelical and very conservative voters, which makes you understand why, you know, the Mitt Romney campaign won't allow an ounce or inch of light between Santorum or Gingrich in the issues because it opens them up to a contrast, a very conservative contrast, which will hurt him, which makes for ugly politics because it looks like he's flip-flopping.

But in this case flip-flopping is the lesser of evils than being opened up to a -- to a conservative contrast that could hurt him in the primary.

COOPER: Rich, I mean, it used to be Super Tuesday afterward that was really a defining night. Do you see anybody dropping out after this Super Tuesday?

RICH GALEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so. For starters, it's a semi-Super Tuesday. Last cycle, on the Republican side, there are 21 states on Super Tuesday. On the Democratic side, 23. And it's interesting to note that McCain only won nine of those 21 states on the Republican side. He won the lion's share of delegates, though.

So, no, I don't think anybody will drop out but I do think, though -- first of all, I think if you look at the arc of the polling, although it's -- the CNN/ORC poll showed it tied today, if you look at the -- kind of the tracking amongst all the polling, this is -- this is really pretty significant. Romney movement from last Tuesday or Wednesday until today so I'm not -- I'm not convinced it's going to be this nail-biter that we're trying to sell.

COOPER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know that it's going to be a nail-biter but I think what we could say by tomorrow night is that we're seeing the beginning of the end of the process. I don't think there's a lot of incentive for people to drop out so long as they have got these super PACs who are willing to fund them and by the way, whoever thought that the true beneficiary of super PACs would be Barack Obama, but he is?

And I don't think, you know, I don't think you're going to see somebody rush to drop out but I would argue that if even Newt Gingrich does win Georgia, if Mitt Romney wins over half of the delegates tomorrow night, and you've already seen a bunch of prominent conservatives starting to endorse him, that you're going to see that sort of mood of inevitability take over and that the Romney bandwagon will get a lot of steam.

COOPER: Cornell, you say that when it comes to Santorum and Gingrich, Romney's strategy has been very successful. How so?

BELCHER: It has been absolutely successful because, I mean, look, if you're a challenger and this is sort of a teachable moment for my political science students at home.

If you're a challenger, you're -- what you have to do is drive a contrast and what -- and what they have been very successful at doing is -- and especially when you look at where he was on the Blunt/Rubio legislation in the Senate where he was at one place at the beginning and then this campaign came back and cleared it up and said, no, no, no, he's not there.

It is a lesser of evil to look like a flip-flopper in this case than to be open yourself up to a contrast from the conservative side because then you can say, well look, if you're -- Santorum, look, you say, look, I'm here with where you are on the issues and he is not. He can't allow that contrast and then on top of that, well then, he attacks his candidacy and so then destroys them and he doesn't allow sort of that conservative vote to coalesce around him. So it's been a very successful strategy. It's an ugly process and it's a long process but it's a very successful strategy.

BORGER: And he also needs both of them to stay in, by the way.

GALEN: Can I be -- can I be a little contrarian to this -- this whole long -- this whole long process? I'm not sure that it matters. I mean, Romney is as good a candidate as he's going to be. He's been at this five and a half years. Another five -- you know, two, three months they're going to make it --

BELCHER: I hope you're right, by the way.

GALEN: I mean, that is -- that's the reality. But here's what I do think. If this thing -- if Romney had won South Carolina, then Florida, and it was over by Nevada, let's say, then I think the conservative wing of the Republican Party would have felt cheated that they didn't have a fair shot that he was so well funded, so well organized, that they never really got their say.

This thing going on through Super Tuesday and maybe on for another three or four weeks, everybody gets to say, OK, we didn't get there.

COOPER: Right.

GALEN: But we had our shot now let's get in behind him.

COOPER: Yes. Everybody had certainly had their say debate after debate. It's been fascinating.

Cornell, Rich, Gloria, thanks very much. We'll talk to you, guys, tomorrow.


COOPER: Keep it right here on CNN for Super Tuesday. Complete coverage and analysis begins with a special edition of "JOHN KING, USA." That's at 6:00 Eastern tomorrow. We're going to bring you results all long night into the early morning so grab the popcorn.

Just ahead tonight: Senator John McCain calling for air strikes in Syria; also, the Syrian regime's new attacks against an activist who's been making videos on YouTube, saying he's manipulating reality.


DANNY: We never manipulate. We've got thousands of YouTube films on YouTube. Why would we have to manipulate anything? You can see all the rockets. You can see all the murders going on. Why would we have to manipulate anything?

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: We're "Keeping Them Honest" -- more from the activist Danny ahead.

Also, the investigation of a murder in Texas taking a surprising turn -- why police said the Iranian regime might be involved in the killing of this young woman. We'll explain.


COOPER: At least 19 people were killed today in Syria including a 14-year-old child gunned down by sniper fire. Now that's according to -- an opposition group which also said the Syrian regime has arrested hundreds of civilians in the last two days. Obviously we can't independently confirm the report because they won't allow us into the country.

Today Senator John McCain called for United States to lead air strikes to stop the killing in Syria.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The time is running out. Assad's forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary but at this late hour that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power.


COOPER: Well, McCain wants to create safe havens for the opposition and for the delivery of weapons and humanitarian aid. Now Syria's leaders have told the world they're targeting armed terrorists. It's a story that we've challenged with facts over and over in the last year.

Tonight, Syria continues to lie to the world. This time it's claiming that an activist, this man there, who we had on this program many times, secretly works for CNN. That we're paying him."Keeping Them Honest," he does not. His name is Danny. He's not a journalist at all but he was in Homs and a great risk to his own safety, broadcast many images from there. He put them on YouTube. In this clip he's with injured children in Baba Amr, a neighborhood in Homs.

Now we've had to rely on videos from activists and citizens put on YouTube because the Syrian government has repeatedly refused to allow journalists to the front lines of the protests and the killings there. Some reporters have snuck into Syria particularly into the besieged city of Homs.

Last week, I talked to photographer Paul Conroy who was with journalist Marie Colvin when she was killed in Homs in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. He was hurt in the attack, he's now safe. I asked him how the violence that he saw firsthand in Syria compares with everything else he's seen in his many years of covering wars as a photographer for the "Sunday Times." Here's what Paul said.


PAUL CONROY, PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE SUNDAY TIMES": I would say, quite categorically, that's the most ferocious and -- the most ferocious, vicious and unnecessary that I have seen. And that there are actually no military targets within Baba Amr. All of the intended shelling is in fact directed at the civilian population. It's quite a unique situation in Baba Amr.

COOPER: Is it -- is it even a war? I mean, is it accurate to call it that?

CONROY: No. I think -- I think it would be wrong to call it a war. This is -- this is I think the old -- you said, medieval siege and slaughter. I would hesitate to use the word war.

COOPER: Slaughter.

CONROY: In Baba Amr.


COOPER: Well, Syria says it's not targeting civilians, only armed terrorists, and they say an activist who we're calling Danny who we've interviewed is making things up. Earlier, I asked Danny about the regime's latest claims against him made on state TV.


COOPER: Danny, Syrian state television as you know is now airing excerpts of this video of you that was shot -- I'm not sure how they got this video. Do you know how they got it? Did they intercept it?

DANNY: While I was trying to talk to CNN, I was online for, like, 20 minutes, so it's live broadcast. I don't know how they got it. This is all private. We should have -- this is all being deleted. We have to delete all this stuff.

COOPER: Right.

DANNY: What they did do is I waited for 20 minutes exactly. They said I waited two hours. Most of the talk I was talking in Arabic. They made it in to weapon talk and that kind of stuff.

COOPER: Yes, I want to ask you specifics. They said the truth of "Danny the Zionist." That's the title of this and it's obviously heavily edited. I will show this. They say that you were saying, get the target ready to shoot. No, no, shoot it like I'm telling you. Let's take a look.

And then the banner in Arabic says, "Notice the sound of an explosion after he gave the order."

They're making it seem like you were fabricating the sound of explosions.


If you watch, it was about six minutes I was talking to you actually on CNN that time. There was no shooting going on at the time. So, if I was telling them to shoot so I can make it look like there is a war going on, there would be shooting on the back sound while I was talking to you.

COOPER: They said the sound of the bang there was the sound of you guys faking a shot.

DANNY: That was the sound a long way ago. Even at that time, the area I was sitting in wasn't even being hit. They were hitting another area as I told you. It's about 15 kilometers away from where I am.

COOPER: You said you had left, I believe you said in the video. You and I are about to talk in the video. You said you had left the area being attacked.

DANNY: Right, I left the -- no, I tried to go there. I was two hours ago.


DANNY: We had to leave. No way in. No one would get in there.

COOPER: I want to play another part of this -- of their tape. Your cameraman is saying, say there that shells fell and we are pulling bodies.

Let's take a look.

COOPER: The banner there says, "Even the cameraman is lying."

What was happening there?

DANNY: Look, look, as any journalist works, as anyone who's trying to work -- it isn't just me -- all the reporters inside, they tell us, you have to say this. This is actually what's going on.

I don't know everything that's going on in there. They get the information, how many people have been killed. So I'm not really a reporter. They remind me, don't forget to say this. Tell them we have people dead, people underneath the destruction, so I don't forget.

COOPER: They also say that you are -- basically have been paid by CNN.


COOPER: That's categorically untrue. Just for the record.

DANNY: Of course. COOPER: Have you ever worked for CNN? Have you ever received any money from CNN?

DANNY: I have not received one penny from CNN. I am not a CNN journalist. They have called me lots of things: a Zionist. They've called me Mossad. They've called me U.K. intelligence and now CNN journalist.

I mean, let me explain something. Our Syrian government and Syrian TV is untrustable [SIC].

COOPER: You've been very up front on the fact that you went there to join the Free Syrian Army, that you wanted to join.


COOPER: So you're not pretending to be an impartial journalist?

DANNY: No. I want -- and I still want to join the Free Syrian Army, if they would accept me. I would love to join the Free Syrian Army to protect my country.

COOPER: So just bottom line, to go back to when -- when they say that you were manipulating the sounds on the tape, that you were trying to make it sound like they were gunfire, rocketfire?

DANNY: We never manipulate. We've got thousands of YouTube films on YouTube. Why would we have to manipulate something? You can see rockets landing. You can see the murders going on. Why would we have to manipulate anything?

COOPER: One of the frustrating things as a reporter is that -- and for this, we blame the Syrian regime -- is we've repeatedly tried to go to Homs, to get into Syria, to get visas, to do it the proper way, and they repeatedly refusing.

So, unlike in many conflicts, we have ended up relying on people like you, on people who have uploaded these videos, and we can't independently verify them.

DANNY: Of course.

COOPER: The reason we are relying on videos is because of the Syrian regime's refusal to allow outside reporters in.

DANNY: If I can just -- I want to get this point out. If we are actually doing all these killings, if we are actually lying, us revolutionary people, we want -- we want CNN to come in. We want BBC to come in.

Who's not allowing them to come in? Us or the regime? So who's hiding the secrets? Who doesn't want the secrets to come out of the country? We want you to come in. We want you to come in and get the truth out.

COOPER: The piece that Syrian state TV is airing ends with this line. It says, "In the end the foreign-funded Danny left Syria to enjoy the wealth he gathered from the blood of Syrians."

That's got to be particularly insulting.

DANNY: Well, I haven't got any money. We're refugees living outside of Syria. What wealth? My uncle's sending us money. We're living in a house we rented and he's paying for it. We're refugees. Like lots of people who left the country.

There's something I want to clarify. I want the world to know this. The government would attack anyone who's trying to get the truth out. They're told Al Jazeera is sending them pills, drugs with Al Jazeera on them, so they can make us high and go and demonstrate.

I bet they'll start saying CNN is sending pills with CNN written on them. The government will attack anyone, any person trying to get the truth out.

COOPER: John McCain called on the U.S. to lead an international effort to protect the Syrian population from air strikes.

DANNY: I wanted to get this message out a long time ago. All European countries and Arab countries, you're either going to help us or you're not. We're stuck in the middle. They're always saying, "We're going to do this," and "no, we're not."

Either tell us you're going to help us or say, no, you're on your own. Just let us know what we're going to do. We're going to die or you're going to help us. Stop saying, we're going to do this, or we're going to do that. Let us know what we're going to do. What our part is.

COOPER: Danny, appreciate you talking to us, thanks.

DANNY: You're very welcome.

COOPER: The biggest tack the Syrian state TV is claiming besides the lie that Danny works for CNN is that he was faking the sound of gunfire or shelling.

You heard Danny mention if you look at the interview we actually did, that we aired on CNN with him that night, you don't hear any gunfire in the background. We went back. We watched the nearly seven-minute interview, and he's actually correct: there is no firing in the background. In fact, the only thing you do hear is the sound of a loudspeaker from a nearby mosque.

So if he was going to fake the sound of gunfire or artillery shells as they're claiming, you'd think the time to do that is when we were actually on the air. And that simply did not happen.

Coming up, the murder of a Young Iranian woman in Texas. Why police are not ruling out a possibility the Iranian government may have had a hand in her death. Drew Griffin has her story.

Also a tragedy in Indiana. A family of five wiped out by a tornado. You'll hear from a man who tried to help them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just saw death right there, I knew we were done at that moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that moment I knew it was over.



COOPER: The White House says President Obama has reiterated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he supports diplomacy backed by pressure in the effort to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The two leaders met for two hours talk about Iran's nuclear program and other Middle East issues.

The president says both he and Netanyahu would prefer a diplomatic solution. Military force is still an option.

Meantime, police in Texas are upping the ante as they search for answers in the killing of an Iranian student who was found shot in her car in January.

Houston police doubled the reward for information about the murder of a 30-year-old woman who was active in a local group that demonstrates for freedom and human rights for her native country, Iran.

Now for the first time, police are going on record, saying they're not ruling out the possibility that Iran itself could be behind the murder of the young woman.

CNN's Drew Griffin has the story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gelareh Bagherzadeh in 2010 was on the streets protesting with the group SabzHouston, together trying to do whatever they could do to show support for their brothers and sisters suffering in Iran.

GELAREH BAGHERZADEH, MURDER VICTIM: That's why we gather here, to just be their voice here and show them that we are together and they're not alone.

GRIFFIN: She wasn't scared to show her face but wouldn't give her last name to reporters for fear, she said, of retaliation. Less than two years later, Bagherzadeh is dead in what appears to be an assassination-style murder that no one can explain.

It was late Sunday night, January 15. Police say she was on the phone with an ex-boyfriend when she turned into this townhouse complex not far from where she lived with her parents. The boyfriend told police he heard a loud thud, screeching, then silence.

(on camera) Her car was found here, wedged up against this driveway. The engine, on the wheels still spinning. There she was, slumped over the steering wheel with a single gunshot wound to the head, as if someone were laying in wait.

SGT. J.C. PADILLA, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: The evidence indicated that she had been shot through the passenger side window. She was shot one time. An the autopsy revealed that she was shot in the head.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Police have no leads. They have gone public asking for help but have found no one who would have wanted to kill Bagherzadeh. With nothing stolen or missing, they've even ruled out a random robbery. And now they are even willing to say they are not ruling out the possibility Iran itself could be behind the killing.

PADILLA: Because of the obvious reasons. We're exploring those issues, that she was advocating.

GRIFFIN: Two years ago, CNN reported on what local police said was Iranian involvement in the attempted assassination of an Iranian dissident broadcaster in California. Since then, the U.S. has formally accused Iran of being behind a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

But friends of Gelareh Bagherzadeh say it makes no sense that Iran would target a 30-year-old student in Houston who just held up signs on an American street corner.

SETH ESLAMI, SEBZHOUSTON.ORG: There are many more important opposition leaders. There are groups who have their own TV stations. There are groups who lobby in Washington, D.C. There are groups who actually plot in Iran to do different things. Not us. Why us?

GRIFFIN: Fred Burton, a former State Department counterterrorism expert who has investigated Iranian assassinations, says Iran's intelligence, like its government, works in secretive ways with motives that aren't always so clear.

FRED BURTON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: Whether or not she was perhaps more important, perception-wise, than perhaps her friends knew to that kind of organization.

GRIFFIN: Burton says he has no direct knowledge of Bagherzadeh's past but says an Iranian born in Paris, moving to Houston, and taking part in protests, who turns up unexpectedly murdered, may have unexpected ties that could have made her a target.

BURTON: You have a 30-year-old female that has traveled out of Iran, spent time in Europe -- Paris, for example. What has she been doing? Was she more active overseas, for example, than we understand here?

The Iranians have a very strong network. The Iranian intelligence service has a very strong collection network in Paris, specifically, trying to keep tabs on all their dissidents.

GRIFFIN: Houston police admit they are stuck and will follow any lead, even those involving Iranian conspiracies, if it will lead to the killer.


COOPER: Drew, she did have ex-boyfriends, one of them talking to her by cell phone when she was killed. Do police think there could be a motive there?

GRIFFIN: They've ruled them out, Anderson. And police have told us they checked out and ruled out several other people close to her. She had no real enemies and, as far as we're told, no threats.

COOPER: And despite -- despite the mystery, her friends in SabzHouston are convinced that Iran was not involved. Why?

GRIFFIN: You know, to be blunt, they think she was really just small potatoes. When they were on the street in Houston protesting against the Iranian regime, Gelareh kind of was prominently pictured and stuck out because she was pretty. She was willing to talk to people.

But her friends say she wasn't an organizer, didn't really have any hatred for Iran's rulers, and just a person showing support for the Green Movement. They said it would be a real stretch anyone in Iran would have even noticed her.

COOPER: Interesting. Drew, appreciate it, thanks.

Still ahead, new video. Some of Friday's monster tornadoes, just how terrifying it was, the videos show.

The death toll has climbed to at least 40. Angel Babcock is one of the littlest victims, just 14 months old. She somehow survived the twister that killed her parents and her siblings. What seemed like a miracle, though, has ended in more sorrow. Her story ahead.


COOPER: We have new video tonight out of Henryville, Indiana, one of many towns pummeled Friday by tornadoes. The twister is one of two tornadoes that hit Henryville, one with winds up to 200 miles an hour. Take a look at that. Part of a deadly storm system that spawned at least 42 tornadoes across 10 states. At least 40 people were killed.

One of the youngest victims lived about 20 miles west of Henryville in New Pekin, Indiana. Her name was Angel Babcock. She was 14 months old. She was found in a field barely alive. Her parents, her two siblings, died in the storm.

Now, over the weekend Angel's extended family had to make an excruciating decision to take the toddler off life support. Here's what her grandfather said as he was preparing to say good-bye. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My pastor is going to go in with me. We're going to pray. We're going to pray there, and I'm going to tell that little girl that -- I'm going to tell her that it -- it's time for her to meet her mommy and daddy.


COOPER: Entire family gone. Five loved ones all gone. Here's Susan Candiotti.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming down now!

JASON MILLER, SURVIVOR: Life isn't ever going to be the same for me again.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How could life be the same for Jason Miller after being the sole survivor of a tornado, a twister that sucked him sky-high and killed a family of five he was trying to protect, including 14-month-old Angel, her 2- year-old brother, and 2-month-old sister.

When he spotted the tornado outside, he had seconds to react.

MILLER: I had already grabbed the little girl and she had -- the car seat, and I told her, "Run. Run for the house." I just saw death right there. I knew we were done at that moment.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): You saw death?

MILLER: At that moment I knew it would be over.

CANDIOTTI: Jason Miller convinced the Babcock family of five to get out of their smaller trailer and hunker down with him in his double-wide. So they crouched down on the floor in the center of the trailer as the tornado got closer and closer.

MILLER: Angel was sitting there. I put my arm kind of over Angel and got her to get down. You know, I was like, down. The house got grabbed. It was just like a strong wrench on the house. It started to turn. And all of a sudden just pop! It popped loose. And it was just -- it was amazing, like unbelievable.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The house got sucked into the air, and so did Miller. He blacked out.

MILLER: I actually did open my eyes and came to while I was in the air at one point. And I don't know how high we were. But we did fly up over a sawmill, about 300 or 400 yards when I landed. But when I opened my eyes, the only thing I could see was debris, you know, pieces of wood churning around me. I remember looking down thinking, at least -- that's at least 50 feet. I don't know how I'm going to get down. CANDIOTTI: He landed in a gravel yard at a sawmill about 100 yards away next to a field. People started looking for survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man and woman was laying right here behind the sawmill. And all three of the kids was found right in this area.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Right in the muddy field. And one of the babies was still in a car seat, a baby seat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I don't know what to say, you know. Just -- it's devastating.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Also devastating for Jason Miller, who keeps thinking about the Babcocks and their children. He wonders if he could have done more.

MILLER: I called them over to get killed in my house, and there's part of me that at first it's just very hard to -- you know, to not think that it's kind of my fault.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): You know it isn't.

MILLER: Doesn't matter what I know. It just matters that I called them over to my house, and they died. You get sucked up in a house with six people, 50 feet in the air, ripped apart, break your back and your arm and your ribs. Five people that you're holding hands with die. Life can't ever be the same again after that. It's too much.

CANDIOTTI: Jason Miller is suffering from many broken bones and fractures. But they will heal. Healing emotionally may be much tougher.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, New Pekin, Indiana.


COOPER: It is so sad.

Let's check in on some of the other stories we're following. Isha Sesay is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, as you reported today at the White House President Obama and the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu say their nations stand together in efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and all the options are on the table. A short time ago, at an APAC conference in Washington, Netanyahu said this.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: The story of the Jewish people, the story of a powerless and stateless people who became a strong and proud nation able to defend itself. And ladies and gentlemen, Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: A "360 Follow," victory for students in Minnesota who sued the state's biggest school district for a policy critics said prevented teachers from protecting gay, lesbian and LGBT students from bullying. Tonight the school board approved a settlement outlining steps to improve the district's anti-bullying efforts. The six students will receive a total of $270,000.

U.S. stocks fell today after China lowered its annual growth target. The Dow lost 15 points.

And this speedboat broke down today with Prince Harry on board. He's in the Bahamas as part of a tour celebrating the 60th anniversary of his grandmother's ascension to the throne. Prince Harry got a warm welcome when he finally reached Harbor Island.

That's the latest -- Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

Coming up, a man sits down to dinner and gets one miraculous tortilla. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList." And tonight all I can say is holy guacamole, because someone found a picture of Jesus on a tortilla.

It happened in New Mexico. The guy's mom made a nice dinner. It all sounds delicious, frankly, but one of the side dishes was downright divine.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken, and fresh tortillas. Out Jesus came. I said to my mom, same response from her, oh my God.


COOPER: "Oh, my God" is right. Mashed potatoes sound awesome right about now.

The real miracle here is that guy was just about to chow down on Nacho Jesus but luckily noticed the image of Jesus before biting his head off. Now the tortilla has its rightful place of honor in a little wooden box full of cotton, it seems. Good thing to have on hand in case you need to display your more nutritious religious icons.

It also comes in handy if you ever need to bury a parakeet.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Anderson, you're thinking, does Jesus appear exclusively in corn- or flour-based Mexican dishes? The answer is no. There's a whole a la cart menu of Jesus sightings for pretty much every occasion. He sometimes even brings his mom.

Here's a Jesus and Mary pancake, for instance. I'm not sure which is which. But on a side note that pancake looks -- it looks slightly overdone for my taste. Just flip it, is all I'm saying.

Then we have the silhouette of the Virgin Mary in a dried mango. See it there? Here she is in a grilled cheese sandwich. I see the person also went with cotton balls for preservation but used a plastic box instead. Not as classy, I would say, as the wooden box but apparently gets the job done.

Here's a Cheeto Jesus. And yes, that's right. Cheeto Jesus, or Cheesus, if you will.

But Jesus sightings are not just for breakfast, lunch and dinner anymore. No, no, no. Here he is in the wooden pattern on somebody's door. I'll give you a second try to try to make that one out.

This next one's a little easier to see, because without a doubt it's clearly Jesus on a receipt from Wal-Mart.

And then there's -- wait for it -- Jesus in a dog butt. It's pretty powerful. I find it's best not to stare directly at it but kind of let it wash over you because it's easy to overlook the majesty if you get too caught up in the fact, you know, that you're looking at a dog butt. I don't quite see it.

There's the occasional dog butt, but mostly it's food items on which Jesus appears, and it kind of seems like it happens a lot. Now, you can take the easy way out and buy this Daily Bread toaster that actually stamps Jesus right on there for you, or you can just be patient. My advice is to start paying a whole lot more attention to your Cheetos and your pancakes and your tortillas because sometimes, if you're very lucky your food will actually say grace to you.

OK, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.