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Buffett Rule A Political Ploy?; Day 5 of Syria's So-called Ceasefire; Fleeing the Violence and Shelling in Syria

Aired April 17, 2012 - 20:00   ET



Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest." President Obama doing what presidents do in election years when they've got proposals they know will win votes but don't have the votes to pass it in Congress. They try to pass them anyway even if they expect them to fail. Sometimes especially if they expect them to fail just to make a point.

Two examples of that tonight. One on taxes and one on gasoline prices in which the president appears to be doing what just a few weeks ago he mocked.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This has been going on for years now. And every time prices start to go up, especially in an election year, politicians dust off their three-point plans for $2 gas.


COOPER: President Obama, that was March 15th, mocking challenger Newt Gingrich. Today he wasn't promising $2 a gallon gas. He wasn't dusting off a three-point plan. He did, however, unveil a five-point plan to lower prices by cracking down on speculators.


OBAMA: We can't afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage and driving prices higher only to flip the oil for a quick profit. We can't afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions while millions of American families get the short end of the stick. That's not the way the market should work.


COOPER: Well, "Keeping Them Honest," though, not even his own advisers could say how this would affect gasoline prices. Brian Deese of the National Economic Council, telling "Politico," quote, "I'm not going to speculate about this provision or any other provision and the specific effect it would have on the price at the pump." The proposed legislation is unlikely to get through the Republican-controlled House. Additionally, President Obama is pitching it after spending the last few months arguing this.


OBAMA: There is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to high gas prices. There's no silver bullet. What I have also said about gas prices is that there is no silver bullet. There are no short-term silver bullets when it comes to gas prices. There are no silver bullets, short-term, when it comes to gas prices. There's no silver bullet for avoiding spikes in gas prices every year. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets.


COOPER: Now in fairness, President Obama has not forgotten that line. He used a variation of it. Today he's not promising his plan will fix everything. There are a lot of economists, though, of all political stripes, who don't think it can fix much of anything. As we've been reporting there's not much a president, Democrat or Republican, can do to change prices at the pump.

But it hasn't stopped any of them from trying to dodge the political pain from high gas prices while prescribing unlikely cures. President Obama talks about silver bullet and quick fixes, here's George W. Bush using almost identical language.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, if there was a magic wand to wave, I'd be waving it, of course. It's -- you know, I strongly believe it's in our interest that we reduce gas prices.


COOPER: Well, like President Obama, President Bush downplayed any easiest solutions to the problem. Then two months later the proposed one legislation to expand offshore drilling. Legislation that could not get through Congress but could and did become a large campaign issue.

President Obama seems to be doing pretty much the exact same thing. And as we said at the top, he's been following the same playbook on taxes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote the yeas are 51, and the nays are 45. Three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to.


COOPER: Well, that's the so-called Buffett bill winning a majority votes in the Senate but not the 60 needed to proceed. Every Republican but one voted to block it. Every Democrat but one voted for it. The bill would have required people earning more than $1 million a year to pay 30 percent in taxes.

Now President Obama has talked up the idea in several different ways. First, that it would put a dent in the debt. But when a congressional study revealed it might only make a tiny dent, the White House changed course. Then last week on a conference call, Jason (INAUDIBLE) of the Principle -- the principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, the White House said it was, quote, "Never our plan to bring the deficit down and get the debt under control significantly through the Buffett Rule."

President Obama later said that even though the legislation wouldn't do enough to cut the deficit, it would help the economy grow. Many economists are skeptical about that. What is clear, though, CNN polling showed the bill enjoyed 72 percent support among Americans, 53 percent support among Republicans.

Where it did not have enough support, though, was in the Senate. Now the White House expected that, pushed the bill anyhow, Republicans, as anticipated, as I said, blocked it, and just moments after the vote, the White House put out this statement from President Obama.

Quote, "Tonight Senate Republicans voted to block the Buffett Rule choosing once again to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest few Americans at the expense of the middle class."

So was the White House playing politics here? Well, you can decide for yourself. The lone Democrat who voted against the bill thinks they were. I spoke with Arkansas senator, Mark Pryor, earlier today.


COOPER: I've heard you called the Buffett Rule, though, a political ploy which essentially agreeing with Republicans on that who say the White House was pushing it knowing full well Republicans would kill it. Supporters of it would say, well, look, what's wrong with one party putting something up for a vote and getting Congress on record?

SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: Well, you know, that happens up here all the time. And I just decided I don't want to play that game anymore. I think people in Arkansas are sick and tired of the partisan games up here. It didn't have the votes to pass the Senate. It was never going to be brought up in the House.

I understand it's a good political issue for the president. I think -- I think he's sincere about it. And I think that what will happen is that will get folded into tax reform either at the end of this year as we do major tax reform next year. But, you know, it is a -- it is political season up here. And with all due respect to the president and to the Republicans, I think both sides are trying to be very political with it.

And, you know, let's get back to governing. Let's stop the games up here and let's get back to governing.

COOPER: How much of this is about politics for you? Your critics are saying well, look, you know, you want to -- you're going to be up for re-election in 2014, you're a Democrat in a conservative state, don't want to be a top Republican target. Is that fair?

PRYOR: You know, I know people say that. I wouldn't say that that's particularly fair. I mean, that's -- that's not -- that was not my motivation. I wasn't trying to position myself here at Arkansas.

By the way, I have voted for increasing taxes on millionaires. And I'll be the first to tell you that I think millionaires should pay their fair share. I have no mental reservation about that. But trying to do it right now in this circumstances didn't make sense to me. We should do it as part of a larger package.

I've supported something like this with a larger package before. But we need -- we need to get back to really focus on our deficit. We need to connect our tax policy, our spending policy to the deficit and do some serious deficit reduction.

COOPER: You are, though, in an -- in an awkward position. I mean, you really are the last national Democrat standing in a red state like Arkansas.

PRYOR: Well, I am -- let's see. There's two of us in our delegation. There's one House member and then me. And we have several elections this fall. We'll see what happens but, you know, you're right. The state's politics have gone through a change. Who knows how -- if that's a permanent change or if that was just a -- you know, one or two cycle blip and it will return back to the way it normally is.

COOPER: The flip side of this is there's probably plenty of Democrats who are fine to let you vote whatever the way you want as long as it keeps you getting re-elected.

PRYOR: Well, from my standpoint, this tax issue is not about getting re-elected. Like I said before, I've actually voted previously to increase taxes on millionaires. I think millionaires should pay their fair share. But I don't think that we should single them out and pretend like and maybe present that it's really going to change our deficit number because it doesn't change it that much.

This doesn't move the needle that much. We need to do overall tax reform. And, you know, again, I didn't -- I did not try to be political with this. I just thought that the best policy is to wait on this and do it later as part of a larger package.

COOPER: Senator Mark Pryor, I appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

PRYOR: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Let's bring in our political panel, Democratic strategist and Obama 2012 pollster Cornell Belcher and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Cornell, how do you respond to Senator Pryor, a member of the Democratic Party, saying that putting the Buffett Rule up for a vote that everyone knew would fail was basically just a political ploy?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I -- you know, I'm a little confused. I got to get this here straight. So the Senate majority leader, Senator Reid, puts forward a measure that 72 percent, 72 percent of Americans thinks it's a common sense good ideal measure to put forward. And it's not a tossup. It's not even close. Seventy-two percent of Americans think it should be done. And he puts it up for a vote.

And quite frankly, not only you have 72 percent of Americans according to CNN polling would support this, you've got a majority of the senators who quite frankly would vote for it. So I'm a little baffled. The question shouldn't be, why Senator Reid put this up for a vote. Clearly the American people want it. The question is, why are Republicans blocking common sense legislation like this that a majority of Americans want?

That's really the question. Not why Senator Reid put up something that's common sense and that 72 percent of Americans want.

COOPER: Mary, is this a common sense legislation or it is a political ploy?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Of course it's a political ploy. The problem is, it's not an effective political ploy. Because the voters are concerned about the deficit which Senator Pryor properly pointed out this Buffett Rule doesn't do anything for the deficit. If we took all of Warren Buffett's money, $44 billion, he's the third richest man in the world, that would get us through about four and a half days.

But the president is not going to reduce the deficit or stabilize the debt which is another rationale he gave for it. He just wants to be fair. Fair. So if you ask Cornell, he's an excellent pollster. If you say to a voter, do you want somebody else to pay -- more taxes than you, they'll say yes. But when you say it's not helping the deficit, it's not helping the debt, it's -- it is going to hurt small businesses which do create jobs, they don't really have the same fear and loathing of millionaires, successful people, that this president seems to have.

He's been attacking them forever. And that might be good with his base, but it's not going to have any long-term political impact on independents who are not. Again, they do not despise and they do not loathe and they do not malign successful people in this country.

COOPER: Cornell --

MATALIN: This has very limited half shelf life. COOPER: Cornell, what about that?

BELCHER: It is --

COOPER: The White House has changed their reasoning for the Buffett Rule several times.

BELCHER: Well, here's the thing. Sixty-nine percent of independents support this rule. You know, and I feel sorry for Mary having to sort of spin away from that huge number, number of 72, but truth - the fact of the matter is there's not one solution. There's not a silver bullet solution to the idea that -- of one thing is going to fix the debt. So we've got to -- we have to take steps forward to fixing the debt.

And part of the first step for fixing the debt is asking very wealthy people to pay their fair share. We've got to stop asking sort of the middle class to pay -- to carry all the burden for this. And that's what the middle class in this country get. And that's why they so overwhelmingly support the Buffett Rule.

It is a common sense rule built on American value that everyone should pay their fair share. And the question shouldn't be why they bring it for a vote. The question should be, why is it that a small minority of Republicans in the Senate can stop the majority of the American people, and quite frankly, stop the majority of senators in the Senate from enacting --


COSTELLO: Look, Cornell, there is a political calculation of bringing it up for a vote even though you know it's not going to pass.

BELCHER: Well, there's should be a political calculation. You should pay a political cost when you go against the overwhelming majority of this country. This is a democracy. So the will of the people should have some play, some say in this. And when you go against the overwhelming majority in this country, there should be a political cost that's paid.

COOPER: And, Mary, both sides of the political aisle do this. I mean this happens all the time. Especially in an election year.

MATALIN: Yes. And while I appreciate Cornell's concern about me, in this occasion I don't have to spin. The numbers don't add up. I will say again when you ask particularly independents, they have been saying resurgent republic -- Cornell knows it's a good outfit. We keep finding among independents they want the president to focus on economic opportunity. Not these inequality arguments. Not these fairness arguments.

They don't think that Warren Buffett paying higher taxes, and prayers for his speedy recovery, by the way, is going to create any more jobs. They do think that this unsustainable debt and runaway deficit is going to impede job creation. That's what they care about and that's what the general election is going to be about. So you could be concerned for me, Cornell, but you don't have a message. You just have these tricks. And they're cute tricks, to be sure. They're good for your base.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there. Mary Matalin, Cornell Belcher, appreciate it.

You can find more political insights at Of course we're on Facebook, Google Plus, follow me on Twitter right now at Andersoncooper. Let me know what you think about the arguments.

Some breaking news tonight, Warren Buffett, as Mary alluded to, has cancer. We'll talk about the outlook in his case in just a moment. And next you're going to hear from someone who is right in the middle of this, who might have died as so many Syrians have in the middle of what's supposed to be a ceasefire.

We'll also talk with Fouad Ajami the latest in Syria.


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight. Not only is the ceasefire in Syria not holding. Not only is the Assad regime still killing its own people and continuing to lie about it, it's all now happening under the noses of U.N. observers now in Syria because -- I'll say it again -- of a ceasefire.

Several members of the team were out on the streets of Daraa today. They're supposed to be allowed to freely move any place, will be able to observe the cessation of violence. That's according to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The very same day observers were in the city, however, this was going on.

Crowds being fired on, we don't know by whom, but the targets fit the familiar pattern of government snipers shooting at civilians. There's new video claiming to be from the Hama, take a look, appears to be a military snipers nest. One of the troops holding a camera while the rest of the troops ham it up and dance.

So snipers are still in cities, people are still getting shot, and especially in Homs the shelling goes on. Listen.

You don't have to be a U.N. observer to know that's not a ceasefire. Opposition members say at least 70 people were killed in Syria today. We can't independently confirm that number or this video.

And again, for more than a year the pictures really haven't lied. The regime, however, has and does. Something America's U.N. ambassador is now saying plainly.


COOPER: You deal with Syrian representatives all the time. I've had them on this program. And they've said things which are just not true. They've lied. They've said things which are demonstrably untrue time and time again. Do they have any credibility to you? I don't know if you can say that whether or not --

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: No, they don't. I mean let's be plain. You're right. They have lied to the international community, lied to their own people. And the biggest -- the biggest fabricator of the facts is Assad himself. His representatives are merely doing his bidding and under probably some not insignificant personal duress.

But, no, words as we have said repeatedly are meaningless. The actions are what matter. And the actions thus far have continued to disappoint.


COOPER: Earlier today I spoke with the activist named Zaidoun. We've talked to him a number of times over the last year. He was right in the middle of the shelling in Homs over the weekend. The shelling, remember, that wasn't and isn't supposed to be happening at all. Here's our conversation.


COOPER: Zaidoun, you were in Homs on Saturday. What did you see? What happened?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: In fact, on Saturday, I went with a journalist from the national. Just to see whether the two sides committed to the ceasefire. And the Syrian Free Army has quit the regime's army.

I started just recording every mortar or every shot I hear. I started -- I heard the first mortar fired at Homs at 10:56. And then the second one at 11:02. And then I stopped recording because I realized that there was no ceasefire from the regime at all whatsoever and part of the shell came over. I walked out and (INAUDIBLE). If I had just parked my car 30 seconds before that, I would have been dead by now.

COOPER: The neighborhoods that are being hit in Homs, is the fire indiscriminate or are there actual targets that the regime is trying to strike?

ZAIDOUN: It's indiscriminant. There's no target whatsoever. Nobody could just guess where the shell is coming. Where the bomb is reaching. They are very much accustomed to death now. People talk about they will be (INAUDIBLE) as if they were talking about crackers. Yes, OK, we are used to it. We just leave our home and we say good- bye to our family. We could just not, I mean, come back.

COOPER: Obviously the U.N. now has been trying to have some sort of diplomatic effort. Is there any chance that Assad has any intention or desire to live up to his end of the bargain, to the agreements that he has been making? Is there any chance --

ZAIDOUN: This regime has one intention only, is to deceive the national community, keep lying, keep deceiving them, and keep killing us. Now, with the U.N. sending us 30 observers -- excuse me. Isn't it too many? Thirty? We need 30 observers for one neighborhood only?

COOPER: What do you hope happens? What do you hope the international community does?

ZAIDOUN: The international community should send 3,000 observers and, believe me, the regime will fall the same day. The regime will be toppled the same day. Because we will have people rushing to the streets for demonstrations. We are a peaceful people. We want this regime to go peacefully. But we need the help. We need the help of the rest of the world.

Don't tell me you couldn't have sent us more than 30 observers. Thirty? These are good to maybe (INAUDIBLE) an examination, not to send and observe an army of half a million people just firing all types of bombs against civilians, against unarmed civilians.

COOPER: Zaidoun, thank you very much for talking to us.

ZAIDOUN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Fouad Ajami of Stanford University's Hoover Institution joins us now. He recently visited the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey.

It's one thing to talk about this in an academic ways, another thing to have just been in these camps. Having seen it with your own eyes, what do you come away with?

FOUAD AJAMI, SR. FELLOW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, I think the word academic is right because as you know I'm an academic and it was an education to be in these camps and education to talk to these people. It was an education to contrast what the diplomats say. These phrases that you hear. The Annan diplomacy. Ambassador Susan Rice's feigning outrage about the lies of Bashar al-Assad.

But then you walk these refugee camps and I think it's something that breaks your heart. And you see proud families. I bonded with one family. I can't tell their whole story, but I can just tell you the headline, the essence of it. This is a family from Jisr ash- Shugur, a city that early on, we remember, really knew the cruelty of the regime. This is a middle class family. Propertied family.

They had a fishery on (INAUDIBLE). They had a house of eight rooms. And there they were in this tent, the whole family there. Two of their sons had been killed. One son is missing. And the word missing, by the way, we've been talking about 10,000 people have been killed in Syria. It is by far the number must be much larger because people know what missing mean. Missing mean really being killed.

So a son is still missing, presumed killed. His infant who had -- he had never seen his father, six months old, is there in this tent. And this family with a memory of a life that they had is there in these camps. They had endured one harsh summer. This was their first summer, last summer. They endured one winter. And it was unusually harsh winter in (INAUDIBLE) at this time. And they are dreading now the onset of another summer. And they know that all the things that are said in the corridors of diplomacy are false. And they understand the situation they're in. It's really something. It's --

COOPER: Refugee camps the world over I find incredibly depressing. And one can look at them. You look at the pictures on the news that we were just showing, these tents, and you start to think these are refugees. But these are not refugees. These are people who have homes but they have been forced to flee their homes. They have families but their families had been murdered and killed or disappeared.

It's very easy to just think of them as refugees, people who live in a camp. These are not people who live in camps, these people who have homes and don't belong in this camp.

AJAMI: Well, it's a humbling experience. Because these people -- this one particular family, because they came from an upper class, if you will, or a solid middle class origin. In this tent they tried to reproduce the grace of their life. They had this, you know, potted flowers. They had stuffed toys for the -- for the little children. And they understand that there is no easy return. And the tales they tell like one of the reasons why they left, for example, their town of Jisr ash-Shugur is they had five daughters and rape had become an instrument of this war.

The things that are going on in Syria are really still not fully appreciated by outsiders. Because the press is not there. Because observers are not there.

COOPER: And we heard Zaidoun, an activist who we talked to a lot over the last years, essentially mocked the idea of 30 U.N. observers. He was saying we need 3,000 in order to flood the country and to stop the regime from killing people.

AJAMI: Absolutely. This --

COOPER: Even that might not work.

AJAMI: Well, these observers will do nothing. I mean the observers -- we already saw the mission that was led by the Sudanese general, Dabi. This will be the equivalent of it. And I think we have to understand what the Syrian regime has done. The Syrian regime has taken the Annan mission as an opportunity for more killing. And what they've done if you look at the numbers --

COOPER: They upped the killing.

AJAMI: Yes. And they have upped the killing, and not only that, but the Turkish authorities have the numbers now. And the Jordanian authorities on another border. Under and through this Annan mission, the refugee numbers have spiked. People have fled. So we talk about the kind of -- this diplomacy and the diplomats and the powers coming to the rescue of the Syrians. But no rescue is coming. And one thing we have to understand, there's an American role here. There's an American abdication here. The resistance to helping the Syrian -- the Syrians in this crisis now comes for the most part from the United States.

COOPER: Fouad, I appreciate it. I'm glad you were able to visit the camps.

Other news tonight, big news back home. Jeff Neeley, not a household name, but this picture of him in a hot tub may make him a symbol of excessive spending by the U.S. -- by a federal agency charged with keeping government costs down. His agency under fire. He's pleading the Fifth. "Raw Politics" next.


COOPER: In "Raw Politics" tonight, House lawmakers grill officials of the General Services Administration, GSA, for more than five hours today and their outrage was palpable.

Until now, the GSA was pretty obscure agency. Its job was to keep federal costs down. It's ironic. They had been doing the exact opposites squandering tax dollars in lavish spending on its own employees.

Now one of the key people called to testify before Congress is a guy named Jeff Neely. There he is on the right taking the Fifth yesterday. The other picture on the left is what looks like a Las Vegas hot tub.

We don't know if your tax dollars paid for that hot tub or the glasses of wine that I guess he was enjoying while being in the hot tub. A 2010 conference in Las Vegas the Neely organized is one of the most over the top examples of excessive spending that investigators have found so far. Here's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not only did this 2010 over the top Las Vegas GSA Conference cost taxpayers more than $800,000.

It turns out the lead conference organizer, Regional Administrator Jeff Neely took eight trips to Vegas to do what he called advance work. The cost, $147,000.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF DENHAM (R), CALIFORNIA: My anger and frustration have finally gotten to a boiling point.

BASH: As tales of extravagant spending unfolded during this 5- 1/2-hour hearing, it's clear why.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA: But 44 bucks for breakfast? I'm a big man. I can't spend 44 bucks for breakfast. Somebody had to say that. Are you kidding me?

BASH: The GSA inspector general who investigated put it this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We turned every stone. Every time we did we found 50 more.

BASH: This is the 2-storey 2,400 square foot suite where GSA Deputy Administrator Robert Peck stayed in Las Vegas.

ROBERT PECK, FORMER PUBLIC BUILDINGS SERVICE COMMISSIONER: I question the organizers as to the cost. They told me that all the rooms were within the government rate.

BASH: It's unclear what the cost really was. The organizer, Jeff Neely, seen here in what appears to be a Las Vegas hot tub invoked his Fifth Amendment rights for the second day in a row, but he was very much the focus.

Story after story of allegedly skirting and breaking the rules maybe even the law to have a good time on the taxpayer dime. For example, it's against government rules to spend money for meals at meetings.

Unless awards are given out like here in Las Vegas so they regularly made some up. Listen again to the man investigating the whole thing.

BRIAN MILLER, GSA INSPECTOR GENERAL: It was a running joke in Region Nine that in order to get food, you had to give out awards. One of our witnesses characterized them as, I guess, fake awards and jackass awards and things of that nature.

BASH: There was so little accountability inside the GSA. Its own chief financial officer didn't know what Neely spent on all of those trips and conferences.

ALISON DOONE, GSA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: It was very difficult to have the visibility into the --

BASH: At a different point, the chairman lashed out at another GSA official about his inability to see their budgets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you hiding the information from this committee and from the American public?

BASH: Mind boggling excess went far beyond Las Vegas at least a week in Hawaii for a one hour ribbon cutting.

MILLER: Would a one hour ribbon cutting justify a seven to nine day trip?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not in my opinion.

BASH: The GSA still hasn't told Congress how much that one cost, but a 2010 conference for interns in Palm Springs has a price tag of $150,000.

Two months ago after the inspector general warned the GSA administrator about Neely's extravagant spending. Neely brought his wife along on 17-day junket to the South Pacific paid for by taxpayers. Just last month, a conference in Napa Valley Wine Country to the tune of $40,000. One GSA official said, she raised a red flag to no avail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You notified the Regional Administrator Ruth Cox about the upcoming junket and expressed concern, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I expressed concern and asked her to review the plans, make sure --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that called it off, didn't it? No.


COOPER: Dana, I mean, it's amazing. It sounds like this really is a systematic problem.

BASH: Absolutely. It is stunning the lack of accountability that become crystal clear throughout these 5 plus hours that we watched today.

First of all, what was really amazing, Anderson, is listening to these people who you think maybe even hoped would really understand and know what costs are involved here in these conferences, in these trips.

They didn't only have a clue. They didn't think it was their responsibility to know. They said, no, that's the regional administrator's job. Meaning Jeff Neely.

Well, now we know that Jeff Neely was spending lavishly and trying to get away with it. The other thing that was really disturbing was it was from the bottom up.

We heard that he was really intimidating people who maybe on a lower level could have said this is not right. But the investigator said that he would, quote, "squash them" like a bug if they tried to challenge him. So it really is scary.

COOPER: The idea to take eight scouting trips to Vegas before this conference, I mean, is just ridiculous. Absolutely. Incredible. Dana, appreciate it. Thanks.

We're going to follow a number of other stories tonight. Isha's here with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're learning more about the Secret Service prostitution scandal at that hotel in Cartagena, Colombia. The agency's director told senators that 20 or 21 women were brought to the hotel.

An official tells CNN that Secret Service agents implicated in the scandal will be given polygraph tests. The official also says that some of the agents claimed they did not know the women were prostitutes.

Theatrics today at the trial of the Norwegian man accused of murdering 77 people last summer in a shooting and bombing rampage. Anders Breivik both said that he carried out the most spectacular prolific attack in Europe since World War II.

Final touchdown today for the space shuttle "Discovery." It landed at Washington's Dulles Airport, as you see there, atop a 747. It'll be put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. A bittersweet moment.

COOPER: Yes, it's cool that the 747 can carry the shuttle on top of it. That's crazy there.

SESAY: Yes, totally modified to carry that weight, but yes, totally awesome.

COOPER: It is. Isha, thanks.

In the Trayvon Martin case, we're waiting on word on whether the judge assigned to George Zimmerman's trial is going to recuse herself because of a possible conflict of interest or at least the perception of it.

A lot of people think she will. There are some likely contenders for her replacement more on that ahead.


COOPER: In "Crime and Punishment," George Zimmerman, the Florida man charged with second degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is due back in court this Friday for a bond hearing.

The judge assigned to trial is the circuit court judge, Jessica Recksiedler, will decide by then whether to recuse herself from the case. Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara filed a motion yesterday asking for a new judge because of a conflict of interest.

The judge's husband is a law partner of a CNN legal analyst, Mark Nejame, who is the first lawyer that Zimmerman asked to represent him. Nejame referred him to O'Mara.

Judge Recksiedler was assigned the case randomly. But if she recuses herself as many expect she will, it's going to fall to the court's chief judge to appoint a new judge in the trial. There are a number of factors that could influence the choice.

Based on that there are some very likely candidates seen. Mark Nejame joins me now along with the former Florida state attorney, Rod Smith.

Mark, there have been some names out there of judges who may replace this judge. We've got pictures of some of them, but not all of them. What do you know about the judges? MARK NEJAME, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Quite a bit. Judge Dickey is the senior judge. He could elect to keep the case or just let it go normal. Then it would be a random rotation or it would land in one of three of the remaining four judges in the criminal division.

If you remember the Casey Anthony case, Judge Perry kept the case as a senior judge -- as a chief judge, excuse me. So that could happen here. Unlikely, but it could happen.

Then there's a kind of a long shot. That's Judge Jim Eaton. He used to be the chief judge, very scholarly, very well respected jurist. He is a senior retired judge.

He knows death cases. He knows murder cases as well as anybody probably in the state and he's handled tough cases before and is not afraid of controversy. He'll do the right thing legally.

He doesn't look at what's popular. He looks at what's right and follows the law. The three remaining ones are Judge Galuzo, Judge Nelson and Judge Lester. They're the remaining three judges who out of the four who are on the criminal bench in Seminole County.

COOPER: Rod, you've appeared before Judge Kenneth Lester before in court. You think he could potentially be named the judge in this case. Why?

ROD SMITH, FORMER FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: Well, it'll be a random selection if the chief judge decides not to keep it and Chief Judge Mayer may not, I agree with Mark. That it's unlikely that the chief judge will.

I simply know Lester by reputation. I think I've been in one of his courts one time. But, you know, I would say that it's Judge Eaton, of course, had a great reputation. It's somewhat unlikely in high profile case that they keep a senior judge.

They'll probably put it into rotation. The only other thing is probably the chief judge will vet the other judges immediately to find out if anybody else has a potential conflict.

I mean, the rules were followed well in this case. The judge made a disclosure. The lawyer acted appropriately and quickly. The system's designed to do just this. My guess is that certainly Lester is among the remainder. He would be one that certainly has the status to handle a case like this and pretty well seen in that community as a middle of the road judge. Meaning neither side goes in with an easy day.

COOPER: Mark, Judge Eaton is a retired judge. Why would they appoint a retired judge?

NEJAME: Well, first of all, he doesn't have a docket. So a case like this could be so demanding on as crushed as the judicial system already is. It could be a skilled, seasoned judge such as Judge Eaton would not have a docket otherwise. He could handle all the emotions, the attention and otherwise that might be given to this. But I will tell you that it not only would he be excellent, but the other three, none of them have had any significant controversy that I'm aware of it all. I've known Judge Lester for well over 30 years.

We were law school classmates. He is just spectacular. Judge Nelson has a great disposition on the bench. And Judge Galuzo is well liked and well respected by all sides.

I think that any three of those or any four of those that they would act very, very well and we could find ourselves having the kind of trial that we hope to have.

COOPER: Rod, when do you see this trial actually -- assuming it gets to trial, what kind of a timeline are we talking about here?

SMITH: The lawyers would -- they'll be discussing that once they get kind of past the preliminaries. You know, one of the things that I know that everybody will be focusing on is whether or not this case actually ends up being tried in Seminole County.

That will be decided late. They may even try to see the juror before they make -- I've done high-profile prosecutions and I can tell you that O'Mara's office is already in the process, I'm sure, of gathering all the pre-trial publicity and evaluating it.

There may be polling information. All that will be determined. So some of that will be -- there'll be a date set for trial and it'll be substantially in the future.

Then there'll be a question whether or not they can seat a jury there or if they have to move it and go somewhere else, which again, may shape whether or not a senior judge takes it or not.

I agree with Mark that the convenience of a senior judge is that typically they don't have an ongoing docket and it keeps the rest of the court system moving simply. But it's also pretty rare in high- profile cases that they go to senior judges.

COOPER: Mark Nejame, appreciate it. Rod Smith as well. Thank you very much.

Got breaking news tonight. Warren Buffett has been diagnosed with cancer. We'll tell you what Buffet has revealed so far. We'll talk a doctor from the American Cancer Society about it.


COOPER: Breaking news tonight about the health of billionaire, businessman, Warren Buffett. He has been diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer. He made the announcement in a letter to shareholders today.

Buffett says he'll start radiation treatment in July. That his condition is not life threatening and his energy level is a 100 percent. Let's talk about it with Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Dr. Brawley, stage one prostate cancer, what does stage one mean exactly?

DR. OTIS BRAWLEY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Stage one means that the cancer is confined in the prostate. It's usually a very good prognosis cancer. Many of these stage one tumors don't even need to be treated.

COOPER: In his letter to stockholders, he said he and his doctors decided on a two-month treatment of daily radiation to begin in July. Why treat it? You're saying some of them don't need to be treated. Is this standard?

BRAWLEY: Yes. The National Institutes of Health about four months ago actually made an announcement that about 130,000 of these stage one tumors are diagnosed every year. And most of them can be watched and not treated.

COOPER: Buffett said he discovered the cancer because his PSA level had jumped beyond his normal elevations. What is a PSA level and is it what most people get checked?

BRAWLEY: Well, the serum prostate's specific antigen is a blood test. It's actually quite controversial blood test. Some organizations have recommended that we not use it for prostate cancer screening. We only use it for diagnosis or following known diseases.

Other organizations such as the American Cancer Society say that men should know that there's a potential risk to prostate screening and a potential benefit. They need to know the risks and the benefits and need to make a decision as to whether they want to be screened.

COOPER: If you do get treated, what are the ramifications of it? I mean, assuming it's successfully treated. What are the side effects?

BRAWLEY: Well, I should say a stage one prostate cancer has a 99 plus percent five years survival in the United States. The 15 year survival of all men with stage one prostate cancer is upwards of 90 percent.

So it's a very good prognosis tumor. Radiation can cause a lot of side effects especially bowel and bladder side effects. Surgery actually can cause similar problems, incontinence as well as impotence.

And unfortunately with radical prostatectomy there's about a one- half of 1 percent chance that the operation itself will actually cause death.

COOPER: All right, appreciate it, Dr. Otis Brawley. Overall prognosis looks good. Good survivals rates there for five years and 15 years. Doctor, thanks for being with us.

Let's follow a number of other stories, Isha's back with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, police in North Carolina are searching for a young army private who was last seen early Saturday morning after being given a ride home from a bar. The 23-year-old Kelli Bordeaux is assigned to Fort Bragg and local police say she may be in danger.

The Michigan woman who continues to collect welfare benefits after she won a million dollars in the lottery is being charged with fraud. Authorities say she doesn't report the lottery winnings as required by state law and she collected more than $5,000 in welfare benefits that she wasn't entitled to.

Police in Georgia are defending their decision to handcuff and arrest a kindergarten student who was having a tantrum. The police say they handcuffed the 6-year-old girl for her own safety. She was taken to the station and initially charged with battery and damage to property. But a spokesman says she won't be charged because of her age.

And a "Ridiculist" follow, Anderson, last night, you talked about the theft of five guitars belonging to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Well, I'm happy to report the guitars have been recovered and suspect has been arrested. Police caught up with the suspect after he allegedly sold one of the guitars at a pawnshop.

COOPER: Really, rock on.

SESAY: Rock on. Did you know that Petty as a solo artist and as a leader of the Heartbreakers has sold over 57 million records. How is it I only know one song?

COOPER: I did not know that number.

SESAY: Do you know more than one song?

COOPER: You're putting me on the spot, but yes, if I think about it I probably could although --

SESAY: We don't have all night.

COOPER: "Free Falling, American Girl --

SESAY: Someone's feeding these to you. I know that's what's happening.


SESAY: I can see the shadiness in your eyes, Coops.

COOPER: No. All I can say to you is stop dragging my heart around. Thank you, thank you very much. That's another song.

Time now for 360 winners. A chance to show up our staffers by coming up with a caption better than we came up with. Tonight's photo, Rick Santorum speaking in St. Louis.

Our staff winner is Teny with the caption, Santorum campaigns for a Birmingham deputy comptroller 2013. Your winner is Nicolas from Michigan with this.

Now I will play the air guitar and do some fancy pageant walking. We'll be right back. "The Ridiculist" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding once again critics of teen brides/America's sweethearts/ambassador of love Courtney Stodden.

Now I know I've talked about Courtney a lot, but that's only because the haters keep hating and I'm determined to prove them wrong. And that's why I'm talking about you.

Quick refresher, Courtney Stodden married 51-year-old character actor, Doug Hutchinson, when she was 16 with her parents' blessing. Courtney sings, she models, she has some poetry on Twitter.

She does it all. Tonight, I think there's finally a way to silence the Stodden coffers once and for all. Courtney has a new message for the world, actually three new messages. They all start the same.


COURTNEY STODDEN: Well, I was in the grocery store today shopping for sexy bed sheets. I was in the grocery store today shopping for sexy bed sheets. I was in the grocery store today shopping for sexy bed sheets.


COOPER: Yes. She looks really tan, doesn't she? Anyway, Courtney is on an epic quest for sexy veggies. The produce we're about to show you is extremely graphic, dare I say, pornographic.


STODDEN: I grabbed these veggies then I turned around and these were calling to me for some reason. They're sexy, aren't they?


COOPER: Yes. We blurred the veggies. They were that sexy. Sometimes a pepper's not just a pepper. Not in this case. Trust me. Look, I don't want to show you the cucumber she found. Let's say it was highly organic.

So the point is that Courtney is trying to get people to go vegetarian. A noble cause no doubt. She has thrown herself into it tirelessly to expose cruelty to animals and also her foot hurts.


STODDEN: My foot hurts really bad. I don't know what happened to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's those shoes, baby.

STODDEN: No, no --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop wearing the shoes.

STODDEN: I'm not going to stop wearing my shoes.


COOPER: That is part of a web based reality series that Courtney is starring in although could someone actually get her a lapel mic because the ambient sound in the room is driving me crazy. I can barely hear what she's saying.

Anyway, somehow people still manage to have negative opinions about Courtney Stodden. But as a wise man once said, that's theirs to hold, not ours.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are welcome to their opinions. That's what the world is about. If they need to feel this way, that's theirs to hold. Not ours.


COOPER: See, I've always wanted to know what was -- what was happening. Courtney in that clip right there and now I wonder if she was just thinking about her shopping list, all those sexy, sexy vegetables. So, Courtney, you just keep on doing whatever it is you do all day long. Really, I have no idea what you do all day long. Don't listen to critics. We relish all your new endeavors. That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour from now, another edition of "360." PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT starts now.