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Politics of Terror; Secret Al Qaeda Documents

Aired April 30, 2012 - 22:00   ET


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

We begin "Keeping Them Honest" with a political war that's now broken out over the killing of Osama bin Laden almost a year ago, charges that President Obama is exploiting it to win votes, Republican charges that he's now doing what he himself decried in the past on several occasions.

This is happening obviously on the eve of the raid's anniversary to kill bin Laden and a day that saw the World Trade Center once again become New York's tallest skyscraper. Both occasions say critics should be proud nonpartisan moments for the country. Instead tonight, there's open partisan warfare that began with this ad narrated by Bill Clinton.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." He was referring to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

What did he mean by that? Because it's generated a little controversy, given Osama bin Laden's role in killing, what, 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He had to decide. And that's what you hire a president to do. You hire the president to make the calls when no one else can do it.


COOPER: That Wolf Blitzer tape was part of this ad.

The ad provoked a sharp response from Senator John McCain, who says it diminishes the memory of 9/11 turning it into -- in his words into a cheap political attack. He went on to say -- quote -- "This is the same president who once criticized Hillary Clinton for invoking bin Laden to score political points. This is the same president who said after bin Laden was dead that we shouldn't spike the ball after the touchdown.

And "Keeping Them Honest," Senator McCain is factually correct on both those counts. You can decide for yourself whether pointing to a key presidential accomplishment, the killing of bin Laden, a year after the event constitutes spiking the ball.

But you can't deny President Obama said those words, nor can you deny that four years ago he did criticize Hillary Clinton for running a primary ad featuring bin Laden. And "Keeping Them Honest" the Obama campaign seems to be doing to Mitt Romney what was unacceptable to when the Clinton campaign was doing it to them, unacceptable in their opinion.

Here's how they justified it, along with the GOP response, both from "Meet the Press" this weekend.


ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Look, there's a difference in the roles they would play as commander in chief, and I think certainly that's fair game.

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: He's managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan, political attack. I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign.


COOPER: Whatever you think of the politics surrounding the killing of bin Laden, President Obama's actions as president have been consistent with candidate Obama's promise to make finding bin Laden a priority.

Governor Romney's positions though have changed. It's not worth with heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just to catch one person. It is worth fashioning and executing an effective policy to fight global jihad. And I have a plan for doing that. Now, here's Mitt Romney in New Hampshire.


QUESTION: Governor, would you have gone after bin Laden?


QUESTION: You would have given the order, Governor?

ROMNEY: Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.


COOPER: It took President Obama less than two hours to hit back this afternoon.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That's been at least my practice. I said that I would go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they'd do something else, then I would go ahead and let them explain it.


COOPER: At which point the Romney campaign fired off a statement reading in part: "It is unfortunate that President Obama would prefer to use what was a good day for all Americans as a cheap political ploy and an opportunity to distort Governor Romney's strong policies on the war on terror. They on to say, "Governor Romney has always understood we need a comprehensive plan to deal with the myriad threats America faces."

A short time later, the Obama campaign responded in a tweet to CNN's Jim Acosta. Spokesman Ben LaBolt tweeting @JimAcosta "When did Romney ever outline that counterterrorism policy? Al Qaeda wasn't mentioned a single time in his foreign policy speech."

We obviously invited both campaigns to come on the program tonight. They declined. Instead, tonight Republican strategist Ari Fleischer, he is with us by phone. Also Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is now advising the leading pro-Obama super PAC.

Paul, four years ago, the president said invoking bin Laden on the trail was a political move. Now it's critics say he's using it in his own campaign ads. Isn't that a flip-flop?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, but there's an important difference, too.

There is an actual, honest accomplishment. Back then it was a hypothetical debate. And he didn't like Hillary Clinton saying he might not be tough enough. He did say -- and I have got the clip here -- on Friday, August 3 of 2007, these are his words, he said, "If we have actual intelligence about a high-value terrorist target and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

When he said that he was attacked by Senator Clinton and by Senator McCain and by Governor Romney. Romney called those remarks ill-timed, ill-considered. He said I do not concur. They attacked Obama for saying he would go into Pakistan if there was actionable intelligence to kill bin Laden.

The president kept his word. This is a legitimate accomplishment and an impressive accomplishment. I just think Senator McCain is a very honorable guy. I have no criticism with him. But I think for some of my friends from the Bush administration who have a problem with this, my lord, one of their first ads showed a flag-draped body being carried out of the World Trade Center. If they knew that, that was I think really beyond the line.

This is a legitimate triumph that the president led and he has a right to claim credit for it.

COOPER: Ari, is that what this is? A legitimate triumph that the president has the right to claim credit for?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If that's all it is, I would be praising President Obama and saying this is absolutely part of what presidents run on and should do.

I thought it was false when people criticized President Bush for not (AUDIO GAP) his accomplishments keeping us safe after September 11. And I think President Obama has every right to make his case about how he's keeping us safe. And he should brag about the killing of Osama bin Laden up to a point.

Where he crossed the line is by taking the one-year anniversary and turning it partisan by attacking Mitt Romney on something where everybody knows if any president gets actionable intelligence like that, you're not moving heaven and earth. You're sending in the stars. You're sending in the SEALs.

Totally different from what Mitt Romney said. But the president shouldn't have attacked Mitt Romney. Think about how much better it would have been if he marked the anniversary by inviting George W. Bush, former President Clinton, along with Navy SEALs and CIA operatives who actually used enhanced interrogation techniques and indefinite detention to get the information that led to the courier and thanked all of them in a private moment.

That would have kept this a bipartisan moment. President Obama missed that opportunity to do it. And I think he blew it. He had the chance to really elevate the nation to keep us together about the killing of bin Laden. And he blew it by turning it into an attack on Mitt Romney.

COOPER: Paul, has this -- has he politicized this? Romney has never actually said he wouldn't have gone after bin Laden.

BEGALA: Romney attacked Senator Obama when Senator Obama said he would go into Pakistan.

Then Romney, as you quoted him, said he would not move heaven and earth. This is how we got bin Laden. President Obama came into office and he reorganized the bin Laden unit in Langley at the CIA headquarters. He made them work more closely with Tampa, the Central Command in Tampa, with the ISAF forces in Kabul. He moved heaven and earth. He reorganized.

As President Bush said just six months after 9/11 that bin Laden was just one person, he said, and I really don't spend much time on him, to be honest with you. Five years after 9/11, the president was saying to Fred Barnes, and I quote, not a top priority use of American resources.

President Obama had a different view. He made getting bin Laden a top priority and he made a call that Bob Gates, who served President Bush and Obama and six other presidents, I believe, called the gutsiest call he has ever seen a president make.

The notion that Mitt Romney and now Ari is saying anybody would have done it is simply not borne out by the stated positions of Governor Romney and frankly the lack of actions by President Bush.


FLEISCHER: It's amazing that Paul still can't even be gracious about it.

The fact of the matter is if President Obama had not flip-flopped on the very things that he criticized President Bush for, enhanced techniques, indefinite detention -- those were the techniques the CIA used under President Bush that led years to the information the courier which led then years later to the ability to track the courier, which President Obama took advantage of, to President Obama's credit.

I have praised the president for that. But this is where action where people of both parties and especially the CIA deserves the credit and especially the Navy SEALs. But attacking Mitt Romney over it when it's not what Mitt Romney said, it just was so unnecessary, Anderson. My point is it's revealing about President Obama's character.

When he ran in 2008 as the post-partisan, as someone who would bring us together, boy, did he sell us a bill of goods. There is nothing post-partisan about him. If there's ever an occasion to be post-partisan, it is the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. He had everything in hands to bring us together and he chose instead to split us apart once more.

COOPER: Paul, do you buy the enhanced interrogation techniques, so-called, what critics call torture, is what led to the killing of bin Laden?

BEGALA: I'm no expert and nor is Fleischer. But I did look up what one expert said at least.

This is a man named Mark Fallon, who is a former interrogator and special agent in charge of the criminal investigation task force at Guantanamo Bay. He was on television the other day and he said to try to cheapen this saying that some event in water-boarding years ago led to this is a disservice to our service members.

A whole lot of experts -- again, this is for the experts for the argue, but a whole lot of experts say, no, that's not the case. By the way, they were water-boarding under Bush and they did not get bin Laden. Those are two facts we know.

We stopped water-boarding first under Bush. Bush stopped the water-boarding, thank goodness.


BEGALA: And then we did -- Obama did get...

FLEISCHER: The technique was not water-boarding in this instance. It was a combination of indefinite detention and another technique. And the person who said this was just interviewed on "60 Minutes" Sunday night, the head of the counterterrorism division of the CIA, who just wrote a book about all of this.


COOPER: That's the guy who also destroyed the videotape -- that's the guy who also destroyed the tapes of the...


FLEISCHER: That's correct.

COOPER: Right.

FLEISCHER: But that doesn't change the facts of what information was derived to help get bin Laden.

But the point again is the CIA professionals did this, the Navy SEALs did this, and several presidents, President Clinton did his best unsuccessfully, President Bush did his best unsuccessfully. President Obama was able to get the actionable intelligence that none of his predecessors had. He gets the credit for it. It happened under his watch.

He made that decision. And I'm proud of President Obama.


BEGALA: The president should get the credit...


FLEISCHER: And he could have taken credit for it without attacking Mitt Romney, that's where he messed up.

If he wants to attack Mitt Romney in October, I think he would have been on higher ground. Using the anniversary of the killing of bin Laden is a terrible mistake President Obama has made, showing there really is nothing post-partisan about him.

COOPER: We have to leave it there. You guys have both made your positions clear. Paul Begala, Ari Fleischer, thanks.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+, follow me on Twitter, tweet me right now, let me know what you think about this --@AndersonCooper.

Two exclusives tonight both on al Qaeda. We will tell you about al Qaeda plans to target cruise ships and how those plans came to light. It's really fascinating. Secret al Qaeda documents basically found in a memory stick on somebody inside a porn tape, it's really fascinating stuff. We have that exclusive report.

Also, Peter Bergen is here to talk about the exclusive access he got to Osama bin Laden's compound. Two stories you will only see right here on 360.


COOPER: Welcome back.

A 360 exclusive tonight now on a haunting question. With Osama bin Laden dead, what is al Qaeda planning right now? It was exactly one year ago tomorrow that Navy SEALs started their mission to kill bin Laden.

But with him gone, al Qaeda has not stopped their plans to kill.

As you will only see right here tonight, some of the answers about what they're up to can be found in what German authorities dug up in coded files that were taken from a would-be killer who had allegedly just embarked on a mission of mass murder.

Exclusive details now from Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As U.S. Navy SEALs were preparing to storm bin Laden's now infamous compound in Pakistan a year ago, two of his recently trained European recruits were sneaking out of the country on a mission to cause carnage.

They were headed for Vienna and Berlin. But not long after they returned to Europe, one of them was being questioned at this police station. He was arrested and searched. And hidden in his underwear, police found memory recording devices like these. Buried deep in the devices was a pornographic video, and hidden in files inside that were what police believe were more than 100 secret al Qaeda documents.

Inside a file marked "Sexy Tanya" (ph) protected by an almost invisible password, a treasure trove, including al Qaeda's road map for future operations, a document called "Future Works."

Investigative journalist Yassin Musharbash was the first to report on the documents. One plan...

YASSIN MUSHARBASH, JOURNALIST: It contains an idea that we haven't heard so much about, and that is to take jihad to the seas. It is easier than -- I guess what they mean is to attack aviation.

ROBERTSON: A plot to seize cruise ships set out in chilling detail.

MUSHARBASH: He says that we could hijack a passenger ship on the sea and then use it to pressure, to pressurize the public. What he most likely means is that they would then start executing passengers.

ROBERTSON: They would dress passengers in orange jumpsuits, mimicking al Qaeda prisoners in Gitmo. The executions would be quickly uploaded to an al Qaeda Web site. Hijacking a cruise ship would not be new territory for Islamic radicals. Palestinian terrorists famously attacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, murdering wheelchair-bound Jewish-American Leon Klinghoffer, then throwing his body overboard.

Whether al Qaeda used that incident as a model is unclear. The new al Qaeda documents called "Future Works" and appears to have been written in 2009 by al Qaeda's senior leadership.

(on camera): U.S. intelligence sources tell CNN this information is pure gold, that it contains details of some of al Qaeda's most dangerous attacks, including the attack on the London subway seven years ago. One source says that this is the most important haul of al Qaeda documents this year, outside of what was found in bin Laden's compound.

(voice-over): Another plan revealed in these documents, more attacks like the operation by Pakistani militants in Mumbai, India, 10 gunmen on a shooting rampage, 164 innocents killed.

German intelligence sources say these two men who came back to Europe last year may have been tasked with planning a similar attack. Maqsood Lodin and Yusuf Ocak are now on trial at this Berlin court. Prosecutors allege their job was to recruit a network of suicide attackers.

MUSHARBASH: We do not know what these two young men were actually up to. But there are certain information in those files that would make it plausible to assume that they probably were thinking of a Mumbai-style attack.

ROBERTSON: The pair have denied being members of a terrorist organization. And their trial continues. And that would make sense. The documents reveal how al Qaeda isn't just focused on the big catastrophic attack.

MUSHARBASH: But the author seems to be convinced that al Qaeda could be pursuing a two-track strategy of low-cost, low-damage attacks, and large-scale attacks.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Like the 9/11 attack?

MUSHARBASH: Yes, the reason being that if al Qaeda were to pursue only large-scale attacks and those are foiled, then they have nothing.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Indeed, a year after these documents were written, European intelligence agencies were scrambling to investigate a Mumbai style plot, rounding up a cell based in Germany, and sparking an unprecedented State Department travel warning for Americans in Europe.

MUSHARBASH: Would I say that the Euro plot is off the table? No, but I believe that the general idea is still alive, as I believe that as soon as al Qaeda believes that they have the capacities to realistically go after that sort of scenario, they will immediately do it.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Lodin and Ocak's trial is expected to last several more weeks. Their case appears to be living proof that the blueprint laid out in the documents is still active for carnage in Europe. Al Qaeda has not changed its ambitions.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Berlin, Germany.


COOPER: Ambitions are one thing, capabilities are another.

What German authorities found though doesn't begin to cover it all. You remember when Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's compound, they came away with thousands of documents and gigabytes of data.

In 1997, Peter Bergen produced the first TV interview with bin Laden and in that interview bin Laden declared war on the United States. More recently, Peter's obtained exclusive access to the compound before it was demolished. He's our national security analyst.

He's out with a fascinating new book, "Manhunt." It really takes you inside the 10-year search for and killing of Osama bin Laden.

The wish list of attacks, what are their capabilities? How they capable are they of pulling off small and big attacks?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think their capabilities are pretty limited, Anderson.

I was given access to bin Laden's own writings in Abbottabad. There are 6,000 documents. Some of them have been declassified. They haven't been published yet. And the picture that emerges from these documents is bin Laden's calling for big attacks, kill President Obama, kill General Petraeus. And his guys are pushing back and saying, wait a minute, we're under really pressure from the drones, attacking the United States is not that easy.

COOPER: They cite the drones in particular?

BERGEN: Well, the drone, it's very interesting. Bin Laden writes a 48-page memo. A lot of it is about how worried he is about the drones, how many of his people have been killed. He's actually urging his group to move to Afghanistan, to a very remote part of Afghanistan.

And this is an interesting one showing his hypocrisy. His 20- year-old son, Hamza, living in Pakistan's tribal regions, he's urging him to move to Qatar. Well, Qatar is per capita is one of the richest -- the richest country in the world. It's not the front lines of the war.

COOPER: He wants him to move there for his safety basically?

BERGEN: Yes, the drones are really having a huge impact. They were very conscious internally that the drones were causing them problems.

Bin Laden was keenly aware that the al Qaeda brand was tarnished. He was urging some groups not to use the al Qaeda name because it would be bad for fund-raising and basically attract a lot negative attention. If you take together what -- what the picture from these documents are that I was able to look at from the Abbottabad compound, it's an organization in great disarray, which I think we knew already.

But it's interesting. They understood it themselves.

COOPER: They saw it. You actually got access to this compound. There was still blood on the ceiling, right?

BERGEN: Yes, I looked up in the third floor bedroom, and I thought it would be like being -- where bin Laden was killed. And I thought this would be like going to Hitler's bunker.

But instead it turned out to be like visiting someone's really kind of not very nice suburban compound. You could see where the Navy SEALs shot bin Laden in the face, and there were patterns of blood on the ceiling, it was rather low. Bin Laden was 6'4''. The ceiling was about 7'.

So you could see where the bullets had impacted. I took a look at his toilet. It was a very sort of tiny little room, tiny little kitchen. The whole picture of the house, Anderson, was one of -- you know, confining, not uncomfortable, but certainly not a million dollar mansion, as it was...


COOPER: You also notice some Just For Men hair dye?

BERGEN: Yes, this guy we know he was dyeing his hair and his beard, but on the shelf in the bedroom -- and the whole thing, by the way, had been left as sort of a crime scene. I was the only real outsider to get in. And there was the Pakistani version of Just For Men in his bedroom, along with some medicines and some other vitamins and these kinds of things.

COOPER: I want to ask you briefly about the conversation we had before with Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer where they were kind of squaring off over enhanced interrogation techniques and whether in fact that led to the raid on the compound.

BERGEN: Right.

WikiLeaks is a very good source on this because we have the actual summaries of the interrogations of some of the key people who gave up information. And two al Qaeda sort of senior people gave information that indicated the courier was important. And the courier of course led to bin Laden.

Two senior al Qaeda leaders said that the courier wasn't important after they had been coercively interrogated. In four cases there were coercive interrogations and they produced very conflicting information. I think it's a very kind of gray picture. And in fact a lot of the other -- the way that the courier was found, getting his real name from another country was absolutely vital because he had a variety of aliases.

Getting his cell phone and being able to geolocate it, that was the National Security Agency. Getting a human spy on the ground in the city where he was to follow him 2.5 hours, drive back Abbottabad to the compound, all those things were vital. So coercive interrogations is a small part of this picture, as are uncoerced interrogations. There were a lot of other things that came up along the way.

COOPER: Both sides can kind of reuse it as they want?

BERGEN: Yes, there's a little bit of ammo for both sides. But the idea that either was dispositive just is not the case.

COOPER: And you spent a lot time in Pakistan researching the book. The book, it's really fascinating. It really takes you inside both the compound and the planning of it over the years.

But what about the idea that somebody in Pakistan, somebody in the Pakistani military, somebody in Pakistani government must have known?

BERGEN: It's hard to prove negatives, but there were 6,000 documents recovered from this compound. Our relations with the Pakistani government are not so great that if we had no smoking gun, we wouldn't simply announce it.

There is no smoking gun. I talked to multiple people who are familiar with the intelligence. And I also talked to people who talked to the Pakistanis that night and the main reaction from the Pakistanis was surprise. It's hard to fake it. A lot of different calls were made from the U.S. to Pakistan.

You know, and the other thing, Anderson, is that bin Laden was a very paranoid, disciplined guy. I found out there were people living on the compound who didn't know bin Laden was living there.


COOPER: On the compound?

BERGEN: Yes. An adult, one of the wives of one the couriers, she had been instructed, there's an Arab, don't ask any questions. She had no idea who he was. And she lived there for years with him.

So the idea that other people should have known or could have known, it doesn't hold water.

COOPER: Well, the book is "Manhunt." Again, it's fascinating. Peter, appreciate it. Thank you very much. Congratulations on the book.


COOPER: Got a lot more to cover.

The book is out, by the way, tomorrow in bookstores. You can get it, And I really do recommend it.

A dramatic day in the John Edwards trial to tell you about tonight. There's been so much speculation over what, if any part of that sex tape Edwards made with his mistress, Rielle Hunter, will surface in the courtroom. Well, today, the judge finally ruled on that issue -- details ahead.


COOPER: "Crime & Punishment" now, the judge in John Edwards' trial today cleared the way for testimony about the steamy sex tape that Edwards made with his mistress, Rielle Hunter. That ruling came during a day of emotional testimony from the wife of prosecution's star witness, Andrew Young.

Cheri Young told the court she was disgusted by Edwards' scheme to hide his mistress's pregnancy and didn't want to go along with it. Her role in the cover-up: endorsing and depositing checks intended to pay for Hunter's expenses.

Mrs. Young said she only agreed to help Edwards after Edwards personally assured her that the scheme was legal. She testified about Edwards' tone during that call, saying, quote, "He was very short and very angry." She said he told her to, quote, "get the money in."

She also described the stress of being involved in the scheme. She described how she, quote, "sat in the car shaking," end quote, on her way to get cash for Hunter's expenses.

It wasn't just the money, though. Hunter moved in with the Youngs, and later they all hit the road together to stay out of sight.

At one point, Mrs. Young sobbed so much, the judge temporarily dismissed the jury. Joe Johns, who was in the courtroom, joins me now.

I understand that that sex tape was the subject of discussion in court today. What happened on it?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. It's pretty clear that tape is not going to be shown to the jury, but it's also clear that the defense really wants the opportunity -- the availability, if you will, to bring the tape up as a topic of conversation, if necessary.

Also, that they want to ask questions of Andrew Young, the prosecution's star witness, about where he got that tape, whether he stole that tape, if he was planning on selling that tape. All of these are questions that would be used to impeach a witness if they need to toward the end of the trial -- Anderson. COOPER: What was it that Mrs. Young broke down over on the stand?

JOHNS: This was sort of the turning point where she was being asked and had to give an answer about how she decided it would be OK to say that her husband, the father her three children had actually fathered an illegitimate child with John Edwards' mistress.

And so she was describing a conference call with herself, her husband, Rielle Hunter, as well as John Edwards. They're all talking about this. And she's being encouraged to say it would be OK for her husband to say that she broke down, and to briefly let the jury go out of the courtroom.

Then when they came back, she said the big answer. The big answer, of course, was that she did not want to explode the campaign, the John Edwards presidential campaign, so she said she would go along with the cover-up. A very emotional moment.

COOPER: The whole thing is so bizarre, the idea that, you know, the Youngs and Rielle Hunter go of on this cross-country trip to try to kind of stay below the radar. She talked about some those bizarre moments today.

JOHN: That's absolutely right. And they went from city to city all the way way across the country and sort of twice to aspen, Colorado.

And there's this one occasion in aspen, where they're all sitting in a restaurant, and she ordered a Reuben sandwich. It came back with the wrong sauce on the sandwich.

And so her reaction, Rielle Hunter's reaction, was to pick up her cell phone and call her spiritual adviser -- according to the wife of Andrew Young -- call her spiritual advisor on the west coast, speak to him and try to get him to fix it. Even though he wasn't there, she left a message.

So a very sort of bizarre behavior, if you will, described of Rielle Hunter. Of course, it would be nice to hear what she has to say about that.

COOPER: Is she going to testify? We're told there's a very good chance she's going to testify. She's sort of the big story in the room that's untold.

Joe, appreciate it, thanks. We're following a number of other stories, obviously. Isha is here with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a delicate diplomatic situation has developed between the U.S. and China over the whereabouts of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest. There are reports he's at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. The Obama administration won't comment.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton is flying to China tonight for diplomatic and strategic talks.

Twin car bombs exploded in the Syrian city of Iddeth (ph) today. Government opponents say at least 20 people were killed. The al-Assad regime says eight died. Dozens of people were injured.

And Anderson, in New York City today, the installation of a beam on the 100th floor officially made One World Trade Center the tallest building in the city, surpassing the Empire State Building by 21 feet. When construction is completed in 2014, One World Trade is expected to be more than 1,700 feet tall. A momentous day in the construction of the building.

COOPER: Isha, thanks very much.

Late-night comic Jimmy Kimmel had the kind of gig this last weekend that can make any comic break out in sweat. He was host of the annual White House Correspondents Dinner."

President Obama got some big laughs himself. Just ahead, we're going to talk do Jimmy about the jokes that ended up on the cutting- room floor.


KIMMEL: I did cut, in advance, some jokes that I thought were offensive.


KIMMEL: Did you want to hear?

COOPER: Yes, absolutely.

KIMMEL: Maybe not offensive, but -- to me they're not offensive, but others told me that they might be offensive.



KING: On the eve of the raid last year that killed bin Laden, President Obama was at the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. There, no one, obviously, was the wiser about the mission that was about to go down.

Well, this past weekend he was at the same dinner. Jimmy Kimmel was the host. President Obama got a lot of laughs, as well. He got an assist from his press secretary, Jay Carney, and his opening bid, a joke about getting caught last month on an open mike with Rush as president. Makes with a little Al Green.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Could someone back there please turn of the president's mike? I think the president's mike is hot. Please turn it off. Thank you, thank you. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Great. I got to get warmed up. I, I'm so in love -- I totally had that. Seriously, guys, what am I doing here? I'm the president of the United States and I'm opening for Jimmy Kimmel? I have the nuclear codes. Why am I telling knock-knock jokes to Kim Kardashian?

Anyway, it's great to be here this evening in the vast, magnificent Hilton ballroom. Or what Mitt Romney would call a little fixer upper.

KIMMEL: They told me this would be a high-profile event with some of the most powerful people in the world. They did not tell me I'd be looking directly into Sofia Vergara's cleavage. I saw you texting.

Sofia is from Colombia. This is what women look like in Colombia. What do you expect the Secret Service to do?

Mr. President, I know you won't be able to laugh at any of my jokes about the Secret Service, so cover your ears, if that's physically possible.

Mr. President, you remember -- you remember when the country rallied around you in the hopes of a better tomorrow? That was hilarious.

You know, there's a term for guys like President Obama, probably not two terms, but -- it's kind of hard to be funny with the president of the United States sitting right next to you looking at you, and yet somehow day in and day out, Joe Biden manages to do it.

I also want to thank Mr. Mills, my tenth-grade high-school history teacher, who said I'd never amount to anything if I kept screwing around in class. Mr. Mills, I'm about to high five the president of the United States. Is that OK?

OBAMA: Sure.

KIMMEL: Eat it, Mills.


COOPER: FYI, Kim Kardashian was sitting at the front of the ballroom when President Obama made the joke about her. She was just one of the many famous names in the crowd.

Not an easy crowd for any comic. I spoke earlier with Jimmy Kimmel.


COOPER: First of all, every time I talk to somebody who has done this event, they say it is a very, very difficult crowd. How different was it than what you expected?

KIMMEL: Well, it was pretty much exactly what I expected. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a difficult crowd. Because about half the crowd feels like they can't laugh at your jokes. And the other half feels like they can't laugh at the other jokes.

And then the journalists, depending upon where they're sitting, are nervous about laughing in front of the people about whom the jokes are made. So it doesn't -- it's not exactly the ideal comedy environment.

COOPER: Yes. I went once, and I refuse to go ever again. I basically will watch it on TV or online. But I just -- it's also like 3,000 people, and it just seems like a nightmare.

It's also -- I mean, I imagine for you, it's hard enough following the president, but it's -- I mean, following a president who is actually very funny has got to be hard.

KIMMEL: Yes. Well, you know what, actually? I think it's better. If the president bombs, people are going to be in a weird mood. So I think it actually helps if the president was funny.

COOPER: I want to play a clip of something President Obama said kind of teasing you.


OBAMA: Our chaperone for the evening is Jimmy Kimmel, who is perfect for the job since most of tonight's audience is in his key demographic: people who fall asleep during "Nightline."


COOPER: I've sure you've been insulted a lot over the years, but being insulted by the president has still got to feel pretty special.

KIMMEL: I actually -- I felt like that was a pretty accurate account of the people watching my show. So I don't know if it was an insult or just a fact.

COOPER: Were there any jokes you killed at the last minute because they were edgy or you suddenly got cold feet on them?

KIMMEL: Yes, there were -- you know, there were some jokes, some things were with played better than others. It seemed like people liked the simpler jokes. You know, I had a lot of kind of inside jokes that maybe I skipped by a little bit, because people seemed to be squarely focused on Kim Kardashian.

But I did cut in advance some jokes that I thought were offensive. Did you want to hear?

COOPER: Sure. Yes, absolutely.

KIMMEL: OK. Maybe not offensive -- but I don't know. To me they're not offensive. But others told me that they might be offensive. Rick Santorum is like the college roommate who wouldn't leave you when your girlfriend came over but secretly wanted you to do it in front of him.

COOPER: That's one of those things that I cannot comment acknowledge in any way. I'm just going to have to watch you.

KIMMEL: That's essentially the problem.

COOPER: Right, yes.

KIMMEL: Well, let's try the other one. I happen to know why the president's ears area so big. It's to create the illusion that he's listening.

COOPER: Well, the joke that got a lot of -- the joke that got a lot of laughter also from Mrs. Obama was when you talked about the president covering his ears, if that's physically possible, I think you said.

KIMMEL: I know it's funny. Like the third-grade jokes seemed to get the best reaction of all.

Here's one. Chris Christie is a popular choice for the V.P. slot. Originally, many top Republicans wanted him to run for president, but he said his heart just wasn't in it. Well, Chris, maybe your next heart might be in it.

COOPER: Ouch. You had a lot of Chris Christie material.

KIMMEL: You must be a lot of fun at parties, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. That's why I don't go to parties, pretty much. I'm like your worst nightmare.

KIMMEL: I did have a lot of Chris Christie material. I mean, you know, he was literally the elephant in the room. What are you going to do?

COOPER: Ai-yi-yi, yi-yi.

KIMMEL: You're not even wearing pants.

COOPER: It's true. I'm actually wearing jeans.

So what's it also like sitting next to the first lady? You don't even have to sit throughout the entire dinner, knowing that you're going to not do the set until the end of the night. That's got to be kind of a nightmare. What do you chat about?

KIMMEL: In a way, it relaxed me, because I was very nervous, and she's very nice. And after about five minutes of talking to her, you realize you're just talking to another person. So believe it or not, that actually calmed me down and not helped me not think about the fact that I had to get up in front of all these people, including the president and do a bunch of jokes to an audience that reacts like you. COOPER: Right. Yes, no, I'm sorry about that. When I go back to my office, believe me, I will be breaking out laughing.

KIMMEL: Yes, if I tickled you would be hysterical.

COOPER: Exactly. You actually don't want me laughing, because as you know, I giggle like a 12-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber for the first time.

KIMMEL: That's right. Once you start laughing, it never, ever stops.

COOPER: It never, ever stops. That is sadly true.

I want to play quickly something you said about CNN, too.


KIMMEL: Where are the CNN tables? Are the CNN tables real tables or virtual tables? There you are.

Every election year, CNN comes up with new and increasingly amazing technology. They had the Magic Wall this year. They had the hologram four years ago.

And yet, with all their technical wizardry, they still haven't figured out a way to make James Carville look less like a hairless, boiled cat.


COOPER: See, now that I can laugh at. See, I'm allowed to laugh at that, because he's on contract.

KIMMEL: But let me just say this. The HD, you look great always. You are indeed the silver fox, but the HD is not helping the folks there at CNN. I think it's time to go back to just D.

COOPER: Yes. We might go back to D.

There's also -- there's also some fallout, always every year. Last year it was Donald Trump, who didn't seem to enjoy it. This year it seems like the strongest reaction you prompted was from Keith Olbermann. I want to play what you said first.


KIMMEL: It's time for the fun part of the evening. I'd like everyone to look under your seats. Under each one, you will find a copy of Keith Olbermann's resume.

Is Keith here tonight? Limo wouldn't pick him up? The thing about Keith Olbermann is, he's so likeable.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Now, he responded on Twitter, which I think is the only media forum he still has access to, that basically the reason you made fun of him was to get revenge for him not doing your show. Do you have any response to that? Is that true?

KIMMEL: Honestly, I swear I'm being completely honest. I had no idea they'd even asked him to do the show. I knew they were looking for a guest, and they called a bunch of people.

But I don't know. I didn't really mean anything particular against Keith. He was one of the people in the news this year.

COOPER: Right.

KIMMEL: And so he was -- I don't think I made any more fun of him than I did anyone else.

COOPER: I didn't think you were picking on him, just seemed like, given the venue, it seemed the appropriate thing to do.

KIMMEL: Right.

COOPER: Listen, I have...

KIMMEL: He proved indeed -- he proved indeed how likeable he is with that tweet.

COOPER: Yes, exactly. Yes. Nothing like the ability to laugh at oneself.

Listen, Jimmy. I thought you did a great job. Thank you so much for being on. I appreciate it.

KIMMEL: Thanks, Anderson. Good talking. I'm glad I could get you really laughing hard.


COOPER: Jimmy Kimmel will be right back. He's going to pop up in "The RidicuList."

But next, some serious stuff. An update on what's become of the animals that suicidal owner set loose from his farm. Remember that last fall? Details ahead.


SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

A federal jury began deliberations today in the case of a Bosnian-born American accused of plotting to bomb New York's subway system. Prosecutors say he conspired with two admitted terrorists in a 2009 plot to rig backpacks with explosives and blow them up. The plan was never executed.

A follow-up on the story of a man who set loose 56 exotic animals from his farm in Ohio before he committed suicide. The animals that survived have been kept at the Columbus Zoo since October. And now five of those animals will be returned to the man's widow.

A state review board concluded today that the animals -- two leopards, two monkeys and a bear -- are free of contagious diseases.

Delta Airlines today announced plans to buy an oil refinery in Pennsylvania. The company is buying the refinery outside Philadelphia for 150 million. They plan to spend 100 million more to convert its infrastructure for jet fuel production.

And a billionaire in Australia plans to build an exact replica of the Titanic, except with modern technology. He's commissioned a Chinese shipyard to build it starting next year. It's expected to be ready to sail in 2016 -- Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

Coming up, more with Jimmy Kimmel and his theory about my laugh. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." I don't know if you're aware of this, but there have been a few occasions during this part of the show where I've had some trouble and having been able to stop laughing, particularly when certain kinds of words come up, words, just as an example, like titmouse or asphalt. You know, really high- brow stuff. I can only hope that we never do a "RidicuList" about the French novelist Honore de Balzac.

Look, I'm not proud of it, but I can't help it. I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old. Well, Jimmy Kimmel has a theory. Watch this from "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE."


KIMMEL: This is from AC 360's Anderson Cooper show on CNN. At the end of the show, Anderson does a thing called "The RidicuList." I guess, to end things on a lighthearted note. It tickled Mr. Cooper, to say the list.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the girls striking back with a tap from a pussywillow branch.

COOPER: Sorry. Sorry.

KIMMEL: I think Anderson Cooper is high. You know? How else do you explain that? The word "pussywillow" is not that funny. No word is that funny. Nothing has ever been that funny.

I'd like to see drug tests all around, and get a sample from Wolf Blitzer while you're at it. He's starting to look like the guy on the Zig-Zag packet.

First, let's see the Zig-Zag packet of which Mr. Kimmel speaks? All right. Yes, there might be a slight resemblance. I can sort of see that. The Zig-Zag guy might look a little bit younger. It's hard to tell. He's a drawing, after all.

So I was talking to Jimmy earlier about the speech at the White House correspondents dinner. A speech, by the way, did indeed include a section of "pot jokes."

And I asked him about his theory of my "RidicuList" outburst. Take a look.


COOPER: Let me get this straight. The man who started badgering the president of the United States about legalizing marijuana, you're accusing me of being high?

KIMMEL: I'm not accusing you -- I'm just trying to explain that. I mean, maybe you're secretly Anderson Snooper or something, Anderson Coop Dawg we've got going there. I would love to believe that you're high right now. I really would. Are you?

COOPER: Did you smoke before you went on the stage?

KIMMEL: Not before.

COOPER: Not before.


COOPER: Well, they say the White House Correspondents' Dinner is nerd prom. Is there a stoner prom? Jimmy Kimmel would probably get high fives galore at stoner prom. That is, if anyone remembered to show up.

Until then, we'll always have "The RidicuList."

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