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New Details in Trayvon Martin Case; Vets Charity Rip-off?

Aired May 17, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with breaking news in the Trayvon Martin case. Tonight we have more information than ever before. Brand new pieces in the puzzle on exactly what happened on February 26th, the day George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Now the state of Florida has released a mountain of evidence in the case. Witness statements, medical reports, pictures, video. We're still going through all the evidence, but here's what we found so far. Video of Trayvon Martin's last moments alive. This is surveillance video from the convenience store where Martin bought candy and a drink just before he was shot to death by Zimmerman. Iced tea.

The newly released autopsy report says that Martin died from a gunshot wound to the chest, fired at, quote, "intermediate range." We're going to talk about what that may mean in a moment.

Toxicology tests found THC in Martin's system, indicating marijuana use. Now the autopsy report lists the manner of death as homicide. Zimmerman is charged, obviously, with second-degree murder. He says he shot Martin in self-defense telling police that Martin assaulted him and his head was hit on the pavement.

And tonight we have new photos of Zimmerman from after the incident and a fire department report says he had abrasions to his forehead -- these are new pictures we're seeing -- bleeding and tenderness to his nose and a small laceration to the back of his head when he was treated at the scene.

Also just released a Sanford police report called a capias which is a request for charges to be filed. That report says, in part, quote, "The encounter between the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement, or conversely if he identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen, and initiated dialogue in an effort to dispel each party's concern. There's no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter."

Also in this newly-released evidence -- and again this was just released in the last couple of hours. A report from the FBI which analyzed that call that Zimmerman made to 911. Now there are questions about whether Zimmerman used a racial slur in that call. The FBI could not determine, according to these documents, what the word in question was because the recording quality wasn't good enough, according to this report. .

So there's a lot to talk about tonight. Martin Savidge joins us live.

Martin, you've been covering this case since the beginning. I know you're still sifting through the documents, as we all are. What jumps out at you so far?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you've been just talking about the 911 calls. This is something that the FBI was given the task of trying to review. Remember the FBI from the federal point of view is trying to determine if there is any indication of a hate crime here.

This all goes back, of course, to what was the term that George Zimmerman used when he was on the phone to police that night, and of course, much has been made about f-ing coon, which was a phrase that many people thought they heard, the racial slur, being used which would somehow taint of course and give the impression that maybe George Zimmerman was acting beyond just the capacity and on more than just as a neighborhood watch person.

The FBI analyzed that, went over and over and over it. And basically, as you say, they came out and said they couldn't determine what was said due to the poor quality and the nature of the recording and because of other interference that apparently was heard on the telephone.

OK, moving on. Then the next part of the 911 call. These are the calls coming in from people in the complex reporting there was an altercation. Remember the huge controversy about someone was heard quite clearly pleading for help. Who was that person? Well, Trayvon Martin's family says it was their son. George Zimmerman's family says, no, it was George Zimmerman.

Again, the FBI tried to listen. There were many voices on the tape at that time. There was a caller on the phone overlapping the background noise. Again, they say, due to poor quality and other issues, they couldn't determine. They point out that stress levels also play into it. Both voices could have been overstressed thereby they can't tell who it is.

COOPER: What else jumped out at you?

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, I think what's very interesting is that part you brought up with the capias there as far as what Sanford police determined. All along, we had been told that Sanford police had maintained that this was an issue where George Zimmerman was working and acting appropriately.

We want to show you these pictures here of George Zimmerman's hands. Because much has been made about a fight. Trayvon Martin's hands -- left hand, fourth finger did have a cut. These are George Zimmerman's hands. Totally clean. No appearance of -- that he was duking it out with anyone.

So, you know, you've got the autopsy report that shows something on Trayvon Martin. You've got this that shows George Zimmerman. And then you've got that Sanford police report that says all of this could have been avoided if George Zimmerman had stayed in his car. You're going to bet that the prosecution is going to make much of that.

COOPER: Yes, Martin Savidge, appreciate it.

Joining me now is criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin, and forensic scientist, Larry Kobilinsky of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Sunny, as a former prosecutor, from all the evidence that you've seen, what really jumps out at you?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I don't think that the evidence is inconsistent at all, Anderson, with the prosecutor's affidavit. The prosecutor made it clear in the affidavit that the theory of this case is that George Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin, confronted Trayvon Martin, and some sort of confrontation ensued.

So I still think that the -- that all of these other issues that are being talked about today like the marijuana in Trayvon Martin's blood. Those are nonissues. The real issue is still who started this confrontation? If you look at what the Sanford police department wrote, they believed that this could have all been avoided had George Zimmerman not gotten out of his car and set this boy in action.

COOPER: Mark, is that a big deal to you that the fact that the police report says that the encounter could have been avoided if Zimmerman had stayed in his car?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No. In fact, that's probably never going to come into evidence. That's an argument. That isn't evidence. The problem with everything that was just released today is it seems to undercut much of what was in that -- that probable cause affidavit, which was thin to begin with.

This document dump, that obviously I haven't been through it, you haven't been through it yet, but what's been reported so far certainly does not help the prosecution.

COOPER: What about pot found in Trayvon Martin's system? Do you think that will enter into the trial?

GERAGOS: No, I don't think that that's going to be of any great moment. Most judges, even though it's already in the ether, so to speak, now being reported every where, most judges wouldn't let that in because that's not something. It's not like it's methamphetamine or some other kind of a drug that -- PCP or something like that. THC in a -- they have so much trouble determining at what levels you're under the influence to begin with that I don't think that that's of any great moment. I think what is of significance here are the injuries or lack of injuries on both parties and where those injuries are. And those things are going to be telling. And this idea that somehow some cop wrote that this all could have been avoided if somebody sat in the car, that is not evidence. That's a cop opining on something and frankly, most judges would not let that into evidence.

COOPER: Larry, let's talk about forensics. Because this is really the first time we're starting to look and see some actual forensic evidence and particularly, sort of bullet trajectory and the distance.

According to the report, Trayvon Martin was shot from an intermediate range. The bullet passed through the right ventricle of his heart, the lower lobe of his right lung. That's the picture of the gun. What does that tell you?

LARRY KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC SCIENTIST: Well, it tells us the trajectory was horizontal and straight front to back. It's very consistent with the positioning of the gun and there was one entrance wound, no exit wound. The bullet ended up in the sack surrounding the heart.

COOPER: Does it surprise you there wasn't an exit wound?

KOBILINSKY: No, not necessarily. Sometimes shots will pierce through the tissues. Sometimes they hit bone and fragment. The jacket of the bullet did fragment. It ended up in the lung cavity. But no, there's no surprise here.

COOPER: And intermediate range. What does that mean to you?

KOBILINSKY: Well, you know, there's several possibilities. There's a contact wound where the muzzle is right up against the target. There's a close in distance from zero to six inches. Then there's the intermediate distance which is about six inches to roughly 1.5 feet. And that is what the pathologist is talking about.

The ballistics people that looked at the clothing are saying it's contact but it's very inconsistent with what the autopsy report shows.

COOPER: Those are the level of THC in his system, Mark is saying it's a difficult thing. May not even get into court.

KOBILINSKY: Yes, I got to agree with Mark. First of all, the level is very low. It's at a level where if somebody were using marijuana, let's say, four days earlier, they might find that level in his blood.

COOPER: So it could have been days before.

KOBILINSKY: It probably would have no effect on his behavior.

HOSTIN: But Anderson, I'd like to say what's important, I think, about the intermediate range evidence is that the prosecution's theory is that George Zimmerman was the first aggressor. If that is true then he had a duty to retreat, he had a duty to try to get away, if you had this pretty close range of six inches, that tells me as a prosecutor he wasn't trying to get away.

COOPER: But wait a minute --

HOSTIN: So it's --


COOPER: Intermediate range is not six inches, is it?

HOSTIN: It can --

KOBILINSKY: It's between six inches and a foot and a half.

HOSTIN: That's right.

KOBILINSKY: But it is consistent --

COOPER: That seems very close range.


KOBILINSKY: It's consistent with the struggle.

GERAGOS: That's not as close -- the only thing that's closer than that is to actually put it up, as Larry says, which is a contact.

HOSTIN: That's right.

GERAGOS: So it was not -- apparently, apparently, was not contact, although Larry is right that there has been some indication that it was. But remember, you're talking six inches while people are struggling. That's not --

HOSTIN: But that tells me he wasn't trying to get away.

GERAGOS: That's not a large distance.

HOSTIN: That tells me that he wasn't trying to get away and in fact --


COOPER: You can't read into that.

HOSTIN: I think you can. I think you can. I mean if you're trying to get away from someone then --

COOPER: But somebody could be sitting on you and you could shoot them and not be six inches. It doesn't mean you're --

GERAGOS: Somebody could be pulling back -- somebody could be pulling back to hit you. And there would be six inches --

HOSTIN: But it's not inconsistent with the prosecution's theory that he was the first aggressor and he had a duty to retreat and he didn't do that.

COOPER: Mark, the fact that the FBI voice analysis couldn't determine two important things in this case from a federal standpoint, whether or not there was a racial slur used and who was screaming for help, how significant -- how significant do you think that is?

GERAGOS: It's very significant because I think what the defense will do is the defense is going to move to exclude any kind of relative on either side saying that they can identify the voices there. You've got expert testimony that it's inconclusive. They may let in the layperson's testimony, but certainly there's going to be some kind of a cautionary instruction or there should be a cautionary instruction, so that is significant.

KOBILINSKY: But there is eyewitness testimony that it was Zimmerman who was yelling help. So -- and that is part of the package that was released today. So that is actually part of the totality of evidence that we've got to look and analyzed.



GERAGOS: And that -- and that's different.

HOSTIN: But there are also witnesses that believe --

GERAGOS: Eyewitness testimony --


COOPER: Yes, but the difference -- they believe it. They didn't actually see who was yelling. Those witnesses' account.

HOSTIN: They heard it.

COOPER: They heard it.

HOSTIN: They're earwitnesses.

COOPER: Right.

Listen, Mark Geragos, Sunny Hostin, appreciate it. And Larry Kobilinsky, thank you for your expertise.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google Plus, follow me on Twitter. We're talking about this right now on Twitter @Andersoncooper.

Ahead, how does Trayvon Martin's family feel about the release of this material? We'll talk to one of their attorneys next.


COOPER: One more segment on the breaking news coverage. The release of evidence in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The family of Trayvon Martin said tonight in a statement they support the public release of this information that selective leaked information gave what they call a distorted view of the evidence in the case.

Darrell Parks is an attorney for the Martin family. He joins us now.

Thanks for being with us, Darrell. What else does the Trayvon Martin's family have to say about the release of all this evidence? In particular, are they concerned about the release of the evidence of marijuana in his system may affect peoples' opinion one way or that it may affect a jury if it ever gets to that point?

DARRELL PARKS, ATTORNEY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN'S FAMILY: Well, Anderson, this actually is not new evidence to us. As you know, there was an issue with the trace that was found in his backpack from school. So that issue is an issue that we knew that was already out there and not a major concern to us.

And addressing the issue of the great deal of evidence that was released today, we believe that we still have a very strong case against George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon in this case.

COOPER: The photos of the back of Zimmerman's head the night of the shooting, we see gashes on the back of his head, a cut on his nose, things we hadn't seen clearly in the police station video. Does this at all change for you the narrative of what happened that night?

PARKS: No, not at all. I mean it's always been rather clear that Trayvon was followed by George Zimmerman unprovoked. He finally caught up with him. They exchanged words and there was an altercation. At the end of the day, we also now know that Trayvon was not armed. George Zimmerman was armed. And Trayvon had to fight the gentleman.

And so yes, he should -- I mean Trayvon had to fight a guy who was armed. So the level of injuries that we see in this particular case, yes, he has some injuries, but they are not life-threatening injuries. And so --

COOPER: You're saying he had to fight him. What are you basing that -- on that specifically?

PARKS: Well, if you have someone that's following you, right, and they confront you for whatever reason, right, and you don't know him and that person is armed, it is -- he is not the person who is initiating the action in this case.

COOPER: The FBI, the voice analysis, they could not, according to these reports, could not determine if Zimmerman in fact used a racial slur or who was actually screaming for help. I know Trayvon's mom all along has said that was her child screaming for help.

Does she still say, for a fact, that that was him?

PARKS: Yes. She certainly says that was him. But also I think that the other part of this case that comes into play with that particular audio aspect of it are the earshot witnesses who were -- who have now come forward. So I certainly believe that once you take into perspective the earshot witnesses who will also testify in the case along with the young girlfriend from Miami, that certainly it all comes together.

COOPER: Darrell Parks, appreciate you being on. Thank you.

We are following a number of other stories tonight. Isha is back with the "360 Bulletin." Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, investigators in Mississippi are questioning a man in connection with the shooting death of two drivers killed last week. The shooting have been miles apart on different days and have been linked by ballistics tests. The man questioned is suspected of impersonating a police officer.

Another legal victory for former Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour. The state's Supreme Court today refused to reconsider its decision upholding his right to issue controversial pardons as he was leaving office in January.

Jurors are set to begin deliberating the case against John Edwards. Closing arguments were completed today. The former presidential candidate is accused of using campaign contributions to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter during the 2008 race.

And Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was a victim of a robbery, again. His Washington home was burglared this month. Back in February an armed man broke into Breyer's Caribbean vacation home and robbed him and others of $1,000.

Pretty bad luck, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. It's horrible. All right, Isha, thanks very much.

In the course of our investigation into one group that claims to raise money for disabled veterans. And we've been reporting on this now for -- well, Drew Griffin has been reporting on it for two years. We've been reporting on it for a couple of weeks showing you his reports. We've uncovered yet another charity that asks you to help veterans by opening your wallet.

And a lot of people have donated money. But then they use only a very small percentage of that money to actually help veterans. That's next.


COOPER: GOP strategists come up with a proposal to link President Obama once again to comments by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Reaction has been swift. That's coming up.


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" with a report that will very likely make you very angry, and it should. Especially if you care about veterans and their well-being. We've already done a number of reports on this program about one charity that has raised tens of millions of dollars allegedly for disabled veterans, but they haven't actually given any of that money directly to disabled veterans. Hard to believe.

Now tonight we've learned about another charity that claims to be raising money to help veterans, but it turns out only spends a small amount of the money raised on actually helping veterans.

Now the charity we've already told you about is called the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. That was their seal. The DVNF. According to their own tax filing, they raised nearly $56 million in the past three years. A huge amount of money.

Of that $56 million, we haven't been able to find even one dime that's gone directly to help disabled veterans. Instead, the foundation sends tons of stuff, stuff they got for free to veterans groups. Now the stuff they sent, it hasn't been requested by these veterans groups. It's often not even stuff the groups can use.

They said one veterans group we found thousands of bags of coconut M&Ms. The stuff that the DVNF gets for free sits in boxes until the various veterans groups can figure out what to do with them. What do you do with that, you know, 11,000 bags of M&Ms? Hundreds of pairs of surplus Navy dress shoes this organization sent to a veterans group. The group that got the shoes actually tried to sell them at a yard sale to try to raise money for the things they actually do need.

CNN"s Drew Griffin tracked down the president of the DVNF to try to get some answers. Here's how that went.




(Voice-over): Meet Precilla Wilkewitz, president of the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, who we found at a small VFW office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

WILKEWITZ: Well, this is the Veterans of Foreign Wars and I really didn't think you'd do something like this. And we've agreed to talk to you -- answer your questions.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Nobody has agreed. So -- and so here's the question --


WILKEWITZ: Thank you so much.

GRIFFIN: You've raised over three years and none of the money has gone to any veterans. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You know, I hate it when people said they've agreed to talk to us and in truth that they haven't agreed to talk to us. In the course of investigating the DVNF we uncovered yet another charity that asks you to help veterans by opening your wallets. But then uses only a very small percentage of it to actually help veterans.

This is a completely different group. They call themselves the National Veterans Foundation, but there is a connection to the DVNF. It turns out they both use the same fundraising company. And in both cases, that's where the trail of your money seems to lead.

Drew Griffin is on the trail.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Meeting the needs of veterans and their family.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The 27-year-old National Veterans Foundation would like you to believe it takes your money and puts it right back into its unique program, a national hotline to help veterans with anything. But CNN's investigation has found something the NVF likely doesn't want you to know. Most of your contributions went to pay the private fundraisers they hired.

DANIEL BOROCHOFF, CHARITYWATCH.ORG: Charity Watch gives the National Veterans Foundation an F grade. They're only spending 12 percent on charitable programs and it's costing them $91 to raise $100.

GRIFFIN: Daniel Borochoff runs a non-profit charity watchdog, a group that rates charities based on those charities' own tax filings. Those filings show over the past three years the NVF has taken in $22.3 million in donations and paid out $18.2 million to its fundraisers Brickmill and the parent company, Quadriga Art.

But Borochoff says the filings also show a common tactic used by charities. Part of the money paid Brickmill and Quadriga Art was designated in tax filings to pay for educational awareness promotional materials. Those solicitations for donations that tell you all about the struggles the vets have and why you should donate? That's the educational awareness and promotion material.

BOROCHOFF: The accounting is somewhat confusing to the public and so they can get tricked if they look at these tax forms or look at these superficial reviews of charities on the Internet because what they are doing is they are calling that solicitation that makes you aware of the injured veteran a charitable program, but that's not what people want to pay for. People want to pay to offer substantial aid or assistance to injured veterans and that's not what's happening with this group.

GRIFFIN: The National Veterans Foundation hotline is run out of a fourth floor office in this building near Los Angeles's international airport. The group told us they wouldn't speak on camera. We decided to go and see them any way.

(On camera): Hey, Rich.


GRIFFIN: Yes. Just wanted to ask one more time if we can chat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we said, we told you we -- there are statements we've given you and we're not going to be doing any on camera.

GRIFFIN: So you won't tell me what you told me on the phone on camera that you're disappointed in this Brickmill and Quadriga?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe if you read our statements, it will cover everything that I have said and anything that -- any questions you have.

GRIFFIN: It didn't, that's why I'm here.

Can we take some --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We preferred not on this subject.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Rich Rudnick is the operations director for NVF and over the phone told us the charity hired Brickmill and Quadriga Art in 2008 to start a new donations campaign. "We were told for two years it would be very expensive, then we'd be going into the black. That never happened," Rudnick told us over the phone.

But in person neither Rudnick nor its president, (INAUDIBLE), a man paid $121,000 a year, would tell us anything.

(On camera): Can we take some photos of the guys answering the phone? I mean, this is where the toll free lines --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is a toll free line, but they are busy right now. And we prefer not to -- on this trip.

GRIFFIN: OK. All right. Well, listen. Thanks a lot. And Chad, he's not around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not. Never here in the mornings.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Shortly after the door closed on our cameras, CNN received this statement from the National Veterans Foundation, saying, "Knowing what NVF knows now, it would not have entered into a six-year contract with Quadriga Art and Brickmill."

The National Veterans Foundation says it's now trying to terminate that contract, which doesn't end for another two years. What does Quadriga Art say? Well, it did what it was supposed to do. Increasing the charity's donor base by 700,000 people, but even Quadriga Art admitted to CNN the fundraising efforts did not prove as financially viable as the client had hoped. Quadriga Art says it, too, now wants to end the contract. And despite Brickmill and its parent company Quadriga Art, getting paid more than $18 million, Quadriga Art says it actually lost money.

Daniel Borochoff says baloney.

BOROCHOFF: Really, we have to ask why is this going on? What's the point? Who is benefiting here other than the fundraising company?


COOPER: And Drew Griffin joins me now. Also Ken Bergen, the president and CEO of Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog group.

I got to say, I just find this unbelievable. And Drew, I mean, I applaud your reporting on this because this is outrageous. If people knew that these organizations -- first of all, that first organization has not sent any money directly to disabled veterans. And this one, how much did that guy say? Eighty cents on the dollar goes to the fundraising organization?

GRIFFIN: That's absolutely right. That's what is heartbreaking here. Because behind all these donations are Americans who really want to help these veterans.

That's why this is so disheartening. They are opening up their wallets, thinking they are doing good and putting money directly into the hands of a for-profit company making a killing off this.

COOPER: They have an American flag there. They have POWMIA flag. I mean, if they really cared about veterans, they should shut that organization down. If they are not happy with this contract that they stupidly signed with this fundraising company, shut it down.

How do they sleep at night? I know you can't answer that question, but that's what I'd like to know. How these people sleep at night? The kinds of contracts, Drew, signed by DNVF, they are hard to break. So why did they go down that road? Is it simply to expand their mailing list?

GRIFFIN: Here's what we found out in our reporting. Some of Brick Mill's contracts with really big charitable organizations are specifically detailed with money amounts included, all kind of contract obligations that both sides have to meet, very specific.

These contracts with these two groups that we're talking about, they are rather lose. Not too much specific. It seems that Quadrega Art is driving the legal paper work here.

And these charities are simply, I don't want to put words in their mouth, but they look to me like they've been duped.

COOPER: You monitor these charities. Do you agree that these are folks who have been duped? Do you advise that charities sign these contracts with a marketing firm like Quadriga Arts?

KEN BERGER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CHARITY NAVIGATOR: We say avoid them like the plague. We see this happening over and over again.

COOPER: This is not a surprise to you.

BERGER: No, in fact, we have plenty of zero-rated groups, veterans, police, firefighters, the people who risk their lives in this country and the charities that are associated with them, we see a preponderance of those kind of groups that they sign these kinds of contracts.

Whether it's consciously or they are ignorant and they're made up of volunteers and they're well intentioned. And they figure well, even if it's 99 cents to raise a dollar, well, it's still a penny --

COOPER: I mean, even if somebody is naive, I just wonder, I question how well-intentioned anybody can be if they are spending 99 cents to raise $1. I mean, that's just outrageous?

BERGER: It is. It's horrific. There's no excuse for it. That's why our advice is to avoid these kinds of arrangements like the plague. And if you're a donor, you should run with fear.

COOPER: How much should a charity be -- if their charity has a marketing firm, how much should they be paying out of a dollar that they've raised?

BERGER: We generally say 10 cents on the dollar is a reasonable amount and the best charities. Whether it's internal or through an external source, 10 cents on the dollar is what we see is the highest performer.

COOPER: So Drew, can the IRS or somebody get involved and remove the charitable exemption from some of these charities? Because, I mean, these are all allegedly non-profits, but that guy from the organization who is running it seems to be making more than $100,000.

GRIFFIN: You know, the IRS has rules that they all follow. They all file the tax filings. These kinds of organizations have been protected in the courts. Part of this is under the free speech amendments.

I don't see really where the IRS can get in and do much of anything here. I do see where there's a lot of value in donor beware. Look up these groups.

Figure out where exactly the money is going and find out, you know, am I really giving money to fundraisers or am I giving it to people?

COOPER: For them to claim that part of what they're doing is educating people about the needs of veterans and what that education is their own commercials, which that's just about fundraising. I mean, that's just slide of hand. That's manipulative and lying.

Your organization, Charity Navigator, which monitors these things, the DVNF, you haven't rated because they haven't been around for more than four years. You did review this group, The National Veterans Foundation. You actually gave them a three-star rating. Based on what you now know, would you want to take another look at that?

BERGER: Yes, we're definitely going to check it out. I mean, we have a very negative rating of the organization for its fundraising and its finances in general are below standard, but we'll definitely have a second look.

COOPER: What should people -- I mean, look, there are so many good-hearted people. The fact that DVNF was able to make $56 million over three years from people's donations show you how good-hearted and how much people want to help veterans. What should people look for before giving money?

BERGER: Well, in situations -- generally or specific with veterans groups?

COOPER: Generally.

BERGER: Well, first thing is to make sure that the group is transparent. One of the things right away we say is if you contact a group, if you call a group and they refuse to talk to you, in any regard whether it's the media or individual, be very afraid.

COOPER: And you have been trying to talk to DVNF for two years now?

GRIFFIN: Yes. I have. They just stone walled us all the way. If you get a call, if you're solicited on the street, our general advice is to walk away.

COOPER: If you get a cold call from somebody at home saying they are from this veterans group, whatever, walk away.

BERGER: You don't know what you're running into. You could be in a disaster where 99 cents, 100 cents on a dollar could be going to the telemarketing company.

COOPER: It's also is outrageous because it makes people suspicious of other good veterans groups. I mean, I have worked with Fisher House, which is a great group. You gave it a very good rating.

They do amazing work. Yet the fear is if people give money to this group that doesn't actually give out any money, they are not going to give money to reputable charities.

BERGER: Right, so it not only hurts this group, but it hurts the whole sector because it damages the public trust. They wonder if this is going on here, how can I trust?

The message that people need to know is do some research and you can avoid of a lot of this because there's some tremendous groups out there that really need your support.

COOPER: Anybody out there who wants to give money should go to Charity Navigator. You'll get a sense of what other good groups are out there that help vets or firefighters or any other kind of charity.

BERGER: Absolutely, yes.

COOPER: I appreciate, Ken, the work you're doing. Drew, we're going to keep on this. It's unbelievable. It's mind boggling to me. Again, if you're looking for reputable veteran charities, you can donate your money.

Go to our web site for more information or to or have a link to Charity Navigator on our web site as well.

Remember President Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. All President Obama's opponents tried to link him to Wright's controversial race-related comments back in 2008.

Four years later, a group of high profile Republicans has pitched an elaborate ad campaign to reignite the issue. It seems to have been rejected, but is it going to pop up somewhere else? Raw Politics ahead.


COOPER: An alligator almost bites a man's arm off. The attack caught on camera. The story behind the video ahead.


COOPER: In "Raw Politics," the power of "Super PACs." Reported in "New York Times" about a proposal for racially tinged Anti-Obama ad campaign is putting the spotlight back on "Super PACs."

The proposal, which was leaked in "The New York Times" was pitched by Republican strategist working with a billionaire named Joe Ricketts who runs a "Super PAC" called the "Ending Spending Action Fund."

The ads as described linked President Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual advisor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It seemed Reverend Wright who's race-related comments made him an issue in the 2008 campaign.

So much so that President Obama distanced himself from Wright publicly. John McCain did not try to capitalize on the issue in 2008. Here's what he said back then.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have made my position very clear on this issue, and that I do not believe that Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme statements or views.


COOPER: At the time, some Republicans criticized McCain for not focusing more on the issue. Four years later, someone resurrect it. Ricketts and the "Super PAC" passed on the proposal.

The "Super PAC's" president said in a statement, not only was this plan merely a proposal, one of several submitted to the "Ending Spending Action Fund" by third-party vendors, but reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects."

And it was never a plan to be accepted, but only a suggestion for direction to take. And Romney also disavows the proposal today.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make it very clear I repudiate that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a "PAC" or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America.


COOPER: Pretty unambiguous right there. Many Democrats though are doubting Mr. Romney's sincerity to that statement. Point to the fact that back in February, Romney himself brought up Reverend Wright in a radio interview.


ROMNEY: I'm not sure which is worse, him listening to Reverend Wright or him saying that we must be a less than Christian nation.


COOPER: It's still early days in the campaign. This is already making for some very raw politics. Earlier, I talked to Democratic strategist and Obama pollster, Cornell Belcher and Republican consultant, political contributor, Alex Castellanos.


COOPER: So, Cornell, even if this ad campaign never happens, do you expect spots like this by some, you know, "Super PAC" out there? And do you think they could be effective?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, two things. One is I think the last thing Republicans want is for some millionaire nut job, you know, spending millions and millions of dollars taking the nominee off message.

If you're the Republican nominee, it's just basic politics. You want to sort of be talking about the economy and jobs and trying to contrast yourself with the president on that.

To get into these issues, you know, to spend millions of dollars and have the nominee move off track and talk about issues that quite frankly don't create a job, you know, doesn't keep anyone in their house. It doesn't help with unemployment or mortgage payments, whatsoever, I mean, that's a nightmare for Republicans. COOPER: Alex, clearly someone on the Republican side thinks this is a good idea. They came up with the idea. It's been rejected apparently by the Romney campaign. Why do you think these ideas are still floating out there?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, it's not a sufficiently good idea apparently that it got any money. Why? Because I think there are people on both ends of the political spectrum out there.

Perhaps some rich and not particularly capable folks who may have an idea that they feel is unexpressed and as long as there are people with money, there are probably people out there willing to take it and run a campaign like this.

This was litigated in the last campaign. It would actually turn out to be one of President Obama's better moments responding to the Reverend Wright situation.

And if I recall correctly, he was elected after this. So you know, the problem, I think, is electricity. If you let some political people near electricity, they make dumb commercials and blow up their campaigns. So we have to do something about electricity.

COOPER: Cornell, your team turned around and said that Romney hadn't done enough to condemn character assassination from his supporters. I mean, do you really think that's true? Do you believe that somehow Mitt Romney bares responsibility for this at all because he had nothing to do with it.

BELCHER: I think and I don't speak for the campaign, I can barely speak for myself. I think some of those comments came out early before Mitt Romney came out in sort of a couple of different times now and has backed off.

Look, I think this sort of ugly politics on both sides. We can be bipartisan on this, on both sides. I think we should call for a stand down on this sort of thing.

COOPER: Alex, Mitt Romney and his team have both been accusing the president's campaign of character assassination over the Bain ads. They did it again today. Is that really a fair assessment?

I mean, on the Bain ads, Mitt Romney has been running on his business experience saying it's all about job creation. How does bringing that up amount to character assassination?

CASTELLANOS: Because it's what you do with it. It's one thing to say that someone is incapable or may not be up to the job. It's another thing to say that Mitt Romney is an evil man who hates people and is out to destroy jobs.

Same kind of attacks that we see even from the president who says on the one hand we shouldn't question anybody's patriotism, but Republicans are putting politics ahead of their country. It's all over politics now. There's a lot of demonizing someone's character as opposed to just talking about the issues and the choice the country needs to make. You know, Anderson, it's a little bit like Vietnam. America got sick of Vietnam.

Not just the tragic loss of life, but it brought out the worst in us. It put one American against another. We're almost at that point now. It's the thing we hate about Washington. Everybody is at each other's throats.

And this campaign, I think particularly the Obama campaign, is asking us to be at everybody's throats, rich against poor, employer against employee, men against women. That's not the kind of country we want to be. Obama ran a better campaign last time when he was for hope and change and not division.

COOPER: So, Alex, you don't want to hear Republicans questioning the president's patriotism or where he's an American or where he's born?

CASTELLANOS: You know, I do, and just like this commercial we were just talking about, Anderson, it's not very productive when we do it.

COOPER: Cornell?

BELCHER: You know, Alex is conveniently nice guy now. It's one of the most vicious ads you have ever seen in your life.

CASTELLANOS: I'm kinder and gentler now.

BELCHER: You are because you're in Florida. Look, the bottom line is, look, he's making his experience the center piece of his conversation about creating jobs.

Alex, you know very well if you were on the other side, you would in fact look at his business experience and find out what in fact his business experience says about him.

And his business experience says about him that he's done a lot of cutting salaries, laying people off, maximizing profit for himself. That's fine.

But the question we have to ask is that what we want in the White House? Do we want someone who spent their life cutting jobs and maximizing their profit at this time? That's fair.

COOPER: All right, Cornell Belcher, Alex Castellanos, thanks. Appreciate it.

Donna Summer has died. We'll remember her life and music when we continue.


COOPER: Isha is back with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Donna Summer, the queen of disco has died at the age of 63. Summer's hits included "Last Dance, Hot Stuff and She Worked Hard For the Money." Her publicist says Summer had cancer.

An autopsy report shows Mary Kennedy, the estrange wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. died in an apparent suicide. The cause of her death is asphyxiation due to hanging. The mother of four children was found on the property of their Bedford, New York home.

The second plaintiff of accusing John Travolta of sexual battery has also fired his lawyer and dropped the lawsuit, but the case could move into another court. The two accusers have hired a new attorney. The massage therapist claimed the actor groped them in January. Travolta's lawyers called the charges ridiculous.

Mortgage rates have hit record lows yet again. The 30-year fixed rate is now 3.79 percent while the 15-year fixed is now 3.04 percent.

Anderson, a North Carolina biologist is one lucky man. While attempting to capture an alligator sitting in a ditch near some homes, the animal, as you see there, attacked and bit him on the arm. He managed to get away from the gator and thankfully the bite was not serious. But it's really scary to watch.

COOPER: Yikes.

SESAY: Yikes is right.

COOPER: All right, Isha. Thanks.

Tonight, I'm taking upon myself to defend pale people everywhere. "The Ridiculist" just ahead.


COOPER: Time for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding a portion of the society that I like to refer to as paleness haters. You're out there laughing. You know what? Maybe if there wasn't so much snickering about pale folks, there wouldn't be moments like this on the local news.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, snow is crippling much of the Washington lowlands.


COOPER: All right, she got caught on an open mic. No big deal. She picked up and moved on with the weather forecast. It happens to the best of us. If my microphone was open during the commercials. That's all you'd hear me talking about how pale I am, and of course, me yelling at the crew.

I get it though being pale -- they are laughing. Being pale has its downside. I might be a translucent national treasure with piercing blue eyes, but the reality is that I'm never going to have the rich, leathery glow of George Hamilton.

And yes, that's my new head shot. You know what? It's OK. Pale is beautiful. If you disagree, you can take it up with my pale sister Tilda Swinton. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that she doesn't have time for your pale-hating bologna.

Neither I'm sure that Mr. Gary Bussey. Pale, maybe a little, but stable without a doubt. Speaking of stable, it's not just Gary Bussey who knows what it's like to be on the pale side. It's also the horse that looks like Gary Bussey. Remember on?

Right on, my pale friend, right on. Then there's that poor cat. You know the cat I mean. That cat doesn't worry about being pale. Let me tell you that cat doesn't worry about being pale. The only thing that cat worries about is being too good looking.

All right, hold on. I'm reminded of something. If we could, I'd like to pause a moment and check in with Larry King. Larry. It's good to check in with him from time to time. Back to being pale, I get how it's maybe not the most desirable appearance.

I get that a healthy base tan is sometimes optimal. In fact, I'll admit it's a stunning look. I mean, it's not like anything could ever go wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been tanning my whole life, going to the beach, tanning salons, and so forth.


COOPER: And so forth is the understatement of the decade. I still can't even wrap my mind around that. And apparently, now she's turned into some sort of deep fried paparazzi magnet over there in New Jersey. It's all too much. So say what you will, pale haters, but you might want to consider the flip side on "The Ridiculist."

That does it for us. We'll see you yet in 10 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching. Join us one hour from now. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.