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Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff; Interview With Tennessee Senator Bob Corker

Aired November 26, 2012 - 22:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

We begin with the way Anderson does every night "Keeping Them Honest," not just taking sides, just seeking the truth.

Tonight, talks to diffuse the year-end budget bomb and the difference between Washington progress and real progress. Americans say they want real progress and real give-and-take to get there; 72 percent in our new CNN/ORC poll say they want President Obama to compromise with Republicans on taxes and spending. An identical 72 percent want Republicans to do the same, compromise with the other side.

As for what compromise should entail, 67 percent, more than two in three, favor a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. That's what they say real progress would look like.

"Keeping Them Honest," though, real progress is one thing. Washington progress is another. So far at least we are seeing much more of the second than the first, and we're getting late new word that any progress might be stalled.

More on that shortly. First, a good example of Washington progress. Republican lawmakers standing up in a limited way to a Beltway power broker named Grover Norquist over the 1980s era pledge he pressures them to sign promising not to raise taxes, any taxes ever.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I'm not obligated on the pledge. I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, that the only thing I'm monitoring is the oath that I take when I serve when I'm sworn in this January.


BLITZER: That's Senator Bob Corker, one of a handful of Republican lawmakers repudiating the pledge. He joins us shortly. I will ask him to be more specific about whether that means higher tax rates for high incomes are on the table, something President Obama campaigned and won reelection on.

Senator Lindsey Graham also breaking with Norquist says no on higher tax rates, but is open to more tax revenue by limiting deductions.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm willing to generate revenue. It's fair to ask my party to put revenue on the table. We're below historian averages. I will not raise tax rates to do it. I will cap deductions.


BLITZER: Another lawmaker who is breaking with Norquist agrees.


REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think everything should be on the table. I myself am imposed on tax increases. I'm not going to prejudge it, and I'm just saying we should not be taking ironclad positions.


BLITZER: Late today in "THE SITUATION ROOM," Republican Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip, put a fresh spin on what seems to be the talking points.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MAJORITY WHIP: If the goal is to raise more revenue, what is the best way to do that at the same time protecting the economy? If you're able to gain more revenue by closing special loopholes and limiting them and keeping the rate down so you have better job growth, isn't that a better outcome? And that's what we should be talking about.


BLITZER: Once again, talk of tax deductions and closing loopholes, but a big note of raising tax rates, so a lot of talk but perhaps not much real movement at least for now.

As for Grover Norquist, he told CNN's Soledad O'Brien today that although some Republicans are in his words discussing impure thoughts on television, they won't really act on them.


GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: I have had long conversations with Lindsey Graham. He said I would raise taxes if and then he lists this incredible list of reforms and entitlements that the Democrats would never give him. As I suggested to him, I said, Senator, you're offering to trade a tax increase for a pink unicorn that doesn't exist.


BLITZER: Whether he does or doesn't bet on taxes, pundits here in Washington seem terribly impressed that Senator Graham and others are even talking about going against Grover Norquist.

"Keeping Them Honest," though, outside the Beltway, most people don't know Grover Norquist from Grover on "Sesame Street." Standing up to a lobbyist and even a powerful one is only Washington progress, not real progress, first step, maybe even a necessary one, but only that. So is going on Sunday talk shows as both Republicans and Democrats are doing and talking about flexibility.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: Let the rates go up to 39. Let us also take a look at the deductions. Let's make sure that revenue is an integral part of deficit reduction. Yes, from my side of the table, bring entitlement reform into the conversation.


BLITZER: So far Senator Durbin has limited company among some of his fellow Democrats. "Keeping Them Honest," during the last budget showdown, both sides talked like this, but then they backed away. Also, as we mentioned a moment ago, there are late new signs that nobody is quite ready to cut a deal.

Another round of White House talks between congressional leaders and President Obama was promised but is yet to materialize. A Senate Democratic leadership aide telling us that staff level meetings meant to lay the groundwork haven't been very productive.

Meantime, one Senate Republican leadership aide accuses Democrats of leaking details in order to portray Republicans negatively. But the aide notes that the talks are continuing, which itself can be read as some sort of progress. Whether that's real progress or Washington progress remains to be seen.

A lot to talk about, starting with Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker.

Senator Corker, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's talk about Grover Norquist's no new taxes pledge. You said earlier in your career, you told "CBS Morning News" earlier today -- and I'm quoting now -- you said you're not obligated on the pledge, adding, "The only thing that I'm honoring is the oath that I take when I'm sworn in this January."

So what exactly did you mean by that? Did you suggest, did you mean that under certain circumstances you would be ready to accept an increase in tax rates for the wealthy?

CORKER: Well, I was just elected, as you know, reelected, and our campaign materials during the campaign spelled out that the only pledge I would be honoring would be the pledge of the oath of office that you make when you're sworn in. That's what my comments meant.

Look, I think Republicans have shown a willingness to look at revenues as long as we have entitlement reform. Those are the two ends of the spectrum, Wolf.

It appears to me that Speaker Boehner has been shown flexibility on revenues and it appears to me that the president on entitlements. The point of my op-ed this morning in "The Washington Post" was that, look, it's so much easier for us just to go ahead and make these decisions and put them behind us and start the new year with economic growth, having dealt with these issues, than it is to negotiate some process where we kick the can down the road and deal with this six months from now with a more limited menu and more draconian steps because we have dug a deeper hole.

BLITZER: You're talking about to a certain degree capping deductions, let's say, at $30,000 or $50,000 per household. But what if the Democrats insist and say they're not going to sign any deal unless there's at least some increase in the marginal rate for the wealthy, people making $250,000 a year or more? Right now they are paying 35 percent. It was 39.6 percent as you remember during the Clinton administration.

What if they insist it has got to go up let's say to 37 percent? Is that acceptable under any circumstances?

CORKER: Well, I think the two most important people in these negotiations -- and I think you would agree -- are Speaker Boehner and the president. That's a negotiation that they need to have. Obviously, Speaker Boehner for a bill to pass, it has to pass the House.

What I have attempted to do, Wolf, is to show that there's a way of getting revenues that we need to solve this problem. As long as it is accompanied with entitlement reforms, there's a way of doing that without increasing rates. If people just want to draw a line in the sand and say, no, it has to be my way or the highway, that might be problematic.

But I have tried to lay out a bill, as I -- op-ed today in "The Washington Post" -- that deals with the issues and deals with the revenues that Democrats want to see and candidly and I think all of us know have to be there to truly deal with this issue, but does it in a way that is pro-growth.

BLITZER: Under any of the proposals that you're making, capping deductions, for example, for richer families and for richer Americans, would that according to your interpretation be a violation of that Grover Norquist no new taxes pledge?

CORKER: I think a lot of people made the pledge 20 years ago, 25 years ago, 15 years ago. I think they realize that we're in a very critical time for our country, and that this issue has to be dealt with. Revenues need to be a part of the component, and entitlement reform, true entitlement reform has to be there also in order for us to put this in the rear-view mirror.

BLITZER: Senator, leaders of both parties have suggested that major tax reforms simply is not going to happen over the next few weeks before the new year. Instead, it sounds like there could be an agreement in two steps, a down payment coming right now during the lame-duck session includes revenue from closing loopholes, spending cuts, the hard stuff though, major tax reform, put off until next year. What do you think about that?

CORKER: Wolf, we know what the options are. This Congress, the 112th Congress, has been through two dry runs already. No Congress is more aware of what the options are.

And certainly we can deal with some kind of tax reform next year, but from the standpoint of dealing with this fiscal issue now, it's only a matter of political courage. Again, no other Congress has spent more time on this. We can make the decisions we need to make now.

I am telling you, Wolf, it's much easier to do that technically and write it down and pass it than it is to try to negotiate some process that's likely to fail, like the first two processes have. We're better off just going ahead and ripping the Band-Aid off, making the decisions we need to make and move down the road.

BLITZER: Senator Bob Corker, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck.

CORKER: Thank you, sir. See you later.

Let's bring in the political panel. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is joining us. Our CNN contributor and the "New York Times" columnist Ross Douthat, and the former Obama adviser Van Jones, the co-founder of Rebuild the Dream.

Gloria, even a majority of Republicans in our latest poll, a majority of Republicans said tax increases should be part of the fiscal cliff solution. Add that to the election results and the exit poll results. How much do all those numbers change the political equation for the GOP right now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard to say definitively, Wolf.

I think it changes the equation a little bit. But I think what's more interesting and what you are hearing from Senator Corker and the rest is this sort of semantic question, not arithmetic, but semantics. It's the question of when is a tax increase not really a tax increase? If you don't raise the top rate as you were talking to the senator about before, but you do cap deductions for the wealthy, does that count as a tax increase?

In my book it does count as a tax increase, but would Republicans then be able to say, well, we didn't raise the top rate? So I think what we see going on right now, Wolf, is a lot of theatrics. You see some Republicans in the Senate, and I would argue that the House Republicans are the ones we really need to hear from, because they're the most dug in on the tax question.

You hear some Republicans kind of saying, you know, that's a pledge that was 20 years ago, et cetera, et cetera. Bottom line, Wolf, is you need to have entitlement reform and those spending cuts on the table and you need to have tax increases on the table. Then they can all hold hands and jump off the cliff together.

BLITZER: Ross, even though the styles the Republicans are using to peddle their position right now seems to be shifting, the substance of the position seems to pretty much the same as it's been for a long time. Maybe you disagree?

ROSS DOUTHAT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": No, I actually disagree. I think this is a pretty big shift, and Gloria is right that there's been more of a shift from the Senate than from the House.

But for a long time you had Republicans willing to say, look, we will accept more revenue as long as it's revenue that just comes from growth. You do a tax reform and then you project that economic growth gives you X-amount more tax revenue and so But On. That's not what Bob Corker and others are saying. Now they're willing to say we will set the economic growth component aside. Just do what's called statistic scoring and look at the amount of revenue you get and accept that. That is a big shift.

Corker is pretty up-front about this. It is in saying I didn't take the pledge and so on. It would violate the apparent letter of the Norquist pledge. It's a big concession. The question is, is it a big enough concession given the stronger hand that the president has right now? I think what you are seeing right now would have been the makings of a deal a year-and-a-half ago.

But the question for the White House is, OK, you have Republicans, they conceded this much. What else will they concede? Is it a situation where the White House's goal is saying, look, this is a once in a cycle, once in a generation opportunity to get Republicans to raise taxes; let's see how much revenue we can extract?

BLITZER: Van, you know in exchange for the Republicans biting the bullet, they want Democrats to do the same thing when it comes to entitlement spending. They want cuts and serious cuts, reforms in Medicare and Medicaid. Will the liberal base of the Democratic Party go along with the president if he puts that into the deal?

VAN JONES, FORMER SPECIAL WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Probably not. Part of the reason is because the Democrats are in such a much more commanding position.

You're talking about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. These are programs that are popular and that are working. If you look at Social Security, the CBO says this program is solvent until 2038. You have a hard time convincing ordinary people there's some big emergency there. Meanwhile, the Bush tax cuts are both unpopular and they're not working, they're budget busters.

You will have a hard time getting ordinary people to understand why we should take a chain saw to middle class programs that are working, that are popular, to get Republicans to do something that right now they're going to have to do anyway.


BLITZER: What will the Democrats do to bring in the Republicans, to convince the Republicans they're going to really cut spending?

JONES: Well, I think that spending cuts are on the table right now with regard to defense, which I think is appreciate; 75 percent of Americans say that defense should be cut.

I just think that you're not going to get a 50/50 compromise here. You get a 50/50 when both sides are equidistant from the American people. The Republicans right now are far from the American people. The Democrats are right there. You have got supermajorities that say hands off Medicare and hands off Social Security and defense spending should be cut. I think there's less pressure on Democrats to give away the store here.

BLITZER: But, Gloria, correct me if I'm wrong. Didn't the president when he tried that deal with John Boehner that didn't work out, didn't he agree to significant cuts in Medicare?

BORGER: Yes. He did. He did. There were almost there once before. There are different stories about who moved the goalposts in that negotiation.

But I would argue if I were the president and I were going to Van, I would say, look, this president has an opportunity right now to shape the future of American budgets, the blueprint for the American economy and for American spending priorities for a decade to come in this particular deal.

If I were the president, I would say, look, it's not going to be perfect, but we really do have an opportunity here. And I have an opportunity as president of the United States to lead this country into fiscal solvency if each side gives a little bit.


BORGER: We can't get what is perfect.


BLITZER: Hold on a second, Van. I want Ross to wrap it up.

DOUTHAT: Well, I was just going to say I disagree completely with Van on the policy.

I think over the long run if you look at the growth rate in Medicare and the fact that every year that you don't change Social Security it gets more expensive to fix, there are deep policy reasons why entitlement should be on the table. But on the politics he makes a strong case, and I think the liberal base can go back to the president and say, yes, you have an opportunity to shape the future of American fiscal policy, but why wouldn't you want to extract every last concession you can get?

I think the fact that the Van Jones wing the Democratic Party has some political sense on their side is what makes it hard to cut a deal along the lines we're seeing right now.

BLITZER: Everyone will lose at least in the short term if there's no deal. Taxes will go up for not only wealthy, but for the middle class, and everybody in the country will be paying more taxes and there will be very serious domestic spending cuts and very serious defense cuts if there's no deal.

Van Jones, Ross Douthat, Gloria Borger, guys, thanks very much.

Let us know what you think. Follow us on Twitter @AC360.

Up next, millions celebrated the demise of a dictator, but now they're out on the streets again accusing his democratically successor of trying to become one, a dictator as well. Things are moving fast in Egypt right now. We're going there to take you on the ride.


BLITZER: He was the man of the hour, Egypt's first democratically elected president, broker of the latest Hamas-Israel cease-fire.

Now Mohammed Morsi is being called a would-be dictator and people are protesting. Some are getting killed. Massive crowds today at funeral of a protester who died overnight fatally injured during demonstrations last week against Morsi's edict, putting his decisions beyond judicial review.

Ever since he issued it, the streets have looked like this, just when millions rose to overthrow the dictator Hosni Mubarak. This time, the protesters are accusing President Morsi of a naked power grab. Today he met with members of the country's highest judicial body and emerged saying his edict had been clarified.

But precisely what that clarification really amounts to remains shall we say unclear.

Reza Sayah is joining us now from Cairo with the latest.

Reza, this clarification as Morsi's advisers are calling it, it is actually just a clarification or is this Morsi faced with those protests we have been seeing trying to save face while actually scaling back his decree?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have spoken to the president's office throughout the day, and they say their position is clear that they are not scaling back on these decrees or making any concessions.

But they seem to be reshaping and refocusing their message, and Mr. Morsi's message now is that with these decrees, I didn't amass sweeping dictatorial powers and my decisions are still open to review by the courts except for the decision that has to do with the formation of the parliament and the drafting of the constitution. He says this is his way of bypassing the old remnants of the Mubarak regime that still want to derail the democratic process. He wants to save it.

That message doesn't seem to be winning over the protesters, a few thousand of them still behind me. It's 3:15 a.m., and their numbers seem to be re growing in anticipation of the one million man demonstration scheduled for Tuesday.

BLITZER: As you know, the president's office under great pressure from opposition factions and the judiciary to completely, completely reverse his decrees.

Are there any signs he's actually considering doing that?

SAYAH: The way things stand right now, they are not. We spoke to a top adviser to Mr. Morsi in an exclusive interview and we asked him about the possibility of concessions in mounting pressure, and here's what he had to say.


SAYAH: What kind of concessions are you willing to make?

DR. ESSAM EL-ERIAN, FREEDOM AND JUSTICE PARTY: This decision is up to the president of us.

SAYAH: Is it possible -- is it possible...


EL-ERIAN: We are ready for dialogue with our competitors.

SAYAH: Are you prepared to consider rescinding, adjusting some of these decrees?

EL-ERIAN: Decree is up to the president accepting it. We may have some reservations, but as a whole we must take a step to forward, not to backwards.


SAYAH: That's where the impasse is. Mr. Morsi and his followers are saying, we want to talk. The opposition faction is saying, no talk until these decrees have been rescinded, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the opposition, Reza, viewing all of this as the president, President Morsi and his party supposedly back down?

SAYAH: I think the only time the opposition is going to view Mr. Morsi and his followers as backing down is if he rescinds these decrees, and that hasn't happened yet.

What we also had happen on Monday is the one million man demonstration for the Muslim Brotherhood. That was canceled suddenly on Monday night. They released this statement. They wanted to make sure that no one viewed this as a weakness. They essentially said they canceled it because they were concerned about possible violence, of course. The stage was set for an explosive situation with the one million man demonstration to the opposition and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now a lot are breathing a sigh of relief that that's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Reza is in Cairo. Thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with Stephen Farrell of "The New York Times" who has reported extensively from the Middle East, has written a book actually on Hamas. Also joining us, Robin Wright, Arab affairs, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington.

Robin, you don't think that President Morsi was trying to create a dictatorship overnight, but you think he did go too far. What do you think he was trying to accomplish?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: He did go too far and the timing was terrible, but the context is really important.

Egypt's judiciary had earlier this year dissolved the democratically elected parliament. And there were deep fears that the judiciary was moving in the next couple weeks to dissolve the constituent assembly that was writing new constitution. That would have set Egypt back to square one basically and having to elect a new parliament and from that parliament create a new body to then write a constitution. That's a process that could take a year, year-and-a- half.

This is time Egypt doesn't have. There is a real interest in moving forward and creating solutions to the many problems that have been left behind by the Mubarak era. The problem throughout the region where you see changes is this deep polarization between Islamic parties and secular forces and both sides being deeply afraid the other side is going to create whether it's an Islamic regime or try to take the countries that have undergone democratic transitions back into ought autocratic rule.

BLITZER: Stephen, you say President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, that after spending decades being sidelined by the Mubarak regime, that they're terrified of losing power. Beyond that, though, is there much clarity about their motives in recent days?

STEPHEN FARRELL, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": There doesn't seem to be.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a very opaque organization. It's motivation -- it spent decades out of power and just months in power. This seems to have been a misstep, a misjudgment. The question is, what were the motivations behind it? Was it as some have suggested that Morsi was feeling confident, riding a wave of international approval after brokering a cease-fire in the Gaza operation last week?

Did he think that this was a time to capitalize on it, or was it just simply the fact that they fear that the old regime, the old guard might try to move against them through the courts? I think it's going to become clear. Certainly, he has many, many skeptics doubting his actions. And it looks we are going to seeing them back on the streets.

BLITZER: Robin, you make the point that there's been a fog of transition if you will in Egypt, a crucial point I imagine as far as Washington is concerned given that Egypt has long been such a key ally in the region. Here's the question. Is this just growing pains of a new democracy, or is something darker, more nefarious going on?

WRIGHT: That will probably play out over the next few weeks or months. But at this stage I think it's growing pains.

Remember, President Morsi was eight months ago an unknown engineering professor who has been elevated very quickly to what may arguably be the most important or powerful leadership in the entire Arab world. He's surprised many people in some of his decisions in working with the Israelis during the Gaza war. He did not call for jihad and he did not break off relations with Israel. He was a responsible broker in trying to come to a cease-fire.

Interestingly enough, today was the day talks began in trying to take this fragile cease-fire into something that was more enduring. That will be a very important judge of the caliber of the man, his intentions long term, and the role he will play in the region.

BLITZER: You know, it's funny, because when I was in Israel, Stephen, last week and met with Israeli officials, they were praising President Morsi. They were pretty impressed by what he was doing in trying to deliver a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. What do you think about the role that he played? Will the cease-fire actually last?

FARRELL: Well, that, nobody knows.

But I certainly don't think any questions have been resolved in the long run in Gaza. Both sides have held off. Both sides -- certainly their supporters are claiming they did what had to be done. But they both reserve the rights to carry on doing it in the future. So I think it's very, very unclear what's going to be happening in Gaza, other than I think long-lasting harmony is extremely unlikely.

BLITZER: Quickly to you, Robin, is that cease-fire going to last?

WRIGHT: I think there's greater potential for movement on the peace process than any time in the recent history because there's so many Arab governments in the region, including and particularly in Egypt, that really want to focus on the broader domestic issues, whether it's 40 percent unemployment among young people, creating the kind of solutions that led to these -- to the issues that led to the uprisings in the first place.

So there's enormous pressure to look domestically. There's less interest in promoting or energizing the Arab-Israeli conflict than any time that I can remember, and I have been covering this -- these conflicts since 1973.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Robin Wright, thanks very much. Stephen Farrell, thanks to you as well.

A lot more up happening tonight, including new and horrifying images out of Syria, a video showing the aftermath of aftermath of an airstrike that purportedly hit a playground full of children. It comes as the Assad regime launches a new wave of attacks across the country. We will have an update from a photojournalist who just spent eight days inside Syria -- straight ahead on 360.


BLITZER: A big week on Capitol Hill for the United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice. She's about to face her toughest critics on the Benghazi consulate attacks. Just ahead, which lawmakers she'll be meeting with.


BLITZER: A horrifying scene in Syria. Reports of a massacre on a playground outside Damascus. We have to warn you, the images are extremely graphic, and serve as a reminder that things in Syria remain ugly.

Opposition members who posted this video say it was made right after government planes dropped cluster bombs on a playground Sunday. Ten children reportedly died. Rebels groups believe the attack was retaliation for their recent victory taking control of a nearby airport. CNN cannot verify the video or those claims.

Human rights groups estimate 140 people died today alone across Syria and about 40,000 civilians have been killed since this all began.

The violence now spilling over into neighboring countries, as well. Turkey, once an ally, has turned against Syria, following several deaths there blamed on Syrian forces. That's where freelance journalist -- photojournalist Robert King is tonight after spending last week inside Syria and more than eight months covering the conflict.

Robert, you just left Syria today. You say that this type of bloodshed is happening every day. That Syria has become a place where people are constantly burying their children. Describe what you saw.

ROBERT KING, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Well, Wolf, on this time inside Aleppo, I was witnessing the Dar El Sheba (ph) hospital was being attacked by a Syrian jet fighter. It destroyed the hospital completely. Saw doctors and nurses and assistants scrambling to dig out the wounded, dig out the dead. That was just last week.

And prior to that I've seen fathers unconsolable [SIC], holding their dead children, waiting for taxis. Children that had their heads almost cut off from rocket attacks. I've seen hungry, hungry people.

Now the weather is changing, and it's getting colder, and so I've seen -- in the last eight months that I've been covering this region, I've seen just systemic bombings and indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.

BLITZER: Is it your sense that the regime, the Syrian regime, was targeting the hospital, or was it just indiscriminate bombing that accidentally hit the hospital?

KING: Well, I personally believe that it was directly targeted. The hospital had taken three to four direct hits in the last few months, and there had been a consistent pattern of bombings just around the hospital, whether it was one block to the right or one block to the left. And this bomb actually was dropped precisely on a part of the hospital.

The building that was hit was where the medical administrative staff was located, and also where they would sanitize and sterilize their instruments used in operations. After that bomb hit, their emergency room was completely caved in. Whoever was in there died. There were, except -- I think there were a few people that actually survived and were -- they broke a hole through the back wall of the hospital to help pull these people out.

KING: Robert, the conflict in Syria, as you well know, has been going on now for more than a year ago and a half. Did the people you talk to while you were there, still have faith that president Bashar al Assad's days are numbered?

KING: Yes, I would say so. A lot of the -- the majority of the people I speak with truly believe that Assad will lose Aleppo in the coming months.

Now, I think they really understand that, in order to take Damascus and to overthrow Bashar, might take a few more months than a couple. But they -- I strongly believe, from what I've heard on the ground, that their will to overthrow Bashar is as strong as it was two years ago.

BLITZER: Robert King, thanks very much.

KING: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're following other stories tonight. Isha Sesay joining us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Wolf, U.S. Ambassador the U.N., Susan Rice, is preparing to face some of her toughest critics on the Benghazi consulate attacks.

She's heading to Capitol Hill this week to discuss the incidents with senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, leading vocal critics since Rice initially blamed the murders on protests triggered by an anti-Islam film.

The man behind that movie is speaking out about the backlash for the first time. Mark Basseley Youssef tells "The New York Times" he has no regrets. Youssef is back in prison after violating his probation on a bank fraud conviction.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg is asking Congress for $9.8 billion to clean up the mess left behind by Superstorm Sandy. Bloomberg says the cash is needed to pay for costs not covered by FEMA and insurance companies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Isha, thank you.

Coming up we told you about a town in California mired in corruption charges that have left taxpayers outraged. A town where the former police chief finagled a salary for himself of nearly half a million dollars. You won't believe what that former police chief is doing now. He wants more money from the city. We're "Keeping Them Honest" next.


BLITZER: A stunning twist in the Casey Anthony case. What investigators reportedly missed when they searched her computer. Could it have changed the outcome of her murder trial? That's just ahead on 360.


BLITZER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight about a working class town in California we've told you about before. A town where charges of corruption and fraud have left taxpayers outraged.

The former police chief of Bell, California, made a whopping salary, almost half a million dollars a year, before a corruption case brought down eight leaders in the city government who now face criminal charges.

The former chief wasn't charged in the case, and believe it or not, now he says he wants more money from the city and the state. He's suing to double his already large pension. That is adding major insult to injury for the city's taxpayers, who ended up footing the bill for a level of alleged corruption in local government that's hard to imagine. Kyung Lah reports.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A 22-year veteran of the Bell police force, Sergeant James Cochran, is reminded of the corruption that crushed his town at every turn he takes: boarded-up buildings, vacant homes and lots, and storefront after storefront for lease.

But nowhere is a reminder more stark than his own police station, where he says his former police chief was there for only one reason: greed.

SGT. JAMES COCHRAN, BELL POLICE: He was here for his personal gain. He was not here to better the community. Certainly not here to better us. LAH: He's talking about former police chief Randy Adams, who was pulling in a whopping $457,000 a year for a police force with only 30 officers, way more than top cops in neighboring Los Angeles, Chicago or even New York. Cash put in his pocket by a city manager and others who were paying themselves inflated salaries, the city manager taking home more than a million dollars.


LAH: This was the reaction when the public found out. Outrage, anger boiled over. Prosecutors nabbed eight city leaders, saying they used public funds like a personal piggy bank, looting the working- class city of millions of dollars. They face criminal corruption charges.

Chief Randy Adams wasn't charged, because Adams didn't directly control the city's money. But even a judge wondered in court, "I don't know why he's not a defendant in this case."

So where is Adams today? He lives in Simi Valley, an upper class L.A. suburb 50 miles northwest of Bell, just off of Country Club Drive in a gated community. His five-bedroom, five-bath $800,000 home overlooks a picturesque golf course.

DENISE RODARTE, BELL RESIDENT: Disgusting, and the fact that he's living this lavish lifestyle on the backs of us.

LAH: Bell resident Denise Rodarte calls Adams the one who got away.

RODARTE: Arrogant, cocky, criminal. If I can find the dictionary where it is corrupt police chief, whatever, his picture would be on it. He's the epitome of what is wrong in this country.

LAH: She says that because of these e-mails from 2009 exchanged between Adams and Angela Spaccia, Bell's former assistant city administrator. Adams, negotiating the terms of his new job as Bell police chief wrote, "I am looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money. OK, just a share of it."

Spaccia replies, "LOL. Well, you can take your share of the pie just like us. We will all get fat together." The salary, quietly approved by the former city manager.

DOUG WILLMORE, BELL CITY MANAGER: My jaw drops when you see it.

LAH: Doug Willmore, Bell's new city manager, says he still can't believe what happened and what's still happening. Talking to me in the rundown city council chambers, Willmore says walking away with that half-million-dollar paycheck wasn't enough. The former police chief is now suing the city of Bell for what city sources calculate would amount to $600,000 in severance and unused sick days.

WILLMORE: From this small city, from this poor community, to them, have it revealed, get fired and actually comes back for severance, it's incredible. It's outrageous. LAH: But seeking severance isn't apparently enough. Randy Adams wants more money from the state of California for his pension. Adams is also suing the state to double his pension to half a million dollars a year for the rest of his life. How? His oversized salary in Bell. That was his last job, his highest-paying job, and even though he only held the position for a year, he says his pension should be based on that pay.

(on camera) Hi, Chief Randy Adams. I'm Kyung Lah from CNN.


LAH (voice-over): We caught up with Randy Adams in Simi Valley.

(on camera) The people of the city of Bell saw you milked them for he a salary that was extraordinarily high and now you're trying to do the same thing with the state.

ADAMS: Well, I disagree, of course, with those types of characterizations. And when one day I'm able to tell my complete side of the story, I think you'll see that there is a completely different side to that story.

Unfortunately, I can't really talk at length about it, but that's the situation.

LAH: Do you think you deserve to make double what the LAPD chief made?

ADAMS: I've made all the comments -- I've made all the comments I can make at this time.

LAH: While Adams would not elaborate on camera, I did manage to speak to his attorney by telephone, who says that Adams is a good cop, a lifelong public servant who does deserve to double his pension to half a million dollars a year for that one year of service in Bell. But the people who run California's pension system say absolutely not.

What is he asking for?

ROBERT GLAZIER, CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT SYSTEM: Basically he's trying to double his pension from $19,000 a month, which is far surpassing almost anyone else in our system as a retiree, to about $38,000 a month.

LAH: Does he deserve $38,000 a month from the taxpayers?

GLAZIER: The taxpayers are outraged whenever anyone does something like trying to use fraud and deceit and hide the way in which they got paid. And you don't deserve it and it's not allowed.

LAH (voice-over): A proposed decision by a state board agrees rejecting Adams' appeal to increase his pension, but Adams is appealing. Inside his gated community he awaits a final decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And Kyung Lah is joining us now from Los Angeles. Kyung Lah, do people of Bell believe that Adams only wanted to take the police chief job for a short time so he could boost his pension?

LAH: Well, they believe it's twofold. In the short term, Wolf, they believe that it was that inflated paycheck, but in the long term absolutely. It's called spiking your pension. You just take a job to increase what the state will pay you for the rest of your life. Juking the system is also what it's referred to. But the state pension board also agrees, and that's why they're fighting it.

BLITZER: Why did they pick Adams for the job in the first place?

LAH: Well, it's all who you know, right? Wolf, in this situation, the documents appear to show that it was who he was friends with, and that's what got him into the city of Bell, and that he was merely just trying to cushion that pension pay.

But the people say, "Hey, we don't want this guy. We didn't think he was anything special," and the state agreeing with that. They believe this is a backroom deal. That's why they're also fighting it.

BLITZER: What a report. Kyung Lah, thanks for doing it. Appreciate it very, very much.

Just ahead, the Google searches that reportedly never made it into evidence in Casey Anthony's murder trial. Could they have convinced the jury she murdered her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee?


SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay back with another "360 Bulletin."

A new twist in the Casey Anthony case. Detectives investigating the disappearance of her daughter, Caylee, overlooked more than 1,200 entries on a computer in Anthony's home, including a Google search for fool-proof suffocation methods, according to reports. Anthony was acquitted in Caylee's death last year.

Politics now, and it's official: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie filing the papers and telling reporters he'll be running for re-election next year. He's wildly popular right now in the wake of Sandy, says he loves the job and sees no reason to leave it voluntarily. Expect a formal announcement next month.

And it's time for Powerball fever once again. No one hit the jackpot in Saturday's $325 million drawing. The next drawing is Wednesday, worth an estimated 425 million.

Wolf's back right after this.


BLITZER: That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.