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Syria Using Chemical Weapons?; Roommate of UCF Gunman Speaks Out

Aired March 19, 2013 - 22:00   ET


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

We got breaking news tonight -- 10 years after we failed to find chemical weapons in Iraq, new reports that Bashar al-Assad is possibly using the chemical weapons that we know he has right now.

Also tonight, it could have been a massacre on a college campus. Tonight, you're going to hear from the roommate of a would-be campus killer. He came face to face, eye to eye with a rifle-wielding student and lived to tell about it, possibly preventing the murders of other students on campus. You're going to hear from one very brave and lucky young man tonight.

Plus, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, she claims that President Obama's wasting your money on his lavish lifestyle. But where is she getting her facts? Well, we tracked her down today and asked her and wait until you see how she responded. She basically wouldn't stop walking or running almost, "Keeping Them Honest."

We begin, though, with breaking news, news that could just trigger military action by the United States in Syria. The news tonight, the possibility that the regime in Syria, which has already shown itself capable of doing almost anything to its own people, might be doing the one thing that could trigger American military action, might be using chemical weapons, crossing a red line that President Obama himself laid down.

Now, if they have used chemical weapons, that would leave the president with a major challenge as he heads tonight to Israel, which shares a border, of course, with Syria.

Now, the suggestion that chemical weapons might have been used came just a few hours ago today from Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer there is -- quote -- "a high probability chemical weapons were used." He said a high probability.

Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic colleague, today said -- quote -- "The White House has to make some kind of decision on this."

Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is already in Israel. She joins us now by phone.

So, Jessica, you have Senator Feinstein saying just a short time ago -- quote -- "I think the probabilities are very high that we're going into some very dark times. And I think the White House needs to be prepared."

The White House seems to be more cautious today. Where do they stand in all this?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, White House officials say they are still assessing reports that chemical weapons are used. And so cautious is the right word.

But we know that the president has said the use of chemical weapons, as you say, is a red line. And he's gone further and said that if Assad crosses it, there will be -- quote -- "consequences." He has said, you will be held accountable.

Today, his chief of staff said on CNN that it would be a game changer if, in fact, chemical weapons were used. Now, the president has not specified what he means exactly when he says Assad or his regime would be held accountable. There have been reports that the U.S. has developed a plan for direct action against Syria, but there's no indication the president would necessary pursue it.

And let's just be realistic. It's hard to imagine that the U.S. would take any direction action to Syria when the president is visiting the neighborhood. As you point out, he arrives here in Israel in less than 24 hours, Anderson.

COOPER: And Marine One has just landed at Andrews Air Force Base. There you see it happening. Again, the president will surely be getting on Air Force One heading toward Israel.

Jessica, the president, as you said, is in the region. It does add pressure to the president's trip, particularly in Israel if, in fact, chemical weapons have been used in neighboring Syria.

YELLIN: Absolutely.

Look, Syria was always going to be a part of the discussion while he's here, but now it threatens to overshadow the other issues. It certainly thrusts Syria front and center into the top of the agenda. Israelis are focused on this because the increasing desperation of the Assad regime has made them very aware of the fact that chemical weapons used is a threat to Israelis and their stability for a number of reasons, because it's so close, as you pointed out, shares the border.

The use of chemical weapons in Syria could threaten some Israelis. It also creates a refugee challenge because Israel would probably opens its borders, bring in some refugees if they fled. It's also a very real challenge for Jordan and that will be the president's next stop after he spends several days here in Israel. Jordan has already taken in many thousands of Syrian refugees and would no doubt face the need to take in many more were chemical weapons...

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Jessica, stick around as we continue to watch images of Marine One just having landed, the guards getting off and the president about to come out to get on Air Force One.

I want to bring in CNN contributor Bob Baer and Fran Townsend. Bob is a former CIA officer with deep experience in the region. Fran served as homeland security adviser to the Bush 43 administration. She currently sits on the CIA External Advisory Committee.

Fran, if we take Senator Feinstein at her word that there's a "high probability" that these weapons have been used, that this is "serious" and that it may well take some action, what does that action exactly look like? Because a simple airstrike wouldn't be enough, would it?


First, Anderson, as you said, is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She's not sort of guessing, right? We have to presume she's been briefed and there's a basis for her statement. So we ought to take that pretty seriously.

She also went onto say that the U.S. is working to verify that. But they will be able to do that in pretty short order. What that means, Anderson, is obviously you can't do what you did in Libya, which is just only airstrikes using a coalition.

You are going to need some forces on the ground. U.S. and our allies have been training forces just across the border in Jordan because we understood there are known to be about four dozen chemical weapons sites. And that underscores the magnitude of this problem. The president presumably will want to put a coalition together. It will take a lot of people to be able to do this effectively. It will require air assets but it will also require ground forces.

COOPER: Bob, obviously a lot of viewers when they hear the idea that there may be chemical weapons, A., obviously there's a lot of concern. But there will be a lot of skepticism based on what happened in Iraq. How does anyone know that chemical weapons have actually been used? How is that verified 100 percent that they have been used?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There are Western groups around Aleppo where these weapons were apparently used.

They will be able to send evidence out in the next couple of days. The traces of this on the skin will be obvious for doctors that know what they're looking at. They will figure out what kind it was. I think it was a fairly light chemical weapon, maybe chlorine. Early reports are saying this. So I think we will know pretty sure in the next two or three days.

We will have people who have been taken out to Turkey and the rest of it. I think Dianne Feinstein is absolutely right. If these weapons were used, we have crossed the threshold. Syria is completely a mess now, chaotic. The resistance groups, the opposition are broken up into little pieces. You have got al Qaeda there. We simply cannot let it happen that al Qaeda gets these weapons or that the regime turns them loose on the cities. Something is going to happen very soon.

COOPER: Well, Bob, why can't you just bomb these sites?

BAER: They're saying they're in a dozen sites. You cannot know for sure whether they have been dispersed. And if you do bomb them, you run the risk of the Syrians escalating by bombing Israel, for instance. It's not beyond them.

As Dianne Feinstein said, these people are desperate, the regime. More and more cities are following in areas. And as we have said all along, they will use these things. And something has to happen.

You also have to look at Syria has become a proxy war for Iran, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Everybody is pouring arms into the country. You know, the situation cannot continue as it is without running into a catastrophe that would involve chemical weapons.

COOPER: Fran, we see the president about to take off for Israel, what goes on in the White House in a situation like this, particularly when the president is heading to the region?

TOWNSEND: Well, Anderson, you can presume the Secret Service would have naturally advised him that it was -- advised him not to go. I think if the president is getting on Air Force One, he's doing exactly the right thing as a leader.

But what you would have done was taken he and his entire detail through a chemical weapons drill. What happens? They each carry little yellow packs that allow them several hours of air so that they could get to a safe and clean site. But you would have taken them while they are on the plane through a complete drill about what to expect and what the safety and decontamination procedures would be.

Certainly, that's what I would have done when I was in the White House. I presume that's what they are doing tonight on the plane.

COOPER: Bob, again, I just want to read to our viewers part of what Dianne Feinstein said.

"I think the probabilities are very high that we are going into some very dark times."

The Assad regime, though, is saying the rebels are the ones that have used chemical weapons. The rebels are saying the Assad regime has used them. Each side obviously has an incentive to accuse the other of using the weapons. How do you prove who actually used them?

BAER: Well, that's the whole problem.

The intelligence is just awful on Syria. We are not in touch with the groups that are fighting. We are in touch with the exiles. We're not in touch with the regime. Neither side could be blamed. But the point is that once the chemical weapons come out that's the beginning of chaos and that's when there is no choice. Somebody has got to -- it doesn't matter what it is.

Put a blockade on the country. Stop weapons from going in. Don't let the artillery be deployed. You can check this from the air. You can counter it, anything to prevent, you know, especially sarin from being used, would put this conflict in another realm.

COOPER: Fran, the rebels say they don't have the capability of even using chemical weapons. Do you buy that?

TOWNSEND: I do buy that.

But you worry that if you put -- what you really worry about is the Assad regime loading these chemical weapons onto a missile. We have seen them recently bomb inside Lebanon. You can understand all of the neighbors are rightly concerned that the regime itself has got the capability to load this onto a missile.

No reason to think that the rebels do have the capability, but you worry about if they were inclined to try and use the chemical weapon that you put it with an explosive and you get some aerosolization of the weapon if you put it together with even a crude explosion. So, there is less concern if it's the rebels and certainly more concern to the neighbors if it is the regime.

COOPER: And, Fran, can you just explain again why can't you just bomb these sites? I know there's multiple sites. But would that actually destroy the weapons? Or does it not destroy them? Why do you need boots on the ground, actual troops on the ground?

TOWNSEND: Well, the concern, Anderson, as you talk to folks who have been involved in military planning is that an airstrike will actually -- the detonation itself will take the chemical weapon and raise it up into the air and allow it to spread.

And it puts more Syrian civilians at risk. So, what you want to do is minimize the potential for casualties and contamination. So you're better off -- if there is the option to try and secure the site without using air assets, you want to do that. I think that's why you have seen the training of militaries in Jordan and in the region.

COOPER: Yes, a very risky operation, obviously.

Fran, appreciate your expertise, Bob Baer as well, as we see the president about to take off for Israel. Jessica Yellin is there and she will be following our coverage and reporting for us from there. Jessica, thank you.

Let us know what you think. If the Syrian regime has used these weapons, the regime, what do you think the U.S. should do? Let's talk about it on Twitter during the commercial break @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Coming up next, new video of police rushing the campus, the campus that could easily have become a vast killing ground. Also a 360 exclusive -- we will talk to the would-be killer's roommate. He talks about how the first real eye-to-eye contact he made with his roommate might have been his last on earth. He opened his door. His roommate had a rifle staring right at him. Amazing how he survived. That's the man, the potential gunman who ended up killing himself.

Later, spring may be coming. Winter is not going. We will show you who's getting hit right now and why there could be more to come. We will be right back.


COOPER: Hey. Welcome back.

Tonight, we are learning just how close the University of Central Florida came to a massacre. Today, campus police released this video showing the moment they entered the dorm room where a 30-year-old former student still living on campus had just committed suicide.

Once inside, officers not only found his body. They also say they found an arsenal of guns, ammunition and explosives along with a chilling checklist suggesting that that guy was one step away from a rampage on a massive scale. The officers were there responding to a 911 call from his roommate, who I spoke with just a short time ago today. We're going to bring you that exclusive interview in a moment.

But, first, Ed Lavandera takes a closer look at exactly what happened there.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after midnight on Monday morning, the fire alarm starts blaring inside this dormitory at the University of Central Florida campus. Arabo Babakhani calls 911 after he looks out of his bedroom to find his roommate pointing a gun right at him.

ARABO BABAKHANI, STUDENT: My roommate just pulled a fire alarm and he's got a gun out.

911 OPERATOR: All right. Where are you at?

BABAKHANI: I'm in the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The fire alarm went off. I opened the door to see what was going on and he's there with, like, some sort of, like, gun, like, large assault gun. I don't know if it's a real gun. I don't know what it is. But I just saw it and I slammed my door shut and locked it.

911 OPERATOR: All right. Are you in your room now? Secured in your room?

BABAKHANI: Yes. Yes. I'm in the bathroom.

LAVANDERA: When campus police arrived at the scene, they make their way to the gunman's dorm room. This might be disturbing for some to watch. But police find 30-year-old James Oliver Seevakumaran lying dead on the floor from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

They also found out that he apparently was planning a massacre. Police say there were four homemade guns inside a backpack, multiple firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

RICHARD BEARY, UCF POLICE CHIEF: I don't think that you acquire 210-round magazines and numerous .22 capacity magazines and that you purchase 1,000 rounds of ammunition and that you purchase the .45 ammunition. I don't think you just do that as a joke.

LAVANDERA: Investigators also say they found this writing on a piece of paper laying out a sort of timeline of what Seevakumaran planned to do, scratching off items as he went down the list.

The first item on his list was to go to this bar called The Mad Hatter across the street from the campus to first -- quote -- "get drunk, then get equipped, take a shower and shave up." The note reads to put on YouTube and instructions to pull the alarm and the last item read, "Good luck and give them hell."

BEARY: There is no motive. The notes, as I talked about yesterday, just lay out a timeline. And that timeline was go to Mad Hatter's, drink. And I will try to make that available as well. But there was no specific threat in it. There was nothing like that. So, he just had the timeline. One of the interesting things that we did find going back over the evidence is as he did each thing he actually scratched them off on the list. That was -- and the list stops with pull the fire alarm.

LAVANDERA: We don't know who he planned to target, but investigators say he was acting as a lone wolf. Officials at the University of Central Florida say they discovered these items that were ordered online and delivered to the campus, but Seevakumaran never picked them up from the mail room.

BEARY: What was in the mail waiting for the deceased were two .22 round magazines that were designed for the GSG weapon that he had. There was also a Black Hawk tactical sling designed to fit that particular weapon. And there was also a training DVD on proper shooting and use of lasers.


COOPER: Well, Ed Lavandera is live on the UCF campus in Orlando.

Is the would-be killer's family saying anything tonight?

LAVANDERA: This is what's kind of interesting, Anderson. Yesterday, authorities here had described this would-be killer as a loner, someone who showed antisocial behavior.

And his own parents put out a short statement this afternoon saying that they wanted to be left alone, did not want to answer any more questions from the media, but simply described their son as a loner -- quote -- "loner," and someone who had showed no signs or had any history of violence at all. It was interesting that his own parents called him a loner as well.

COOPER: Ed, I appreciate the reporting.

Now only on this program, on 360, the would-be killer's roommate, Arabo BABAKHANI: and campus reporter Christie Jauch join me.

B.K., let me start with you.

Can you try to take us through what happened? You heard the fire alarm, you started to leave your room. Then what happened?

BABAKHANI: Usually, when the fire alarm goes off in my apartment, it's just somebody burning something on the stove. So, I opened my door to see what was burning. But I didn't see any smoke or anything. I just saw my roommate James just standing in front of me, approximately like (AUDIO GAP) feet in front of me with some sort of assault rifle.

And he had it pointed down at the ground, but he just -- as soon as I opened the door, he just made eye contact with me and just started raising it towards my head.

COOPER: When he made eye contact with you, what did he look like? What was his expression?

BABAKHANI: He just had a really cold, hard stare.

COOPER: So you guys weren't exactly friends?

BABAKHANI: No. I lived with him -- I moved into my apartment at the beginning of fall semester, fall of 2012. And, you know, I have tried to get to know him and stuff. But, no, we're not friends. He's just very antisocial. He doesn't want to know me. He doesn't want to make friends. He just keeps to himself.

COOPER: So you open your door and you see him standing there, the rifle is pointed down, and he looks -- he makes eye contact with you. Then what happened?

BABAKHANI: Well, he instantly just raised his rifle at me. And before he could get it all the way up, I just slammed the door. I was -- I was not trying to -- I was not going to let him shoot me. I just slammed the door, and locked it. And I moved away from the door in case he fired at the door.

I took some cover in my room so he wouldn't, like, be able to -- the bullets wouldn't be able to penetrate anything. And then I just called 911. And they pretty much handled it from there.

COOPER: We actually have the 911 tape. You can hear the alarm going off as you're talking to the authorities. I just want to play that for our viewers.


BABAKHANI: My roommate just pulled a fire alarm and he's got a gun out.

911 OPERATOR: All right. Where are you at?

BABAKHANI: I'm in the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The fire alarm went off. I opened the door to see what was going on and he's there with, like, some sort of, like, gun, like, large assault gun. I don't know if it's a real gun. I don't know what it is. But I just saw it and I slammed my door shut and locked it.

911 OPERATOR: All right. Are you in your room now? Secured in your room?

BABAKHANI: Yes. Yes. I'm in the bathroom.


COOPER: I'm amazed how calm you sound. What was going through your mind? Were you afraid he was going to, you know, shoot his way into the room?

BABAKHANI: Yes. That was one of my concerns.

I wasn't -- I was definitely scared, but I was scared but calm. I was just taking cover like in my room behind objects, initially, the chest drawers and then later when I moved to the bathroom just behind the cabinet, just so that if he did fire at the wall on the other side that he wouldn't be able to hit me. And that's part of the reason why I was able to, like, not panic so much.

COOPER: He actually wasn't enrolled in school for the semester because he failed to pay his tuition. Did he seem angry because of that? Had he talked to you about that at all?

BABAKHANI: I asked him why he's not enrolled in classes, and he said because he signed up too late or something, which I knew that was a lie, but I didn't really press him too much about it. I knew he was having money problems because of the whole process with him getting evicted from the apartment.

And he was having trouble at work, too. I think his hours got cut recently. And he just -- he wasn't making a lot of money.

COOPER: Do you have any idea why he might have done this?

BABAKHANI: I think he was just in a corner. It just made for a very solitary person that -- I don't know. I guess he just saw suicide as an easier way out than where he was at.

COOPER: Did you hear that gunshot?


I didn't realize it was a gunshot at the time, because I was in the bathroom and he was like two rooms over. There was a fire alarm going off. But I heard like one or two pops. And I later understood that that's -- that was the gunshot.

COOPER: Christie, I want to bring you in here. You have been reporting this story on campus. What's the reaction on campus to all of this?

CHRISTIE JAUCH, "UCF KNIGHTLY NEWS": You know, everybody's very flustered. No one knows what to think., you know, why he would do this type of thing. So everybody's just very happy that, you know, nobody was -- else with was hurt in this. It could have been a lot worse. Thank God for our hero.

COOPER: Folks on campus consider B.K. a hero because he was able to think straight and call the authorities.

JAUCH: Definitely. I have several friends in tower one that were all there at the time who could have been hurt, you know, if it wasn't for B.K. calling 911 and, you know, getting the police there as quick as possible.

COOPER: Well, B.K., it really is extraordinary how calm you were able to remain. A lot of people would have not been able to do that. And thank you so much for talking to us. I'm sorry for what you have been through.

And, Christie as well, thanks so much for being with us.

JAUCH: No problem.

BABAKHANI: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: An incredibly lucky young man.

Up next, on the eve of spring, cue the snow. A late winter storm has New England and the Upper Midwest digging out again. We will show you who got hit hardest and where the storm is heading.

Also ahead, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, she is saying President Obama is wasting her tax dollars on extravagant perks for his family and even his dog, Bo. But she has said some stuff in the past that really has no facts to back it up. So, we wanted to ask where she got her facts this time. Well, guess what?

We will show you what happened when Dana Bash tracked her down, "Keeping Them Honest."


COOPER: Well, spring is just hours away in this half of the hemisphere but winter apparently did not get the memo. This is how New England is welcoming spring. More snow and a lot of it. A late winter storm forced another round of school closures. The Upper Midwest also got hit with another blast of winter. The South isn't off the hook either in the severe weather department. Allison Kosik has the latest on the wild winter weather.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ALLISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The calendar says spring, but Mother Nature is playing by her own rules, dumping about a foot of snow in parts of New Hampshire on the last day of winter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of fun because then you can shovel and work out.

KOSIK: In Concord it looked more like December than March.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's New England. This is what we get in New England. So I'm happy. I'm leaving to go skiing on Friday.

KOSIK: The deep snow across the northeast is taxing on snow plows and backs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very heavy. You know, underneath, especially when you get toward the street like a puddle of water underneath everything. So it's hard to throw it.

KOSIK: but late winter storms are not just affecting New England. Extreme weather already packing a punch across the Midwest, leaving travelers stranded, with over 500 flight cancellations from Ohio to New York.

Blizzard conditions in North Dakota Monday left cars stranded and overturned on highways.

Down South, parts of Mississippi pummeled by golf-ball-sized hail, shattering car windshields. In nearby Tennessee, a tornado touched down, leaving signs of damage but no injuries. High winds in Georgia left similar scenes of destruction. Not to be outdone, folks in Alabama were cleaning up Tuesday after severe storms knocked down trees and overturned trucks, leaving thousands without power.

The wild weather leaving many longing for Mother Nature to catch up to the calendar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's spring. It should be spring already.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love the snow. But I'm a little done with it.

KOSIK (on camera): And for those who say they have had enough of this stuff, guess what? There is another storm expected to come early next week that could make them very nostalgic for this time last year when it was 81 degrees.

Allison Kosik, CNN, Concord, New Hampshire.


COOPER: Eighty-one degrees a year ago. Amazing.

More breaking news to tell you about. Isha's got that in a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha. ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Anderson, breaking news. Election news to tell you about. CNN can now project that Elizabeth Colbert Bush, the sister of Stephen Colbert, is winner of the Democratic primary in the South Carolina special congressional primary. There is no projection yet on the GOP side.

And Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls five months ago. She lives in England now. And today she went back to school for the first time since the attack. Here's how she described her return to the classroom.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, PAKISTANI EDUCATION ACTIVIST: I think it is the happiest moment that I'm going back to my school. And today I have my books, my bag. And I will learn. I will talk to my friends. I will talk to my teacher.


SESAY: An incredible young girl.

An update on another recovery to tell you about. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Statue of Liberty will re-open to the public by the Fourth of July. Lady Liberty has been closed to the public since October when it was damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

NASA and White House officials told a congressional committee that the nation's asteroid detection program is behind schedule, and billions of dollars are needed to keep Americans safe from space threats like the meteor that exploded over Russia last month. More than a thousand people were injured.

Officials said the risk of a massive meteor slamming into Earth any time soon is small. Just one in 20,000.

Here's the bad news, Anderson. At least 10,000 large space objects -- one official used the term "city killers" -- hasn't been detected yet.

COOPER: Is it behind "shed-jool" or schedule?

SESAY: Behind "shed-jool." Trust me.

COOPER: Really? Not behind schedule?

SESAY: No, no, no.

COOPER: Could it be both behind schedule and "shed-jool"?

SESAY: No, no, no.

COOPER: Really?

SESAY: Trust me. It's "shed-jool." COOPER: Oh, smashing.

SESAY: Tally-ho.

COOPER: Tally-ho. I'm going to have some "aluminium" soda cans now. Isha, thanks. We'll see you at the end.

Up next, Michele Bachmann is back with some pretty outrageous claims about President Obama and how he's wasting your money on chefs and dog walkers, but the question is, are her accusations actually true? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also ahead, a killer's final insult. What a convicted school shooter wore to his sentencing and what he said to victims' families that has them understandably outraged.


COOPER: It was supposed to be one of his biggest speeches of the year, but then this happened. We'll show you what the mayor of Kansas City did next when somebody bum-rushed the stage. Ahead on 360.


COOPER: Welcome back. On this program we try not to take political sides. We're not a Republican newscast or a Democratic one; conservative or liberal. We believe in facts. You can find that stuff on plenty of other cable networks.

We think when your elected representatives -- Republicans, Democrats or independents -- speak, they should to the best of their ability speak the truth. And if they don't, they should be held accountable. Not for their political views or their governing philosophy but for making stuff up.

Well, tonight we're featuring Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Today she raced -- literally raced away from our Dana Bash, who was trying to ask her questions about remarks that Bachmann herself made at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend.

In those statements she slammed the White House reaction during the attack that killed four Americans in Libya last fall.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: A war was raging in Benghazi for hours, and all we know is that our president went AWOL. While cries -- while cries from American diplomats and soldiers went unanswered.


COOPER: Then she shifted to government spending: specifically the White House budget.


BACHMANN: A new book is out, talking about the perks and excess of the $1.4 billion a year presidency that we're paying for. And this is a lifestyle that is one of excess.

Now we find out that there are five chefs on Air Force One. There are two projectionists who operate the White House movie theater. They regularly sleep at the White House in order to be readily available in case the first family wants a really, really late show. And I don't mean to be petty here, but can't they just push the play button?

We are also the ones who are paying for someone to walk the president's dog. Paying for someone to walk the president's dog.


COOPER: Now a lot to talk about. "Keeping Them Honest," the Benghazi killings obviously leave plenty of room for criticism. We've been very critical on this show, looking at a lot of facts about that.

The claims, though, of $1.4 billion in White House perks and excess, they fail on the facts in simple fairness.

Congresswoman Bachmann apparently got her information from 131- page self-published book by a long-time Republican lobbyist. The book provides no specific sourcing for the claims it makes. No sourcing.

According to "The Washington Post," which dug deep into this, the only scholarly work on the subject was published in 2010 by the left- leaning Brookings Institution. And it found that the Bush White House in 2008 cost about $1.6 billion to run, nearly $1.1 billion of which went to the Secret Service and the White House chopper fleet, not to perks.

So if Congressman Michele Bachmann is right -- and that's a very big if -- the current occupants are actually $200 million cheaper.

As for the five chefs, five cooks would be more like it. Unlike on commercial flights, the lion's share of meals on Air Force One are prepared fresh on board. Fifty passengers, several meals on a long flight. That is a lot of cooking.

As for those projectionists, there's nothing new there either. According to the White House Museum, Jimmy Carter watched nearly 500 films in office.

And as for Bo, the dog, he has no designated walker. None. The White House gardener actually walks the dog. Turns out the guy likes dogs and has walked presidential dogs for the last eight administrations.

But the notion that this is a uniquely extravagant president dies hard with Ms. Bachmann. Remember, this is not the first time she's made detailed claims about presidential spending without real facts to back them up. Here she is several years ago on this actual program. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN: I think we know that just within a day or so, the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He's taking 2,000 people with him. He'll be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

This is the kind of over-the-top spending. It's a very small example, Anderson.

COOPER: The White House is saying that idea that this is a $200 million boondoggle is completely overstated, that that number is wildly inflated, those numbers.

BACHMANN: And that may be what the White House is stating. But again, we have never seen a trip at this level before, this level of excess.

COOPER: No one really knows the cost, because for security reasons, they don't disclose the cost, so this idea that it's, you know, $200 million, or whatever, is simply made up.

BACHMANN: Well, these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press.


COOPER: "These are the numbers that have been coming out in the press."

For the record, as we discovered back then and reported, the story originated in a report from the news agency Press Trust of India. So it's an Indian paper. Their source was a provincial government official, an Indian government official who was unnamed. So one single unnamed source from an Indian provincial official. How that official would allegedly know how much the president of the United States and the U.S. government was spending -- I mean, it just doesn't make any sense.

Congresswoman Bachmann has made other claims that simply do not stand up, as well. Namely that Human Abed in, a top adviser to then- Secretary of State Clinton, may be under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood. That allegation was found factually groundless; drew sharp criticism at the time from both sides of the aisle.

Republican colleagues including John McCain called her out on it publically. We invited Congresswoman Bachmann to come on the program to talk about her latest allegations. Guess what? She declined. The invitation stands open.

In the meantime Dana Bash tried "Keeping Them Honest," and she joins us now. So Dana, you really dud have to literally chase the congresswoman down. What did she tell you? BASH: I have to say, Anderson, the last time I ran after Michele Bachmann on one of those other issues that you listed, I told you that the bad news is she can walk very fast in heels. The good news is so can I. But this time she was moving so fast, I have to tell you, it tested my endurance. I told the congresswoman I wanted to talk to her about her speech at CPAC, about questionable accusations she made about the president's lavish lifestyle. Here's how it went.


BASH: I want to ask you about is the fact that you said -- you talked about the excesses that he's engaged in, the fact that he has a dog walker, which is not true.

BACHMANN: The big point of my speech was about Benghazi. This was an absolute disaster.

BASH: You also made specific accusations about...

BACHMANN: The secretary of state...

BASH: ... the president spending money that other presidents also made.

BACHMANN: The issue is there are four Americans that are dead. The secretary of state was not in conversation with the secretary of defense or with the chair of the joint chiefs of staff.

BASH: I think that's an important point.

BACHMANN: She was not there.

BASH: I think that's an important point, but this is another...

BACHMANN: This is the president of the United States didn't care about those four Americans, and they were killed. That's the point.

BASH: If you...

BACHMANN: We've got to focus.

BASH: If you want to focus on that, then why did you bring up the other things?

BACHMANN: You want dog handlers? And there's four Americans killed?

BASH: But Congresswoman, you're the one who brought it up.

BACHMANN: These Americans.

BASH: You're the one who brought it up.


BASH: Anderson, to be fair, Congresswoman Bachmann doesn't always answer my questions, but she does usually smile and she's polite. This was, in that sense, a bit out of character for her.

COOPER: It is -- I mean, what's amazing about that quote is that she tried to turn it against you as if, how dare you bring up a dog walker, something so petty, when -- because of the horror of what's happened in Benghazi. She's the one who brought up the dog walker and the projectionists. She's the one who made these allegations. And now she's saying when you're asking her about it, she's trying to make you seem like an irresponsible reporter for daring to ask her about that.

BASH: Yes, she did. And I tried to -- it doesn't take a lot -- it does take a lot, I should say, to make me speechless. And I was a little speechless. That is not the response that I expected from her.

But, you know, I have to tell you, Anderson. I checked in with some people who know how she operates, people who work with her on the inside. And they weren't surprised about this in the big picture for many reasons. Primarily because the name of the game at the CPAC convention, which draws conservative activists from all around the country, is to be provocative.

She knew talking about presidential dog walkers, and cooks and projection operators would be memorable. These sources admitted to me Bachmann's M.O. tends to be shoot first, ask questions later. Especially if she doesn't have people around her to advise her against muddying, which I think you can argue was a pretty strong argument and speech about Benghazi and presidential leadership.

COOPER: Well, also, I should just point out this network was the network that was blasted by the Obama administration for our early reporting on Benghazi and what we uncovered in the burned-out wreckage in Benghazi. So the idea that somehow we're not talking about Benghazi is just absurd.

We really do struggle in situations like this. We want to call out politicians when they say things that are flat-out untrue. But with Congresswoman Bachmann it's kind of a double-edged sword. She does fundraise off of this kind of stuff.

BASH: She does. And Anderson, we can be transparent with our viewers, that we -- your producers and us -- had a real discussion about this today. Because we know that the more oxygen we give this, the more Bachmann will raise money off of it.

I mean, this is just one example of a fund-raising notice that she sends out. She's one of the most active fund-raising e-mail lists of all members of Congress. She sends out five-alarm notices, sometimes more than one e-mail a day, warning they have to -- they have to contribute or her campaign will fall under the weight of Democrats and the liberal media. And that's basically what this one today said.

This was on a different subject. I wouldn't be surprised if she uses this program, this report in another one tomorrow. But you know we're doing our job. COOPER: And again, the invitation stands. She doesn't even -- she can just sit. She doesn't have to run from the aisle. We can talk seated. It will be much easier for everybody. Dana.

BASH: How am I going to get my exercise, Anderson?

COOPER: I know. That's true. Dana, thank you very much.

Coming up, a story that's really just outrageous. This man killed three of his classmates, and at today's sentencing he had a vulgar message for the victims' relatives who were in the room. And he'd written the word "killer" on his T-shirt. That was just part of it.

Also today, frightening moments for the mayor of Kansas City. He was in the middle of a major speech when this happened. A guy rushed the stage. He reacted to the intruder next on 360.



COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding stowaway roaches. That's right. Just when you thought it was safe to make the trip from Atlantic City to New York comes the story of a Greyhound bus infested with bugs.

Actually, you know what? I wasn't actually there. Maybe "infested" is too strong a word.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I say "infested," I mean infested.


COOPER: OK. Infested, then.

Here's what happened. According to passengers, who spoke to our affiliate WABC, shortly after the trip began, roaches began to show up pretty much everywhere.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roaches started crawling up on our clothes. Crawling out the ceiling.


COOPER: All right, we're already at the point of the trip where I would pull the emergency brake. I would jump off the bus. And I would call Wolf Blitzer to pick me up. And trust me: he's used to getting sketchy phone calls from Atlantic City.

Unfortunately for passengers on the bus, things only got worse.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thought it was one. It turned out to be a whole houseful of roaches.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sitting in the back of the bus. I seen people up toward the front of the bus panicking. And then after a while the panic got toward the back. Because we all started looking around and seen roaches crawling everywhere.


COOPER: All right. I'm about to throw up. You have no idea. Roaches on a bus, Kardashians in an elevator. My list of fears is rather lengthy.

I actually attempted to conquer my fear of roaches a few years ago, as you can see in this delightfully old file footage. Oh, how I miss the days when my hair was more pepper than salt. I digress, though. Unfortunately, the roaches and I could not reach an agreement.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you willing to put your hand inside the container?

COOPER: Um -- yes -- no. I don't think so.


COOPER: Yes. Didn't go so well. I'm a mess when it comes to creepy crawly things. Do you know anyone who's afraid of a millipede? You do now.


COOPER: I'll touch it. I'm not going to lift it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just stroke it.

COOPER: I don't like being afraid of anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give it a hold.

COOPER: All right. That's it. I'm done.


COOPER: I'm sorry. Millipedes are just gross. Keep them away from me.

By the way, we don't have any close-ups of the roaches on the bus from Atlantic City, but I'm guessing they look something like this, give or take a few poker chips.

And I know this is a bad idea but let's just hear a bit more about what happened on that roach bus.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The man had roaches on his coat. The lady had a roach on her hat. It was just terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People were in the aisles literally brushing roaches off of them.


COOPER: I can't. I mean, really. We should point out now that Greyhound says the driver immediately pulled the bus over and radioed for assistance. A new bus was dispatched to pick up the passengers, who were given refunds. I think it's safe to say that Greyhound made the right move there, because we all know how these situations tend to end up.


SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: Enough is enough! I have had it with these (EXPLETIVE DELETED) snakes on this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) plane!


COOPER: That's a classic.

So consider yourself warned, stowaway roaches. You got off easy this time. Next time it could be a whole lot worse than getting squashed on the "RidicuList."

That does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.