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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Obama and Iran's President Rouhani Speak by Telephone; UN Security Council Unanimously Approves Resolution on Syria; Funding Bill Returned to Congress; Dismissed Houston Police Officers Often Reinstated; Wheel-Chair-Bound Woman Denied Spot in Paralympic Games
Aired September 27, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following two big stories tonight. Mounting concerns tonight that a government shutdown could become a reality in Washington just three days from now. The latest on the shutdown showdown, that's coming up.
But we begin with breaking news: the phone call that's making history. President Obama called Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, as Rouhani was heading to the airport in New York after his United Nations debut. Their conversation lasted about 15 minutes and ended more than three decades of silence at the highest level between the U.S. and Iran.
Here's what President Obama had to say about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran's nuclear program. I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York. While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.
Now, we are mindful of all the challenges ahead. The very fact that this was the first communications between an American and Iranian president since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama said both men have directed their teams to work quickly to pursue an agreement. After the call ended, Rouhani's twitter account lit up. A picture was posted of Rouhani on his plane describing the call as historic and then a message saying Obama and Rouhani agreed ground should be prepared for solving of other issues including regional matters.
Foreign ministers tasked with follow up to expedite cooperation. After the handshake that didn't happen earlier in the week at the U.N., today's phone call is being scrutinized from every angle tonight. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto is joining us now.
First of all, Jim, how did this conversation even come about?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, here is how the White House puts it. They say that they made it clear to the Iranians earlier in the week that the president, President Obama, that is, wanted to have direct contact, particularly this handshake we talked about. But the Iranians at the time said, well, diplomacy takes time, this isn't the right time. It wasn't convenient for them. They cited problems back home in Tehran. But the White House left the door open.
And this morning, the White House got a call from Rouhani's people saying the president of Iran would like to speak to the president of the United States before he leaves the country. Obama said, I would be willing to do that and they set up the call. Now, just in the last few minutes, we heard pushback from the Iranian side saying that the call was totally unexpected. And that it was the White House who was reaching out again. And it reminds me of the some of the backtracking we heard after president Rouhani's comment earlier in the week to Christiane Amanpour saying acknowledging the holocaust and then afterwards backtracking little bit, perhaps worried about reaction back home. But it looks like from the White House's perspective, that both the White House and the Iranians were open to the call and the call happened.
BLITZER: Yes. The president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, said the idea for the call came from the Iranians. But we will leave that aside. There you see a picture of the president in the oval office making that phone call.
I understand president Rouhani, though, got out a little bit ahead of President Obama in breaking the news.
SCIUTTO: He did. In fact, I saw this tweet happen. It was a few minutes before the president this week was going to speak and a little bit of disbelief. So, I started calling around CNN and to other officials saying, is this true? And then, before you know it, a couple minutes later, President Obama walks out and confirms it. But the other way president Rouhani got out ahead was by tweeting the contents of the phone call, quotes about what they spoke it. For instance, how they said good-bye. President Rouhani saying, have a nice day in English, President Barack Obama saying thank you (INAUDIBLE), which is good-bye, basically God be with you, in Farsi.
But then, those tweets were later deleted including some more substantive tweets about the contents of their conversation. This one about, we are hopeful about what we will see from the P5+1 and your government in particular in the coming weeks and months. Some of the contents of those phone calls, but those tweets now deleted off of Hassan Rouhani's twitter account.
So, we don't know why that is. Maybe he's worried that he gave too much detail. Maybe he is worried about the White House reaction. I mean, the president of Iran is new at this. So he is probably learning about how far he can go.
BLITZER: What do you know about how people in Iran are reacting to all of this?
SCIUTTO: Well, we are hearing excitement. I'm seeing this on twitter. I'm hearing from friends of mine, dissidents that I know in Iran, as well. And I have been to Iran, been going there for more than ten years. I have been there ten times. And in all my trips there, the thing that struck me about Iranians, even during the most tense times between the U.S. and Iran, people on the street would tell you we remember better times with the U.S. We want better connections with the U.S. In fact, many would say I have got relatives in the U.S.
So, it doesn't surprise me that you are hearing this because this is a country has been really cut off from the outside world, and they want to be reconnected. And they know we have disagreements. And I think they are very happy to see the president of the United States recognizing their own president.
BLITZER: I'm sure they are.
All right. Thank you very much, Jim Sciutto reporting.
History clearly was made today, but what comes next.
Joining me now, Mike Doran, he is as senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East policy of the Brookings Institution here in Washington. Also joining us our senior political analyst and former presidential adviser, David Gergen, and our chief political correspondent, the anchor of CNN's "State Of The Union," Candy Crowley.
Candy, a pretty historic day for U.S./Iranian relations. How do you think today's news will be received in Washington and beyond?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, I can tell you that in Washington you will hear grave doubts about whether this is a man trying to fool President Obama. You are already hearing because as you know we are in the midst after a big budget showdown here, with the government may be shutting down on Tuesday.
So from Republicans, we are hearing a lot of, well, gee, he will negotiate with the president of Iran, but he won't negotiate with the Republicans. So, that was sort of the immediate reaction. There's a great deal of caution. Certainly, you don't want to tamp on the hope, but there are a lot of folks saying let's see what happens next.
BLITZER: David, you worked in the us when for, what, four presidents. And there were obviously not good relations with at least three of those presidents. Nixon, I think, still had decent relations when he was president of the United States. But what's your take on this apparent fog (ph) that is unfolding right now?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, essentially you call the thought, Wolf, because there's a sense that this was almost like the thaw we saw way back when in the cold war when two bitter enemies began talking to each other. A president of the United States could actually make a speech and be broadcast to the Russian people. It was celebrated by the Russian people.
There's no question, as Candy says, that in the political circles in Washington, there's going to be extreme skepticism about this. And there's the president's going to be under heavy pressure not to drop any sanctions before he's got a hard deal. Whereas the Iranians are going to be pushing hard. You have got to make the first move, Mr. President. You have got to drop the sanctions first. So, he is going to be caught in the cross hairs on that.
But, I think if you look at the country as a whole, the U.S. public as skeptical as they are, as much as they hate the Iranians for what happened when Americans were taken hostage, just as in the cold war, I think people would like to see this resolved peacefully. Certainly the alternatives are not good.
BLITZER: Because ever since that revolution in the late '70s, '79 when American diplomats were held hostage, as you remember, for 444 days, the Iranians have -- Iranian regime has called the U.S. the evil empire, if you will. So, how does what happened in '79 play to today's decision for this conversation to go forward?
GERGEN: I'm not sure if you're directing that to me --
BLITZER: Yes, to David, go ahead.
GERGEN: But I think the memories of '79 are still, you know, for people who lived through that, are certainly fresh. You know, Jimmy Carter lost his -- the White House over this issue in part. But you know, the films made recently have also renewed, you know, people's understanding of what happened and the struggle of drama of it all. And so, I don't think it's gone away. And in Ahmadinejad was so crazy and so crazed and, you know, promised the destruction of Israel. There are a lot of Jews in this country who will not forget at all. They are extremely skeptical of this.
BLITZER: I'm sure the Israeli government, Netanyahu, is going to be coming here next week. He is pretty skeptical, as well.
Mike, you say this conversation is exciting, but you remain, what, cautiously pessimistic, your words. What do you mean by that?
MICHAEL DORAN, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: Well, I mean if you look at the last 30 years of relations, whenever we had moments of excitement like this, it's never panned out in the end.
This is a little bit different and that clearly something is going on in Tehran. Clearly, there's a downstairs to negotiate with us. And so we would be remiss if we didn't really try to test it and see where it goes. But I'm concerned about the enthusiasm. I saw something like this when I was in the White House in 2006. And I'm asking myself, is this a replay of it. The nuclear file was going from the IAEA up to the Security Council and the Iranians wanted to stop it. We got thousands of messages, that's an exaggeration. We got tens of messages from all these different interlocketters (ph) around the world, the Kurds, the Iraqis, Europeans, all telling us that unbelievable things were possible if we would just negotiate with the Iranians.
We finally put together a proposal, and we said we will suspend if you suspend. We will suspend the effort to take it to the Security Council, if you suspend the enrichment and reprocessing. The minute we asked for something tangible from them, the statements that something wonderful could happen, they just disappeared immediately.
So I want the president to take this very, very slowly, very, very carefully. And as David said, not to accept -- not to make any concessions until we have a total package deal. The Iranians are going to look it turn this into a phased process whereby we will lift sanctions before they give us anything. And I think that would be a big mistake.
BLITZER: Candy, as you know, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, he is going to be meeting with President Obama at the White House on Monday. Netanyahu addresses the U.N. general assembly on Tuesday. I imagine the phone conversation, indeed the context between the U.S. and Iran, will be front and center during those meetings.
CROWLEY: It's hard to imagine they would talk about much else. But obviously, you know, the peace talks are going to be up there, as well. But this, even when there was just talk about a little handshake between Iran -- the Iranian president and President Obama, Israel, the prime minister's office, put out a statement, said don't trust this guy. Here's how he's acted in the past. We all know this -- it's too late. And we also know that there is a difference of opinion between Israel and the U.S. about how far Iran is along the road to acquiring nuclear weapons.
So, I imagine it will be a lively conversation. This is not somebody they trust. But there is some serendipity going on here. And Israel obviously has to be a major part of at least bringing in on the conversation for President Obama. But you have really a population many of whom have read about the hostage crisis in schoolbooks. It is history to them.
We have a new president in Iran. We have a president in the U.S. that basically ran on talking to one's adversaries, that that's how you got someplace. You have an Iran that really needs economic health and you have in the U.S. a country that's so tired of confrontation, be it Iraq or Afghanistan.
So there's a lot going on here that I think gives people the hope that David is talking about. But then there are other voices that, as you hear with Mike, that you know, this does not comport with some of the things that we have seen from Iran in the past. And in fact there's been no change in policy in Iran yet. So it's hard to get overly excited about it.
BLITZER: Yes. Mike, going forward, though, if the Iranians are serious about stopping their nuclear program, how do you make sure that they are taking what President Obama says transparent and verifiable actions?
DORAN: Well, that's the $64,000 question. We're -- what's going to happen here is we're going to get to very detailed negotiations very quickly. And the Iranians are going to want to get as close as possible to a breakout capacity as they can. And our experts and the Israeli experts are going to be saying they're too close, the Iranians are going to be saying that they're very far away, and it's verifiable. We've got cameras in the facilities, watching the centrifuges. We're monitoring all of the enriched material. And it -- if our experts and the Israeli expert think that what the Iranians are demanding is too close to a breakout potential, that they're just a turn of a key away from a bomb, with all this enthusiasm, it's going to be very difficult for the president to break away and say, you know what, I'm turning my back on that deal. That's what I'm worried about. I'm worried about accepting a bad deal.
BLITZER: Michael Doran, thanks very much.
David, stay with us. We have got more to discuss. Candy Crowley and David, they are going to stay with us. We have more to discuss just ahead.
President Obama's blunt message for house Republicans, the ball is back in their court tonight. Are they bluffing, or will they really let the government grind to a halt?
Also ahead, there's breaking news on Syria we are monitoring. The United Nations Security Council is meeting right now to discuss their proposed resolution requiring Syria to destroy its chemical weapons. There could be a vote tonight.
BLITZER: All right, there is breaking news. A unanimously resolution, I mean, unanimously approved resolution right now before the United Nations Security Council. All 15 members of the Security Council voting in favor of a resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. and Russia that will require Syria to destroy eventually its entire chemical weapons stockpile, and to become a member of the chemical weapons convention.
You see Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary general there, he is speaking, John Kerry, the secretary of state. He will be speaking. We are going to have much more on the story coming up. But one again, unanimously approved 15-0. All members of the Security Council including the five permanent members have approved a resolution and a plan for Syria eventually to not only identify and allow inspection of but eventually destroy its chemical weapons. Stand by.
We will go to Nick Paton Walsh shortly.
But there's another big story we're following now. It's as raw as raw politics gets. Three days and a few hours, that's all that stands between passing a spending bill or a government shutdown. With time running out, President Obama today called on house Republicans to stop grandstanding and get to work. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: House Republicans are so concerned with appeasing the tea party that they have threatened a government shutdown or worse unless I gut or repeal the affordable care act. I said this yesterday, let me repeat it. That's not going to happen. I realize that a lot of what's taking p taking place right is political grandstanding. But this grandstanding has real effects on real people. If the government shuts down on Tuesday, military personnel, including those risking their lives overseas for us right now, will not get paid on time. Federal loan for rural community, small business owners, families buying a home will be frozen. So any Republican in Congress who is currently watching, I encourage you to think about who you're hurting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Earlier today, the Senate passed a spending bill stripped of a Republican-backed provision to block money for President Obama's health care law. That vote sent the bill back to the house with the clock ticking. Midnight Monday is the deadline.
Here's where things stand. House speaker John Boehner has said the house won't send a bill back to the Senate without amendments. And Senate majority leader Harry Reid says the Senate won't accept anything but what's described as a clean bill.
David Gergen and Candy Crowley are still with us. Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash is joining us from Capitol Hill.
Dana, we had thought the house might accept the Senate funding bill, averting a shutdown of the government and move their fight with the president over to raising the debt ceiling in a few weeks. But that's not necessarily the case right now. What's the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just as happens so many times in the past weeks and months and, frankly, even years, House Republican leaders tried to kind of manage their rest of caucus and were unsuccessful at doing it. Their hope a couple of days ago was to say, you know what, don't fight on this one, guys. Let's fight on the next one, which is just around the corner, the debt ceiling. And they said no. In part, I'm told, because they were being egged on by Senator Ted Cruz, saying you have got to fight on this government spending bill.
So, what's going on now is John Boehner is effectively trying to negotiate within his own caucus, trying to figure out what the sweet spot is for them to be able to vote and accept a spending bill that has some attachments. I'm told that it's not going to be plain. It's not going to happen. Probably will have some things dealing with Obamacare, maybe delaying it a year, maybe repealing the medical device tax, maybe even getting rid of what Sarah Palin lovingly called the death panels. We're not sure what it's going to be, but they are going to meet tomorrow to try to finalize it.
BLITZER: Candy, you know, this, you would think in a situation like this, so close to a government shutdown, there will be some back channel negotiations going on between the White House and the speaker, other so-called adult would be involved to make sure there isn't a government shutdown. What are you hearing?
CROWLEY: That nothing is going on behind the scenes in terms of, OK, here is plan D. If the whole thing explodes and it's, you know, the clock is about to strike midnight, here's what we're going to do. I hear nothing about cross-party negotiations to avert this.
So, I mean, I will say I have seen in the past that Congress will pass a one-day CR or two-day CR, that kind of thing. So that's still possible. But at the moment, there does not seem to be any kind of here's our plan that we go to when all else fails.
BLITZER: In the old days, and you remember this David, Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, they get together and they fight and fight but then they make a deal. Do you see the president and the speaker right now doing anything along those lines?
GERGEN: Not quite yet, Wolf. But I think they will before it's over. For starters, Wolf, isn't it interesting -- the illustration of how upside down the world has become. That a president at the podium today was speaking so warmly of our enemies like Iran and past days about Russia. And speaking so harshly about people across the aisle in his own country. I mean, that's really where the politics has come to. It's very, very unfortunate.
I think what Candy is saying, what Dana's saying, is we are likely to have a shutdown early next week or maybe a brief postponement. But I must say from my perspective that a shutdown may be a good thing. That it could be shock therapy when we need it. Because the real issue is not the shutdown, the real issue is whether we can get things resolved before the debt ceiling. And I think if we have shock therapy that Wall Street is going to come in like gang busters and put pressure before the resolution, you know, there is going to be real pressure because if we have a financial meltdown if we have debt ceiling, you know, breach. And there's going to be a lot of pressure from back home. And at this point, I think that maybe John Boehner and the president, president taking the lead. I think he has the opportunity to negotiate as he said he's willing to over the shutdown questions, fiscal issues relating to shutdown. I think that negotiation is possible.
BLITZER: They have got to do something in order to, a, avert the shutdown, but as you're right.
And Candy, it's a potential U.S. bailing out of its financial obligations, raising the creditworthiness of the dollar and the U.S. economy, if you will. The ramifications of that are even much more enormous.
CROWLEY: So we are told by economists as well as by the White House. And I think in some ways the president despite he is saying I am not going to negotiate over this debt ceiling, this is money already spent, there are no negotiations, just raise the debt ceiling so the U.S. can continue to borrow money. But then they go on, White House officials go on to delineate all the horrible things that would happen. And it would derail the economy and would upset the world, you know, other world economies, et cetera, et cetera. So, it is hard to believe that having raised those stakes so high that the president would say, well, you know, I'm still not going to deal with them. So, I think that there is more of a possibility for negotiations there because I think everybody agrees. They don't really want to know what would happen if the debt ceiling was not raised.
BLITZER: So Dana, what happens this weekend, Monday, leading to that midnight deadline Monday night?
BASH: Well, what happens tomorrow is the house will come in, Republicans will meet at noon to try to figure out and finalize what their game plan is on their spending bill, what they are going to add to it. Unclear if they're going to vote tomorrow, meaning Saturday, or Sunday. The Senate is gone. They are not planning on coming in until Monday. They might come in earlier if they have to. But they are not coming until Monday which is just hours before the shutdown deadline.
It is possible, very possible, as Candy pointed out, that if they are down to the wire, they could pass a one, two-day, even week-long stopgap measure. But there doesn't seem an appetite right now do it. We will see what happens when the clock strikes midnight.
But one other quick point I want to make about the debt ceiling which is much more important economically perhaps, but when it comes to those core conservatives in the house, that is the issue that they really care most about philosophically. Because many were elected on the promise toys do away or at least chip away at the nation's debt.
Well, for them, to vote in any way to raise the debt ceiling, meaning allowing the government to borrow more money from their perspective is anathema. So, that's why it is so much harder to convince them. And they are small maybe, but incredibly powerful, as we have seen so many times over the past weeks.
BLITZER: All right, what a potential nightmare unfolding here in Washington.
All right, Dana Bash, Candy Crowley, David Gergen, guys, thank you very much.
For more on this story, by the way, go to CNN.com.
Up next, the breaking news we are following. A crucial vote in the United Nations Security Council approving a resolution just minutes ago requiring Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons. More details. We are going live to the U.N. stand by.
Plus, who's policing the Houston police? She was raped in her own home. She claims the responding officers stayed for only about ten minutes and collected absolutely no evidence. The police chief fired him, but he got his job back. Our Special Report, that's coming up, as well.
BLITZER: Breaking news. Only moments ago, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously 15-0 to approve the resolution requiring Syria to relinquish control of its chemical weapons stockpile.
Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from the U.N. right now.
Fifteen votes in favor, unanimous vote on this resolution. So how did it go down, what happens now?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now we are hearing from the U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry. The unanimous decision, I think mostly expected after Moscow and Washington appeared to have gotten rid of the roadblocks.
We just heard from Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary general, saying that the peace process, they are try and get civil car to end. Will continue with the conference in mid-November. That's being backed up by the Russians who said they expect the Syrians to keep their end of the bargain and allow fair access to inspectors. The point, though, this resolution doesn't authorize military force if Syria's said to be in violation and does leave the issue of exactly how you would decide if Syria was in violation a little bit fuzzy, Wolf.
BLITZER: Because it always speaks of consequences, it doesn't necessarily authorize military force, right?
WALSH: Absolutely. That's not in the trigger at all. It does say that future deliberations on whether Syria's violated or not should occur under the chapter 7 part of U.N. charter which could permit military force, but it's specifically not in there which, of course is, why it's gone through so smoothly, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see if Syria complies.
Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much.
Let's get caught up on some other stories we are watching right now.
Gary Tuchman joins us with a "360" bulletin -- Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hello. In Florida today, the family of Marlin Brown, who was killed after he was run over by a police car, requested that state officials conduct an independent investigation. That's according to our affiliate, WCTV. Brown's death was ruled an accident and the officer who drove the car was not charged.
A Kenyan intelligence official says the terrorists who carried out the Nairobi mall attack or their associates rented a small store inside the building for about a year. That's likely how they got their weapons into the mall without notice. At least 67 people were killed in the attack, and the mall left in ruins. A New Jersey judge has ruled same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in the state starting on October 21st. That date could be delayed on appeal by the governor's office. The judge said legal civil unions in the state are preventing gay couples from getting federal benefits.
We humans are responsible for at least half the climate change in the last half century. That's according to hundreds of scientists in a new United Nations report. They say driving our cars, deforestation, and other activities are linked to global warming.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Gary, thank you very much.
Up next, why Houston police officers who are removed from the force due to misconduct are back on the job most often reinstated against the wishes of the police chief.
Also ahead, this one's a head-scratcher. A wheelchair-bound athlete is told by Paralympics officials that she is not disabled enough to compete. My interview with Victoria Arlen, that is coming up, as well.
BLITZER: Crime and punishment tonight. Do the police sometimes need policing? That's a question many in Houston, Texas, are now asking. In the series of cases where officers were fired or suspended for misconduct, two-thirds who appealed to an arbitrator got their jobs back. That's the highest rate in the nation.
Randi Kaye tonight look at two such cases, cases where police officers were fired from the job and then managed to get reinstated.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sound asleep in the upstairs bedroom, Indira Paz heard a knock. Then a strange man wearing a mask came flying through the door.
It happened here in June, 2011. The man pounced on her, bound her hands with plastic zip ties, and raped her. All while her 4-year-old daughter lay screaming next to her in bed. When it was over, the man escaped in Indira's car, taking with him jewelry, cash, and electronics.
Help came from her cousin who found and untied her. Indira called Houston police. Officer Alan Sweatt responded to the call. Endera says he stayed less than ten minutes, ignoring key evidence in her home.
INDIRA PAZ, CALLED HOUSTON POLICE FOR HELP: His job was to say, you know what, I don't want anyone in the bedroom or wherever this incident happened because there was evidence in there. He didn't even do anything. My whole family arrived to the house, and they were just looking around, stepping on the evidence, and that's evidence that was lost because of his negligence.
KAYE: He never interviewed your cousin who found you and untied you. He never examined the dresser drawers that the attacker emptied.
KAYE: He never found the broken window at that attacker came through. The plastic tie that's he used to restrain you --
PAZ: He didn't.
KAYE: Never examined those. He didn't examine the condom wrapper or even the crumpled tissue, right, that your attacker had used.
PAZ: No, he didn't.
KAYE: Instead, officer Sweatt wrote in his initial report that no evidence existed at the crime scene.
PAZ: In his report he is saying he sat on the sofa and he wrote the report. He never wrote anything while he was in there.
KAYE: And there was no sofa.
PAZ: There was no sofa. That's the funny part.
KAYE: Officer Sweatt was fired for negligence and disregard for a victim.
End of story, right? Wrong. As is often the case at the Houston police department, he appealed, and his case went to arbitration. The Houston police union, which represented Sweatt at the appeal, argued his failure to search for and remove evidence does not amount to gross negligence.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of officer Sweatt who got his job back, including back pay for the months he was fired. The arbitrator said simply the police chief did not have just cause for indefinite suspension, reducing the penalty to a 90-day suspension.
Sweatt is not the first one to get his job back either. In fact, two- thirds, you heard right, two-thirds of police officers who were fired or suspended get their jobs back or their penalties reduced. That is the highest rate in the nation.
Houston police chief Charles McClelland would not speak with us on camera, but his spokesperson told us that while the chief doesn't like the fact that an independent arbitrator can overturn his decisions, it is state law.
Ray Hunt is the president of the Houston police officers union.
RAY HUNT, PRESIDENT, HOUSTON POLICE OFFICERS UNION: In our system, we have arbitrators who are outside people who have no dog in the fight. They simply are arbitrators. They may be a college professor. They may be a leader in the community. They listen to the facts, and they make a decision as to whether or not the discipline was fair.
KAYE: What's more important, protecting the police officer or protecting the citizens?
HUNT: Both. The police officers are here to sworn to protect the citizens. But police officers also have rights, and their rights have to be upheld.
KAYE: What about these officers? They were caught on surveillance video beating an unarmed 15-year-old suspect back in March, 2010. The teenager had been involved in a burglary and was on the ground on his stomach. His hands at his head.
Chief Charles McClelland fired the officers (INAUDIBLE). Both appealed to an arbitrator and, yes, they got their jobs back.
The Houston police department isn't exactly known for disciplining officers, but when they do, the arbitrators and you fight tooth and nail to overturn that. Why is that?
HUNT: I would disagree with that, too. Our police officers are disciplined every time they violate a policy or a rule. We don't have just slaps on the hand in the Houston police department.
RANDALL KALLIMEN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: This is Randall Kallimen.
KAYE: Randall Kallimen is a Houston civil rights attorney.
So, is the system broken in your opinion?
KALLIMEN: Someone who it will beat in open daylight with all these other officers around and all these witnesses beat a defenseless person who has given up totally should not be on the Houston police department.
KAYE: Back at Indira Paz's home, growing concern. If things keep going in this direction, who will they count on to protect her community?
PAZ: Whenever somebody has any problem, they're not going to want to call the police anymore because they're not doing their jobs. How can we trust them in the future? Who can we really trust?
KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Houston.
BLITZER: In reporting the story, Randi tried to talk to the arbitration board and the National Association of Arbitrators but was unsuccessful. And although Houston's police chief refused to speak to us on camera, Randi requested an interview with someone else in the department, but no one was made available.
Joining us to talk a little more about this, Mark Geragos, criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst. Mark, when you hear the details of the rape case that Randi just reported on, the negligence, just sounds sickening. How is it possible that an officer like it can get his job back?
MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, what they do and what happened I think in this case is they said, look, he wasn't adequately trained. Therefore, you can't blame him. The irony of this is that it opens up the department itself to liability whereas the officer himself doesn't get, you know, nothing basically happens to him, and the taxpayers are going to end up footing the bill, number one.
And number two, the case is going to be irreparably damaged so that you never get any justice for the victims. That's the irony, I guess, and a horrible irony in this case.
BLITZER: An expert we spoke to for the story, this story believes that a big part of the problem is that the police union has, what, a 50 percent say in who the arbiters are. What's your take on that?
GERAGOS: Well, again, part of the problem is, you know, you are dealing with politicians at almost every level here. And the police union endorsement is vital to anybody who's running for office. I mean, you don't see anybody running against the police union. And therefore, they carry an awful big stick in addition to, as you say, the fact that they have got a 50 percent shot at selecting who's going to be there.
BLITZER: Let me just reiterate that it's the Houston police chief that's handing down these punishments on his own officers that are then being reversed or reduced. Here's a question. Can a police chief be wrong in two-thirds of these appeals? I mean, how hard is it to discipline a police officer?
GERAGOS: I think it points out precisely the problem. If you want to police the police and the chief himself in, you know, 66 or 67 percent of the cases has himself reversed, he is essentially become neutered. And then, how do you run a department where you know all you have to do is challenge the chief and two out of three times you're going to win?
BLITZER: You know, you point out that while Houston has the highest rate in the country of reversing or reducing punishments for police officers, it's prevalent in a lot of other cities, as well, including your hometown of L.A.
GERAGOS: Yes. Absolutely, in L.A., I have got a case right now in Utah, in fact, where the west valley police department. You know, there was a shooting. There was all kinds of problems with the narcotics department. They just painted it. And then the city just re-hired five of the six or five of the seven officers. So, this happens all across the country. It's a real problem. And unless we do something to fundamentally change it at that level, you're going to continue to have cases where there's excessive force or where the investigation is compromised and there's nothing you can do about it. And ultimately like I said before, the taxpayer ends up holding the bag on these things.
BLITZER: You have any thoughts on how to fix this?
GERAGOS: Yes. I think -- I don't think that this should be a completely unionized situation. I think that at a certain point in cases of excessive force or in cases where there's a competency of the officer involved, that the chief has got to be some more plenary power to implement and run his department.
BLITZER: Mark Geragos, thank you very much.
GERAGOS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, a young champion Paralympic swimmer is told she can't compete because there's not enough proof that the condition that left her legs paralyzed is permanent. I speak with the very brave Victoria Arlen, that's next.
BLITZER: When Anderson's away, the Wolf will play. "the Ridiculist" is coming up when "360" continues.
BLITZER: It is a heartbreaking thing for a young Paralympic athlete to hear you're not disabled enough to compete. That's essentially what he the International Paralympic committee told Victoria Arlen, a med medal-winning swimmer who's been through so much in her life. She was in a vegetative state for three years because of an auto immune disorder and woke up with paralyzed legs. The committee says it doesn't have enough evidence of a permanent impairment in Arlen's case, something she says is based on the that she has a shred of hoped, a shred of hope that she may one day walk again.
I spoke with Victoria Arlen earlier.
BLITZER: Victoria, tell us how you ended up in a wheelchair and unable to walk.
VICTORIA ARLEN, COMPETED PARALYMPIC GAMES ON TEAM USA: I developed a rare neurological condition called transfers militias (ph). And then on top of that I got another neurological condition called Adam which stands for Acute Disseminated Encephomylitis (ph) and if affected my spinal cord.
BLITZER: In August before you were to compete in Montreal, the international Paralympic committee ruled you were ineligible. What was that like to pulled from the meet?
ARLEN: It was so frustrating because it didn't make any sense and it was so last minute and unexpected. We had been talking with the IPC and working with the IPC on getting me re-evaluated all year. And they hadn't questioned me until I was already in Montreal and ready to compete. So it was heartbreaking, and to be penalized for having hope was really sad.
BLITZER: Sad indeed. The committee said you failed to provide what they called the conclusive evidence of a permanent eligible impairment. Based on a doctor's report that you submitted, what did you say to that complaint that they had?
ARLEN: It was -- well, it was frustrating because we had over 75 pages of medical documents, scans, MRIs, you name it, we had documenting beyond reasonable doubt, my condition and the severity of it and my disability. And the fact that they were -- they took one portion of that and twisted it around and used it against me was as really disheartening.
BLITZER: It must have heartbreaking indeed.
ARLEN: And it made no sense.
BLITZER: Well, just because there's a glimmer, a glimmer of a chance your condition may one day improve, which could be the case for a number of athletes, you're not allowed to compete, is that the explanation they gave?
ARLEN: That was all the explanation we had was that there might be a chance with medical breakthroughs and with a miracle that I could walk again. And they penalized me for having hope for that. And if I didn't have hope, I wouldn't be here today. And a lot of people with spinal cord injuries, there is hope with all the breakthroughs in technology. So, it's really frustrating that that was their only reason.
BLITZER: So, what's the status of your eligibility right now, and what would you like to see happen?
ARLEN: I would just like to have this not happen to any other athletes. And as of right now, it's in the hands of a higher power. And they're this control of it now. And it's out of my hands, and I'm just, you know, moving forward. And there's a lot more going on in this world. So I refuse to be bitter or let this break me. I have been through too much to let this bring me down.
BLITZER: So, you obviously hope someday you might be able it walk again, I assume, right?
ARLEN: I would love to. You know, that's been a dream of mine since I got in the wheelchair. So, I'm working hard at that, as well. And you know, that's the top of my list.
BLITZER: We're hoping the same thing, absolutely. Good luck.
You're a wonderful woman, Victoria. Thanks so much for joining us.
ARLEN: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: She really is a very impressive young woman. Good luck to her.
The "ridiculist" is next.
BLITZER: Time for the "ridiculist" or as I call it, when Anderson's not here, the "reblitzulist."
Last week, Anderson drew your attention to a song by a band called man-man from their new record "On Only Pond." As Anderson discovered, the song was inspired by none other than yours truly. I have received many honors throughout my career, but perhaps none as satisfying as being the inspiration for an Indy rock song. Let's listen to some of it. It's called "end boss."
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
BLITZER: Evil gets what evil wants. Yes, I actually will have that crosstitched on a pillow in my bedroom. And I wonder how they knew that. I think they really encapsulated my personality with those lyrics. As the front man of Man-Man says, and I'm quoting him now, "just picturing Wolf's calm face, kind eyes, smiling gray beard shooting pool in a barrio bar with a baby dancing in his belly and drinking lemon flavored vodka, still gets to me."
I have always suspected that Duran Duran's "hungry like the Wolf" was about me, as well. I just never got official confirmation. But there's no question about the Man-Man song because the front man even wears a tunic emblazoned with multiple Wolf Blitzer heads. So, even though I was the subject of the song which I believe by definition makes it more of a "SITUATION ROOM" story than an "Anderson Cooper 360" story, Anderson ran with it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I know three things. One, if I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight, I would be going to the chop shop to see Man-Man on tour. Two, I would steal that tunic during sound check. Three, we finally have an answer to a question that a young balloon boy posed many, many years ago as he awaited his interview with Wolf Blitzer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say hi to Wolf. There is Wolf.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.
BLITZER: Hi, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who the hell is Wolf?
COOPER: I'll tell you who the hell Wolf is. He is an enigma. He is a muse and forever in song as a vodka-swilling baby eater, he shall be remembered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right Anderson, I also know a few things. One, if I was in Tucson tonight, I would go to the Man-Man concert at club Congress and bet I would bet, I get in for free. Two, I know a band called cryptic murmurs once wrote a song about you. Maybe you're just a little bit jealous because my song kind of kicks your song's butt.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
BLITZER: All not a bad punk song. But talk to me when someone wears a tunic adorned with Anderson Cooper faces. Until then, I will consider myself the reigning rock God of the "ridiculist."
That does it for this edition of "360." Thanks for watching.
"PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts right now.