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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Sheriff: Student Opens Fire In School; Report: "Fake" Interpreter Has Long Criminal Record; Report: Missing American Worked for the CIA

Aired December 13, 2013 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Jake Tapper, in for Erin Burnett.

Breaking news: another deadly school shooting. This one in Colorado. Almost a year to the day since the deadly Newtown, Connecticut, shooting that left 20 school children dead.

Three students were wounded this afternoon, one seriously, at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, after a gunman, also a student at the school, opened fire with a shotgun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was terrifying because they heard gun shots. And Dana, she came running down the stairs saying someone had been shot and they all ran into a room and she went into shock. And now, we're all just terrified.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: According to the sheriff, the suspected shooter was targeting a specific teacher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF GRAYSON ROBINSON, ARAPAHOE COUNTY: Today at 12:33 p.m., a lone gunman entered the school on the west side. The gunman came into the school and immediately asked for the location of a very specific teacher and he named that teacher by name. When the teacher heard that this individual was asking for him, the teacher exited the school immediately. One student was shot by the shooter. That student was transported immediately by Littleton Fire Rescue and that student is currently in serious condition at a local hospital undergoing surgery.

A second victim was shot. That individual suffered a very minor gunshot wound and is being treated at a local hospital. We believe that individual going to be released before the end of the evening. Currently right now, it appears to us that shooter is dead as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Today a nation on edge watched a scene that has become all too familiar, students in fear, fleeing a school with their hands in the air. CNN's Ana Cabrera is outside the school. Ana, what more can you tell us about what the student had with him when he went into the school today? We've heard reports of a possible Molotov cocktail.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The sheriff tells us the bomb squad is working to identify exactly what this device is that they found, really releasing very few details. Making sure the information they do give us is accurate, but they do believe that he had some kind of incendiary device with him. We are working to get more information on that perhaps the next sheriff briefing.

But again, we know he was carrying the shotgun in plain sight. He made no effort to conceal it. And again, confronted some students to ask where this teacher was that he was apparently targeting and then continued to move on through school. We've learned this student made his way pretty far into the school before the shooting happened, before he shot at least two, three other students before taking his own life.

So right now, the sheriff and the investigators from the state as well as the FBI, we understand, have been called, and are working on interviewing witnesses. They're working on interviewing parents, relatives of the shooter, to try on gather more information as to what kind of a plan there was.

And of course, the biggest question that so many wanted to know is why? Why did this happen? Why another school shooting? Why does anybody have to get hurt? A lot of questions still as this investigation is just getting underway -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Ana, you've obviously been reporting and we know, we've heard names, I don't want you to name anyone right now, but in terms of who the shooter is, is there any indication from having talked to other students that this was a troubled kid? That this was somebody with emotional problems, anything indicating that at all?

CABRERA: Tat just adds to the mystery, Jake. A student here says he was very good friends with the shooter and he said I never saw this coming. This is not the type of student that you would expect this from. He was likable, pretty outgoing, part of the speech and debate team. He had a lot of friends. He was not a loner by any means. He didn't speak of violence. So at this point, what happened here today is a stunner. It is a mystery to people who knew the shooter well and certainly we don't know a ton about his back ground as the police have not yet identified him. We are working to gather that information -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Ana, lastly we know of three victims, three students. One of whom was described by the sheriff as being in serious condition. Any update on how they are doing? They are all at the hospital, I believe. What is their status?

CABRERA: Really, that one student is the student who has the most serious injuries. Last we heard is he is undergoing surgery and the sheriff only could describe his injuries as very serious. And we did ask follow-up questions to ask, can you give us more information about the extent of the injuries? Where he was shot? He or she, I should say, again only identified as a student of the school.

And right now, they're not releasing names. They're not releasing any more specifics. One student who has the very serious injuries that required surgery, two other students, as we've been told, had minor injuries and were taken to the hospital, but they believe those students at this point going to be just fine -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ana Cabrera, thank you so much. I know you'll keep us updated. I want to bring in Christian Myers, a sophomore, on the phone. Christian was in class when he heard the gunshots. Christian, you're going on want to turn off your TV there because we're getting a repetition. How were you first made aware that there was a gunman inside the school?

CHRISTIAN MYERS, STUDENT, ARAPAHOE HIGH SCHOOL (via telephone): One of our teachers, our science teacher named Mr. Wallace came in and let us know.

TAPPER: What did he say exactly?

MYERS: He ran into the room. He just yelled. He goes, lock down. Do what you would do in a lockdown drill. This is not a drill.

TAPPER: How often do you do lockdown drills?

MYERS: I would say once every three months. I've done quite a bit. So I knew exactly what to do. Arapahoe prepares really well.

TAPPER: What did it entail getting into a lockdown situation?

MYERS: We all went into a corner. I was upstairs in a room so we all went into a corner and turned off the lights and locked the door.

TAPPER: And how long were you there?

MYERS: Well, we were there for about, I want to say 30 to 35 minutes. Maybe a little bit longer.

TAPPER: What could you hear if anything while you were in lockdown in this room with the door locked and the lights out?

MYERS: Well, right away we got in our corner. None of us really, we weren't serious about it. We've always had lockdown drills, but none of them have been, they've all been drills. We weren't sure what would happen and so we were all kind of like talking until our teacher was like, you need to be quiet. This is not a drill.

OK, and then all of a sudden we just heard a lot of rumbling. Like a ton of rumbling. It sounded like desks were hitting everything and there was so much and then we just heard -- I did. I heard three gunshots and it was just bam, bam, bam. Yes.

TAPPER: You heard gunshots. Did you know that they were gunshots at the time? MYERS: I was not aware at the time, but one of my classmates had this app on his phone. And it was a police radio interceptor. So he got to hear everything that the police were saying and so within 5 minutes of us hearing the gunshots we heard the police say, confirmed fire. And the suspect has entered the building.

TAPPER: At this point, were you, obviously you were not joking around anymore. Were you scared? Were you concerned? Did you feel secure and safe in that room?

MYERS: Well, in the room I felt safe, but I was, of course, still worried. There is a gunman loose in our school so I was worried, but I felt safe. There were people around me already starting to cry and I wasn't one of those, but I was definitely worried but I wasn't extremely scared. But yes, I was definitely worried.

TAPPER: When were you able to leave the room? What happened?

MYERS: Well, what happened was I want to say, in the room I was in, it was upstairs. They blocked off the upstairs. So there were about five to ten cops and they all said that we just got a knock on the door. And they were telling us, they were doing a come here wave. So my teacher, we heard the knock and we were all so scared and then we heard the knock and we were like, OK.

We're going to stay down and then one kid peeked his head up. He yelled at the teacher and he said it's a cop, it's a cop and she said still stay down. He said there were four of them that signaled us so we got up and opened the door. We were all single file. We were about toward leave the building and then we don't know. I'm not sure whether or not it was another gunshot, the suspect killing himself.

In my opinion that's what it was. We heard something and all of a sudden the cops just yelled. Get back in class. Go, go, go. We all scrambled into the class. And about 5 minutes later the same cop said you're good to come out. By that time we all single file lined to the outdoors. We went into the parking lot and went on to the track.

TAPPER: Wow! That's a horrifying story. Just to make sure I understand. The first time the police came to your door of the classroom and knocked on the door, they were not speaking probably because they were just trying to be quiet. They must have knocked lightly on the door?

MYERS: Yes. It was by no means a bang. Even the lightest was still scary. The classroom was dead silent. So the only thing could you hear was the vibrations of phones buzzing from parents and friends.

TAPPER: Then when you got outside, what happened next? Are you one of these? We see the film from local TV crews of a bunch of students let out in single file. Their hands in the air, patted down by police, by law enforcement. Obviously trying to make sure just in case the shooter had an accomplice, that person would not be able to get away. Thankfully it doesn't look like he had an accomplice. Were you one of those students being led away with your hands in the air?

MYERS: The single file line, every person had to put their hands up no matter what and so we all put our hands up. The police were just lightly patting us. And we would keep going. Certain students were selected. They would get a full pat down. I did not get a full pat down. I was still briefly patted down.

TAPPER: Is walking out with your hands in the air part of a lockdown drill or were the police telling you to do that?

MYERS: The police were telling us to do that because normally in a lockdown drill, we wouldn't leave our class. We would stay in.

TAPPER: I know you have a twin brother at the school and you had a little trouble reaching him at first. Tell us about that and tell us about when you were able to be reunited with him.

MYERS: That was probably hands down the scariest time I've ever been in my entire life over all. I was with, I was in the corner with my classmates and all of a sudden I go, wait, my brother is not on lunch. He's in the school. I texted him. I go, Austin, are you doing OK? Because I just assumed he knows that he is in lockdown. He doesn't reply. I go, Austin, where are you? Then he doesn't reply. Where are you? Are you OK? Still no reply.

Then I remembered what class he is in. And so I go, I'm texting my friend, Bernie and I go, Bernie, is Austin all right? I need to know. Please tell me and he said Austin never showed up to class today. And at that point my heart just dropped and I go, my gosh, he could be one of the ones who got shot and I'm so scared.

But then, and I'm like freaking out. I tell everyone and I'm on the verge of tears and I don't know what to do and then I texted my dad. I go, dad, Austin is missing. We have no idea where he is and I almost lost it. And then my dad sent me a text. He goes, Austin stayed home. He wasn't feeling good this morning.

And I dropped my phone. And I like, I lost it. I was just, I started crying. I could not believe that he stayed home and he was safe. For all he knew he was one of the ones that got shot.

TAPPER: Well, Christian, aware so glad you and Austin are fine and I'm so sorry about the ordeal that you went through today. Thank you so much for talking to us.

MYERS: No problem. Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: Christian Myers. This small area is no stranger to gun violence. Arapahoe High School is just 8 miles from Columbine High School where two students shot and killed 12 classmates in 1999. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in history. Arapahoe is also about 16 miles from last year's deadly movie theater shooting in Aurora. People in the area have surely been through a lot. Many are asking why here, again, why now?

I'm joined by another student, Arapahoe High School senior, Eric Waugh. Eric, thanks for joining us. You heard the gunshots at school today. Describe for us where you were and what happened.

ERIC WAUGH, ARAPAHOE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I was in my physics room, fifth hour taking a physics test. We were all just being quiet, taking our physics test. At first we heard the first shot and all the science teachers went to the door to see if it was a chemistry explosion or something else. Then the other shots went off and there were three in total.

And then after the three shots went off, my physics teacher took off the magnet from the door. We always deem our doors locked for safety in case something like there happened and he locked the door and yelled at us to get in the corner and we were in the corner in like 2 seconds.

TAPPER: What happened next? What did you hear? How long were you in that classroom?

WAUGH: We heard, we did not hear much until sirens started. We heard the sirens and the police a little later. It would be like half an hour later and then we heard all the SWAT people yelling their commands to each other. We also heard some sort of other noise that some students are saying, some students said it was some sort of explosion of like a bomb or something but I'm not sure. And then after that noise, the SWAT people came to our doors and made sure we were safe and then I felt really secure.

TAPPER: You filed out single file with the other students, hands in the air, pat down by police as a safety measure and then did you go to the local church? Is that what happened?

WAUGH: Yes. The SWAT team came to our door. We saw other students leaving so we knew that was going to happen. Our teacher told us they would evacuate us. We had to hold our hands up in the air. Then we went to the track. We were there for maybe 45 minutes to an hour and then we went on a bus and they drove us to the church.

TAPPER: And your mom or dad picked you up?

WAUGH: My mom picked me up.

TAPPER: That must have been a very wonderful moment for your mom who I'm sure was very worried about you.

WAUGH: Yes. She was very worried and my other family members were, too. They were all hearing it from the news and they were scared. But I made sure to text them during class to tell them I was fine and that we were secured. And my teacher had locked the door. And when the police showed up, I told them that everything was going to be fine.

TAPPER: You're a good son. How are you and your fellow students doing? How are you reacting to this horrific event?

WAUGH: Me and my fellow students, we are really, really, really surprise that had this would happen to Arapahoe High School. We have such a high standard. We feel like we're one of the better, one of the better public schools. We always get people coming to our school and telling us how great the students are. We just achieve, we have such a high expectations. We try to achieve the best that we can.

This happening, we like never thought this would happen to our school. We had talked about it. We had lockdown drills at times, but we never thought would it happen to our school. The area around and what our standards were. We tried to make sure it was always safe.

TAPPER: Without getting into the names because I don't want to you name anybody. The law enforcement will be the ones who do that. But there are stories about this, the shooter seeking out a particular teacher. Do you know anything about, and again, please don't name either the suspected shooter or the teacher. Do you know anything about that dynamic, anything about that relationship? Why that might have happened?

WAUGH: I know that it was the librarian that he was going after and he was in charge of the speech and debate club. And the suspected shooter was part of the speech and debate club for like all four years, I'm pretty sure and he was really, really good at speech and debate. And I guess something made him upset and he went after the teacher because of what the teacher did to him because of the club.

TAPPER: Lastly, how do you feel about returning to school? Is your next day of school Monday, I presume?

WAUGH: We aren't sure if we'll have school or not because they haven't really announced it. Some kids are saying we might not. We might just go on winter break, which is supposed to start next Friday or we might have school. I'm not 100 percent sure. When I go to school, I don't want this to change my senior year experience. It will be awkward and hard for to us deal with this and especially when I go into the library where the shooting happened, it going to be very different, and it will cause me to have certain feelings. But I want to just try to enjoy my year and just try to make the best of it.

TAPPER: You should, Eric, you should enjoy your senior year. Before you go, is there any word that you've heard about your classmates and school mates who have been taken to the hospital, three of them with injuries, one of them with serious injuries. Have you heard anything about that from any parents or teachers?

WAUGH: From the rumors, I have heard that a girl tried to stop the shooter. She saw him in the hallway going into the library. And she ended up getting shot and I heard another, one of the victims got shot in the head and they're in critical condition.

TAPPER: OK. Eric Waugh, thank you so much. I hope you do enjoy your senior year and I'm sorry that you had to endure this horrific day.

WAUGH: Thank you.

Still to come, more of our breaking news coverage of the Arapahoe High School shooting. I'll ask law enforcement why it was so easy to carry a shotgun into the school and what changes need to be made, if any, to ensure that nothing like this happens again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back now with more on the shooting today at a suburban Denver high school. Three Arapahoe High School students were injured when another student entered the school armed with a shotgun and opened fire. The shooter we are told was intending to confront a teacher. The teacher was not harmed, but the shooter was later found dead from what the sheriff says appears to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

Earlier when the situation was still unfolding, I spoke with Whitney Riley, a freshman who was hiding inside the building when the shooter first opened fire. Here is some of my interview with Whitney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WHITNEY RILEY, ARAPAHOE HIGH SCHOOL (via telephone): So I was getting ready to grab my computer from my locker and then I had walked back to a room called the study center where I do my homework. And we were having fun and laughing and then all of a sudden we heard a really loud bang. And my teacher asked what it was and then we heard two more. And we all got up and screamed and ran into a sprinkler system room.

TAPPER: So you heard three shots. Where were they coming from?

RILEY: It sounded like it was coming from the hall that was near us. Like a C hall and an S hall for south and central.

TAPPER: And then did you stay in that sprinkler system area with your teacher and other students?

RILEY: Yes. We had like five students in one room with two other teachers and we were shaking, we were crying, we were freaking out. I had a girl biting my arm.

TAPPER: That must have been terrifying. What happened next?

RILEY: We stayed quiet and we heard a whole bunch of sounds. We hear people yelling. We heard walkie talkies and we were hearing police ask the shooter to drop the gun and put the gun down and hold his arms up.

TAPPER: Did you hear another gunshot after that? Because we're told by the sheriff that they found the shooter, they found him dead with what they described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Did you hear another gunshot?

RILEY: We did not hear another gunshot. They could have moved. The sounds kept getting further away. Sometime they would come closer. But after all that happened, we ended up evacuating as soon as we heard police yelling that it was like we needed to get out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Three students were injured, which brings up the question of what more can be done to ensure the safety of our students. I'm joined now by HLN law enforcement analyst, Mike Brooks, school safety consultant, Kenneth Trump, and CNN's Tom Foreman who was based in Denver for 10 years and covered the Columbine shooting.

Mike, we'll start with you. We're seeing this scene unfold all too often. Too often I'm finding myself asking questions of children about crimes that they witnessed. What are the key questions law enforcement is asking tonight to try to ensure this does not happen again?

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, Jake, in this particular case, you hear the sheriff say that there was a school resource officer who was assigned to that high school, who was one of the first responders who went directly towards that gun fire as the other officers were arriving on the scene and putting together their active shooter protocol. So can you put an officer in every single elementary, middle school and high school? Most likely not.

And then the question comes up. Should there be armed security in some of these schools? I think if you have someone who is properly trained, possibly former military who goes through training with law enforcement and is properly trained in this kind of job, I don't have a problem with that.

But there are other school districts that we've seen after Newtown, Jake, where now they're calling for teachers to carry weapons, I think it is something that needs to be taken very, very seriously. OK, if you are a teacher and you have a weapon because there are some school districts that are allowing this now. What kind of training do you have? Have you trained with law enforcement for a situation such as this? But again, we can't put a cop in every single school.

TAPPER: Ken, you were on "THE LEAD" earlier today as they was developing, as we watched the students evacuating the school, single file, hands up. Some of them then getting patted down by law enforcement, responding as a father, it looks traumatic for those kids. You said then and I'm sure you'll say, correctly so, that this is protocol.

KENNETH TRUMP, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SCHOOL SAFETY AND SECURITY SERVICES: Certainly as a father and safety professional, my thoughts go out with the victims and all the staff. I've been in this business for more than 30 years working with schools. When you see that each and every time as a dad you envision your kids in there. And it is hard to believe but from a safety perspective, a training perspective, it is following the textbook lessons of Columbine nearby where it happened today, hands in the air.

You don't know if there are cars in the parking lot that have explosives like in Columbine did. You need to keep them away, a brief check. Each officer encounters someone. That person could be a part of a plot, could be another shooter. For their safety, they can't get in and then kids on the inside and neutralize the shooter if you don't know who is there.

Rapid deployment, school resource officer, I agree 100 percent, if you're going to have an armed person in the school, it needs to be a trained, officer. Lockdowns, you heard a lot of interviews conducted day with the kids talking about training for those lockdowns. After Sandy Hook, a lot of people have marginalized, minimized the lockdowns. It saves lives including even in Sandy Hook.

We've had some really questionable advice in the field in the last 11 close to 12 months now after Sandy Hook about teaching kids to throw cans of soup and items to attack armed gunmen, bullet proof ballistic white boards. If you focus those fundamentals, the lessons of columbine, controlled evacuations by the police, having a reunification site that going to hold a number of parents, having a crisis communications plan, notifications for parents, all of the pieces you've covered as this has unfolded have been the things that we've trained people for.

While it is hard as a dad and for parents, you're going to feel some sense of comfort knowing your schools are prepared for this within reason without going over the top. And people who need to be the nervous the most are when your schools can't answer those questions, what do you have in place to prevent and it how well prepared are you to manage what you cannot prevent.

TAPPER: Tom, one of the things we've been noting, these kids are doing drills. Lockdown drills. The student I interviewed a few minutes ago, Christian Myer, I believe his name, was talking about how they do these drills every three months. (Inaudible), the Columbine shooters from 1999, what they did that day affect what students who weren't even born in 1999 doing school in terms of preparing for another horrific incident.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Columbine changed everything about how we respond to these events. You could tell that day standing next to the school, watching things evolve. You could see in law enforcement, in school teachers, you could see in families, the community, churches, everyone saying this is something we have not been prepared for. We didn't imagine something on this scale.

It changed everything. And we all reacted to it. I had a daughter who was in grade school that fed into Columbine in that area at the time. Our children went through the lockdown. My wife saw and it had friends in the school that very day.

So, it changed how we all react to it. And it is true, everything we saw today is an outgrowth of that. And although we will continue to have horrific horrible events that happen from time to time, there is no question the lessons of Columbine keep some of these from becoming as bad as they might.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks, Mike Brooks, Ken Trump, Tom Foreman. We appreciate it.

Still to come, new information and new developments in the shooting in Arapahoe High School.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're just getting in a firsthand account of the shooter's movements inside Arapahoe High School. An account from a janitor. He saw the gunman take a shot at another student.

Here he is speaking to our affiliate KUSA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FABIAN, JANITOR AT ARAPAHOE HIGH SCHOOL: I was turning the corner when I saw a kid running into the building on the north side of the building. He was kind of running side to side military style. When I saw that, I double looked to see if it was a gun. It was shotgun.

So, right away, I got on the radio to alert everyone and the staff to -- hey. And when he went in, that's when I heard the shots. I heard the loud shots. He went in there, turned to go to the library. He was looking for one person in specific.

REPORTER: How do you know that?

FABIAN: Because the person he was looking for, when he went into the library, he said, where is (AUDIO DELETED), and he turned around and he ran out. That's when he took a shot at (AUDIO DELETED), missing him, and he ran out to the back, and that's when I ran into him, got him in the truck and kind of moved him across. He was very shaken up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We'll bring you more details on the shooting as the story develops.

There are other stories we want to bring you this evening.

A shocking revelation about the so-called fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela's service. South African news network ANCA is reporting that Thamsanqa Jantjie, the man seen here just three feet from President Obama, has faced a long list of criminal charges in the past, including murder, kidnapping and rape.

Jantjie told our David McKenzie in an interview yesterday that he suffered from schizophrenia but claimed that it was controllable. CNN has not been able to reach him today for further comment.

Errol Barnett has more on this story.

Errol, what else do we know about these charges?

ERROL BARNETT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, these charges against him are turning out to be a bombshell here in South Africa. We should note that the charges of murder and rape, he was found not guilty of. He was found guilty of theft. It's unclear if he served any time. Two other charges against this man were withdrawn. Now, when our affiliate ANCA who uncovered these documents reached out to Jantjie, he didn't deny the charges. He wouldn't comment further. And then he turned around and asks how the network got their hands on these documents.

Now, the plot thickens, Jake, because we tried to get to the courthouse to get these documents and were told they were kept offsite for the time period we were investigating. The government is going to face massive questions about security at Tuesday's event.

As you mentioned, the U.S. President Barack Obama was feet away from this man who has admitted to CNN and other networks that he suffers from schizophrenic. Yet we don't know how the government vetted this man and all of this before Nelson Mandela's funeral on Sunday. Serious questions this weekend, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Errol, just to make sure I understand. He was tried but found not guilty when it comes to the murder and rape charges?

BARNETT: Yes, exactly. When we try to find out exactly what the charges were or why they were withdrawn, we can't get to that stage. All of this happening late Friday here in South Africa, where it's 2:30 in the morning now. The government has launched an investigation into how exactly he was vetted. The U.S. Secret Service saying the south African government was in charge of security but we're not receiving any answers yet.

As you know, the government is inundated and consumed with the funeral of Nelson Mandela which will take place Sunday. Monday in this country is a holiday.

So all of these questions hanging over the last few days of the 10 days of mourning for Nelson Mandela, but they are certainly serious ones.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, Errol Barnett. We appreciate it.

Still to come, an American vanished in 2007. Some believe he was secretly working for the government at the time, a claim the White House denied today. But is the White House telling the whole truth?

Plus, a Christmas controversy. A FOX News host says Jesus and Santa are white. Is there any truth to that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Did missing American Bob Levinson secretly work for the U.S. government when he disappeared in Iran in 2007? Well, according to the White House, the answer is no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Bob Levinson was not a U.S. government employee when he went missing in Iran. As there is an ongoing investigation into his disappearance, I am not going to comment further on what he may or may not have been doing in Iran. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "The Washington Post" reports that Levinson was under contract with the CIA when he vanished.

National correspondent Susan Candiotti has been on this story for years.

Susan, the White House seems to be, shall we say, carefully parsing its words, choosing its words selectively? What do you make of it?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's what's happening, perhaps drawing a distinction between being a government employee and being a contract employee for the CIA.

I can tell you this, there is no doubt that according to the family of Bob Levinson who have documents to prove this, that Bob Levinson was a contract employee for the CIA. And, in fact, they're very disappointed in the White House for what they say, not standing up for Bob Levinson.

I just finished an interview with David McGee, who was a family attorney for the Levinson family and he said indeed, he was a CIA operative. That he worked as an analyst oftentimes just in title, in fact was an operative.

That his specific mission in Iran was to investigate corruption there. Specifically skimming oil money and where billions of dollars were going and he was trying to track that down. But he had also done spy work into nuclear energy in the Middle East. Nuclear energy plans and activity and reactors. And also, into Hezbollah.

Now, I asked, he also said that this operation was conducted under the table, a rogue operation. And this is how he explained it to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MCGEE, LEVINSON FAMILY ATTORNEY: What they were doing was contrary to policy and rules within the CIA it was -- clearly, a foreign offense, which is what led to the trouble in this case. When confronted when he's caught, they have the choice of either telling people what they've been doing and losing their position, and helping Bob, or stonewalling the whole issue, and thereby hopefully saving their position.

They chose to stonewall it. Leave him in Iran and hopefully save their jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And, in fact, it was McGee who helped uncover this information, getting e-mails and documents to prove all of this. And then confronting the CIA whether through Senate intelligence committee, ultimately, getting the CIA to apologize to the family for lying to them -- Jake.

TAPPER: Our thanks to Susan Candiotti. Appreciate it.

Still to come, a Christmas controversy. A FOX News host says Jesus and Santa were white. Does that add up?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Were Jesus and Santa white?

Well, FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly stepped into something of a holiday hornets nest after insisting the two were that, white men. Kelly was reacting to a piece in Slate.com by Aisha Harris, who made the case that Santa should not be a white man anymore, writing, "From here on out, Santa Claus should be a penguin. That's right, a penguin. Why you ask? One thing making Santa Claus an animal rather than an old white male could spare million of non-white kids the insecurity and shame I remember from childhood," unquote.

Here is Kelly's response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: When I saw this headline I laughed, this is ridiculous. Yet, another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa, you know? And, by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white but this person is arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa.

Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change, you know? I mean, Jesus was a white man, too. But it's like we have -- he was a historical figure, I mean, that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I want the kids to know that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, Jesus from Galilee was a white man.

Let's get to CNN legal analysts Mark Geragos and Sunny Hostin.

Sunny, your reaction to what Megyn said?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I was really shocked because I worked with Megyn, and Megyn and I used to do this weekly segment on "The O'Reilly Factor" called, "Is it Legal?" And she's a lawyer and we used to debate all the time and I always found her very prepared and well researched, and I was surprised at her ignorance, because my mother is an educator.

And when I grew up, we knew that the history of Santa Claus was that he was from modern day turkey. And so, in fact, he was brown man. And I've always had brown Santas in my home. And anyone that knows anything about the history of Jesus Christ also knows he was also a brown man.

That's the picture of my Santa that is in my kitchen. In fact, when my children see white Santa Clauses at department stores, they call him the fake Santa. So, I'm surprised at Megyn's ignorance on this subject, especially given the platform she has. I think she should be ashamed of herself.

TAPPER: OK. So that's your take.

I read, Mark, an interesting interview with a scholar tonight who said, look, Jesus was from Galilee, so he would look like a Jewish- Palestinian. But what Christ is all about is that he is every man. So, in China, you'll find -- if there are Christians allowed to practice Christianity there, that Jesus would be Chinese and in South America, that Jesus would be South American, and that Megyn Kelly's Jesus is white, because that's how every single person sees Christ.

Do you think that scholar has any sort of point, or do you think Megyn Kelly needs to apologize?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I think, look, the scholar clearly has a point. There is the whole idea of Jesus and accepting Jesus and getting into this kind of a debate is that you are -- you're proselytizing people wherever they may be in the world. She's got the right, obviously, Megyn does, the first amendment right to express her views politically. Sunny can make any kind of philosophical argument --

HOSTIN: She's being historically inaccurate.

GERAGOS: Well, you're talking a couple of different arguments here, Sunny.

HOSTIN: Can you admit that?

GERAGOS: You can talk about the historical inaccuracy. You can also the fact she's got a First Amendment right to express her views, which I think she was doing --

HOSTIN: There's a difference between a view and saying something is a fact.

GERAGOS: Well, philosophically, she can adopt the scholar's view that wherever you are, it's a symbol and you're viewing the symbol with whatever symbolism you want. So, what's the matter with that and why -- I don't understand why we're denigrating her and calling her ignorant or anything else. There's a lot of people would say the whole argument is nonsensical to begin with.

HOSTIN: Because it is ignorant to be historical inaccurate when you have that kind of platform. And I think it's a shame when race is such an important topic in our culture, in our world, in our cities, when someone is sort of whitewashing history and it's happened for so very long in our society, and why can't someone like Megyn Kelly be accurate, be well informed and give factually and historically accurate information, which is the history of Jesus is that he's a brown man --

GERAGOS: Santa --

HOSTIN: And St. Nick, the same thing, a fourth century bishop.

GERAGOS: I think what you're saying is that Santa is a Turk. If Santa is a Turk, he's an Armenian, I take great offense to that. I'm not going to let my kids talk about Santa anymore because --

HOSTIN: The orange --

GERAGOS: The Turks need to admit a lot of things. So, I don't know calling the Turks a blacks or that they are black Santa, you're going to get a whole lot of Turks who are going to embrace that, Sunny.

HOSTIN: Listen, the bottom line is that's the historical perspective. Now, of course, Santa Claus now has become sort of this a magical faith-based symbol and I think that's wonderful --

GERAGOS: Right.

TAPPER: I got to cut your guys off. I got --

GERAGOS: OK.

I got to cut your guys off. Wonderful job, appreciate it -- Sunny Hostin and Mark Geragos.

Coming up, the latest on the school shooting in Colorado. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Coming up live on a press conference with the sheriff of Arapahoe County.

Let's take a listen.

SHERIFF GRAYSON ROBINSON, ARAPAHOE COUNTY: They immediately implemented our active shooter protocol. Our active shooter protocol is exactly the same as the active shooter protocols trained locally and regionally and across the United States, and that protocol and that purpose relative to the active shooter response is to go immediately to the threat and eliminate the threat.

The deputy that is assigned as the school resource officer did exactly as he was trained and as he's expected to do.

From the time that the deputy called out the incident until the time that he discovered the shooter's body, was with -- was within five minutes. The deputy did his job, school security did their job, and the additional responding deputy sheriffs that made up an active shooter response team did their job extraordinary well. I believe that their quick response and their reaction saved lives in this particular incident.

I have no way of knowing, nor will I have a way of knowing, but I believe the shooter knew that deputy sheriffs were immediately about to engage him, and I believe that that shooter took his life because he knew that he had been found.