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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Mitt Romney's Words of Wisdom for Hillary Clinton; Co-Pilot Hijacks His Own Plane; Snake-Handling Pastor Dies of Snake Bite.

Aired February 17, 2014 - 11:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Presidents ' Day, everyone. How are you celebrating? How are we celebrating? Let's look at the polls, shall we?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: That seems like an appropriate way. Some poll numbers to share with you. 42 percent approve of how President Obama is doing his job. That's according to CNN's latest poll of polls. 53 percent disapprove.

BERMAN: This is totally upside down from what it is last year.

Last February, 52 percent approved and 43 percent disapproved.

PEREIRA: Our poll of polls is the latest three latest nonpartisan national reviews.

Mitt Romney has had some words of wisdom for Hillary Clinton. He says if she decides to run for president in 2016, she doesn't need to worry about Bill Clinton's White House baggage.

BERMAN: Listen to what the former presidential candidate said on "Meet the Press."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think Bill Clinton is as relevant as Hillary Clinton if Hillary Clinton decides to run for president. In her case, I think people will look at her record as the secretary of state. And say, during that period of time, did our relations with nations around the world elevate America and elevate our interests or were they receding? I think her record is what will be judged upon, not the record of her husband.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Mitt Romney is the only prominent Republican who says the party shouldn't be focusing on the Clinton's political past.

BERMAN: Karl Rove, the top political adviser to George W. Bush, said revisiting the Clinton White House years probably is not the best way for the Republicans to win in 2016.

PEREIRA: Doesn't that seem like something we should discuss? Yes, so let's bring in Will Cain, CNN political commentator and columnist for "The Blaze"; and Ellis Henican, a "Newsday" columnist and social commentator.

Good to have you both. Their second visit AT THIS HOUR.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: I guess so.

Let's talk about this. It is interesting. Are we seeing a new strategy here, Will? This is a far cry from Senator Rand Paul, focusing on the Lewinsky scandal and Clinton's impeachment?

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think you were seeing a reaction the first time. First of all, I think this was a reaction to the B.S. that is the war on women and pointing out the hypocrisy, coming from a party that elevates Bill Clinton.

If there was a strategy to Rand Paul's original play, it wasn't a Republican strategy, not necessarily a strategy to take down Hillary Clinton. It was probably something for Rand Paul to elevate himself with social conservatives not necessarily part of his base. So the strategy for Republicans is what Mitt Romney said, to analyze Hillary Clinton's record as secretary of state, which is less than sterling. That's the way Republicans can win against her in 16, not by attacking Bill.

ELLIS HENICAN, COLUMNIST, NEWSDAY: But they can't help themselves.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

HENICAN: I am nodding along with everything you say. They can't do it. There is a good reason. What is the Republican Party? It is the party of keep the party open or party of shut the government down? Is the government of comprehensive immigration reform or fight illegal aliens at every moment. You have so much division inside that party that the only thing they can agree on is they hate Barack Obama and the Clintons ain't so great either.

BERMAN: There's some division in the Democratic Party, too, masked by the fact you have a Democratic president and a presumptive Democratic front-runner like Hillary Clinton.

Ellis, I want to ask you this about Hillary Clinton. Whoever is doing it right now, she is in the news every single day. Is this a good thing for the ultimate Hillary Clinton candidacy that we don't know will happen?

HENICAN: It may not. I think she will be a stronger candidate if she has genuine opposition. All the money, support, and early endorsements are to scare off other tough Democrats who say, if she wants to do this, this will be her chance.

PEREIRA: To that end, are Republicans going to have to get over the fact? The Clintons are not going away. They're present, in the news, making headlines all the times. Is this something they have to get past?

CAIN: They have to learn how to deal with the Clintons. Again, I think follow Romney's advise. An interesting point, I think, let's indulge this topic for a moment. What if Hillary Clinton isn't the nominee? The bench is not so deep. There are divisions underneath the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton top shelf. After that, I don't think you sit here today quite so proud of the divisions of the Republican Party. I think you might have some questions to ask. If she is not your nominee, then what?

HENICAN: The benches of neither of these parties is very great. And as long as the Democrats are pushed down by the shadow of Hillary, the others don't run.

BERMAN: What do you think of Hillary Clinton's age? One of the arguments that is just under the surface right now is that she is not young anymore. When Bill Clinton ran against Bob Dole in 1996, he said, it is not just age but the age of his ideas.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: I am not going to give her a pass because she is a woman. Her age is relevant. We talked about how old John McCain is. Her age is relevant. You should ask this about every president. She will be almost 70 in 2016. That would be one of the older presidential candidates. If she is a one-term president, she is 74. If she is a two-term president, she is 78. Are these not worthy questions to ask? I think they are.

HENICAN: It could backfire. You can make that kind of argument the same way you can drag Bill out and say what a rat he was and he was mean to Monica. But he is pretty popular, a lot more popular than most of the Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: If it backfires, Ellis, so be it. If the truth backfires or logical consistency backfires, so be it. These are questions you would ask John McCain when he ran for president. You would ask it if an older man ran for president. You would ask it in this instance as well.

BERMAN: Again, when elections are always about the future, not the past, that's when age factors into it.

HENICAN: She is not that old. Come on. She is not that old.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: 70 is the new 50. What is it?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Thank you for indulging the latest episode of Hillary Clinton running for president or not.

Ellis Henican, Will Cain, thanks very much.

PEREIRA: Shall we switch gears a tad? Let's talk Sochi, why not? We have some potential spoilers. If you are sitting at home and don't want to know, this is your opportunity to turn away, but only for a minute and then I want you back.

BERMAN: Here we go. Now, Michaela, rooting for the Canadians. They are not in first place. The Dutch lead the medal count with 17, five of them gold. Russia and the U.S. are tied for second place with 16. Each has four gold. Norway is next with 14 medals, five of them gold. Where are the spoilers? We're not telling anyone who won. We're just talking about medals.

PEREIRA: Germany, seven golds. Canada, 14 medals. Don't deny our 14.

BERMAN: We humbly apologize if you did not want to know the medal count.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREIRA: Not that you haven't told it eight times a day. Wait. That's just me.

Ahead AT THIS HOUR, a co-pilot hijacking his own plane. How did he do it? Why did he do it? We will tell you all of that. Also, how we can upgrade safety here in America, right after the break.

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PEREIRA: The co-pilot on a jet from Ethiopia hijacked his own flight and took it to Switzerland in what he says is a desperate plea for asylum.

BERMAN: He's under arrest and the 202 passengers and crew members are all OK. As far as the hijacking goes, it ended pretty well. But it does make you wonder. How can this kind of thing even happen? A co- pilot, a pilot hijacking his own plane.

PEREIRA: Jim Tilmon is an aviation expert. Tom Fuentes is a CNN law enforcement analyst.

Good to have you both with us.

Jim, let's start with you.

We want to know about how rare it is that a co-pilot would hijack a plane. It feels like such extreme measures, the lengths he went to to seek asylum. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

JIM TILMON, AVIATION EXPERT: Through the years, there have been a few cases where one of the pilots has done something really outside the norm. This I consider way outside the norm. This is not something that happens every day. My question is, if he wanted to go to Switzerland, buy a ticket.

BERMAN: Tom, let me ask you this. The asylum thing aside, this man took control of an aircraft and had control over where it was going. He hijacked it for whatever reason. What kind of protections are in place, especially for American air space here, against a rogue pilot?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST & FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: John, this is a great example of unintended consequences. After the 9/11 hijackings where terrorists took control of the flights and entered the cockpit by force and flew the planes into buildings or into the ground, it was decided to create this barrier system where cockpit doors lock from the inside and cannot be penetrated from the outside.

The unfortunate consequence is if one of the members has to go to the washroom and leaves the cockpit, that leaves the other person in the cockpit by himself or herself. They can lock that door and lock their other colleague out, which is what apparently happened in this case. The co-pilot locks out the pilot when he goes to the bathroom and takes over the plane and the pilot can't get back in to do anything about it.

PEREIRA: Jim, the fact that it was something that happened -- we don't know very many facts. We know these details about locking the other pilot out and taking the plane to Switzerland. Do you feel like this was a planned thing? He could have bought a ticket to Switzerland and gone there.

TILMON: I think we have a lot to learn about the motives. I find it difficult to believe that this was not a premeditated situation, that he had not planned for such an eventuality and given the chance to go ahead and exercise what he had planned to do all along. It was very convenient for his day.

(CROSSTALK)

TILMON: I'm concerned about it, mostly because I don't want anybody to get the impression that this is something that just could happen any day of the week.

PEREIRA: Right.

BERMAN: What's to keep it from happening, Tom Fuentes? We have a lot of planes coming to the United States from all over the world with pilots from all nationalities. I don't think there is necessarily any reason to worry. But what kind of measures do we have in place to screen these pilots?

FUENTES: We don't have adequate measures in place to do the psychological testing that would be necessary. There is no guarantee that would be accurate. In 1999, FBI colleagues of mine worked on the case where the Egypt Air flight going from New York to Cairo, Egypt, was literally flown into the ocean by the co-pilot when that captain left to go to the bathroom. In that case, the pilot came back in and the flight recorders revealed the two of them wrestling for control of the aircraft, and unfortunately, the co-pilot won, flew that plane into the ocean and more than 200 people were killed off the coast of Massachusetts.

PEREIRA: This kind of thing is so unsettling for anybody that travels by air. Do we have any sense, Jim or Tom, what kind of trouble -- maybe you can answer, Jim -- what kind of charges this guy potentially could face?

TILMON: I understand the only charge that is pending now is taking of hostages. That does carry a 20-year sentence. I don't think that kind of deterrent is going to make a big difference here. This had to have some kind of political significance. He really wanted to get the word out for whatever his message was.

Otherwise, he could have done this in so many other ways that would have been less trouble for everybody. This guy has demonstrated a little bit of a flaw in our system. But I don't expect that to happen again for a very long time. The airlines are going to be more cautious about their testing and their psychological profiles and everything else they can be.

PEREIRA: One would hope.

Jim Tilmon, aviation expert; and our CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, really a pleasure to have you both to suss this out with us. Thank you, gentlemen.

BERMAN: Ahead for us AT THIS HOUR, it was something Pastor Jamie Coots believed in so fiercely, he bet his life on it. Saturday, he died from a snakebite. So what's going on here? How common is this? That's next.

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BERMAN: So he had been bitten before but, Saturday, the bite was fatal. This is the snake handling star of "National Geographic" channel's "Snake Salvation." He died Saturday after a poisonous snake bit him in church.

PEREIRA: Authorities say Pastor Jamie Coots refused treatment and died later at his home.

Listen to his son talking about his final moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CODY COOTS, PASTOR'S SON: I smacked him in the face and said, "Dad, talk to me." And after he passed out in the bathroom, he never did say anything else. His last words, he said, "Sweet Jesus." And that was it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Coots and members of his Pentecostal church believe a passage in the Bible suggesting poisonous snakes won't hurt believers as long as they are anointed by God.

BERMAN: That believe is based on this passage in the book of Mark that says, "They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."

We want to talk about this with Bob Smietana. He's president of the Religion Newswriters Association and former religion reporter for "The Tennessean" in Nashville.

PEREIRA: Bob, we know you've done a lot of reporting on all of this. You actually knew Pastor Coots. Were you surprised at this? Did you think he was sort of living on borrowed time?

BOB SMIETANA, PRESIDENT, RELIGION NEWSWRITERS ASSOCIATION & FORMER WRITER, THE TENNESSEAN: You know, I talked with him at length about this several years ago. And he knew that it was dangerous. There was something about him that also felt indestructible. So I was surprised when I heard about it.

BERMAN: Indestructible. Clearly, he refused help. Is that somehow based on religious belief here, do you think?

SMIETANA: Yeah. They -- there is a split among some of the snake- handlers. Some will go seek medical attention when bit. But most will say they'll lay hands on folks and ask God to heal them. And he had been bitten at least seven or eight times before and recovered. So he felt like God would be -- would heal him or if he died, it was God's will.

PEREIRA: Bob, give us an understanding. You have studied this, and you're familiar with the pastor. How common is this form of worship? What are the numbers like in terms of the amount of churches and followers they have?

SMIETANA: It's pretty rare. It's a handful of churches. Mostly when those churches mostly have 40 or 50 members. It's often handed down through families. So Pastor Coots' father had been a serpent-handling pastor. His kids are serpent-handling pastors. Nobody knows for sure, because they don't -- until recently, they really have been secretive.

And what happens is often they -- you get somebody charismatic like Pastor Coots and somebody dies and they go into hiding. They have been more active the last few years. They use social media. They have been on a reality show -- I've heard about Pastor Coots' death on Facebook from one of the other pastors.

BERMAN: It's part of a reality show here. I won't be surprised if people are watching to see something unusual, to see snakes, you know, in a church, which is an unusual setting. But do people really understand what's going on inside that church with those snakes? I wonder if you can explain that.

SMIETANA: Well, it's really an interesting thing. They are -- they are actually surprisingly careful with snakes. You have to be -- they want you to be a member of the church. They want you to have kind of an upright life. They want you to pray ahead of time. They don't let visitors handle the snakes. Usually in the front of the church are the pastors and some of the older members of the church who handle the snakes. There is a lot of singing and dancing and praying and shouting and music.

And then the snakes come out. And it is quite stunning. I mean -- in one case, I was standing in the parking lot and they started handling the snakes. And they were about maybe less than a foot away from me and it was unnerving. But they are -- it's -- they're in this kind of state of ecstasy. So they really feel like they're feeling God's spirit. Reverend Coots told me it was indescribable.

Some of the church members had been former drug addicts. They say it's better than any drug. They really feel God's presence. And they watch over -- if you're a new snake handler and you're going to handle a snake, the older members of the church are going to watch out for you. And so it's not -- they don't provoke the snakes. I think that's one thing people think that, well, they're like jumping out of a window and waiting for God to heal you. No, they don't provoke the snakes. They're careful in how they handle them. But they are also aware they could die. And --

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: Bob --

(CROSSTALK)

SMIETANA: Coots had some dear friends die.

BERMAN: Bob, thank you so much for joining us. This is a tragedy. Appreciate you being here.

Tonight, we should tell you, is a big night in entertainment. Jimmy Fallon will start on "The Tonight Show" tonight. It is the first time "The Tonight Show" has been in New York in decades. He'll, of course, have the band, the Roots, with him. Actor Will Smith, U2 are set to be his first guests. And everyone talking about the ratings, how will Jimmy do against Jimmy? The other Jimmy, Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman.

PEREIRA: A story we want to show you out of Phoenix. Beware of roving Chihuahuas. Animal control officials in one area say they have been seeing a spike in calls from people change about these roaming Chihuahuas. Officials say home foreclosures and undocumented workers being forced out and people are abandoning their dogs and abandoning them in large numbers. Chihuahuas are one of the most common breeds at the animal shelter in Maricopa County.

BERMAN: A study out of Canada has found something startling. If you are a jerk online, it is highly likely you are, in fact, a jerk.

PEREIRA: No way.

BERMAN: This was a study of so-called Internet trolls, people who make wretched, demeaning, cruel comments. The study found that in real life, these people display signs of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. That is like the trifecta of jerkdom. And it's not the Internet that's making you a jerk. You're pretty much a jerk already, a sadistic Machiavellian one, to boot. So what do you think of this study? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter. The address is @thishour.

PEREIRA: You mean, if you're a jerk in real life, you're a jerk online too?

BERMAN: If you're a jerk, you're a jerk. Science.

PEREIRA: We're going to discuss this tomorrow AT THIS HOUR. We hope you'll tune in for that. Comment at Twitter.

BERMAN: "Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield, no jerk at all, starts right after this.

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