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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Crisis in Syria; Interview With Maya Angelou; Former Poet Laureate Reflects on 50th Anniversary of Washington March

Aired August 28, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight, breaking news. President Obama says there's no doubt chemical weapons were used in Syria or that the Syrian regime used them. The question now, what is he going to do about it? We are going to take a hard look at the tough choices.

Also tonight, they have run from our cameras, the charity we have identified as America's worst, raising millions, tens of millions, they say, for dying children, but spending next to nothing on them. Now finally they're talking. Their claim and how it adds up, we're "Keeping Them Honest."

And, later, President Obama stands where Dr. King stood half-a- century years ago and speaks to the courage that carried marchers to Washington and helped carry a nation forward. We will speak to Maya Angelou, who was and is part of that struggle. She joins me tonight for an emotional and inspiring conversation.

We begin though with Syria and the breaking news. President Obama tonight not saying if or when, but clearly making the case for a limited strike on Syria, not, however, to take down the Assad regime, only to punish it for using chemical weapons. He spoke late today with PBS' Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, who asked him the key question right off the bat.


JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS: How close are you to authorizing a military strike? And can you assure the American people that, by doing so, given Iraq and Afghanistan, that the United States will not get bogged down in yet another war halfway around the world?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, I have not made a decision.

I have gotten options from our military, had extensive discussions with my national security team. We do not believe that, given the delivery system, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks.

We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences.


COOPER: As for what those consequences might be, the president says he does not foresee an open-ended conflict with Damascus. The aim, he said, would be to send a signal.


OBAMA: We want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people, against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you're also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected. And that needs to stop.


COOPER: In the meantime, the president is trying to get his diplomatic ducks in a row. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met informally today, member and ally Great Britain gearing up for a vote in Parliament, drafting a Security Council resolution authorizing "necessary measures to protect civilians."

Syria's key ally Russia calling it premature, saying there's no proof yet the Assad regime is behind last week's chemical attack. On the ground in Syria, U.N. inspectors got back to work and got a warm welcome. Survivors lining the streets, greeting the white Toyota SUVs with cries of "God is great." They will be working for another several days.

Fred Pleitgen, one of the few Western reporters still in Syria, is once again monitoring developments in the Syrian capital and he joins us now.

What's the latest there tonight, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest is actually a report we're trying to confirm right now. And that is that apparently some key military installations, the headquarters of the air force and possibly also the army, seem to have drastically cut down their staff and it's also seems as though the Syrian military might be moving some hardware to different locations.

The U.N. ambassador for Syria was asked about that today. He said he wouldn't comment on it. But one of the things that these media are saying is that apparently some of the artillery cannons that are on the hills around Damascus apparently were moved to some other places. And what we're hearing tonight is it's very, very quiet here in Damascus. There's a lot less shelling than before. That of course doesn't confirm or deny that report. However, there does seem to be an eerie calm right now in the Syrian capital -- Anderson.

COOPER: There was also kind of a new twist from the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., who announced that he submitted evidence or what he claims is evidence of three previous instances where the opposition had used chemical weapons. What more do you know about that? PLEITGEN: Well, they say that those are three incidents that happened in the past couple of days here around the Damascus area. There was one incident I found particularly interesting, particularly because I was actually there when it allegedly happened.

It's in the Jobar district and it apparently happened last Saturday, August 22. We were around that area when the Syrian military said its forces were moving into that district and then came under the influence of some sort of chemical. They say that some of their forces suffered suffocation signs and had to be brought to hospital.

But I was later shown some soldiers who told me they had actually been subject to this chemical, whatever it was, but they didn't show any outward signs of any sort of suffocation. Nevertheless, the Syrian government is saying that it wants the United Nations to look at these incidents as well and possibly stay in the country longer, of course delaying any sort of report that would come out.

COOPER: Fred, is it known how much longer this U.N. team plans to be on the ground?

PLEITGEN: Well, the word that we're getting is about another four days. There are still apparently some sites they want to look at. Of course we have to keep in mind that on Tuesday, they weren't able to go out because of security concerns. They apparently did get a lot done today. They were in the northeastern part of Damascus, in a place called Zamalka, which is the place that apparently had the highest death toll in that alleged chemical attack last Wednesday.

There are some things they still want to work out. It's unclear whether or not they're actually going to stay (AUDIO GAP) time, but right now Sunday appears to be the cutoff day when they plan to leave -- Anderson.

COOPER: Fred Pleitgen, stay safe in Damascus. Thank you.

Talking about options, few of them good, none ideal.

With us, national security analyst Fran Townsend currently sits on the Homeland Security and CIA external advisory boards, also, chief international correspondent and host of "AMANPOUR," Christiane Amanpour, chief national correspondent John King, and Michael Hayden. General Hayden has run both the CIA and the NSA and he is currently a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security consulting firm, and serves on the boards of several defense firms.

Christiane, you have been reporting on this. You have talked to a number of folks of allies of the United States around the world. What is their reaction to this, and in particular, Britain, which is capable of launching Tomahawk missiles? Are they saying that they want the U.N. to actually publish a report before they're willing to make a decision about whether or not to have military action?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the very latest, in fact, from Great Britain is precisely that. They have said now they will not join any action against Syria until there is a report from the U.N. inspectors.

We don't know all the details about what the British actually mean about that, but it certainly does seem to be putting the brakes on what seemed like a lot of momentum from Britain just today, what with that draft U.N. resolution, which was under the Chapter 7, which means under the use of force mandate. That got nowhere. There was not even a U.N. Security Council meeting today. So, that was batted away.

Also, William Hague, the U.K. foreign minister, saying chemical weapons were used, that this is a war crime and the world cannot stand by. And he this morning saying any reaction had to come sooner rather than later, because if it was going to be a lesson, it needed to be a lesson that was given right now. France, where I am, the president has said they stand ready to "punish" anyone who made that "vile" decision to use chemical weapons against innocent civilians.

But it's really not clear right now if they will go with the United States, particularly Britain, if the U.S. decides to go it alone. Obviously, the U.S. does not want to wait for the U.N. approval and it seems the consensus really it's been trying to achieve is amongst NATO forces and NATO countries.

COOPER: Yes. Fran, there's a big distinction with the U.S. position, which seems to be kind of at least waiting for U.N. personnel to get out or this team to finish their investigation, but not actually come up with a published report.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You have to ask what is it you expect the U.N. to be able to say when they leave right on Sunday? First, we know chemical weapons were used. The Syrians, the Russians, everyone acknowledges that there were chemical weapons used. So we have got that first piece of the puzzle dealt with.

The second one is who used them. I think the president, quite rightly, points to the delivery mechanisms to indicate that it's the Syrian regime. We know if the rebels had the sort of capability it would have taken to launch this sort of devastation in addition to chemical weapons, they would have overthrown the Assad regime. So it's reasonable to say that given the delivery systems, it's the Assad regime.

And we don't know what additional classified information. They're talking about declassifying some information that they have -- that further indicates it's the regime. So you know it's chemical weapons. You have got a reasonable basis to believe it's the Assad regime. What you don't know is motive. There's been all sorts of speculation. Was it a command-and-control decision from Assad himself? Was it an individual unit acting?

I mean, that's interesting, but I don't think it's dispositive, because the president's quite right. If you don't act on this proliferation issue, it signals weakness around the world to an accepted principle that these type of weapons should never be used. COOPER: General Hayden, do you agree with this, that the delivery systems for this makes it incredibly unlikely, if not impossible, for the opposition to have been the ones to use these chemical weapons?


I agree totally with what Fran laid out there. And just by instinct, this seems to fit the broader pattern. As Fran suggested, I'm quite sure there's other information that doesn't contradict that which seems obvious and that which has already been made public. I think the president was on very solid ground when he said what he said earlier this evening.

COOPER: It's interesting, John King.

Obviously, this is hugely unpopular. You look at polls. It doesn't seem like anybody obviously wants to be taking this kind of action if in fact action is going to be taken. The president tonight in this interview on PBS making the case that potential military action is in the national security interests of the United States. I just want to replay that for people.


OBAMA: When you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where, over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they're allied to known terrorist organizations that in the past have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility in which chemical weapons -- they can have devastating effects -- could be directed at us.


COOPER: Clearly, whether that is true or not, I mean, clearly, he is trying to build support for some sort of a strike.

KING: They would chafe at the Obama White House when I say this, but it sounds a bit like the Bush doctrine. I need to get them before they can get us there from the president.

He said a few important things tonight, Anderson, in that interview and that was one of them, trying to explain his rationale for why. They have these weapons, they have violated an international norm. If you let them go unsanctioned, what signal would that send to rest of the world? That was an important statement from the president, also saying it's in our core national security interests not only because of that, the chemical weapons violation, but because of the proximity of key allies like Turkey and Jordan and Israel.

And the president also was very clear, I do not want a long-term engagement. I won't have a long-term engagement. The American people need to hear all those things. But he didn't say a lot of things, too. And there are still more things to answer. How does he define coalition, especially if the Brits want to hold on for several more days? Is he willing to go this alone? And what is the end goal? If the goal is not to topple Assad, and you can't directly strike the chemical weapons because of how dangerous that is, what is the goal of the military strikes?

So this is the beginning of a process by the president tonight, by no means the end, in explaining this.

COOPER: Yes. Everyone, stick around. We are just going to take a quick break. We're going to have more with our panel in just a moment.

You can follow me on Twitter and we can talk about it right during the break @AndersonCooper.

Later, what the charity we identified as the worst of the worst has to say for itself. We're "Keeping Them Honest."



OBAMA: What I have said is that we have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place. And nobody disputes -- or hardly anybody disputes that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations.


COOPER: President Obama tonight on the "PBS NewsHour" making it clear that it was a chemical attack last week in the opinion of the U.S. and that the Assad regime is to blame, not revealing how he knows, the White House letting a small number of lawmakers in on the intelligence, but not making it public.

Back now with other panel, Fran Townsend, Christiane Amanpour, John King, and General Michael Hayden.

Christiane, the idea of using this as a shot across the bow, has that worked in the past? Is there a lot of skepticism among people you have been talking to overseas?

AMANPOUR: Well, the thing is, this has been going on now for two-and-a-half years. And actually, there has, by the U.K. account at least, there's been some 10 uses of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in this conflict.

And you remember in April it happened. You remember we had this precise discussion over the last several months about if you didn't enact your red line then, it might happen again, and in fact it did happen again last week to a much more catastrophic effect. We were told that that would happen by the head of the Free Syrian Army if the red line wasn't met when these attacks first happened.

I spoke to the Israeli former head of military intelligence General Amos Yadlin today, who said that they were absolutely sure about the intelligence. As you know, a lot of the chatter has been about Israeli-provided intelligence, intercepted conversations between Syrian army commanders about moving around chemical weapons and the like over the last week in that particular area.

And he said he was absolutely sure based on his past experience that that evidence was credible, that it was the Assad regime, and that, furthermore, something really dramatic needed to happen to degrade Syria's military capability. That, of course, would be good for Israel, and also to show Iran a lesson as well, that actually when there is a red line over weapons of mass destruction, then the international community means that.

So that's why this is incredibly important on that level, although, as I said, these attacks have happened and they haven't been met with military force so far. But, beyond that, you do have that grinding war, which has now killed 100,000 people. And there is no attempt to widen any kind of military operation to end that. That's causing a lot of concern around the world.

COOPER: General Hayden, A., do you buy that this is in the security national interests of the United States, and there's really a national security threat in this conflict to the United States, and also that a shot across the bow, to use your term, will actually work?

HAYDEN: Well, I think the president made a very coherent case about the use of chemical weapons and how that cannot go unnoticed, unresponded to by the international community.

But, really, Anderson, we're trying to use physical destruction to create a mental effect, a mental effect in the mind of Bashar al- Assad and I think indirectly in the minds of the Iranians as well. If you look at the character of the impending attack, if this is a short- duration assault conducted entirely by standoff weapons, air- or sea- launched cruise missiles -- look, I'm a 39-year Air Force veteran. The last thing I want to do is to suggest we put American airmen in harm's way.

But if our message here is to show resolve and our response is to use only standoff weapons for a short period of time and not put Americans at risk, I think we're sending a decidedly mixed message.

COOPER: Fran, do you agree with that?

TOWNSEND: Yes, I do agree with that. I have said from beginning I understand the idea of using standoff weapons.


COOPER: And not having U.S. personnel flying jets over Syrian airspace that could get shot down and captured?

TOWNSEND: Right. I understand that is one step in a larger strategy.

What I think we're missing is the larger strategy. I don't think it's enough to say that you're going to deter them with a single short-term multiday strike. I just -- I don't think we have any reason to believe that. When we have used these standoff assaults before, like after the East Africa bombing, it has a short-term effect, but not a long-term strategic effect.

And that's what you really want to do. You don't want to just deter the Syrians. You want to deter Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Iran from using these kind of weapons as well.

COOPER: And it's interesting, John. Before President Obama became president of the United States, he kept talking about the importance of any military action that the U.S. engages in being pre- approved by the legislative branch, by Congress. That is certainly not something it seems is going to happen in this case.

KING: He's not the first person to get into the executive branch and suddenly have different views about executive powers.

He sounds -- and forgive me -- more like Dick Cheney today than Senator Barack Obama back in 2007 and 2008. But, look, he has the perspective of a commander in chief now. That's not said as a political shot. The commander in chief has to make these very weighty decisions.

There are a number of complications here. Number one, they believe, and most of the executive department lawyers will tell you, under the War Powers Act, they can do this in a limited way. He would have to go back to Congress. If he called Congress back, Anderson, and wanted a vote, there are some who question now as whether he could win.

Those who have seen the intelligence tend to be supportive of the administration. I believe in time they could win any vote in Congress, if they wanted a vote in Congress, but what would that do to the timeline the president wants? What would it do for precedent for the executive branch here?

So there is no indication. The consultations have ramped up considerably in the last 24 to 48 hours. A long list of questions from Speaker John Boehner tonight, from the Republican speaker of the House, that is an important part of this debate now, but there's every indication the administration is going to try to do more to brief Congress and bring them in the loop but no indication at all that they want a vote and would request one.

COOPER: Just very quickly, we have a "Digital Dashboard" question from a viewer tonight.

And, General Hayden, I will toss it to you. The question is, "Does this strike pose a retaliation threat to American citizens worldwide? And if so, why are they willing to take that risk?"

HAYDEN: It does, Anderson. And we have to look down the chessboard here second, third, and fourth moves. We are doing this to show our resolve. It's not illogical, not so much the Syrians, but the Iranians and Hezbollah to then respond to that by showing their resolve as well. If airpower is the strategic reach weapon, then the Iranians' strategic reach weapon is Hezbollah.

COOPER: We will leave it there.

Fran Townsend, appreciate it. Christiane Amanpour, John King, General Michael Hayden, thank you very much.

Up next, a charity that we have been reporting on for the last two nights, they collect tens of millions claiming to grant wishes for dying children. They spend next to nothing on those wishes. They're bashing our reporting, saying that we're being unfair and unbalanced. The Kids Wish Network, that is the name of it, Kids Wish Network.

Now they're staying we have twisted the facts. We're standing by our reporting and by our math. We're "Keeping Them Honest" ahead.

Also, paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his extraordinary speech 50 years ago that helped changed history. I will talk to Dr. Maya Angelou ahead.


COOPER: Hey. Welcome back.

"Keeping Them Honest" tonight, for the past two nights, we have been reporting on a charity called the Kids Wish Network, a charity that we, along with "The Tampa Bay Times" and the Center for Investigative Reporting, have identified as the absolute worst charity, the rock bottom when it comes to how little out of each dollar raised it actually spends helping the sick children it claims to be raising money for.

Now, while they were reporting the story, correspondent Drew Griffin and producer David Fitzpatrick tried repeatedly to get an interview with the folks who run Kids Wish Network. But they didn't want to talk to us. In fact, they hid in their offices, they lied about being there.

Now that the report has aired, however, they suddenly have a lot to say about us. They post a letter on their Web site bashing our reporting, and specifically one of our sources. Now, we stand by our investigation. Drew is going to join me in just a moment.

But, first, here is a recap of what we found.



ANNA LANZATELLA, KIDS WISH NETWORK: Hey, Drew. It's nice to see you.

GRIFFIN: Nice to see you. Can we just ask you questions about all the ratings that have come out?

LANZATELLA: No, I'm sorry. There's been so many misleading reports that have been made that we have asked our attorneys to take a look into everything. And I'm not going to be doing any interviews.

GRIFFIN: Well, we...


LANZATELLA: Thank you.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It is perhaps with good reason Lanzatella and the Kids Wish Network don't wish to answer any of our questions, because they all involve how this tiny charity with a sympathetic name has taken in $127 million of your donations over the last 10 years.

Yet, according to the charity's own tax filings, it has used less than 3 percent of that money to fulfill the wishes of sick children. You heard right, less than 3 percent.

(on camera): We have looked at your own tax returns and determined that less than 3 cents of every dollar raised in cash goes to actual programs or children. Can you at least tell us if your own tax filings are true and that's the case?

LANZATELLA: I'm not going to interview and I'm not going to discuss that. We have made a statement, and it's on our Web site, and we have answered all the questions.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In fact, Anna Lanzatella has never given an interview. The charity's Web site statement says in part: "We are very aware of the high costs involved with fund-raising, and are doing everything we can to allocate more and more dollars to program services every year, while exploring the lowest cost fund-raising opportunities."

But less than 3 cents out of every dollar?

LANZATELLA: That's not true. We're very...

GRIFFIN (on camera): Well, what is the truth? Because that's what's on the tax returns.


LANZATELLA: We're very proud of the good work that Kids Wish Network has done over the last 15 years. We have helped hundreds of thousands of children, and that's what we're going to continue to do.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Year after year, Kids Wish Network continues to collect millions of dollars in donations, $22.8 million in one year, according to its most recent tax filing.

Meanda Dubay spent six months as a wish coordinator with Kids Wish Network.

(on camera): And how did you do that? You just dipped into the funds that everybody had donated to Kids Wish Network and made it happen, right?

MEANDA DUBAY, FORMER CHARITY EMPLOYEE: No. I would call and I would get people to grant me parts of the wish.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): She says she would call hotels, airlines, amusement parks, get freebies, even rental cars and meals all donated while at the same time at another desk in this same building, someone else was also making calls to get money to pay for the wish.

DUBAY: We would have one person call to get the actual services donated, while another person is calling to get the money donated for things that I was already getting for free.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So, if you have this entire wish, let's say, a trip to Disneyland or Disney World, donated, where was this money going?

DUBAY: That, I don't know. I have no idea where that money would go.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It turns out now we do. Records reviewed by CNN and "The Tampa Bay Times" show of the $127 million raised in the past 10 years, $109 million was paid right back to those professional fund-raisers.

An attorney for the charity told CNN, there was "nothing illegal, unethical or immoral" about the charity's fund-raising methods."


COOPER: So Drew Griffin joins me now.

Now, I tweeted the Kids Wish Network last night, asking why they refused to do an on-camera interview, because Drew's tried it. We would love to do an on-camera interview. We will do it live so it's unedited, whatever. They have always declined.

In response, on Twitter, they accused us of doing an unfair and misleading story. They sent out a tweet saying -- quote -- "We trusted @AndersonCooper commitment to fair and balanced reporting. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case."

And then they attach a link to a six-page response on their Web site, and much of it was devoted to trying to discredit the woman in Drew's story, a woman named Meanda Dubay. She was fired from the charity. Right, Drew?

GRIFFIN: Right. Meanda Dubay says 45 minutes after she complained to the board of directors of this charity about irregularities -- excuse me -- on their tax returns, Anderson, she was fired.

Now, the charity says they were planning on firing her anyway, because they say she stole confidential documents. She denies that. They actually convinced the FBI to investigate her.

COOPER: By the way, why a charity has confidential, you know, proprietary documents that the world can't see, I don't quite understand. But any way, the FBI investigated after showing up at this woman's house. They didn't find anything, right?

GRIFFIN: Now, the case was closed by the FBI. The computers that the FBI took in a raid, Anderson, were given back to Meanda Dubay.

The county sheriff's office in Florida also investigated and found there's no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. And it's important to note that none of the financial information we used in our reporting came from Meanda Dubay. CNN, "The Tampa Bay Times," Center for Investigative Reporting, we all used one thing, the charity's own tax returns to determine less than 3 percent of the Kids Wish Network cash goes to kids.

COOPER: Also, I saw them say, well, you know, there was a confidentiality agreement with this employee. Why does a charity have confidentiality agreements with employees? What are they, the CIA? I mean, I never signed a confidentiality, you know, agreement with CNN. I mean, it's ridiculous.

Speaking of that 3 percent number, because that was another thing in their response that they talked about that they said was unfair, they called it the big lie, saying our reporting is flawed and skewed when it comes to the numbers, to that 3 percent. Explain that.

GRIFFIN: Yes, they're basically saying we got the math wrong and that they really spent or spend 56 percent of their total revenue on program services.

Let me tell you how that works. Program services, they include gifts in Kind, the gifts donated to them that they, in essence, are re-gifting. They include donations that are really hard to trace, like gift-in-Kind medicines sent to Africa.

They even include as part of program services telemarketers telling you about the programs during the sales pitch. Telemarketer explaining you how good Kids Wish Network is. That is a program service.

That's not how we look at it or charity rating services and watchdog groups look at it. It's very simple. How much does cash this group take in, in actual donations, and how much cash does this group actually use to fulfill the wishes of six -- sick children? Our math is direct. In the last ten years, it's about 2.5 percent of every dollar, actually, donated to fulfill a wish.

And last year, Anderson, in the last reporting year, it was even worse, 1.29 cents of every dollar. That is the math.

COOPER: That's -- I mean, it's just unbelievable that's what they define as program services, telemarketers. If somebody called you up and said, "We'd like you to donate money, and the vast majority of the money that you're going to donate to us we're going to spend on telemarketers so we can get more money and get the name of our organization better known," you wouldn't donate money. They're not saying that. And I want to show a pictures. This is Anna Lanzatella, the woman you were trying to get the interview with, who was hiding in the office. When you went to the office, you asked if she was there. Someone said, "Oh, no, she's not there." You waited two hours and got her as she was coming out to her car, like Kind of running away to her car.

And we would love to have Ms. Lanzatella -- if you're watching, Anna, we would love to have an interview with you. No shouting, no yelling, just some questions. You have a lot of questions that really, you know, a lot of people donated money to you, more than $100 million over the years, as we said. You've got a lot of nerve. We would love to ask you some questions live on TV, no editing. We'll give you as long as you want. You can see the numbers for yourselves. All the tax returns, all the tax returns are online. We're putting them online. Just go to

If you've got a tip for Drew or the CNN investigative team, go to

Drew, again, I appreciate the reporting. Great reporting. And David Fitzpatrick, as well. We'll continue to follow this charity.

Coming up next, an inspiring discussion with the wonderful Maya Angelou on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.


COOPER: An extraordinary moment in history today. President Obama stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther king Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The nation's first African-American president celebrating his legacy and all who fought and even gave their lives for civil rights.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because they marched, America became more free and more fair. Not just for African-Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans. For Catholics, Jews and Muslims. For gays, for Americans with disabilities. America changed for you and for me.


COOPER: For so many who knew Dr. King and have fought for so long to make his dream a reality, today was very emotional, obviously. It was for Maya Angelou, author, poet, civil rights activist. I spoke to her earlier.


COOPER: For you on this day, what does Dr. King's dream mean today? What do you think is the march's significance today?

MAYA ANGELOU, WRITER/CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, I think that at once I'm delighted that he had the dream. I'm delighted that if he awakened right now, he could also say, "Ahh, some of my dream has come to pass" and see that there's an African-American family in the White House. A man -- a man and a woman and their children, and a grandmother, a black grandmother in the White House. My goodness.

At the same time I think he would be disappointed to hear we have not come any farther. And so my hope is that the dream, we can awaken from the dream and find that some of the elements of the dream have come to pass.

COOPER: One of the main messages of the organizers of the march 50 years ago was economic equality. That often gets lost in the retelling of this. And A. Phillip Randolph essentially said that freedom to use public accommodations would mean precious little to those who can't afford to use them.

ANGELOU: He said that.

COOPER: I just read that economic disparities between African- Americans and whites, particularly household income, have either stayed the same or even widened. What do you make of that -- that economic disparity?

ANGELOU: I think that the economic disparity comes from a disparity larger and deeper and older than the economic disparity. We are all suffering from the -- the ashes of slavery. We all still think -- there are still people who think that black people are not full citizens and do not deserve full salaries equal to the salaries given -0- served -- given to white workers. And as long as we believe that, we're never going to have parity -- I mean, we won't have fairness. We will never have an equal distribution of labor and respect and courtesy. We will never have it.

But I do believe that we have to do something about what we believe about each other. And what we really believe about ourselves. It is imperative that we do so. If you as a white man, and as I as a black woman, if you really think that we are different, then there's something terribly wrong.

COOPER: It was very interesting to me in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, and the case on George Zimmerman, there was a poll done about the discussions of race that were taking place in the wake of that case. And among many white Americans, the poll numbers said that a lot of white Americans felt too much was being made about race, and among African-Americans, the majority felt this was a discussion that needs to be -- needs to continue and needs to be had and not too much was being made about it. It's interesting to me how, still to this day, often white America and black America sees things through different lenses.

ANGELOU: Absolutely. Because we have not come to the decision, which is so important, that you can only come to this decision if you have courage.

The decision is, I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me. Until we come to that, whites will really think I'm better than. They're not so bad, but that color doesn't come off. And that hair doesn't straighten out. And so we're not equals. Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It's very clear.

COOPER: And you don't think that has occurred? You don't believe that there is true equality yet?

ANGELOU: Oh, I know there isn't. And you know there isn't. And everybody who hears you knows there isn't. And yet this is what we have to have.

The only thing is, Mr. Cooper, people have to develop courage. It is most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you can't practice any other virtues consistently. You can be anything erratically and in front of the microphone, in front of the camera, but to be that thing in your heart, you have to have courage. And so I'm afraid that we are lacking in courage. We think we are afraid, and fear, I'm sorry to say, motivates most of the cruelties in our world.

COOPER: President Obama, in his address today, talks about opening a new front on the civil rights movement, one that also pulls in the struggle for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, for women in this country, the rights of other minorities like immigrants. Do you see that movement for equality as part of the civil rights movement?

ANGELOU: Yes, sir. Mr. Cooper, if you don't -- if you think that I can have freedom but you can't because you're short or you're tall or you're gay or fat or thin or pretty or plain, but I can have it because not by anything I've earned, I just was born white or I was born pretty, then you're just stupid. The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. And every one of us needs to say to our children, "Children, this is your world. Come out. Stand out. Earn it."

COOPER: What was Dr. King like? You were a friend of his. You spent a lot of time with him.

ANGELOU: Thank you for that.

COOPER: What was he like?

ANGELOU: Thank you for that. A friend of mine just asked me, "Have you ever been asked a question no one asked?" And you have just asked me.

Dr. King -- Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were brothers. They had incredible senses of humor. They could make you laugh in the worst of times, and they did so. And you know, I never trust people who don't laugh, who said, "I am serious" and act as if they put airplane glue on the back of their hands and stuck the glue to their foreheads. I think, "You're not serious; you're boring as hell."

If you're serious, you really understand that it's important that you laugh as much as possible and admit that you're the funniest person you ever met. You have to laugh. Admit that you're funny. Otherwise, you die in solemnity.

COOPER: You asked questions in a "TIME" magazine article recently that you authored, and questions that I want to ask you. You wrote, "Can you imagine if we did not have this undergirded hate and racism prejudices and sexism and ageism, if we were not crippled by these idiocies, could you imagine what our country would be like?" Do you -- how can you imagine those questions? Can you imagine?

ANGELOU: I'm -- Yes, I'm brought to weep when I think what my country can be and will be when we develop enough courage to act courageously, and with courtesy, and respect for each other. Just imagine what on earth -- we wouldn't have to say we're the most powerful country in the world. We will be the most powerful country in the world. Not because we have might, but because we have right.

COOPER: Dr. Angelou, thank you so much for talking to me. I appreciate it.

ANGELOU: It's my delight, Mr. Cooper. You have -- you have increased my being because of your own courage. Your intellect, your intelligence, two different things, and your own courage. Thank you very much.

COOPER: Thank you.


COOPER: She made my day. I don't know about you. A great conversation. You can see more of it. We had to edit -- we had to edit some of it but we want to put the whole thing online at We're going to put it online tonight, and I urge you to watch it. She's just so remarkable. It was an honor to talk to her.

Coming up, a lifetime in prison or the death penalty? Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan learns his fate. What a jury recommended, next.


COOPER: A lot happening tonight. Isha is here with a "360 Bulletin."

ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Anderson, a military jury has recommended the death penalty for Ft. Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan. Now an Army general will review the case and make a final decision on the verdict and sentence.

The woman charged with sending ricin-tainted letters to President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been found competent to stand trial in Texas. She initially told the FBI that her husband sent the letters.

And a 360 follow, Antoinette Tuff, the book keeper who calmly got a gunman to surrender at a Georgia elementary school last week, just can't stop doing great things. After the incident, she started a fund for inner-city children, setting a goal of $1,500. The fund has already raised more than $104,000, and you can donate at -- Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks. Find out who's on "The RidicuList," next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we bring you a man who we usually avoid mentioning, because he's sort of like that elderly relative who you only see at Thanksgiving. He doesn't get out of bed much and he's sitting around the table and suddenly blurts out nonsensical sentences in between chewing on soft foods. I'm talking about televangelist Pat Robertson.

On his show "The 700 Club" yesterday, Robertson blurted out a warning about gay people in San Francisco, because, of course, that's where all gay people live. Now listen closely, and know that when Robertson refers to "the stuff," he's talking about AIDS.


PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: You know what they do in San Francisco? Some of the gay community, they want to get people. So if they've got the stuff, they'll have a ring. You shake hands and the ring has got a little thing where you cut your finger.


ROBERTSON: Yes, really. I mean, it's that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.


COOPER: Really? A ring that somehow gives you AIDS. I've never seen that particular section of Zales, have you?

See, now I totally get why Pat Robertson is against same-sex marriage. He just doesn't want to give gay men a reason to wear rings.

So Robertson has since backpedaled, kind of, saying he was misunderstood, that he was talking about something he was warned about decades ago by security officers at a meeting in San Francisco, which still is all kind of baffling. All of which is surprising, because Robertson's thoughts on gay issues are very well-thought-out and very well-articulated.


ROBERTSON: He's out having multiple affairs with men; he's picking them up on the streets. So he's obsessed. He has a compulsion. I would think it is somehow related to demonic possession.

You've got a couple of same-sex guys kissing. You like that. Well, that makes me want to throw up. But if you -- to me, I would punch "vomit" not "like."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not sure that option is there.

ROBERTSON: They don't give you that option on Facebook.


COOPER: No, they don't. Not yet.

Don't worry. Robertson also has plenty of thoughts for you straight couples, as well. He's given advice on everything from cheating husbands to what men should do when their wives will not obey them.


ROBERTSON: Well, you could become a Muslim and then you could beat her.

Stop talking about they cheating -- he cheated on you. Well, he's a man. OK. Males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is to make a home so wonderful that he doesn't want to wander.


COOPER: Listen, I don't want you single people to feel left out either, so here's a little grab bag of Pat Robertson-isms on a wide range of topics.


ROBERTSON: Now it looks like 30 percent of women...


ROBERTSON: ... are involved in pornography.

Those who are involved in martial arts, before they start, are actually inhaling some demon spirits. Some of them do that, by the way.

Yoga, I think, and some of these mantras you say, definitely have Buddhist and sometimes demonic origins.

Feng Shui, forget it. Get a good decorator to make your house pretty.


COOPER: Thank you, Pat Robertson. You are a truth crusader. And we definitely didn't consider just permanently changing the name of this segment to "The Pat Robertson List," although it does have a certain ring to it.

Hey, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.