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Erin Burnett Outfront

Senate Committee Authorizes Military Force In Syria; 30-Day Rape Sentence Appealed; Bullied To Death?; From Deadly Cancer To Dancing With The Stars; Boehner Turns Down Russian Request to Meet; Did IRS Specifically Target Conservative Political Groups?

Aired September 04, 2013 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, closer to war. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon narrowly approved an authorization to use force against Syria. For a second day, President Obama sent the secretaries of state and defense to Capitol Hill to make his case for war.

Now yesterday as you know they faced some very skeptical senators like Rand Paul, but today the audience was even tougher.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If our credibility is on the line now as is argued, what about if Assad retaliates?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why was there no call for military response four months ago when the president's red line was crossed?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not about getting into Syria's civil war. This is about enforcing the principle that people shouldn't be allowed to gas their citizens with impunity. If we don't vote to do this, Assad will interpret from you that he is free to do this any day he wants to.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent, who was watching it all today. Jim, obviously you know there was some really tough questioning today. There was some progress though for the White House in the Senate, a very different story though in the House so far from a sure thing for the president at this point. Isn't it?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. A victory for the president today but not as convincing as you might have hope, the vote ten to seven in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Only three Republicans voted for it, one of them Senator John McCain and two Democrats actually voted against it, and others voted (inaudible). It is a signal that in the GOP-controlled House, it could be a tougher sell, which you got a sense of today in that questioning of Hagel, Kerry and Dempsey. You heard from lawmakers who want the administration to do more, that the limited strikes don't go far enough and should be about changing the equation on the ground between Assad and the opposition. But you also heard from those who want to do less, sending very strict limits on the scope and duration of any military action, some of them in the president's own party. This is a Congress that is still very much divided, Erin, on authorizing the use of force.

BURNETT: All right, well, thank you very much, Jim Sciutto. And as Jim indicated for very different reasons people don't want to use it. Some people don't want war at all and some think the president should go much further than he is planning on going. It all comes down to Syria crossing President Obama's so-called red line.

Now speaking in Stockholm today, the president said this, quote/unquote, "red line" actually is not his red line. Hear it for yourself.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are aberrant and passed a treaty forbidding the use even when countries are engaged in war.


BURNETT: That is quite a change of tone, though, from this.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have made clear as the president did I believe from this podium that the use or proliferation of chemical weapons is a red line as far as he is concerned when it comes to the Syrian regime. The president's use of the term red line was deliberate and based on U.S. policy.


BURNETT: Deliberate. OK, is today bad messaging or what? OUTFRONT tonight, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee and General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander. It's great to have both of you with us and great to have both of you here with me on set.

General Clark, when you hear this he is trying to say it is not my red line. He has made a clear and consistent point that it is his red line and this is something he is passionate about and he believes in. Why is he doing this now and saying it is not mine? It's everybody else's. GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Because I think if the United States is going to lead, this is the time to lead, and what the president is doing is leading. Everyone signed this chemical war fare convention. It outlaws the use of chemical weapons. It's actually been in law since 1925. And this is a chance for the United States and the world community to show that we meant the piece of paper when we signed it. And that's what this is about, U.S. leadership. It is not about the strike. This is about bringing the United States and the world together to make a statement. This is not going to be permitted in the 21st Century.

BURNETT: Representative Blackburn, I mean, doesn't the general have a point? The president said this is his red line, but you know, Syria is one of just a few nations in the world that has not agreed to a treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. This is something he is trying to remind the world that the world has said is an unacceptable violation of human rights. So isn't he right to say this is the world's red line?

REPRESENTATIVE MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: This was a treaty, yes. It goes back decades. And there has been agreement on that, but I would disagree. I think that the president has shown a lack of leadership in this situation. It is one of those things where he has been inconsistent in his approach. And when I talk to the men and women in my district who are military retires, who are active duty there at Fort Campbell, they, I think are getting mixed messages. A president, a commander-in-chief must be able to clearly assess a situation, define a mission, give that strategy and say this is what the exit is going to be and this president has not done that.

BURNETT: General Clark, that is a fair point.

CLARK: I don't think it is fair.

BURNETT: Explain to me what is the exit? Because even yesterday John Kerry said no boots on the ground and then he said, well, I'm not comfortable taking boots on the ground off the table.

CLARK: It is three, four, five days. It is a package. We did this against Saddam Hussein in 1998 when he wouldn't allow the U.N. inspectors in. This is nothing new. We have done this. The point is that when President Clinton did it then he did it. There wasn't a big debate about it or anything. It was over. Here the point is not the strikes. We are not going to intervene in that civil war at this point. There is no political opposition to really reinforce. We are miles away from that.

BURNETT: You think he can keep this put in a box.

CLARK: I think there are two different issues. I think that if we are -- first of all, we have to draw a line against the use of chemical weapons. That may weaken the Assad regime. It may not. We are also providing some aid to the rebels because if we are going to move towards a political resolution there has to be enough balance between the two sides to encourage Assad to come to the table and negotiate. Right now, he doesn't have to. All he has to do is wait it out and wait for the opposition to fall apart.

BLACKBURN: With the rebels we know they have been infiltrated by al Qaeda. We know there are many --

BURNETT: Up to 15 percent of the rebels could be, quote/unquote, "al Qaeda or others" said Secretary Kerry today.

BLACKBURN: They are not necessarily friendly to us. We also have a situation where this president, you hand him the ball in foreign policy and he seems to fumble it whether it is the draw down in Iraq or Afghanistan with the surge and Libya or Egypt. People are saying we seem to have a problem with understanding what is to be the goal and how we are to approach these. I think the president didn't want the responsibility on his shoulders so therefore in what he decided to do --

BURNETT: Put it on congress. John McCain said a no vote from Congress would damage the office of the presidency and it would be catastrophic. You have John Boehner saying vote yes. You got Eric Cantor saying vote yes. You've been leaning no.

BLACKBURN: That's correct. I am a lean no.

BURNETT: You're a lean no, but do those arguments sway you? That this is about more than this president, this is about the office of presidency of the United States.

BLACKBURN: It is about the office of the presidency and it's about our nation's response and how we go about through that decision making process, how we approach this. What has happened in Syria, whether it was Assad or the rebels, it is immoral. Yes, we all agree on that, but I tell you what else is immoral. Looking at the U.S. military and this administration, requiring them to do more with less resources whether it comes from the draw down in Iraq or the surge in Afghanistan. They're cutting the money and the resources to the military and putting more on them. The pivot to Asia and what is taking place in here.

CLARK: I think we have to be careful about partisanship and morality when we are talking about deciding on U.S. foreign policy. I want to take this out of the partisan mode. President Bush bears the responsibility for unleashing the democracy genie in the Middle East. He and Condoleezza Rice pushed this. You can't put it back in. It has been used. So we need to look at where we are right now, got a very important principle at stake here.

And I think that if you go back and look at it through a partisan lens you see consistency in the Republican Party going back 90 years to the Republican Party's refusal to ratify the League of Nations, the efforts after World War II of isolationism in the Republican Party. It is a consistent theme the country has struggled against. We are the leader of the world. This world community was built by the United States after World War II. It is in our interest to keep it going. And part of that is not allowing the use of chemical weapons.

BURNETT: Thanks very much to both of you. We appreciate your time tonight.

Still to come, the story we have been following so closely on this program over the past week and a half, a teacher raping a 14- year-old student. The teacher only got 30 days in jail even though that student took her own life afterwards. Tonight that could be about to change.

Plus, a student came home from the first day of school and took his own life. His friends say it is after years of bullying. Could school officials have done more and saved this young man's life?

And then Dennis Rodman is in North Korea to meet with his friend, Kim Jong-Un, and now tonight we actually know who paid the bill for the entire trip.

And George Zimmerman tonight stopped by police again.


BURNETT: Our second story, OUTFRONT, a controversial rape sentence appealed. Montana prosecutors are appealing the 30-day sentence a judge gave a former teacher after he admitted to raping his 14-year-old student. She then took her own life. The state attorney general described the sentence as illegal and the judge now concedes he may have been wrong. But will it mean more time behind bars? This has been a shocking story.

OUTFRONT tonight, I want to bring in criminal defense attorney and our legal analyst, Danny Cevallos. Danny, prosecutors now appealing the sentence of this 54-year-old man, Stacey Rambold, how likely is a reversal?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: At this point, Erin, when you read -- if the sentence given was within the legal prescribed sentence, in other words, if it fell within a range that was legal then the sentence will stand. It is discretionary. The problem here is that the attorney general is alleging that the judge misapplied the law. We should add from the testimony at sentencing and the filing papers that the prosecutor at that hearing clearly was not aware of any mandatory minimum otherwise and absolutely did not object to the sentence when it was applied even though he may have wanted a higher sentence. I believe the prosecutor was not aware that there was a mandatory minimum problem at the original hearing. Only the attorney general later on said it is actually two years.

BURNETT: I'm curious about it. People hear this story. It's just so shocking. You have a 54-year-old man who rapes a 14-year-old girl. She takes her own life because of the agony of the situation, how it is possible in this country that someone could only get 30 days in jail for that. It's hard for most people to understand, to contemplate. So if he is resentenced, if that is even successful, how much time could he get? Could he get a sentence that most Americans would say that seems right or is that not even on the table?

CEVALLOS: Well, Montana code is teaching America that even in a state with a very liberal sentencing code sentencing is still extremely confusing. So in this case, it probably was an illegal sentence, the 30 days, the minimum should be two years in this instance. It is very easy to miss that reading the code. Once that is decided that two years can go from two years to 100 years and the judge has broad discretion. So if he wanted to apply another mandatory minimum it would be two years. However, with all the public scrutiny, I wouldn't be surprised if this judge as we say in the defense business sends him to the moon so that he can avoid any further criticism.

BURNETT: All right, well, Danny, thank you very much. Even two years somehow feels so wrong.

Our third story OUTFRONT, bullied to death, a Connecticut teenager took his own life last week after his first day of school and now it looks like he had been suffering from years of bullying. According to friends, the 15-year-old Bart Palosz, whose family immigrated to this country from Poland, Bart was teased because he was 6'3" and had an accent. But his internal struggles only came to light after he took his life. Rosa Flores is OUTFRONT.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The friendship between Bart Palosz and Lisa Johnson's son, Izzy, was a mother's dream.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were instant friends. They really clicked.

FLORES: They hang out and post videos like these on YouTube, two quirky kids, one great friendship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is also why he and Izzy clicked so well.

FLORES: Palosz moved to the U.S. from Poland, grew up to be a 15-year-old standing 6'3" who Johnson says was targeted by bullies.

(on camera): Why was he bullied?

LISA JOHNSON, MOTHER OF BART'S FRIEND, IZZY: Well, I mean, he is really tall. He had an accent. He was just one of these kids that was slightly awkward.

FLORES (voice-over): Palosz committed suicide after the first day of his sophomore year at Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Connecticut. Local police say a preliminary investigation shows he used a family shot gun that was stored in a locked cabinet.

JOHNSON: The worst, worst, worst thing was how are we going to tell Izzy? My husband put his arms around him and I just held his hand and I said, Izzy, I'm so sorry, but Bart just killed himself. It was like this can't be possible.

FLORES: The Greenwich School District is investigating and tells CNN any indications that a student is experiencing significant mental health distress is addressed by the school level by personnel trained to recognize and respond to these concerns. But his sister paints a different picture.

In an interview with the "Connecticut Post" she says it pretty much was say you're sorry and that's it. I honestly do not think the school addressed the bullying. It could have saved him if they did.

Family and friends say he never showed signs of trouble. But after his death, investigators revealed to the family posts on Google plus that show otherwise. In July, he made reference to being bullied for ten years and wrote, "I have chosen to go with three people's advice and kill myself. I just wish it was faster."

NICK SAGES, WENT TO SCHOOL WITH BART: One of the nicest people I had ever met in my life. I never heard him say anything bad about anybody else. He was just like a really kind hearted person.

FLORES: Now a group of his classmates want to use social media to provide peer to peer support anonymously.

ELIAS FRANK, SENIOR CLASS V.P.: Some people can't reach out to adults themselves, but they can reach to a fellow student who wants to help out.

FLORES: It is an effort to make sure every student can find someone to talk to. Pain and guilt in this town, a community left asking, could we have done more? For OUTFRONT, Rosa Flores, Greenwich, Connecticut.


BURNETT: Still to come, despite announcing she has terminal brain cancer actress Valerie Harper refuses to give up. We will tell you what she plans to do and why millions of Americans will be able to feel uplifted by it.

Plus a woman receives $280,000 after her African-American boss refers to her as the n-word. Her employers are appealing that decision. A lawyer representing her boss comes OUTFRONT to explain why.

One of the craziest videos we saw today, a man stuck in a wall in China. We will tell you why he chose to go there.


BURNETT: Our fourth story, OUTFRONT, Valerie Harper fights back. When the actress revealed she had terminal cancer earlier this year she said death is out there for all of us. There are ways to handle it except sitting on the couch. So Harper followed through on that, living her life and preparing for her debut in the most public of venues "Dancing with the Stars." Nischelle Turner is OUTFRONT.


VALERIE HARPER, DIAGNOSED WITH TERMINAL CANCER: It is a dumb thing to waste our lives worrying about death.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Valerie Harper says she is going to face the end of her life by providing inspiration from the dance floor.

(on camera): When you get the call to do "Dancing With The Stars" and you are going through what you are going through, do you say, come on, I got other things to worry about.

HARPER: Well, Tony has had it in the back of his mind that I do this for several years. That's my husband says -- I said give me one good reason. He says you have cancer. Get up there and show people that you can dance.

TURNER (voice-over): It is remarkable because in March, Harper announced to the world that she had terminal cancer and just a few months to live.

HARPER: The disease I have is quite a rare cancer. They did say three months to live. But ecologists will tell you we say three, maybe six, maybe one week in my case because of where it is. I could have a seizure at any time.

TURNER: While Harper says her cancer is not in remission now her treatments are helping.

HARPER: My other doctor says we don't use remission. We call response or non-response. I have a fabulous response from the particular drug I'm on.

TURNER: The 74-year-old knows all too well the grueling schedule involved in being a dancer. She started her career as a professional on Broadway. While "Dancing With The Stars" has pushed younger contestants to their physical limits Valerie thinks competing has the potential to be great for her spirit.

HARPER: Your doctor says it is fine do exercise. Encourage people to move and exercise and mainly not to sit in the house and glower and worry and feel sorry for yourself because you have this disease or anything else. It is a funny thing we have about death we gloss it over. We pretend it's not happening that it's over there. This death sentence made me look it in the eye. Once you do it is a great freedom.

TURNER: Valerie says she wants to send a message.

HARPER: I hope you dance. That is what I'm saying to everybody. That is my message. Dance.

TURNER: For OUTFRONT, Nischelle Turner, New York.


BURNETT: Still to come, the man convicted of holding three women hostage for more than a decade takes his own life in prison. We want to show you the reactions of those close to the case. We have a special report with our Martin Savidge. He's been covering this from the beginning.

And then our ongoing special investigation into the IRS, what did the head of an IRS department know about the targeting of certain political groups and when did she know it? She said she knew nothing ever. It doesn't add up.

And Anthony Weiner's public unraveling continues. We are going to tell you what led to this.


BURNETT: And welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT.

George Zimmerman was pulled over for speeding again, for going 60 in a 45 miles an hour zone in Lake Mary, Florida. Zimmerman was given a $256 ticket. He got three points on his driver's license. You may remember, Zimmerman was pulled over last month for speeding in Texas.

Zimmerman's attorney as unavailable for comment.

Well, New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is under fire again, this time for a lively conversation with a heckling voter. Here is how it started.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a real scumbag, Anthony.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a charming guy right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very nice. In front of children. That is charming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes one to know one, jackass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't lose your temper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up? What's up? Walk after you say anything. That's courage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll have a discussion. Come back in here. I'm not afraid of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do disgusting things.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you are a perfect person? You're my judge? You're my judge? What (INAUDIBLE) if I told you that? What (INAUDIBLE) told you that you're my judge?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Work out your problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay out of the public eye.


BURNETT: And it actually escalated from there. Let us know what you think. Was Weiner to get in that guy's face? Tweet us @OutFrontCNN or @ErinBurnett. I'm very curious to see what side you take on that one.

Well, tonight, we know who paid for Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea. The online gambling Web site Paddy Power. You can bet on anything on that side. Rodman was wearing a shirt and hat with the gambling site's name on his trip, well displayed.

Rodman is in North Korea visiting his, quote-unquote, "friend" Kim Jong-un. So, why is Paddy Power doing this? Well, we couldn't find any North Korean related bets on the site. So, I guess advertising, even if it related to a brutal dictatorship is everything. Rodman and Paddy Power are tight. The gambling site paid for Rodman's trip to the Vatican this year where he apparently lobbied for a black pope. Paddy Power did not respond for our request for comment.

It has been 760 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back? Well, the big three U.S. automakers all had double digit percentage gains in August in sales. Impressive. The industry on pace to sell 16 million new vehicles this year for the first time since before the financial crash.

And our fifth story OUTFRONT, Ariel Castro found dead by suicide in his cell. The 52-year-old Castro convicted last month of holding three women captive in his Cleveland home for a decade was found in his cell last night after hanging himself with a bed sheet. Prison medical staff tried to revive him but it was too late. And he was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m. local time.

Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ariel Castro's family got the news from the news. And word of his suicide was a shock.

(on camera): Do you have any reason to suspect that it could be a different story? Foul play?

JUAN ALICEA, BROTHER-IN-LAW OF ARIEL CASTRO: Well, not so much that we suspect, but the family has raised that question. It doesn't feel right. There's no note. We don't know that he wrote a suicide note. And, previously he had written his mother a letter and seemed fairly upbeat. SAVIDGE (voice-over): But when Castro's mother and sister visited him at the Orient facility ten days ago, they noticed a change.

ALICEA: But on the last visit, my wife mentioned to me that he seemed depressed. He --

SAVIDGE (on camera): How did she measure that? How did she judge?

ALICEA: His body language, tone of voice, his conversation. He wasn't as conversational. It was more of he was tired. He was lonely. He was missing his daughter, things of that nature.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): In a statement, Castro's defense attorney told me they tried several times to have an independent psychologist evaluate Castro in jail and prison.

"Each request was denied by authorities," they said. Most everyone else reacts to Castro's suicide with an attitude of good riddance, believing a fitting justice for a monster. The prosecutor called him a degenerate molester, saying, quote, "This man couldn't take for even a month a small portion of what he dished out for more than a decade," end quote.

Castro's family gets it. They have never condoned what he did and they'd be the first to tell you he was justly tried and sentenced. But before he was a monster, he was family. He was a mother's son.

ALICEA: I wish I could let the world see what kind of woman my mother-in-law is. Excuse me. She is a wonderful woman. She did not deserve this.

SAVIDGE: Nor did Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight deserve what Castro did to him. His family in no way wants his death to renew their pain so no funeral, no wake, nothing that might in any way bring attention to the man they hope most people will gladly forget.


SAVIDGE: As of now, Erin, there has been no statement coming from the three victims themselves. They have said nothing about Castro's death.

We should point out there are two independent investigations looking into his suicide.

One last thing, look at this -- this would have been Ariel Castro's front yard. The former house of horrors gone, wiped away. And now, a park is blooming -- Erin.

BURNETT: It does totally change it. Thank you very much, Martin.

And I want to bring in Dr. Drew, an addiction specialist and the host of "Dr. Drew" on HLN.

Dr. Drew, obviously, as Marty said, we haven't heard reaction from these three women. But what do you think they are going through?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: I think they are actually probably relieved in some fashion. They could also be angry as you threw that quote up there that showed he couldn't withstand four months of captivity when he had put them through ten years. I could see they can feel resentful and angry at that.

But there is a myriad of reactions and it's almost impossible to predict until we see what, in fact, develops. But I'm suspicious, relief will be the main symptom.

BURNETT: Yes. Of course, we expect there'll be some kind of statement from them, but we don't know when. And, of course, they have not -- you know, spoken publicly, only released video statements.

But, you know, Dr. Drew, I guess an awkward question but I think a relevant one. It is easy to forget there is a 6-year-old girl here, the daughter of Amanda Berry, the daughter of Ariel Castro. Ariel Castro was her father.

How significant is this for her?

PINSKY: To me that is the really interesting piece of this story, because I don't care who your biological father is, that man has meaning in your life. I don't know how they are painting the picture for this child. We really don't know the nature of the relationship that Ariel Castro had with this child.

Although we just heard someone report that he was missing the child, he planned to have visitation I guess from the child maybe in prison? I mean, it's almost unthinkable. But there you go.

And for this young girl, this man will have had meaning and his suicide will be meaningful, as well. I suspect her not having this guy in her life will be a net positive, but this is the person, this 6 year old the most impact of the suicide.

BURNETT: It's amazing.

And, Dr. Drew, you know, Michele Knight when she appeared in court, she said, I'd just paraphrase it in part, talking to him when she had a chance to address him, the death penalty would be so much easier. You don't deserve that, you deserve to spend life in prison.

Do you think there is a chance that they feel instead of relief, you know, that somehow he cheated them?

PINSKY: Oh, yes, I said they may feel angry. They are angry because they were robbed. They were robbed of the opportunity to see this man go through something akin to what they went through and he couldn't tolerate that. His final sort of gesture is, you know what to everybody.

BURNETT: Yes. Dr. Drew, thank you.

And still to come, a woman is awarded $280,000 after her boss who is also black called her the N-word. Now her employer plans to appeal. A lawyer is here to tell us why, a lawyer defending that man.

Plus, President Obama steps into a new world wide controversy. But does the criticism of this picture add up?

And a shout-out tonight, stuck. So, this teenager in China got stuck between two buildings on purpose. I mean, didn't stuck in purpose -- we went there on purpose trying to grab his PSP which had fallen into the gap, which under 10 inches wild. He had fallen down about 13 feet. Rescuers were forced to cut a hole in the wall to pull the teen out. The teen was freed and is in good condition.

The shout-out goes to the PSP being the kind of product that kids just can't help but almost die for.


BURNETT: Our sixth story OUTFRONT, the N-word at work.

Tonight, plans for a potential appeal are underway after a New York jury awarded Brandi Johnson, a black woman, $280,000 because she was repeatedly called the n-word by her boss. He also is black.

That rant was secretly recorded and played for the jury. Let me play for you.


ROB CARMONA: Seriously you guys are alike. Smarter as (EXPLETIVE DELETED) but dumb as (EXPLETIVE DELETED) really. Both of you, do you know what it is, both of you, are (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And I'm not using the term (EXPLETIVE DELETED) derogatory, because sometimes it's good to know when to act like a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) but you all act like a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) all the time.

BRANDI JOHNSON: I am really offended by that. I don't think that I do.

CARMONA: You can be offended but it's still true.


BURNETT: Mercedes Colwin is OUTFRONT. She's a member of the law firm that represented Rob Carmona and his employment organization, STRIVE.

So, Mercedes, the jury agreed Rob Carmona's outburst was inappropriate. I know you are looking at your legal options now. You want to appeal. How confident are you that you can get this decision overturned.

MERCEDES COLWIN, MANAGING PARTNER OF GORDON & REES'S NEW YORK OFFICES: Well, the word doesn't conform with the facts. There are some very pertinent facts overlooked by the jury. There were three different witnesses that testified that Brandi Johnson herself used the N-word in the work place.

Number two, the jury never heard she is an ex-convict, that she was a felon who pleaded guilty to grand larceny and paid $100,000 to restitution. That's an evidentiary issue that we're going to appeal.

Number three, if you listen to the tape and the entirety of the tape it is so clear that the context in which it was said by Mr. Carmona is to assist her, to say, look, you can reach the top, you are a smart woman. Don't let this control you. Don't act a certain way.

Ms. Johnson's reaction was not to the word. She didn't scream, hey, I don't like that word, don't call me the N-word, I'm offended by that word.

What she said was don't compare my behavior to that. It was always her behavior. It was not a reaction to racial epithets.

BURNETT: Now, let me ask you because our legal analyst was on the show yesterday. She is very passionate about this. She was adamant that no matter what your race is, the word is not appropriate period. And it should not be used. And I just want to play for you what Sunny said and get your reaction, Mercedes.


SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And the court, I think, and the jury spoke rather firmly that when you find a hostile work environment that this conduct and these terms are offensive objectively. That means across the board. That means they can't be used by black people. They can't be used by white people. They can't be used by purple people. They can't be used by anyone.


BURNETT: Mercedes, what do you think? Because, you know, I think it's fair to say, and let's just admit this, if Carmona was white and he used that word, there was no question that it would have been completely and utterly inappropriate and he should have been fired.

COLWIN: It is definitely inappropriate but it's different from saying it's discriminatory and creates a hostile work environment. STRIVE has a very clear against inappropriate behavior. They have policies. They have done training. They have all in place.

And, in fact, when the complaint arose and Ms. Johnson brought it to management's attention, there was an extensive investigation done, lots of witnesses were interviewed. There was a reprimand to Mr. Carmona and he was firmly warned if ever he conducted himself in that same way, he would be disciplined including termination.

So, given that -- and I disagree with Sunny. It is not just the word in and of itself that will create a hostile work environment. You have to look at the totality of the circumstances. You have to look at the context. You have to look at the reaction by the individual who claims to be the victim and the intention of the person creating the conduct.

It is not just say this word in and of itself is a violation. That is completely and utterly wrong.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Mercedes, thank you very much, making her case tonight.

Well, every night as you know we take a look outside some of the top stories from what we call the OUTFRONT "Outtake."

Tonight, President Obama stepping into another controversy. For the past few days, conservative journalists criticize the president for failing to respect the Office of the Presidency. Nothing new, you may say. But what is up in arms this time? His foot.

This photo shows President Obama with his foot up his desk. Some say this proves the president doesn't respect the history and the honor that comes with his title.

But even though it's not the first time the president has been seen with his feet up at work, we don't think the criticism adds up. I'm sorry, people, you are dead wrong, because President Obama is not the first U.S. president to put his feet up on the desk. Oh, no. George W. Bush photographed in the exact same position, as was President Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford.

Of course, according to conservative bloggers, it's not just the president's feet that are the problem, some people are also taking issue with the president's derriere. Apparently, see, there he is. It's kind of a like a lean sit thing. He's sitting there. He has been photographed doing that more than one time.

The problem is there are instances when President Ford also put his bum on the desk. JFK put his buttocks on the Oval Office desk while he watched his children. There might have been a poopy diaper on the Oval Office desk. Once, he even let actress Judy Garland sit on the desk while smoked a cigarette.

Even conservative hero Ronald Reagan sat on the desk. You don't hear a lot of conservatives talking about that.

Every light-hearted or relaxed moment the president has been seen doing has been done by virtually every other president before him. So, maybe it is time to stop worrying and criticizing the president for what he is putting in his desk and start worrying about what he signs on that desk.

Still to come, what did the head of the IRS Department at the center of the storm actually know about the organization's practice of targeting certain groups and when did she know it? Was there a lie? A very special OUTFRONT investigation -- the truth by the IRS, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Just in -- CNN has learned that House Speaker John Boehner has turned down the request from Russian diplomats to meet with him on Syria. The speaker's spokesman has confirmed to CNN's Lisa Desjardins, this is a significant development coming at a time when the president needs Boehner's full support in taking possible military action in Syria. Of course, John Boehner has said so far that he supports voting for the president's bill for strikes against chemical weapons in that country.

Tonight, we are learning new information about the IRS official who became a political lightning rod for her role in the tax-targeting scandal. Lois Lerner admitted at her department at the IRS wrongly sought out conservative groups like the Tea Party, but she clammed up when she was subpoenaed to testify about it.

Tonight, as part of our special week-long OUTFRONT investigation, our Drew Griffin looks into whether Lerner's actions were political or the result of overzealousness at the IRS.


LOIS LERNER, IRS: Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Lois Lerner. And I'm the director of exempt organizations at the Internal Revenue Service.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Until this spring, few people in America had ever heard of Lois Lerner. She catapulted to infamy when she announced that the IRS had targeted conservative groups applying for tax exempt status.

LERNER: I think we have time for one more question.

REPORTER: Lois, a few months ago --

GRIFFIN: And she did it by asking a reporter at a conference to ask a specific question about targeting Tea Party groups.

LERNER: They used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the application had those names in the title. That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect. It was insensitive and it was inappropriate.

GRIFFIN: Critics say revealing the controversy in that setting with a planted question was just one mistake in a long line of them.

Paul Streckfus was there.

PAUL STRECKFUS, EO TAX JOURNAL: Nobody could believe, you know, that the IRS would take that opportunity to sort of drop this bomb.

GRIFFIN: That bomb was dropped just before this inspector general's report was released, slamming the IRS tax exempt office for targeting conservative groups. And now CNN learned the IRS had been preparing for that bomb to drop for more than a year.

E-mails obtained by CNN show IRS lawyers, the commissioner and Lois Lerner herself were meeting to discuss how to respond when Congress found out with increasing sense of panic way back on March 2nd of 2012. Lerner writes we are going to get creamed.

One year later, the IRS inspector general report found ineffective management led to the IRS using inappropriate criteria to target conservatives, but was it political or just a series of blunders?

Those who know and work with Lerner are divided.

Craig Engle says he began to see a bias from Lois Lerner when they worked together at the Federal Election Commission.

CRAIG ENGLE, ATTORNEY: What I saw was a bias against money in politics of the IRS.

GRIFFIN: Engle, a Republican Washington attorney says although he thinks Lerner is an honest woman, her bias had a partisan result.

ENGLE: Lois' opinion and that of her staff was that if you had a lot of money and you were spending it in politics, you needed to be looked into.

GRIFFIN: And that process took a long time. The I.G.'s report says 81 percent of conservative groups that applied for tax exempt status, waited more than a year for an answer, some more than three years. Lerner didn't take responsibility for the problems in the division she ran, instead the IRS at first blamed the whole controversy on a few so-called rogue agents working at the IRS office in Cincinnati.

(on camera): It turns out that just wasn't true. Those rogue employees back in Cincinnati were getting direction, being told what to do by Lois Lerner and her senior staff here in Washington -- a senior staff of executives trying to decide for months in 2011 and 2012 what to do with the Tea Party applications.

Back in Cincinnati, the workers were wondering what is taking so long.

(voice-over): Liz Hofacre, one of the IRS Cincinnati employees testified that the process used to scrutinize Tea Party cases was unprecedented.

LIZ HOFACRE, IRS CINCINNATI: In my experience, it was a high lie unusual process. I never before had to send development letters that I had drop at (INAUDIBLE) --

GRIFFIN: Though she doesn't think it was politically motivated.

HOFACRE: I was frustrated because what I perceived as micro management (INAUDIBLE) locations.

GRIFFIN: So far, according to congressional staffers on both side of the isles --

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: At the time, there was justifiable outrage, including from me.

GRIFFIN: This was is series of mistakes.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Something just didn't seem to be right.

GRIFFIN: And though Republicans still believe there is political motivation behind it, there is no smoking gun, at least not yet. And the one person in charge who could answer that question directly, she is publicly saying nothing.

LERNER: I will not answer any questions or testify about the subject matter of this committee's meeting. I will not answer any questions or testify. I decline to answer that question for the reasons I've already given.

GRIFFIN: When called to testify, Lois Lerner plead the Fifth.

KEN BOEHM, NATIONAL LEGAL AND POLICY CENTER: Conservatives look at this and go, ah, this confirms everything we believe.

GRIFFIN: Ken Boehm, who chairs the National Legal Policy Center, says he finds the timing extraordinary. The excess scrutiny of Tea Party groups began taking place just as the president and other Democrats began to publicly attack the growing movement in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. Conservatives also point out Lerner is married to attorney Michael Miles, who works at a law firm that has been closely aligned to President Obama's reelection effort.

As the investigations continue, Lois Lerner, though she's placed on administrative leave, collects a hefty paycheck, $180,000 a year of your tax dollars.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Washington.


BURNETT: And that's a number to remember, $180,000. In tomorrow's special OUTFRONT investigation, are some tax exempt organizations cheating the system? It's a really important part of this investigation and part of the exclusive series the truth about the IRS that continues tomorrow.

Thanks for joining us tonight.

"AC360" starts now.