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Campbell Brown

Is President Obama More Popular Rather Than Effective?; Did Letterman Cross the Line?; The Unabomber Taking One of His Victims to Court

Aired June 13, 2009 - 20:00   ET



CAMPBELL BROWN, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, here are the questions we want answered. Is Obama more popular than effective? Republicans are slamming him on the economy and say his numbers just don't add up.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He did not inherit a mess. He has created one.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Their plan has already failed.

JON VOIGHT, ACTOR: Everything Obama has recommended has turned out to be disastrous.


BROWN: Tonight, we're digging deeper to find out if the president can translate his big poll numbers around the world into real action here at home.

Did David Letterman cross the line when he said this?


DAVID LETTERMAN, TV TALK SHOW HOST: During the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.



BROWN: But who's laughing now?


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Pretty pathetic good old David Letterman.


BROWN: Is she right? Are her kids off limits? It's Letterman versus Palin.

And one of the most infamous criminals of the 21st century.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I regard him as the essence of evil.


BROWN: Why is the Unabomber taking his victim to court?

ANNOUNCER: This is your only source for news. CNN PRIMETIME begins now. Here's Campbell Brown.


BROWN: Hi, everybody. Those questions, plus tonight's newsmaker, GOP chairman, Michael Steele -- he's standing by some pretty tough criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

But we begin as always with the Mash-Up, our look at the stories making impact and some must-see moments.

President Obama got up off the ropes this week, swinging back hard at critics of his health care reform plan. Campaign Obama in full display at a Wisconsin town meeting on Thursday as he began to put his personal muscle behind his top domestic priority.

Here's the clip note's version point-by-point.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are some folks who say socialized medicine, you hear that all the time -- socialized medicine. Well, socialized medicine would mean that the government would basically run all of health care.

Nobody's talking about doing that.

So, what we're working on is the creation of something called the Health Insurance Exchange -- one stop shop for a health care plan. Compare benefits and prices; choose the plan that's best for you.

I also strongly believe that one option in exchange should be a public insurance option, and if you can't afford one of these plans, we should provide you some assistance to make sure that you can. None of these plans though would be able to deny coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions.


BROWN: In Washington, Republicans dug in, blasting the president's call for a public health care option, vowing that health care reform won't be a rushed job.

In Kansas, this week, the family of slain abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, closed his women's health clinic for good. And that made a happy man out of Tiller's accused murderer, Scott Roeder. Roeder spoke to CNN's Ted Rowlands in an exclusive jailhouse interview. This is his first face-to-face sit-down with a reporter since the shooting. No cameras allowed, but here's the story and Ted told it throughout the day.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He said, he never admitted to this crime, he never said that he actually shot Dr. Tiller.

I said, "Listen, let's be frank here. There are witnesses that saw you at this church, go up and shoot this man. You pointed the gun in other people's faces. Then you got in your car. They saw you leave and they got your license plate number. The evidence against you is overwhelming."

And he was sort of nodding on the phone as I was going through all these evidence against him. He said, "Well, in the end, if I am found guilty, then the motive of this crime was to protect the unborn." He also said the fact Dr. Tiller's clinic is closed is a victory for the unborn children of the world, that he is no longer slicing and dicing the unborn children in mother's wombs.

He sure didn't seem to carry any remorse at all with his body language or his intonation.

He also made mention that he's getting a lot of encouraging letters from people he doesn't know from across the country and says that has made him feel, quote, "good."


BROWN: Most leading antiabortion groups have condemned Dr. Tiller's murder.

Some newly-released tapes take us back in the life of Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. In the hours of old interviews and panel appearances, Sotomayor speaks candidly about a range of issues from affirmative action to dating.


JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I am a product of affirmative action. I am the perfect affirmative action baby.

I am a Puerto Rican, born and raised in the South Bronx and from what is traditionally described as a socio-economically poor background.

My test scores were not comparable to that of my colleagues at Princeton or Yale, not so far off the mark that I wasn't able to succeed at those institutions. I have found it difficult to maintain a relationship while I pursued my career.

I am very happy where I am at this point in my life, but I think my expectations were greater in '76. I really expected to turn the world on fire, to be that comparable to Nobel Prize winner by 23.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe we'll have you all back in five years and see what's happened at that point.


BROWN: In fairness, most of the judge's videotape comments were, in fact, about the law. But we're going to save that for the confirmation hearings.

It is the only night where computer geeks are treated like rock stars -- the Webby Awards, the Oscars of the Internet. They were handed out. And no surprise -- Twitter won for "Breakthrough of the Year." Best thing about the show, no endless speeches. Winners limit their acceptance remarks to just five words.

Check it out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't kill newspapers, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not journalism that's dying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do we get dinner?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank God Conan got promoted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't win them all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Erna, will you marry me?



BROWN: And the romantic guy is Richard Buschman, who won for a Volkswagen ad. As you can see, she said yes.

And that is the Mash-Up.

Now, for tonight's first big question: Is President Obama more popular than effective? That's the argument some Republicans are making. True, the president's approval ratings are still sky high, but that is not stopping the GOP from going for the jugular.


GINGRICH: Their budget is already wrecked because we're going to have higher unemployment, greater government expenses and less revenue than they projected because their plan has already failed.

LIMBAUGH: Obama is destroying what others before him created. He did not inherit a mess. He has created one. And as the mess he creates deepens, so does his blaming it on his predecessors.


BROWN: Fairly tough stuff there. So, do they have a point? Is the president getting somewhat of a pass because on the actual number- crunching, because of his popularity?

Joining us now to talk about that: NPR contributor, John Ridley, with us once again; John Avlon, a contributor for "The Daily Beast," joining us tonight as well; syndicated columnist Miguel Perez is also here with me in New York; and in Washington, Tony Blankley, Newt Gingrich's former press secretary and the author of "American Grit."

Welcome to everybody.

Tony, I got to start with you on this.


BROWN: These are your brethren there that we just heard speaking. Pretty fired up. What do you think?

BLANKLEY: Look, Republicans have 3 1/2 years to find a message and to find a candidate. And right now, we've got auditions going on. And the issues that connect and candidates that do that well are going to do better as the years progress. Others who misfire won't do as well. So, it just analytically, it makes sense for a lot of different Republicans to be out there saying a lot of different things.

As far as the question of him being more popular, well, Reagan was more popular usually than his policies. His Central America policy was never more than about 45 percent support. So, he was able to hold his policies up because his personal popularity. Didn't mean that he didn't go down when the economy went down and stuff, but it is usual for a president to be more popular than his policies.

BROWN: But auditions aside, guys, and Miguel, you can address this. Do they have an actual point when it comes to what kind of progress the administration has made so far?

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, no. I don't think so. I think they're just throwing rocks. They don't have a plan. They -- just like what the Democrats were doing when the Republicans were in power, by the way. The -- what is happening now is the Republicans are the other way around, criticizing everything Obama does without a real plan, without a real alternative.

You know, it's basically politics that's being played here. And the auditions, these guys -- if these are auditions, these guys are fading.

BROWN: Well ...

JOHN AVLON, CONTRIBUTOR, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: And that's the problem. I mean, that's the problem, is this predictable hyper-- partisanship that turns people off. That, you know, that more you used to say you have to be persuasive, you have to be credible, it's just not credible to say that the president didn't inherent a problem. He did. You can argue that he's compounded it.

BROWN: But at what point, John Ridley, does the problem he inherited become his problem? I mean, how much time has to pass?

JOHN RIDLEY, NPR CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's more than 4 1/2 months. I think we can agree on that. There is a reality though. You have to be honest that he is more popular than his policies. I do think it's a mistake to start to the hyperbolic with, you know, he hasn't inherited this disaster; everything he's done has been worst.

I think the smarter play would be to let some of these policies play out and find out whether they are effective or not. And to simply dial things up to 11 every time -- it's a little bit crying wolf and it's hard to realize later on where the Republicans being ingenious and where they are disingenuous.

BROWN: And, Tony, is that a danger, I guess, strategically, that this could backfire when many in the country may interpret what Republicans are doing as not pulling for the country -- the economy more generally -- to improve? It's less about Obama right now. They're willing to come to his side (ph).

BLANKLEY: Well, I mean, first of all, there is no strategy because there's no team. There's a bunch of people saying whatever they want to say, which is what happens when you're an opposition. Until we have a leader, we're not going to have a strategy.

But as far as the utility of each argument, it depends on the audience. I think Rush Limbaugh is doing a tremendously useful job in identifying potential problems with Obama and keeping our base focused on that.

On the other hand, sitting senators probably want to be a little bit more cautious. That's what they are doing.

So, you know, I think everyone's enjoying trying to find out what something the Republicans are doing wrong. And they're doing a lot of things wrong and they'll be doing some things right. And we won't know what the right ones are until 2012, see which ones stuck.

BROWN: Well, you were shaking your head, John.

AVLON: Because I don't think Republicans have really understood why they're in the problem they are in.

BROWN: And you are speaking as a former Republican?

AVLON: No, as an independent, but who has worked for Rudy Giuliani for many years very proudly.


AVLON: But Republicans need to start practicing the politics of addition, not division. Until they understand that, if they keep putting forward their most polarizing voices and then wondering how come they're losing the center, they're losing independents, they're just not paying attention.

BLANKLEY: Let me just make a point -- that we put our most polarizing candidate forward in 1977, Ronald Reagan, and we ended up winning. It's not a question of whether they polarize, it's a question whether they polarize with the majority or polarize with the minority. And so ...

RIDLEY: And also, it's about picking the fight. I mean, part of the problem here is that everything becomes a fight. Look at Sonia Sotomayor. That was a ridiculous fight to start and it's not going away, when it goes from being racist to not racist, racialist. At some point, you got to let that one go. Pick the fight.

And I think, being an adversarial party, that's fine. But where are you going to be an adversary? Where are you going to be a partner and show that you can work together with the very popular president?

BROWN: All right, guys. We're going to take a quick break. We should mention, we're going to take this conversation to the next level, I guess. Our newsmaker: Michael Steele. He's standing by some of these pretty tough criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, specifically. Listen.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: My view of it was in looking at it, you're now segregated out white men by your comments. So, God help you if you're a white male. If that's -- if you're seeking justice, this may not be the bench you want to go before.


BROWN: That is the chair of the Republican National Committee talking Supreme Court politics.

Plus: I'll ask him who is really the new face, in his view, of the GOP.

Also, tonight's great debate coming up: Is bringing Gitmo detainees to the U.S. a security risk or could it actually make us safer? We'll get two very different points of view.


BROWN: Welcome back, everybody.

Our newsmaker heads the Republican National Committee. But as the party looks for a unifying leader, Michael Steele is diving in to the politically sensitive feuding over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.


BROWN: You know, you've talked about expanding the party to win, specifically, Latinos over. But some in your party, including you, have said some pretty inflammatory things about Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Do you think that hurts those efforts?

STEELE: I don't know what I said there was inflammatory about the judge other than we wanted to see her record and we wanted to wait until that record was fully understood so that we could engage, I think, in a very important debate about the direction of the Supreme Court at these times where you've got ...

BROWN: Right.

STEELE: ... questions regarding property rights, questions regarding, you know, the role of government in the lives of the American people. So, I don't think I said anything inflammatory though.

BROWN: Well, let me though -- let me -- well, I'll read you the quote and then, you can ...


BROWN: ... you can clarify it for all of us. This is after you had said that Republican shouldn't, in your view, use hot rhetoric.

STEELE: Right.

BROWN: That was the quote, about race to attack her. You then said, quote, "God help you if you're a white male coming before her bench."

STEELE: Well, that's not inflammatory. It's based off what the inference that she left and what she said, you know? If you -- if you have a judge, if you have a situation where you have -- you're going before a Trier of fact and the Trier of fact is on record as saying that -- you know, that this individual, background experience is better positioned to make a decision than someone else, that gives one pause.

And so, my view of it was, in looking at it, you're now segregated out white men by your comments. So, God help you, if you're a white male, if that's -- if you're seeking justice, this may not be the bench you want to go before. And I think that's the clarification the judge needs to make very clear in her hearings, that -- was that something that she views as a -- you know, as a personal view or is that how she adjudicates the law. What is it?

BROWN: Let me ask you about another star in your party. Former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Sarah Palin had, in his view, a long way to go before she rises to the level of being a serious presidential candidate. What do you think she has to do?

STEELE: Sarah Palin is Sarah Palin. I don't know if Ari Fleischer can galvanize 10,000 Republican activists just by the mere calling her name and excite them to go out and fight for the cause. Maybe he can, I don't know. If he can, that's great.

That's the beauty of the party. Everyone brings something of value to it. And Sarah Palin is no different. I don't know of her long-term or short-term plans are.

All I know is she's been a good governor of Alaska. She was a great nominee for us for the vice presidency. She galvanized Republicans around the country. She even stimulated a few Democrats that I know of.

So, I think that she has an appeal out there, that by some cases, some folks are threatened by, others embrace it, but that's the sign of a leader. That's what leaders do. They evoke an emotion.

And Sarah Palin evokes an emotion across the country and I think we'll just have to wait and see how she wants to utilize that ability for her own future opportunities.

BROWN: Chairman Michael Steele joining us tonight, I appreciate your time.

STEELE: All right.


BROWN: Sarah Palin and David Letterman make headlines. We're going to deal with that -- ahead.

Also, the great debate: Is bringing Gitmo detainees to the U.S. a security risk or could it actually make us safer?


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN world headquarters. More Campbell Brown in just a moment.

First, I want to give you your headlines. See what's happening right now.

Well, you can see a loud, angry protest in Iran tonight after the government announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won reelection. His main rival claims the vote count was tainted by blatant violation. He also accused the government of becoming a dictatorship. It seems to have struck a raw nerve. Large groups of protesters had been clashing with riot police; cell phone and Internet service, well, appeared to have been cut or severely disrupted.

But at the top, it's business as usual. President Ahmadinejad went on national TV today to say the election was a political triumph for the Iranian people.


PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): The elections in Iran are really important. Election means consensus of all people's resolve and their crystallizations of their demands and their warrants, and it's a leap toward high peaks of ad admiration and progress. Elections in Iran are totally popular-based move that belongs to the people with a look at the future, aimed at constructing the future. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Even though Internet communications in Iran have been disrupted, we've received these iReports. Our iReporter got them from a friend's Facebook page. The photos were taken today as protestors filled the streets of Tehran, and then uploaded to Facebook. You can see there was a major police presence and a lot of raw emotion as young Iranians expressed their shock over the election results.

The reaction from the White House: cautious. Here's a statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities.

NASA has canceled today's planned launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. The reason: a hydrogen leak. The shuttle won't be ready to lift-off until Wednesday at the earliest. But there is another problem: That is the same day that NASA wants to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the moon. Well, mission controllers plan to meet tomorrow to talk about their next step here.

I'm Don Lemon. Make sure you join me back here tonight in the "NEWSROOM" 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Now, back to the news and Campbell Brown.


BROWN: Time for our great debate -- and tonight's premise: Bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to America is a security risk.

Some Republicans say that is exactly what happened today when Ahmed Ghailani was brought from Guantanamo to New York to face trial.

And joining us to debate tonight: Liz Cheney, the former vice president's daughter, who also served in President Bush's State Department. She thinks Gitmo prisoners do not belong on American soil. On the other side: Joan Walsh. She was editor-in-chief of

And we want your opinion, too. Vote by calling the number on the bottom of your screen.

First, we're going to have opening statements from each. Thirty seconds on the clock.

Liz, the premise is bringing Guantanamo detainees to America is a security risk. Make your case.

LIZ CHENEY, FMR. DEP. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: Hi, Campbell. Thanks for having me.

Well, I think that it's clear that al Qaeda operatives and terrorists have spent a lot of time and have extended a lot of effort to get into the United States. So, I think it's impossible to argue that when our government actually helps them get in to the United States -- as we would do in this case -- that it doesn't make us less safe. Of course, that makes us lees safe.

Secondly, you have the director of national intelligence and the attorney general talk about the fact that some of these detainees will, in fact, be released in the United States. So, faced with a situation where you can either have terrorists detained in a secure facility in Guantanamo or in your neighborhood, I think it's clear that you're less safe if they're in your neighborhood.

BROWN: Joan?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: Campbell, I just think that's really silly. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen -- before Barack Obama was inaugurated -- said we have to close Guantanamo. It's a recruiting symbol. Secretary Robert Gates agrees. General Petraeus agrees.

These are all high-ranking military figures in the Bush-Cheney administration. John McCain agrees. We did not have a debate about Guantanamo last year because everyone agrees except Liz Cheney and Dick Cheney, I might add.


WALSH: We already -- Liz, don't interrupt me, that's outrageous.

BROWN: Come on, guys. Come on.

CHENEY: Sorry, I guess (ph), the bell rang. There are 90 U.S. --

WALSH: Well, Campbell, she took some of my time, may I finish?

BROWN: OK. Yes, a couple of seconds, Joan.

WALSH: Thank you, Campbell, I appreciate it.

There are 360 convicted terrorists already in American supermax prisons -- including Ramzi Yousef who planned the World Trade Center bombing in '93 and the Unabomber.

BROWN: All right.

WALSH: And plenty more. We can do this. We've done it. We'll do it again.

BROWN: Joan, I got -- let me let Liz respond.

CHENEY: There are several things -- I think, first of all, it's outrageous for you to say that it's just the Cheneys who think that terrorists shouldn't be in the U.S. Actually, 75 percent of the American people don't want to see terrorists from Guantanamo brought here. And 90 U.S. senators --

WALSH: It depends on how you frame the question, Liz. CHENEY: Joan, you can interrupt me or you can let me talk.

BROWN: Let her make her point.

CHENEY: I think it's very important. I recommend to you if you haven't read it yet, a book called, "Willful Blindness" by Andy McCarthy, who prosecuted the Blind Sheikh. And in his book, he goes into great detail the very real failings of the criminal justice system when dealing with terrorists.

Our criminal justice system is simply not set up to handle the kinds of classified information that would have to be turned over to terrorists in order to prosecute them. You've got a real potential that you get these terrorists here and the judges will decide that they've got to be released, that they can't be held indefinitely in U.S. maximum security prisons.

WALSH: Liz, the top -- the top military leaders of our country want Guantanamo closed. President Bush, in June 2009, gave a speech where he said he would close it and he would bring people home and try them here. President Bush said that.

CHENEY: No, I'm sorry. He did not say he would bring terrorists --


BROWN: Hold on, guys. Hold on for a second -- because I want to clarify this.

Joan, let me ask you this, because we've heard President Obama himself say that there are some detainees that will not be able to be tried in regular courts and that can't be released. What do you do with these people then?

WALSH: You know, that's a hugely, hugely divisive issue, Campbell, and Liz may be closer to President Obama on it than I am. He has talked about for the hand -- well, we believe it's a handful, it might be more, we don't know.

He has talked about creating a system of review for the relatively small number of people at Guantanamo who: A, seem like they want to harm us, but B, can't be tried either because we don't have the evidence or because we tortured them under the Bush-Cheney torture regime. And thus, we can't use the evidence we acquired.

I don't know how many people there are. I think it's going to be a very divisive issue. But we shouldn't start there, Campbell. We should start with the vast majority of detainees who are: A, either innocent -- like Lakhdar Boumediene, who ABC exposed a horror of his torture at Guantanamo, an innocent man tortured -- or if they did something, they will be tried. Just like Mr. Ghailani.

Four of Mr. Ghailani's co-planners in the 1998 embassy bombings are in jail, imprison for life, no parole.



WALSH: Oh, really?


CHENEY: The vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo now, the 241 or so who are left, are the worst of the worst. As you know, we released a number of them during the Bush administration, those that we thought actually could be released, and 14 percent returned to the battlefield.

So it may be that sitting --


BROWN: You've got a lot of time. I've got to let Liz finish her point. Go ahead, you get the last word before we go to break.

CHENEY: It may be the case that it's easy to sit in Manhattan or whatever it is you're sitting, Joan, and say, gosh, these people don't really want to harm us, and we really shouldn't detain them.

But we at war, and the laws of war very clearly state that while you are at war, you can detain enemy combatants to prevent them from returning to the battlefield -- 75 percent of the American people do not think that our government should be bringing terrorists to the land, and they are right.

BROWN: I know there are very strong feelings here on both sides. What we're going to do, what we do every night, which is try to find some common ground on this, an area where the two of you can agree.

I'm hopeful. You have the commercial to think about it. We will be back in a moment. Stay with us.


BROWN: We're back with tonight's great debate. And the premise , bringing Guantanamo detainees to America is a security risk. Liz Cheney, the former vice president's daughter, has said yes to this. editor Joan Walsh saying no.

Were going to try to find some common ground right now, guys. Liz, do you think there's an area here relating to the policy where you and Joan can agree?

CHENEY: Campbell, I just don't think there is. I mean, I think there are some issues on which -- I know, I'm sorry, but I just think there are some issues, you know. I firmly believe our government ought to detain terrorists, defend us against terrorism, and it ought to kill terrorists when necessary.

And it certainly shouldn't facilitate their entry into the U.S. And I think Joan and I just don', we don't see eye to eye on that. Maybe John can suggest something. But sometimes, I think it's better to be very clear about your position is and what your stand is on an issue as important as this one.

BROWN: Wow. Joan, any common ground.

WALSH: I actually had a couple of ideas.

BROWN: OK, let's hear them.

WALSH: I had a couple of ideas.

First of all, we both love and admire our fathers. That's very important, foundational. It gives us something in common.

Second of all, I believe we both really and truly want to keep America safe. Sitting here in San Francisco, a city that I love very much, I will not be condescended to about that. I care about the security of this country, and I believe that torture and illegal detention has made us less safe.

I will grant you that we love our fathers and we love our country.

BROWN: Thank you, Liz, Joan. Thank you guys. Appreciate it. It really was a great debate. Many, many thanks.

CHENEY: Thank you.

BROWN: And we want to see how you voted in tonight to great debate -- evenly split tonight, 50 percent agree bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to America is a security risk, 50 percent disagree.

As always, this is not a scientific poll, a snapshot from our viewers only who called in tonight. Thanks, everybody.

One of the weeks hottest fights was Governor Sarah Palin versus David Letterman. Did he cross the line when he made fun of her daughter, and was Palin right to blast him for his jokes?


BROWN: And now to our first big question, and it is the one that has everybody talking -- Palin versus Letterman. Who's right?

She's been the target of his jokes pretty much ever since she got the Republican vice presidential nomination last August. But Letterman took it up a notch Monday night's show.

Listen to this. This is from his top ten list titled "Highlights of Sarah Palin's trip to New York."


DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: Number two, bought make-up at Bloomingdale's to update her slutty flight attendant look. And --



BROWN: And that's not even the line that people are really upset about. It is rather this joke, aimed at Sarah Palin's daughter.


LETTERMAN: There was one awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game. During the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.



BROWN: Now Todd Palin blasted letterman on Facebook, saying, quote, "Any jokes about raping my 14-year-old are despicable."

And then Sarah Palin told "People," quote, "laughter and cited by sexually perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity and a 14-year-old girl is not only disgusting, but it reminds us some Hollywood-New York entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understand."

So David Letterman expressed regret, sort of.


LETTERMAN: These are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl. I mean, look at my record. It has never happened. I don't think it's funny.


Were the jokes in question in questionable taste? Of course there were. Do I regret having told them? Well, I think, probably, I do. But, you know what? There are thousands of jokes I regret telling on this program.


Would I do anything to advocate or contribute to underage sexual abuse or misconduct? Absolutely not, not in a thousand years.

Look at me.


Do I look like I'm trying to make trouble?


SHAFER: No, you're right.


BROWN: Palin versus Letterman, who is right here?

Joining me now to talk about this, we have Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior political analyst, Janelle Snowden, VH1 news correspondent, Sam Seder, co-host of Sir America "Break Room Live," and in Washington, Susan Molinari, former Republican Congresswoman from New York and senior principle from the law firm Grace, Will, and Giuliani.

Welcome to everybody. Susan, Congresswoman, let me begin with you, because I know you have strong feelings about this. Do you think he crossed the line?

SUSAN MOLINARI, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think he did. I don't think this was a funny joke. I think this was a mean joke.

And let me say, I take him at his word that he thought his was a joke about an 18-year-old, but, still, this is an 18-year-old who is 18 years old, who didn't say she wanted to run for office.

Those of us who stand up and say, I want to be vice president, I want to be congressman, I want to have my own TV show. You understand that there is going to be a bit of a bull's-eye on you.

Here's an 18-year-old girl who has gone through hell and back by standing up with her family and taking care of her child. And I think again, I don't understand how anybody thinks this was funny.

I think he's a late night host. He crosses the line. But when you do it with an 18-year-old, I just think we have gone to the point where the jokes are now are just really mean and have no impact.

BROWN: Sam and Janelle, let me get you both to comment on this. Where is the line, where do you draw the line between being provocative and being offensive when you are commentating as these guys do on the late-night talk shows?

SAM SEDER, HOST, AIR AMERICA'S "BREAK ROOM LIVE": I don't know if he is commentating. He's making a joke.

But, that said, I am a father. And if someone made a joke about Alex Rodriguez knocking up my daughter, I would take offense. But that's because I'm a Red Sox fan.


I mean, in the final analysis -- it's a joke. People laugh. He told it again last night, and people laughed again. So it is a funny joke.

And he is -- he's just a late night comedian. And so it's not as if he is delivering political commentary. He's simply making a joke. And he's done it for years and years, and he has done it about all sorts of people, all different ages.

BROWN: Janelle?

JANELLE SNOWDEN, NEWS CORRESPONDENT, VH1: I agree. Did he cross the line? Absolutely. Do we rely on him to? Absolutely. If he didn't, would we watch? Probably not.

However, any decent mother would defend her daughter's honor, and I think she's doing that. At the same time, of course, you have cynics who are like "Oh, great, everybody is waiting because Dave's getting more and more fodder and she's getting another 15 minutes."

BROWN: Every time she speaks out, he gives her -- or she gives him more to work with. And we know she--


JEFFREY TOOBIN, SENATOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: I take a different view. I have a problem with the "slutty" line. I think that was totally inappropriate.

But let's remember. Bristol Palin has now become a national spokeswoman on this issue of unwed motherhood for teenagers. She has decided to become a public figure on this issue. She has been all the talk shows.

So I think a joke about Bristol Palin is actually fair game. If you want to be private, fine, be private. But she's not a private person anymore.

BROWN: Susan, that's a fair point that Jeff just made. In addition to that, you have to know this, given the life you've had, kids are very much a part of the modern political campaign.

MOLINARI: Yes, they are. They are. And in Republicans and Democrats.

And I get Jeff's point that she got out there and gave a few speeches. But I think we really have to just keep in mind that she's 18 years old.

We have had other political families who have had their kids go out there and speak up on issues and take positions and campaign for their mothers and fathers, and we've never seen this be done before.

Again, I think the difference is the age of this young woman, who has had some pretty difficult moments in the glare of the camera.

And, again, I'm not saying he should be taken off the air. I'm just saying, I don't think it's funny. I think it was mean. And I think he owe -- you know what's, I think he owes every young woman out there who has gone through the same situation, or single people who have had babies on their own, and apology.

Is it just Bristol Palin, who's allowed to have these jokes? I mean I think he is kind of framing a whole group of people out there who have been through the same situation and have stood pretty strong about it. Not funny.

BROWN: All right, let me also pick up on Jeff's other point, which is the comment that he found offensive, the "slutty flight attendant" comment.

Isn't sexism, I guess, more trouble than racism when you're making jokes like this, in a way?

SNOWDEN: I don't think either is particularly acceptable. I just think that David Letterman is a comedian. It's his job to make fun of people. And when Sarah Palin when running for the vice presidency had a teenage daughter who became pregnant, I think she sort of became fair game for comedians --

BROWN: Why is Sarah Palin such an easy target?

SEDER: Because every time she opens her mouth, she goes halfway for the comedian there. I mean, it's like t-ball with her. It's not even softball. She just literally holds it out there.

And, frankly, I don't even think that joke was sexist per se. Letterman is --

TOOBIN: There are certain rules, I think. We are talking about jokes, but I don't think it's fair to say it's just a joke. You can have offensive jokes. It is not a free range just if you say it's just a joke you can say anything.

It just seems to me that referring to a public figure, a woman, as a slut, that's a line you shouldn't cross.

SEDER: He didn't do that. He talked about her slutty make-up.


SEDER: But there's a big difference there, because he's talking about appearance --

TOOBIN: What's funnier that analyzing jokes word for word?


SNOWDEN: Is she or is she not the woman who posed in a bikini? I think she's like Jeff said --


BROWN: All right, we've got to end it there.

Tonight's breakout, a CNN exclusive, victims of the Unabomber and their battle to make money of the loner terrorist. Were they ever see justice? When we come back.


BROWN: Every night, we bring you a breakout story from around the world, the kind that breaks through the noise. And there has been no criminal in this country like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, the domestic terrorist who mailed letter bombs to his victims for two decades.

But from his maximum-security prison cell, he is in a new battle with some of those who survived his evil. They want to put his personal property up for auction.

Abbie Boudreau of our special investigations unit is here to tell us why -- Abbie?

ABBIE BOUDREAU, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Ted Kaczynski was called the Unabomber because he targeted universities and airlines. So from 1978 to 1995, he waged a war against technology through his crime spree.

And now he's fighting a different kind of battle against his victims.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I regard him as the essence of evil. He is evil and amoral. He has no compassion.

BOUDREAU: Ted Kaczynski killed three people. He wounded 23 others in a crime spree that lasted 17 years.

Dr. Charles Epstein, a retired University of California professor and a world-renowned geneticist, was one of those injured.

DR. CHARLES EPSTEIN, VICTIM: I started opening the mail, and I pulled the tag. And there was sort of a spark, a flash, and then the explosion. I was thrown to the floor. And I managed to get up. I crawled outside. Police came, ambulance came.

BOUDREAU: The blast destroyed both his eardrums. He fractured his right arm and lost parts of three of his fingers.

And this was the man responsible. He was once only known by this sketch. Police called him the Unabomber. Then, in 1996, Ted Kaczynski was captured in this Montana cabin deep in the woods.

But it's what investigators found inside the cabin that the victims are now fighting for, personal items Kaczynski once owned that they want sold at auction.

BOUDREAU (on camera): This was an old sweatshirt, that old pair of sunglasses, just like you saw in that sketch. And you might think a lot of this stuff isn't worth anything, but because it was Ted Kaczynski's old typewriter and his old degree from Harvard University, his victims hold all of this is worth a lot of money.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Shovels, a screwdriver, tweezers, a knife, his dusty boots, other typewriters, and his Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Michigan. Hundreds of items locked away for years in FBI evidence bags that CNN had exclusive access to, all of this likely heading to an auction for anyone to bid on.

But Kaczynski doesn't want his positions auctioned off, especially his diaries and personal writings. These thousands of pages detail his crimes and what he was thinking at the time.

In his handwritten legal arguments, where he calls himself "K," he claims the district court orders violate K's first amendment rights.

BOUDREAU (on camera): It seems like this whole thing is just about control.

LAWRENCE BROWN: I think it is.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Acting U.S. attorney Lawrence Brown says Kaczynski's appeals likely won't make a difference.

LAWRENCE BROWN, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY: If some funds are raised by this auction to help out some of the victims, then that serves some level of justice. But you just cannot right the tremendous wrong but Kaczynski committed.

BOUDREAU: Steve Hirsch is the attorney for four of the victims, including Epstein, who are owed that restitution.

STEVE HIRSCH, VICTIM'S ATTORNEY: The victims were placed in this terrible position of either accepting the idea of an auction, or letting Kaczynski have all his things back, which would have been just another wound for them.

BOUDREAU: It's been nearly 16 years to the day since Epstein was injured.

EPSTEIN: And who would think we would be sitting this many years later, still having dealings with the man who tried to kill us.


BOUDREAU: Kaczynski is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He has until Monday to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyers we spoke to say there is no way the court will hear this issue.

The auction is expected to take place later this year.

BROWN: And, Abbie, you said Kaczynski owes $15 million in restitution to some of his victims. Could the auction bring that kind of money?

BOUDREAU: Everyone we talked to said there's no possible way it is going to bring in $15 million. But it could bring in hundreds of thousands. It's a true possibility. And there are websites out there that auction this kind of stuff, so we know that there's a market for people who want these items. And we talked to one person who runs one of these websites, and he told us that those sunglasses that you saw and the hooded sweatshirt that everyone knows so well, could sell for $50,000 to $75,000.

So who wants this? I don't know. Maybe it's some collectors. We also heard that there are some cases where people buy it just to destroy it later.

BROWN: All right, Abbie Boudreau for us. Fascinating story, Abbie. Thanks very much.

Former Presidents Bush, both of them, and the skydiving birthday moment that made this picture possible.



BROWN: That was great fun. Good to see you. Have a great weekend.

That's it. We will be back Monday, 8:00 p.m. eastern time. Have a good one.