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American Morning

Gingrich Soaring in the South; Al Qaeda Prison Break; AAU Sex Abuse Scandal; Eight Suspended For Bloody Hoops Brawl; Gunman Shoots at Strangers in Hollywood; Interview with Co-Founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream; Interview with Robert Griffin III; "Mother Robin" CNN Hero of the Year

Aired December 12, 2011 - 08:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Newt Gingrich surging in the South, opening commanding leads in Florida and South Carolina in a new poll. But it's a much different story in those states when it's Newt against Obama.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: And more than a dozen suspected al Qaeda terrorists tunneling their way to freedom from a prison in south Yemen. We'll tell you about it on this AMERICAN MORNING.


ROMANS: Good morning, everyone. It's Monday, December 12. Very glad to have Ali Velshi back in the saddle.

VELSHI: Glad to be back. It's 12-12-11.

ROMANS: So, that means what?

VELSHI: It means that something serious happens on 12-12-12. So, you got a year to get your stuff in order.

ROMANS: You got the whole election --

VELSHI: I'm not particularly suspicious.

ROMANS: There's a lot to do before we worry about the end of the world.

Up first this hour, Newt Gingrich soaring in the South. But can he stand toe-to-toe with the president? A new NBC News/Marist poll released yesterday shows the former House speaker opening up double digit leads over Mitt Romney in two key Southern states, South Carolina and Florida. But the outcome changes dramatically for both Republicans in those states when the opponent is the president.

Joe Johns is joining us live from CNN Center in Atlanta this morning.

Joe, good morning.

Gingrich and Romney took the brunt of the attacks at the debate, the frontrunners. What is the president saying about these two potential opponents?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's an old rule in politics that you never interfere when you're opponent is doing harm to himself. And right now, quite frankly, the Republicans certainly it's really rough for them out there.

Just this morning, we woke up to new attacks by Mitt Romney on Newt Gingrich about Newt Gingrich's relationship with House Democratic leader and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

So, the president of the United States right now is trying to stand clear of all of that, and if you watch this excerpt from this interview with "60 Minutes," you really see the president practicing the art of saying nothing and trying to be complimentary.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you make of this surge by former Speaker Gingrich?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's somebody who's been around a long time. And is good on TV, is good in debates. And -- but, you know, Mitt Romney has shown himself to be somebody who's good at politics as well. He's had a lot of practice at it.

You know, I think that they will be going at it for a while. When the Republican Party has decided who its nominee is going to be, then we'll have plenty of time to worry about it.


JOHNS: The president of the United States really weighing in there on Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Absolutely didn't hear quite anything about what he really thinks of these candidates, guys.

VELSHI: All right. Joe, thanks very much. And as Joe said, he was -- he did sort of talk about them. He said they have had a lot of experience and that sort of thing. That's part of the discussion.

If anyone doubted whether Newt Gingrich was a front-runner in the Republican race, those doubts were erased this weekend in the Iowa debate after the candidates took turns ganging up on the former House speaker.

Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director of "The National Journal" and with us live from Washington.

Let's talk about what Gingrich did, Ron. He really went on the attack with Mitt Romney really pressing the point that he say career politician. Listen to this.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's be candid. The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wait a second. Now, wait a second. That's -- now wait a second.


VELSHI: What do you think, Ron? Did he do any damage there? That was the gotcha moment of the debate if there was one.

ROIN BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, welcome back, Ali. I thought he was -- Newt Gingrich delivered a very deft performance. He was effective on the offense.

And as you say, that was probably the most -- single most memorable line of the debate. And more importantly, he was very effective on the defense. He avoided sounding defensive and didn't sound cavalier either. I mean, he dealt with a variety of issues, including his personal life, I thought, in a very measured way.

And it is a reminder that, you know, he is not -- he does not seem as prone in this campaign so far toward the tendency to self destruction, which was certainly a problem for him as speaker of the House.

ROMANS: And, Ron, you know, so many people have talked about this, this guy has been married three times. He's now converted to Catholicism, right?

How is he appealing to -- and his performance this weekend, how is he appealing to the evangelicals who are going to be so critical in the Midwest? He said I have asked for forgiveness. I am a 68-year- old grandfather. And focus on me now.

BROWNSTEIN: That was I thought his most effective single moment of the debate.

First of all, he is appealing to evangelicals. I mean, part of what's happening in those polls you see in South Carolina and Florida as well as in Iowa is those voters are consolidating around Gingrich.

Now, part of this is a demand side phenomenon. They need someone to consolidate around. They don't like Romney. They showed that in 2008. He won only 20 percent of the combined vote of evangelicals in those primaries.

And, you know, it's closing time. They need a candidate. And they have cycled through the alternatives.

Gingrich, to some extent, is the beneficiary of being the last person standing. But there was also I think this argument, which was I thought quite effective, not only on the personal issue but more broadly on what will be I think even more important attacks on him over the leadership style he displayed in the House.

He basically said, look, that person isn't the one on the stage anymore. I am a different person. I'm 68 years old. And you'll have to judge who I am now.

That I think could be a pretty effective argument for him. But he's got a lot more fire coming, I think, not only on the personal side, but more so on the leadership side, because some of the people who are most critical of him are the Republicans who served with him in the House in that period once he became speaker.

VELSHI: Well, let's talk about Romney for a second, who doesn't tend to slip up too much. I recall a few months ago when he said something about corporations are people, and that sort of -- that tends to be his Achilles heel, this idea that he's thought of as this rich guy. He had a disagreement with Rick Perry in this debate about something that was in his book or not in his book. And he was so insistent that he offered Rick Perry a $10,000 bet.

We've been talking to conservatives all morning. Some of whom think the 10,000 bucks makes him seem out of touch. Others whom think that evangelicals shouldn't be betting.

ROMANS: Betting is not something that a Baptist is going to be into. Is this his H.W. Bush moment at the grocery store where he didn't know what the scanner was?

BROWNSTEIN: It's similar, I think, yes.

And, also, one thing that really matters here is that the composition of the Republican electorate has changed. There are fewer, you know, there many more of what they call the Sam's club Republicans. A lot more blue collar and working class party than it was 20 years ago when George Bush didn't identify the supermarket scanner.

So, yes, I think this is going to be a difficult moment for Romney. Can he overcome it? Sure. But it definitely goes to his biggest -- one of his biggest weaknesses in this race, the sense that he could be out of touch with average voters.

And Rick Perry certainly jumped on it right away yesterday on television.

VELSHI: What do you think of the others? Michele Bachmann. She always has sort of something nifty that she said. This time she coined the term "Newt/Romney" to talk about the two front-runners.

Santorum can't really seem to get much traction here.

This is their big play. Iowa is going to be a great play for conservatives. What do they do with this?

BROWNSTEIN: So, I mean, the debate kind of physically encapsulated the dynamic of the race. You have at the center of the stage, two people, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, that the conservatives are not entirely comfortable with.

And it produces the anomalous situation where the biggest single bloc in the party doesn't have a horse that it fully trusts at the center of this race. And then you have the four candidates on the wings, all of whom are more conservative than those in the center who are trying to get in there.

If there was any bad news for Newt Gingrich in this race, it was how well Michele Bachmann did, because Gingrich is benefitting from a consolidation as I said among Tea Party voters, and evangelical Christians. In some way, she is a more natural fit from many of those voters. But they haven't seen her as a viable alternative as the race went on.

If she can kind of re-launch herself -- and I thought Rick Perry did himself some good as well, same thing. If either can get renewed momentum, they're likely to take more votes from Gingrich than from Romney. But overall, it was a strong night for Gingrich.

And I think Bachmann did kind of do as well as she could to say, hey, look at me again before we close this thing down in Iowa.

VELSHI: All right. Ron, good to talk to you as always. Ron Brownstein is CNN senior political analyst and he's the editorial director at "National Journal."

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, guys.

ROMANS: Rick Perry did not take that bet.

VELSHI: He did not -- when somebody offers you a bet about something that they are sure about and put their hand out is maybe to take it. But I think he did some very fast -- for a guy who's been criticized for not thinking fast on his feet, I think with conservatives, him not taking that bet probably did him a lot of good.

ROMANS: When he said the Sam's Club Republicans, too. I just read a stat recently that Costco, the average income for someone who shopped at Costco is $93,000.

VELSHI: Yes, Costco --

ROMANS: They're calling them Sam's Club conservatives.

VELSHI: High end people save their money by shopping at Costco. But the Sam's Club Republicans are not going to necessarily relate to a $10,000 bet.

ROMANS: No, they won't.

All right. Time now for this morning's top stories.

An al Qaeda prison break in Yemen. At least 15 suspected terrorists dug a tunnel out of a prison in south Yemen. This is an area where militants have seized entire chunks of a province. Political violence turns that country upside-down.

VELSHI: Conservative Republicans are on the record this morning saying that Congress will reach an agreement before the end of the year to extend the payroll tax cut. Now, that signals a shift in position for the GOP. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on the left and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the right making the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows conceding that we need to extend the tax break that is saving the average American worker about $1,000 a year.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I believe that we should extend the payroll tax holiday another year, avoid a tax increase on working people for another year. I also agree with Senator Reid, my counterpart, that we ought not to do it again next year. Now, we know that's an emergency package, coupled with an extension of unemployment, with some reforms. But at the same time, Chris, we'd like to create some jobs.


VELSHI: The House bill to extend the payroll tax cut also includes provisions to ease the approval process for the controversial Keystone oil pipeline. The House is expected to vote on the measure tomorrow.

ROMANS: And if employment benefits are allowed to expire, there's 5 million people who lost jobless benefits by the end of the year.

VELSHI: You remember we had this discussion a year ago.

ROMANS: It looks like Iran will not return that unmanned U.S. spy drone. Did anyone think they would? The deputy commander of the Iranian military says that no one welcomes spying and no one sends back the spying equipment to its country of origin. Iran claims it downed that U.S. drone earlier this month near the city of Kashmar, about 140 miles from its border with Afghanistan.

VELSHI: I venture he's right on that. I don't know if anybody has ever returned that stuff.

Former dictator Manuel Noriega is in Panama, spending his first night back home in a prison cell. The drug-running dictator from the 1980 who was extradited back to Panama yesterday, he was taken straight to prison to begin serving a 20-year sentence for murdering his opponents while in power. Noriega is 77 years old. He's been in France for 2010 after spending two decades in an American prison for drug trafficking and money laundering.

All right. Coming up, bombshell child sex abuse allegations against the president of the Amateur Athletic Union. We'll have those details ahead.

ROMANS: And a bloody brawl in college basketball. We'll show the fight that left eight players suspended and one bloodied.

VELSHI: And ice cream giants Ben & Jerry siding with the 99 percent. We'll ask them why they support the Occupy Wall Street movement when they join us later on in the show.

It's 12 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Good morning. Fifteen minutes after the hour. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

New sex abuse allegations rocking one of the nation's largest youth sports groups. The former president of the Amateur Athletic Union accused of child sexual abuse. In an ESPN interview, two former basketball players say Robert Dodd molested them when they were teens back in the 1980s.

ROMANS: The AAU says it alerted police last week and turned over the name of a third accuser. CNN's George Howell joins us now live now from Memphis, Tennessee. George, you know, the AAU says it first learned of this alleged abuse sometime in early November. The police weren't told until nearly a month later.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, definitely one of the questions that we plan to pose to police this morning. It will be our first time to speak face-to-face with investigators to ask them again about this timeline of events. Focus again, starting on November 7th and 8th when this group tells us that they received anonymous emails from a source only identified by the name Shrimp Breath, and they also received anonymous phone messages.

I'm told that the board convened quickly after and decided to remove Dodd from his post. They also hired a private investigator to look at those emails, the phone calls, try to identify the sources, that information. And that is when they later decided to turn all of this information over to police. Again, just days before the airing of this report on "Outside the Lines" on ESPN.

The report again where these two men shared their stories publicly, but we are waiting to learn more about the timeline of events from police and where they are with their current investigation into Dodd -- Christine.

VELSHI: What we're hearing, George, is that some of these alleged abuses took place in hotels while on the road at tournaments. What do we know about where this happened?

HOWELL: Ali, again, it's fair to assume, fair to question, again, just across the Mississippi here and you're in another state, fair to assume that this team travelled to several different events. We will ask police where they are with the investigation, but again, Dodd has a long history of working with young people in sports.

Again, he was a director with the YMCA here in Memphis for many years, and he had a longtime director of the AAU. So, we will definitely pose those questions this morning to get some insight as to where that investigation is.

ROMANS: And George, we should point out that he is maintaining his innocence. He's been removed from his post, but he is maintaining his innocence this morning?

HOWELL: Absolutely. In fact, when he was confronted by the board with the AAU, he denied repeatedly these allegations, but he did admit that he was approached, someone contacted him, an anonymous source, contacted him. That is why again he is no longer part of the AAU.

VELSHI: All right, George. Thanks very much for that.

ROMANS: In the Penn State child sex abuse case, another version of Mike McQueary's story surfaces about what this assistant coach saw in the locker room showers back in 2002. The "Patriot News" reports the latest account is different from the handwritten statement that McQueary gave to investigators.

He told the grand jury he witnessed Jerry Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in the shower, but McQueary had told a family friend, Dr. Jonathan Dranov, he didn't see a sexual assault. CNN contributor Sara Ganim explains what he described.


SARA GANIM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He heard sex noises, which is something he did also mention in the other report, but then, he says a young boy kind of peered around the shower stall, looked at him before a man's arm grabbed the boy around his waist, pulled him back, and seconds later Jerry Sandusky left in a towel.

So, you know, this witness, this doctor, also says that he asked Mike McQueary several times, what did you see? And several times, Mike McQueary said, I didn't see anything.


VELSHI: To update you on that, Sandusky is due back in court tomorrow. He's charged with more than 50 counts of sexual assault. Now, for the first time, some of Sandusky's alleged victims may confront the former coach and take the stand. CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, stopped by AMERICAN MORNING last hour. He says we can expect to see a sort of mini-trial tomorrow.


PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Basic evidence has to be presented to a judge, and the judge has to look at that and say, well, if that evidence were believed, there would be a conviction at trial. So, we're not looking at a full trial, but we're looking at sort of a bare bones presentation.

Now, that means potentially all of the victims, the alleged victims, might come into court and actually testify and be subject to cross-examination. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: He called it an avalanche of testimony from these.


ROMANS: He said if even one of them is believed, as you heard him say, you know, then that's a pretty tough case.

All right. In a year of college scandals, we want to give you something to celebrate. Quarterback, Robert Griffin III, became the first Baylor player to ever win the Heisman trophy. Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, was runner-up in the voting for the second straight year. Griffin or RG3, as they call it, is also on the dean's list. He's the son of two retired army sergeants.


ROMANS: And this year's Heisman trophy winner will join us live in about 20 minutes. He has with him the most recognizable trophy in American sports. We're going to ask him what it means --

VELSHI: Is he bringing it?

ROMANS: I think he is. He's bringing it, right? We will talk about, you know, whether he goes NFL, the socks he wears. He hasn't --

VELSHI: Law school.

ROMANS: Law school.

VELSHI: This guy has a lot of options in front of him.

Stiff punishment handed down for one of the ugliest fights we have ever seen on the basketball court. It happened with nine seconds to go in Saturday game between Cincinnati and Xavier. The teams each suspended four players for their roles in the brawl.

ROMANS: Rob Marciano is in the Extreme Weather Center. Just another day at the office for Rob. Just like that. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. Hey, I want to show you this video if you missed it. This time last week, we were talking about a lunar eclipse that was going to happen Saturday morning on the West Coast. You'd get to see the last part of it. In this iReport from Portland, Oregon, a time lapse video as the moon was setting into the morning fog.

Next lunar eclipse, actually, total one, not for at least another year as far as the calendar for next year is concerned. So, we're going to have to wait of that.

We have some showers across parts of the southeast. This is actually needed rain across parts of South Central Georgia. It will be dissipating throughout the day today. Some cold air across much of the Midwest. Some of this drizzle through Cedar Rapids, through (Inaudible), through Western Madison, Wisconsin, seeing a little bit of that freeze to the roadways.

So, that's your wintry precip. Also, some wintry precip at the higher elevations across the southwest. Some nasty weather from Los Angeles down through San Diego, even as far north as San Francisco, sliding into the desert, and that's going to create some problems as far as rain in the valleys and snow above 3,000 feet. Serious accumulations above 5,000 feet.

Six to 12 inches in the mountains just east of Los Angeles. We could see 10-20 inches in some of the southern Rocky Mountains as well. And in general over the next couple of days, it is going to be kind of nasty as the slow mover will dump a decent amount of moisture and some cold air from the Pacific Ocean as it slowly makes its way through parts of the southwest.

Meanwhile, if you are traveling today, there'll be some problems in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well. San Diego, Phoenix to a lesser extent and some low clouds and some showers in Minneapolis and Atlanta. But the northeast is nice. You got some chilly weather over the weekend, the chilliest air of the season, as a matter of fact.

And we'll rebound over the next couple of days. Temperatures will get a little bit more mild. High temps today in New York City, 45 degrees, 42 degrees in Chicago. Ali, good to have you back.

VELSHI: Thank you, sir.

MARCIANO: We'll see you, guys, tomorrow.

VELSHI: Good to be here. Yes. It's crisp here in New York, but clear.

MARCIANO: Feels good. Yes.

VELSHI: Beautiful. Yes. Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right.

VELSHI: All right. New details on the Los Angeles gunman caught on camera shooting at passing cars. There he is right there. Who is he? What triggered his violent rampage? It is 23 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: Twenty-six minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

This week, U.S. investors will be monitoring events in Europe. No official meetings are planned after a majority of Eurozone members struck that deal for a new treaty to save the Euro. Now, Britain is rejecting it, leaving some investors on edge about where Europe goes from here. The U.S. markets opened just over an hour. We could be looking at bit of a sluggish start. You've got Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 futures all pointing lower this morning suggesting a possible selloff at the opening bell.

U.S. bank credit is growing at its fastest rate in three years. This is according to the Federal Reserve. Financial institutions increased commercial and industrial loans at an average yearly rate of nearly 10 percent in the third quarter of this year.

The MF Global money chase continues. The judge overseeing the bankruptcy of this firm clearing the way for customers to get some of their money back. He approved releasing about $2 billion more in frozen funds to customers of that firm. It still doesn't include the $1.2 billion that MF Global lost before it collapsed. There are farmers still waiting to get their money that has been locked up in MF Global.

It's that time of year. Today is Green Monday. It marks the beginning of what usually is the busiest week for online retailers. For the past six years, Green Monday has ranked among the top spending days of the season. Meantime, last week, shoppers spent almost $6 billion online.

All right. They changed the way we eat ice cream. And now, they want to revolutionize the way we do business. Ben and Jerry say good business can be a positive force for social change and economic equality. They're taking their message to Washington, D.C., but first, they're speaking to us. We'll bring that to you very shortly. AMERICAN MORNING is back right after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back. New this morning issue, an Al Qaeda prison break in Yemen. At least 15 suspected terrorists dug a tunnel out of a prison in south Yemen. It happened in an area where militants have seized entire chunks of a province as political violence turns that country upside down.

VELSHI: Top stories now. President Obama accused Republicans of playing politics with the economic crisis last night in a "60 Minutes" interview. The president says the GOP decided their best bet was to do nothing.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the Republicans made a different calculation, which was, you know, we really screwed up the economy. Obama seems popular. Our best bet is to stand on the sidelines because we think the economy is going to get worse and at some point just blame him. And so we haven't gotten the kind of engagement from them that I would have liked.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Frontrunner Newt Gingrich coming under attack in this weekend's GOP Iowa debate. His opponents disputing his conservative credentials, challenging his comment that the Palestinians are an invented people, and questioning whether he could be trusted after admitting to infidelity.

VELSHI: And new details on the terrifying weekend shooting rampage in Hollywood. Disturbing amateur video you see here shows the gunman shooting at strangers in the middle of Sunset Boulevard. He is standing in the middle of Sunset Boulevard. His name is Tyler Brant. He was shot and killed by police after reportedly pulling out a knife and egging the police on.

ROMANS: So what triggered this violent rampage? There are now reports of a recent break-up and possible prescription drug use. We discussed this earlier with clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere.


JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, obviously, yes, this is a person who was suicidal. I would think even though there are reports that he was taking some sort of pharmaceuticals, some sort of a drug, his girlfriend says, we don't know what it is. We know with --

ROMANS: Or if even it's true.

GARDERE: Or if it's true. We know in the past with certain anti-depressants, if that's what we was taking, we don't even know that, there is side effects such as suicidal behavior. But you can only begin to wonder whether this guy had some sort of mental health history, and if he didn't, perhaps he was undiagnosed. But certainly this is someone who was probably emotionally unstable probably for quite some time. And then this break-up with the girlfriend threw him over the edge.


ROMANS: Russia's elections rigged? President Dmitri Medvedev is calling for investigations into allegations of vote fraud in last week's elections on his Facebook page. He says he is ordering checks at every polling station. This after thousands of Russians gathered for anti-government demonstrations. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party suffered big losses, but retained its parliamentary majority.

VELSHI: Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan are deteriorating. American troops have now vacated a military base in southwest Pakistan that was reportedly used to operate the CIA spy drones. Pakistani officials ordered U.S. troops out of the air base after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghanistan border.

ROMANS: New York senators are pushing for changes in the airport screening process. They want the TSA to provide onsite passenger advocates at airport security. This is in response to a number of recent complaints. Several elderly women say they were strip-searched by TSA agents. The TSA denies it, but the senators say a public advocate there could protect vulnerable passengers.

VELSHI: I can't say it will get you through any faster. You'll have to page the person and get them to come down.

ROMANS: You wouldn't just have the passengers against the TSA. You'd have somebody else there.

VELSHI: Right.

All right, Ben and Jerry revolutionized the ice cream world, and now they want to transform American business. The duo is throwing their weight behind the Occupy Wall Street movement. We'll chat with them right after the break.

ROMANS: And joining us this half-hour in our AMERICAN MORNING studio, the 2011 Heisman trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, RG-III, and his socks. We'll explain -- his socks and his trophy. It's 35 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Good beautiful morning to you, New York City. Wake up and get out there. It is 34 degrees and sunny. It's getting up to 45 and sunny. It's going to be sunny for most of the week actually. I think Thursday some rain clouds come in. But it is just -- this is one of the best times of the year in the city. Everybody is out there. As one of our guys on the floor described it, it's like a mosh pit. It's like they just took people from other cities and dumped them in the middle of Manhattan, because you can't shop elsewhere in the country, apparently


ROMANS: All right, welcome back.

Ben and Jerry are famous for making some of the best ice cream on the planet. Now the duo is dishing out business advice.

VELSHI: So Ben is Ben Cohen, Jerry Greenfield is the Jerry. They support the Occupy Wall Street movement. They say business leaders should work to reduce business economic inequality. Ben and Jerry join us live now in D.C. where they have ice cream with them. They are taking their message today to the National Press Club. Good to see you. Thank you for being with us.


VELSHI: Very good. I love your story. Most people have heard your story and it's a terrific story about two guys who really struggled in a small business and then got really successful and really big. And what a lot of people don't know is that you are now owned by one of the biggest conglomerates in the world. It kind of seems weird that the two of you guys would be involved in the Occupy movements. Tell me why you got involved early, and what part you want to play in this. COHEN: Well, I think what occupy signifies and the service that they're doing for the country is to point out that there's a huge spread between rich and poor, that it's growing faster and faster. It didn't always used to be this way, but that now the top one percent of the population owns 40 percent of the wealth in our country. And, you know, that's not the way it's supposed to be. A big part of it is because corporations have become too powerful, and that's something that we need to change in order to create the country that we all thought we were born into and that we all heard about in elementary school.

ROMANS: But you guys have really benefited from this, right? You sold your company to one of the biggest conglomerates in the world. No doubt you had the advice and counsel of investment bankers who helped you decide how to sell your company. In a way, people on Occupy Wall Street, they disdain that. They disdain people who have worked within the system and have enriched themselves in this system. How do you square your long advocacy of liberal and progressive, I guess, movements and ideals with the other side of that, which is you guys have been wildly successful in this -- the way this system is?

COHEN: You know, this gets to the interest -- into the issue of self-interest. And there's kind of an assumption that everybody is supposed to operate in their own self-interest. And I don't think that's the way the world is supposed to be. I don't think that's what the major religions talk about. What we should be operating in is the interest of fairness and justice and equality for all regardless of whether that benefits yourself or not.

VELSHI: Jerry, what do you want companies to do? What do you think big companies should do to try and close this gap, this income inequality and income control gap?

ROMANS: And companies like Unilever, which owns your company?

JERRY GREENFIELD CO-FOUNDER, BEN & JERRY'S HOMEMADE ICE CREAM: First of all, I think businesses need to recognize that they are part of society, that they are not just existing to maximize their profits and not worry about anybody else in the community. Businesses are the most powerful force in our society, and they utilize incredible leverage on elections through campaign contributions and on legislation through lobbying, and they should be looking out for the common interests as opposed to self-interest.

It's also interesting having been down at Occupy, the movement and the people there are not anti-business, and they're not anti- capitalist. You know, I was sort of concerned that people were going to shun us when we went there. But all they want is a fair deal, a just deal, a level playing field.

ROMANS: I tell you, some are anti-business and anti-capitalist. Some aren't. Some are for free Tibet. Some are for not using drones anymore here and abroad. There are so many different things that have all morphed together at Occupy Wall Street. Tell me, guys, what do you think it stands for? Because when we asked for a list of -- you know, tell us what you want -- VELSHI: There's almost a resistance of doing that.

ROMANS: What do you advocate for? Then people who are not leaders but are leaders of the Occupy movement say that's not what we're about. We're not about giving you a point by point legislative agenda. What do you think they want?

COHEN: It's really about values. About shifting the culture of the country and shifting our politics so that it serves the majority of people in the country instead of corporations and the elite.

But I'll give you three concrete, you know, proposals that Occupy Wall Street would embrace in a heartbeat. And one is to rescind the legal fiction of corporate personhood, that corporations are not people. They should not be endowed with the same rights as people are. And that would significantly reduce the power of corporations and shift power back to the 99 percent.

And I think that another thing that Occupy Wall Street would embrace would be real campaign finance reform, again, requiring a constitutional amendment so that money is no longer considered to be free speech. That's absurd.

ROMANS: Right.

COHEN: And I think that now with the power of Occupy Wall Street, and the mass movement that it's able to generate, that a constitutional amendment is really possible.

VELSHI: All right, Ben, Jerry, good to see you guys.

ROMANS: One last question. If you had an Occupy Wall Street flavor, what would you call it?

GREENFIELD: Chockuppy.


ROMANS: Very good. I like that one. Ben and Jerry, thanks so much.

GREENFIELD: Nice to see you guys.

VELSHI: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are cofounders of Ben and Jerry's homemade ice cream.

ROMANS: Somehow I'm pretty sure I'm not the first to ask them that. That came out quickly.

In a year of college scandals, there's something to celebrate. Quarterback Robert Griffin III now the first Baylor player ever to win the Heisman trophy. He'll be joining us live in the next five minutes.

VELSHI: And they spend their lives putting others first. Now CNN Heroes get their night in the spotlight. Its 45 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: It is 47 minutes after the hour. Here are your "Morning Headlines".

U.S. markets open in about 45 minutes, and we could be looking at a sluggish start to the week. Dow and NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures all pointing lower this morning suggesting a possible selloff at the opening bell.

An al Qaeda prison break in Yemen. Security officials say at least 15 suspected terrorists dug a tunnel out of a prison in south Yemen. Dozens of al Qaeda militants also tunnelled their way out of a prison in the same area back in June.

President Obama slamming Republicans during his interview with "60 Minutes" on Sunday. The President says Republicans refuse to compromise on any of his budget initiatives. He says they are banking on a bad economy to bolster their election chances.

Front-runner Newt Gingrich under attack in this weekend's GOP debate in Iowa. His opponents questioning his conservative credentials, challenging his comment that the Palestinians are and quote, "invented people", and wondering whether he can be trusted after admitting to infidelity.

And with the season on the line, the New York Giants stunned the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night football. They blocked a field goal try in the final seconds after Eli Manning took them down -- took them down the field for another fourth quarter comeback; 37-34 was the final score.

That's the news you need to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING is back right after the break.


VELSHI: And so I'm actually supposed to be sitting it out. Well, we got -- we got a really famous guy here in studio.

ROMANS: I know. This is my interview it's my interview and Velshi can't stay away. He's trying to --


VELSHI: Have we got -- have we got a photo yet?

ROMANS: He's trying to rub shoulders with greatness. This is as close as you'll ever get to a Heisman Trophy my friend.

VELSHI: Well, congratulations.

ROBERT GRIFFIN, III, HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER: Thank you, thank you. Thank you.

VELSHI: And now I'm going to leave the hard work to Christine.

ROMANS: Thank you. Oh yes as you can see we're with quarterback Robert Griffin III, and his Superman socks. Are these Superman socks today?

GRIFFIN: Not today, not today. But --

ROMANS: They are Santa socks.

GRIFFIN: Yes that's right.

ROMANS: There you go all right. It's got to be the lucky socks. Or it's just this guy really knows how to play some football.

Ok. He became the first Baylor player to ever win the Heisman Trophy over the weekend. Capping off a record-breaking year filled with thrilling last-second touchdowns. A year that Baylor fans will not forget for a very long time.

Joining us now is the 2011 Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III. How does it feel? How does it feel?

GRIFFIN: I mean, it's amazing. Words can't describe how I feel right now. Honestly, I'm excited to get back to Waco and practice and see everybody.

ROMANS: I'm telling you, that I mean, this is a trophy that has never been in the Baylor trophy, you know, room or anything. I mean, and so what point of the season were you like, wow, I mean this team -- I can do this. This team, we can really do this. And it's been an amazing year.

GRIFFIN: Well, it started off on the first game, and we beat TCU on national television. And we kind of felt like we had a lot of momentum going. And then really the signifying moment was when we beat Oklahoma at home.



GRIFFIN: At home when they were number five, first time we beat a top-ranked team in a long time. So it was really exciting, and everybody was kind of gaining a lot of momentum.

ROMANS: Momentum, and there's got to be good leadership there; leadership from you and leadership from the coaching staff. I mean when you got the momentum, and I mean -- well how was the leadership? And how -- what kind of a leader do you feel like you were on the field?

GRIFFIN: I think the biggest thing about leadership is knowing how to communicate with people and realizing that you have to trust the people around you. I trust those guys. We have been through the fire together a lot. And at the end of the day, they have to make plays for me and I have to make plays for them. So we did that, and that's why we are here.

ROMANS: What about the -- the other guys who got a lot of votes too? But you, I mean you -- you won it. I mean, there were some really good candidates out there.

GRIFFIN: Yes I mean, you had Trent Richardson from Alabama; you had Tyler Matthew from LSU; Andrew Luck from Stanford; and Monty Ball. So all of those guys are great -- great athletes. They'll be in the bowl games in December and January. And I'm excited to look forward to watching them play.

ROMANS: So now are you -- what are you going to do next? I mean because you have some choices here. You could go to law school. Play again. You could go -- you could go professional. I mean what are you going to -- you have so many good choices and good options.

GRIFFIN: Well, it's good to have a lot of doors open. So the biggest thing for me right now is focusing on what's in front of me, and that's being a Baylor Bear and playing in this ball game on December 29th. After that's done, I'll decide whether I'll come back or go pro.

ROMANS: So keeping focused on it right now. I mean, enjoy this moment.

GRIFFIN: Exactly.

ROMANS: Everyone is asking you what next. What are you're going to do? And you're just like, come on, can I -- can I enjoy my trophy for a minute?

GRIFFIN: Yes ma'am. You've got to take care of what's in front of you. That way everything else will fall into place.

ROMANS: I want to talk about injuries because in 2009, I think you tore your ACL. And you have been quoted as saying that you really knew then how much you loved to play this game, when you were sidelined. I mean you love this game. How do you worry about injury? How did that change your outlook as a --as a player and how you play maybe?

GRIFFIN: For me as a player, you have to take advantage of every day, take advantage of what's in front of you like I've said. When you get an injury like that, a lot of times guys are going into the tank, and I didn't do that. I had a great support system around me, and that helped me. And really it just make you cherish everything.

If you can dunk a basketball, make sure you do it every day, because someday you won't be able to.

ROMANS: I was going to ask you, you know what is your advice to kids who may look at you and say, I want to win the Heisman trophy some day? I mean, how do you know -- at what point as a young athlete do you know that you've got the drive and the talent? And what's more important, the drive or the talent, or is it everything, to get this far I mean, it's an incredible achievement? GRIFFIN: I mean, I think everybody knows God-given talent definitely helps, but it's more about the drive.

ROMANS: Is it and up here?

GRIFFIN: And up here and what's between your ears. You have to take care of the classroom, because it helps you on the field in more ways than I can explain. So the biggest thing is make your dreams a reality. Don't let anybody crush them. And if you have the drive to do it, you can do it.

ROMANS: You're the dream student athlete. I mean, you really are. So do you think that one day you'd like to have a legal degree? You have a political science degree, right.

GRIFFIN: Yes I graduated, I'm three years so I got my undergrad in political science. I'm getting my masters in corporate communications. And maybe do some things like you guys are doing.


GRIFFIN: So it would be fun to do that. And I am looking forward to going to law school in the future. It could be in the fall, it could be you know a few years from now.

ROMANS: But there are -- I mean, potentially big money to be made in the interim too. There's all these ways, you know, the investments, and the choices. Especially if you know you're physically -- you know you're definitely in your prime.

GRIFFIN: Yes, ma'am. I mean, you know, obviously, the life span of a football player isn't very long. But if the NFL comes knocking at your door, who are you just to say no? The biggest thing for me is I have another year available. I have a big decision to make, and I'm looking forward to just making that decision.

ROMANS: Unbelievable it's really nice to meet you, it's really nice to see this -- this actual, gosh, the Heisman Trophy. I mean, you say it feels so unbelievable because you guys have worked so hard, right?

GRIFFIN: Yes. I mean it is. And to have something like this, I still have -- it still hasn't sunk in yet. Hopefully it won't for a couple of months so I can go out and stay focused on this bowl game. But I mean it is truly amazing and I'm blessed to be a part of it.

ROMANS: Everyone says you're talented. You're very cool, and you're very humble. And so that's the thing that you have to keep hold of, you know. There will be all these successes down the road too. I mean it's just cool. And, again, explain to me the significance of the socks.

GRIFFIN: Ok. Well, obviously, I have the Santa Claus socks just because it's, you know, it's the Christmas season.

ROMANS: You can't see them. He's wearing Santa Clause socks. You were wearing the Superman socks earlier this week. So use that to feel lucky.

GRIFFIN: If you're going to go to the Heisman ceremony, you have to wear your best pair of socks.

ROMANS: Right. Really nice to meet you. And there it is. Oh, yes. There's a picture of the Superman socks from the Heisman ceremony. Awesome.


ROMANS: Really nice to meet you. Best of luck to you in the future. Thanks for bringing the trophy by. I'm sure I can't even lift it.

GRIFFIN: You're strong enough. You got it.

ROMANS: All right. Still to come. They selflessly spend their days putting others first. Now CNN's Heroes get their moment in the sun.

It's 56 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Welcome back. CNN paid tribute to 10 totally inspiring men and women announcing its hero of the year last night. A.J. Hammer has the high lights for us.


A.J. HAMMER, HLN HOST: Laughter, tears, standing ovations. It was a night of emotion and inspiration at Hollywood's famed Shrine Auditorium.


HAMMER: Selected from more than 10,000 nominations, 10 remarkable men and women were honored for their extraordinary work, like the wife of a fallen soldier who made it her mission that no military widow would feel alone.


HAMMER: An American midwife who moved to Indonesia to run a free clinic for at-risk.

A former refugee who brings free recycled soap to needy communities around the world.

DERRECK KAYONGO, TOP TEN CNN HEROES: And who knows? You might, you know, help save a life.

HAMMER: A paralyzed man who brings the gift of mobility to others in need.

RICHARD ST. DENIS, TOP TEN CNN HEROES: There is nothing better than to serve God and help others.

HAMMER: And a grandmother from Chicago who takes kids off the street and gives them a chance.

DIANE LATIKER, TOP TEN CNN HEROES: Please don't give up on our young people.

HAMMER: And with the help of some of Hollywood's brightest young stars, CNN also honored three young wonders. Their battle for clean water and fight against hunger and homelessness proves that heroism has no age limits.

From the first moments on the Red Carpet --

ICE CUBE, SINGER: These are real celebrities to me. You know, these are the heroes.

HAMMER: To the final announcement of the night.

COOPER: The 2011 CNN Hero of the Year is Robin Lim.

HAMMER: A global spotlight shined the light on 10 remarkable heroes, everyday people with big hearts and rock solid determination for changing the world.

A.J. Hammer, CNN, Los Angeles.


ROMANS: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips starts right now. Good morning, Kyra. Look who I brought for you.