Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Tornado Claims Victim, Injures Several in Missouri; President Obama Prepares to Deliver Commencement Address at Arizona State
Aired May 13, 2009 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, thanks so much. Tonight, as we wait for President Obama to take that stage at Arizona State University, we have breaking news. A deadly tornado, one killed, several injured in northern Missouri, about 180 miles northeast of Kansas City. Now we just got our first images of the tornado captured by i-Reporter Michael Ambrosia (ph). Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. It's coming across the road right here in front of me. OK. Actually, this is too close. You might feel the wind. Oh, my gosh, I've never been this close before. This is a fat one, too. This is wide. OK, see that wind right there? That's about 50 yards from me. This tornado is -- wow. OK. I got very close. That's the closest I've ever been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We have crews just now getting to the scene. We're going to be reporting any new developments as they come in. One death has been confirmed.
Again, we're also waiting for President Obama's speech at Arizona State University. He arrived a short time ago. He's made headlines today for striking a 180 on photos of prison abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ACLU fought and won a court battle to make them public. President Obama initially said he would abide by the ruling, but today after strong lobbying from his top military commanders, he did an about-face, planning to try to block the photos from getting made public. So is he back-pedaling on core promises as some of his critics say or is he keeping another promise to listen to opposing views and take them to heart? You can decide. Ed Henry is keeping them honest.
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dramatic reversal by the president on whether to make prison abuse photos public.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.
HENRY: Different from what the president's own spokesman Robert Gibbs said juts last month. Back then, the president was concerned about the effect on U.S. troops for more Abu Ghraib style photos. But Gibbs suggested much like the release of memos detailing alleged torture in the Bush years, the president believed transparency would not damage national security.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was a lot of back and forth in his mind over the course of several weeks about ensuring that this protected those that keep us safe, that it protected our national security. The president came to the determination that the decision that he made was consistent with all of those criteria.
HENRY: After today's announcement, the president refused to take questions, while Gibbs struggled to explain what led to the change.
(on camera): Was there a failure here at the White House in the first go-round in April to fully weigh the national security implications?
GIBBS: The argument that the president seeks to make is one that hasn't been made before. The -- I'm not going to get -- get into blame for this or that.
HENRY: So what sparked the reversal? Senior military officials confirmed to CNN in the last several days, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno urged the president to reconsider because of the concerns about troops. While former Vice President Cheney has been making the rounds, charging the president is making the country less safe.
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I think that we are stripping ourselves of some of the capabilities that we used in order to block, if you will, or disrupt activities by al Qaeda that would have led to additional attacks.
HENRY: White House aides sharply deny the former vice president had any impact and they note it was Mr. Obama who raised concerns about the troops during a meeting with General Odierno on Tuesday. So he was not giving into pressure. Nevertheless, liberals are furious about what they're calling a stone wall tactic, reminiscent of the Bush-Cheney years.
AMRIT SINGH, ACLU: This decision makes a mockery of President Obama's promise of transparency and accountability.
HENRY: The ACLU's open records lawsuit may now go to the Supreme Court, where it could take months or even a year to decide. In the meantime it may not be bad for the president to take some heat from the left. It only moves him to the middle. Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.
COOPER: We should point out that the Justice Department has already concluded that the government has little chance of actually suppressing his photos, so it's likely one day they will be seen. Perhaps that's why Mr. Obama took care of this afternoon to try to downplay what the photos actually show. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: These photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib. But they do represent conduct that did not conform with the army manual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Nevertheless the president at the very least hopes to delay their release, saying that making them public now would cause harm to U.S. troops.
Joining me now is Amrit Singh of the ACLU, who you saw in Ed Henry's report. Also Republican strategist Kevin Madden. Amrit, what is wrong with the president trying to protect American troops and tamp down any anti-American sentiment?
SINGH: It is essential that these photographs be released so that the public can know the full scale and scope of prisoner abuse that took place in its name. President Obama's decision today really does make a mockery of his promise of transparency and accountability.
COOPER: But why are these photos are so essential? If it's already known what happened? If there's already been reporting about it, why the photos so essential?
SINGH: Because they convey information that has not been conveyed before about what the abuse actually was. It's important for the public to see for itself exactly what was done to these victims of abuse. It is only through public airing of these photographs that individuals who authorized torture and prisoner abuse can really be held accountable for what's depicted in these photos. If they're suppressed, how will the public know what was done in its name?
COOPER: Kevin, everyone wants to protect American troops. What about transparency? What about the truth? Doesn't that matter?
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I disagree entirely with the argument that showing these photos would be essential. I think what's essential here and the argument that President Obama has made is national security indications, implications of releasing them and the fury of propaganda that would be unleashed against U.S. forces overseas.
I think -- I don't have to see a body to know there's been a murder, but I think if the police were to present enough evidence, we could make that argument. I think what has happened here is that we have seen punishment of these people who have engaged in detainee abuse. That's what's most important and moving forward and understanding the national security implications of not releasing these photos.
COOPER: Kevin, is knowing what happened in Abu Ghraib the same as seeing the photos in Abu Ghraib? You could have had a report about well some detainees were abused in the Abu Ghraib prison, but to actually see what happened to them, didn't that open it up in a way that the truth wouldn't have been known before? MADDEN: Well, I think what's important to remember, Anderson, on that point is that a photo is in of itself an event, it is not a pattern.
And what we saw with those photos were events of detainee abuse and events that were eventually investigated and then punished. I think what the left is doing, the anti-war left is trying to use this event, trying to use these photos to make an argument -- to use them as a vendetta against the Bush administration. And in that process, what they're doing is essentially smearing the country as a country that condones detainee abuse and condones the torture, when in fact we don't.
COOPER: Let me ask Amrit about that because don't we actually now know that these are not just isolated incidents, that there is actually a pattern from policies that were made by the Bush administration to things that were done in Guantanamo and then were done in Bagram Air Base and then were done at Abu Ghraib. There is a connection.
SINGH: Absolutely. And that photograph that you just showed of Lynndie England dragging a prisoner on a leash on the ground is a reflection of policies that were put in place by Secretary Rumsfeld at Guantanamo Bay. Mohammed Al Kahtani was subjected to the same techniques at Guantanamo Bay. He was led around on a leash naked and what you see in those Abu Ghraib photos is a direct link to what was authorized by the highest levels of officials.
COOPER: Kevin, we know at least 100 people died in U.S. custody, at least 20 of those were investigated as homicides. Do you really believe that everybody who went too far, who committed abuses has already been brought to justice? You think we already know all there is to know?
MADDEN: Well, I think that we can only go based on the evidence we have, and I think the military has in place --
COOPER: But the evidence we have are those photographs, we're not going off those.
MADDEN: Well I think we have enough evidence within the military and procedures put in place to investigate these detainee abuses and make sure that those that do engage in detainee abuse are then punished. I think that what happens with these photos is that they would sensationalize actual events that have taken place and make it seem that it was not just a pattern, but a widespread pattern, when in fact that's not the case.
COOPER: Amrit, to the point about protecting American troops, particularly at a time when the war in Afghanistan is at a critical juncture, as if frankly the war in Iraq, there is a strong argument though that this inflame anti-American passions and potentially harm U.S. troops.
SINGH: But what is the limit of that argument? If gross human rights violations have been committed, do you sweep them under the rug because they will cause outrage? In a democracy, it is essential to air this information. President Obama --
COOPER: No matter the implications?
SINGH: Well, look, we live in a dangerous world, but the terrorists have no dearth of pretext at their disposal to conduct violence. That's a fact. I mean, they can generate false information. They can conduct all the violence they want without the release of these photographs.
So to pick on these photographs as the cause of violence I think is a grave mistake. There were people who suffered immensely, the victims of torture depicted in these photographs. It's for their sake and for the sake of future victims of torture that these photographs must be aired.
COOPER: Trying to go present both sides on this, Amrit Singh, appreciate your perspective and Kevin Madden, as well, thank you very much.
Photo controversy somewhat overshadowed today. Senate hearings getting started into water boarding and other harsh tactics, what many call torture. Testifying behind a screen to protect his anonymity, former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who is involved in the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. Called the harsh methods "slow, ineffective and unreliable." Soufan says he and his fellow agents went by the book and got actionable intelligence. He's actually behind that screen, you can't see him. Later, he says when CIA agents and officers water boarded him, Zubaydah stopped giving good information.
As always, there is a lot more of this story online. Go to AC360.com where you can watch the complete testimony before the Senate's Judiciary Committee. And also AC360.com is where you can go join the live chat. Let us know what you think about this and other stories. Erica Hill's live Webcast is there as well. You can also text us questions for our discussion coming up about President Obama's speech this weekend at Notre Dame. Major outcry from Catholics who say a pro-choice president should not speak at one of the nation's top Catholic schools. What do you think? Text us questions at 94553. The message must start with the letters "AC" and then a space, then your name and question. If you don't include "AC" first with a space, we're not going to get the text.
All right, Governor Palin, Sarah Palin writing a book? Find out how much she may make. We've got details on that.
And later in the hour, President Obama speaking to the graduating class there at Arizona State University. We're going to bring you the entire speech live.
COOPER: We're waiting to hear in President Obama tonight. That's the speech -- the stage where he's going to be speaking shortly at Arizona State University in Tempe. He arrived just a short time ago outside Phoenix. About 70,000 people have gathered, expected to hear the president. The scalpers reportedly doing some good business there. His visit already drawing controversy, really from the get go, when the school, ASU, refused to grant him an honorary degree saying in so many words that he hadn't accomplished enough. His body of work is yet to come, is how a university spokeswoman put it.
After a national outcry, the school later decided to name its biggest scholarship program after the president him. They're still not giving him an honorary degree. This is going to be the first of three commencement speeches. We're going to bring you the speech tonight in its entirety. We're going live all the way through the midnight hour. For the next speech, which is this weekend at Notre Dame, there is a much bigger controversy over a much hotter topic, which is abortion. Candy Crowley has the "Raw Politics" tonight.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the time they graduate, American students are well schooled in free speech.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not believe it's right to celebrate a man who has gone so against Catholic principles.
CROWLEY: The man is President Barack Obama, supporter of abortion rights, who will give the commencement address to and get an honorary degree from Notre Dame -- a premier Catholic School -- a religion that considers abortion a mortal sin. Let the free speech begin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't afford to be sending the message to people that we view power and fame over our Catholic identity.
CROWLEY: The debate is not confined to campus. It made it to the pulpit of Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski.
BISHOP THOMAS WENSKI, ORLANDO: It implies almost an affirmation -- not an affirmation, or approval of the president's position, at least a winking at it, as if it was not that important.
CROWLEY: And it made it into a "Washington Post" column by Father Tom Reese.
FATHER TOM REESE, GEORGETOWN UNIVESRITY: I think when we start banning speakers, we look afraid. We look like we feel we can't come up with convincing arguments. I think that's a self-defeating strategy.
CROWLEY: Beyond the church's sanctuary, anti-abortion activists, Catholic and non, have gathered in South Bend to make their case. Among them, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, arrested for trespassing, and conservative anti-abortion activist Randall Terry.
RANDALL TERRY, ANTI-ABORTION ACTIVIST: We pushed baby strollers peacefully, quietly prayerfully on campus. And in the strollers were baby dolls covered with stage blood and an Obama bumper sticker, saying "Obama '09, one dead baby at a time, Notre Dame," to make a statement. CROWLEY: Countering the protests, critics accuse Republicans of trying to drive a wedge between Catholics and Democrats, and they note both President Bushes and Ronald Reagan spoke at Notre Dame and they were pro-death penalty, also against Catholic teaching.
Having won the Catholic vote last year, the president is on firm territory when he takes to that podium. And while at least one Notre Dame honoree is boycotting, along with some students, the vast majority of graduates and parents are expected to show up.
Beginning in the Vietnam era, protest has become a time honored graduation exercise. At Furman, some faculty members boycotted then President Bush's address, others silently made their case.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I supported the decision.
CROWLEY: John McCain was interrupted constantly by his commencement address at New York's New School. No one was disinvited, everyone spoke, they all survived, the tradition goes on.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president intends to go to Notre Dame, speak, accept a degree, and come back to the White House.
CROWLEY: Democracy 101, everyone gets free speech. Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: So, a question of faith or free speech? Should President Obama speak at Notre Dame? We're going to talk with William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, and author Father Thomas Reese, coming up next. Text us questions, 94553. Again, the message must start with the letters "AC", then a space, then your name and question.
We're counting down to President Obama's commencement address at Arizona State University. There's the president. He's just taken the podium. We're going to bring you his entire address live coming up tonight. As I said, we're going live for these entire two hours, because we think the speech may run over.
Also tonight, what we know -- we know what Dick Cheney thinks about Mr. Obama. What does former President Clinton think about it? All tonight, Clinton took a few jabs at Cheney and it's on tape. Be right back.
COOPER: We're talking about the uproar over President Obama's commencement speech this Sunday at Notre Dame. Just to amplify what Candy Crowley mentioned in her report, Mr. Obama won 54 percent of the Catholic vote last November to John McCain's 45. That's about 1 percentage point better than he got from all voters. And according to a new report from the Pew Foundation, just 22 percent of American Catholics said it was wrong of Notre Dame to invite the president to speak. Joining us now, William Donohue, president of the Catholic League and Father Thomas Reese , author of "Inside the Vatican." Bill, you don't object to the president speaking there. You object to him getting an honorary degree, you don't think he should be honored by a Catholic university?
WILLIAM DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE: That's right. He has a right to speak at a symposium, the law school, I discussed it with the panelists, that's fine. I'm all in favor in that. The bishops in 2004 put out a statement basically saying that no one should be given an award, be honored at a Catholic institution who essentially is diametrically opposed to the Catholic Church on some central issues. President Obama, when he was in the Illinois State Senate, justified selective infanticide. He's against the Supreme Court decision on banning partial-birth abortion. He's the poster boy for NARAL. They love him at Planned Parenthood. He said he would sign the freedom of choice act. He's against conscience health rights for health care workers.
I mean, I'm not saying he's a bad man, Anderson. I'm simply saying this. This is a man who never found an abortion he couldn't justify. If he doesn't disqualify himself for something which is what the Catholic Church says intrinsically evil, then no one does.
COOPER: To say though that his view on abortion, I mean, he has spoken out against abortion. He's pro-choice, but has spoken out against abortion. It's not fair to say that he's embracing abortion.
DONOHUE: Well, if George Wallace said he was opposed to racial discrimination and all he ever did was promote the legalization of it, who the hell would believe him?
COOPER: Father Reese, I know you disagree, 2004. I'm going to read what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that Bill referenced. They said, "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
So as a private Catholic university, why should Notre Dame have the president there?
REV. THOMAS REESE, JESUIT PRIEST: Well, I think a university should be places where people get together to debate, to talk, to listen to one another and to argue. That's what universities are supposed to be about. They're supposed to be about an exchange of ideas.
Now that document, for example, says that we should not give platforms to people who disagree with us. And yet Cardinal Egan gave Senator Obama, when he was a candidate for president, the most prestigious platform in the United States when he invited him to speak at the Al Smith Dinner. Nobody objected to that. It's because he's now gotten elected and he's speaking at Notre Dame, people are objecting and complaining.
I just don't think that makes any sense. I think universities should be the principle place where we have these kinds of discussions and debates.
COOPER: Bill, by your argument, should a Jewish person be given an honorary degree by Notre Dame?
DONOHUE: Well, I don't have nothing against any Jewish person getting an honorary degree.
COOPER: But they don't believe the teachings of the Catholic Church.
DONOHUE: Well, yes, because they're Jewish. This guy here is not somebody who's incidentally pro-choice. As I said, he's the poster boy for NARAL. They love him at Planned Parenthood.
Now Cardinal Egan quite frankly, all he did was follow tradition. Whoever the nominee is of the Republican and the Democratic Party gets to speak at the Al Smith Dinner. No one is denying him the right to speak at Notre Dame. Maybe some people are. There are some lunatics who say he shouldn't be allowed to speak there.
All I'm saying is this. He's being given an honor. Now this is really holding your middle finger up at the Catholic Church and saying I don't care what your teachings are. You've got over 70 bishops online, practicing Catholics. If you disaggregate the Catholic community, are opposed to this thing. I've never seen 70 bishops get involved in anything.
COOPER: Father Reese, what about that? Bill is saying it's the honor that's inappropriate.
REESE: Well, Bill is much more reasonable than a lot of the critics, including some of the bishops who don't want him even to be on the platform, don't want him speaking there and I respect Bill for being more reasonable on this issue than many of the other opponents.
But, you know, when we're talking about an honorary degree, we're not talking about canonizing a person for everything they have ever done in their lives. Notre Dame has made very clear that he is not being honored because he's pro-choice. He's not being honored because of his views about abortion.
He's being honored because he's president of the United States, the first black president to be elected. He's being honored because of what he's trying to do to improve the economy, to wind down the war in Iraq.
COOPER: Father Reese, we have a text question from one of our viewers, Damina from New Rochelle, New York. She says, "Why is this such a controversy? Does the church believe that there is no room for differences of view?" What do you say to that?
REESE: Well, I think some people hold that position, that there shouldn't be any room for differences of views at Catholic universities. Certainly the faculty at Notre Dame don't feel that way. The administration, the board of trustees, the students. I think Obama is going to be -- going to receive a tremendous welcome, many standing ovations, because they want him to be there.
COOPER: We'll see. Bill Donohue, we've got to leave it there. Father Thomas Reese as well, thank you very much. Good perspectives, both of you.
DONOHUE: Thank you, father.
REESE: You too, Bill.
COOPER: Coming up next on 360, Sarah Palin, putting her story to paper? The governor signs a book deal, a big one. Before she starts writing, Palin is already speaking out about what she plans to reveal in the book. We'll have that.
Also tonight, was a young man victimized twice? Shot by another college student who was told stay in school and you won't have to go to prison. The story you kind of have to hear to believe.
And a reminder, we are waiting for President Obama to deliver the commencement address at Arizona State University. He's expected to give the speech any moment. Some other folks are talking on the stage right now. It's his first commencement address as president. We'll see if he inspires you. Tonight, we're bringing you the whole speech live.
COOPER: And welcome back. We're getting a lot of live chat, Erica on the blog about Notre Dame, whether the president should be allowed to speak. A lot of people are saying they think the president should be allowed to speak. We have one from Gail. I think we can put it on the screen, that came in just a few minutes ago.
Gail says, "Every president since FDR has been invited to Notre Dame. GWB is a proponent of the death penalty and war and spoke at the school." She goes on to say, "This is the height of hypocrisy. And I agree with the Reverend. The Catholic Church looks afraid. The president should speak, period."
Also, Cynthia says, "My son is in graduate school at ND. If it's inappropriate for the school to award an honorary degree to someone who's pro-choice, is it not a greater sin to award a full degree to a pro-choice student?" Interesting question.
HILL: Interesting point. And that's the first -- the first we've had, but she raises a really interesting point. And the issue there, as you talked about with the two gentlemen, is the speech versus the honorary degree.
COOPER: Right. It's -- a lot of people weighing in. Let us know what you think: AC360.com. A live chat is happening now.
Now, we're not sure if Governor Sarah Palin will seek the White House in '012. You can place your bets on that. But tonight we do know that she shares at least one thing in common with President Obama: a book deal. Today the former vice-presidential candidate announced that she signed a deal to write a memoir. And the contract could make her millions.
Now, there's plenty of ground for her to cover, of course, from remarks on the campaign trail to her relationship with McCain, her future plans, her family.
Tonight's up close report, here's Erica hill.
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ARIZONA: I was just your average hockey mom.
HILL: Governor Sarah Palin, in her own words, words now worth millions of dollars, thanks to a deal the one-time VP candidate inked with publisher Harper Collins. Neither party would confirm the amount of payout, but no publisher would option a book for million if they didn't think it would sell.
ROBERT THOMPSON, PROFESSOR OF POPULAR CULTURE, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: She is not just any vice presidential candidate in any election. She became a celebrity in her own right, part of the American popular culture, someone that was being parodied on "Saturday Night Live."
HILL: That Tina Fey connection could be a huge selling point.
While plenty of Palin supporters are anxious to hear more from the Alaska governor, who said this book is her chance to, quote, "speak truthfully," unfiltered forum, there's no denying the amount of attention Palin still gets from her detractors.
THOMPSON: She could move a lot of units to people who are reading this with their tongues firmly in their cheeks and their elbows in the ribs of the person sitting on the subway chair next to them.
HILL: The governor will work with a yet-to-be-named collaborator, but her attorney assures CNN every word in the book will be Sarah Palin's. The focus: everything. Life in Alaska, life as a working mom, as the mother of a son with Down's syndrome, dealing with her own daughter's teenage pregnancy, and yes, the 2008 campaign.
PALIN: Let's send the maverick of the Senate to the White House.
HILL: But just how much we'll learn about the rumored nastiness on the trail and after the election may depend on the governor's own political aspirations.
ED ROLLINS, GOP STRATEGIST: Publishers are going to want her to say some sensational things to sell books, but equally as important, whatever she says will be used against her in the foreseeable future.
HILL: The book will be released next spring, when Governor Palin is up for reelection. And when the 2012 presidential campaign will be ramping up.
Still, with expectations of a multi-million-dollar payout, chances are we'll get a nugget or two in advance.
HILL: And again, no one is confirming that number. The rumors range from $7 to $11 million, a figure that Governor Palin actually calls laughable. But her attorney, Anderson, is Robert Barnett, has helped broker his big deals for Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, with 12 -- $10, $12, $8 million advances. Karl Rove, George W. Bush, even Alan Greenspan. So she's got a big player working with her.
COOPER: No doubt about that. A couple million, I'm guessing.
HILL: I would think at least that. There's definitely an "S" after the "million."
COOPER: There is. On our blog, you can also join our live chat at -- also, check our Erica Hill's live Web cast. As I said, a lot of comments about various stories tonight.
Coming up next, though, a twist of fate. A college student opens fire on a classmate, shoots the classmate. But is the victim made to suffer even more by the prosecutor? We have the details of a stunning and it's kind of unbelievable story. Coming up next.
Also tonight, taking on Dick Cheney. Bill Clinton enters the fray and lets the former vice president know what he thinks about the attacks on President Obama.
And President Obama's about to speak to graduates at Arizona State University. There's like 70,000 people waiting to hear him. We're going to bring you his entire speech live and his message to the class of '09. There's the president on the right there. Another speaker right now at the podium. See how inspiring he is tonight to the graduates and maybe to you at home. We'll be right back.
COOPER: This Saturday in Georgia, a college student who shot a classmate three times at close range is going to graduate. His victim, however, may never return to the school again.
That's just part of this story. See, this disturbing case centers on the deal that the prosecutor made with the defense attorney, a deal many people simply find impossible to believe. The question is, was justice served? See for yourself.
Gary Tuchman has more.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At Atlanta's prestigious Morehouse College, about 500 people will graduate this weekend from the all-male school.
Rashad Johnson was hoping to be one of them. His mother was going to fly in from California. And so were his brothers and sisters. He says three generations of his family are Morehouse men, but he is not getting a diploma there, because his life took a detour when he was shot.
(on camera) He was pointing the gun to your head.
RASHAD JOHNSON, SHOT BY CLASSMATE: Yes.
TUCHMAN: Did you think he was going to kill you?
R. JOHNSON: Yes. For sure.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Johnson grabbed the gunman's wrist and was shot in the leg three times. A bullet remains there.
R. JOHNSON: I felt the sharpest burning sensation when I first -- it first hit my leg.
TUCHMAN: The man who shot him was a fellow Morehouse student. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He faced the possibility of 20 years in prison.
But the twist in the story is this: unlike the man he shot, Joshua Brandon Norris will be graduating from Morehouse this weekend.
(on camera) How do you feel that this guy is going to be graduating from Morehouse this weekend, and you're not?
R. JOHNSON: Sick. I really feel sick, like how could this happen?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): How this happened is quite remarkable. It all began at a Halloween party in 2007 at this Atlanta club. The club owner said he saw a man causing trouble.
BRAD LEV, CLUB OWNER: The bouncer apparently grabbed him and threw him out the front door.
TUCHMAN: Minutes later the people in the club heard gunshots. The club owner said the shooter was the man he saw kicked out.
LEV: It was very sad (ph), yes.
TUCHMAN: In court papers, witnesses say the gunmen got out of his Hummer and shot Rashad Johnson after a struggle. Johnson felt like he could not continue at Morehouse. He father had died three months earlier, so he went home to California, to his mother and a local college.
R. JOHNSON: I just needed to go home and be around the people I know who love me and help my mom.
TUCHMAN: What the victim didn't know, though, is that the prosecutor was about to offer up a generous plea bargain deal for the shooter.
This is the transcript from the court. The prosecutor declaring, "We'll recommend probation, but no prison time. And also, you must remain in college and complete your college degree."
The judge trusted the prosecutor and agreed to the deal, adding, "You are getting the break of your life."
The shooter and his attorney accepted the plea bargain and pleaded no contest.
The defense attorney expected a much different outcome, saying when we came here today, "it was a prison offer. I heard what the prosecutor said, and I want to thank him."
Rashad Johnson and his mother were stunned. They say they were never even told about the court hearing.
FAHIZAH JOHNSON, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I felt outraged about the injustice to my son and the court system, it is unfairness at the university.
TUCHMAN: That's because Morehouse allowed the shooter to stay at the school. Court papers say the school even made the decision before the sentencing.
(on camera) As you might imagine, we were quite eager to talk to key people here at Morehouse College about why they decided to let Joshua Brandon Norris come back to school. If they ever talked about safety considerations involving the other students here, and if they even considered the awkwardness -- and that's putting it mildly -- about the possibility of having the shooter and the shooting victim at the same school at the same time.
(voice-over) The spokeswoman from Morehouse told us no one would go on camera, but in the statement provided to CNN, the school in part, "The college cannot on specific student conduct matters, incidents of inappropriate student behavior, whether on or off campus."
So what about that deal offered to the shooter? Go to college and do no time? We asked the prosecutor's boss.
PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We're sorry this happened for so many reasons.
TUCHMAN: Paul Howard is the district attorney and has 104 prosecutors. He says this prosecutor quit but would have been fired if he didn't. We haven't been able to locate him.
HOWARD: It was an inappropriate sentence. It seems like the wrong person got the right benefit.
TUICHMAN: Joshua Brandon Norris would not go on camera with us, and neither would his attorney. But the lawyer told us his client is innocent, felt his life was threatened at the time of the shooting, and was defending himself.
As for the man who Norris shot three times, he doesn't believe any of that is true. He plans to continue his education at Sacramento City College.
JOHNSON: I want to get into law school, for sure.
TUCHMAN: But he says he definitely no longer wants to be a Morehouse man.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.
COOPER: A remarkable story.
It is being called a, quote, blatant Internet brothel. Now Craigslist is doing away with its erotic services section after being linked to the murder of a masseuse. We have the latest details.
And former President Clinton has some advice for former Vice President Dick Cheney. We'll let you hear that for yourself.
And we're waiting for President Obama's first commencement address as president. We're at Arizona State University. There's the president on the right. Another speaker is speaking right now. We expect his, actually, though, to be taking the stage any moment now to speak. We're going to bring you the entire speech live. He's going to try to inspire some students at Arizona state. 70,000 people gathered to hear the president speak. Will he inspire you tonight? We'll play it for you live. We'll be right back.
COOPER: We'll have President Obama's live address at the graduating class of Arizona State University. There was some controversy. They didn't give him an honorary degree. They said he -- well, he hasn't achieved enough yet. We'll have -- we'll see if he references that in his speech. But Erica, you've right now a "360 News & Business Bulletin."
HILL: I do. And we have a story we're following very closely. It turns out the controversial erotic services ads on Craigslist soon will be gone. They're going to be replaced by a new adult section, which is going to be monitored by site staff.
Now, this changes comes amidst very strong pressure from multi state attorneys and attorneys general task force following the murder of a masseuse who was allegedly the victim of a Boston medical student who found her on Craigslist.
Stocks tumbling today following a weaker-than-expected retail sales report. The April numbers expected to hold steady, but instead they slipped 4 percent. That also sent the Dow south, down 184 points. The NASDAQ fell 52. The S&P lost 24.
In Los Angeles, Anna Nicole Smith's longtime partner Howard K. Stern entering a not guilty plea today on charges he conspired to supply the actress with drugs. Stern and two doctors are charged with several felonies, including obtaining fraudulent prescriptions. Smith died of an accident overdose in February 2007.
And more reaction to former Vice President Dick Cheney's claims the country is less safe under the Obama administration, this time from Bill Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish him well. It's over. I wish him well. It's over, but I do hope he gets some more target practice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: That reference from the former president, of course, to former Vice President Cheney's infamous hunting accident when he accidentally shot his 70-year-old friend in the face instead of the quail that they were hunting.
COOPER: There you go.
A programming note: tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Eastern, a special CNN money summit: "Money and Main Street." Ali Velshi and a panel of financial experts are going to join me in exploring how the country's picking up the pieces, moving on and moving ahead after 18 months of tough economic times. Are there glimmers of hope? We'll look at that tomorrow night.
Up next, President Obama expected at the podium shortly. We've been waiting for this for much of this hour. We expect -- we've gotten word that he may be taking the stage, though, very quickly at Arizona State University. Going to bring you the entire address live. We'll be right back.
COOPER: We are minutes away from President Obama's live address. The graduating class of Arizona State University, 70,000 people expected, despite the sweltering heat.
His visit drawing some controversy from the get-go. The school refused to grant him an honorary degree, saying essentially, he hadn't accomplished enough. His body of work is yet to come is how a university spokeswoman put it. We'll see if the president talks about it in the address tonight.
After a national outcry, the school did decide to name its biggest scholarship program after the president.
It's Mr. Obama's first commencement speech as president. We're going to bring you the speech in its entirety tonight. We're going to go live all through the next hour, and we'll take you there live.
Joining us from Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.
Suzanne, do we know when the president is expected to speak? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it's really just going to be minutes away. It's right after the university presentation.
And what we do know, Anderson, is obviously these remarks are embargoed until they're delivered, but we can give you a general sense of what he's going to say.
And that is he's going to tackle the controversy. He's going to face it head-on, even perhaps turn it on its head, by using it as a centerpiece of his speech. He's going to be talking about the whole thing of titles, the importance or maybe even the lack of importance when it comes to titles.
He's going to talk about changing the way that we define success and achievement, and that he himself has additional challenges, that all these graduates face additional challenges, particularly when it comes to finding jobs, to dealing with their own families in these tough economic times.
And he's also going to talk about it broadly, saying that people need to try to achieve not just for themselves, but for someone else, for their families. So clearly, the president is going to be taking this controversy head-on, and really trying to use it to its advantage -- Anderson .
COOPER: Is this the largest crowd the president has spoken to since inauguration?
MALVEAUX: It is. It's quite amazing when you think about it. There are more than 70,000 people who are here at the stadium, a lot of people who waited more than five hours out in the heat. It's about 101 degrees, Anderson.
I had a chance to talk to a couple of students, the graduates. And I did ask them about, you know, what does it mean for the president to be here to speak at your commencement? A lot of people very much excited about this. They thought that the controversy was overblown. It was a local story.
Really interesting, one alumni very upset about the whole thing, that it looked like perhaps he was being dissed somewhat. And she mailed her own degree to the White House, to say, "Look, if this is not something that -- you can have my degree."
So a lot of people very emotional about it, but they also said, "Look, we feel that this is a really special time, a special occasion to have the president of the United States at our commencement.
COOPER: So they are still not giving him an honorary degree, but they are giving him -- they've named their biggest scholarship after him?
MALVEAUX: That's right. I mean, it's a scholarship. You're actually going to see part of that in the ceremony today. There will be six scholars that they'll actually give this honor to, about $17,000 to freshmen. They are tripling the number of people who actually receive it. So instead of 500 freshmen, it's now going to be about 1,500 freshmen in the fall semester.
It's also making more people eligible. It used to be a family making about $25,000 would be eligible. Well, now it's opened up to those making as much as 60,000. So this is really an expansion of the scholarship program.
It's a way that the president, as well as some of the other spokespeople here at the university say is more appropriate in honoring the president. Because of that flap, you know, over whether or not he had a body of work that was sufficient, they said this was the way that we can make this better.
COOPER: We're also joined here in the studio. Watching this speech with us is senior political analyst David Gergen and "New York Daily News" columnist Erroll Lewis and GOP strategist Kevin Madden, as well, as we await President Obama getting up to speak.
David, I mean, this is a -- this is a tradition for presidents to give commencement addresses. This person is actually giving three back to back. Notre Dame this weekend.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and I think this controversy over honorary degrees is rather silly on the part of the university. I mean, as you now, you've given commencement addresses. I have. And traditionally, when they ask you to come to give a commencement address, they say we'd like to present an honorary degree to you. So...
COOPER: Actually, my college didn't offer up an honorary degree. That's all right.
GERGEN: Anderson, your body of work is expanding.
COOPER: I was lucky enough to get my real degree, so you know, I'm happy.
GERGEN: But, you know, I know how popular you are at college campuses. And you know. So it's very traditional. And I think it was a rather silly flap. The board of trustees bears a responsibility for this. They're the ones who vote on the honoraries.
But we are who we are, and I think that the president -- the most important thing is these graduates are coming into the toughest job market in over a quarter of a century. And I bet a lot of them don't have jobs yet. Arizona has been particularly hard hit. The southwest has been very hard hit. And so for him to come out here and talk about the job situation, and talk about their lives, I think that's a plus for him. I'm looking forward to it.
COOPER: This on a day, Erroll, where we have seen a president making a really dramatic reversal, early indicating that he was going to allow the release of these photographs which show abuses of detainees in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. About a half dozen different facilities, some of them tightly guarded facilities. Were you surprised that the president reversed himself? He basically is saying, "Look, it's going to endanger U.S. troops. It's going to, you know, explode anti-Americanism in Afghanistan and Iraq at a time when we really can't afford that.
ERROLL LEWIS, NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST: Yes. I think it's a mistake, frankly. Because the first question that is going to be asked of his adversaries is going to be, "You mean you weren't thinking about the safety of the troops when you first made this decision? And what kind of commander in chief doesn't think about that?
So he's going to get buffeted. He's also going to lose -- well, not lose, but he'll be alienating a portion of his core constituency, the anti-war groups that were some of his earliest and firmest supporters.
So they're already circulating petitions and passing resolutions, and expressing their own outrage to the White House. By speaking to students, by the way, will be addressing one of his other core constituents: young people.
And so this is, I guess, a way for him to try to get back on his feet, but he's going to have hell to pay, at least rhetorically, from a lot of these anti-war groups.
COOPER: David, I see you kind of shaking your head. And we're getting a lot of e-mails. And it looks like most of them, from what I've been reading in the live chat, are in support of the president's decision. We have -- even have a guy, a soldier in Iraq saying, look, you know, this endangers my life if these photos are released.
GERGEN: Well, Anderson, the toughest decisions to come for the president are those who don't involve -- either way you go, you pay a price. And in this situation, as commander in chief, he had to weigh the life of the troops.
If you were told by your secretary of defense and by your commanders, "If you release these photos, Mr. President, we may get some people shot." You're the commander in chief, would you do it? I think you would not. I think the lives of the troops come first.
And beyond that, when he made the call on this, he hadn't seen the photographs. You know, we don't know what he's seen, and...
COOPER: He says that they are not -- Kevin Madden is also joining us.
Kevin, he says the photographs are not as bad as the ones in Abu Ghraib.
MADDEN: Right, and you know, that may be setting it up for essentially managing expectations, should there be an appeal to a lower court and then eventually a Supreme Court on this, eventually you lose all those legal processes, and essentially these photos do get out, in some way that tamps it down. COOPER: And it seems like, Erroll, that they going to get out at Abu Ghraib. And we know that that did serve as a recruitment poster for militants all over the world. So certainly, the point is well taken.
But when he made that decision weeks ago, I assumed that they had thought it through. I assumed they had put it through a process.
GERGEN: Look, I think these things were a very delicate, hard decision. They're sort of 51/49 decisions, and in this case, there is a difference. Let's say they do get out. If they get out, they get out, but there's a difference to go out with the blessing of the commander in chief, with the approval of the commander in chief, versus him saying, "I'd rather them not come out."
PHILLIPS: If they get out, it may be because the court mandates that they have to get out. This all started as a court case. The ACLU trying to get the photos released.
And for all the people, he's going to get a lot of heat from the left. I think that's right, but I think a lot of people in the country are going to say, you know, that's a sensible decision.
COOPER: In terms of the politics, though, David, is this smart for the president? I mean, in a sense moving to a group who opposed him on many things, and a way to kind of reach out to a different group?
GERGEN: I think in these situations you can't think about who is going to be pleased and who's not. I think you have to think about what's the right decision for the president and assume good policies ultimately make good politics.
COOPER: Suzanne was at the stadium, and we're listening to the president of ASU speaking, introducing the president of the United States, who we believe will be speaking any moment, was going to speak a couple minutes ago.
Suzanne, the White House, though, earlier had indicated that they didn't expect -- that they did expect these photos would eventually be made public, because they didn't think the legal challenges against them would hold up, correct?
MALVEAUX: You're absolutely right, Anderson. This is something, really, that is very delicate. The White House talking with officials earlier today. They recognize that either way they were going to get some slack for this.
This is something that is going to be playing out obviously in the next couple of days, perhaps even weeks, but believe that they have made the right decision. This is something that they both -- that they feel that they cannot actually make anyone happy about, whether it's the ACLU, whether it's officials at the Pentagon, whether it's those who really feel that they should not walk this middle line, this middle ground. But this is something that they have been preparing for, for the past weeks or so, and it's something that they realize is just not -- it's not a winning issue.
COOPER: The torture issue in general. It is clear this administration -- actually, the president is being introduced. Let's listen in..
OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, ASU. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thanks you. Please -- thank you very much.
Well, thank you -- thank you President Crowe for that extremely generous introduction, for your inspired leadership as well here at ASU. I want to thank the entire ASU community for the honor of attaching my name to a scholarship program that will help open the doors of higher education to students from every background. What a wonderful gift. Thank you.
That notion of opening doors of opportunity to everybody, that is the core mission of this school. It's the core mission of my presidency, and I hope this program will serve as a model for universities across this country. So thank you so much.