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Congress Investigates White House Party Crashers; Tiger's Tangle; White House Stonewalling Party Crasher Investigation?; Set Free to Kill; Closing Statements Made in Amanda Knox Trial

Aired December 3, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good evening.

Larry and Governor Romney were just talking about it. We're on the trail of the guy who killed four cops. He's dead. But how did he get out on bail? We want answers so this doesn't happen again. This killer was paroled from Arkansas, facing fresh charges in Washington. Tonight, we have got new evidence that the state of Arkansas, which freed this guy in the first place, made it impossible for Washington to hold him, in effect, letting him go free again, this time to kill. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also tonight, "Digging Deeper," the White House crashers snubbing a congressional committee today, apparently the only real imitation they have ever rejected. But the White House also snubbed Congress, refusing to let its social secretary appear. Is the Obama administration now using the same playbook the Bush administration used when it came to accountability?

And later: "Crime & Punishment." Amanda Knox, the American accused of murder in Italy, a verdict could come tomorrow. Tonight, the evidence: Is she a killer or the victim of an anti-American court? We will put the facts before you, so can you decide for yourselves.

But first up tonight, "Keeping Them Honest": Why was Maurice Clemmons, the man who killed four cops, out on the streets and not locked up behind bars? He was facing felony charges in Washington, three times managed to make bail, three times went free, even though the charges against him were serious and his past criminal record was sobering.

By now, you probably know that Mike Huckabee granted him clemency back in Arkansas nine years ago. Well, Clemmons moved to Washington, where, still on parole from Arkansas, he was arrested this spring on assault and child rape charges.

Well, tonight, we're learning how the system broke down and why a war of words has now broken out between Washington and Arkansas.

Joe Johns has been retracing the steps across two states, numerous bureaucracies, looking at piles of documents inside an organization you probably never heard of, an outfit set up specifically to keep us all safe.

Joe, what have you learned? JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, there was supposed to be a safety net. As you know, felons with a violent past like Maurice Clemmons were supposed to be kept off the streets if they violated parole.

But e-mails, letters, legal documents obtained by CNN show gaping holes that allowed Clemmons to murder four police officers in Washington. Here's the chronology.

May 9 of this year, Clemmons was arrested for throwing rocks and assaulting police officers, failed to show up for court the next day. That failure to appear in court meant he was a fugitive. The state of Arkansas found out about it on May 28, issued this nationwide fugitive warrant for parole violations. Would have allowed any court anywhere in the country to hold Clemmons with no bail.

July 1, Clemmons finally does show up for that court appearance and then officers charge him with second-degree rape, along with everything else. Clemmons was in custody. That could have been the end of the story. But something happened.

Just 15 days later, Arkansas rescinded its nationwide fugitive warrant. What that means is that, suddenly, Maurice Clemmons is eligible for bail in the state of Washington, which, remember, is where he was being held at the time. That's what it all comes down to.

Why did Arkansas rescind the fugitive warrant and, thus, break the safety net?

COOPER: So, why would they rescind a fugitive warrant for a guy who had parole violations? I mean, isn't the whole idea of parole violations, you lock the guy up if he gets in trouble again?

JOHNS: Well, it's the legal system. We know Clemmons had layers in Arkansas and Washington State pushing hard for his release. They argued that the charges against him in Washington State weren't solid. And that seemed to fuel the disagreements between the states.

Washington State was very skeptical when Arkansas dropped the fugitive warrant. A Washington State official wrote in an e-mail to Arkansas -- quote -- "I'm concerned you have no problem releasing your offender into our community based on his behavior."

But Arkansas, on the other hand, seemed to buy into Clemmons' attorneys' arguments that's charges against Clemmons in Washington State might not be so solid, writing, "The fugitive warrant was rescinded. When the pending charges are adjudicated, we will reconsider the case."

COOPER: Well, we have also heard something about Arkansas failing to check a box on a form that could have kept Clemmons in jail. Was that a mistake or was that on purpose?

JOHNS: On purpose, as far as we can tell. In some ways, freedom for Maurice Clemmons came down to a pair of check-the-box forms sent to Washington State from Arkansas.

The first form said, a warrant had been issued. Keep us apprised of offender's availability for retakings. This sort of means Arkansas saying no bail, hold him for us. Then there's a second form. It's identical from the first form sent from Arkansas to Washington. This comes in October. This time, the officials check a different box, indicating he's not a fugitive, no longer a fugitive from Arkansas.

So, under Washington State law, a judge was required to set bail for Clemmons. And we all know Clemmons then posted bail, and, five days later, he was out and killed four police officers.

COOPER: So, Arkansas made a mistake?

JOHNS: To be clear, there's no evidence that I have seen in any of these documents indicating a mistake was made. You read the e- mails of correspondence, it's pretty clear this is the way they wanted it. We just don't know why yet.

COOPER: All right.

We have got some additional new information about Maurice Clemmons' attempt to escape after shooting the four officers, charges against an alleged accomplice. A guy named Darcus D. Allen is accused of helping Clemmons flee. That's him. Clemmons and Allen did time together, apparently. And, like Clemmons, Allen received parole, despite not being a model prison.

Unlike Clemmons, he at least served the minimum required for parole and did not receive clemency.

Joining us now is Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County, Washington, Sheriff's Department.

Detective Troyer, who do you blame for this? I mean, Arkansas, do you believe they're telling the truth?

ED TROYER, PIERCE COUNTY, WASHINGTON, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, no, they're not telling the truth. And we have the paperwork and documentation to back it up.

And we're very disappointed they didn't just stand up and say, we made a mistake. We learn from our mistakes, and let's move on. It really dishonors our four dead police officers out here that they're doing cover-ups and lying and not being able to back up what they're telling us. Well, we can.

We have all the paperwork. We have done everything. The local media has really dug into it hard. And the whole thing is just really, really sad, because, on the back end of this, we have four dead police officers and we have people back there that are sending us felons that we don't want out here.

And even though we catch them and tell them we have them, and we do everything to keep them incarcerated here and tell them we have them, instead of taking them back, they quash the warrant. COOPER: It's confusing for a lot of folks, including myself. So, what do you believe that Arkansas is covering up?

TROYER: Well, I think they're not covering up anything intentionally. I think what they're doing is, now that this guy's killed four police officers, they have gone and entered warrants after we have had people in custody. We have had -- we have proven that. They have gone and said they did certain things when they didn't.

They're saying that, well, we reissued the warrant. But it didn't matter, because it was too late at that point. So, what they're trying to do is cover up by doing what they were supposed to do before. And we have seen the time stamps on the documentation. And they're doing it afterwards. And, unfortunately, people are getting on and listening to some bad advice, and not really doing their homework on the documentation to prove that they were wrong on what they said.

COOPER: And could this happen again, I mean, the whole point of going over this thing? Because Clemmons is dead. But, I mean, could this happen again?


TROYER: Oh, it already happened. It's the second time for us.

We had Daniel Tavares -- Tavares out here who killed a young couple that came out of Massachusetts. It was almost like Pierce County. I'm sure if we took a hard look around the state of Washington, it is a dumping ground for other people's felons.

And per our sheriff, Paul Pastor, we're done doing that. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that these guys don't come from out of state with these heinous criminal records and hurt our people, hurt our citizens, and hurt our law enforcement officers.

COOPER: Detective Troyer, stay right there. I have got to take a quick break. I want to talk more, as well as with our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Let us know what you think of this. Join the live chat under way at

When we come back, we will talk to Jeff and Mr. Troyer about how the parole system really works, or fails, as the case may be. Probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, but maybe we all should.

And, later, is the White House stonewalling? They didn't let their social secretary testify today about those party crashers, and the party crashers didn't show up either. Now they're facing a subpoena. And we're "Keeping Them Honest."

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Back now, "Keeping Them Honest," new information on the table about how this man, Maurice Clemmons, ended up on the street, free to kill.

The seemingly incomprehensive bureaucratic blame game finally starting to clear up, the evidence reported moments ago by Joe Johns that the state of Arkansas took steps that made it impossible for authorities in Washington to hold Clemmons, all of this, though, no matter who is to blame, putting a harsh spotlight on the criminal justice system and how it breaks down across state lines.

Back now, Pierce County, Washington, sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer. Also with us, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, you were saying -- you were listening to what Ed Troyer said. You were basically saying that the system penalizes states who have their act together, like Washington.


The system is a mess. It's incredibly complicated. There is this organization called the Interstate Compact for exchanging parolees. We have a look at the chart that they put out about how they shift around prisoners.

I mean, look at how complicated even their own chart is, and, in real life, it works even worse than that. But the thing that so perverse about it is that basically the way the system works is state A, let's say Arkansas, asks state B, can you take our parolee? And if state B, Washington, is well organized, they say, sure.

And so what happens is well-organized states, they accept these parolees, because parolees should be allowed to move around. It's a mobile country. But the problem is, the well-run states that accept these parolees get a lot of them. And the poorly run states don't get the parolees. So, Washington is stuck with these dangerous parolees from all over the country.

COOPER: Jeff -- I mean, Ed, I understand that, last year, Washington State received over 2,500 parolees, while you guys only transferred about 1,000 nationwide. So, you're -- you're saying you have become a dumping ground?


TROYER: Oh, absolutely, we have become a dumping ground, because we have our act together. And our governor has stood up and said, enough of this. Christine Gregoire has said that she's going to take care of it and do something. And we're going to -- in law enforcement, we're going to hold her to it. And we're going to hold our politicians to make sure that happens.

It's not just the officers that were killed. But we have had citizens killed, young couples. And we have had violent crime against people out here from people out of state. It's just happened way too many times. COOPER: Ed, now there's this guy Darcus Allen who has been accused with helping Clemmons evade the police. He's an ex-con from Arkansas, is wanted in his home state. What do we know about him?

TROYER: Well, he was the getaway driver. And he -- from what we know, he did -- was supposed to be serving two counts of murder one in Arkansas, did nine years of a 30- or 40-year sentence.

When we look at these guys' ages and we look at their sentences, you do the math, you know something's wrong, I mean way at the very, very beginning. They go through the judicial system. They get sentenced to all these years in prison, and here they are, young men, living out here committing crime.

COOPER: So, Jeff, when you look at what Arkansas did, is this just, in your mind, a bureaucratic mistake, something intentionally they did? What...

TOOBIN: I think it's a bureaucratic mistake. I think it's an effort to sort of move people through the system.

I don't think they intentionally wanted a dangerous criminal on the street. But they wanted to sort of push the paper, get him off their books. And that's what they did, briefly, which made him eligible for bail, which is what he got. And that's when he committed his crime.

Another factor here that's interesting is that Clemmons, in his very checkered career, worked in the bail bonds business for a while. It's a complicated system. It's, in many ways, a corrupt system. We have a system in most states where bail bondsmen, not government officials, decides who gets released. That's perverse.

These are -- you know, one of the bail bonds here -- companies is called Jail Sucks Bail Bonds.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: Do you think that is a company that should be deciding who goes free or not? I mean, that's a real problem in the system. Four states have gotten rid of bail bonds altogether. A lot more should.

COOPER: Ed Troyer, I appreciate it.


COOPER: Oh, go ahead, Ed.

TROYER: Well, in this particular case, in the jail bond, when they got the $150,000 bond, the family raised $40,000 cash and they came up with equity for the rest. The bonds company was so worried about him, it's the bonds company that made him put the ankle bracelet on. It wasn't ordered by the court.

So, the bonds company is the one that put the ankle bracelet on him that we found when we did one of our tactical operations when we were searching for him that had been cut off.

COOPER: So, he just cut off the ankle bracelet?

TROYER: Yes, he just cut off the ankle bracelet.

If it would have been imposed by the court -- and it wasn't theirs -- we would have been notified right away that it was cut off through our system, and, automatically, we got a negotiation, send officers there. But it wasn't tied into the police or courts. It's just that the bond company was afraid that there was a good possibility this guy was going somewhere. And that's why the ankle bracelet was on him.

TOOBIN: This is why bail companies -- bail bonds companies should not be in the law enforcement business. Law enforcement should be in the law enforcement business.

COOPER: Right.

TROYER: That's right.

COOPER: Again, we're following this, just trying to -- try to figure out exactly why it happened, so we can make sure it doesn't happen again.

Ed Troyer, appreciate you -- you joining us tonight. We will continue to follow it, Jeff Toobin as well.

TROYER: Thank you. We appreciate it. Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead tonight: the White House party crash and the question of a double standard. Are Republican lawmakers investigating the scandal more interested in grilling the White House social secretary than talking to the pair of publicity speakers who actually did the crashing? Or is the White House stonewalling by not allowing the social secretary to go? They claim they were going to be a transparent White House. Are they now going back on that? You can decide for yourself ahead.

And from Italy, the Amanda Knox murder trial approaching a verdict. We have the facts, so can you judge for yourself if she's a killer or a victim of unfair justice.


COOPER: Want to update you what happened today with those reality show wannabes who crashed last week's White House state dinner. This isn't just a story about the extent two publicity-loving people went to social-climb. It's now become a story about security at the White House and whether the Obama administration, which talked about transparency, is now trying to hide something.

Today, the couple in question snubbed the House Homeland Security Committee. They were asked to testify, but the Salahis skipped the hearing. So did the White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers, who -- the woman who oversaw the guest list. Now, the director of Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, did show up. He was grilled about the security breech and admitted his staff wasn't even aware of the lapse until the next day.



ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: How did you discover that the Salahis had entered? Did you discover it through their Facebook, or was it your own discovery that some interlopers had entered?

MARK SULLIVAN, DIRECTOR, U.S. SECRET SERVICE: We did not discover that on our own. We were advised of it the following day.

NORTON: And advised by whom, sir?

SULLIVAN: The Facebook.


COOPER: By Facebook.

These are the pictures the Salahis posted on their Facebook page. Their desire to be seen is basically the reason they got caught.

the committee chairman said he has asked his staff to prepare the subpoenas for the Salahis, and said, if they continue to deny his requests, they could be found in contempt of Congress.

Meantime, the committee's ranking Republican accused the White House of stonewalling by blocking Ms. Rogers, the social secretary, from testifying about her role in the breach. And their justification they're using for blocking her is one they used to criticize.

Ed Henry tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."


ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even though they were invited this time, the Salahis didn't show up, leaving the Secret Service to take the hit.

SULLIVAN: This is our fault and our fault alone. There's no other people to blame here.

HENRY: Actually, Republicans think blame for the gate-crashing fiasco also lies with White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, an old Chicago intimate of the president and first lady, who also ignored the committee's invitation to testify.

REP. CHARLES DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We always expect the Secret Service to take a bullet for the president. We don't expect the Secret Service to take a bullet for the president's staff. HENRY: Rogers' refusal to testify is raising eyebrows, especially because she is serving a president who said his administration would be different, no secrets, no special protection, full transparency. It's a pledge he made throughout his campaign and repeated on his second day in office.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known.

HENRY: Some want to know about Rogers' role in the state dinner foul-up...

DESIREE ROGERS, WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL SECRETARY: We're very excited. Everything is all set.

HENRY: ... especially since she broke with past practice by not having an aide at the front gate to check names on the list. But no one is sure why.

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: On this issue, where we're talking about the security of the president of the United States, the person who made that decision is not going to be here. I think it's wrong. I think it's stonewalling.

HENRY: Rogers refused to testify about the mishap constitutional grounds.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Based on separation of powers, staff here don't go to testify in front of Congress.

HENRY: Legal experts have never heard of a social secretary being protected like this.

But Republicans C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel in the first Bush administration, defended the White House by saying, Rogers should be shielded.

C. BOYDEN GRAY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I do not think that the system of our government works if the Congress is in the office of the White House asking questions every day. And, so, the system only works if there is separation of powers is observed.

HENRY: But this is a president who promised to shake up the system, rather than looking out for friends from Chicago.


HENRY: Now, some new information tonight.

Three Secret Service officers have been placed on administrative leave over this incident. Officials say they're likely to be fired. Meanwhile, the president has given his first comments on this whole controversy to "USA Today," saying, clearly, the system didn't work, but he still has full confidence in the Secret Service to protect not only him, but his wife and his children as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: But, Ed, I mean, so, three Secret Service guys are going to take the hit. What about Desiree Rogers? I mean, she was the one who supposedly ran this list. She apparently knew about these people. And she herself attended the party, as opposed to -- to working.

HENRY: This White House doesn't seem to want to let her face any scrutiny.

On Monday, I first started asking Robert Gibbs about this at the daily briefing, whether White House aides bore some responsibility. He essentially said, no, it really lied with the Secret Service, and they had no plans to change anything in terms of who was at the gate and whether the social secretary should be there.

Then, yesterday, the White House changed their policy and said, you know what? We're going back to the old policy that the previous two administrations have, and a social secretary aide will be at the gate for future state dinners. That seemed to be an acknowledgment that something went wrong last time.

But, at least for now, Desiree Rogers is not really being scrutinized...


HENRY: ... Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Secret Service guys taking the hit.

All right, Ed, appreciate the reporting.

Let's dig deeper with senior political analyst and former presidential adviser David Gergen. David testified before Congress during the Whitewater investigation, when he was a member of President Clinton's staff.

So, the White House is saying, all right, separation of powers, that's why she can't testify. Do you buy that?


COOPER: That is usually used for extremely serious things, not a social secretary.

GERGEN: Yes, not really, Anderson.

But let me say a couple of things, preliminarily. I think people ought to get off her back, personally, on a couple of counts. First of all, the one thing this White House has done well is, they have had a ton of people come through that White House, children and various people from poor neighborhoods. And she's been right at the center of that.

COOPER: And she's in charge of that.

GERGEN: She's in charge. She's done a very good job with that. And people ought to appreciate that.

Secondly, it is not her job to protect the White House for security purposes. That is the Secret Service's job. They did have a lapse here. And they're -- and they're willing to take the hit.

Having said all that, I think the White House would be far better off to say, of course, Desiree Rogers is willing to sit down with members of Congress or members of staffs up there. Yes, we have executive privilege. We have the right to say no. But many presidents who -- have said, OK, I reserve the right to say no, but I'm going to go ahead and voluntarily send my people up there.

It happens regularly.

COOPER: Because the president does -- I mean, opening himself up to criticism of a double standard. Here's what he said when he was running about the reason that the Bush administration refused to -- to let people testify, Karl Rove in particular, on the firing of the U.S. attorneys.

Let's -- let's watch.


OBAMA: There's been a tendency on the part of this administration to -- to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there's something a little shaky that's taking place. And I think, you know, the administration would be best served by coming clean on this.


COOPER: I mean, he -- and that was talking about, you know, firing of U.S. attorneys. This is the social secretary.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

I mean, he -- the president -- this is full of contradiction. That is clear. The president ought to go back to where -- his original position, and have her go there and testify or just meet with the staff.

But, Anderson, I can't tell you how often -- Reagan, in the Iran- Contra scandal, he could have invoked executive privilege. He told every single aide, go up and testify voluntarily. He said, let's take every piece of paper in the White House that's been sent to me and give it to -- give voluntarily...


COOPER: Then you yourself testified in -- under Whitewater.

GERGEN: I was working with President Clinton. And a ton of us went up to testify voluntarily on the Whitewater matter.

And I can tell you, there is an hypocrisy here, because the Democrats were pushing Harriet Miers, you know, on George W. Bush's staff as legal counsel to come up there. And they said, there's no privilege, that you have to come testify.

Come on, guys. What's good for one is good...

COOPER: Double standard.

GERGEN: Yes, it's a double standard.

COOPER: All right.

GERGEN: And they ought to get -- but Desiree Rogers is a good person. They ought to get her out of this and just let her go up and talk.

COOPER: All right.

It seems like that, very possibly, she will end up talking, one way....

GERGEN: She should. It's a good thing. She will -- she will acquit herself well.

COOPER: All right, David Gergen, appreciate it. Thanks, "Keeping Them Honest."

This story just keeps getting weirder. "The Washington Post" is now reporting that Mrs. Salahi apparently faked her way on to the Washington Redskins alumni cheerleading squad.

Erica, I don't know if you heard this. She apparently performed with the cheerleaders three times. TMZ has found this photo taken in 2005, when Salahi took part in a halftime event at FedEx Field.

No, she wasn't -- she wasn't on the -- she was never a cheerleader. She was never on the Redskins Cheerleading team, but...

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Which makes it tough to be an alumni, but, somehow, she talked her way into it.

COOPER: Somehow, she got herself in to actually perform.


COOPER: And she was apparently such a bad performer, the other cheerleaders started to notice. The president of the Cheerleaders Alumni Association told "The Washington Post," Salahi was listed on their 1991 roster under her maiden name, Missy Holt, based on her -- quote -- "misrepresentation to us."

Salahi has apparently been paying dues since 2005 and last performed with the squad in September at a Redskins-Saint Louis Rams game.

HILL: Wow.

COOPER: She apparently showed up at rehearsals with the camera crew in tow as part of the whole "Real Housewives of D.C." audition.

HILL: Ah, Yes.



COOPER: Apparently, some of the actual cheerleaders had doubts about Salahi when she couldn't perform some of the basic routines.

HILL: Yes, apparently didn't remember things that she should have known, had she been a Redskins cheerleader.

COOPER: Right, like the key basic routines.

But it wasn't until the White House incident last week that they decided to check her credentials. The squad is none too happy about being duped. As one cheerleader put it -- and I quote -- "It's really a privilege to wear the burgendy and gold. So, I'm resentful. For her to get out there and think she can just shake her pom-poms is upsetting."

HILL: Amen.

And you what else? One of the...



COOPER: David Gergen agrees.

HILL: David Gergen agrees.


HILL: You know, look, one of the -- one of the women who was on the squad for a number of years and then choreographed it for a number of years...

COOPER: Right.

HILL: ... said that the production company asked them to switch things around when they were filming this as a possible thing...

COOPER: Right.

HILL: ... and asked them to put her in the front. And she said, no, because she was too tall and she couldn't dance.



GERGEN: ... can hardly keep a straight face with this story.

COOPER: You can't -- you can't shake your pom-poms. It's not easy. It's not an easy thing.


HILL: Groove thing, yes, pom-poms, no.

COOPER: Exactly.

All right, ahead on 360, "Crime & Punishment," serious stuff: the trial of an American exchange student accused of murder in Italy. It's nearing its end, could get a verdict tomorrow -- the latest in this case that has ignited charges of -- charges anti-Americanism.

Plus, a terrifying evening for the daughter of a U.S. senator -- she was carjacked while driving home. Wait until you find out how they caught the suspects.

We will be right back.


COOPER: Just ahead, a very close call for the daughter of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. She was the victim of a carjacking last night, just blocks from her family's home. Suspects are in custody. We'll tell what you led police to them.

First, Erica Hill has a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, in Somalia's capital, a suicide bombing during a medical school graduation ceremony caught on a home video camera. We want to warn you, though, before we show you these images, they are graphic.

Nineteen people were killed in the attack. Somali officials say three government ministers were among the dead. The male suicide bomber was wearing women's clothing. The Somali president blames the Islamist group Al Shabaab for the attack.

Tough day for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke at his Senate confirmation hearing for a second term. While some of his supporters were even calling for limiting the fed's powers, due to his past failures of oversight.

As for his critics, they were blunt, some promising to block his appointment by any means necessary.

Meantime, the Senate today casting the first votes on that sweeping health care overhaul, backing a plan which would make it easier for women to get preventative screenings, including mammograms. The amendment would eliminate insurance co-pays and deductibles for the preventative test. Democrats also backed more than $400 billion in Medicare cuts.

And the first family taking part tonight in their first lighting of the national Christmas tree. It's a 40-foot Colorado Spruce planted in 1978. Inside of the White House, the holiday decorations are also on display. An 18-1/2-foot Douglas Fir, which you may recall was delivered last week, is decorated with hundreds of ornaments. There's actually ornaments that have been recycled from previous administrations, and then they were sent out to community groups to refurbish. The garland is also recycled, and those lights, why yes, they are low-voltage LED bulbs.

My personal favorite, well, really the personal favorite of the writers. A 390-pound gingerbread house.


HILL: It's made with honey from the White House bees. It's covered in white chocolate. And on it there's a tiny version of the Obamas' dog, Bo, made of marzipan. And a replica of the first lady's garden.

COOPER: Wow. Is that a little chandelier edible?

HILL: I believe it is, but the chef -- I think I was reading something yesterday. The chef said that, really, it's always tough to try to get somebody to eat it. Nobody ever wants to.


HILL: It just looks too pretty.

COOPER: Yes. I would eat it.

All right. Coming up, the serious stuff. This trial in Italy that we have been following. The devil with an angel's face, that's what the Italian media is calling an American murder suspect, Amanda Knox. Next on the program, what she told the court today on what could be the eve of a verdict in the case.

And later, are your kids sexting, sending their girlfriends or boyfriends explicit photos? This may be a story you don't really want to hear. But you should know what your kids may be up to on their mobile devices. We've got some surprising eye-opening new numbers about just how many kids are sexting these days.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: In "Crime & Punishment," Amanda Knox on trial for murder in Italy. The young American woman may know her fate as early as tomorrow. There may be a verdict.

She's accused of a brutal crime: cutting the throat of her roommate in a sexually charged attack. For months, the jury was given two very different portraits of the defendant. Is -- is she a killer, however, or the victim of anti-American sentiment?

Erica Hill reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): All eyes on Amanda Knox today as she entered the courtroom to declare her innocence one last time. Speaking in Italian, the 22-year-old American told jurors she's not what the media has dubbed her, the devil with an angel's face.

"I fear to lose myself, to have the mask of assassin forced upon me," Knox said. "I fear to be defined by someone I am not."

Earlier, her Italian ex-boyfriend also addressed the court, asking for his life back and saying he hopes the real killer confesses.

Their testimony on the eve of jury deliberations, marking perhaps the most dramatic moment in this yearlong trial. It is a sensational case. And it's no mystery why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not think we'd be here today if this young woman, Amanda Knox, was not American, was not young, was not pretty.

AMANDA KNOX, MURDER SUSPECT: Are you taking movies right now?

HILL: Knox, a foreign exchange student from Washington state, and her former lover are accused of killing her roommate, 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, in 2007. Prosecutors say the British woman was the victim of a sadistic sex game, with Knox taunting her, and her ex- boyfriend and another man, Rudy Guede, sexually assaulting her.

While the victim was being held down, the prosecution contends Knox cut her neck with a kitchen knife. Prosecutors say Knox hated Kercher and admitted to being in the flat when the murder took place.

Knox says Kercher was her friend and she was not there when the young woman was killed.

KNOX: They called me a stupid liar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking Italian)

KNOX: And they said that I was trying to protect someone.

HILL: The third suspect, Guede, was tried separately, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He is appealing.

Prosecutors say there is a mountain of evidence against Knox, including a knife they say was the murder weapon and has Knox's DNA on it.

Her defense attorneys have tried to tear holes into the case, arguing the evidence has been tainted and contaminated by shoddy police work.

Knox's parents believe authorities made their daughter a scapegoat and are confident the jury agrees. CURT KNOX, AMANDA KNOX'S FATHER: She knows she had nothing to do with this. And, you know, they just can't put an innocent person behind bars.

EDDA MELLAS, AMANDA KNOX'S MOTHER: There's no way that, with no evidence, they could convict her of a crime she didn't commit.

HILL: If convicted, Knox could spend the rest of her life in prison. And her fate could be decided within days.

KNOX: We have to try to do our best to put on a face that it is going to work out.

MELLAS: And we keep telling her that it's taking way longer than we ever expected. But she will get out of there. And she's innocent. And they're not going to put an innocent 20-year-old in jail for 30 years. It's just not going to happen.

HILL: Erica Hill, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, let's see what happens tomorrow.

Let's dig deeper in the case. Joining us from Los Angeles, legal analyst Lisa Bloom. In Washington, Douglas Preston, a journalist and author of the book "The Monster of Florence". And on the phone from Perugia, Italy, Barbie Latza Nadeau, who's covering the Knox trial for "Newsweek" as well as the Daily Beast.

Douglas, you think Amanda Knox has been railroaded. You've been very critical of the prosecution in Italy. In fact, the prosecutor, I think, gas threatened to arrest you for interfering in the case if you return to Italy. How are you so sure that Amanda Knox had nothing to do with this murder?

DOUGLAS PRESTON, JOURNALIST/AUTHOR: Well, when you examine the evidence, and there is a mountain of evidence out there, you see that it's all bogus. I'm not saying some of the evidence is bogus or there's a misinterpretation of it. This evidence is manufactured. It's bogus.

The science used for those DNA studies is completely pseudo science. It verges on fraudulence. There's no evidence that she was involved in this crime.

COOPER: Barbie, I know you disagree. You say the trial was justified. At the very least there was enough evidence to prosecute Amanda Knox, correct?

BARBIE LATZA NADEAU, JOURNALIST (via phone): Yes. No, I think there is definitely enough evidence to prosecute her. You know, the question really is, Rudy Guede is a man who's already been convicted of this crime. His conviction is based on the same scientific evidence tested in the same laboratories that Amanda Knox's evidence is being tested in. It sort of works for me today but doesn't work for Amanda Knox. And you have to judge it all basically on the same -- on the same scale. And because the trial -- trialing go on because there is a reason to believe that she may have been involved. And I think we have to wait and see tomorrow if that evidence is sound enough to convict her or if it's not.

COOPER: Lisa, do you bring the prosecution's story that some sort of sex games led to this killing? Does this add up?

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they were never clear as to what these supposed sex games were until the very end of this trial. When now they come up with this whole theory of sexual taunting. There's no evidence to support that. Nobody ever said in this drill that Amanda actually did that.

And when you talk about taunting, you're talking about something there's no DNA evidence, of course, to support.

Look, here's how I approach this case. The prosecution's theory is preposterous. It's that this young college girl participated or even was the ringleader in the rape and murder of her peer. That's extremely unusual for a young female to do. But it's possible.

So let's look at the physical evidence. There's very little physical evidence to connect Amanda Knox to this crime. There's no evidence connecting her to the crime scene itself. There is her DNA on the knife, which the prosecution experts said -- couldn't even say for certainty that that was the murder weapon. And there is her DNA in the house, because she was house mates and lived there.

But the whole theory doesn't make a lot of sense to me. There isn't sufficient DNA where there would be in this brutal kind of crime.


BLOOM: And the bottom line for me is what do you think: this unknown intruder came in, raped and murdered her, and he's already been convicted for it? Or this young girl was the ringleader? It just doesn't hold a lot of water to me.

COOPER: So Barbie, what do you -- what evidence do you point to as being legitimate, that at least would bring it to trial?

NADEAU: Well, I think primarily the fact that she originally confessed to being at the crime seen and she accused another man of the crime. I think that alone justifies the trial.

I think, you know, that Rudy Guede was convicted not as a lone assailant but as one of three people who committed the crime. I think a lot of people don't understand that.

If Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are found not guilty, then Rudy Guede will almost automatically win his appeal. Because his conviction is based on a three-person crime. It's a very complicated case. You know, I think -- you know, the jury's got a really tough job ahead of them tomorrow. And it's going to be really difficult for them. And I think it's going to be difficult for the family of the victim, Meredith Kercher, all of this. It's a complicated case in a complicated legal system.

COOPER: Doug, it's interesting. I mean, the way she's being portrayed in Italy in the press and among people. I mean, is she being viewed as a spoiled, man-hungry American with no remorse who literally did cartwheels during her interrogation? What does this trial reveal about who she really is? Or has it revealed anything about who she really is?

PRESTON: In the absence of any real evidence, the prosecution's been coming up with all these stories about how she's a strange person. And it's all just -- just fantasy.

I mean, the chief prosecutor in this case, Giuliano Mignini, when I was a journalist working in Italy, called me in for an interrogation. And he accused me of being an accessory to murder. He accused me of being involved in satanic rights and a sect. And he charged me with perjury and obstruction of justice. And suggested I leave the country.

It was absolutely fantastical. I've never been through an experience like that. And I think the same thing happened to Amanda Knox, only she was interrogated for 14 hours.

COOPER: Do you think she's going to be found guilty tomorrow?

PRESTON: I believe she will be. Although I thought her lawyers did a splendid job over the last few days of completely devastating the prosecution's case.

COOPER: OK, very brief, Barbie, do you think she's going to be found guilty tomorrow?

NADEAU: I think really it's a draw at this point. I think it could go either way, absolutely.


BLOOM: For the sake of justice, I hope that she is.

COOPER: Lisa Bloom, Barbie Latza Nadeau, Douglas Preston, I appreciate you all being here. Thank you very much.

Coming up, are your kids sexting, sharing explicit photos? It's more common than a lot of folks think. The surprising new research ahead.

And hand washing horrors. My personal account of one washing gone wrong. It's our "Shot of the Day." It's what happened on "Regis."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Erica, I was filling -- I should point out, right before the break I think Lisa Bloom misspoke. She said that she hoped -- basically, she hopes that Amanda Knox is found not guilty. And made it sound like she was hoping Amanda Knox was found guilty tomorrow. She wants us to make clear she believes that Amanda Knox is innocent of these charges and hopes she's found not guilty.

Erica, I was filling in for Regis Philbin today on -- on "Live with Regis and Kelly," which is always fun. And as always, the very funny and talented Kelly Ripa managed to make me laugh and share some embarrassing things. We made it tonight's "Shot."

HILL: I love these moments.

COOPER: I do, too. Well, not really. Take a look.


KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST, "LIVE WITH REGIS & KELLY": Men have something they want to get off their chests. Their shirts, ladies. Man cleavage is back in a big way.

Now, let me -- let me tell you something, I have been sporting man cleavage for years. Beautiful, hairless man cleavage.

COOPER: You have the chest of a 14-year-old boy.

RIPA: Oh, it's sexy, it is. I tell you, when they put together the new Menudo, they're going to call me first, I know it.

COOPER: Menudo.

RIPA: Anyway, Gelman has been sporting the man cleavage look for a long time.


RIPA: You're delicate.

COOPER: So what is that, two buttons unbuttoned?

GELMAN: Yes, this isn't a lot of buttons. Sometimes it's a little more.

RIPA: Why wont you give us one more button for today? One more button.

GELMAN: No. It wouldn't be right. It's morning.

RIPA: What about you? What's with the tie?

Look at Adrian Brody. He's down to four buttons.

COOPER: Adrian Brody. RIPA: And he much he's showing -- he's showing his naval in this picture. You can see the full skull and crossbone necklace in his man cleavage.

COOPER: See, if I reveal any of my chest, it's like a starburst. Because I'm so pale and white. It's like people get blinded.

RIPA: Well, we'll be the judge of that.

COOPER: So what else do you got?

RIPA: I got -- I got -- I got seven more minutes to get that shirt off. And by the way, America is waiting.


HILL: Is America still waiting?

COOPER: Yes. It's going to be a long time. A few minutes later I told Kelly about my awkward encounter here at CNN with Howie Mandel. Watch.


COOPER: The other day I was at CNN and in there, there's like a greenroom in CNN where the guests congregate before going on.

RIPA: I've been there.

COOPER: And there's a really nice bathroom in the greenroom that's much better than the employee bathroom that we all have to use. So occasionally, I'll sneak in through the greenroom to use the greenroom bathroom.

RIPA: As you should.

COOPER: I've earned it. Right.

Although now it's going to be locked to me because I've just revealed this on television. This was my little secret.

RIPA: Your dirty little secret.

COOPER: So anyway -- so I'm in the bathroom. And I'm hearing people come into the greenroom. So I think OK, so a guest has come in the greenroom. So I better make sure that not only have I washed my hands but my hands are super dry, because don't you hate it when you get out of the bathroom and your hands are a little bit wet and suddenly, someone says, "Oh hi, nice to meet you."

RIPA: Right.

COOPER: And you shake hands with them, and your hand is wet. And then you have to explain...

RIPA: I just washed my hands. COOPER: I just washed my hands. And they think...

RIPA: I'm a very clean person. That is soap and water.

COOPER: Exactly. And then forever their story, is, "Oh, yes, I shook hands with Anderson Cooper, and his hand was dripping wet."

RIPA: Glamorous.

COOPER: So I do this. I'm standing there drying like a maniac. And I'm completely dry. And I go outside, and it's Howie Mandel.

RIPA: Oh, my gosh.

COOPER: In the greenroom.

RIPA: Fantastic. You didn't even have to touch him at all.

COOPER: Nice guy. Nice guy. You know, I met him briefly once. I loved watching him on this show and on his various stuff. And I immediately go to shake his hand. And then I remember, of course, how you Mandel is a germphobic and doesn't want to be touched. Like, he doesn't shake hands. He doesn't do that.

RIPA: Right.

COOPER: So then I literally -- the panic was in my eyes. Because I could see in his face like -- he's a germphobic.

RIPA: Hand! A hand!

COOPER: Right. Not only hands but a hand that just came out of the bathroom. And I see Howie Mandel, like, looking at me, and I'm like, "Ha." And then I sort of retract my hand, and then it's incredibly awkward.

RIPA: Yes.

COOPER: And then he goes for the fist bump.

RIPA: Right.

COOPER: And then I, like, convert my hand shake into a fist bump.

RIPA: Right.

COOPER: As if I meant to do that. And so then I'm like, you know, as if it's some new kind of hand shake.

Exactly. I'm such a loser. Right. I'm such a total loser. So anyway, I ended up fist bumping with Howie Mandel, to make a long story short. And then I just felt bad about it all day long.

RIPA: Yes.

COOPER: And I tweeted about it. And apparently, he read the tweet.

RIPA: I read the tweet. I read your tweet and his tweet.

COOPER: I didn't know he tweeted back. See, because I'm not on...

RIPA: He did tweet back. He was -- he retweeted your tweet and then talked about being panic stricken when the fingers came at him. He saw fingers, fingers. And you know, your fingers are very white.

COOPER: Yes. That's true. It's like being...

RIPA: Like five newts.

COOPER: It's like little newts moving toward you. Yes. Like, you open up a rock and little newts, little pale albino newts jump out at you. That's what shaking hands with me is like.


HILL: You know what I think this teaches us all?


HILL: It's not as easy being Anderson Cooper as it looks.

COOPER: That's right. Well, imagine how it is being Howie Mandel. You know? That much harder.

HILL: It's rough. Especially when you're stuck with Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: He's been graceful about the whole thing. And yes. He's recovered, apparently.

Coming up next, E.T. phone Denver. The city may form an officially extraterrestrial welcoming party. Think I'm kidding? Well, stick around.

Also, a -- serious stuff about a senator's daughter being carjacked. We'll tell you authorities were able to catch the suspect so quickly.


COOPER: Let's get a quick check of other headlines. Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, sexting, it turns out, is increasingly common. More than a quarter of young people have shared explicitly photos, videos and text messages by cell phone or online. That's according to an Associated Press/MTV poll.

In Washington, the daughter of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker is discovering -- recovering, that is, after being carjacked. The 22- year-old was dragged from her family's SUV and thrown to the ground. She'd rolled down the window when someone approached the vehicle. She was not seriously hurt.

As for the SUV, it was located in Maryland with the help of the vehicle's Onstar tracking system and along it with, two suspects located, who are now in custody.

And if space aliens are indeed out there, you may want to plan a trip to Denver. Next summer, voters will determine whether the state capital should form an extraterrestrial affairs commission. Think of it as a welcoming committee for space aliens, or whomever may be out there.

It's the idea of a resident who actually gathered nearly 4,000 signatures to put it on the August ballot.

I have but one little piece of advice.


HILL: If they have some sort of a meeting, they may want to have some Reese's Pieces there. Remember "E.T."?

COOPER: I do, I do. You're good, Erica Hill.

HILL: Well, I have my moments, Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: All right. Our "Beat 360" winners, our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to show up our own staffers by coming up with a caption that's better than the one that they can come up with for a photo that we put on the blog every day. I'm not clever enough to caption.

Tonight's photo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at today's Senate hearing on President Obama's plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. Or speaking probably -- yes.

Our staffer tonight is Jack. His caption: "Mr. Chairman, I spoke to Mrs. Salahi, and she's emphatic, she did not crash Tiger Woods' pants."


HILL: Come on.

COOPER: The viewer winner is...

HILL: Has to beat (ph).

COOPER: ... Samantha from Boston. Her caption: "Hillary does her impression of Howie Mandel after Anderson goes for a hand shake."

HILL: I love it!

COOPER: Samantha, very good. Your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.

A lot more at the top of the hour. Stick around. We'll be right back.