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Democrats Buying Health Care Reform Votes?; Decision Nears in Brazil Custody Battle

Aired December 21, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erica Hill, in tonight for Anderson Cooper.

Tonight, your money, is it being used to buy votes for health care reform, instead of spending it on actual health care reform? The perks some on-the-fence lawmakers scored ahead of that crucial vote. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also tonight, "Digging Deeper," as a Brazilian court prepares its decision on whether an American father will take his son home, a battle he has been fighting for five years now. We will speak with David Goldman and a spokesman for the Brazilian family fighting to keep Goldman's son, Sean, with him.

And, later, "Up Close": the strange and sudden death of actress Brittany Murphy, just 32 years old. We have the last known video of her alive and the latest clues in this Hollywood mystery.

But, first up, we are "Keeping Them Honest": health care and the power of one, early this morning, the Senate shutting down debate on health care reform and moving it toward a final vote. Now, remember, it takes 60 members to do that. All 40 Republicans opposed the bill, meaning any of the 58 Democrats and two independents, any single lawmaker, is a potential veto.

And, in Washington, that is serious power. So, with that in mind, take a look at three senators who might have killed the reform package, but didn't, from left to right here, Senators Ben Nelson, Chris Dodd, and Bernie Sanders.

Now, in a moment we will show you what each of them got to stay on board and just how much that is costing you. But who is that fourth guy, you ask, the one at the end, the right, with mustache and military uniform? And why is he in the mix? He's actually the man who coined the phrase that probably explains why so many people have such mixed feelings about what's going on all this year with health care. That's German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who said laws are like sausage; it's better not to see them being made.

"Keeping Them Honest" now on the price you are paying for it, here's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to senators holding out votes for backroom deals, this one is a doozy, one sweetener given only to Ben Nelson's home state of Nebraska.

Part of what Nelson got in return for his vote is right here on page 98 of the compromise. The federal government will pay 100 percent of Nebraska's tab indefinitely for expanding Medicaid for low- income Americans. And when we asked the Democratic leader, he revealed, Nelson wasn't the only one getting special deals.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Dana, I would say this. If you will read the bill, you will find a number of states are treated differently than other states. That's what legislation is all about, compromise. It's compromise. It's -- I -- we -- we worked on different things to get a number of people's votes.

BASH: Like Bernie Sanders. The liberal senator was unhappy Democratic leaders dropped a public option and said this a few days ago.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: It is not for sure that I will vote for that bill.

BASH: Suddenly his home state of Vermont got some extra help for Medicaid, too. But to clinch Sanders' vote, Democrats added his pet project, $10 billion for community health centers nationwide.

SANDERS: One new provision that was placed in the health care reform bill by Majority Leader Reid, and I want to thank him very much.

BASH: Republicans accuse Democrats of bribery.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Chicago-style backroom buy-offs, at the expense of the American taxpayers.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: And then we find out there are other sweetheart deals which make this thing begin to stink to high heaven.

BASH: But Democrats didn't just slip things in to win votes to pass health care. They also showed who has got power. Senators with clout added provisions to help themselves back home. Chris Dodd's support for the bill was never in doubt.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: This bill is long overdue and critically important.

BASH: But the Connecticut Democrat, facing a tough reelection battle, buried $100 million in the measure for a new hospital. Other states can compete for it, but he put it in hoping Connecticut gets the hospital.

DODD: This just don't obviously just my state, although my state is very interested.

BASH: And it doesn't stop there. The Democrats' health care bill slaps new taxes on insurance companies, but not for Michigan's Blue Cross/Blue Shield, thanks to the state's Democratic senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, who got an exemption.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is unapologetic and even appeared to mock senators who did not cut deals for themselves.

REID: I don't know if there is a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them. And if they don't have something in it important to them, then it's -- it doesn't speak well of them.


HILL: Dana, that's quite the statement from Harry Reid. And even if this is the way that laws do always get made or that bills get passed, it's rare that the party giving the concessions actually admits it, which I don't imagine is sitting so well with the folks on the other side of the aisle.

BASH: Well, they're enjoying it.

In fact, Harry Reid put that right on the political tee for Republicans. All they had to do was swing, Erica, and they are swinging. You know, Republicans at the campaign committee, they are blasting Democrats who didn't get a special favor for their home states, especially Blanche Lincoln. She is somebody who has got a tough reelection battle next year in Arkansas. That is a relatively poor state.

So, Republicans are already saying, well, wait a minute, why didn't you get anything special for your constituents?

But let's be honest and let's be clear here, Erica. As you know, Republicans mastered the art of backroom deal-making when they were in charge here, so this is very much bipartisan. Nothing has changed.


HILL: A lot of pot and kettle calling one another.


HILL: It's not just senators, though, who got things in here, interest groups as well. The American Medical Association, in fact, finally endorsed the bill today, but they got a little something in exchange as well.

BASH: They sure did. You remember that notorious tax -- 5 percent tax on cosmetic surgery? It became known as the Botax? That's gone. Democrats dropped that.

And they -- and they did it and they replaced it, I should, with a 10 percent tax on tanning services, indoor tanning services. Why did they do that? The American Medical Association, when they endorsed today, they said point-blank one of the reasons is because Democrats jettisoned that 5 percent tax on cosmetic surgery.

The American Medical Association, as you can imagine, they hated that. They thought that was bad for their doctors. Now it's gone. And the Democrats got their endorsement. Let's make a deal is going on all over town, Erica.


HILL: And we haven't heard from the tanning parlors yet. Maybe they're next to step in.

Dana, thanks.

BASH: They're hiring lobbyists as we speak.


HILL: Seriously.

Of course, none of this is over yet, the debate, the sausage- making, whatever you want to call it. That's because whatever, of course, comes out of the Senate this week will then need to be reconciled with a very different House version of health care reform, and then all of that shaped into a final bill.

The "Raw Politics" now from Tom Foreman, who joins was that angle.

Hey, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, you have hit the nail right on the head there, look at this. The differences that the Democrats have to sort out. Forget about the Republicans in all this. The Senate and the House version -- look at the public option. This is one of the things they wanted.

Over on the Senate side, they said, no, no public option. Over here on the House side, they said, yes, we want a public option.

So, how are they going to sort this out? Well, the simple truth is, the Senate has put in another provision that basically says that we will have these nonprofit private insurance programs as sort of a substitute, but this is still going to be a bitter pill to swallow over here on the House side. Even though most people say there won't be a public option, some people over here are really going to have embrace that now if they want to reconcile these two bills.

So, the constituency they have to worried about here, right there, the liberals, particularly over here on the House side, who are going to be upset about this, Erica.

HILL: And then there's also, Tom, the issue, too, of abortion, which is a major sticking point here and abortion restrictions.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. Let's bring in abortion and look at what they did on this.

Over here on the Senate side, they said, OK, we will -- we will have a provision here that keeps any federal money being spent on abortion. Over here on the House side, they said, we will have a provision that will keep any federal money from being spent on abortion. So, they're in agreement.

The problem is, neither side wants it, not a lot of the hard-core Democrats on either side. They only agreed to this measure as a way of keeping the bill alive and moving it forward. And many of them are counting on being able to take that provision out before they get to the final bill, and there are going to be fireworks of over that.

So, you know which constituency here is the worried one, don't you, Erica?

HILL: Yes, we do. and that...

FOREMAN: Absolutely. It's going to be women. That's going to be a big issue for the Democrats here.

HILL: And getting that out, I -- I have a feeling, is much easier said than done, as they move forward with reconciling the two.

Cost is also a big issue. And that is addressed differently in each version of the bill.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. In each case, they have been able to say, look, we have checked it out with the CBO, and this is a program that will ultimately pay for itself.

But, up front, you have got to pay for a lot of things. Over here on the Senate side, they like the idea of saying we will tax those Cadillac plans, as they call them, very generous health plans that some people may have.

Over here on the House side, they're not so fond of that. The reason they're not so fond of has to do once again with the constituency. It has to go largely with unions, because unions, who have supported the Democrats a great deal, many of them some years back negotiated contracts where they got very good health care plans because they couldn't get a lot of money from their companies back then.

Now they're going to be told, well -- or they possibly will be told in the deal, now you're going to have to pay for those plans. And, oh, by the way, the money you didn't get, that's what you're going to have to use to pay for the plans. Plus, fiscal moderates, big issue on this one -- Erica.

HILL: Yes, not a lot of people happy about that one.

Also, illegal immigration is figuring in here.

FOREMAN: Yes. That's the last one in here that we really need to talk about.

Over here on the Senate side, they said, no, we do not want illegal immigrants to be part of this health care reform. However, on the House side, they have said, well, look, we think that if they will buy it with their own money, they should be able to buy into whatever program is available out there.

So, of course, the constituency they need to be worried about, Latinos here. The truth is, Erica, some Democratic analysts say that there's probably about 80 percent agreement between the House and Senate, maybe even 85 percent, on the major points that they have to consider in this.

So, they should be able to reconcile. But do watch very closely all these interest groups here, the liberals, women, unions, fiscal moderates, and Latino groups out here, because all of them are really being caught in the vice between these two sides as they try to sort this out and reconcile this and produce a bill that they can pass as a complete Congress.

And that's very touchy. And the reason it's touchy is because every one of these groups played a critical role in giving the Democrats the power they have right now, and all of them will be involved in the election next fall, too -- Erica.

HILL: And there is no ignoring those midterm elections.


HILL: Tom Foreman, thanks.

Well, we would like to know what you think about the bill, about health care reform. Tell us whatever is on your mind, actually. You can do it all at the live chat. It's under way now at

Just ahead, our panel, though, is going to join in on the conversation over health care, David Gergen, Tanya Acker and Michael Gerson with us tonight.

Also, David Goldman is joining us, fighting to get his son, Sean, back after years apart, and waiting again for the highest court in Brazil to issue a ruling in a custody case that is causing heat and heartache on two continents.

And a bit later: A star dies young, again. The question now is why. What did kill the actress Brittany Murphy? Some early theories and the facts behind them -- that's when 360 continues.


HILL: Health care reform topping the agenda tonight, along with Republican allegations that the bill is frankly so flawed, the only way to secure the necessary votes is to buy them with pork, money for pet projects.


SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: This process is not legislation. This process is corruption.


HILL: Republican Senator Tom Coburn yesterday.

Now, in fairness, Democrats made the same allegations six years ago when the Bush administration rammed a Medicare bill then through the then Republican House.

We're going to talk strategy now with senior political analyst David Gergen, "Huffington Post" contributor Tanya Acker, and "Washington Post" columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson.

Good to have all of you back with us tonight.

David, as we start off here, a little bit of -- not a little bit -- it was a victory for Democrats, obviously, last night, but it's somewhat short-lived, as we just talked about with Tom Foreman, because, of course, marrying these two bills and getting that all together. Is there really reason to celebrate tonight in the Senate?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a major reason to celebrate to get it through the Senate, after seven presidents have tried, seven have failed.

This is the first time a universal health care bill has passed the Senate. So, Democrats can take great heart in that. At the same time, I think the sense of victory has been dampened by these stories of these backroom deals.

You know, we have always known that deals were being made in the backroom, but now the -- in the age of cable news and blogs, they -- they have been brought into the front parlor. And a lot of people are now seeing them, and they don't like it.

And with a bill that already was -- had a lot of people against it, had a majority against it, I think that this is -- sends exactly the wrong signal. It's something so easy for team to grasp. When seven different senators get breaks for their states, and everybody else has to pay the bills, and they get breaks for their states, they get angry.

And I think this was not a good night for the Democrats in that sense, to have this story now passing around the country.

HILL: And, Tanya, how do you reconcile that? Because even as we talked about with Dana a little bit, look, I mean, this is, for the most part, a lot of times how bills do get made, or the sausage, but nobody likes to see the process. And it is rather remarkable to hear somebody be so blunt about the process.

And, as Dana said, really, Senator Reid was just teeing this one up for the Republicans.

TANYA ACKER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I don't know that he needed to really draw attention to it.

But the fact is, is that this always happens. I mean, I'm frankly a bit surprised by the notion that people are somehow taken aback by this backroom dealing. This is how legislation is always made. Sadly and unfortunately, this is the legislative process in this country.

I mean, I find it curious that the GOP are now complaining about this, when Mitch McConnell, in the last spending bill, requested $51 million in pet projects for Kentucky, when you have got folks like Lisa Murkowski asking the United States taxpayer to pay for the construction of a fairground in Alaska.

Senators, our congresspeople, unfortunately, sadly, always do this. This -- it's not new with this bill.

HILL: Although they don't -- they don't always admit it as readily as it was admitted this time around.

Michael, Tanya just -- just brought up, of course, Senator Mitch McConnell, who has said he's holding out hope that the reform will be killed when it gets to a conference committee, plenty of talk, as well, from Senator Lindsey Graham, who equated this to Chicago-style politics, Enron accounting, and that the concessions simply looked like bribery.

And, as Tanya pointed out, it's not like Republicans have never done this.

MICHAEL GERSON, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it depends on the degree here. I mean, Senator Reid really won ugly in this case.

And, you know, I spent some time in the -- in the -- as a Senate staffer. And seldom was the kind of almost bribery that you see in this case as raw or as venal. And it had a consequence.

There's literally no reason Nebraska should be treated -- given a different deal on Medicaid reform than, say, Iowa next door. And all the states realize this. So, eventually -- there's already grumbling among other states, saying, we're going to demand this same kind of deal eventually.

That really undermines the theory of Medicaid, which is supposed to be a federal/state responsibility. And it eventually blows another hole in the federal budget. It was a deal not like these others. It had a much broader public consequence.

HILL: We should also point out, too, that there -- there are the American people at play here, who -- who have not weighed in and voted on this, as lawmakers have. But they have weighed in a number of polls.

In fact, the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, if you look at the numbers, right now, 56 percent oppose what they know of the Senate health care bill. Forty-two percent are in favor. Now, those numbers are up a little bit.

But, still, with the public not supporting the bill, criticism that the Democrats pushed it through anyway, how do you reconcile that, David, especially in the face of these crucial midterm elections?

GERGEN: Well, I must say, this Erica. It has -- it is a noble goal to try to get all Americans insured.

You know, we're the only Western industrialized nation that does not provide health insurance for every one of its citizens. So -- and this has been a dream of the Democratic Party for well over 60 years.

So -- and -- and there are many Republicans who support that. It's the way they have gotten here, and now the confusion over what's actually in the bill.

And now we hear, as Michael just said, that they're going to raise Medicaid costs in all states, except those like Nebraska, which got an exemption, when they got their -- their -- their vote bought off. And that is going to stick in the craw of a lot of people.

I must say one other thing about it. I cannot remember a time in the last -- maybe somebody can correct me here -- but over the last half-century when a major piece of social legislation has passed the Congress in the teeth of public opposition. Going all of the way back to Social Security, every major piece of social legislation that I can identify has had the public in support of it at the time of passage.

This is very unusual. The Democrats are taking their chances. It's a noble goal, but they have not persuaded the public that this particular bill, this particular reform effort is wise.

HILL: And, unfortunately, we're going to..

ACKER: I -- I...

HILL: Go ahead, Tanya, just quickly.

ACKER: Well, quickly, I think that part of the reason why you have seen lagging public support is that the public has forgotten some of the good parts of this bill, the fact that 30 million Americans are going to now have insurance that don't have it, the fact that insurers will no longer be able to deny people with preexisting conditions from coverage.

I think we spend a lot of time with the fighting and the deal- making, and not a lot of time about talking about what benefits this bill will provide. I think that's why you don't have public support right now.

HILL: Well, the good news is, we are far from done when it comes to talking about health care reform.

So, we...


HILL: That is one that we can definitely tackle in the coming days. For tonight, though, we're going to have to leave it there.

David Gergen, Tanya Acker, Michael Gerson, appreciate your input.

ACKER: Thanks.

GERSON: Thank you.

HILL: Just ahead: His wife fled to Brazil with their son five years ago. She then remarried and recently died. Now David Goldman's fight to get his son back is coming to a head in Brazil's highest court. We will speak with him and also with the spokesman for the family he is battling.

That's coming up right after the break.

And then: There are new details tonight on the death of Brittany Murphy, how paramedics found her and what was found in the house with her.


HILL: David Goldman has been waiting for five years. Today, he learned it would be at least another day before he would learn, perhaps once and for all, whether he can take his son, Sean, home from Brazil.

Sean's mother abducted the boy from the United States in 2004, taking him to her native Brazil. And after a court there ruled last week Goldman could indeed take Sean home, a stay was issued while the case was reviewed further. And then, on Friday, Brazil's attorney sided with Goldman. The final ruling was to be issued today.

But, like so many other times in this ordeal, hope was snatched away from Goldman, that decision postponed for another day.

"Digging Deeper," I spoke with a frustrated David Goldman earlier by phone from Brazil.


HILL: First of all, when you heard the news today, initially, you are told you're going to get a ruling today, and just a little bit ago, the word comes down that it's not coming until tomorrow. What does that do to you?

GOLDMAN: Par for the course. That's why all these questions and everyone asking me all these things, and I tell them I'm hopeful.

I have been doing this for an agonizing over five years now. And time and time again, I come down here to bring home my son, and and -- I get the same thing. And just the plain, simple fact that Sean and I should be together is not happening. It is very, very sad.

HILL: I know you have seen -- correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you have seen your son, Sean, four times this year. When you have those moments with him, what are they like? What do you guys talk about? Does he ask you questions about grandparents and family back here in the U.S.? GOLDMAN: He -- the first day we met, he asked me where was I, why didn't I come and visit.

And we were going over pictures, and he was remembering things. And he was -- it was -- it was -- he was nervous. And I tried to explain to him that I have been to see him many times. I brought his grandmother. I brought his grandfather. I have come with other relatives and friends, always to see him and come back home.

And, for one reason or another, there was different issues, that we weren't able to see each other.

HILL: I know you have said that, were he to come home with you -- and that is what I think pretty much almost everyone is hoping for at this point -- that you wouldn't keep him from his Brazilian family; you would allow them to visit.

They have said that, if the judge does rule in your favor, if the court rules in your favor, that they would at least like Sean to stay with him through Christmas. They feel it would be too traumatic for him to leave before then.

Would you consent to that? Would you be all right with him staying through the end of the week in Brazil to celebrate the holiday there before coming home?

GOLDMAN: Hey, how about a new beginning? How about, let's come home for Christmas? Didn't we just get a record snowfall? Let's go home. Let's go home with your dad and your cousins and your other grandmother and grandfather, who have been forcefully kept out of your life by an illegal abduction. Let's come home and have Christmas.

If they want to bring their mittens and hats and follow him along sometime, that's their prerogative.

HILL: I know the attorney for the family has also said that they would like to have negotiations with you, but on the condition that Sean not go to the States right away. And they really don't feel that this should be an issue between countries; it should simply be an issue between families.

How do you respond to that?

GOLDMAN: Well, they haven't said any of that to me. And, again, this is not a negotiation type situation. He is illegally held. He is recognized by this country as being illegally retained.

HILL: David, when -- when you do get to see Sean again and hopefully when that moment comes for you, when you are taking Sean home and the -- what's -- what are some of the first things you're going to say to him?

GOLDMAN: Again, it all depends on the situation that we are able to reunite.

My first -- I will be calm and I will see how he is doing. And I will assure him that he is loved, and I will take it from -- from there.

HILL: David Goldman, we really appreciate your time tonight. And we will be following this closely tomorrow.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.


HILL: Well, you just heard from David Goldman.

As you know, though, we don't take sides on 360. And so we have asked the lawyer for Sean Goldman's Brazilian family he's living with now to join us as well tonight.

His name is Sergio Tostes. He is with us now on the phone live from Rio.

Thanks for being with us.

I know you just heard David Goldman, who says, quite simply, he believes your client kidnapped, abducted his son. How do you respond to that?

SERGIO TOSTES, ATTORNEY FOR SEAN GOLDMAN'S BRAZILIAN FAMILY: No, my client did not abduct or kidnap the kid, not whatsoever.

This is something that is going in court for five years. And what Mr. Goldman says, that's not exactly reflect what was the first court decision. The first court's decision, when the mother was still alive, was that Sean should be kept where he was, having a normal life.

And Mr. Goldman always had the opportunity to visit the son, and he didn't visit while the mother was alive because he did not want to, by -- just by legal strategy, as he said on television, that he was not coming to see the son, because his lawyers had advised not to do so. Otherwise, he would lose his...


TOSTES: ... under the Hague Convention.


HILL: Sir, you also point out, though, that this was when the mother was still alive. His ex-wife, Sean's mother, has since passed. And, so, Sean is now with his stepfather's family. A lot of people look at that and say, look, if this little boy has lost his mother, why should he not be allowed to be with his father?


The question is this. The boy went through a tremendous situation when the mother died. And his -- the father have not seen him for four years at that time. What the family says, that let's sit down and talk. Let's have a normal conversation. And let's have David Goldman come back to be with his with his son. And let's think -- think how -- let's see how things go from there.

What I'm offering now is to negotiate my first offer. And my first offer was to lay down the weapons, because this is not a battle between countries. We are talking about a little boy. And what the family, both family, has to do is come to an agreement and do something that's the better, the best for Sean.

HILL: Although this has -- but this has become a legal issue. I did mention, as I think you heard, to David Goldman earlier. He said he hadn't heard that directly to you.

But this has, in fact, become a legal issue. There is the Hague Convention at play here. And it is now in Brazil's highest court.

So -- so, if the ruling is, in fact, in favor of Mr. Goldman tomorrow, are you willing to then let Sean go home with him to New Jersey?

TOSTES: Well, I'm not going to let you know my legal strategies, of course.

But I have invited -- and Mr. Goldman knows that -- I have invited him to spend Christmas with Sean so that way he can see with his own eyes the environment in which Sean lives. There's no torture whatsoever. I invited Mr. Goldman. I have not received a response from him. The letter was delivered to him. Of course, was delivered to his lawyer. And that was shown in the press conference. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

And we do expect to have word from Mr. Goldman. He is more than welcome to spend Christmas with his son, and -- and the invitation is extensive to the representative who is with him in Brazil at this time.

HILL: Right. Sergio Tostes, we appreciate your time tonight. It is obviously a case that people are following very closely in both countries and that is pulling a number of heart strings. Thanks again for your time tonight.

TOSTES: Thank you.

HILL: Just ahead on 360, a top commander in Iraq now under fire after issuing an order that many say is down right sexist and, beyond that, illegal. The details and the backlash are ahead.

Plus, there are new rules for airlines, designed to spare you a whole lot of pain on the tarmac. Will they work, and when will they go into effect? As 360 continues.


HILL: Ahead on 360, a young actress dies suddenly. So just what killed Brittany Murphy? We'll have latest for you coming up.

But first, Randi Kaye here with a "360 Bulletin."

Hi, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, the East Coast is digging out from the weekend storm that dumped 16 inches of snow on Washington, nearly two feet on Philadelphia and about a foot right here in Manhattan. It stranded thousands of travelers.

And now another winter storm is taking aim at the Midwest. Forecasters say freezing rain in Chicago later in the week could ground or delay holiday flights at O'Hare.

Iran's president is dismissing a newly-revealed secret document that allegedly shows Iran is developing a crucial component of a nuclear bomb. "The Times" of London revealed the document existed just last week. In an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer the Iranian president refused to look at the document and told her this.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: This is the document that proves it. Have you been testing a neutron initiator?

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT, IRAN (through translator): I think that some of the claims made by the Americans and other western statesmen about our nuclear issue have turned into a repetitive and tasteless joke.

SAWYER: Would you like to see this document? Is it a joke?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No, I don't want to see them at all, I don't. They are fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government.


KAYE: Ann Nixon Cooper of Atlanta has died. Now, you may remember President Obama talked about her in his election speech, describing how she's lived long enough to remember when African- Americans weren't able to vote and to finally be able to vote for and elect the country's first black president. Ann Nixon Cooper was 107 years old.

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, is at it again, showing off his tough guy cred. There he is. Take a look. Practicing recently with the national judo team.

HILL: Wow.

KAYE: The 57-year-old former KGB agent is a black belt. And as you can see, he seemed pretty eager to demonstrate those skills.

HILL: Rather.

KAYE: Oh, yes. Now, he also took time-out to sign copies of his book, titled -- get this -- "Learning Judo with Vladimir Putin." He also -- also released a DVD under the same title last year. Now, I don't know. I just don't see any -- any of the U.S. presidents or any other president, in fact, releasing a book about judo.

HILL: Not so much. I wonder -- I wonder they let him win, too. Sort of like, "Hey, it's Vladimir Putin. I'm just going to sit this one out. I think they'd better.

KAYE: Probably better.

HILL: Randi, thanks.

Still ahead, being punished for being pregnant. A new order from a general in charge of more than 20,000 U.S. troops in Iraq says, if a woman in his command gets pregnant, she will face court-martial. But is that even legal?

Also ahead, the mystery surrounding the death of Brittany Murphy. New details, plus, the actress' last interview, coming up.


HILL: Tonight, one of America's top commanders on the ground in Iraq is not backing down from an order to his troops that many women say they find sexist, offensive, even illegal.

Major general Anthony who oversees more than 20,000 American service members in northern Iraq says any soldier who becomes pregnant or who impregnates another soldier will be punished and face court- martial.

Now, the directive was made in November. The admiral said it's necessary during the draw down of forces in Iraq. He also said this. Quote, "Anyone who leaves this fight earlier than the expected 12- month deployment creates a burden on his teammates. Anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status or contributes to doing that to another, is not in keeping with a key element of our ethos."

Now, he said the rule does not apply to sexual assault or rape. He also told CNN it is lawful.

Joining me now to discuss Kayla Williams, a former Army sergeant. She's also the author of the book "Love my Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army." And Thomas Kenniff, who's an attorney and former JAG officer who represented soldiers in Iraq.

Good to have both of you with us. Let's get this legal standpoint out of the way, because we all know the military operates differently, Tom, and that you have certain rights as a civilian that you frankly don't have as an enlisted person, and you know that heading in. But is this legal from what you know about it?

THOMAS KENNIFF, ATTORNEY: No, I don't believe it is. I mean, yes, you do sacrifice certain rights when you put on a uniform, but even military orders and military laws are still subject to constitutional scrutiny. And if you look at the history of the Supreme Court, which ultimately has the final say on these sort of matters, in the last 40 to 50 years there's been a long line of cases that have vigorously defended the right of private citizens as well as those in the military, who wear the uniform, their right to privacy, especially with regard to intimate dealings, acts that occur between consenting adults behind closed doors.

So I understand that this may be expedient for this commander, but the standards are, you know, the constitutionality of the act and whether that would pass muster. I don't believe it would in this case.

HILL: Right. And then from -- purely from the standpoint of the soldiers and the folks serving in Iraq, Kayla, as a former Army sergeant, what's your reaction to this initially, your gut reaction?

KAYLA WILLIAMS, FORMER ARMY SERGEANT: I actually have mixed feelings on it. On the one hand, when I was in the military, I was told that if we were sunburned so badly that we couldn't perform our duties, that we could face punishment.

And in some ways they're roughly analogous. Both can -- both pregnancy and severe sunburn can result from activities that are authorized, that should be preventable using available cautionary measures, and they can happen anyway despite our your best efforts to avoid them.

So the concept of having this type of punishment as a deterrent about risky behaviors that can prevent you from doing your mission. I understand. On the other hand, my three major concerns are the prevalence of sexual assault, which is notoriously difficult to prove, as well as the unavailability of emergency contraception such as Plan B, and finally, the fact that if a woman and the -- if both parents are in jail, this could provide serious detrimental effects on the child that results from the pregnancy.

HILL: And a person could be jailed, Tom, in theory, if they're court-martial while pregnant and then after that child is born?

KENNIFF: Yes, in theory. I mean, if the military was, in my opinion, crazy enough to bring a prosecution under this general order. And the person was convicted under Article 92 of the UCMJ, for violating a lawful general order, they could face up to two years in jail.

Practicality, whether that would happen, that's another situation. I certainly would hope it wouldn't, but it's possible.

HILL: Right. We should point out here this -- I mean, this is a part of a broader scope of, I believe, 20 different regulations that were put forth. No gambling, no drinking.

And also, we should point out that, as we mentioned off the top, that whoever impregnates this soldier would be held to the same standards. But there are still people, and Kayla, I want to toss this one to you, who say that this is still sexist, because for women it's obviously much more difficult to hide a pregnancy than it is for a man to hide the fact that he may have gotten a woman pregnant. How much of a stigma is that for a woman in the military?

WILLIAMS: I think this is a very situation for women in the military. As you mentioned, you know, women are obviously pregnant, but it's very difficult to prove who got a woman pregnant, especially during the pregnancy itself. It can't be required that she take a test to prove that.

One of the things that's so difficult for women serving, though, is the stigma that we choose to try to get pregnant in order to get out of a deployment or to get sent home early from a deployment. And because of that, a number of women that I know is not opposed to this and say this is well deserved, because so many of us are struggling to prove that we belong here, that if this is required to deter people from possibly trying to get out of a deployment in this way, then maybe it's not a bad thing. I'm not saying that that's the right answer, but certainly leads to a vigorous debate on the issue.

HILL: It does. And it's interesting to hear that point of view, too, because it's one that probably a lot of civilian women may not expect.

Tom, Kayla brought this up earlier. But even with all the precautions in the world, married couples are allowed to live together. You know, a woman can be on birth control, a man could be using a condom. It's still possible to get pregnant. Part of these rules have also said no sex with Iraqi nationals. Wouldn't it make more sense to simply say no sex period while you're deployed?

KENNIFF: Here's what we did when we deployed back in 2004. There were policies put into effect in the context of these type of general orders that basically limited the time and place where soldiers could have sex, almost to the point of making it an impossibility. And that's how we tried to get around these sort of constitutional issues.

But again, if you put out a blanket no sex policy, period, you're running into the right of privacy. You're running into probably some equal protection issues with, you know, just as Kayla was saying that, yes, it's more ubiquitous for a woman when she's pregnant.

And obviously, you know, they're going to bear the brunt of these prosecutions, even though the order itself may say that we'll prosecute the man who impregnated her, because she's going to have her right to remain silent, her Fifth Amendment right not to reveal who that person was.

HILL: Right.

KENNIFF: The man is going to have his rights to remain silent. So it creates a lot of very difficult issues. You have to be very careful.

HILL: It does. We're going to be hearing more from the general tomorrow on this, as well. He'll be speaking to us. Tom Kenniff, Kayla Williams, appreciate your insight from both of you tonight. Thanks.

KENNIFF: Thank you.

HILL: That is, of course -- thanks again -- just one of the many stories making news, causing controversy this year. Tom Foreman has been working on the end of year review: all the best, all the worst of 2009. And since he's been working so hard on it, we thought you should get a preview tonight.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Airplanes had their share of serious troubles including the Air France jet that disappeared over the Atlantic. But there were also some quirky incidents.

Worst navigation, the pilots who flew from San Diego to Minneapolis and then just kept flying, over-shooting their target by 150 miles before turning back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a distraction.

FOREMAN: Best improvisation, the miracle on the Hudson. One plane, a flock of geese, and a mind-blowing emergency landing in the river by Captain Sully Sullenberger.

JACK GRAY, AC 360 PRODUCER/WRITER: Sully was great. He was right out of central casting. He was the Clint Eastwood of pilots. Not on my watch.

JOY BEHAR, CNN HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: I don't know if he was really lauded because he was able to land on the Hudson river or just got a great parking spot in New York.


HILL: That's just of taste of all the best, all the worst of 2009. Tom's piece (ph) airs this Thursday. And yes, that was Jack Gray, our producer who you read a lot on the blog. So you know you've got to tune in Christmas Eve, 7 p.m. Eastern.

Still ahead tonight on the show, actress Brittany Murphy, just 32 years old. She had a new film out. Yesterday she collapsed in her home. What killed the young actress? Randi Kaye will take us up close, next.


HILL: Up close tonight, the mysterious death of a young actress. Brittany Murphy was just 32 years old. And while rumors and speculation are swirling tonight, the cause of her death remains unknown. Just weeks ago Murphy attended the Hollywood premier of her new film, "Across the Hall," and gave her last known interview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is it filming such a dark thriller?

BRITTANY MURPHY, ACTRESS: It's -- I was very drawn to this because of its noir quality and the short film that was made before we were able to make the full-length feature. I was excited to be a part of the full length. I really enjoyed the short film very much.


HILL: Now, tonight many people are looking for clues in that interview, as well as in Murphy's marriage and her career. Were there signs that were missed, signs that she was in trouble? Randi Kaye has been working this story.


KAYE (voice-over): The call for help came just after 8 a.m. early Sunday morning. Actress Brittany Murphy had collapsed in her Los Angeles home.

(on camera) The L.A. County Coroner's Office tells us paramedics found her in the bathroom, unconscious and unresponsive. It's reported she may have had the flu, and the assistant coroner told us prescription drugs in Murphy's name were found at the house but no illegal drugs.

The coroner says she's believed to have died of natural causes. The autopsy is now complete, results expected to be made public in about six weeks.

(voice-over) "Entertainment Weekly's" Lynette Rice.

LYNETTE RICE, "ENTERTAINMENT RICE": There was something really delicate about her. She was -- it was as if she was so easily broken. There's something so frail and sweet and innocent about her, I think audiences just kind of want to protect her.

KAYE: But it seems there was no protecting Murphy. As her star rose in Hollywood, the healthy-looking, bright-eyed brunette best known for her roles in "Clueless," "Girl Interrupted" and "8 Mile," began to appear frail and thin. Posing on the red carpet December 1 in her last interview, Murphy looks gaunt.

MURPHY: I really enjoyed the short film very much.

KAYE: In 2003 a blond, skinny Murphy graced the cover of "Cosmopolitan" magazine. In 2005 "Maxim" magazine put her on the cover and called her a sex bomb. That same year, "Jane" magazine asked her about her weight loss and rumors that it was due to cocaine use. The actress told the magazine, quote, "I have never tried it in my entire life. I've never even seen it. I am also way too high strung. I can't even take Sudafed. I think my heart would explode."

But the ever-shrinking Murphy, who denied having an eating disorder, continued to make tabloid headlines. And just two weeks ago "Saturday Night Live" parodied a spaced-out Brittany Murphy in a skit removed from Web sites after her death.

RICE: She's generated a reputation as being a little bit of a, you know, a crazy train girl who's about to go off the rails, whether it's these wild stories of wanting her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut on the diagonal or stalkers following her and her husband, or maybe even hearing gunshots around her household. But it never has stopped her from getting work.

KAYE: In fact, Murphy had been working since age 9. She had a manager by the time she was 13 and moved to Hollywood with her mother. By 1997, she had become the voice of Luann Platter on FOX's animated hit "King of the Hill."

She was engaged twice before marrying her screenwriter husband. In 2003, she dated her just married co-star Ashton Kutcher. After her death, Kutcher tweeted about it, writing on Twitter, "Today the world lost a little piece of sunshine. My deepest condolences go out to Brittany's family, her husband, and her amazing mother Sharon."

Brittany Murphy's parents divorced when she was just 4 years old. Her father told CNN he hasn't seen his daughter about eight years but said, quote, "when she was a little baby, she was cute as a button. I can't believe this has happened."


HILL: And again, that was Randi Kaye reporting.

Just ahead, good news for anyone who's been stuck on an airplane on the ground for hours. Why airlines will soon have to pay you for keeping -- pay up for keeping you on the ground, that is.

Plus, a snowball fight turns ugly when someone pulls a gun. Yes. In a snowball fight. Why not, right? Wait until you hear who it was.


HILL: A lot more happening tonight. Randi Kaye is covering some of the other stories for us in a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Randi.

KAYE: Hi, there, Erica.

An appeals court in California refusing to dismiss the sex case against film director Roman Polanski. The justice is saying he must show up in court before they consider the request. But they do acknowledge concerns about possible judicial misconduct in the 32- year-old case. Polanski remains under house arrest in Switzerland, where he was arrested in September.

A New York judge has sentenced the 85-year-old son of Brooke Aster to up to three years in prison for looting millions from her. Anthony Marshall got the minimum. He's expected to remain free for at loose a month while lawyers appeal that ruling.

A Christmas miracle for airline passengers. That's what an advocate calls new federal rules barring airlines from keeping passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours. Those that do not comply can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger. The rules take effect in April.

And caught on tape. An off-duty Washington police officer pulling his gun during a massive snowball fight. According to the chief, the veteran officer got upset after snowballs hit his car on Saturday. The cop is now on desk duty while the case is investigated.

HILL: How about that, now on desk duty?

KAYE: That's no snowball.

HILL: He's not getting a lot of love for that move. That's true.


HILL: The huge winter storm forced -- forced a lot of people to be creative, including you, Randi, to get back here today.

KAYE: Only took me three days.

HILL: Check out this Florida bride. Shawna Hodge was supposed to marry her, soldier Cody Beckwith, in Orlando on Sunday. The problem? That lovely storm had Cody stranded in Baltimore. He missed the ceremony they'd planned.

But I think as we all know, no one should ever mess with a bride. Shawna found out that he could get to Tampa, which is only 85 miles away, so she drove and brought the wedding to him at Tampa International Airport. There you go. Wedding party in tow, she greets her husband-to-be after he finally arrives on a midnight flight.

Shortly after he landed, as you can see here, they exchanged vows. May not be wedding of their dreams, but the couple says it really was just about perfect.

KAYE: It may be more memorable than the one they planned. I think it's romantic.

HILL: It is romantic. And you know, talking about making things work, that's a good foundation for a marriage.

KAYE: There you go. And you know, very easy to head out on a honeymoon, if there is one, because, you know, they're right there at the airport.

HILL: That's true. What do you do to get a flight out of town from Baltimore these days? Randi Kaye.

We do also want to mention congratulations in order to 360 writer/producer Jack Gray who had a big milestone on Twitter: a million followers.

KAYE: Oh, my.

HILL: Yes.

KAYE: A million?

HILL: Yes. If you don't follow Jack, you should, because he's hilarious and we love him. Check him out at And by the way, be sure to catch him in that little cameo. He's, of course, also in Tom Foreman's upcoming special about the best and worst of 2009. And I think he's going to be very good in it.

KAYE: You think?

HILL: So, Jack, nice work.

Just ahead at the top of the hour, party favors. What a few senators got in exchange for supporting health-care reform. Is it corruption, as one senator alleges, or just the price to pay for getting things done in Washington? You decide. We're "Keeping Them Honest."