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Scholarship Scandal; Two Men Held by Dutch; Focus on Faith at "Honor" Rally; Training for Mining Nightmare; Building Hopes and Homes for New Orleans

Aired August 30, 2010 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us.

Tonight, "Keeping Them Honest": The Congresswoman and the scholarship scandal. A Texas Democrat has been doling out thousands in scholarship money to her relatives and one of her staffer's kids. The money is from charitable tax-deductible donations.

She says she didn't know the rules. But it turns out she broke more than one, and she's been doing it for years.

Also tonight, breaking news: was it a practice run to blow up a U.S. jetliner? Here's what we know, bottles of liquid with watches and cell phones attached inside checked luggage on a flight out of Chicago. The question is: do they add up to terrorists testing what could actually get into the cargo of a U.S. passenger plane? The very latest on the devices and the two men now in custody.

Also tonight, "Up Close": the latest on Hurricane Earl, now a Category-4 storm and building, taking aim on the East Coast.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest", with a Texas Congresswoman giving out prized scholarships paid for with tax- deductible charitable donations worth thousands of dollars, but she wasn't giving the scholarships just to students in her district, like she was supposed to. No, she was awarding the money to her family members and the family of a staffer, and she's been doing it for years.

Let me show you over at the wall what we're talking about. This is the Congresswoman. Her name is Eddie Bernice Johnson. This is a picture of her over here. She's a Democrat from Texas. She's now running for her 10th term from the Texas 30th Congressional District -- Congressional District, which covers parts of Dallas and surrounding area.

She's a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a former board member of the CBC Foundation, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which every year the foundation gives every member of the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, $10,000 to award to students in their districts for college. It sounds good, right?

Well, according to "The Dallas Morning News", from 2005 to 2008, Congresswoman Johnson gave out 43 scholarships, but 15 of them went to her relative or the relatives of a guy named Rod Givens, who is her district director.

Now, Johnson's grandson, he received scholarships three years in a row, 2006, 2007, 2008. His name is David. Her other grandson Kirk received scholarships four years in a row, 2005 all the way through 2008.

Now, her -- it goes beyond just her grandkids, though. Preston Moore, who is her great-nephew, also got award money three years in a row. And her other great-nephew got award money 2005 and 2006.

And the son and daughter of Rod Givens, her district director, they also got scholarships.

Now, you don't even have to see the rules of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to know that this is inappropriate. But we checked anyway.

It turns out kids are eligible for these scholarships in a couple of ways, that they have a 2.5 grade point average, that they submit letters of recommendation, write an essay, and, most importantly, attend school in the district of the member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the kids cannot be a relative of anyone affiliated with the CBC.

So, not only did the Congresswoman violate the rule about awarding her relatives, but according to "The Dallas Morning News" none of these kids even lived in her district or went to school in her district.

Now, of course, we invited the congresswoman and her aide on tonight to explain themselves but were told they were unavailable. The congresswoman did, though, talk to a reporter for "The Dallas Morning News", and at first just admitted that when she signed off on the list of names to receive money, she said -- quote -- "I recognized the names when I saw them."

And later she had explained the grandkids are not immediate family. So, it sounds kind of like she's distancing herself from her grandkids or she is estranged from them, right? Take a look, though, at her own Web site here.

Let me just move this here. Ok. So, this is her Web site. She says on the Web site, "Congresswoman Johnson counts among her greatest accomplishments her son Kirk and her three grandsons, Kirk Jr., David, and James."

So, clearly, she more than just recognized the names on the list. She also told the Dallas paper that there hadn't been enough, quote, "very worthy applicants in my district." And she went on to say, if there had been worthy applicants -- quote -- "I probably wouldn't have given it to relatives."

As for her claim that there weren't enough worthy applicants in her district, this is a district with 700,000 people according to the 2008 Census Bureau estimates, right, 124,000 kids in school, either grade-school all the way through high school.

So, let's assume that, out of that 124,000, maybe there's, what, 10,000 high school seniors. Assume a portion drop out or don't have the 2.5 grade point average that that scholarship requires. There still must be several thousand qualified high school seniors a year in that district.

The idea that somehow her relatives and her aides' children were only taking scholarships that no one else wanted doesn't seem to hold water.

Now, it's possible many of the kids in the district didn't know about these scholarships, because unlike other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Johnson doesn't advertise the scholarships on her Web site.

Two days after she spoke initially to that Dallas paper, she gave a statement. Her office released a statement admitting that she violated the rules, but they said she had done so unknowingly, that she didn't know the rules, and that she would rectify the financial situation.

But in order to get these scholarship, every teen had to promise -- promise that they were not related to anyone associated with the CBC. It says here right here in the rules: "They are not related to any member of the CBC or the CBC Foundation."

So, it seems, at the very least, that each of these kids must have lied on the application. The question now is did the congresswoman or someone on her staff instruct them to lie? We don't know that.

In a moment, you're going to hear from Todd Gillman, the "Dallas Morning News" reporter who broke the story, has some late new information for us tonight, before the early edition -- additions. Also, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington joins us.

But, first, though, let's talk to Muriel Cooper, the senior media manager for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Thanks for joining us.

Muriel, Representative Johnson is basically saying that neither she nor her staff about the basic rules of this scholarships; that the student had to live or study in her district, and -- and, most incredibly, she says that she didn't know that she could not just give the money to her relatives, give the scholarships to her relatives.

Does that sound believable to you?

MURIEL COOPER, SENIOR MEDIA MANAGER, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: That's what Representative Johnson told us, that she did not know the rules of our scholarships, and that when she realized that she had erred, that she would make retribution to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in terms of returning the money. A. COOPER: But is that your job, to just believe what Representative Johnson says? I mean, is there going to be any kind of investigation or by an independent body?

M. COOPER: We will, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, be examining our policies to look into this. We have never had anything like this happen before.

A. COOPER: How do you know?

M. COOPER: To the best of our knowledge, we have not had anything happen like this before.

We have been doing scholarships for almost 30 years, educating African-Americans. And this is the first time, to our knowledge, this has happened. But, yes, we take this very seriously, Anderson.


A. COOPER: And it -- it's obviously a great thing. And you have given out tens of thousands of dollars to -- to kids in -- you know, around the country for years and years and years. And it's incredibly, you know, an honorable thing.

But I mean, have you ever -- do you do any oversight for how the money is spent? Have you ever actually investigated who is getting the money?

M. COOPER: Well, we've had no reason to investigate.

There's a -- if I may explain the process to you, we post the applications. The students apply. The applications go to the district member level office. From there, there is a process that they go through, a criteria that must be met by each student. And then the names are sent back to us.

A. COOPER: Well --

M. COOPER: And that's worked pretty well so far.

A. COOPER: Do you see any change in that? I mean, do you plan on having anybody independently come and look at -- at other -- you know, at other moneys that have been spent?

M. COOPER: Anderson, what we are doing is having our board -- this is a policy, so it will involve our board and our chairman of the board -- to look at this and try to find if there are any other loopholes in here.

A. COOPER: Right.

But -- but, I mean, Representative Johnson was on your board. And so I guess, some people would say you would need somebody from outside to come in and actually look at this.

M. COOPER: I can't address that issue. All I can say is that we will send it back to our board. But, certainly, we don't want this to happen again.

You have to understand, too, as other scholarships in America, there is a sense of the honor system from the students and from the district agents.

A. COOPER: Do you -- you released a statement earlier today. And -- and in the statement, you said, "When applying for a CBCF scholarship, all students must certify by their signature that they're not related to any member of the CBC, CBC Foundation, staff, or its board of directors, corporate advisory council, or any Congressional Black Caucus Foundation-sponsoring entity."

I'm assuming, then -- and I don't know if you have looked at these applications for these kids, but I'm assuming that each of these kids signed that thing saying that they were not related to any member of the CBC.

So, I'm assuming that those kids lied. Are you concerned at all that they were coached by either the congresswoman or by members of the congresswoman's staff to lie?

M. COOPER: I'm afraid I -- I can't speak on that. Again, the students did sign off on it, certifying that they were not related to any CBC member or sponsoring entity.

A. COOPER: Because, I mean, if -- if multiple kids who are relatives of these -- of members of the CBC are signing off on this, I mean, it's pretty gutsy for a kid to lie like that. I would assume that they must have asked their family member who is in the CBC or who works for the congresswoman, you know, should I just check -- which -- what should I do here?

I'm assuming somebody told them, yes, just go ahead and say you're not a -- a family member.

M. COOPER: I wasn't there. I can't answer that question, unfortunately.

A. COOPER: But -- but how are you investigating this? That's what I don't get. I mean, you say -- I know -- I understand you say you take it seriously, and I believe you on that. How are you investigating this?

M. COOPER: We're in the process of going back through the applications. We are talking with our chairman of the board, Representative Donald Payne. We're talking to our board members to go -- to go back and look at the applications and to certify that all of the applications, indeed, were filled out correctly and all of the students were qualified for the funds that were released to their schools.

A. COOPER: Muriel Cooper, I really appreciate you coming on. We had asked the congresswoman to come on. She wasn't available. I appreciate you standing up and talking about the foundation. Thank you.

M. COOPER: Thank you very much for having me.

A. COOPER: I want to bring in Melanie Sloan now, executive director of CREW, Citizens for Responsibilities and Ethics in Washington; and Todd Gillman, Washington bureau chief of "The Dallas Morning News."

Todd, let me start with you. You guys have been digging into this thing. You guys blew the lid off this story. What new have you found out?

TODD GILLMAN, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Well, in the past few hours, we have developed a bunch of new information, part of it courtesy of Muriel, who gave us the list of scholarship recipients from last year, which we did not previously have. And four of the six people, two of the congresswoman's grandsons and the two children of her aide were on the recipient list for last year.

So, that actually brings to 23 the number of scholarships that she has awarded. Roughly a third of the scholarships that Congresswoman Johnson has awarded in the past five years went to people related to her or to her aide.

The other new information that we have tonight is, just a couple of hours ago, the congresswoman issued a statement, promising that she would repay all of the scholarship money that went to these relatives within this week, and saying that she would change the process by which she -- by which she screens and selects winners, so that it would be a little more -- to avoid any possible conflict of interests, she would have independent people picking the winners.

A. COOPER: Theoretically, not members of her staff, because clearly one member of her staff's kids were on this thing.

Melanie, you know, some people say, well, look, this is maybe a couple of tens of thousands of dollars. More than $20,000 I think has been documented so far, probably more now. Some people say, well, look, is this really a big deal?

Why does this matter?

MELANIE SLOAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: Well, it matters because the Congressional Black Caucus is a major institution in America.

The foundation is revered in African-American society and by society at large. And it's very important that when these kids are getting scholarships and think that they can get scholarships that they think they're on the same footing as everyone else and that, if the CBC is going to be awarding scholarships, it's not going to CBC members' relatives.

A. COOPER: Todd, you know this district. Does it make sense that there weren't enough qualified applicants, which is what this congresswoman initially told your paper?

GILLMAN: It's pretty hard to believe. The congresswoman told me last week that virtually -- not virtually -- she told me directly that everyone who applied to her office for a scholarship that -- who was qualified got a scholarship, got a piece of this $10,000-per-year pot that the foundation gives to each member of the Black Caucus.

It is hard to believe that if this was a widely publicized scholarship opportunity, that there would only have been 10 or 12 applicants per year.

A. COOPER: Melanie, what -- the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, I know there was a very critical article in "The Times" earlier this year, basically saying they give out $600,000, you know, in -- in -- in scholarships in one year, but they spent more than that -- I think they spent $700,000 on catering for a party that they threw.

What is -- is that a fair criticism? And, I mean, what is the foundation for?

SLOAN: Well, I think there have been a lot of criticisms leveled at the foundation over the past year, beginning with that "Times" story in February.

The CBC Foundation first says that they're spending all this money on scholarships, but really they're most known for a very lavish party they throw every fall that's really a three-day event.

In addition to that, the CBC is mainly -- the foundation is mainly funded by big corporations with major legislative interests. And they help write some of the position papers that the CBC then adopts -- CBC members then adopt.

So, it appears that there is a big correlation between the money that goes to the foundation and some of the positions of CBC members. So, that's been another criticism. It's --

A. COOPER: The CBC Foundation also says, well, look, we do seminars for -- for future leaders, for African-Americans. We -- you know, we bring in hundreds of interns into Washington every year. We do more than just the scholarship.

SLOAN: And -- and that is all terrific. But it seems that more money has been spent on the parties recently than on the internships than the scholarships.

And now this is yet another piece of information about the scholarships that really raises some troubling questions. I mean, is the CBC Foundation auditing who gets these scholarships? I mean, here, we have one bad instance -- or, in fact, 23, as Todd just told you -- but are other foundation members -- how are other CBC members giving away their scholarships?

And this is really an opportunity for the CBC to delve into this and make sure it has even-handed standards --

A. COOPER: Right.

SLOAN: -- so that kids in all the districts can apply and be fairly judged.

A. COOPER: And, right now, they just say, well, we're going to have our board look at it. But -- but this congresswoman was -- was on the board.

Todd does it -- I mean, you -- you actually talked to her. Does it -- do you believe when she said that she didn't know the rules? Because it's not just the rule about not giving it to kids in your district; it's -- to me, anybody in a position of public trust or in any public position knows, you can't do stuff for your relatives.

GILLMAN: It really -- let me -- let me put it this way. This story has generated more readership than any story I have ever written and posted on our Web site.

And we have gotten hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of comments. And, overwhelmingly, the public does not believe that the congresswoman had no idea that there was a conflict of interests here.

A. COOPER: Well, Todd, "The Dallas Morning News" has been -- I mean, you broke this story. You guys have been on top of it. You continue to be.

Todd Gillman, I appreciate you coming on and telling us about what you have just learned.

And, Melanie Sloan, as well, thanks very much.

We will continue to follow this.

Let us know what you think. The live chat is up and running at

We invite the congresswoman to be on any time.

Up next: breaking news on what authorities found in two men's checked luggage on a flight from Chicago, what appears to be mock bombs and what they suspect the men were actually doing with them. Was it a practice bombing run to maybe take down an airliner? We will have our latest from on the ground.

And later: Glenn Beck at his rally this weekend with Sarah Palin in Washington. It wasn't political, he says. So, what was it about? We're going to talk to someone who was there and someone who is sharply critical of it -- two different views. You can decide for yourself.

We'll be right back.


A. COOPER: Breaking news right now. And the more we learn about this one, the more concerning it gets. Two men on a United Airlines flight from Chicago taken into custody after landing in Amsterdam. Who they are and what they tried to get on board and what authorities say they believe they were up to is raising some pretty chilling questions.

Nic Robertson has been working his sources. He joins us now with the latest from London.

Nic, what -- what are you hearing?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, what I'm getting is from U.S. law enforcement sources, what they're saying is, Ahmed al-Soofi, one of the men here, boarded a flight in Birmingham, went to -- Birmingham, Alabama -- flew to -- flew to -- O'Hare. Then he apparently had checked his luggage on through to Dulles, which was expected to go on to Dubai and then on to Yemen.

The other man who joined them on the flight that he ultimately took from O'Hare to Amsterdam, the other man originally boarded his flight in Memphis. That's Hezem al Murisi.

Now, the two men then picked up by Dutch authorities, but it's what was in their baggage, their checked baggage, that has created so much concern. Al-Soofi, known to be carrying $7,000 with him when his baggage was checked on that Birmingham flight to O'Hare; it was found to contain small plastic bottles strapped to cell phones.

There were box cutters, knives in there, too, other small plastic shampoo bottles with watches strapped to them, now, in of itself, none of this dangerous, none of it prohibited in hold baggage, which was why he was allowed to go forward, which was why his baggage was allowed to go forward, and we're told by those same sources, no danger to passengers on board.

But this is -- this is when it all gets surprising, not only why is this stuff traveling, but the fact that he then, al-Soofi, gets on the flight to Amsterdam and not where his baggage is checked through to Dulles and on from there, which is where al-Soofi's baggage, some of it, ended up, there and not Amsterdam, Anderson.

A. COOPER: So, wait. I don't understand. So, he got on a flight in Amsterdam, but what happened to his bags?

ROBERTSON: He got on the flight in Birmingham --

A. COOPER: Right.

ROBERTSON: -- flew to O'Hare, yes, but had checked his bags through to Dulles and onward connections Dubai and Yemen.


ROBERTSON: But he didn't make those flights. Out of O'Hare, he flew to -- he flew to Amsterdam. So, you've got several things that are going wrong here.

He shouldn't have been able to get on a flight without his bags. His bags shouldn't have been able to get on a flight to Dulles without him. Obviously, that's raising concerns.

But the real concerns are, what was actually going on? Why was -- why was he carrying these very suspicious, as you say, mock bombs?

A. COOPER: Were they legally in the United States?

ROBERTSON: One of them was legal. And we don't know which one. One was a U.S. resident legally there. The other had overstayed his -- his visa. So, he was technically a visa overstay.

We also know that -- that the baggage belonging to one of these men tested positive for explosives. But experts say that that's common and you can't read too much into it -- into it. But it will have to go in for further testing, too.

A. COOPER: And wait. And so I assume they -- they -- did they X-ray these bags in the United States, and -- and they -- and nevertheless allowed them on the plane?

ROBERTSON: Because there were no explosives in them. The plastic bottles were empty, didn't have explosives. Box cutters, knives, watches, cell phones, you can put all those in your checked luggage.

I mean, what's the real concern here? Was this terrorists on a dry run? Were they checking something into the hold that they wanted to see, could it -- could they get it in the hold?

A. COOPER: Right.

ROBERTSON: Could they send it in one direction and a passenger go in another direction?

A. COOPER: Right.

ROBERTSON: You remember a couple years back, of course, the liquid explosives plot. Originally, that was liquid explosives to be taken in hand baggage. Now, that -- that plot was stopped.

Multiple aircraft were planned to have been blown up flying from Europe into the United States and Canada. That was stopped. That's why none of us can carry big water bottles onto aircraft now.

But, here, it seems a new and different tactic, putting these items in the hold --

A. COOPER: Right.

ROBERTSON: That's what's got -- that's what's got law enforcement officials concerned here.

A. COOPER: Well, great they caught them if that is in fact what it was.

We'll continue to follow it, a lot we don't know.

Nic Robertson, I appreciate it.

Coming up next: faith, politics, and the power of Glenn Beck, the rally at the Lincoln Memorial this weekend and a reaction to Beck's message and reach ahead. We'll talk to "Rolling Stone" reporter Matt Taibbi and Dana Loesch with the National Tea Party Coalition.

Also tonight, we're watching Hurricane Earl. It is now a very dangerous Cat 4 storm. At this moment, it's tracking to hit the East Coast this Labor Day weekend. We'll have much more on the huge storm and what it may mean for your travel plans this weekend.

We'll be right back.


A. COOPER: Glenn Beck -- Glenn Beck today defying critics to find the political message behind his weekend rally in Washington. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the event. The exact number isn't known, a remarkable revival-style rally, where the focus was on faith.

Here's Glenn Beck, some of him addressing the crowd.


GLENN BECK, HOST, FOX NEWS HOST AND RALLY ORGANIZER: Are we so jaded as a nation, are we so pessimistic, that we no longer believe in the individual and the power of the individual? Do we no longer believe in dreams and the power of one person making a difference?

I testify to you here and now, one man can change the world.


A. COOPER: Sarah Palin also spoke, saying she was there not as a politician, but as the mother of a combat vet.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Many of us today, we are worried about what we face. Sometimes, our challenges, they just seem insurmountable. But here together, at the crossroads of our history, may this day -- may this day be the change point.

Look around you. You're not alone. You are Americans.


A. COOPER: The event held 47 years ago to the day and in the same place as Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech wasn't without controversy.

Joining us now is Matt Taibbi, political reporter for "Rolling Stone" magazine, and Tea Party blogger Dana Loesch.

Dana, I appreciate you being with us as well. Dana, watching the event this weekend, I was really struck that, in some ways, it reminded me of Promise Keeper events that I had gone to years ago.

Were you -- not surprised, but did you know it was going to be such a -- sort of -- so much religion? Did you expect that?

DANA LOESCH, ORGANIZER, NATIONWIDE TEA PARTY COALITION: I think, Anderson, I was most surprised by the -- and I was really impressed.

I mean, I expected there to -- I -- I honestly expected there to be a little bit of politics in it, but there wasn't. And as far as was I surprised that it was a real faith-based event? Not really.

Just looking at everything leading up to the event, looking about restoring honor, realizing where our rights originate in this country, which is what makes it so great, that we -- men doesn't give us rights, that they -- they come from a higher power, I wasn't really surprised that it was so -- that it was focused on faith.

It was really positive. It was really uplifting. Everybody was super nice, considering it was a frillion degrees outside.

A. COOPER: A frillion?

LOESCH: It was -- it was a nice event.

A. COOPER: I haven't heard that term.

LOESCH: A frillion, yes.

A. COOPER: I like that term.

LOESCH: New scientific term.

A. COOPER: Yes, exactly. I like that. I'm going to use it.

Matt, you were not at the event, but, I mean, were -- were you surprised by -- by the faith-based nature of it?


I think, you know, the Tea Party, by and large, has not been a religious-driven movement. I think this is just Glenn Beck's own personal weirdness that informed that particular aspect of the event.

A. COOPER: Why -- now, why do you say weirdness?

TAIBBI: Well, I think it's just part of his own personal mythology, as a very religious person. Like Sarah Palin, it's a big part of his public persona and it's a big part of the message that he's trying to convey.

A. COOPER: Do you think it was a political event? TAIBBI: When Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin give a speech to 100,000 white people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, it's a political rally.

I mean, if Barney the dinosaur or the cast of "Entourage" gives that speech, it's not a political rally. But in the context of everything that he's been doing for the last year, with this very racially-pointed propaganda that he's been pushing, it's definitely a political rally.

A. COOPER: Dana, do you think -- I mean, you say you were surprised that there -- there weren't signs which Beck had specifically said don't have. Do you see politics at play here, Dana?

LOESCH: I didn't. I didn't see politics at play at all.

And I wonder if Matt would still consider it to be a political rally even though Dr. Alveda King gave one of the most brilliant and beautiful speeches that I had ever heard. It was all about unity. And it was about how we are Americans, period. We are all in the exact same boat together.

I didn't find it political. And I think, if -- if people perhaps maybe have a problem with it, maybe it's just that they have a problem with Glenn Beck, and not so much the event and the idea behind the event itself.

A. COOPER: Dana, the -- I mean, what -- what those who believe it was political will say is, look, any time you have, you know, Glenn Beck and -- and Sarah Palin saying, we need to restore honor, it implies that honor has been lost, and the implication is, it's been lost by this administration or by events in recent years.

Do you -- do you -- do you see that, or do you think that's just nitpicking?

LOESCH: I didn't get that from -- from the speeches that were made. When they were speaking about restoring honor, everyone was indicted. Every single American citizen was indicted. Because I think at some point, we've all -- conservatives, liberals. This wasn't about identity politics.

This was about we all, as American people, have grown apathetic. And we all contributed to the state of the economy. We've all contributed to the problems that we are in, because we've either -- we were silent; we've all allowed it to happen at some point.

And that really was the theme. And I was -- you know, I like Glenn Beck, I think as a radio broadcaster, I respect his talent in broadcasting, both television and radio. I was really impressed that he was able to separate that and that he kept it out of this event. It was -- I think it took some skill to do that.

A. COOPER: You just don't buy the separation on that? TAIBBI: Well clearly, he toned down his usual rhetoric. But, again, you have to take this weekend's events in the context of everything that he's been saying in the past year.

Glenn Beck for the last year has not been pointing the finger at all Americans for the troubles that we're in. He's been very pointedly pointing the finger at the Obama administration with very racially-divisive commentary.

A. COOPER: It was interesting that he back-tracked his statement, you know, right after he gave an interview to Chris Wallace, and he said -- you know, he basically said that he had a big mouth and he shouldn't have said the racist comment that he said about President Obama?

TAIBBI: Right. Well, he did -- he back-tracked it. And clearly, he was -- he was very cognizant of the criticism as he performed this rally because it was nowhere near the temperature that he usually performs at.

He didn't have the usual statements like Barack Obama is a racist and has a deep-seated hatred of white people. He didn't say things like, you know, pretty soon they're going to turn the fire hoses on us and let loose the German shepherds. None of that rhetoric was there.

I almost thought some of the people in the crowd was disappointed that it wasn't. But again, in the context of that, it had incredible meaning for this rally.

A. COOPER: Where does it go from here, Dana? In terms of, you know, I heard Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin saying, you know, it starts today. Where does that energy, that enthusiasm move?

LOESCH: Well, I hope that it would -- you know, and honestly, I think from this event, I hope that we see more events like this in the future with such a focus on unity and such a focus on where our rights originate.

I think this energy, I think that it was about channeling people to take some action, to make some progress going into midterms and perhaps even carrying it all the way to 2012. I think it was really asking Americans, hey, you have a responsibility as a citizen of this country to act honorably, politically and in other arenas. So remember that when you're out there, discussing liberty evangelism or what have you. That's what I took away from it.

A. COOPER: Should Democrats be scared?

TAIBBI: No. I mean, I think in the short term, definitely, there are clearly going to be some losses for the Democrats because of all this political energy. But in the long term, this Tea Party movement is going to kill the Republican Party because it's going to make it impossible to win that center ground.

You're not going to be able to win nominations without appealing to this group of people. But if you do appeal to this group of people, you're going to lose every non-white voter in the country and a large percentage of these are independent, middle-of-the road voters. It's just -- it's a very, very dicey situation for the Republicans.

A. COOPER: Dana, I'll give you the final thought.

LOESCH: Yes. I would disagree with Matt strongly on that, because almost every single poll that has come out since spring of last year shows -- Rasmussen, Gallup, Quinnipiac -- by and large, independents and moderates are flocking from the Democrat Party. Not just those, but also voters from the black community, as well.

We have more than ever -- in any other election period -- we've had more black conservatives running on Republican tickets in primaries. And they are doing exceedingly well. Charles Weller (ph), Allen West. We also have Cedra Crenshaw in Illinois.

I think what we're seeing is a really true awakening with this grassroots movement, that people are realizing for the first time that individual liberty is applicable to everyone. It is not patented by one side or the other. And that is -- that's my hope for this event, and that's what I've been seeing.

A. COOPER: I said it was final thought, but I'll let you respond if you want.

TAIBBI: You're naming individual black politicians as though it's representative of, you know, widespread black attitude. It's just not the case. I just don't see large numbers --

LOESCH: Well, Matt, perhaps if people like you and the liberal media quit down -- quit trying to diminish the contributions of black conservatives in the political sphere more would feel -- more would have the courage to speak out.

TAIBBI: This like one of those things when you see your crazy uncle taking his pants off at Thanksgiving. You don't know whether to laugh or cry. It's so incredibly offensive, this whole business.

LOESCH: So you name call?

TAIBBI: I just -- I don't know how to respond to that. This whole thing -- you don't know whether they're being disingenuous or clueless in not seeing how incredibly offensive this entire event is. And it's really sad. And I think it's --

LOESCH: How is it offensive? You found prayer offensive? You found Dr. Alveda King speaking offensive?

TAIBBI: No. I find 100,000 white people who are gathering on the steps on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial --

LOESCH: Were you at the event? You can validate that every single person there was white?

TAIBBI: No. I'm sure -- I'm sure there were a few scattered minorities at this event.

LOESCH: Where do you base that -- where do you get that assumption from, then?

TAIBBI: Because I've been to numerous Tea Party rallies. I've been covering this phenomenon for a year.


LOESCH: You've been to other events, right. Were you -- were you at this event and you can validate for sure that every single person in attendance --

TAIBBI: I watched it on television.

LOESCH: Because that's exactly like being there, watching it on television. Excellent.

A. COOPER: All right. I appreciate both of you guys coming on. Matt Taibbi thanks very much.

Dana Loesch. Dana, I should just point out, just for accuracy's sake, Dr. Alveda King, she's not an actual doctor. It's an honorary degree. So just -- we -- as a point of reference. She's not --

LOESCH: Yes. She references herself that way. I respect that.

A. COOPER: I know, I know. From what I --

LOESCH: I understand that. Thank you.

A. COOPER: All right. Dana, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you. And Matt Taibbi, as well. Thanks very much.

TAIBBI: Thank you

A. COOPER: Coming up, Hurricane Earl grows into a Category 4 storm and threatens Labor Day weekend plans along ports of the East Coast. Chad Myers is tracking it. We'll check in with him.

Also, in Chile, efforts to save those 33 trapped miners hitting a snag. Why the rescue mission is now on hold, at least temporarily.

And here at home, a look at how miners prepare for the unthinkable; training to survive when hope is nowhere in sight. Tonight on 360.


A. COOPER: Hurricane season is heating up in the Atlantic tonight. Hurricane Earl is upgraded to a Category 4, with a new threat, Tropical Storm Fiona, forming right behind it. Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now from Atlanta with the latest -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, what I have behind me here -- you had it kind of on the side there -- is the radar picture out of Puerto Rico. So there's Puerto Rico right there. And then there would be San Juan, (INAUDIBLE) and then Ponce.

But this is not a satellite representation shot from 22,000 miles in space. There is a radar sight right there, shooting out in all directions, finding this amazing eye, 135 miles per hour, inside that eye wall right now. There is, in fact, a hurricane-hunter aircraft flying through it, and it may actually find different winds than that in the next hour or so. But for now, that is what we have.

Here's what the forecast has looked like now for the past week' kind of turning off to the right. This storm has wanted to turn the entire time. Here's Bermuda. Here's the East Coast. So the turn, the turn, the turn -- the turn that never happened.

This storm has literally gone straight to Puerto Rico, a little bit north. The farther we get into now with the current forecast is -- look how close this is to the U.S. East Coast. And in fact, now, part of the East Coast, in that western part of the potential cone. That cone of uncertainty.

So could it be here? Could it be a significant storm for the U.S.? Absolutely. It's 135 miles per hour. It's forecast to be stronger than that.

Let me show you this, 150. That's 150 miles per hour by tomorrow afternoon, right there, north of the D.R., north of Haiti. We're not expecting Haiti to get a lot with this, but it certainly could rain, even here where they don't need any rain whatsoever.

But the problem is this western part of the cone is all the way from Boston to New York to D.C. and into the Carolinas. Boy, that would really be a big problem. We're going to have big waves and big surf. But other than that, we don't want this to make landfall -- Anderson.

A. COOPER: All right. Chad, thanks very much.

We'll continue, obviously, to follow. A lot of -- a lot of folks' plans will be upset by that.

Let's get caught now up on some other important stories we're following tonight. Isha Sesay joins us in the "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.


Well, President Obama today blasted Senate Republicans for blocking a bill to help small business owners, calling the opposition, quote, "pure partisan politics". The president pushed for new measures to jump start the economy. The Republican leaders, well, they were quick to fire back, criticizing the President for growing the national debt, not the jobs he promised.

Well, tomorrow, President Obama will deliver a major Oval Office address, this one on the seven-year conflict in Iraq.

Meantime, Vice President Biden, he arrived in Iraq today for a ceremony, marking the end of the U.S. combat mission there.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro reveals new details about the health scare that drove him from office four years ago. In a rare interview, the 84-year-old admitted he was at, quote, "death's door and didn't want to live". The former president gave no details, however, of what illness he suffered from.

And bad news for teetotallers: drinking could be good your health. A study out today suggests drinkers, even heavy drinkers, may outlive those who do without.

A. COOPER: What? I don't know.

SESAY: And -- yes, I'm not so sure about this one, Anderson. But you know what? You know how they always say you should read the small print on these things?


SESAY: I know you're thinking, "Where is she going with this?" But according to the authors of this document, you may live longer, but it could leave to mishaps such as, say, you know, cheating on your spouse in a drunken haze. So, to drink or not to drink.

A. COOPER: Yes. I want your accent, by the way.

SESAY: You do?

A. COOPER: Yes, I do. It's very cool.

SESAY: We can work on that.

A. COOPER: I will work on that, yes.

SESAY: I'll see you in a bit.

A. COOPER: Isha, tally ho. Thank you.

Next on 360, what it's like to be trapped in a mine. "Tally ho" -- I know, lame. We're going to put you inside what it's like to be that deep underground, with a simulator used to train miners for the worst-case scenario. That's coming up.


A. COOPER: In Chile, a setback in the efforts to save those 33 trapped miners. The drilling of a rescue shaft to reach the men was set to begin today, but we're told it didn't happen. With each passing day, the reality is settling in that it could be four months to bring them up from 2,300 feet from below the earth.

They've been in a 500-square-foot space since August 5th; appear to be in good spirits. They also have more some -- a little bit more room to walk in some of the tunnels underground.

Over the weekend, one miner wrote a letter proposing to his fiancee. "When I get out," he said, "let's buy the dress, and we'll get married." We all hope that comes true.

For now, they continue to endure an almost unimaginable existence. What is happening in Chile is very unusual, obviously.

Here in the U.S., there's training for trapped miners with no help or lifeline. Gary Tuchman investigates.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What would it be like to be trapped in a mine after an accident? We went to find out in what was a gold and silver mine west of Denver, now used by the Colorado School of Mines for training.

(on camera): Being trapped alive is the ultimate nightmare, but it's something that all miners must train for. With the help of the mining experts here, we're about to do a very realistic simulation.

(voice-over): There has been an explosion in our mine. Smoke is billowing. We need to find the refuge chamber, a safe room all U.S. mines are supposed to have. We're led by Bob Ferriter, one of the country's top mine safety experts.

(on camera): I can't see a thing.

BOB FERRITER, MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH EXPERT: I know. It's pretty difficult. It's a pretty -- pretty big, smoky fire. Could be tires on an alley --

TUCHMAN: You guys coming? Everyone back there? OK?

FERRITER: Yes, I got the rear.


FERRITER: Put your hand up against the rib. That will direct you where you're going. That will help you find your way.

The smoke is getting pretty -- not too much farther, we're almost there.

OK. Here we are. Here's the refuge chamber; everybody in. I'll be the last one; one, two, three, four, five. I'll be the last one. OK. We'll come in.

OK, Gary, if you'd bolt down that door. Clint, if you'd just help Gary wrap around that. OK.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Mines are supposed to have phones that work during emergencies.

FERRITER: OK. Mine office, we've got a lot of thick smoke down here. I heard an explosion. I'm not sure what happened. But I've got myself and five other people in the refuge chamber.

OK. What are the injuries, any twisted ankles? Any cut fingers, broken bones? OK, everybody's good.

TUCHMAN: Without fresh air, we may only have five or six hours to live.

FERRITER: Now that we do have the compression going on -- you can just barely hear it in the background -- we can stay in here longer, because that is the fresh air that's being fed into this chamber. And that will give us fresh air for as long as the compressor is on. So we could probably stay in here several days.

TUCHMAN: One of the people in the chamber with us is a University of Denver psychologist who had explained to us beforehand that the miners in Chile are going through uncharted psychological territory. But --

KIM GORGENS, PSYCHOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER: Their communication with their families, with the ground team is going to keep their psychological functioning buoyed.

TUCHMAN: When we were done in the mine, I asked her this.

(on camera): What do you think would happen to you if you were stuck in here for days?

GORGENS: Boy, this is freakish, when you're thinking about how many cubic tons of rock are between you and the sunlight. I would unravel inside of a few minutes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): As we walk out of the mine, we think about the miners in Chile who are safer now, but have to think of a rescue, not in terms of minutes, hours, or days, but in weeks or months.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Idaho Springs, Colorado.


A. COOPER: Coming up on 360, from the floodwaters of Katrina to the floor plans for a new home. Five years since the storms, the resurgence of New Orleans continues. It's our "Building up America" report next.


A. COOPER: In tonight's "Building up America" report, bringing hopes and homes to New Orleans. Five years after Katrina, the city continues its rebirth and we're seeing it everywhere.

Tonight, we want to show you one example of what the soaring spirit (ph) is with a non-profit organization that's making a difference in neighborhoods that were devastated by the storm. Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Katrina hit New Orleans working class neighborhoods took the worst of it. More fatalities, more flooding and less hope for navigating the bewildering tide of expenses and red tape to rebuild.

In the Ninth Ward, Florine Jenkins (ph) felt it.

(on camera): Did you have any clue what to do?


FOREMAN (voice-over): In the Gentilly neighborhood, Nikki Najiola saw it, too.

NIKKI NAJIOLA, BUILD NOW: Did you tear down your house, or you put it back together? If put it back together, do you have to elevate it?

If you do -- or if you are going to elevate it, how high are you going to elevate it? And where is that money going to come from? And do you take it from this pool of money or from that?

It was just so overwhelming.

FOREMAN: That's why now Nikki manages a unique non-profit project called Build Now. Simply put, it is a construction company that offers an array of modestly priced home designs, an endless supply of free advice to anyone trying to build and a commitment to bring the working class neighborhoods back.

BEN SEYMOUR, BUILD NOW: We are actually currently in the living room.

FOREMAN: Ben Seymour is in charge of construction and says not only are the homes designed to stand far above floodwaters and resist gales with eve-less roofs and anchored porches, but the designs can also be easily adjusted; larger or smaller to fit the needs of families minding their money.

SEYMOUR: You can size it down, still gives you a big open feel. It is built to what you are going to use.

FOREMAN (on camera): In every way these really are working class family homes.

SEYMOUR: Absolutely. Absolutely.

FOREMAN (voice-over): This is not a giveaway. The clients pay fair value on average around $150,000. But just having a guide to the baffling process of permits, insurance and financing in the wake of Katrina, was a godsend for Miss Jenkins.

(on camera): Which house do you like better, your old house or this one?

JENKINS: This one. This one. (INAUDIBLE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): And one at a time, that is how they hope to keep turning empty lots into homes again.

Tom Foreman, CNN, New Orleans.


A. COOPER: Five years. That does it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts now.