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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Showdown With Iran; Mississippi's Pardon Mess; Republican Race Tightening
Aired January 13, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.
And we begin tonight with breaking news, the first up-close look at a potential showdown in the making with Iran involving the lives of American sailors and a big chunk of the world's oil supply. Take a look. This is newly released Pentagon video taken last week from an American warship in the Straight of Hormuz, now one of two close encounters with Iranian gunboats.
The boats came within 500 yards of the transport ship USS New Orleans and according to the Navy did not respond to signals or voice queries. Iran, as you know, has been threatening to close the strait as the global pressure grows over its nuclear program -- 17 million barrels of oil flow through the strait every day. It's a choke point. And as American officials have been warning privately and publicly, it is also a serious flash point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": What about if they decide to block us off at the Straits of Hormuz?
LEON PANETTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We made very clear that the United States will not tolerate the blocking of the Straits of Hormuz. That's another red line for us and that we will respond to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We will respond to them, he says.
The question tonight is what will Iran do next? What happens then, and what's being done right now to head off a crisis?
Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon, Jill Dougherty covering the diplomatic angle. And on the phone, Kirk Lippold, former commander of the USS Cole.
Barbara, what do you believe the be the intent of the Iranians, or what did the U.S. believe the intent of the Iranians was? Were they trying to bait the U.S. military, provoke an altercation?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, maybe just a little bit of both. The thinking is that the Iranians really were not looking for a shooting match. They were going to break off, but they were going to cause a little heart-stopping action before they did that. One of the things here is, look, the Iranians gained some intelligence by getting so close to U.S. Navy ships.
They were able to gauge the U.S. military response as they came at those ships. That gives them valuable information if the next time it's not just a cat and mouse game.
COOPER: What has been the reaction at the Pentagon?
STARR: Well, a lot of concern. Now, top officials will tell you that, look, these kinds of activities happen out in the Persian Gulf, that they deal with them, that they have a very strong stance, and that the provocative activity mainly comes from the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which operates these fast boats.
But out there on the high seas, if you are a commander of a Navy ship and you see three boats coming at you that way, and they come within 500 yards, that's your reality and as a commander you have to decide very fast what you're going to do about it.
COOPER: Well, let's talk to the former commander of the USS Cole right now, Commander Lippold.
Everyone knows the tragedy of the Cole, just how dangerous small vessels can be. What's your assessment of the video, of the action by the Iranian navy?
KIRK LIPPOLD, FORMER COMMANDER, USS COLE: Well, I think clearly they were trying to provoke a response by the United States Navy. They were trying to gauge and judge, see what our reaction would be, how close they could get, and what kind of actions we were taking in anticipation of them continuing to close or whether we would back off, whether we would fire warning shots, what warnings we would give.
Clearly, the United States Navy has indicated that we attempted communications with them. They refused to respond. And at 500 yards, they chose to break off the attack. But, again, it is judging, probing and checking to see how close they may come. Every Navy ship has an inherit right to defend itself.
I'm sure there is within our rules of engagement a no-go bubble that if those boats were to close inside of, you would have warning shots fired, and then if they continued to close, commanding officers of those ships must make a determination, sometimes on a split-second notice, that they present a clear and present danger, it is indicating hostile intent or a hostile action. And they will take action as they see necessary to disable or destroy those boats from getting in close where they could present us with a danger.
COOPER: Jill Dougherty, you can count -- there's so many incidents over generations where diplomatic issues have been played out at sea with these kind of provocative actions, so many incidents at sea that have caused larger military conflicts. What message is the State Department sending now to the Iranian regime both privately and publicly?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think it boils down to, don't even think about it. And that message is getting out both, you saw, with Secretary Panetta saying there are these red lines.
And then, also, I can tell you here at the State Department they are pulling out all the stops, using every type of channel that they have, because, remember, there are no diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran. So they have to do it via other countries. The main one, of course, usually is the Swiss because they're the protecting power. But there are other countries. There's Qatar, Oman, Turkey, Japan.
COOPER: This is a time of heightened tensions in many different areas. This is kind of a multidimensional chess game that has been going on, because you have a former U.S. Marine who has now been arrested in Iran, who has been sentenced to death. His family's from Iran originally. He claims, his family claims he was just visiting his grandmothers. Iran says he was spying for the United States.
You also have the assassination, yet another assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Someone drove by his car in a motorcycle, attached a magnetic bomb to his car, blew him and his driver up.
So explain, Barbara, the Strait of Hormuz, why it is so strategically important to the United States.
STARR: Strategically important. You said it yourself, Anderson, the 17 million barrels of oil for the world that flow through there every day.
The thinking is that it's a major reason the Iranians won't shut it down. It would be economic suicide for themselves. They rely on it to get their oil out. The one piece of really substantial leverage the U.S. may have economically are the Persian Gulf allies that Jill was mentioning. They are very quietly talking to the Saudis, trying to get the Saudis to convince the Iranians to take a deep breath, because if you shut down the Strait of Hormuz, economic suicide for Iran, economic suicide for all of those Persian Gulf countries that rely on the channel to get a lot of their oil out, but also for commercial and maritime shipping.
COOPER: Commander Lippold, appreciate your time and expertise, Barbara Starr, Jill Dougherty the reporting. Thank you.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to circles. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.
Up next, the pardon mess in Mississippi. Authorities now know where some of these pardoned killers are tonight and one of them is talking exclusively to CNN -- what he has to say about the uproar coming up. And later, doctors who studied to become specialists at one the most prestigious medical centers were cheating on the big exam. And apparently the cheating was not only common, they say, but encouraged. We investigate on that.
And Isha Sesay is here -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, he's a prime suspect in Natalee Holloway's disappearance, but it was another woman's death that put Joran van der Sloot behind bars. He was sentenced in Peru today.
We'll tell you what he got -- when 360 continues.
COOPER: Tonight, outrage in Mississippi. The outrage is over four convicted killers, one of whom is only talking to CNN, all of whom were freed from prison with full pardons by the departing Governor Haley Barbour.
Now, they got out before a block judged the release of any more prisoners. But "Keeping Them Honest," did the governor disregard procedure as well as his own state's constitution in setting them free?
Any way you look at it, it has turned into a real mess. The freed killers are Joseph Ozment, Charles Hooker David Gatlin, and Anthony McCray. Charles Hooker and David Gatlin are in contact with authorities. So is Anthony McCray.
Marine Savidge caught up with him at a relative's home in Missouri.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY MCCRAY, CONVICTED MURDERER PARDONED BY GOVERNOR: Everybody deserves a second chance in life.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think people should be angry at Governor Barbour for...
MCCRAY: No, no, sir, because he treated us like we were his children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Anthony McCray on CNN. You will hear more of that exclusive interview shortly when Martin Savidge join us. He actually tracked down McCray.
Anthony McCray since his wife's killing was accidental. The judge who tried his case says otherwise. But there's no dispute about what one of the other pardoned killers, David Gatlin, did to his estranged wife and her friend, Randy Walker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANDY WALKER, VICTIM: I heard the first gunshot. He had stepped up to Tammy, with her holding that baby in a cradle position, and shot her with that baby's head no more than eight inches from where he shot her, I mean just real close.
And he came around to the edge of the bed, put the gun between my eyes, and I turned my head sideways. And instead of shooting me in the forehead, he shot me in the side. So that probably saved my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, Randy Walker now lives in fear that David Gatlin is going to try to finish what he started. He thought that Gatlin would be behind bars for years to come. Instead, he and the others are free.
Governor Barbour actually granted pardons to more than 200 convicts in all. The vast majority were already out on parole. Twenty-one others were still incarcerated. Now, Wednesday, a court issued a temporary injunction, blocking their release because there was reason to believe that some prisoners didn't follow the right procedures.
Under Section 124 of Mississippi's constitution, inmates seeking pardons have to run notices in local papers for 30 days. Anthony McCray says he didn't run any notices, and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says Governor Barbour didn't do what he was supposed to do before issuing pardons, which was make sure the proper procedures were being followed, including by the inmates.
Now we've been covering this story from the beginning. We spoke to the attorney general, Hood, on Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: Former Governor Barbour, he kind of ran the state and the governor's office like Boss Hogg. I mean, he didn't follow the law. This is a very simply constitutional provision, and Governor Barbour just didn't even follow it.
I mean, it's very clear that he had to have this information. He didn't obtain it before he signed these pardons. And that's caused a public safety issue. These families are afraid out here. And these victims have been through a terrible amount. It's a slap in the face to all in the state of Mississippi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, obviously we asked Governor Barbour to come on the program, give his side of the story. He declined. All four killers worked in the governor's mansion under the prison's -- the prison's trustee program. So Governor Barbour knew them. We wanted to know whether he thinks he followed the right procedures in pardoning them, and whether he showed good judgment. His people initially said he was busy. And when we reached out again today, we got no reply at all. He did, however, go on FOX.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY BARBOUR (R), FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: The reason they work at the mansion is the experts in correction say that people who commit a crime of passion, a murder, as a crime of passion, are the least likely to ever commit another crime.
You know, when my grandchildren are over at the governor's mansion, we trust them to play with and to be looked out for by these people. If I trusted them to be around my grandchildren, I think that's makes a pretty plain statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's Governor Barbour tonight.
Joining us now with the latest and more of his exclusive interview is Martin Savidge.
Martin, first of all, how were you able to find Mr. McCray?
SAVIDGE: Actually, we had gone into that area, that neighborhood, to do a profile on Jennifer McCray. That's the woman who Anthony McCray had killed, his wife. We wanted to talk to the victim's family to find out what they thought of this pardon and to feel, really, what they thought about the governor's pardoning process.
In doing that, though, we found out that somebody had said, you know what, McCray's actually in the neighborhood. Well, we couldn't believe it, but we went and checked and knocked on the door, and sure enough he was there. It actually just took asking the right questions to the right people.
COOPER: And he was in prison for murdering his wife. You asked him about that. What did he tell you?
SAVIDGE: Well, when you ask him about it, he'll tell you that it was all an accident. In fact, well, here, I will talk about that later, but listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: Did you mean to kill Jennifer?
MCCRAY: No, I didn't. We were tussling over the gun. 0. 25 automatic just went off.
SAVIDGE: But she was shot in the back. MCCRAY: It went straight through. We were tussling the gun. It was like -- we was up so close, we tussling the gun. And it plumb went off.
SAVIDGE: She started struggling with the gun?
MCCRAY: Yes. Caught a table and took the table was knocked over, and the clip -- the trailer -- and that was it. I turn myself in and everything.
SAVIDGE: When the gun went off and she goes down?
MCCRAY: No, she said -- she was talking to me.
SAVIDGE: What was she saying?
MCCRAY: She was saying -- she was Anthony. She says Anthony. And she just -- because I didn't even know she was shot.
SAVIDGE: You didn't hear the gun go off?
MCCRAY: It went off but I didn't know she was shot. I thought it had shot in the floor, because we said it was shot in the floor. And that was it. I didn't even know she was shot because she still was talking. She said, "Anthony," just like this.
SAVIDGE: But then she died.
MCCRAY: Then she fell. I was, oh, man. Just like that. You know? I said, somebody call the police. Call the ambulance. I mean, by that time, I went and turned myself in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: That is a total fabrication. All the witnesses maintain one thing, that there was an argument, that Anthony McCray left, came back with a gun, shot his wife in the back. We talked to the judge in the case. He says that Anthony McCray stood in the courtroom, stood and looked the judge in the face and admitted to killing his wife.
That's not the way it happened. And the important thing to note here, Anderson, is that this is the same man who was able -- talked to the governor and basically say this is what happened when, in fact, it's a fabrication and apparently the governor bought it.
COOPER: You know, it's fascinating to hear Governor Barbour talk about, you know, these are crimes of passion. They're not likely to do it again. I actually, as a kid -- my dad was from Mississippi, wrote a book about growing up in Mississippi.
And on a book tour, we got to stay in the governor's mansion one night, like, you know, I was 7 years old or something. This was in the mid-'70s. And back then they had the exact same thing, because I remember my dad saying, well, all the guys who work here are convicted of -- they're murderers but they were convicted of crimes of passion. And there is this notion in Mississippi that it's a crime of passion, therefore, you're not likely to do something again. That seems to be what's behind the idea of pardoning these individuals.
SAVIDGE: It's incredibly naive. And the account that you heard from Governor Barbour is ridiculous because he says, look, you can't trust the robbers, apparently, but the person you can trust is the man who kills. I mean, that is just an outlandish statement. And then, on top of that, is the fact that you have to realize, of course, these prisoners, of course they're going to be on their best behavior. They get to chat up the governor every day. That was admitted by Anthony McCray.
Talk to the governor every day. Make their point. Show how pleasant, how good, how reformed they are. This is the man that holds the fate in their hands. Of course, they're going to be on their best behavior. And Anthony McCray said this, once you got into the governor's mansion, it was pretty much assured you were going to be set free. In fact, he said, it was tradition.
COOPER: It's unbelievable. I think for folks who maybe aren't from Mississippi, that, you know, they're surprised by this. I'm not that surprised by it. But it's incredible that so many have been released, and clearly without following the proper procedure. Martin Savidge, great reporting. Martin, thank you.
Let's dig deeper now with Mississippi Democratic State Representative David Baria, also senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
So, Representative Baria, you actually introduced legislation back a couple years ago that would change the way pardons happen in the state of Mississippi.
DAVID BARIA (D), MISSISSIPPI STATE REPRESENTATIVE: That's right, Anderson.
In 2008, when the governor commuting the sentence of Mr. Graham, who killed Adrienne Klasky in cold blood while she was stopped at a stop light in Pascagoula, Mississippi, we decided to try to change the way that pardons are granted.
But ever so slightly, really, we just wanted to make sure that the victims of the crime and the family members of the victim and the law enforcement personnel who worked so hard to put these folks behind bars had a right to be -- had an opportunity to be heard prior to the pardon being granted and that -- so I have tried to pass a bill that would allow for that hearing, and for results of the hearing to be communicated to the governor prior to the granting of a pardon. And I was unsuccessful in doing that.
COOPER: How have your constituents reacted to the news of these recent pardons?
BARIA: Well, not only my constituents but everybody that I come in contact with on a daily basis, inside the capital, outside the capital, folks from all over the state are all reacting similarly with equal measures of shock and revulsion. You know, just the sheer number of pardons is astounding.
COOPER: We had the attorney general on the program the other night, and he pointed out this -- that under the constitution in Mississippi, you have to publish 30 days in advance in a local newspaper where the crime happened ,or in an adjacent jurisdiction, the fact this pardon has been applied for. That, it seems like, was not done.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That seems to be what is going to invalidate all these pardons. That's why the judge issued a temporary restraining order, saying release no one else, until we assure that this very unusual provision, this notice provision, has been followed.
It seems almost certain to me -- I know the Jackson newspaper has said that there was no publication for any of the four murderers from the governor's mansion. So it seems almost certain they'll be returned to prison.
But what an insane operation. And by the way, can we just discuss the sexism at the heart of what Haley Barbour is saying? The idea that crimes of passion, that when you kill your wife, it's somehow less bad and less dangerous, then when you kill a stranger. I mean, it's just an appalling idea that I thought went out in about 1956.
COOPER: But it really does, I mean, I remember hearing this as a kid, and, you know, it was -- it was wholly accepted, that because it was a passionate act, the idea that it was a passionate act is also kind of weird, but that it was a passion act, it wasn't that this person was a bad person. They just got caught up in the passion of it all.
TOOBIN: And folks from Mississippi, friends I have, you know, one of the things they have fought for so long, so say, you know what, it's not the old Mississippi any more. Mississippi has changed. And undoubtedly, that is true. But Haley Barbour's comments today on FOX suggest that at least the long-term governor hadn't changed much. And it's just an appalling way to view crime.
COOPER: Representative Baria, you plan to introduce three new bills on Monday regarding these pardons. What are you hoping to achieve?
BARIA: Well, first of all, the notice provision in our antiquated constitution is completely ineffectual in terms of providing any real notice. So my idea is to provide direct notice, actual notice to the district attorney, who can convene a public hearing so that victims and members of the community and law enforcement personnel can actually be heard.
The other two things I want to do is I want to eliminate the ability for any convicted murderer to become a trusty at the governor's mansion, because apparently that has become a path to a pardon. And then the third thing, I would like to amend our constitution so that no governor can grant a pardon in the last 90 days of his or her term. And I think that will be effective at stopping this en masse pardon, while the governor's on the way out the door.
COOPER: Thank you, Representative Baria. Appreciate it. We'll continue to follow what happens to your bills.
Up next, some big surprises in the Republican race for South Carolina, including which candidate is making an unexpected run for the lead -- some new polling and our panel coming up.
Also tonight, a CNN investigation on a widespread practice among young doctors. You're not going to believe this. You know, young doctors, training to be radiologists, how they study for their exams to become board certified, it's going to stun you. Some leaders in their field are calling it downright cheating. We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.
COOPER: "Raw Politics now, and this is getting interesting.
Not only is the race in South Carolina getting tight, but it's not Ron Paul or Rick Santorum who are closing the gap with Mitt Romney. It's Newt Gingrich. Take a look.
New polling from ARG, it shows Romney and Gingrich in a statistical tie within the four-point margin of error, followed by Paul, Perry, Santorum and Jon Huntsman. Now Speaker Gingrich today literally laughing at Governor Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has a new ad out today that basically says that he created thousands of jobs at Bain, not $100,000.
Do you think he misstated the facts on this issue?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, of course he -- of course he did. You know he did. Now the question is, so --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying he lied?
GINGRICH: I'm saying that he misstated the facts. I will let you use the language you want to. But he's clearly misstated the facts. "The Washington Post" gave him three Pinocchios for his claim. He's now himself changing his claim.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: However, "The Washington Post" gave that pro-Gingrich anti-Romney 28-minute super PAC commercial four Pinocchios for bending the truth. Speaker Gingrich today called on the PAC to either edit the ad or take it off the air. Zero Pinocchios, though, for our panel tonight, let's hope, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, and Erick Erickson at RedState.com.
Paul, you saw the numbers, Romney 29, Gingrich 25, Paul 20. Race has tightened a bit toward the end. Are these numbers though, enough to strike fear in the hearts of Team Romney?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think not, Anderson. I mean, I will defer to the other panelists who clearly know that party better than I do. But if I were advising Mitt Romney, I would say, you know, so far, so good. If he hangs on, he doesn't have to win in South Carolina.
The only person who's ever run the table in the primaries was Al Gore, when he ran against Bill Bradley in the 2000 primaries. You don't have to win every single one, Mitt. So I think he's actually in this poll in pretty strong shape. I would worry a lot more about the lasting damage of these attacks on his record as a vulture capitalist because a lot of Republicans seem to agree with those attacks.
COOPER: Is it that a lot of Republicans are worried about it? It seems like it was Perry used that term and then his backers started backing away from him.
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That's right, and both Newt and Perry have walked it back. In fact, they haven't been talked about in the last couple of days. It is imperative for Mitt to not let Paul Begala and his cronies define free market entrepreneurship.
Private equity is superior to public equity. This is Paul's preferred way of financing his version of crony capitalism. I think that poll is off. I think it does not show at all the other polls show, what I'm hearing from people on the ground, and I would defer to Erick on this as well, I think Santorum is actually the only candidate moving.
Newt has stopped the bleeding. But it's -- Paul is right about Romney, just needs to be respectable here, and then he lost, he came in fourth last time with 15 percent or something. So he's better than he was, but he needs to be watching Santorum.
COOPER: Erick, do you -- is that what you're hearing on the ground as well about Santorum? And, also, do you think this attack using Bain capital, do you think it's been successful on Romney in South Carolina?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I absolutely think the Bain Capital attacks are being successful on Romney only because people are now having to start look at it, not necessarily because of the way Newt or Rick Perry went after the attacks but raising the attacks.
And now we're starting to realize how much is unknown about his time at Bain Capital, Byron York writing in the "Washington Examiner," said no one really knows. This is what he's running on and we don't know whether it was good; we don't know whether it was bad. We can't even justify or sustain the jobs claims that he's running on.
So raising these attacks now I think ultimately might help him be able to deal with them early. As for Santorum, I'm actually hearing he's losing steam rapidly in South Carolina. His supporters are going elsewhere. It changes day to day.
I would point out that Romney -- I don't know that he is really worried. He's been in Florida. His super PAC, his campaign itself, they're running a lot of ads in Florida. They're already getting ready for the next ball game, while all the other guys are just getting on the field in South Carolina.
COOPER: Paul, was it a fundamental mistake for Romney to be making this jobs claim based on his time at Bain Capital?
Had he made the claim that, you know, we made a lot of money for those who invested with us, that would be something which is obvious, and that's what private equity firms are all about. I mean, in a -- if you invest in a private equity firm, you're not investing to create jobs. You're investing because you think it's going to give you a bigger return on your investment than anything else.
And I think you're right. I think that's where Romney made a huge mistake, is that he tried to pretend that his business experience was something that it wasn't.
What's different about Romney's business experience is not -- he's just dishonest when he describes it. Some businesses succeed when you invest in them, and some fail. I think voters get that. But what they are bothered by is when he -- when he makes money even when the business fails. When he makes money even when he lays people off. When he makes money even when he's cutting benefits and jobs.
Erick talked about Byron York, who's a conservative writer. Conservatives are making the point that this is not actually about jobs at all, like Romney pretends. It's, in fact, about a very wealthy man enriching himself while laying off middle class.
COOPER: Well, Mary, someone you know well last night on this program, James Carville, with great glee -- I don't think I've ever seen him glow quite so much, being able to use Sarah Palin's arguments in favor of his own argument. Which was Sarah Palin saying there should be transparency; he should -- Romney should release his tax returns.
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, James has had a longtime crush on Sarah, which he gave over -- gave over a little bit from Michele Bachmann, and now he's back to this brunette. So it's a sad day for James Carville.
Look, what's happening here is bad for Romney. It's bad for the party, more importantly. Is we're conflating private equity, where the investors make nothing if the things collapse, with all these larger issues that he has to defend and explain Bain and what he did there and his claims that he created jobs.
But more importantly, he has to defend the free market system. Make a case for the free market system. Which is in direct contrast with Obama's philosophy.
The reason I keep coming back to Santorum is, while all of this is flying around and we're making fun of each other's French and all of that, Santorum keeps making a steady connection between growing government and a deflating economy and the cultural degradation that attaches to that.
COOPER: Paul Begala, Mary Matalin, Erick Erickson, thank you.
Still ahead tonight, CNN investigation, young doctors and the short cuts they use to pass a critical exam. It's being called outright cheating by some. We're "Keeping Them Honest."
Also ahead tonight, John Edwards asks for a delay in his criminal corruption trial for medical reasons. And he gets it. We'll explain why coming up.
COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight in medicine. The term board certified implies the doctor has mastered an area of expertise, like the critical specialty of radiology. They're the doctors who examine X-rays, CT scans and other imaging to diagnosis if you have a serious disease.
To get board certified, radiologists have to pass a series of tests during their residency. But a CNN investigation has found that many of those doctors have taken short cuts along the way by getting exam questions from doctors who'd already taken the test.
It's been going on for a long time. There's even a name for it. Recalls. Because the doctors memorize the questions and then write them down. A group that certifies radiologists called the practice downright cheating and has launched a national crackdown.
Here's special investigations unit correspondent Drew Griffin.
DR. MATTHEW WEBB, DOCTOR: This is absolute definitive cheating.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Matthew Webb is a 31-year-old Army doctor, accepted into one of the military's largest radiology residency programs: a San Antonio, Texas, based complex that includes the renowned Brook Army Medical Center, where Webb trained as a resident.
But it wasn't long before he was stunned to learn an open secret about most of his fellow doctors. They were, he says, cheating to pass medical exams.
WEBB: It wasn't until I took my physics exam that I found out that the way the residents were studying for the exam was to actually study from verbatim recalled back tests that had been performed by prior residents.
GRIFFIN: To become certified by the American Board of Radiology, or ABR, doctors must pass two written exams and an oral exam. Webb says he took the first exam in the fall of 2008. And to his surprise, he failed that first test, which focuses on physics. He says he went to the director of the radiology program at the time.
WEBB: He told me that, if you want to pass the ABR physics exam, you absolutely have to use the recalls. And I told him, "Sir, I believe that's cheating. I don't believe in doing that. I can do it on my own."
He then went on to tell me, you have to use the recalls. Almost as if it was a direct order.
GRIFFIN: And an order easily fulfilled. Webb found the recalls, the tests, almost verbatim, on the military's Web site for the radiology residents.
CNN has obtained all of these tests, at least 15 years of recalls stored on the military's shared computer network. The test questions, the answers, even presented as a Power Point. Cultivated from years of residents taking tests, recalling the questions, and adding them to what appears to be an ever-growing database of glorified cheat sheets.
Right now, about half of the written test questions are the same every year.
WEBB: Residents knew about the recalls. The program directors knew about the recalls. A large portion of people were using them. And it was just accepted.
GRIFFIN: That bothered Webb. Not only was this cheating, this was the Army. But he says his supervisors in uniform didn't seem to care. So Webb took his complaint of cheating to the very board that certifies radiologists.
Dr. Gary Becker is the American Board of Radiology's executive director.
(on camera) Isn't it cheating?
DR. GARY BECKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN BOARD OF RADIOLOGY: We would call it cheating. And our exam security policy would call it cheating. Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over: We showed Becker copies of the recall exams from the military's San Antonio program. He acknowledged the recalls were very close to the actual test.
BECKER: We're outraged by this, and we took this case to our professionalism committee. The result of the deliberations there and of the decision of the board was to go directly back to the training director, the dean of the institution, and we've had those discussions.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Dr. Webb, the complainant, he told us that, to find out that some of these physicians don't have the knowledge but are able to still get through by cheating, it's despicable. Do you agree with that?
BECKER: I agree. I agree. Now, I can say we don't have any -- more information on other programs. We haven't heard similar reports from other residents. But if and when we ever hear of any, we're going to track them down.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In fact, we did track down information on other programs at the Radiological Society of North America convention in Chicago, where residents told us recall use is wide spread. Not just at the Army program in San Antonio but at programs across the country, including prestigious ones like Harvard's teaching hospital, Massachusetts General.
The chief of radiology there says he didn't know personally of anyone using the recalls but also says, "We did not officially sanction or organize the recalls."
(on camera) Do you think it's a big deal?
DR. JAMES BORGSTEDE, PRESIDENT-ELECT, ABR: Yes, I think it's a big deal. I think recalls are cheating, and it's inappropriate. And the ABR isn't going to tolerate it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Dr. James Borgstede is president-elect of the ABR. The organization is now cracking down on the use of recalls and is changing its test procedures, which were already under way.
BORGSTEDE: Our mission to the public is to say that your certified radiologist has demonstrated, acquired and maintained the requisite skills and knowledge to practice with skill and safety on the public.
GRIFFIN: That's what Dr. Matthew Webb thought, too, which is why he says he exposed the recalls.
In the meantime, he's had other serious trouble. He was fired from the radiology program after something unrelated to the recalls. He was reprimanded by the Army for making sexual comments to another doctor and for other "conduct unbecoming an officer." Webb calls it a personality dispute that escalated.
While he remains an Army doctor, he fears his military career is in jeopardy.
COOPER: Drew, this is unbelievable. I had no idea about this. The fact that it seems so accepted among, you know, many, many years of radiologists. Did the military retaliate against this guy for speaking out? Is that the implication? GRIFFIN: That's his implication. The military says, "Absolutely not, no retaliation against Dr. Webb for talking to us." They do wish he had asked permission or advised them in advance.
But you should read some comments, Anderson, on the Web site. We had this up. And the responses are wild. A lot of doctors, and we don't know who they are, of course, but saying, "Hey, there's nothing wrong with this. We all do it."
COOPER: Doctors saying they all do it. Does the military -- does the military say this is cheating? Do they admit this happened?
GRIFFIN: They absolutely admit this happened. We -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was on camera. We did get a statement from them saying that residents shared exam questions in the past, that the military does not encourage or condone cheating of any kind.
But listen, the military admitted some faculty members and program directors were aware of the use of recalled examination questions by residents. And in fact, Anderson, this is what the military says, a smaller number of faculty, and a past program leader, encouraged the use of recall questions as one of several tools to improve medical knowledge and prepare for that exam.
The military now says they're not doing that anymore; they've removed these from the computers, and residents now have to sign a statement that they won't use them.
COOPER: And what's the radiology board doing about this now?
GRIFFIN: The radiology board insists just because doctors used recalls, cheated, doesn't mean they're unqualified because they did have to pass an oral exam.
But the entire test is being revamped. Two written exams. They can use a lot more imagery. So the future use of recalls will be very difficult, they say. But residents say it's just going to be a matter of time before those, too, can be compromised.
COOPER: Well, also, the fact that they -- you know, it's not even just like one person doing this or doing this year-to-year. The fact they stored all these years' worth of recalls so that you could look at multiple years' worth, I mean, I don't know, I just find that amazing.
GRIFFIN: Yes, and remember, this is not like past tests that have now been published or -- this is actually a concentrated effort to remember the questions, to come out, to write them down, verbatim, so you can create this kind of cheat sheet. And remember that, you know, some of this is a result of the ABR not changing its test year after year, because 50 percent of the questions are the same.
COOPER: Well, that's another ridiculous thing, yes. That seems like something that should be addressed.
Drew, appreciate it. You can catch more of Drew's investigation tomorrow night in a special hour-long program, "CNN Presents." It takes an in-depth look at three stories. We investigate the shadowy attacker hacker group known as Anonymous. Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a compelling look at toxic schools that may be making kids sick. And Drew's reporting, "Prescription for Cheating." "CNN Presents" tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Still to come tonight, more bloodshed in the streets of Syria. Well, an opposition army and another group join forces with a very specific purpose.
Plus, Joran Van Der Sloot learns how much jail time he's going to get in Peru after his guilty plea for killing a woman in a Lima hotel room.
COOPER: I wanted to show you my interview with Haiti's president, Michel Martelly, tonight but, because of breaking news, we couldn't do it. I talked to him last weekend when we were in Haiti. It's a really interesting conversation. You can watch the interview online at AC360.com.
Let's check in now with Isha Sesay. She's actually here in the studio, for a "360 News & Business Bulletin." Thanks for being here.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for having me in your very cold studio, Anderson.
A Syrian opposition group and the Free Syria Army have joined forces. That led to a big demonstration in the streets with calls for the end of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but there's no sign the violence will end. At least 11 civilians were killed in Syria today, including three children, according to an opposition group.
John Edwards has a life-threatening heart condition and got a delay in his criminal corruption trial until at least late March. That's according to a court source quoting a federal judge. Edwards will undergo surgery next month for the heart problem. He's pleaded not guilty to various charges including conspiracy and violating campaign laws.
Twenty-eight years in prison in Peru. That's the sentence for Joran Van Der Sloot after he pleaded guilty to killing 21-year-old Stephany Flores in a Lima hotel room nearly two years ago. Van Der Sloot remains the prime suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
Standard & Poor's has downgraded the debt of several Euro zone nations, including Spain, Italy, and France.
And, Anderson, for the first time in nearly 150 years, the world is getting a new look at the old confederate submarine, HLN Hunley. A massive truss supporting the sub since it was recovered off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, more than a decade ago has now been removed. The submarine was lost at sea in 1864, killing eight crew members.
COOPER: That's amazing to see that.
SESAY: Yes, it really is. The thing is, when it was built, from the reading I've been doing, it had cutting-edge technology for its time...
SESAY: ... but they still don't know why it sank.
COOPER: So I just want to refresh your memory about a couple things. Back in September we had a little back and forth, a little tete-a-tete, if you will, and you read a story about a great American character. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: And a 360 follow. Gumby has surrendered. He was last seen trying to rob a San Diego 7-Eleven, though oddly, nothing was taken. Well, today, Jacob Kiss and his getaway driver, Jason Giramma, both 19, turned themselves in. No word yet on what, if any, charges will be filed.
Anderson, as the foreigner in these strange lands, who or what is Gumby?
COOPER: It's a long...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You don't know who Gumby is, dammit. We're going to have more on Gumby in a moment. And then there was this from two days ago. This is a pattern. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Hostess filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but Anderson, fear not. It says it will continue to make those Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Ding Dongs and other snacks. I have no idea what any of those things are. But...
COOPER: Really? Never had a Ho-Ho or a Ding Dong?
SESAY: No, I've never had a Ho-Ho or a Ding Dong. I'm not missing out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Oh, yes, you are. So we have some surprises in honor of your birthday. Happy birthday. And look who's here. Look who's bringing you -- oh, my God. Wow. It's Gumby, dammit. Wow, Gumby, thank you.
SESAY: Thank you so much. You are way more attractive, shall I say, in real life. Thank you. And high five. COOPER: So that's Gumby. Have you ever gotten a look at Gumby?
SESAY: This is the weirdest birthday gift I have ever received.
COOPER: Well, Gumby was upset that you didn't know who he was.
SESAY: Thank you, Gumby. I feel I am complete now.
COOPER: And these are -- so you've got to open up and have a Ring Ding or -- Gumby, yes.
SESAY: Hey, Gumby.
COOPER: So these are Ring Dings. I want to see you have your first Twinkie. I just have to.
COOPER: Have you never really had a Twinkie?
SESAY: Seriously, I've never had a Twinkie. The only reference -- it's very, very odd.
COOPER: These are Twinkies. These things can, like, survive a nuclear Armageddon.
SESAY: I've been told they never expire. And my thing is should you ever eat anything that will never go bad?
COOPER: Yes, you should.
SESAY: Do I really have to -- are you...
SESAY: OK. This is a...
COOPER: How do you like that? Don't say it -- don't say it until you've had a Ring Dong, a Ring Ding. Here's a Ring Ding. Try a Ring Ding.
SESAY: You can put wallpaper up with the stuff inside of there.
COOPER: Oh, you've got to try a Yodel, too. Yodels are good, too.
SESAY: I feel like I'm being force fed.
OK, that's really gross. Which one's this?
COOPER: This is the Ring Ding. I'm going to give you a Yodel, too.
COOPER: Gumby is very happy. SESAY: Are you on a sugar high or something? I'd rather just have, you know, jewelry or shoes or something.
COOPER: Gumby likes sugar. Gumby likes to see anybody eating sugar.
SESAY: These aren't bad. Which ones are these?
COOPER: That' the Ring Dings. And then these are Yodels. The Yodels were my favorite as a kid.
SESAY: The consistency -- Gumby, take a load off. And this -- this is the...
COOPER: Gumby's putting the Ring Ding in his nose.
SESAY: And this is the?
COOPER: This is the Yodel. I haven't had a Yodel in years. Mmm.
SESAY: Why are they all -- really funky consistencies.
COOPER: Well, cause it has to last a long time. So Isha, thank you very much for...
SESAY: Thank you.
COOPER: For all you do and happy birthday.
SESAY: Thank you.
COOPER: Gumby -- Gumby and Isha are going out for a drink a little bit later on.
SESAY: I'm taking the entire team with me.
COOPER: Food fights land one grumpy diner and one angry restaurant owner on the RidicuList. We'll be right back. Mmm.
SESAY: Mmm. Yes. OK.
COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding a little combo platter, a little Pu Pu Platter, if you will. Calling it restaurant wars.
We begin at a swanky private dining club in Palm Beach, Florida, where a CEO named John Castle was apparently somewhat displeased with the service. So he did what anyone would do. Leaving less than a 15 percent tip, you say? Nope, not that. Asked to speak to a manager, perhaps? Wrong again.
No, 76-year-old CEO John Castle lodged his complaint by allegedly breaking the waiter's finger. Allegedly. That's what the waiter says. Why would he do that? Well, he was reportedly upset because the waiter brought the check. See, club members are normally billed monthly. However, the police report says Castle's wife asked for the check. When the waiter brought it, Castle yelled, quote, "You shmuck, why did you bring the bill to the table?" and then proceeded to grab the waiter's hand, squeeze and twist his fingers.
The next morning, the waiter went for an X-ray, and sure enough, the ring finger on his left hand was broken. And I'm guessing he's letting his fingers that aren't broken do the walking through the yellow pages right about now into the legal counsel section.
I'm also thinking CEO John Castle may want to dine at home sans waiters for a while.
Although, you know, it could have been worse. He allegedly broke the waiter's finger, but at least he didn't go all "Goodfellas" on him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE PESCI, ACTOR: What, where's my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drink, I asked you for a drink.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wanted a drink?
PESCI: I just asked you for a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drink.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought you said that you're all right.
PESCI: No, no. No, no, no. What, you got me on (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? Go get me a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drink. Move it, you little (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Now he's moving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes, so congratulations, John Castle. You're second only to Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas" as far as taking the customer is always right thing a bit too far, if the reports are true.
This isn't the only dissatisfied diner story on "The RidicuList" radar, though. Let's just jet on down to a restaurant in Atlanta called Boners Barbecue. Yes. That's where a woman named Stephanie took her husband for his birthday dinner.
Stephanie was not thrilled with the restaurant and posted an online review on Yelp calling the food various adjectives, including "tepid," "bland," and "odd."
Well, the guy who owns Boners Barbecue was not amused. He launched an all-out attack on the woman online, which I'd tell you about, but I'm going to let WSB reporter Jeff Dore do it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF DORE, WSB REPORTER: The owner posted a message on social media to other restaurant owners saying, if you see this woman in your restaurant, tell her to go outside and play hide and go beep yourself. It says, "Yelp that, beep."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the owners of Boners has since apologized and said he used, quote, "felony bad judgment."
I guess the moral of the story tonight is let's just all try to remember our table manners. The napkin on the lap. No elbows on the table. No breaking waiters' fingers. And let's take felony bad judgment off the menu on "The RidicuList."
Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.