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Siege in Syria; Mississippi's Pardon Controversy Continues

Aired February 9, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 here on the East Coast. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with a story that sparks fresh outrage every time there's a new development, especially tonight. That's because, today, one of Haley Barbour's final acts as governor of Mississippi was argued in court, pardons about 200 criminals, including four murderers persuaded a local judge to block.

Now, in a moment, you're going to hear Governor Barbour's attorney defend those pardons in Mississippi's Supreme Court today. You will hear him claim that mistakes made in the pardon process were, in so many words, no big deal. Harmless error is the legal term.

But for the families of these men's victims, and these are the four convicted killers, the words harmless error must seem like a slap in the face. All four of these freed murderers, pardoned murderers worked in the governor's mansion before winning release.

Critics say they basically got the release befriending or sucking up to then Governor Haley Barbour. The governor said they committed them crimes of passion. That's what he calls them, making them highly unlikely, he says, to re-offend. Experts say that's just simply not true.

And in any event, these were no crimes of passion in cases. One killer stuck up a convenience store, shooting a clerk dead as he begged for mercy. Another stalked and then murdered his wife, shooting her while she held their baby in her arms. He also badly wounded her friend.

Another claims he was just wrestling with his gun, tussling in his words when his gun went off accidentally. In fact, he had gone out earlier and gotten that gun and then shot a woman in the back. Another man, Harry Bostick, got a pardon for his third DUI and while he was accused of a fourth DUI. That's when his pardon came through on his third one. He was actually sitting in jail when he got pardoned.

During the fourth incident, by the way, his fourth DUI, he allegedly was involved in a wreck that killed Charity Smith. She was only 18 years old. Bostick was actually sitting in jail, as I said, after the deadly crash, when the governor signed his pardon on the previous DUI and he walked out of jail.

That one seems to be a case of the governor not knowing about the fourth arrest and the Corrections Department not telling him. He's also under fire for not notifying victims' families about the pardons. But the central issue before the state Supreme Court today is Attorney General Jim Hood's claim that Governor Barbour violated a provision in Mississippi's Constitution, Section 124, that requires criminals to give notice in local papers for 30 days prior to their release.

Attorney General Hood said in 22 cases, that rule was not followed. Governor Barbour's lawyer defended the pardons by conceding that Section 124 may have been violated, but arguing that, legally, it didn't really matter.


CHARLES GRIFFIN, ATTORNEY FOR HALEY BARBOUR: If there is no substantive right that has been violated, if there is no prejudice that results from an, arguably, either failure to comply or partial failure to comply with a constitutional provision, then there has been no damage, there has been no harm, there has been no suffering which would require redress.


COOPER: In a moment, we will talk to Jeffrey Toobin on what the words no harm mean from a legal standpoint. What no harm and especially no suffering means to people who lost love ones, though, that's a different story.

Tiffany Ellis Brewer lost her sister, Tammy. Betty Ellis lost a daughter.


TIFFANY ELLIS BREWER, TAMMY GATLIN'S SISTER: He is in jail for 18 years. She was 20 years old when she died and had her child laying in her arms when he shot her in the head. And he's pardoned?

BETTY ELLIS, TAMMY GATLIN'S MOTHER: Governor Barbour going to pardon us for our aches, pains of heartache that we have to suffer. Is he going to pardon a child that had to grow up without a mother?


COOPER: And then there's Randy Walker who was shot and nearly killed in that attack. He lived in fear the killer now free may come after him.

There's also the sister of Joseph Ozment's victim and Charity Smith's parents all suffering tonight. Despite repeated requests, Governor Barbour will not come on the program. We have tried multiple, multiple times, and his law office sent us a message saying -- quote -- "The governor's schedule will not accommodate an appearance."

We will keep asking.

Tiffany Ellis Brewer and Betty Ellis join us shortly, along with our Jeffrey Toobin.

But first let's check in with Ed Lavandera in Jackson, Mississippi.

Ed, you were there. Take us through exactly what happened in court today.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a proceeding that lasted about three hours, and the attorneys for the various convicts that have been pardoned, and all of this centers around 10 people in particular.

There five convicts that are still -- who are holding pardon papers but are still in jail, and they weren't released in time, and then there are the five inmates who were the trustees working at the governor's mansion, four of which we have focused on heavily, those four murderers. Those guys are already out.

A lot of this riding, especially for these 10 people, what exactly the Supreme Court justices will decide weighs heavily on them. Will they remain in prison, will they have to round up the five that have already been released and send back to prison? That is what is riding on decision that these justices make.

And when that hasn't isn't exactly cleared, but these justices peppered these attorneys for three hours questions about the law and about how all of this will work out. Governor Barbour's side essentially arguing that the court doesn't have any right in meddling in the governor's right to issue pardons, that they can't go back and try to turn back the clock and analyze this.

Of course, Attorney General Jim Hood here in Mississippi arguing just the opposite, that what might seem as a technicality on Barbour side is simply more important than that, that they have to follow the Constitution, follow those notifications, the 30 days of notices that needed to go out before the pardons were issued and that's what all of this is riding on.

COOPER: The lawyer for Governor Barbour actually argued that the governor could issue hundreds of pardons without referencing the notice provision at all. How is that possible?

LAVANDERA: That's what they -- they argue that it's up to the governor to decide whether or not the law has been or the notifications have been followed properly, that it's up to him, and they say if it were 28 days instead of 30, that it would be the governor's right to say, you know what, that's good enough, that nothing will change in the next two days that will change my decision.

And they say that that is solely the governor's decision. Obviously, the attorney general and victims' families here strongly disagree with that.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, I love it that everybody who loves the Constitution and says we should abide by the Constitution, unless they don't, and then it doesn't seem to matter. So he's essentially arguing what is in the state Constitution, the actual words in the Constitution don't matter.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and Section 124, you don't have to be a lawyer to understand what it says. It's very simple.

And one reason why I think this harmless error argument is so weak here is because what harmless error means is it's just a technicality. It has no substantive significance.

COOPER: That's not true.

TOOBIN: But that's not true in this case, because in this case, the reason for putting an ad in the newspaper is to notify victims, to notify prosecutors, to notify people affected by the crime so that they can go to the governor and say, look, don't pardon this guy. Look at all of the stuff you don't know about the crime.

COOPER: That's precisely what a lot of the victims and their families are saying they didn't have an opportunity to do. Randy Walker said he never had a chance to plead his case.

TOOBIN: Exactly, which seems to me the exact opposite of harmless error. Harmless error is you got a warrant, like a search warrant, but the wrong date was stamped on it. That really is a technicality.

Here, the fact that these people didn't know that these murderers were up for pardons is a substantive problem with how the process worked, and I would just find it hard to believe that the judges would read that part out of the Constitution.

COOPER: I want to bring in some victims' family.

Tiffany, your sister was killed.

When you hear Governor Barbour's lawyer saying there's been -- quote -- "no harm" and -- quote -- "no suffering" which would require redress, what do you say to that?

BREWER: Well, you know, I would wonder, you know, does he have children or brothers or sisters that had been through this, you know, and what harm and suffering really is? Because, apparently, he has no idea. And, you know, as you say, that the 30-day notice, you know, we should have been notified.

But Haley Barbour should have taken it upon himself to open those files and to look at those files and see what happened, what really happened. And then, I mean, this man, you know, there's no harm done? I mean, we have a family member that, you know, we won't see until we get to heaven. And there's no harm done? I'm sorry. I just don't agree with that at all.

COOPER: And, Betty Ellis, it was your daughter Tammy Gatlin who was murdered. When you heard Governor Barbour's lawyer making the argument today, what did that make you think?

ELLIS: Well, I guess it just goes to say what no harm means to him doesn't mean the same thing that it means to us.

We certainly have suffered a lot since Tammy was murdered in '93, and to us, harm has been done to us because we wasn't given the opportunity to speak and to present our case and our thoughts to him. He didn't even consider us as being in the picture when he made the decision to pardon these people.

He didn't apparently think about any of the victims' families. It's like the victim was never there. It was just a pardon that he was going to do because he could do it, and that's what he did.

COOPER: And had they put notices in the paper and given 30 days, would you have had least liked to have had the opportunity to speak to the governor, to speak someone in his office, and explain why you wouldn't want your child's killer out free?

ELLIS: Yes, we definitely would have liked to speak to the governor. We had tried to speak to the governor, and he never returned phone calls or made any attempt to grant us the time to speak to him.

The parole board is supposed to approve these pardons as well. And we missed parole hearings because they didn't notify us when the parole hearing was going to be. So we really have not been given a chance in this all through the process.

COOPER: Tiffany, I heard you say that this is like having your sister die twice. What did you mean?


Well, you know, when it first happened, I mean, it's a different feeling definitely. When it first happened, it was just unreal. It's surreal. You just hardly can't believe it. But then when a person is sentenced to life plus 30 years and you think, OK, I don't have to worry about this guy coming out, getting out, coming after my family anymore, you know, the justice system has taken care of him.

When he was pardoned, my sister, it brought back every feeling that we ever had the day that she died. I can remember the exact time I got the phone call, everything. I remember the look on my mother's face when I walked in the door. I remember everything.

And it goes over and over and over. And it has for the last month. It's like my mama has said. It's all you think about. It doesn't matter what you're doing. It's in the back of your mind.

COOPER: Of course, and it never goes away. And I guess in many cases, it never really gets better.

Betty, the fact that your daughter's killer now is out there, has this pardon, basically, his slate has been wiped clean, your family is hoping that the law is going to change, right? ELLIS: Yes, we're hoping that the law is going to change.

We're trying to get the legislatures to put some bills through that would stop some of this from happening. If the people that were murderers had not been allowed to be trustees at the mansion, then this wouldn't have happened, maybe. That was -- supposedly, that is in the prisoner's handbook, that a murderer is not supposed to be allowed to serve as a trustee. If that had taken place and whoever was responsible for seeing that that didn't happen, then we wouldn't be here tonight.

COOPER: You know, it is incredible, Jeff, when you think, this man, this man who murdered her child and Tiffany's sister got life plus 30 years. That sounds like life in prison. That sounds like you're going to be away for a long time, and he wasn't.

TOOBIN: And he wasn't.

COOPER: Just because he was able to get a job, and it sounds like he never even really did a lot of time behind bars. He was always in some sort of a trustee position, always in some sort of a special program.

TOOBIN: The pardon power is one of the legal ideas that comes to the United States from the power of kings. It's one of the few absolute powers that a king had in England, or that chief executives had, and it's one of the last vestiges of -- a president can pardon someone, and presidents have gotten in trouble for dumb pardons.

And governors in most cases can pardon people, and there's usually no recourse to the courts. The only reason they're in court and they have a shot at getting these pardons overturned is because of this peculiar Section 124 and the notice requirement.

COOPER: Do you know how soon we might get a ruling on this?

TOOBIN: The chief justice said today definitely not today, and they're clearly to write something. So I would expect a week or two weeks at the earliest.

COOPER: Betty and Tiffany, again, I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm sorry that you yet again have to stand up and speak on behalf of those who are not here to speak, and I appreciate you doing that tonight for us, and we will continue to check in with you. Thank you so much, Jeff Toobin as well.


ELLIS: Thank you for having us.

BREWER: Thank you.

COOPER: Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to your circles. What do you think about this? Does it make any sense to you. Let me know on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be reading your tweet tonight. Up next, as the killing in Syria escalates, we will show you the enormous difference between how the Syrian state media is spinning the story and what the reality is. We're "Keeping Them Honest" with the reports from Syrians living through a war their government is waging on them.

Also "Keeping Them Honest," is the Obama campaign changing its stance on the people he once called fat cats because he needs their campaign donations?



COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" now on the killing in Syria, the Assad regime's systematic assault on major cities and the devastation of entire neighborhoods.

Now, activists say at least 137 people were killed today, mostly in the city of Homs, parts of which are simply seem to be being leveled to the ground or attempted to be. This video was captured by someone who found himself right in the middle of the shelling. Take a look, yelling God is great.

This is now daily life and death in Homs, almost constant shelling, mortar and rocket fire. It's been going on for six days in this particular bombardment, people trapped inside their apartments because snipers target them on the streets. They're huddled inside, living on bread and water waiting in the words of one local resident for death.

It is not just Homs. There are tanks on the highway in Idlib province on the road from Aleppo to Hama. Take a look, not jeeps or armored personnel carriers. Heavy main battle tanks with guns that can bring down a building. And Hama, which Bashar al-Assad's own father leveled to the ground back in 1982, killing thousands and thousands of people, someone caught this video of a sniper's nest and the sniper who mans it.

They're in the all besieged cities taking aim at people who dare step outside the homes, whether for food, for medical care, even to bury their dead. They're pinned down, men, women, children. An activist we're calling Danny has been documenting the reality in Homs, mainly in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. Here's one of his dispatches from today.


DANNY, ACTIVIST: This is one of the houses in Baba Amr. Look at these children. Is this how the Assad regime is supposed to treat our children?

Now you see the Assad regime is executing children. What's the U.N. going to do about this? What is the U.N. going to do about this? Nothing. They're going to sit and discuss and see what they're going to do -- they want to do this peacefully. They want to solve it peacefully with this murderer after what he did to these children.

They have been hitting us from 6:00 a.m. until it's 2:00 p.m. now. We have over 100 bodies, over 200 underneath the destruction. We don't even know who they are.


COOPER: Remember, the Assad regime by the way denies almost all of this is happening.

I want to show you Syrian state media's Web site from earlier this evening. Their lead story is President Assad issues a decree on cyber-crime -- cyber-crime. Then there are accounts of Russian and Chinese support for the regime and reports of terrorist attacks in Homs and elsewhere.

Then there's a report and pictures of elaborate memorial service for seven security force members, victims the report says of the terrorist conspiracy.

No doubt security forces are being killed. It wouldn't be worth mentioning, except this kind of funeral in broad daylight is rare in places like Homs, where the mere act of burying a loved one can get you killed. Remember that picture of that funeral for security forces, officers dressed in nice uniforms, very formal presentation out in the daylight.

Well, BBC reporter Paul Wood found out what it's like for civilians in Homs after they die and he was snuck into the city. Take a look.


PAUL WOOD, BBC REPORTER: Like all the dead here, she must be buried in darkness. Daytime is too dangerous. There is no family, no prayers and little dignity. They have to hurry. Even now, they are attacked. There will be many more such desperate and lonely burials.


COOPER: People risking their own lives to bury the bodies of children they don't even know under the cover of darkness because it's too dangerous to do it during the day.

The BBC's Paul Wood reporting there. He snuck in and he made it back out again. Others are there for the duration.

Last night, we spoke to an opposition member who goes by the alias Abu Abdo. When we reached him today, he was on his way back to Homs on foot from another town, Aleppo, carrying medical supplies.


COOPER: How difficult is it to get supplies in Homs right now?

ABU ABDO, SYRIAN ACTIVIST, REVOLUTIONARY COUNCIL OF HOMS: Well, it's impossible to get supplies to Homs right now. The city is entirely isolated, surrounded with all types of tankers, machine guns and snipers all around.

And in the city, the people, they can't move inside the city and they can't go out or get in. At the same time, nothing can go out or in to the city and the hunger has started to spread around. And I think in one week it will be a total catastrophe, because people will start dying, will start dying at hunger, besides shelling and rockets.

COOPER: And the shellings continue?

ABDO: Of course. Shelling never stopped since this Friday.

COOPER: We saw -- I saw a video yesterday on the BBC of people being buried at night. Is that the only time you can bury people?

ABDO: Well, it's the only time we can bury people if we got lucky and the shelling like got a little bit less for some time.

And sometimes we can't bury. We can't bury bodies. We just collect them in apartments and we wait until to getting some chance to bury them. Sometimes we bury them inside houses, in houses' gardens.

COOPER: There are reports that as many as 131 people including children were killed today by the regime. What do you want the Assad regime to know?

ABDO: We just want the Assad regime to know that this criminality will not solve the problem. This criminality that he is doing, it takes the country into hell.

He's killing entire cities. He's trying to banish these cities and to destroy it into the ground. I mean, we don't know why. We're civilians here. Civilians live here. He's not also only killing the people and shelling with all types of heavy weapons. He's also isolating the city, isolating this city from all sides, so if people will not die from rocket shelling and machine guns and snipers, they will die from hunger.

That's the situation in Homs. Everybody is sitting at home waiting for their death.

COOPER: Everybody's sitting at home waiting for their death?

ABDO: Yes, exactly.

COOPER: What do you hope from the U.N., from the United States, from the Arab League? Do you have hope that anyone will start to intervene in any way?

ABDO: We have been calling the Arab community and the international community please help, stop -- to stop killing people. I mean, this regime is going to kill everyone and just stay at this country with his supporters. But they are torturing people to death. They're killing children. And even animals can't do that. We really wonder which mentality are they working with? COOPER: Abu Abdo, I appreciate you talking to us. Thank you.

ABDO: Thank you.


COOPER: Sneaking supplies back into Homs.

Coming up, the House passes a bill on insider trading by members of Congress. We have been following that for a while, but critics say the way it got passed was just more of the same insider dealing. We have the "Raw Politics."

Also ahead, last time around President Obama said he didn't run for office to help out what he called fat cat bankers on Wall Street, but is he changing his tune for his new campaign? Two sides square off. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And an emotional moment when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords announced she was stepping down. Now there's word about who is going to be running for her seat and his connection to the day she was shot.


COOPER: "Raw Politics" tonight. The House passed a bill today banning insider trading by members of Congress, but the way the bill was watered down has some wondering how seriously it tackled the very same ethics problems that it's trying to address.

Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has been pushing for insider trading legislation for years. She tells the "Wall Street Journal" the House bill was written in secret with deals for special interests, something she calls ironic when we're talking about an insider trading bill.

Now, the House bill dropped a provision about so-called political intelligence, which frankly, I didn't know much about, but it's an entire industry built around getting information from Congress and then selling tips based on that information to financial firms. The Senate version would have made people who broker political intelligence register as -- register as lobbyists.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote the House version. Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash asked him about that today.


BASH: Senator Charles Grassley, who's, of course, a fellow Republican in the Senate, said it's astonishing and extremely disappointing that the House would fulfill Wall Street's wishes by killing the provision, which as you know is about political intelligence. Are you trying to protect Wall Street like he's suggesting?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Think of the wording, political intelligence. You know, there's so much question about what that even means, and there's a lot of discussion in this building and elsewhere about what is the consequence of that provision.

Are there constitutional questions? Does it bring into question an ability for a constituent to come up to us, ask us the status of a particular piece of legislation? Does it put that individual in the position of having to then go register, just as a citizen?


COOPER: Dana Bash joins us now.

I mean, that's sort of a non-answer answer. There is this industry of political intelligence. Is there any reason to believe that Cantor was influenced by Wall Street? He's basically just saying we don't even know what that thing means.

BASH: He is saying that. You know, and truth be told that the concept of political intelligence is ill defined. And so the requirement to register or disclose was written in this bill kind of in a vague way.

And Anderson, I have covered a lot of legislation written too quickly. It flew out of Congress because it was politically expedient. And everyone realized afterwards that maybe it was too fast and had major flaws.

Having said that, I want you to look at something. Eric Cantor gets a nice chunk of change from Wall Street: $343,550 in political donations just this year so far, in this campaign cycle, I should say. And just to put that in context, he is the fourth highest recipient of political donations from Wall Street in Congress.

Separately, I talked to a source with the Washington lobby that represents Wall Street interests today who told me that they worked very, very hard, lobbied big-time to scrap this provision.

COOPER: And just so people understand, I mean, the notion of political intelligence, though as you say, it's ill-defined, it's basically kind of this shadow industry of people who get information in the halls of Congress, and then sell that information to financial firms, because it's sort of -- it's kind of inside information. It's information that hasn't had a wide distribution. Correct?

BASH: That's right.

COOPER: That's the theory.

BASH: Exactly. There are people who know -- know people on Capitol Hill, know aides, know lawmakers. You know, maybe even some former members of Congress who can get information about where a piece of legislation is going and, you know, report back. They're not registered lobbyists. They're not necessarily pushing for information. They're actually getting the information, extracting information.

COOPER: So does this bill -- does it have any teeth or is it for show? BASH: You know, mostly it's for show. And that's not me saying that, Anderson. What I'm hearing privately from congressional sources in both parties. It is not lost on members of Congress, Anderson, that their approval rating is like 11 percent.

They're extremely eager to polish off their tarnished reputation. They're hoping this legislation to ban insider trading in Congress will help.

It's not often you see something like this pass 417-2.

Now, just to be fair, though, I have talked to some experts who say that this does clear up some gray area in the law and make it easier to prosecute members of Congress or their aides for using public information for private gain.

COOPER: All right. Dana Bash, appreciate it. I mean, I think that's frankly what a lot of people were surprised about this whole notion that a member of Congress could get information from a hearing or something, and then trade stocks based on it before it's got wide dissemination. And that's why -- what the idea of this legislation was about.

There's a lot more we're following tonight. Isha is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, an aide to former Congresswoman Giffords, who was also wounded in the shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona, last year, will run for the House seat she just stepped down from. Ron Barber was Giffords' district director. The special election will take place in June.

The U.S. Postal Service is renewing its pleas for help on Capitol Hill after reporting a net loss of $3.3 billion in the last three months of 2011. In the last fiscal year, it lost $5.1 billion.

In half a dozen Apple stores around the world protesters delivered petitions calling for workplace reforms at factories run by Apple suppliers in China and other locations. The factories are accused of abusive working conditions.

Apple insists that suppliers provide safe working conditions and treat workers with respect.

And Anderson, Jersey City, New Jersey, is rolling out the welcome mat for Snooki and JWoww. That's where they will film the spin-off of "Jersey Shore," after the neighboring town of Hoboken rejected their permit application.

Like the world needs another spin-off of Jersey City.

COOPER: Hey...

SESAY: What? Hey, make this good. Hey what?

COOPER: I don't know. I don't have an opinion. Isha, we'll check back with you in a little bit.

Time for tonight's "Shot." Jimmy Kimmel is at it again. Actually, you should check this out, Isha. He likes to often ask his viewers to play very specific pranks on their friends and families and videotape the results. Check out the latest assignment. It's pretty inspired, from "Jimmy Kimmel Live."


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": I asked everyone watching the Super Bowl with their friends or family to wait until a crucial moment in the game and then unplug the TV.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put the TV back on!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you kidding me now?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, all right. All right! All right! All right.


SESAY: Honestly. Did you watch the Super Bowl?

COOPER: I did. I watched it in fast forward. I went to a movie and then I watched the Super Bowl in fast forward. Yes.

SESAY: Only you.

COOPER: What? You get the key points.


COOPER: Move it along. I don't have much time.

SESAY: Keep moving it along then.

COOPER: Just keep fast forwarding. DVR it.

Isha, we'll check back with you a little bit later on.

Up next, President Obama and Wall Street. Is he changing his tough stance to help rake in more cash for the re-election campaign? We're Keeping Them Honest.

And later, the FBI file on Steve Jobs. They had an FBI file. Did the agency uncover any secrets when the Apple founder was being considered for a White House appointment 20 years ago? We'll show you.


COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight. Is President Obama changing his stance on Wall Street? This's the question tonight. Now, are all the so-called fat cats that he once talked about not so bad after all?

The question is being asked because Mr. Obama's campaign manager met this week with a group of Wall Street donors here in New York. Now according to Bloomberg, campaign manager Jim Messina (ph) told the group that the president won't demonize Wall Street as his re-election campaign unfolds. So -- so they're saying he's going to play it cool and go easy on them.

We reached out to the Obama campaign. Is that what he's saying? That's what we wanted to know. We reached out to the Obama campaign. They tell us the president will never let Wall Street off the hook for abuses or bad behavior.

They also say they plan to run against Mitt Romney and his economic record, not Wall Street itself.

So there's plenty of reason for Wall Street to be nervous. Since taking office, President Obama's made Wall Street reform a top priority. He's pushed changes aimed at regulating the industry blamed for plunging the nation into the worst economic situation in decades.

The president has also said, and I quote, "I'm not interested in punishing banks. I'm interested in protecting our economy."

"Keeping Them Honest," he's had some tough talk for Wall Street over the years. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable.

The days of out-sized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over.

Wall Street firms turned huge profits by taking, in some cases, reckless risks and cutting corners. All of this came at the expense of working Americans.

And we've put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable.


COOPER: That's President Obama taking aim at Wall Street. And it's taking notice. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wall Street donations to the Obama campaign are down sharply. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama raked in about $42 million from the finance sector, compared to $31 million for GOP opponent John McCain.

So far, for the 2012 campaign, he's raised just over $5 million, while Mitt Romney is doing a lot better, more than double that amount, about $12 million in Wall Street donations.

Let's dig deeper now. Joining me are strategist and President Obama 2012 pollster, Cornell Belcher; and Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for George W. Bush.

Cornell, I mean, sounds like the president is out there publicly criticizing Wall Street in order to score political points. That's what his critics are saying, while his campaign is privately telling them, "Don't worry about it. It's all just talk." Is that a fair assessment or not?

CORNELL BELCHER, POLLSTER FOR OBAMA: I don't think that's a fair assessment at all. I think -- look, I don't think there's anything wrong with the campaign saying, "We're not going to demonize Wall Street," because quite frankly, we don't want to demonize Wall Street. We need Wall Street to be healthy, but we also need them to be accountable and play responsible.

And if you look at the legislation that the president has pushed in the historic Wall Street reform, it is legislation that's going to hold them accountable and go after some of the bad practices that got us in this problem. There's no inconsistency there at all.

And the fact of the matter is, we don't want to demonize Wall Street. We just want Wall Street to play by the same...

COOPER: But has it changed...

BELCHER: ... their own rules and play by the same set of rules that everyone else is playing by.

COOPER: But the rhetoric in the past was fat cats on Wall Street. It sounds like we're not going to be hearing that now, and is that because of the reality of needing money from Wall Street to run?

BELCHER: Well, I don't think we -- I don't look at it at that way. If you look at the average donation to the Obama campaign, it's $55. I mean, from going back to the very beginning of the Obama campaign, the president railed against special interests -- then candidate Obama, railed against special interests and influence. And he said, "I'm not going to accept PAC money. We're not going to take money from lobbyists." And that was true back in '08, and it's true today. The average donation to the Obama campaign is still 50 -- is just $55.

So there's a stark difference when you look at our average contribution and the average -- and then what these super PACs are doing. They're writing $5 million a pop to Newt's super PAC. That's a stark difference. COOPER: Ari, as we talked about last night, the president has now said, you know, his supporters can give money to super PACs, which is -- seems to be a change in his position, though, entirely legal. Do you think this is double talk?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, there's no question. And it's hard to know where to begin with the double talk, there's so much of it.

Look, he said that he wouldn't take money from lobbyists, and now, of course, he set up a super PAC which lobbyists can contribute to. He's against all this Wall Street wealth if the people on Wall Street keep it for themselves. He sure is in favor of it if they would just share a little bit with him.

And then he sends his campaign manager to Wall Street to say he won't vilify them just two weeks after he vilified them in the State of the Union address.

This is a classic case, just like his flip-flop on super PACs, just like his flip-flop when he said he wouldn't take public finance for his 2008 campaign, and he did. He'll say one thing and then go right out and do whatever's convenient for him to get re-elected.

COOPER: Cornell?

BELCHER: It sounds like Ari's been reading, you know, talking points against Romney. Look, the president isn't setting up a super PAC. And you know, he has nothing to do with the super PAC. He has nothing to do with the super PAC.


FLEISCHER: ... for it.

COOPER: Cornell, isn't he going to send out folks to fund- raisers for...

BELCHER: Well, no. He's not going to send out anything. However, are Democrats going to -- going to line up and start -- and sort of fundraise for their own super PACs? Absolutely they are. It would be beyond stupid. It would be -- it would be political suicide for Democrats to unilaterally disarm and not engage in super PACs.

Look, Karl Rove's super PAC raised, what, over $50 million. It would be -- it would be political suicide for Democrats to...

COOPER: I get that from...

BELCHER: And not -- and not play by the same rules as Republicans are playing by.

COOPER: Right. I don't think anyone agree -- would disagree that it makes sense from a political standpoint. Do you think, though, it is a fundamental change of his position by basically allowing surrogates to go to these things, whereas in the past he's spoken very much against super PACs?

BELCHER: I think you'll still see him speak against super PACs. However, at the same time, the political reality is that, when they're raising $50 million, you know, unfiltered money in that way, the political reality is that Democrats have to play by the same rules and cannot unilaterally disarm in the face of this onslaught of money. We can't.

COOPER: Ari, I just want to quickly get in a little bit about the GOP race. Mitt Romney is going to be making a speech at CPAC, the conservative convention, tomorrow. How important is this, given the rise now, the surge of Santorum that we saw in the last primaries and caucuses?

FLEISCHER: It is important, because if Rick Santorum gets a hero's welcome and Mitt Romney gets a cool reception, it's going to send another signal to Arizona and Michigan, the next two states that vote.

I think what Romney needs to do at CPA is speak less of personality and of his biography and more of policy. He needs to say that he is for the big reforms in this race -- entitlement and spending -- and put his mark down that he'll be a reformist president on economics. I think he has credibility there, but he has such a convoluted position with his 59-point policy. More cogent, more sharp, more to the point.

COOPER: Cornell, I appreciate it, you being on tonight. Ari, as well. Thanks very much. Got to move on.

Still ahead, the FBI releasing its file on Steve Jobs. They had a file on him, close to 200 pages. It's got information about everything from his drug use in the past to what his neighbors thought of him. We'll show you what's in it.

Plus, dramatic video of an attempted kidnapping inside a Wal- Mart. Look at this. A brave 7-year-old girl fought back and escaped, next. yummy cereal? Yummy.


SESAY: I am Isha Sesay with the "360 Bulletin."

Did 911 dispatchers delay sending police to Josh Powell's home? An investigation is under way in Washington state to answer that question. Critics claim dispatchers did not grasp the danger of the situation and move fast enough. Police say Powell killed his two young sons and himself in Sunday's explosion.

A Los Angeles elementary school reopened today with an entire new staff. It was closed for two days after two teachers were charged with committing lewd acts on students. One of those men is accused of taking hundreds of nude photos of children.

Georgia police say this Wal-Mart surveillance tape shows a man trying to abduct a 7-year-old girl right inside the store not far from her mother. But the alert little girl kicked and squirmed until he let her go. The man is under arrest.

And today, the FBI released its file on Apple visionary Steve Jobs. It's information compiled during a background check in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush was considering Jobs for a position on the president's export council.

Neighbors loved him and others said Jobs experimented with marijuana and LSD when he was young. "The Christian Science Monitor" reports that Jobs was cleared for the job and he served on that board.

Now back to Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

A programming note: tomorrow on "STARTING POINT," Congressman Pete King and conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart join Soledad at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. That's tomorrow, "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien, 7 to 9 a.m. Eastern.

Coming up, fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld designs a whole new way to apologize without having to actually say you're sorry. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding fashion designer and Edward Gorey cartoon character and chronic foot-in-mouth-disease sufferer, Karl Lagerfeld.

This week, Lagerfeld was a guest editor at "Metro," which is apparently a free newspaper they hand you in the subway in New York and all over the world, apparently.

At the paper's Paris office, Lagerfeld sat down to wax poetic on everything from world politics to his theory that, quote, people in magazines are 50 percent bimbo and 50 percent pregnant women.

But it was what he said about singer Adele that got people's attention. Lagerfeld said, and I quote, "The thing at the moment is Adele. She's a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice."

Of course, now he's backtracking with this apology. Quote, "I would like to say to Adele that I'm your biggest admirer. Sometimes when you take a sentence out of the article, it changes the meaning of the thought."

OK, so he said Adele is a little too fat, and he's not denying he said that. I'd like to know exactly what sentence could have possibly been taken out of the article that would have make that all right?

"She's a little too fat, but only in the brain. She has got a really fat brain filled with knowledge." That doesn't even fix it. There's no doubt that Karl Lagerfeld's perspective is skewed. He works in the fashion industry, after all, constantly surrounded by models who are only allowed to conform to one standard of beauty: freakishly tall, freakishly thin.

I can only hope that Adele, who's wonderfully talented, does not take this kind of nonsense to heart and that the young girls who look up to her do not either.

Then again, maybe Karl Lagerfeld just wants to help. He's had his own weight issues. Years ago, he lost 90 pounds. He told Larry King how he did it.


KARL LAGERFELD, FASHION DESIGNER: No pills, no chemicals, only vitamins and homeopathic stuff. And then it was only vegetables, steamed vegetables, zero percent, corn bread, and nothing else.


COOPER: (SNORING NOISES) Oh, I'm sorry. I'm pretty sure she said steamed vegetables, yogurt, and corn bread. But if you want to know more, you can always pick up a copy of "The Karl Lagerfeld Diet." Oh, yes, that's right. "Publisher's Weekly" reviewed the book and noted that the chapter on exercise is, well, rather strange. It says if women want to tone their breasts, they should sprinkle them with cold water every morning and perform specific exercises. But if they really want to change their look, you need plastic surgery. Karl Lagerfeld, arbiter of logic.

Luckily, Lagerfeld does not limit his pronouncements to other people's weight. Oh, no, no, no. He's certainly helpful with opinions on a myriad of subjects.

Take the Greek economic crisis. Quote, "Nobody wants Greece to disappear, but they have really disgusting habits. Italy, as well."

And I know you're just dying to know how Karl Lagerfeld thinks about Russia. So quote, "If I was a woman in Russia, I would be a lesbian, as the men are very ugly.

And finally, on political correctness, and I quote, "Be politically correct, but do we have to know your opinion?"

Do we have to know your opinion? Karl Lagerfeld, I could not have said it better myself.

That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.