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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; President Obama Publicly Supports Gay Marriage; Unused Airport Screening Equipment?; Charity Responds to Allegations with Bizarre Email; Effort to Dissolve Police Force Thwarted
Aired May 9, 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: It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.
We begin with breaking news, historic words from President Obama in support of same-sex marriage. Today, in an ABC interview with "Good Morning America," as you know, Robin Roberts, the president did not mince words. He didn't say there's work to be done or that his position is evolving, as he said so often before. He said in no uncertain terms he believes same-sex marriage should be legal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At a certain point, I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, supporters of same-sex marriage have long pressed for the president to say just those words. But for the past two years, he and the White House would only go so far as to categorize his position on same-sex marriage as one that was in the process of evolving.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Whether gays and lesbians should be able to get married, I have spoken about this recently. As I have said, my feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.
QUESTION: You have said your position is evolving. You said you're struggling with it. What more do you need to know?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I probably won't make news right now, George, but I think that there's no doubt that, as I see friends, families, children of gay couples who are thriving, you know, that that has an impact on how I think about these issues.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, I -- what I know is what his position was during the campaign and what it is now. You know, he's been very clear about it. He was very clear in the campaign. He's very clear about the fact that his position, that he's -- that it's evolving. The president said that he was evolving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, in explaining that process of evolving today, the president said he has always been adamant that gays and lesbians should be treated fairly and equally, but he hesitated on gay marriage partly he said because he thought civil unions would be enough, that they would let people visit their partners in the hospital, for instance.
In the ABC interview, he acknowledged that same-sex marriage is an issue that elicits strong feelings both for and against.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, you know, the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.
But I have to tell you that, over the course of several years, as I talk to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet feel constrained even now that don't ask, don't tell is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point, I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, just a short time ago, we got even more insight into President Obama's thought process and more of that ABC interview.
Robin Roberts asked the president if he discussed the issue of same- sex marriage with first lady Michelle Obama. He said they have talked about it over the years and she feels the same way that he does. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In the end, the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people. We're both practicing Christians.
And, obviously, this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others, but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the golden rule. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the most recent Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans say, yes, same-sex marriages should be legal; 48 percent say no. So half the country supports same-sex marriage and tonight that half includes the president of the United States. Joining me now live is CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Evan Wolfson, executive director of FreedomtoMarry.org, chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, and CNN political contributor and Republican consultant Alex Castellanos.
Jessica, some in the White House have been saying -- have been telling you this was the plan all along. Given the past few days, the way it sort of rolled out, some believe it doesn't seem all that planned. Was it?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, it doesn't look planned at all, does it, Anderson?
So the official story here is as follows, senior administration officials telling me that a few months ago the president came to the conclusion that he is for same-sex marriage. He came to that because in part through discussions with Mrs. Obama, also because of Sasha and Malia, his children have parents who are same-sex and they kept saying to him, it's not fair that those parents don't have the same rights as other people --
COOPER: You mean they have friends who have parents.
YELLIN: Sorry, yes, that's what I mean. Friends who have parents who are same-sex couples. And those conversations as well as the others he referenced helped him come to this decision. And then it was just a question of time when he would make that decision public. These officials say the president was going to make that decision public at some point before the Democratic convention and then when Vice President Biden made those remarks on the Sunday show this become and then the press jumped all over Jay Carney in the briefing room the other day, they felt that they had to do it this week.
Now I will -- can I just ad to that, I have talked to another Democratic official who says, it was a little iffier than that. There was some division in the White House even this week whether he should make this decision and announce it this week.
COOPER: How does the White House expect it to play politically, Jessica?
YELLIN: You know, they're saying that they haven't gamed it out fully and that they don't think they'll lose votes over there, although I really think that's yet to be seen. But you have to acknowledge that there are more risks. I believe there are more risks than upside to this, although some on this panel will disagree. And in the end, though, the president has made the decision that is more consistent with what he believes to be honest with his -- you know truthful with his -- to his beliefs.
And that's consistent with his brand. They are selling him as somebody who stands on principle. And so in the end, that works for him politically, Anderson.
COOPER: Evan Wolfson, you've been working on this harder and longer than just about anybody. A, your thoughts about the president making this statement, and your thoughts on how it plays politically.
EVAN WOLFSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FREEDOM TO MARRY: I think this is a big day for the country and a wonderful day for the Freedom to Marry Movement. Not just because the president of the United States is on the right side of history but the way he explained it to the American people. The way he talked from the heart, the way he gave personal examples of people he knew.
He talked about it with his family. He looked at his own kids and he thought about the values he and Michelle are teaching them of treating others as you would want to be treated. That really rang true because it's the same journey, the same way in which other Americans have grappled with this question and it's how we've come to a majority. People have thought it through. The same way the president exemplified and have embraced the idea that treating others the way you would want to be treated is the right way for the country to be.
COOPER: Paul Begala, in term of the politics, first of all, Paul, you actually called in on this program last June, you said you believe the president would publicly support same-sex marriage before the election. A lot of people doubted that. How do you think this plays politically?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First, I'm just grateful you haven't reminded the audience of the 10,000 things I have said that were wrong, like Jon Huntsman will be a really strong candidate for the Republicans or all the other dopey things I have said.
But I think Evan makes a very powerful point. The president wasn't reading talking points, he wasn't reading a teleprompter, he wasn't repeating cliches.
This really seemed to me -- I don't know him very well, but I watched the tape -- seemed very authentic. And it is the journey that so many American families are going on. And I was struck also that he was enormously respectful of people, particularly people who come from the point of religious faith and have arrived at a different conclusion. And you know we need our president to be a unifying figure. This is a very polarizing issue.
And I think he has actually stitched those two roles together very powerfully. He's standing on principle, it may hurt him politically but I think the fact that he's being respectful even to people who have arrived in a different conclusion is pretty important.
COOPER: But do you think it will hurt him politically? I mean there are many African-Americans who traditionally vote Democratic who are more socially conservative and who, you know, may not like what he's just said.
BEGALA: Yes, actually, I think -- I think, actually, African-American community, even those who disagree with him, will still be there. I think this will help, frankly, with young people who have dropped terribly with him. It will hurt with older people where he is hoping to do well, taking about issues like Medicare and Social Security. So I -- you know, it really is too soon to tell. The economy is going to drive this election fundamentally. It's not going to be about social issues, even one this historic.
But I -- you know, I don't think he did this strictly for the politics. Everything he does is political, he's a politician, OK? but I don't think this is an easy or clear political call at all. I think the guy just finally got tired of, you know, pretending that he was not for gay marriage when clearly I think for the last several months he has been.
COOPER: Alex, I want to play what Mitt Romney had to say in the wake of the president's announcement. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have the same view on marriage that I have when -- had when I was governor and that I have expressed many times. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He also has said that he doesn't believe in civil unions if they have the same rights as marriages or if they're marriages in everything but name only but does favor some rights of domestic partnerships like hospital visitation rights.
How do you think the president's announcement plays?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think -- I think the president, you know, gets a thumbs up today because I think Paul is right and Jessica, too, that he's taken some political risks today. Not that there isn't a political plus side for him. I think the risk is that he's not going to lose Republicans. He's already -- doesn't have any. Can't fall off the floor. And he's not going to lose black evangelicals, they're going to stay.
But there are some Reagan Democrats out there, some, you know, guys with names on their work shirts who are going to think the president is culturally different from them. And Paul is right, they're older voters. And I think he's putting something on the line there for something that he believes he's come to believe in and that's important.
The plus side for him is I do think this tells us something about the Obama campaign and that is that he's really not working at the middle. He wants to make sure that his base and his support is there at the base. And that's what I think he's doing here. He's putting all his eggs in that basket. But overall, Jessica is right, more downside than upside politically for the president. And you've got to admire him for that.
COOPER: Evan, you've been working to support, encourage same-sex marriage in states. Does this actually change anything, though? Because the federal government still doesn't recognize this, same-sex couples, even if they're married in New York City, for instance, they can't. If one partner is from a foreign country, the Immigration Department doesn't recognize that, they don't get a green card, so does this actually make any difference?
WOLFSON: Well, it doesn't change everything, there's still plenty of work left to be done. And Freedom to Marry and the rest of us who believe this have to take the president's lead and take the president's example and go out and make the same case and have the same conversations that helped him and the vice president and others to where we now have a majority.
COOPER: Are you frustrated that the president didn't say and I'm going -- you know, I believe in this and I'm going to work to make this more widespread?
WOLFSON: Barack Obama is president of the United States. He's not president of Freedom to Marry. I don't expect him to be out there campaigning on this every day. I expect him to do what we elect presidents to do, which is stand for freedom, for fairness, for families, to provide moral leadership in the country and to do what the president needs to do with regard to the federal government.
The rest is up to all of us to take that lead and inspiration, but I think the president's words will reverberate across kitchen tables around the country in the hearts and minds of people who are wrestling with this as he and the first lady and others have, and will provide a powerful example of where the country ought to be.
And I also think that those who do not -- do not fully agree with the president will still respect the president's authenticity, what your commentators are describing as his courage and his willingness to stand for what he believes in and then will be able to move on to the broader and bigger questions that many of them care more about in this very important moment for our country.
COOPER: Paul, it does fight against the narrative of those who criticize the president who said, well, look, he's voted present, he doesn't really take a stand. He talks about the fierce urgency of now from time to time, but he's not really there on the front lines of it. Certainly this statement you could say counteracts that.
BEGALA: Well, I think so. And I think that the worst thing a president can do is vacillate and he has been vacillating on this for quite some time. Now he's taken a strong position. I also think it is consonant with and resonant with his campaign message, forward, not back. The equal rights movement is moving forward.
It is inexorable. It is inevitable. I know this is a big setback for those of us who believe in freedom to marry in North Carolina yesterday, but in time this will be, I think -- I know, the law of the land because of the demographics.
Younger people very much strongly support this. So it's a forward- looking thing. And I think he can then cast his opponent, Mitt Romney, who's been on a journey as well but he's been on a journey the other way. He was an advocate of gay rights when he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy. Said he'd be more pro-gay rights even than the late senator. And now today he's not only -- he's for repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He wants to reinstate it, rather. And discriminate against soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines.
Now he doesn't want to have -- he wants to amend the constitution to discriminate against gays in marriage, doesn't even support most civil unions. I think he can cast that as a backward-looking position.
YELLIN: Anderson, there is --
COOPER: Go ahead.
YELLIN: There is one other factor at play to put this in context. The president did also have to contend with the fact that at the Democratic convention there were many people who were pushing for a plank on gay marriage to be included in the party's platform. So if he wasn't going to come out for gay marriage, his hand was going to be forced one way or another. He was going to be called out on his hedging.
YELLIN: So, you know, when you say that he was standing up on principle, yes, we can acknowledge that here. But there was also going to be some consternation if he didn't say something at some point.
COOPER: OK, Evan, briefly.
WOLFSON: Yes, I just want to go back to what Paul said. While the president was evolving, Governor Romney has been revolving and has settled on a position that is more extreme than that of Dick Cheney and even George W. Bush. Dick Cheney supports the Freedom to Marry. George W. Bush stated his support for civil unions. Governor Romney has said he opposes all of that.
COOPER: Evan Wolfson, Alex Castellanos, appreciate it. Paul Begala, Jessica Yellin, thank you.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Let me know on Twitter right now. Let's have this discussion @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting as well.
Coming up: hundreds of millions of dollars of airport screening equipment sitting unused in TSA warehouses in Texas. That's it right there. Is the TSA wasting your money and trying to hide it from Congress?
We're "Keeping Them Honest."
COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight with a disturbing new report that the agency tasked with keeping us all safe when we travel is spending millions upon millions of dollars on screening equipment that's sitting in warehouses unused. It's a fact according to House Transportation Oversight Committee. The TSA tried to hide from Congress. This comes in the wake of the foiled al Qaeda plot to blow up a plane bound for the United States. The goal had been to use an innovative type of bomb that would reportedly be difficult to detect even at a pat-down. Well, needless to say, security concerns at airports are serious than ever.
Today a scathing congressional report said the TSA is storing about 5700 pieces of security equipment at warehouses in Dallas, Texas. Equipment worth an estimated $184 million. The report also says the TSA dragged its feet when Congress tried to get information about how it buys and stores screening equipment. That the TSA, quote, "provided inaccurate, incomplete and potentially misleading information to Congress in order to conceal the agency's continued mismanagement of warehouse operations."
In response, the Department of Homeland Security said the TSA buys technology in bulk to save money but that it doesn't buy more inventory than it expects to use. That it, quote, "utilizes warehouse space as staging locations until airports are able to accept the equipment."
"Keeping Them Honest," the congressional report says the vast majority of that equipment, though, has been sitting there more than six months and that 35 percent of the equipment has been in storage for more than a year. And get this, according to Congress, it's costing the TSA $3. 5 million a year just to store that equipment at the Dallas warehouse.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill today, a TSA official said that's down from $7.6 million in 2009. So while the TSA seems to want to highlight how much it's trying to save taxpayers, the congressional report says all it's really doing is throwing millions of dollars at the problem of airport security without solving anything.
Representative Darrell Issa is leading this investigation. He's the head of the House Oversight Committee, a Republican. I spoke with him earlier this evening.
COOPER: Congressman Issa, $184 million of equipment sitting around in warehouses not being used. That seems like just on the face of it an enormous waste of money.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, Anderson, it's a small amount of money considering the $13 billion plus dollars of expenditure, but it's part of the sort of tip of the iceberg of what's wrong with TSA. They have over 65,000 employees, over 4,000 that just work here in Washington doing administration.
It's an organization that doesn't seem to have ever developed their plan. Their own inspector general made it clear that they're not making a lot of progress toward efficiency. And their buying practices seem to be more about buy a lot of stuff to look like you're doing well rather than finding out whether a particular piece of equipment will work properly and then fielding it more economically. COOPER: They say, essentially, well, look, a lot of the airports weren't ready for the equipment or didn't have the personnel to staff the equipment.
ISSA: Well, you know, Anderson, I spent a lot of time doing the logistics of a comparatively small company, but a couple of hundred million dollars, as you learn something, one of them is, your vendors are more than happy if you'll prepay to hold the goods and drop ship directly to locations. There's lots of logistic ways to deal with it.
But what we heard today was that in some cases two years after delivery they still hadn't identify the airports for things to go to, which means they bought them without knowing if or when they'd go anywhere. And in the case of what many people remember these so- called puffer devices, they spent a billion, they never worked, and then they didn't know how to dispose of them so they sat in storage for a couple more years.
COOPER: You say the TSA did not even want your investigators to show up. What happened when you showed up on site at the warehouse?
ISSA: The inspector general today has agreed to look into this more thoroughly. But what appears to have happened is that they gave us a list in advance of what was in the warehouse and a dollar figure. And then in the hours, two or so, days before they got there, they brought in extra work early and they liquidated at least 1300 pieces that were not on that inventory that they didn't want to show us.
In other words, they cooked the books to make it look better but did it after they gave us an inventory list. Something that at least in my background in the army, if you tried to smuggle stuff around before an inspector general inspection, you'd go to jail. And so we're deeply concerned that this kind of hiding of flaws is exactly what you don't want when you're doing oversight, whether you're the Congress, inspector general or General Accountability Office.
COOPER: The TSA I know, for their part, said that they weren't trying to hide anything, that the equipment was already scheduled to be moved. Do you not buy that?
ISSA: Well, I can only say what my own employee said to me, which was that he talked directly to warehouse managers who when he asked why there weren't any employees there, he said well, we brought them in especially early to get all this stuff out and so they're gone. In other words, these were not segregated and planned to be gotten rid of. But they had to work overtime to do it.
Again, we've turned that over to the inspector general. It's a distraction because it's not the cover-up in this case, it's what we now know, which is this is an organization that buys before it plans, that hires before it trains, and that uses as an excuse that they don't have enough training when in fact even our Democratic members pointed out that when it comes to morale and effectiveness of leadership, TSA is almost at the very, very bottom of all federal organizations.
We're not talking about the employees, we're talking about the morale of the employees because of bad management.
COOPER: Supporters of the TSA will say that this report is biased that, that Chairman Mica who led the investigation with you has it out for the TSA, wants to privatize the screening. To that you say what?
ISSA: Well, Chairman Mica may have a lot of things and I can't know that. What I can say is that my investigators found an organization in need of improvement with an extremely important job. One that we believe could be done if done by federal workers could be done with less federal workers, better organized with better morale, paid well, trained well with good equipment.
And that's the goal unless Congress and the president change their mind that we're working toward is an organization that instead of being ninth from the bottom in morale and training, in fact starts to look where it needs to be if we're going to keep America safe and people flying efficiently.
COOPER: This obviously comes right on the heels of the discovery of a terrorist plot to blow up an airplane. Should Americans have faith that the TSA is capable of doing what's necessary to keep them safe?
ISSA: Well, Anderson, I think in the case of that failed bombing attempt, we should be proud that the restructured CIA that has been rebuilt in the last decade in fact proactively had agent involved, found this and uncovered it before we ever had to ask the question of would TSA have found it with their equipment, that you may or may not have gone through.
So I'm happy to say CIA did their job. My job is to make sure that the men and women of TSA have the tools and the training they need so that we can be more confident that our fliers are safe. And by the way, we'd like to get them through the lines a lot faster, too.
COOPER: Chairman Issa, I appreciate it, thank you.
ISSA: Thank you.
COOPER: Well, CNN's investigation into a charity that claims to raise money for disabled veterans has resulted in one of the most mind- boggling responses to a story that we have ever received.
You do not want to miss it next. We'll be right back.
COOPER: A 360 "Follow" now to the special investigation that we've reported on the past two nights about the activities of a charity that claims to raise money for disabled veterans. I hope you've seen at least one of our reports the last two nights.
Today, we received a response from this organization. I have to say that the e-mail sent to us is mind-boggling and bordering on the outright bizarre. We're going to get to that in a moment. First, I want to give you the background in case you missed it.
We've been examining the activities of a charity calling themselves Disabled Veterans National Foundation. It looks very official. They've got a seal and everything.
Its own tax filings, though, show that it's raised nearly $56 million in donations for veterans in the past three years. But not one dime of all that money Americans have donated to help veterans has actually gone directly to help disabled veterans.
So our Drew Griffin went right to the top, to the president of the organization, a woman by the name of Precilla Wilkewitz. Remember that name, Precilla Wilkewitz. Here's what happened when he tried to ask her questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRECILLA WILKEWITZ, CEO, DVNF: You're the one from CNN that's...
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
(VOICE-OVER) Meet Precilla Wilkewitz, president of the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, who we found at a small VFW office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
WILKEWITZ: Well, this is the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and I really didn't think you'd do something like this. We've agreed to talk to you and answer questions.
GRIFFIN: Nobody has agreed. So here is the question raised over three years.
WILKEWITZ: Only in writing. Thank you so much.
GRIFFIN: And none of the money has gone to any veterans, ma'am.
(voice-over) While Wilkewitz is the former national legislative liaison for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, it's another veterans group she's president of that we wanted to discuss.
(on camera) OK. So the bottom line is you're not going to give me an interview.
(voice-over) CNN has been trying for two years to get an interview with Disabled Veterans National Foundation, since we began tracking its fundraising. We've gotten angry phone calls, angry e-mails, promises of written responses, and now a slammed door.
(on camera) Veterans, ma'am?
(voice-over) But no answer. When you see just how this charity operates, you'll understand why.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're paying down our start-up costs. KING: Wilkewitz on the organization's Web site likes to boast about the charitable gifts that her group gives away, and DVNF does give away stuff. Stuff actual veterans groups say they really don't need.
COOPER: Right. Stuff, items like chef's aprons, surplus Navy dress shoes and bags of coconut M&Ms. Hundreds of them.
Here's how it works. On its tax forms, the foundation lists what's called gifts in kind, items it gets for free like these M&Ms and then passes on to veterans groups, or chef's aprons. But how many disabled vets actually need a chef's apron?
And there's still the main question that needs to be answered. What has the foundation done with the $56 million it's collected from Americans concerned about the welfare of disabled veterans?
Last night on this program I issued a direct invitation, a challenge, if you will, to Precilla Wilkewitz. Make yourself available to us anywhere, any time. We'll be there. Drew will be there. I'll be there. Any one of us will be there. We'd love to ask you questions.
She slammed the door in Drew's face, saying we'd agreed to talk to you, but she hasn't agreed to talk to us.
In response, she sent Drew Griffin what can only be described as a bizarre, bizarre e-mail. He's here to talk about it.
All right, Drew, tell everybody the response you got.
GRIFFIN: Yes, it is indeed one of the strangest I've ever had after reporting a story.
I contacted her on your behalf, asking her to come on the program today. The e-mail we got in response, Precilla Wilkewitz says this.
"I have our official statement replying to everything you guys claim and proving a lot of the claims to be completely inaccurate." Then she wrote the entire lyrics to this 1980s George Michael hit, "Careless Whisper."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC: "CARELESS WHISPER")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I mean, yes. I just -- it boggles my mind. It's funny on the one hand. It's infuriating on the other hand. They've raised $56 million. They have a lot of money. They could craft a statement. They could answer questions. Instead, they send you the song -- the lyrics to "Careless Whisper."
GRIFFIN: The entire lyrics, Anderson. This was a very long e-mail and I didn't remember that song, but I certainly read through the whole e-mail to see if there was something else. It ends -- she says it ends with the words that say, "Was what I did so wrong, so wrong that you had to leave me alone? Have a good day, Precilla Landry Wilkewitz."
I thought maybe it was a mistake. But the president of the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, which took in $56 million and failed to spend hardly any of it on veterans, said in a second e-mail, said, "Yes, all we have to say right now is the Careless Whisper lyrics, although we will come up with more later. Thank you."
Your viewers could make of that what they wish. I don't understand it.
COOPER: And I mean just -- they have a -- like a PR person who you've been dealing with on the phone, right?
GRIFFIN: I think that guy has been canned. He has been with them for a couple of years. A very, very aggressive PR guy in New York. We got yesterday a call from another PR firm, another PR guy who tried to explain something to us. Nothing getting us quite to an interview.
But, no, this is a legitimate, supposedly, group. They raised $56 million. All of that money went to their fundraising operation, Quadriga. We have just been trying to figure out what is going on here with all these donations.
COOPER: Do we know how much Precilla Wilkewitz actually makes? How much they -- they -- because you know, a lot of these charities, they pay salaries to the people who work for them. Do we know how much she makes?
GRIFFIN: You know what? It's really a negligible amount, if anything at all. That's not what caught our attention.
The money, though, that everybody has donated, all the thousands and thousands of people, that's what we want to know where that money went to and, quite frankly, whether or not Precilla Wilkewitz even knows where that money went.
COOPER: We'd love to ask her again. We -- we extend an invitation. We will -- we can play "Careless Whisper" when she's here, if she'd like, if that will encourage her.
Maybe that's her calling you. Drew, we'll continue on. I appreciate the reporting.
You may remember Colorado City, Arizona, where the police force is basically an arm of the FLDS church, that polygamist sect that worships this guy Warren Jeffs, believes he's a prophet. The spokesperson for God. The town operates under its own brand of justice, and tonight it seems untouchable. That's next.
COOPER: An emotional day for Jennifer Hudson. She sobbed during closing arguments in the murder trial of the man accused of killing her mom, brother and young nephew. The latest on that ahead.
COOPER: Tonight a "360 Follow." Another stunning example of the powerful hold a polygamist sect maintains in Colorado City, Arizona.
It's incredible this is happening in this day and age in the United States. You know, Colorado City is a desert town that remains deeply loyal to the polygamist sect leader, Warren Jeffs, despite the fact that he's now serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls.
The story's many twists and turns have often taken CNN's Gary Tuchman to Colorado City, where visitors are definitely not welcome. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Load up and leave the property. Now.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm saying why -- why can't I talk to you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now.
TUCHMAN: Sir, that's fine if you don't want to talk but why won't you talk to me is all I'm asking you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go now or I'll cite you.
TUCHMAN: You'll cite me for what?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That officer and most of the police force in Colorado City are members of the sect, the FLDS. They've long ruled the town with their own brand of justice, and now their control seems stronger than ever. Tonight Gary Tuchman reports on why state lawmakers who wanted to dissolve the force failed.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Colorado City, Arizona, is a very unusual place. The desert town is the religious seat of the FLDS Church, which promotes and practices polygamy, and whose leader has been convicted of raping underage girls.
SAM BROWER, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: The police force in Colorado City is without a doubt the most crooked police department in the country.
TUCHMAN: Sam Brower is a private investigator who has dug into FLDS allegations for most of the last decade. He says the cops make the community increasingly unstable.
BROWER: I've never seen the tension so high.
TUCHMAN: So we wanted to ask the police about their support and allegiance to convicted pedophile polygamist, Warren Jeffs, but they didn't want to talk.
(on camera) Can I ask you a question, Officer? Can I ask you a question?
(voice-over) Mohave County is where Colorado City, Arizona, is located, and Tom Sheehan is the sheriff. He says his deputies can't trust the local police.
SHERIFF TOM SHEEHAN, MOHAVE COUNTY, ARIZONA: They are doing only what the church wants them to do and what their leaders tell them to do.
TUCHMAN (on camera): So your belief is that it's -- their religion and their prophet is far more important than the laws of the state of Arizona?
SHEEHAN: That we know for sure.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): With that in mind, the Arizona legislature took up a bill to dissolve the department known as the Colorado City Marshal's Office and leave enforcement up to the sheriff. Under the law, any Arizona police department in which more than half of officers were decertified by the state for corruption or crime in an eight-year period would be dissolved.
MATT SMITH, MOHAVE COUNTY PROSECUTOR: If you have more than 50 percent of your officers decertified, do you have any business having a law enforcement agency? I mean, that's ridiculous.
TUCHMAN: Colorado City currently has six cops. Six other cops have been kicked off within the past eight years. The state says each of those cops was decertified for different reasons, such as felony sexual conduct with a minor, bigamy, refusal to testify and answer questions at a grand jury and a deposition, and seeking advice from a fugitive. That fugitive being Warren Jeffs when he was on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List.
A letter recovered when Jeffs was arrested, written by the former chief, declared, "I am praying for you to be protected and yearn to be with you again."
The Arizona senate passed the bill unanimously. But then something very surprising happened in the Arizona House. Representatives Nancy McClain and Doris Goodale, non-FLDS members who represent Colorado City in the legislature, took up the church's cause to keep the police department intact. And with their leadership, the bill died in a close vote.
McClain and Goodale say the bill is unconstitutional, because they claim the city is being singled out. They also acknowledge they want to support their FLDS constituents who will cast ballots for them come election day.
And another part of their argument? Listen to this.
Things are changing up there, and it just doesn't seem fair to go backwards in time when things are finally opening up. TUCHMAN: But that directly contradicts what Gary Engels sees. He's the primary investigator of the FLDS for the county prosecutor's office.
(on camera) Do you think things are getting better in Colorado City?
GARY ENGELS, MOHAVE COUNTY INVESTIGATOR: No, things are getting much worse. And it's getting worse by the day. It's getting more fanatical.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): So where's Representative McClain getting her information? We asked her.
MCCLAIN: There's more commerce there. They're more willing to talk with other people that come into the community that are not members of the community. I get e-mails from the community. So I see that as opening up.
TUCHMAN: When I go there, people come to me and say they're scared, there's no one to talk to. They want to get out. They're trapped. Their children are being taken away from them. The cops are doing nothing. Have you ever heard anything like that before?
MCCLAIN: No. No body -- no one has said that to me in any of the times I've been up there.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): But it does happen, repeatedly. This past February I covered the story of this man, David Bistline. Warren Jeffs had kicked him and many other men out of the church for not being faithful enough.
In the middle of the night his wife and seven children were told to leave him, and they left the house with the local police standing by.
DAVID BISTLINE, KICKED OUT OF FLDS: Just about killed me. I just closed my eyes, and I felt like my soul is out there just floating around somewhere.
TUCHMAN (on camera): When Warren Jeffs kicks people out of the church, their families are taken away from them. And the cops help take their families away from them.
MCCLAIN: That was five years ago.
TUCHMAN: No, that was a few months ago, because I just covered a story about that.
MCCLAIN: Well, we never heard about it.
TUCHMAN: Representative Goodale testified to the other legislators that this is a very open community. One of her quotes was "When we come here, we go to the baseball games, the Little League games. We can tell you from talking to people who are in the church and formerly in the church that there's never been a Little League here in Colorado City. As a matter of fact, one woman who's in the says she doesn't even know what the term Little League means. And as far as baseball games, this was the main baseball field in Colorado City. This was the first base line. Years ago kids did run down from home plate to first base to play baseball.
Now it's a garden, because several years ago Warren Jeffs made the decree that kids should not be playing sports or playing games, and they got rid of the baseball field. So I've been here at least 15 times -- at least 15 times -- to Colorado City and never seen baseball being played.
And this, the main basketball courts, three beautiful courts, or once beautiful courts but now the courts are being used to house mountains of recycled rubble.
(voice-over) We wanted to get the Colorado City police chief's reaction to the criticism in this story.
(ON CAMERA) Anybody in the police station?
TUCHMAN: We did see movement in the office, but as usual we got no response.
COOPER: Gary joins me now. And on the phone Michael Watkiss, investigative reporter at KTVK in Phoenix who's also been covering the FLDS for years now.
Gary, did these legislators do a thorough investigation before voting against this?
TUCHMAN: With all due respect to those two women, there does not appear to have been a strenuous investigation. They made a number of misstatements to their fellow House members.
And one statement by Representative Goodale was that these are normal citizens who live there. Now, this is the most abnormal place I've been to in the United States. I've been to 50 states for this program and this network. It is the opposite of normal.
These are men who in many cases have sex with lots of women under their roofs. In some cases these women are under the age of 18. Even the people who will talk to us who live there acknowledge they're totally different than the rest of the country. They think they're right with God, but they even know it's not normal. So for the representative to say that is a little disingenuous.
TUCHMAN: But even more importantly, you saw in our story we talked to the sheriff. We talked to the chief prosecutor. We talked to the investigator, three very important people in that county. They are flabbergasted that these two representatives never reached out to them to talk to them. They just can't believe that.
COOPER: Mike, what's your response? I mean, you've covered this group for so long now. When you hear the state congresswoman saying things are getting better there? MIKE WATKISS, KTVK (via phone): It is another example of the absolute moral and intellectual bankruptcy on the part of Arizona leaders when it comes to this issue.
The FLDS have been in Texas less than ten years. They have incarcerated Mr. Jeffs and thrown 11 of his followers in prison, making a very strong statement. That's more than the state of Arizona has done to help the women and children in Colorado City in well over a century.
I should have a public disclaimer. I have been very publicly calling for the decertification of this outfit for many years, because we have -- we have followed the very stories that Gary is talking about. The cop who took an underage girl and had sex with her. The cops that have committed bigamy. The cops that won't testify to grand juries. The cops that write basically love letters to Warren Jeffs while he's on the FBI's most wanted list. This is truly the most corrupt police agency in America. Arizona continues to ignore this.
And these two women should be ashamed of themselves because it's not just disingenuous. It's outright dishonest when they say to their colleagues, because Mr. Jeffs is incarcerated, his stranglehold on that community has diminished. That's just flatly untrue.
You replaced a bunch of FLDS cops who have been thrown out with other FLDS men.
Well, get what? They're every bit as beholden to Mr. Jeffs as their predecessors. Nothing has changed. Gary Engels is right. Things are probably more tense or strict or stringent against the women and children. And these lawmakers cry about the rights of a handful of FLDS cops, while Arizona continues its century-long complete abrogation of its responsibility when it comes to the rights of the women and children in that community.
COOPER: We're going to continue to follow it. Mike Watkiss, appreciate it. Again, always your reporting, Gary Tuchman, as well.
The fate of the man accused of killing three members of Jennifer Hudson's family is in the hands of the jury. The latest on that ahead.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News and Business Bulletin."
The suspect in the kidnapping of four members of a Tennessee family is now one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted. Adam Mayes is accused of killing two of the victims. The reward for his arrest has grown to $175,000.
The face of the man accused of killing Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew is now in the hands of the jury. Hudson was in court as The judge said there is no DNA evidence tying him to the murders. Hudson kept her head down as the prosecution shared out autopsy photos.
SESAY: A bomb blast in Syria nearly hits a convoy carrying U.N. observers monitoring the fragile peace deal there. They were traveling from Damascus to the Volta (ph) city of Dara (ph). No observers were hurt but several of the military escorts were injured.
The U.S. Postal Service says thousands of rural post offices that were on the chopping block will stay open. To save money, they'll operate for fewer hours and convert thousands of full-time positions to part- time jobs.
And legendary hairstylist Vidal Sassoon has died. A police spokesman said Sassoon died of apparent natural causes at his L.A. home surrounded by family. Vidal Sassoon was 84 years old -- Anderson.
COOPER: Isha, thanks. "The RidicuList" is next.
COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList," and tonight I'm adding anyone who talks about themselves online. And, yes, I include myself.
Look, I'm down with the Twitter. I appreciate the Facebook. I'm sure I posed for Instagrams, and I've at least heard of Foursquare, though I still really have no idea what it is. But here's what caught my attention.
A new Harvard study entitled "Disclosing Information about the Self is Intrinsically Rewarding." In other words, tweeting about what you had for lunch makes you feel important.
Now, the study didn't actually focus on online behavior. But since I'm nothing if not a Harvard researcher that's the way I've chosen to interpret it. Besides, where else do people talk about themselves more than online? For that matter, where else can you find a photo of me tweeted by me showing me covered in mud on vacation?
The "L.A. Times" broke down the study and reported that, quote, "in a series of experiments, the researchers found that the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same sensation of pleasure in the brain that we get from eating food, getting money or having sex."
All right. Let me just stop right there. First of all, the pleasure you get from talking about yourself is similar to the pleasure you get from eating food? Are you kidding? Have you never seen "Eat, Pray, Love"?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS: I'm in love. I'm having a relationship with my pizza.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes, that's right. Julia Roberts, that's what I'm talking about.
And look, I'm a pretty regular Twitter user. Can be quite useful at times. But don't try to tell me that tweeting about yourself can compete with making sweet, sweet love to a pizza. Twitter is something most people scroll through while they're on the toilet, and frankly, even then they've got more important things to do.
Don't get me wrong: I get that social media has seemingly given everyone a voice in the "Twilight Zone"-like universe in which we now live, everyone should care what everyone else is doing. But I'm going to tell you a little secret.
You know when you tweet Rihanna, to tell her, "LOL, I just burped"? You know who doesn't care, besides everyone? Rihanna.
And the idea that somehow talking or tweeting about yourself is as pleasurable as sex? Please. I'm no Dr. Ruth, but if you're getting the same amount of pleasure from having sex as you are from using Twitter, you're doing something wrong.
The bottom line is we shouldn't spend so much time talking about ourselves online. No one really cares. Also, please don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and of course on "The RidicuList."
Tomorrow, by the way, is the "AC 360" hang-out with me, Isha, Randi Kaye and producer Jack Gray. Pose a question for us and watch it live on the ANDERSON COOPER 360 Google Plus page at 6:45 p.m. Eastern.
Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.