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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Firestorm in Colorado; The Risk for Romney; Scandal Brewing in Washington; Tropical Storm Debby Downgraded; Holder Contempt Vote On Thursday
Aired June 26, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Erin. We begin with breaking news out of Colorado tonight where less than an hour ago, state officials announced that 7,000 more people should evacuate immediately. It's one of a series of new threats within the last 24 hours. Seven large fires are now raging out of control and the situation is dire.
In just a moment, we're going to speak with a family that's managed to make it out alive with their pony and their donkeys and all but the home they left is literally right on the fire's edge.
First, though, we want to go to CNN's Jim Spellman, he's on the front lines with firefighters who are battling the Waldo Canyon fire right near Pike's Peak.
JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad. Yes, this fire has really amped up in the last just couple of hours. A fire official told me less than an hour ago that if he told me an acreage amount, it would be wrong in 10 minutes. This fire is advancing at least 10,000 feet every hour.
The last four days that this has been burning, they've counted on the wind to at least burn it in towards the interior of the forest and away from populated areas. Just within the last half hour, that has completely changed. And the smoke is now coming towards us, towards the city of Colorado Springs.
Now it doesn't seem at this moment that there's any real danger to the city itself. But so far as of a couple of hours ago, they miraculously, I think, not lost a single structure. I was in the interior of this fire and they had fire lines around individual houses and every single one of them had held. This is going to make it a lot more difficult with this change in the wind direction. That's what prompted that additional evacuation of 7,000 people -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: And plus, you now know that several thousand more people have been evacuated, right?
SPELLMAN: Yes, exactly, and there are already almost 5,000 people evacuated. Now it's about a total of 12,000 people. This wind has become so erratic and the weather so extreme. Hundred and one degrees here. That is an all-time record since they've been keeping records here in Colorado Springs. It has never gone over 100 here before. This is the hottest day ever here. And with these high winds that are picking up as well, it's just too dangerous to have people in the path of the fire -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Well, it's erratic, it's hot, and as you say, hardly contained. What's the strategy on the part of firefighters?
SPELLMAN: Well, they're trying to create fire lines. They feel good about it in the back of the fire. This -- the way the downwind direction of the fire. But it's heading north towards where the U.S. Air Force Academy is and towards more communities. So they're trying to create a fire line. They're using roads and additional bulldozer lines and even hand dug lines, trying to create a barrier between the active fire and the fuel on the other side of it.
That's their real trick, is to create that gap. So when the fire gets to the fire line, it doesn't have any more fuel to propel itself forward and they hope to hold it there. But when the winds change directions, they have to change their plans to try to create new lines in those new directions. It's not easy. It takes a long time and it's brutal work in these conditions.
O'BRIEN: I was going to say it looks from those pictures that are running side by side with you, Jim, it looks like brutal work.
Jim Spellman, for us this evening, thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.
As Jim reported, the size and the ferocity of the fire has forced thousands of people to flee to safety, including Becky Schormann and her husband who evacuated their home on Sunday morning. Becky joins us now by phone.
Becky, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it. I know this is a really tough time for you. Your daughter is a volunteer firefighter. And I believe she's told you that the flames are now only about 20 feet away from your home. That's got to be just brutal to hear.
BECKY SCHORMANN, WALDO CANYON FIRE EVACUEE: Yes, that was -- that was this afternoon. Since then, they've doused whatever came across the highway. I've got to say that our volunteer fire department has just been awesome.
O'BRIEN: You still there?
SCHORMANN: Oh, yes, yes.
O'BRIEN: OK, so they've been doing a good job for you. So what's the latest update then? If the last one was 20 feet away, they've been able to hold off on the flames. How close is it getting to your home?
SCHORMANN: Well, right now, they've retarded what came across the highway.
O'BRIEN: Oh, good.
SCHORMANN: Where Highway 24 split kind of cascade in half and the side that we're on is the one that we hope doesn't, you know, ever jump the highway, but embers have, and they've just done a marvelous job of taking care of it.
O'BRIEN: Thank goodness. Well, tell me about Sunday morning. Your husband woke up, and woke you up, too, and said, listen, we got to go. Walk me through what happened.
SCHORMANN: Well, he said, he says, get up, we got to go. And it was my one morning to sleep in. Anyway, first thing I did was just started grabbing things that I knew I had to get out of the bedroom. I started making a pile at the front door. And we had neighbors and friends that came and helped us get, you know, things loaded up.
And I believe you have pictures of my husband and my son-in-law and my daughter trying to get our little animals into the back of our trailer.
O'BRIEN: Yes, not so little animals in some cases. I saw I think a pony and a donkey. Where -- where are you now? And where are you keeping your animals?
SCHORMANN: Actually, my daughter, bless her heart, we did a makeshift fence job, and they're living in her backyard. The -- the one -- my one donkey started to chew on their wagon out back, so we're going to have to go find some more hay for him, I think. And we -- we have a motor home, so we brought our motor home. And we're kind of living out of that at my daughter's house, and we brought our neighbors and I have a cousin, and we all came up caravanning and parked ourselves here. I think -- I think my daughter said we finally got out at about 11:30.
O'BRIEN: Wow. Wow. So we have another photo I want to show everybody. And it's a photo of your daughter and your son-in-law. And they're standing on the roof of your home right before you evacuated on Sunday.
O'BRIEN: I know you've been in Colorado for 35 years. Is this a first for you? Have you ever seen anything like this before?
SCHORMANN: Well, other than the experience of the Hayman Fire. We did -- you know, we did go through that. That was -- that was pretty awesome. And I guess Saturday was the 10th anniversary of the Hayman Fire, and that's kind of when this fire started.
O'BRIEN: What, Becky, were you able to grab, and what did you have to leave behind?
SCHORMANN: I left a lot behind. We had a fishing boat. It's still under my deck. And we had a couple of ATVs. Had to leave them behind. And I had antique dishes that came from my grandparents and my parents and -- same with my husband. Basically, my China cabinet. And that's all still there. I had quite an antique doll collection. And most of that's still there.
I think I retrieved one doll. And that was because she was the oldest.
SCHORMANN: And we did -- we do have our two dogs with us. And my son-in-law is actually a firefighter. And he's at work now, taking care of fires. And my daughter will be leaving to take care of Cascade.
O'BRIEN: When you look at some of these pictures, are you feeling hopeful that you're going to be able to return to home intact with all those things inside?
SCHORMANN: I hope so. I keep telling myself it's going to be OK. And -- like I said, our Volunteer Fire Department is just awesome. And they've been there from the onset, from the get-go. Periodically, they change shifts, and some people get to take a nap, but otherwise, they're scattered all over town, with apparatuses and stuff to, you know, protect people's homes.
O'BRIEN: And really a massive job in front of them.
Becky Schormann, thank you for talking with us. I know it is a really tough time for you. We certainly appreciate it.
SCHORMANN: Oh, sure, any time.
O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Chad Myers. He's got more on the weather conditions that these firefighters are facing right now.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Soledad, believe it or not, yesterday the firefighters saw relative humidities right over the fire of 3 percent. Three. The number three. That takes all the humidity out of any timber that's there. Especially any dead timber. And there's a lot of dead timber here.
If you haven't been to Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, in the past couple of years, you don't know about these rocky mountain pine beetles that have killed a lot of trees. So therefore you not only have live trees standing that are on fire, you have dead trees that are just waiting to go.
And so all around this area today where temperatures approached 98 degrees, relative humidity, 3 percent. All of this was just -- it was an impossible fire to fight. Hot all the way from Canada all the way down to Texas. The area around Wichita even saw temperatures around 115 today. And that's in the shade. Well, there's no shade in these fires. There's no shade around the heat and the flames that these firefighters are seeing.
The work that these men and women are doing is literally -- it's yeoman's work, it's tremendous work, and it's very, very dangerous. The winds weren't too bad today. Only about 8 to 10 miles per hour. But it was the heat and the very low humidity. And later on tonight, we could even see a few dry thunderstorms. Can you say -- what do you mean dry thunderstorms? Thunderstorms have rain. Not all thunderstorms have rain. Especially in the mountains where the area fl air is so dry. Three percent.
You can get a cloud to go up. A lightning strike to come down. But yet no rain falling out of the sky. Those are called dry thunderstorms. That's how the first fire we talked about, that Hyde Park Fire, started. But now that Hyde Park Fire, we lose some intensity on that because that started 15 miles west in the mountains west of Ft. Collins.
This fire we're talking about now did not start that far to the west. It started very, very close. Within a few miles there of Colorado Springs. Of the Air Force Academy. Of Garden of the Gods. Of some very beautiful -- these are my memories of going into Canyon City and floating down these streams in rubber rafts, doing class 4 rapids. These are beautiful places. And now, Soledad, they are on fire.
O'BRIEN: It looks absolutely brutal from these pictures, Chad. All right. Thank you for the update. Appreciate that.
For everybody else, let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. You can follow the program on Twitter, @ac360. I'm also tweeting, @soledad_obrien.
Coming up next, is Mitt Romney allergic to specifics? We're going to show the latest example of the campaign dodging questions, even as fellow Republicans are urging him to come up with some better answers. We're "Keeping Them Honest." Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: So try this on for size. When you're electing a president, it helps to know specifically what the candidate would actually do as president. It almost sounds too simple. After all, broadly speaking, most people know what Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney stand for.
Big picture, they pretty much know what they're getting. And nobody exactly is clamoring for white papers and 15-point plans. But details do matter. Specifics do count. If you want to hear whether that big picture the candidate is selling actually adds up.
So "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, is the Romney campaign being too vague on the details? Even some Republicans say yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It ain't easy, Soledad. I've been -- you know, I've been -- I've been at it now for a while. And that's it for me. I want to hear him say some specifics. It's very difficult to put a positive spin when he's not addressing some of the key questions. (END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: That's GOP strategy Ana Navarro on the program last night. She was talking about the Romney campaign's refusal to get specific about immigration. In this case, whether the candidate supports the part of Arizona's immigration law that survived a Supreme Court challenge yesterday.
You'll remember a spokesman was asked that question 16 times on board the Romney campaign plane yesterday. Sixteen times he dodged the answer. Instead, reciting a generic statement not quite referring to the law.
The campaign took a lot of heat for not answering but not enough to change its tune as I found out this morning on "STARTING POINT." I was speaking with Carlos Gutierrez. He's the honorary co-chair of the Romney campaign's Hispanic Steering Committee. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Romney specifically. What exactly is his position on SB 1070? Does he -- support the one provision that now stands?
CARLOS GUTIERREZ, CO-CHAIR, ROMNEY'S HISPANIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, let me say this, Soledad, and I -- look, I have been for immigration reform as long as I can remember. And I have the battle scars to prove it. But I believe that as the governor does that every country in the world has the right and the obligation to secure its borders. To know who's coming in. To know who's leaving.
It's a right. It's an obligation. Every country does it. What is alarming here is that there appears to be a need to convince the president that part of his job is to secure the borders and part of his job is to ensure that we know who's coming in and who's going out. We shouldn't be arguing about this.
O'BRIEN: But my question, sir, was not about President Obama. My question was about Mitt Romney and specifically this one provision of SB 1070. Does he support it as it now stands?
GUTIERREZ: As I -- as I mentioned, the governor supports the right of border states and the country at large to protect its border, to protect its integrity. It's not an empty immigration issue --
O'BRIEN: But, sir, that is -- I hear -- that is not the question --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Yes, it kind of went on like that. And on and on. Mr. Gutierrez actually never answered a very specific yes or no question, nor did he say whether Romney would reverse President Obama's executive action that would allow certain children of illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
Here's what happened when CBS' Bob Schieffer asked the candidate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Would you repeal this order if you became president?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let's step back and look at the issue --
SCHIEFFER: Well what would you do about it?
ROMNEY: Well, as you know, he was president for the last 3 1/2 years, did nothing on immigration.
SCHIEFFER: But would you repeal this?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Didn't answer. As we mentioned even some Republicans are unhappy. Congressman Ben Quail says he wants Mr. Romney to be more aggressive on the issue. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says discussions are under way with the Romney campaign about how to handle immigration.
It's not just immigration where the campaign is vague. It's also equal pay for women. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So does Governor Romney support the Lilly Ledbetter act?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sam, we'll get back to you on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Yes, well, they didn't, ever.
Mr. Romney later said he had no intention of changing the law if he were elected but still wouldn't say whether he supported the legislation himself or not.
Then there's the tax cut plan which calls for big tax cuts offset by closing certain loopholes. Mr. Romney won't say which loopholes he'd close. When asked again this month, he would only say, quote, "We'll go through that process with Congress."
I should mention that no candidate for any office, Republican or Democrat, ever wants to go into too much detail about anything. But it's a matter of degree and how much each campaign compares with past campaigns. We're grading on a constantly changing curve here. And given that, where does Mitt Romney fall on the curve? And does he fall short when it comes to giving voters what they need to decide?
Ana Navarro is back tonight. She was national Hispanic chairwoman for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Fellow GOP strategist Mary Matalin is with us tonight as well. And so is chief national correspondent John King.
Nice to see all of you.
Ana, let's start with you. You sounded kind of frustrated last night about this very topic. Do you think that the governor is not being clear enough or is he just not taking a position that you'd like to hear?
NAVARRO: I don't think he's -- I think I'm frustrated because of both things. I haven't heard a position from him and he hasn't been clear enough. I would rather disagree with him than not know where he is standing. And I think it's also -- the reason I'm so frustrated, Soledad, is because it's a lost opportunity.
Had you asked me six months ago, I would have told you immigration was going to be Barack Obama's biggest liability, not Mitt Romney's. But Mitt Romney, unless he engages, unless he stops tiptoeing around this and walking on eggshells and confronting it head on, he's not going to be able to exploit what is -- what should be Obama's biggest liability with Latinos.
O'BRIEN: Mary, the governor was specific in the primary. He was specific, you know, when he said, I will veto the DREAM Act. He said -- you know, and talked about self-deportation. I know that in these private meetings he has been specific and laid out some details. But those are private. People paid money to come and see him.
Why the big resistance to just laying it out very clearly with detail?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I'm going to have to beg to differ with my friend Ana and with you, Soledad. He just gave a very expansive and specific speech to a Latino community. Of course, we think immigration issues and immigration problems are problems for all Americans, not just the Hispanic community.
Mitt Romney early on was criticized for having a 59-point economic plan. Now he does have a specific -- a broad sweep and specific instances in a white paper, which people don't want to read white papers, but it's right here. He has been specific privately and publicly on this, on regulatory reform and any number of issues.
Can I just go back to Lilly Ledbetter? That is not an equal pay for women act. That's a super pay trial lawyers act. I hope he comes out against it. But the bigger thing is he has been the nominee here for about six weeks, eight weeks. We spoke of any number in specificity issues over the weekend. This is going to be a campaign or an organization ready to govern on day one in great depth.
O'BRIEN: John, Mitt Romney's -- could have a reason for vagueness, obviously. But I have to imagine that, you know, as a member of the press, the press is just going to push harder and harder. And Mary talks about a white paper. But where we really see -- I think a conflict is the right way to put it is when a specific question is asked, it's very clearly dodged. Why? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question. And President Obama will find himself in the same box. Every candidate does. There's no question, candidates sometimes don't want to talk about what we in the news media talk about. Don't want to talk about what the other campaign wants them to talk about.
This all reminds me, Soledad, back in the 1992 campaign when a woman named Jennifer Flowers came forward to challenge then Governor Bill Clinton, to raise some questions about Governor Clinton. A guy named George Stephanopoulos who works for Governor Clinton at the time said specificity is the character issue in this campaign. And Bill Clinton was saying he had the more detailed plan on the economy.
If you actually go to Governor Romney's Web site on most issues he has more details than many of the candidates I have covered in presidential races for some time. Now, clearly, this morning, he was ill served by Secretary Gutierrez. His press secretary, on the plane the other day, did not do a very good job representing the governor. If you don't want to answer the question, don't go back there.
O'BRIEN: So are --
KING: That's campaign 101.
O'BRIEN: So are they -- are they not doing a good job in terms of -- they're just not dodging well or there's no answer to give I guess is the question?
KING: On some issues, on some issues -- Bob Schieffer's questions are a great example. The governor, if he wants to be president, on day one, he has to make a decision about that. He should say, I will leave the president's temporary order in place until I have a permanent replacement, or I will revoke the president's order and then work on a permanent replacement.
That is the question the candidate should answer. He actually gave a pretty detailed answer. Maybe not as detailed as we would like. And I don't think it's a position Ana wants him to take. But in a fundraiser yesterday in Phoenix, he said he wished the Supreme Court gave states more latitude, not less latitude. Now he didn't go into every provision of SB 1070 but that is actually saying something quite significant.
That he thinks states should have the right to go as far as they want. The question I'd like to ask Governor Romney, and, you know, yes, I wish he would do more interviews, is what if -- do you personally agree with -- personally agree with those provisions even if you -- Mary used to work for Dick Cheney. He disagreed with President Bush on whether states should be allowed to approve same-sex marriage if they want. So -- but he didn't run around the country saying, hey, I disagree with the president.
So sometimes we learn these things when we ask them. And guess what, sometimes, Soledad, you've been in the business a while just like me, candidates want -- in Mitt Romney's case, he wants to talk about the economy, almost not anything else. O'BRIEN: And how much of this, Mary, is that you just don't want to put any ammo out there at this point? You really want to --
MATALIN: Well --
O'BRIEN: -- say as little as possible until the last moments because it gives you opportunities for gaffes and it gives you opportunities to lose your messaging?
MATALIN: Mitt Romney is not gaffing. He for -- in addition to all the specificity offered by his policy -- people this past weekend, he stood out for an hour without notes, for over an hour without a teleprompter and in great specificity went through all of his broad themes and a lot of specifics.
On this case, I guess people just don't want to hear what he says when he does answer the question. He did say that he agreed with Marco Rubio's legislation that was under way and was garnering bipartisan support. These are the sweeteners in the -- in the DREAM Act. To give citizenship to those who served in the military and those who have graduated or have attended schools here.
Those are the sweet things. And when you're doing difficult legislation, you trade those sweet things for the hard things. So what he said is that he supports those but that is a short-term -- short-term fix that makes the longer-term, comprehensive fix more difficult. So in addition to that he said what John just said. But this is not what -- the election is not going to be about immigration. It's an important issue. But even among those who care about immigration, 30 percent of Hispanic youth are unemployed.
The unemployment rate among all Hispanics is greater than the national average. I think Hispanics, Latinos, prioritize their jobs, the Latinos that are here legally, their economy, their jobs, their families, their futures, over this important issue, but it's not the dispositive one.
O'BRIEN: We may have to get out the issue of immigration because it seems to be a little bit of a challenge to have a direct conversation about it.
Mary Matalin, nice to see you as always. John King of course as well. Ana Navarro, also, thanks, guys, I appreciate it.
Coming up this evening, Republican senators demand a special council be appointed to investigate the White House leaks scandal and they're naming names. Who they're mentioning as a potential source of the leaks? That's coming up next.
O'BRIEN: Coming up, the Justice Department sues two towns for religious discrimination. The towns are full of people who are loyal to the polygamist FLDS sect which is led by Warren Jeffs. And the lawsuit is a new indication of just how far his power reaches even from behind bars. The latest when 360 continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O'BRIEN: "Raw Politics" tonight. Republicans on Capitol Hill are demanding the appointment of a special council to investigate leaks of classified information reportedly from within the Obama administration. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, a group of 31 senators calls reports of the national security leaks stunning and goes on to name a possible source of the leaks. We'll have more on that in just a moment.
At a news conference today, Senator John McCain led the charge, saying Holder's decision to appoint two Justice Department prosecutors overseen by Holder himself is, quote, "offensive."
McCain and the other senators are calling for a special counsel. Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin joins us this evening. Jessica, what's the very latest on this?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad. Well, these 31 senators, all of whom are Republicans, are essentially keeping up the pressure on the administration.
In a congressional hearing, they already pressed Attorney General Holder to appoint a special prosecutor. They say it's intended to make sure that the investigation is impartial.
Holder already declined, saying that he has full faith in the two U.S. attorneys he appointed to look into the leaks. One of those U.S. attorneys is a Bush appointee.
Both have the power to follow the trail wherever it takes them in the executive or legislative branches. Bottom line, this has become a partisan battle in a political year. Some Democrats see this latest push as a campaign season tactic to try and tape the administration.
And finally, Soledad, I would point out that a number of these same Republican senators who are calling for a special prosecutor in this instance did not think a special prosecutor was necessary during the Valerie Plame scandal. You'll recall that one during the Bush years when he was outed as a CIA agent.
O'BRIEN: So when you look at this letter, early on, they name names, at least one name specifically and that would be the National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon. What do you make of the fact that he is named very clearly? Is he being accused of something?
YELLIN: Guilt by book review? In the letter, Tom Donilon's name is mentioned in what's literally a quote from a review of David Singer's new book and that's about the president's national security policy.
So it's true that Donilon is quoted throughout David Singer's book, but that in itself is no crime. President Bush's national security advisers, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, often spoke to the press also. NSA directors do that. It would seem that by including Donilon's name in the letter, the senators are trying to tie him to the leaks problems.
But when Senator McCain was speaking to the press today and asked point blank if he thinks that Donilon was the leaker, he declines to say.
So you're going to have to ask the 31 senators who sent this letter why they put Donilon in the letter -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Yes, put him in so clearly. Jessica Yellin for us this evening. Thank you, Jessica. Appreciate it.
Lots more happening this evening. Let's get right to Susan Hendricks. She's got a "360 Bulletin." Hi, Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, Tropical Storm Debby has been downgraded now to a tropical depression. It made landfall this afternoon along Florida's northwest coast dumping more rain on already flooded areas forcing thousands of residents to evacuate. More than 20 inches of rain have fallen across Northern Florida, leaving roads like this under water.
House Democrats are bracing for defections in Thursday's vote on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. His failure to release documents related to the botched gun running "Operation Fast and Furious" led to the contempt resolution.
Take a look at this nothing really subtle about it. This fireworks safety demo on the National Mall, it used mannequins and other props to make its point. Fireworks can kill, to be safe this Fourth of July. It sends the message home, which is certainly a good thing. Soledad, back to you.
O'BRIEN: Yes, but it scared my kids to death, I have to tell you. They were in the building today. They are absolutely terrified by that. My daughter's like, what was that? They just blew up some little kids. My goodness, mannequins, mannequins. Susan, thank you.
Coming up, we're going to tell you why the Justice Department is suing a pair of towns that are dominated by members of Warren Jeffs FLDS sect. That's ahead.
O'BRIEN: It was a bombshell from Jerry Sandusky's adopted son, the revelation that he too was a victim. Now for the first time we're hearing what Matt Sandusky told police in his own words. That and much more when 360 continuous.
O'BRIEN: "Crime and Punishment" tonight. The federal government is suing a pair of western towns that are dominated by the fundamentalist, polygamous, FLDS Church and its jailed leader Warren Jeffs.
According to the Justice Department sect members in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hill Dale, Utah have been forcing nonbelievers out. The feds call it discrimination and they want it to stop.
They say it's happening because FLDS members control everything that counts in these places from town hall to tap water.
Gary Tuchman recently visited Colorado City where the word of Warren Jeffs is akin to the word of God and where his cult-like religion is the law.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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 and polygamist Warren Jeffs, but they didn't want to talk.
(on camera): Can I ask you a question, officer?
(voice-over): Mohave County is where Colorado City, Arizona is located. Tom Sheahan is the sheriff. He says his deputies can't trust the local police.
SHERIFF TOM SHEAHAN, MOHAVE COUNTY, ARIZONA: They are doing only what the church wants to do and what their leaders tell them to do.
TUCHMAN (on camera): So your belief is that their religion and their prophet is far more important than the laws of the state of Arizona?
SHEAHAN: 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 Marshals Office and leave enforcement up to the sheriff.
Under the law, any Arizona police department in which more than half the 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 Gooddale, non-FLDS members who represent Colorado City in the legislature took up the church's cause to keep the police department intact.
With their leadership, the bill died in a close vote. McClain and Gooddale 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 Engel 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 up there. It's getting worse by the day. It's getting more fanatical.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): So where is Representative McClain getting her information? We asked her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's more commerce there. They are more willing to talk with people who are not members of the community so I see that as opening up.
TUCHMAN (on camera): 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?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. 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 helped take their families away from them.
DORIS GOODALE, ARIZONA STATE HOUSE: That was five years ago.
TUCHMAN: No, that was a few months ago because I just covered a story about that.
GOODALE: 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 were in the church that there has never been a Little League here in Colorado City. As a matter of fact, one woman in the church currently says she doesn't even know what the term Little League means.
And as part as baseball games, this was the main baseball field in Colorado City. This was the first baseline. Years ago kids did run down from home plate, the first base, play baseball and now it's a garden.
Because several years ago Warren Jeffs made the decree kids should not be playing sports or playing games and they got rid of the baseball field. So I've been here about 15 times to Colorado City, I've seen baseball being played.
And this, the main basketball courts, three once beautiful courts, but now the courts are 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?
(voice-over): We did see movement in the office, but as usual we got no response. (END VIDEOTAPE)
O'BRIEN: Earlier tonight, I spoke with Gary Tuchman as well as Michael Watkiss, an investigative reporter for our Phoenix affiliate KTVK. He joined us by phone.
So, Gary, let's start with you. The way you describe it, it's almost as if a religious sect is actually running these towns. Describe what it's like when you talk to the residents.
TUCHMAN: Well, that's right, Soledad. Many of the people I talked to in these towns remind me of people I've talked to in Afghanistan and Iraq. Religion is more important to them than anything.
If their prophet, Warren Jeffs, who's now in jail tells them something, they do it. Including in the past when he's told 13-year- old or 14-year-old girls they have to marry men in their 60s, 70s or 80s. They do it.
Their families make everything move to make it happen. So it's the kind of situation we go there and try to talk to the people who are members of the FLDS. They run away from us.
They run away from us because they're scared to be seen with us. Because they could get in trouble if they talk to an outsider like myself.
O'BRIEN: Mike, I know you actually interviewed a couple who say that they were discriminated against. What story did they tell you?
MICHAEL WATKISS, KTVK TV INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER (via telephone): They got a home -- a young man was classic case. He worked as a young man working on work crews when he was about 8 years old. He left the community, was never compensated.
Finally, he was given a home when they started taking over the land trust. He was badly disabled on a work related site down in Phoenix. So he's disabled. He was never compensated for his work as a child.
He and his family were given a home. They're non-FLDS. The FLDS community didn't want them there and they refused to turn on their water and power. They've had this home for nearly four years and they still don't have water.
They have to haul water to their home. This while FLDS families can go in and get their water hooked up in a matter of hours. The community has started bottling water and selling it as a commodity while they tell this family they don't have water to give them to their homes.
It is the most egregious. You know, again, people who don't understand this or haven't followed this think this, you know, is this community run by a religion? It's absolutely run by a religion. People who are not of that religion are persecuted from sun up to sun down.
O'BRIEN: So Gary, we saw you trying to get the attention of the police chief who didn't seem to be coming to the door. What's your experience with the police departments in these towns?
TUCHMAN: Well, in years of going there, Soledad, I've tried to talk to the police and to government officials. They have never, ever consented to an interview except one time, the mayor of Hilldale, Utah, talked to me.
A few months later, he was kicked out of the church. I will tell you, it's very, very different as Mike says than any other place in the United States.
One encounter I had with one of the police officers there. I was trying to interview one of the residents near the post office in a public spot. The officer said, stop interviewing people.
I said, no, this is a public street. He said, stop interviewing people. I said, not this is public. He says, I will arrest you and take you in if you don't stop trying to do an interview.
I don't know where he would take me if he arrested me, but that put an end to that. That is not something a cop would normally say when you're doing interviews in a public street. But in the FLDS land, that's what they say.
O'BRIEN: Mike, I'm going to give you the last question if I can. Warren Jeffs, he's behind bars, but it seems like you're saying he is not out of commission.
WATKISS: Well, and Gary can attest to this. He's done some stories for your network. He has been kicking families, people, out just in the most brutal -- the disruption of families that he continues to orchestrate.
He's thrown hundreds of people out, just torn families apart and I think this shows you the power that he yields. He's behind bars and he continues to rip families apart.
They were screaming about the abuse of the Texas Rangers when they went and raided that compound in Texas. I would argue that Mr. Jeffs has done more damage to the family -- his own families in his own community than 30 raids on the compound could have done.
You know, this is a brutal man. It is a misogynistic culture. The core it abuses women and children and these guys have been policing the government forever. The cops are corrupt. Every layer of government is corrupt. The feds should have done this a long time ago.
O'BRIEN: Mike Watkiss and Gary Tuchman this evening. Thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate it.
Well, it was a bombshell. Jerry Sandusky's adopted son, Matt, claiming that he, too, was a victim of Sandusky's molestation. Now for the first time we'll hear what Matt Sandusky told police in his own words up next.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Let's get the latest now on some of the other stories we're following tonight. Susan Hendricks has a "360 News and Business Bulletin." Hi, Susan.
HENDRICKS. Hi, Soledad. On a newly released recording Jerry Sandusky's adopted son, Matt, tells police that Sandusky molested him between the ages of 8 and 15.
On the audiotape obtained by NBC News, Matt Sandusky says he tried to escape the home and once attempted suicide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT SANDUSKY, ADOPTED SON OF JERRY SANDUSKY: With, like, the showering, the hugging, the rubbing, talking to me, the way he spoke.
If you were pretending you were asleep and if you were touched or rubbed in some way you could just act like you were rolling over initially so that you could change positions. I know that I really wanted to die at that point in time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENDRICKS: Late in the trial that convicted Jerry Sandusky of 45 sexual abuse charges, Matt Sandusky said he wanted to cooperate with prosecutors, but he was not called to testify.
Switching gears, we're talking about gas, as the prices continue to fall. Here's something we have not seen in a while. South Carolina has become the first state in about a year and a half to hit an average of less than $3 a gallon, a sight to see. The national average is down to about $3.40 a gallon.
And it's official, Big Ben is going to be renamed Elizabeth Tower in honor of the queen's 60 years on the throne. No reaction yet, Soledad, from the queen.
O'BRIEN: All right, Susan, thank you.
Coming up, we're counting down your favorite "Ridiculists of the Year" so far tonight, when behind the scenes accidentally ends up on camera. That's coming up next.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight we're adding group of people we're calling newsroom extras. They're kind of like extras in movies except they don't always know they're on camera and they're not really being paid for it. Take the case of a certain live news broadcast from the University of Florida. I encourage you to keep your eye on the background. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Students can register for the lottery starting tomorrow and registration is open until Friday. The UAA will notify the winners of the lottery by Monday, December 15th.
And vouchers can then be picked up from Tuesday through Thursday. Now students with more than 90 credit hours have the best chance of getting tickets. That everyone is welcome to sign up. Live from the newsroom, Karen Minelli, WUFT News.
COOPER: So that was posted online. The young journalist in the background making the copies seems to have a great sense of humor about it.
On her blog, Kristine writes she had been working for hours in a project in a dark editing room, went to the printer to pick up some papers, didn't realize at first the bright lights she was staring at was perched on top of a camera.
She calls it one of her most awkward moments. But Kristine, we think it's, frankly, adorable. I love just how frozen you are. And then you disappear. You can take heart in knowing it could have been a lot worse, a whole lot worse as a matter of fact. Take a look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- it is also important you try to keep the bed bugs out of your home. The best way when you stay at a hotel, you might want to use a plastic bag like this one.
COOPER: See, the thing about working in the news, you have to pick your stories very carefully and you also have to pick your battles.
I love his response. He just leaves. The real fun starts when you go out for live shots. That's when every Tom, Dick and drunk Harry shows up sometimes dressed like chickens.
We have much more coverage of Hurricane Ike still coming up. There are a lot of people if you can believe it or not in Houston, a couple bars still open.
I have to stay I was actually pretty lucky with that one. At least the guy had some clothes on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold out here. Some people are just out of their minds. What are you going to do? It's nuts.
COOPER: Now, it's one thing when the story's kind of light hearted. What happens when it's a serious story? I don't know, like Kim Kardashian's wedding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now as for the wedding, a lot of the details have been kept under wraps. We do know the bride. Kim will be wearing Vera Wang.
She's going to be marrying her NBA beau, NBA player, Kris Humphries. Kim also spoke out yesterday to Ryan Seacrest. He, of course, produces their reality show on E! "Keeping up with the Kardashians."
While she didn't reveal a lot of juicy details, she did say that her dress is going to blow everyone away --
COOPER: That was actually Kris Humphries himself, little known fact. In retrospect, that child was showing probably the right amount of solemnity on the occasion of the Kim Kardashian nuptials. Anyway, the point is, sometimes the best parts are happening in the background.
O'BRIEN: Don't forget every night this week, we're counting down the top five "Ridiculists of the Year" so far. You can vote for your favorite at ac360.com.
That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.