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Fears Mississippi Dam Might Fail; Mitt Romney Accepts GOP Nomination for President

Aired August 31, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with hundreds of thousands of people in need right now, stuck without electricity, dealing with the destruction left behind by hurricane Isaac. We know more tonight about those who lost their lives in the storm, at least four dead.

And tonight, there's breaking news from Mississippi where this have been fears that a dam could fail, threatening thousands of homes downriver in Louisiana. Emergency management officials say water is being pumped. But they don't know if it's going to be enough.

In a few minutes, I'm going to speak with the executive director of the Mississippi emergency management agency.

But first, I want you to take a look at these pictures. It's a terrible deja vu for residents of Louisiana. These are pictures we were showing seven years ago on CNN, tonight, seven years ago exactly after hurricane Katrina devastated the state. And these are pictures from now, seven years later. A very different storm Isaac was hitting different areas. But in many cases, similar destruction as seven years ago.

Isaac has now weakened to a tropical depression but was a cat one hurricane when it slammed into the gulf coast Tuesday. Flood warnings are in effect tonight for all of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi. More than half a million customers still don't have electricity, as I said in those states, and Arkansas and Alabama as well.

Mitt Romney visited Louisiana today to survey the damage. President Obama is going to head there on Monday. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said both are welcome but there is no time for partisan politics, right now. The focus is on cleaning up. As floodwaters are starting to recede and revealing the extent of the damage.

John Zarrella joins me live with the latest.

John, explain where you are and what you're seeing.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in the city of Aimee in Louisiana. And you can see the raising water there behind me. That is the Tangipahoa River. Now, thousands of people living within half of miles the banks of Tangipahoa were ordered to evacuate. There was fear a dam holding back the lake up north the Mississippi might break. But as you mentioned, positive news to report tonight. They're pumping the water out of that lake and it appears that cutting a hole in the dam may no longer be necessary. This has just been one of the many lingering effects from hurricane Isaac.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Hurricane Isaac descended on Louisiana Tuesday night, nearly seven years to the day that hurricane Katrina struck. Isaac wasn't such a monster but it was still a killer. Parked on top of Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama. Hundreds had to be rescued.

What's it like back there now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sad. Water's over the top of the roof. We had to break through the ceiling and gone through the attic.

ZARRELLA: Others weren't so lucky. The category one hurricane has claimed at least four lives in the U.S. and some, like Gene Oddo were trapped in their own homes.

GENE ODDO, RESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA (via phone): Right now, I'm in my attic with my wife and my year and a half old baby. The local police came around about 2:00 in the morning, told us the levee broke, and within an hour, the water was coming up. It looks like we lost everything.

ZARRELLA: And it's not over yet. The slow moving storm continues to wreak havoc. With heavy rainfall and flooding which overtopped the levee in New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have more damage from this storm than I did Katrina.

ZARRELLA: In Mississippi, there was concern over a potential dam collapse. Now officials say the dam holding back the Isaac's swollen Tangipahoa Lake is not failing. But engineers are working to pump water out to release the pressure.

Down river in Louisiana, the parish president ordered thousands to evacuate along the 54 miles that runs through the parish just in case.

GORDON BURGESS, PRESIDENT, TANGIPAHOA PARISH: My concern is whether it's one person or if it's 50,000. A life is a life is a life.

ZARRELLA: Not everyone is listening. Johnny Womack sent his family to higher ground but he's not going anywhere.

JOHNNY WOMACK, RESIDENT, KENTWOOD LOUISIANA: I'm going nowhere, man. I been here -- I built that house myself and I'm not going to leave and let somebody just take it from me. If he take it from me, at least I'm going to see it go.

ZARRELLA: Isaac has left many with unsafe drinking water and more than 800,000 without power. Not just in Louisiana but Mississippi, Alabama and even Arkansas.

And it's not over yet. There's a chance of tornadoes as the region digs out from what Isaac left behind.


COOPER: John, a lot folks in Mississippi often feel they get shorted trip in terms of attention than a lot of folks in Louisiana and New Orleans. You were in Gulfport when the storm hit. What is -- and along coastal Mississippi, what's it been like the last couple of days?

ZARRELLA: Well, Anderson, they're still feeling the effects here. We've had rain every single day. The river here in some places is over washing the road. There's still serious concerns of flooding even if the dam does not give way.

So the bottom line here in Mississippi is they still have a tremendous amount of work to do. And before they can say that they're in the clear, certainly from the waters that are still rising in the Tangipahoa River -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, I'm glad you're there, appreciate the reporting. We will continue to check in with you.

John said at least four people have died in the U.S. as a result of the storm, including a couple whose bodies were found in seven feet of water in a home in Plaquemines parish. Their names we should point out have not been released.

CNN's Brian Todd was able to make it to the place where the couple was found. He got there by air boat. It's the only way he could get there. And he reports tonight on just how badly hit that entire area was.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's still almost unapproachable and dangerous. We have to navigate around seeping natural gas and down power lines just to get near it. This house is where the first two reported fatalities from Isaac occurred. A couple trapped inside.

Urban Treuil, the fire chief here, knew them and had to pull their bodies out.

Do you think the couple had a chance to get out once the water started?

URBAN TREUIL, CHIEF, BRAITHWAITE, LOUISIANA FIRE DEPARTMENT: The water came up so fast. We had a lot of emergency personnel that had a rough time getting out. So, so elderly couple, needing assistance, would have been very -- very tough to do.

TODD: There may have been one opening, maybe.

The couple was found floating in the kitchen of this house. The kitchen is around the other side of the house. We can't access that right now. What we're told is the water levels at the time rescuers got here were about eight feet higher than they are right now, up to that attic vent right there. If the couple could have gotten to that possibly they could have gotten out.

Treuil declined to identify the couple by name. He said the emergency officials got word to as many as possible when the levee near here was overtopped. One of the neighbors tried to get the couple to leave but they wouldn't.

Now the only creatures that can inhabit this town are either amphibious or have to ride what's floating. As we move around by airboat, we see homes that are flooded, buckled. Chief Treuil says one house floated about a mile from its foundation.

Bobby Landry and seven others in his family stayed through the storm, too. He lost one house to hurricane Katrina. Then moved here and remodeled this one. Now this. He and his family had to climb out windows as the water rose to the second floor.


TODD: Bobby, do you want to come back and live here?

LANDRY: This is great living right here. This side of the river, right here, the people in this community are all tight, close. Unfortunately, there's not enough of us to be worried about.

TODD: An exhausted fire chief is worried about more potential losses.

TREUIL: It's not something I want to see and I hope this is the last ones we do see. So, we are still checking a few other residents. We're hoping everybody made it out.


COOPER: And Brian Todd joins us live from Plaquemines parish.

Brian, I remember seven years ago finding a family, a couple, their children, who had drowned, finding their bodies in their home out in Waveland, Mississippi, after hurricane Katrina. I think a lot of people don't get how quickly this water rises through a house. The idea of drowning in your own home, I mean, it is horrific.

TODD: It really is, Anderson. And the chief told us that, you know, the water just came on so fast once that levee was overtopped that these people really probably didn't have a chance. They tried -- the rescuers tried to get access through that water vent just to get to them. Called in through that. There was no response. It took them a while just to get around the house to that kitchen area where they found the bodies floating. It is just horrific to think about what they went through on those final moments.

COOPER: And Brian, this levee there in Plaquemines parish, it was outside the federal levee protection system. This was like a locally maintained levee. There was money in the pipeline for it but it has been the federal money hadn't actually been built yet, right?

TODD: That's right, that's what the Plaquemines parish president told us. He said the money was in the pipeline. It had been approved. They had gotten into the bidding process when this happened. Timing just could not have been worse. And you just hear a lot of resentment from people inside that town, just talking about how the money should have been there. The things should have been upgraded before this. But it just wasn't.

COOPER: All right, Brian Todd, again, appreciate your reporting. Thank you.

Back to our breaking news. As we said at the top of the program, Mississippi dealing with the possibility, and it looks like it's a receding possibility, the need to breach a dam to release pressure on lake hammered by Isaac. Evacuations, as John has mentioned, been ordered downriver in Louisiana. But there's still a chance it can be avoided.

Joining me now on the phone is the Robert Latham, the executive director of the Mississippi emergency management agency.

Director, appreciate you being with us. The storm is threatening your state as we speak. What's your biggest concern at this point?

ROBERT LATHAM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MISSISSIPPI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (via telephone): Anderson, I think the biggest concern we have, we still have some rising water in Port River County. Water's been going up there all day. We've been evacuating citizens in subdivisions that were isolated. That has been completed but the water is still rising.

My fear is that, you know, citizens will let their guard down. We don't want them to return to areas that are unsafe. And Anderson, we will continue to work on the dam that's the (INAUDIBLE), we feel very confident tonight that the plan we had in place is working. The level of the water was dropped over by 2 1/2 foot since midnight last night.

We're continuing to bring the water level down. The governor's adamant about making sure we don't just pack that dam but we're going to rebuild it. We're going to bring the water level completely down and redo the dam so we never have this problem again.

COOPER: This may be a dumb question. I apologize in advance for it. But, is the water rising in pearl because rains are continuing there or some other reason?

LATHAM: Yes, I think, Anderson what we've got - I mean, some places in Mississippi, we had 18 inches of rain. And on the gulf coast, we had a storm surge of 10 to 12 foot in places. But the water in the tributaries coming into the Pearl River and others, much inland Mississippi, brought an enormous amount of river down in Pearl River County and has caused a lot of the flooding. We've got a lot of places in Pearl River County, (INAUDIBLE) particular that we've never had before.

COOPER: In terms of that dam, John Zarrella was saying it seems like the need to kind of open up a hole in it, that's passed, yes?

LATHAM: What we're going to do, Anderson, we've got engineers from the corps of engineer, department of quality, department of transportation, equipment from the National Guard that are working to bring the water down at a level that we can control. You know, we want to make sure we continue to bring the water level down and we're going to let it out a little bit at a time so we don't raise the water level in Tangipahoa River because I can tell you we're just as concerned about the few families we have in Mississippi that are downstream as the 20,000 or 30,000 in Tangipahoa parish. We just don't, that's the thing. We are going to do everything we can to protect the citizens in Louisiana as well as Mississippi.

COOPER: Do you have the personnel you need?

LATHAM: Absolutely. We've got the personnel. We're working 24/7 to make sure that we continue to do that. The plan the government put in place seems to be working. We're confident that it will. It does not appear to be any seepage in the levee at all. And we were able to bring it down at the control growth.

COOPER: Director Robert Latham, I know you've got your hands full and you must be exhausted. Appreciate you taking the time to talk to us tonight. Thank you, sir.

LATHAM: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. And our best to everybody affected in Mississippi and Louisiana and Alabama and all throughout the region.

Let us know what you think. We're on facebook. Follow me on twitter right now, @Andersoncooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Also tonight, the Republican ticket is sealed. The convention is over. Was it successful in getting its message across to voters that are mostly needs to win in November? Our political panel weighs in on that next.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: In raw politics tonight, taking stock for the past three nights in Tampa, political convention are of course to chance to win over voters on the fence who could be the different makers in deciding elections. For Mitt Romney, that may well be working class white voters. And the Romney campaign went all out telling its message directly to them, also, the women.

Speaker after speaker talked in Tampa about their parent's sacrifices and humble beginnings while trying to get maximum mileage out of an overarching theme that hard work should be respected.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Small businesspeople say they made it on their own. All they're saying is nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at 5:0 in the morning. Nobody did their thinking and worrying and sweating for them.

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: Big government didn't build America. You built America.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Don't tell me that my parents didn't build their business.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: My dad was a bartender.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My dad never made it through college.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Dad grew up in poverty.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And yes, Mr. President, they did build it.


COOPER: That was a theme we heard a lot obviously. Another subject in the convention's speakers hit hard, welfare.


JANINE TURNER, ACTRESS: Obama enables an entitlement society that says give me liberty and give me, give me. Why? Because Democrats depend on dependants.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He believes in government handouts and dependency by waiving the work requirement for welfare.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: My working poor parents told me that could I do better. They taught me I was as good as anybody else. And it never occurred to them to tell me I could just rest comfortably and wait for good old uncle sugar to feed me, lead me and then bleed me.


COOPER: Well, as we have pointed out numerous times before, as have many, many fact checking organization, Rick Santorum's and others claim that President Obama ended the welfare work requirement just is not true, just factually isn't correct. The Republicans continue to run on ads that make that claim. One of their posters said this week that it's their most effective ad in terms of voters. Clearly, they think the message about welfare reform and work is resonating with voters they want to reach.

The question tonight were Republicans successful in getting a message across the Tampa?

Joining me now, CNN political contributor Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Also CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist Paul Begala who is also an adviser to a pro-Obama super PAC.

So Paul, I don't know how many news organizations and fact checking organizations have pointed out this -- these incorrect statements, these factually incorrect statements from the Republicans about what the Obama campaign, what the Obama White House is doing about welfare reform. And yet, they continue to hit this message hard. Is it working for them?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I suspect it is or they wouldn't be doing it, Anderson. It's a bit of a character test for three different parties. First off, the Romney campaign, which is running these ads, I think they failed the character test. So, there's a lot of good issues they could run on. But this is simply untrue. I don't like to use the "l" word. It's simply not true.

It's a character test for the press. And I complain about the media a lot. I think the press has done its job. I don't know how many times the press can report that governor Romney is running an ad that's factually false but you all keep doing it. It's a character test for me and my fellow Democrats too. Will we take this or will we fight back?

You know, Mitt Romney actually loves people on welfare because he's created so many. And in fact if you want to count up welfare, Bain and company, which Romney negotiated this bailout, it's a huge story in "Rolling Stone" yesterday about this. Bain and company took a $10 million federal bailout. That's corporate welfare. So I mean, you'd have to be on welfare in Massachusetts for 328 years to get the amount of money Bain and company got out of that bailout. So, my side's got to fight back on this too and I hope we will.

COOPER: Mary, we did hear a lot on this welfare argument which - I mean, do you agree it is factually incorrect?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I agree with the primary architect of it who said it violated the spirit and congressional intent and it was not done going through congress, it went around congress. And the upshot of it is it will relieve and reduce the work -- it reduces the work requirement. Now --

COOPER: Wait a minute, your argument is a procedural one. The way he went about doing this was incorrect. And that's perhaps a valid argument you can make. But that's not the same argument that's being made from the podium which is that he just wants to send you a check. That's what they're saying in these ads. Do you believe he just wants to send out a check?

MATALIN: And the reason -- Anderson, the reason is because people don't understand the impact of process on policy. It sounds like gobbledygook to everybody out there. Just like all the acronyms do. But the result is his that this his waiver weakened the work requirement. And I really have to laugh -- I'm very amused at Paul's self-righteousness.

This is a party who called Mitt Romney, who's running for president of the United States, a felon. As someone who creates cancer in women. A vampire. Somebody who abused his dog, dogs, who's waging a war on women. These are -- why this spot is resonating is because it comports with the reality that people are living. That there are two Americas. One America is paying, is producing and paying. And the other America is being paid not to produce. That's their reality with this endless unemployment benefit, and all of the transfer payments. We have the greatest number of households dependent on some sort of government largess today and people are reacting to it because we can't afford it anymore.

COOPER: And before I get inundated by tweets just saying I'm a stool the Obama White House, we have done plenty on -- you know Debbie Wasserman Schultz's incorrect statements and factually incorrect statements on things.

But on this, I just think - again, you are saying that all these people who are receiving unemployment checks don't want to work, I mean, that is essentially what you're saying. That there's a whole class of people who are just getting these handouts. Do you really believe that?

MATALIN: That's not what I'm saying at all, Anderson. No one would ever accuse you of being a stool for anybody. But I was reacting to Paul with his self-righteousness. He himself was the architect of the most flagrant ad of the cycle, saying Mitt Romney caused cancer in some woman --

BEGALA: He didn't cause cancer. He did kill the man's health insurance policies.

COOPER: Let's not argue that one. That was also pretty far out there, Paul, so --

BEGALA: If you want to become an inference checker, you can become one. The facts of the ad are irrefutable.

COOPER: That's not true.

BEGALA: It is true.

COOPER: That ad was misleading. That ad -- it truncated the time line. It's like the movies that say based on a true story. You know it's not real. I mean it truncated. I was like I lost my job and then my wife died. Well, actually, she still had health insurance from her other job. I don't know why -- we've lost all --

MATALIN: Yes, we are, because you any why we're talking about this --

BEGALA: First off, on that ad, Joe Soptic s the man in that ad, is a lot more fair to Romney than Romney was to Joe Soptic. Mitt Romney came in, ruin that company. Did a poor job managing it. Instead of taking responsibility for that, he pushed the company into bankruptcy, he and his partners, and made millions of dollars off it while canceling the health insurance for men and women who worked there.

And that's what the ad said. That's what Mr. Soptic says and I stand behind it. Now, but Governor Romney got one of the same waivers that the ad is complaining about, Mary. So, is Mitt Romney undermining the welfare reform law when he was governor and got one of the same waivers he's now complaining about in his ad?

MATALIN: OK. Anderson, we are conflating two policy issues here and two philosophies. Our philosophy is it is always more efficient and less costly and more effective to have the states be in charge of these programs. That's why Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney went ahead for entitlement reform and Medicaid brings this. They want to block grants to the states.

So yes, we do prefer waivers. We do prefer states to be in control of these mammoth programs that the fed are forcing down their throats. But this was not what that was. This was a process issue. We can bore your audience here or we can say that the spirit of that ad is absolutely true. And the spirit of what Obama did was to reduce the work requirement. And that's why Republicans are objecting to it.

But it fits into a bigger narrative which is what kind of country do we want to be? And we started out talking about the convention. That's what the difference is here. We want to be a country that grows the economy. Not one that redistributes wealth and has class divisions and race divisions and gender divisions.

COOPER: Do you really believe -- I mean, I guess -- I understand that rhetoric. But I mean, do you really believe that the other side wants race divisions and class divisions and doesn't want to grow the economy?

MATALIN: Listen, if you're a hammer, everything is a nail, OK. If you're a liberal, everything is race, gender and class. And the flaw with that is several things. It's, one, there's a homogeneity in this group-think that every woman, every person of color, every class, thinks the same way. They do not. There are also the fault of the static like when facts change, people rational, people change.

They did like Obama. They thought he was change in '08. He's been nothing but bad change. His recovery has been worst than the recession. And that's the fact. And that's what the election's going to be responding to.

COOPER: All right. I did a very bad job on moderating this. I apologize to both you. I got to leave it there.

Paul, thank you. Mary, thank you. I want to bring in a blogger, Andrew Sullivan from "the Daily Beast." is his Web site.

So, what do you make of what happened at the Republican convention? I mean, you're a conservative but you're supporting Obama. You also wrote a really interesting article about what you think he needs to do next week.


COOPER: Obama to change the narrative. You think he actually needs to come much more to the middle.

SULLIVAN: I think he's already in the middle but I think he needs to make it much more explicit. And I think the key thing that he needs to do is persuade independents and people in the middle of the road that he's dead serious about the debt and Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are not serious about the debt.

COOPER: And you think the way to do that is by re-embracing Simpson-Bowles?

SULLIVAN: Yes by saying look, what I want to did do is a grand compromise. I want to cut the debt by getting the Democrats to agree to cut Medicare and entitlements, by getting the Republicans to agree to raise revenues and taxes and trimming the fence. And if we can do that together, we can have a huge impact.

And also of course, you know, the sunset of the fact that will also help. Whereas, Ryan wants to cut taxes, increase defense spending, and isn't tackling Medicare right now, only tackling Medicare in 20 years time. And they won't balance the budget for 28 years according to the CBO.

So, I think Obama needs to own tackling the debt. And I think he needs to say we're going to have to make a call by the end of the year because we have the (INAUDIBLE), the Bush tax cuts sun setting. I will compromise. Will they?

COOPER: Why do you think he did not pursue Simpson-Bowles? I mean, he obviously - you know, Paul Ryan voted, you know, did not want --

SULLIVAN: He killed it.


SULLIVAN: The whole point of Bowles-Simpson was that you would have to get unanimity on both sides of the super commission to get it into the Congress. Paul Ryan stopped that. The reason he stopped that was because he opposed any tax revenue --

COOPER: Paul Ryan will come back and say, look, yes, I opposed it but then I came up with my own plan. President Obama did not.

SULLIVAN: No, he did come up with a plan. You look at his budget. It's all there. He does have a long-term plan. But part of is the cost control curves in -- bend the cost curve in Medicare, which is all in Obama care which they're going to get rid of.

So, they are going actually to get rid of Romney and Ryan, the actual cost control mechanisms in the ACA. And that's going to make cost controls go up. I don't -- I see all of this. I see cutting taxes, increasing defense spending, going to war in Iran. It feels like Bush/Cheney all over again. It's as if they don't have any memory of it.

And of course, last week, the memory of the Bush years was wiped like an etch a sketch from the Republican mind.

COOPER: It's something actually James Carville said last night which is that, you know, nothing he heard last night -- everything could have been said by the Bush administration in terms of, I mean, all the rhetoric.

SULLIVAN: I want a reporter to ask Romney what do you disagree with Bush on in his eight years. What would you have done differently? And because you seem to be proposing exactly the same policies. And Bush gave us the debt. Obama just had to hand the debt in the middle of the recession.

COOPER: Do you think Romney, and there was a lot of talk this week about Romney's need to kind of reintroduce himself or show his human side. Do you think he did that?

SULLIVAN: Yes, I do. Really effective in that sense. The evening was great. I loved the early testimonies to his private charity.

COOPER: That couple who lost their son, was devastating.

SULLIVAN: It was devastating. Why they were shunted into the early evening, I don't know. I also thought the propaganda infomercial was really effective. And then we had Clint Eastwood on the stage with his empty chair. It was the most surreal thing I've ever seen in my life. All anybody's talking about today really is invisible Obama and Clint --.

COOPER: We're about to have a segment on it as well.

SULLIVAN: This is -- Obama's right here, by the way, he's standing --

COOPER: Well, what fascinating is, and we are going to talk about this in the next segment. "The New York Times" reporter who actually talked to a lot -- talked to the Romney people is they didn't vet a speech. They never actually asked him for his speech.

SULLIVAN: Here is Romney, super control freak, right, always punctual. He was forced into - His peroration 11:15 EST.

COOPER: What about the argument that the Democrats are waging class war? That President Obama, in order to win, is now appealing to individual groups, shoring up, you know, his base as much as he can and basically dividing people?

SULLIVAN: Well, that's what every -- to some extent, what everybody does. The Republican Party's appealing to their evangelicals. They're appealing to climate change denialists (ph).

COOPER: That's what elections are?

SULLIVAN: That's what they do. They appeal to that. I only think when you're saying, look, we have got to cut the debt and everybody has to sacrifice. Therefore the rich who done really well should pay a little bit more to help is call warfare.

We have this -- Romney, I agree with George W. Bush, there, I didn't think I'd ever say that. Here's what he said. I won't balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

When you have a budget proposal which is entirely devoted to cutting only for the sick and the poor, I have a problem with that when you're actually giving the wealthy and successful more money.

That's just not just. I don't know -- I just don't understand how a Catholic like Paul Ryan can propose something that he's so hostile to Catholic values and Catholic teaching.

COOPER: Andrew, thank you. Appreciate it.

As we just mentioned, it was probably the most bizarre moment at the Republican convention, certainly maybe at any convention, Clint Eastwood's conversation, performance, speech, to the empty chair.

We're going to find out what actually led up to it, the behind the scenes. Reporter from "The New York Times" joins us and Gloria Borger next.


COOPER: Some shocking comments, a priest defends other clerics who have abused children even blaming the children for their own abuse calling them seducers. A huge uproars followed, hear what he is saying now about his comments next.


COOPER: Welcome back. We're digging deeper tonight. What was by far one of the strangest moments probably ever at a political convention. We're talking, of course, about Clint Eastwood's speech last night in Tampa.


CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: I just wondered about, you know, when -- what? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him -- do that? Can't do that to himself. You're crazy. You're absolutely crazy.

I think -- you mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home and you give that target date. And I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question on it.

He said, why are you giving the date out now? Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning? I thought -- I thought yes. There's a -- I'm not going to shut up. It's my turn.


COOPER: By the way, Mitt Romney's not advocating bringing the troops home right away. Within minutes, someone created Twitter accounts for invisible Obama and Clint's chair. The whole thing sort of took on a life of its own online.

It's been widely discussed today. The Romney campaign probably tried to put a good face on it, but fair to say, the speech probably was not what they were hoping for.

Joining me now to talk about it, chief political analyst Gloria Borger and Michael Barbaro of "The New York Times." Michael, you've been in a lot of reporting on this trying to find out sort of who was responsible. Is anyone taking credit for Clint Eastwood's speech?

MICHAEL BARBARO, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": A lot of people not taking a lot of credit. What we know is there are two key aides to Governor Romney who cleared this. But a whole lot of other people who thought it was a great idea entrusted those two people to vet it, to make sure that things were going to go according to some sort of a plan.

What ended up happening, there really wasn't much of a plan. The plan was to trust a seasoned actor to go and deliver the kind of message that they thought he had done very well in a previously endorsement and he decided to do something extremely creative.

And something like an ad-libbed sketch and a Republican convention, those aren't two things you often put in the same sentence.

COOPER: Right, I mean, every moment is so crafted in these conventions.

BARBARO: That's right.

COOPER: So did they not know -- I mean, somebody put the chair there. So somebody knew.

BARBARO: Yes, somebody, Clint Eastwood, at the very last minute we learned this afternoon in our reporting. Clint Eastwood asked a prop person just a couple minutes before he went on stage, could you get me a chair? So suddenly, there was a chair on stage. I really do think that people were taking in a completely live improvised show the likes of which we've never seen at any presidential convention.

COOPER: So as far as you've been able to find out, there was no practice and nobody actually like vetted a speech, asked Clint Eastwood to -- BARBARO: And what we do know is that they vetted every other speech whether it was some HR person from the Massachusetts governor's office or Rick Santorum, line by line. But there was no line by line to go through with Eastwood. He was making it up as he went along.

COOPER: I want to play a little more of Mr. Eastwood's speech or performance, whatever you call it.


EASTWOOD: Well, I know even people in your own party are very disappointed you didn't close Gitmo. I thought -- well, I think closing Gitmo, why close that, we spent so much money on it.

But I thought maybe it's an excuse -- what do you mean shut up? OK, I thought it was just because somebody had a stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City. Maybe that will work.


COOPER: Gloria, some Romney supporters are saying, look, it played well in the hall. I've been getting tweets from people saying you liberals just don't get it or you in the elite media, you know, you're making much ado about nothing. You said this was a complete embarrassment to the Romney campaign.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it was an embarrassment because, you know, they had spent the entire convention aimed at this sliver of voters who actually voted for President Obama in 2008 are now disappointed with him, and might vote for Mitt Romney.

This tone was distracting. It was very often crass. And it has become a diversion from Mitt Romney's speech, which is of course what they want to be talking about all day today instead of Clint Eastwood.

COOPER: I mean, this was in prime time on many of the broadcast networks. What was not in prime time was that incredible couple whose son had died, who Mitt Romney had helped write the will and befriended and gave a eulogy.

I certainly found that extraordinarily moving. That wasn't in prime time. I mean, instead, you had something like this in prime time -- Gloria.

BORGER: And here you have Clint Eastwood, this sort of iconic director and actor, and so if you think of it from the point of view of the Romney campaign, maybe they gave him some talking points or whatever.

But it's hard to script someone who actually makes movies himself, and they'd heard him give a, you know, give an intro to Romney before and they kind of liked it. So I could sort of see from their point of view --

COOPER: I'm curious as -- BORGER: -- they wouldn't have it --

COOPER: I'm curious, as a director, I mean, what does Clint Eastwood think of his own performance just as a director? It would be interesting to hear when he actually does talk about it. Listen, Gloria, thank you so much and Michael, really fascinating report, thank you.


COOPER: Up next, outrage over comments made by a priest about child sex abuse cases seemingly blaming the victims. The backlash has been fierce. We'll hear what this priest is now saying.


COOPER: Did a former Navy SEAL break federal law by writing a book about the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. What the Pentagon is saying tonight when we continue.


COOPER: A New York priest has sparked outrage for remarks he made about the sex abuse scandal that shaken the Catholic Church. Comments he gave this week to the National Catholic Register.

Reverend Benedict Groeschel said that in a lot of sex abuse cases it was the teenage victim who was actually the seducer. He also said that first-time priest sex offenders should not be imprisoned.

He appeared to express sympathy for Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse.

Father Groeschel now said that he never intended to blame the victims. Deborah Feyerick reports.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Father Benedict Groeschel celebrated his 50 years with the Franciscan Friars of Renewal here on this YouTube video, he could not have anticipated the anger he'd face over his comments concerning priests and sexual abuse.

Those comments have drawn fire from survivors and the New York Arch Diocese. The popular Catholic author, radio host and TV figure known simply as Father Benedict, describing convicted serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky as this poor guy, before going on to defend predatory priests for blaming children for their own abuse.

In his words, a lot of the cases, the youngster, 14, 16, 18, is the seducer describing a father/child dynamic. Saying, quote, "They won't be planning to get into heavy duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing perhaps sleeping. But not having intercourse or anything like that." The archdiocese condemned child sexual abuse as a crime to be prosecuted fully.

(on camera): I'm with CNN. I was trying to find Father Groeschel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Father's not -- he's not here.

FEYERICK: He's not. OK, thank you very much, ma'am.

(voice-over): The 78-year-old Father Benedict established this home nearly 40 years ago to serve in part as a spiritual refuge for clergy. Several priests accused of child abuse over the years have, according to news reports, sought sanctuary here and guidance from Father Benedict.

(on camera): Here at the Trinity Retreat, a man answering the phone told us Father Benedict had recently fractured his leg and that he would be away for about three months.

The Franciscan Friars of Renewal apologized for Father Benedict's comments defending his lifelong work and saying the comments were out of character.

(voice-over): The comments in this week's National Catholic Register set off a firestorm forcing an apology from the priest who said, quote, "My mind and my way expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be."

JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: I don't care whether you're senile or whether you may have had a hard day. The fact is, for you to say something like that tells me that there are much, much deeper issues going on with you as the individual to try to justify something that is so horrific that has destroyed the lives of so many children it.

FEYERICK: Jeff Gardere is a clinical psychologist.

(on camera): For an adult to think a child is seducing that adult, what's going on?

GARDERE: This is the typical mind of a pedophile where they intellectualize the relationship and convince themselves that the child wants the sexuality.

FEYERICK (voice-over): The National Catholic Register quickly removed the story from its web site. A visitor looking for Father Benedict defended the aging clergyman.

(on camera): Intelligent?


FEYERICK: Thoughtful?



FEYERICK: Surprising that he would seem to make comments defending priests who may be quote/unquote "seduced by children?"



FEYERICK: Now, the Franciscan Friars say that Father Benedict never intended to excuse the abuse or even implicate the victims. They say in recent months that his physical and mental health has been failing.

So, well, that's not an excuse it may suggest they believe why a man they consider so compassionate could have simply been so wrong on this, Anderson.

COOPER: It's pretty stunning though, this is a guy who counsels priests for years. If this is what he, in fact, thinks, it's incredibly telling. Deborah, appreciate the reporting. We'll continue to follow it.

Three people killed in an early morning shooting at a New Jersey super market. The latest on that investigation next.


COOPER: Let's check in with Susan Hendricks in the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a legal battle heating up between the Pentagon and the author of a new book about the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

A lawyer for the former Navy SEAL who wrote "No Easy Day" claims his client did not violate the military's ban on disclosing classified information. But the Pentagon is now considering legal actions.

Opposition groups in Syria say at least 85 people were killed today in fierce fighting across the country. The city of Aleppo has seen some of the worst battles between government forces and opponents of the Assad regime.

In New Jersey, three people were killed this morning at a supermarket. Officials say a 23-year-old man shot to death two co- workers at a Pathmark before killing himself.

Tonight, there is a blue moon. Although its colors still pale yellow, you see it here, a blue moon means it's the second full moon in one month. A sight to see -- Anderson.

COOPER: I didn't realize that. I always wondered what a blue moon was. Susan, thanks very much. Coming up, if you can't trust infomercials, what can you trust? The "Ridiculist" is next. Stay tuned.


COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight, some shocking news, shocking news that 3 minutes a day using a fitness gadget from an infomercial may not melt away the pounds after all.

I am stunned. The FTC has filed deceptive advertising charges against the marketers of the Ab Circle Pro, but it looks so convincing on TV.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now there's a machine so advanced, it targets your entire core all in one circular motion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's fun and easy and takes just 3 minutes a day.


COOPER: It's fun and easy. It's like a tilt a whirl for your knees. It seems like it would work although everyone knows to really get in shape you need serious workouts with some serious equipment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just shake it, back and forth. There's no motor, no batteries, and you get the results you want.


COOPER: Fitness equipment has come such a long way, hasn't it? Take the 80s. Back then, all we thought we need to get in shape was big hair, a few friends and leotards, preferably belted.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reach it out. Exhale. Each side, three, two. Hips are still. Really open it up and reach. Stretch it out. Open up that chest.


COOPER: And reach. This era taught us another lesson. Do not neglect your face exercises. No equipment necessary. What the heck? It was a simpler time, wasn't it? There we were with our contorted faces and our shiny workout clothes.

Aerobicizing ourselves to within an inch of our lives. Yet, I don't know, something was missing, wasn't it? Then along came a pioneer, a visionary if you who ushered in a golden age using only her thighs.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to do aerobics until I dropped then I found thigh master. Every single time, you squeeze thigh master you strengthen and tone right where you need it. So it's easy to squeeze, squeeze your way to shapely hips and thighs. It's quick and easy and you can use it any time.


COOPER: Just look where we are now. We have the shake weight. We have the solar flex. We have people on treadmills in their houses. There's even a thing that lets you -- well, I guess you would say thrust your way to fitness.

See, that is a convincing infomercial. The Ab Circle Pro people meanwhile will have to pay up to at least $15 million in refunds to those who bought that particular product. News that have frankly shaken us to the very core.

That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour from now. The latest on the after effects of Hurricane Isaac at 10 p.m.