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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Air Force One Stopped in San Bernardino Before Heading to Hawaii for the Holidays; Enrique Marquez Facing Multiple Charges, Including Conspiring to Support Terrorism; President Obama Used His Final Press Conference of the Year to Defend His Strategy. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 18, 2015 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:14] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening, I'm John Berman in for Anderson.

We begin with breaking news, the first poll taken since the CNN Republican debate, the first measurement of who might have gained the most from the event. The first sense of who might be in the best position heading into the holidays. The answer? Well, it rhymes with "Donald Trump." In fact, it is Donald Trump.

In the poll from FOX News, Trump is now at 39 percent. That's an 11- point surge since November. Ted Cruz 18 percent. That's up four points. Marco Rubio is at 11 percent, that's down three. Ben Carson fell nine points. He's the single digits along with everyone else including Jeb Bush who actually fell two-points after turning up the heat on Donald Trump.

So much to discuss with our panel. Joining me now, Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst, David Chalian, CNN political director and Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior Washington correspondent.

So David Chalian, this is the first poll taken since our Republican debate, which is really the last chance to perhaps change anything heading into the Christmas holidays. And if anything has changed, it's that Trump has gone up and the rest of the field has sort of faded.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. This is proof that Donald Trump emerged from our debate unscathed, right John? And so, he now has got more than double the support of his closest competitor, Ted Cruz, and that is just a huge position for Trump to be in as you go into this holiday pause. That is now the framework for the home stretch of the campaign leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

Ted Cruz, obviously, has gone way up, his commander-in-chief numbers have gotten better there but this story is still all Donald Trump right now.

BERMAN: Yes. And the trend line for Trump is actually increasing, too. He is up and keeps on going up.

Gloria Borger, Ted Cruz, as David said, up a little bit. Marco Rubio actually down a little bit since November and Jeb Bush down from five percent to three percent. This debate was supposed to be the place that Jeb turned things around. He had the energetic performance, going toe to toe with Donald Trump. So it's not working as well as they hoped.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this is a national poll. And what he is trying to do in taking on Donald Trump is come in at least third in New Hampshire. So is sort of narrowing his focus to that one state. And what they've done in the Bush campaign is they have looked at the polling in New Hampshire. They are now in about fifth. And they believe they have to be in the top three. And they want to be the person who appeals to the 25, 26 percent of voters in New Hampshire who don't like Trump. They want to be the alternative to Trump and so they want to be the serious candidate, they want to the presidential candidate and that way they can distinguish themselves, so they believe, from someone like a Chris Christie or a Rubio or Cruz, all of whom are ahead of them.

BERMAN: It's interesting, Jeff, because the shots at Donald Trump from Jeb Bush, they don't seem to be hurting Donald Trump, not according to this poll.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No. They don't at all. I mean, that's because Trump supporters are true believers. We have seen them, you know, grow in their support. And certainly he has not lost perhaps a single voter. I mean, he is if you like Donald Trump before, you may love him now.

But what we are really seeing in these numbers is it is a sort of a pre-holiday freeze here. And if you are Donald Trump, that is exactly where you want to be going into this. But Ted Cruz as well. So I think what the debate is sort of it clarified the new structure of the field here. We still don't yet know who the nominee is going to be but we know what lanes specifically people are in and Donald Trumps and Ted Cruz now are undeniably at the top of the heap.

And I'm really struck by the fact that Ted Cruz is not focusing all his attention on Iowa and New Hampshire. In fact, tonight he's in Georgia. It's one of those key march states. So Ted Cruz has a long- ball strategy here. He is looking ahead and Donald Trump, he is actually going to spending some time in Michigan next week, which is another march state as well as Iowa and New Hampshire over the holidays here. So we are seeing the top two candidates.

What we are really going to watch for, John, is when Trump and Cruz stop dancing around each other, if they do, and actually start distinguishing themselves or perhaps they'll be just fine running as one and two collectively from this point forward.

BERMAN: You know, David, do you sense any kind of strategy at this point for the Republican front-runner from Donald Trump? Because he spent today in this twitter flame war with Jeb Bush, just, you know, brutally attacking the former Florida governor?

CHALIAN: No. It seems to me that the strategy is stick with what's working, right? I mean, that's sort of has been Donald Trump's campaigning strategy all throughout. Some days you do television interviews, some days you just take shots at your opponents over twitter.

Remember, I don't think there's been a more successful branding exercise than Donald Trump's branding exercise over the summer and into the fall of labelling Jeb Bush's low energy and Jeb Bush's inability to hit back from that.

Now, doing in the late December, I'm not sure Jeb Bush has enough time to actually undo the brand that Trump gave him. But he is certainly going to try and sees that as his path. But, John, Donald Trump's strategy here is to continue to dominate. Dominate the conversation. You saw what he did with Muslim policy for non-American Muslims and not allowing them to enter the country. I'm sure we're going to see wherever Donald Trump fades from the headlines, we are going to see another big controversial sort of policy or statement rollout that his supporters as Jeb perfectly described them as sort of die-hards, that they can rally around and can keep him afloat.

[20:05:53] BERMAN: You know, one more question on Jeb Bush, Gloria, I know I talked to the governor last night and he was heavy on Donald Trump, right. But do you get a sense from the Bush people right now that they think this is working for him?

BORGER: Well, I get a sense from the Bush people that they think this is one of the only things right now that can work for him. You know, I have been asking the question why not go after Marco Rubio? Why not go after Cruz? Why not go after Christie? And the answer is that this is the way that they believe he can distinguish himself in New Hampshire. And I think it's a very local strategy right now because in order to survive, let's face it, he knows he's not going to win Iowa. In order to survive, he has to do well in New Hampshire. So they have got to focus on this state and they figure if they can go up a few rungs in New Hampshire, then they may live another day. But it's, you know, clearly sort of a last-ditch strategy for them.

BERMAN: Gloria Borger, Jeff Zeleny, David Chalian, thanks so much.

As we said, the newly released poll shows Ted Cruz with a four post- debate bump. He is in now second place with 18 percent. So far he has steered clear of attacking Donald Trump. He did that steered clear on Tuesday. Instead, he is focusing attacks on Marco Rubio. You can see Ted Cruz right now. He is campaigning in Georgia. Let's listen to what he's saying.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can enforce the laws, we can secure the borders, we can keep this country safe and at the same time, we can continue to welcome and celebrate legal immigrants who follow the rules, wait in line and come here pursuant to our laws. But particularly in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino, it's become more clear that ever before that border security is national security. You are not prepared to keep this border secure, you're not able to keep this country safe. Because the front line with ISIS, it isn't just Iraq or Syria, it's also Kennedy airport and the Rio Grande.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). I don't want to say you misspoke -- CRUZ: Look, the media is welcome to parse however you like. But let

me be absolutely explicit. I oppose amnesty, I oppose citizenship, I oppose legalization, period. The end. I'm happy to use any formulation you like, but there's a clear difference in this race.

You know, one of the things we have seen in the past week following the debate. The debate was an important moment of clarification. It was the first time in five debates that Senator Rubio has been forced to admit not only that he Supported president Obama and Chuck Schumer's massive amnesty plan, but that senator Rubio still supports amnesty today. That he still supports citizenship today. He hadn't said that in first four debates but on Tuesday night that's what he said on the stage in Las Vegas.

BERMAN: Listening to Ted Cruz doing a news conference in Georgia right now. Obviously, you have been see him answering questions about immigration. He got into a battle with Marco Rubio that's lasted days right now over whether Marco Rubio supports amnesty or whether Ted Cruz at one point supported legalization for undocumented immigrants in the United States. You can bet this will be a key part of the discussion going forward.

And if you missed any part of this week's Republican debate you can watch it tonight starting at 10:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

Still ahead, as the president travels to San Bernardino to meet with families of the victims from this month's shooting, we are learning more about the friend of one of the terrorists, including how he planned two other attacks.

Plus, new developments in the hunt for Ethan Couch. Authorities are now offering a reward if you can help track him down, the track so- called affluenza teenager. They believe he is on the run with his mother. Tonight we look at this unique relationship the boy has had with his parents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:13:04] BERMAN: At this hour, President Obama on air force one on his way to Hawaii for the holidays. First though, he will stopped in San Bernardino to meet with families who lost loved ones in the terror attacks less than three weeks ago. The killers, as you know, they were ISIS sympathizers.

Just hours ago at his final press conference of the year, President Obama defended his strategy to defeat ISIS, but he also acknowledged that the government cannot stop all potential strikes. He admitted that protecting against lone wolf attacks like San Bernardino is difficult in part because the government's ability to monitor private communications between individuals is limited.

The husband and wife who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, they talked about jihad in private messages, not publicly. Many people who were killed and wounded in the attack, they were co-workers of the male shooter.

Paul Vercammen joins me now.

Paul, what's the latest on the president's visit?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we expect him to arrive in about two hours. It won't be an overly long visit as he stops on his way to Hawaii. He is expected to meet privately, intimately with the loved ones of those killed in the attacks and then head on his way. In talking to some of these people who lost loved ones, they say they're looking forward to this. That they feel, well, a certain sense of sadness, but they are glad for the fact he is grieving with them. Another man saying that president Obama means a lot in his family so this is definitely going to be something that we believe will touch all of them, John.

BERMAN: And the funerals are under way and there are still more to come. Again, how long will he be on the ground and how many families will he meet with?

VERCAMMEN: We think that he will meet with representatives of all of the deceased. Now, this is somewhat of a sticking point. In talking to a Republican supervisor here in the county, Kurt Hagman says he wants President Obama to meet with the injured as well and first responders who he says did a heroic job. And when I pressed him, I said WELL, is it possible this is sort of, you know, GOP loyalty, that sort of thing? He said, no. He said for him as a supervisor of this county, he felt that unlike after 9/11 when President Bush went to the rubble at ground zero and said we can hear you, he said we haven't had that moment, and he said he wished that President Obama had come out here to San Bernardino before and earlier, John.

[20:15:18] BERMAN: All right. Paul Vercammen, thanks so much.

The president's remarks today, they come on the heels of disturbing revelations about two terror attacks that one of the San Bernardino killers planned with a friend but never carried out. That friend, Enrique Marquez, bought two of the guns the husband and wife terror team used to kill 14 people earlier this month. He is now facing multiple charges, including conspiring to support terrorism. And tonight, we know more about how he got caught up in all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): New documents detail the relationship between Enrique Marquez and Syed Farook. They have met a decade ago. Marquez had just moved here next door to the would-be terrorist. It's a meeting that would change his life forever.

Farook introduced him to Islam soon after they met. Marquez visited this mosque in nearby Corona, California, in late 2005, according to authority. In 2007, he became a Muslim. And Farook exposed him to jihadist ideology. This government affidavit paints the portrait of Farook as the radical teacher, Marquez the willing student.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jihad against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding on every other able Muslim. BERMAN: Farook played him anti-American lectures from the American-

born Al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki. Also, according to investigators, Marquez read "Inspire" magazine, the official online publication of Al-Qaeda while at Farook's home.

2011 was a pivotal year. It was then that Farook and Marquez began planning their acts of terrorism in the United States. One plot to kill would happen here at riverside city college where both had been enrolled as students. The plan was to throw pipe bombs into the cafeteria to maximize casualties. A second plot and more elaborate plot would be here, a stretch of highway that had no exits for cars to escape. Farook would detonate pipe bombs to stop rush hour traffic and then move among the stopped vehicles, shooting his rifle into them and killing people.

Marquez, hiding in the hills, would fire his rifle from a distance into stopped cars and when help arrived, according to authorities, his priority was to shoot law enforcement personnel. The arsenal for their planned plots was secured largely by Marquez. He bought two AR- 15 rifles from two separate stores. Rifles that would later be used by Farook and his wife to kill 14 in San Bernardino.

Marquez also bought explosive powder to build the pipe bombs for his and Farook's plotted attacks. It too, was used in the San Bernardino attack although the IEDs found at the scene failed to definite. According to the affidavit, the two eventually abandoned their attack plans because of arrests of terrorism suspects in a nearby town in late 2012. Marquez claims he began to distance himself from Farook but in late 2014 he married Farook's sister-in-law. According to the government, it was a sham marriage so she could obtain legal status to remain in the United States.

December 2nd of this year, Farook and his wife launched the terrorist attack at the inland regional center. Hours later, Marquez calls 911 and tells the operator "my neighbor, he did the San Bernardino shooting." He later says that he use mid-gun in the shooting.

Marquez, seen here in the back of a federal vehicle, has been charged with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism and the unlawful purchase of firearms. Law authorities say they have no evidence that shows Marquez knew of the San Bernardino attack ahead of time. They do say it's ongoing failure to warn authorities about Farook's intent to commit mass murder had fatal consequences.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Lots to talk about with our panel. Joining me now, Lorenzo Vidino, he is director of the program on extremism at George Washington University. Also CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, a former senior official at the FBI and CIA.

So Lorenzo, you hear Marquez's version of events and how he became radicalized by Farook a lot of years ago. Is this a familiar story? Is this a typical pathway to radicalization?

LORENZO VIDINO, DIRECTOR OF THE PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: There is really no typical path of radicalization. And we see the profiles of people arrested related to ISIS activities, we see people who converted to Islam and two weeks later are ready to go to Syria and we have people have a long trajectory. What is relatively common here is the fact that there was sort of a mentor, somebody that was a bit more charismatic than the other person and slowly radicalized what was a more vulnerable individual. But this situation is where you have two, three, four individuals together, radicalizing together. That's a very common dynamic.

[20:20:04] BERMAN: Phil, the timeline here, it is perplexing, right, because these guys, Farook and Enrique Marquez, they met a long time ago. They were radicalized or Enrique Marquez was radicalize add few years after that. You say it doesn't make sense to you that Marquez was the only person radicalized by Farook.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The timeline here is confusing to me, John. If you look at the cases that I have reviewed over the past 15 years, including for example, the timeline for radicalization of the individuals who blew up the London subway in 2005, months, maybe a year. In this case off couple curious characteristics. The long relationship between Marquez and Farook that led to radicalization in 2011/2012. And then as you suggest, the gap between 2012 and 2015.

Here's my question, John. If Farook was so inspired that he wanted to draw someone else into a plot five years ago, what happened between 2012 and 2015? He never thought that he should go find another individual to participate? Maybe that was his wife, I don't know. But I find this case really curious.

BERMAN: And it does seem unusual, Phil. Have you ever heard of two guys planning a terrorist attack or two terrorist attacks then not going through with it and staying good buddies for the next five years?

MUDD: That doesn't make sense. We do have a missing piece here. I haven't heard the FBI talk about the electronic media for Marquez. His phone, his laptop, was there a truly a drop-off or an elimination of communication?

What I haven't heard in the past, though, is somebody like Farook who decides, who gets over that emotional bar to say I want to kill innocents for a political purpose to draw back. One of the reasons I blame Marquez is once you see somebody do that, once he saw his friend do that, the likelihood that Farook would drop the plot to me is near zero. You get over that bar, you're going to do something eventually, John.

BERMAN: So Lorenzo, there's other stuff right now. There have been recent arrests over the last week of Americans conspiring with is, most recently this 19-year-old kid from Pennsylvania who had a tactical style go bag, 57 twitter accounts he was posting to. You say it's very, very difficult to track people like him. Why?

VIDINO: Because of the presence of social media. When you have guys who are basically just online, they encrypt their communication, they been play cat-and-mouse with dozens and dozens of different accounts. They do not really interact with like-minded individuals in the physical space. It takes a lot of manpower, it take a lot of electronic catchup to do for the FBI and really, that you have to sort out the hundreds, if not thousands of individuals in the U.S. who are just keyboard warriors, who just expressing their views online and not really doing anything violent to those that will make the leap into violence. And how do you predict that?

BERMAN: It is not easy.

Phil, you actually say in terms of the three recent arrest, all those guys, they had vulnerabilities, unlike the San Bernardino attackers who were pretty isolated.

MUDD: That's right. If you look at an intelligence service, the services that I was involved with, the bureau and the CIA, you live off the mistake of somebody. They talk to the wrong person physically. That's a source. Or they communicate with the wrong person on Facebook or twitter. Every time they move, whether they're traveling to Turkey, for example, or whether they're trying to recruit somebody on Facebook, that's an opportunity for security service to exploit.

If you look at the contrast with San Bernardino, they weren't traveling anywhere to a place like Turkey to move into Syria, they weren't communicating with people and they weren't talking to the wrong people except for Marquez. If you look at the contrast in the cases over the past couple of weeks in California and then the arrests that we were talking about in the past day or two, the contrast is striking. They didn't have a footprint in California that was exploitable by security services.

BERMAN: Phil Mudd, Lorenzo Vidino, thanks so much, guys.

VIDINO: Thank you.

MUDD: Thank you.

BERMAN: Just ahead, what President Obama said about ISIS and what it will take to keep the homeland safe? Did he say enough to silence his critics and reassure worried Americans?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:28:00] BERMAN: The question being debated on the campaign trail and in living rooms across the country, what will it take to defeat ISIS and keep the homeland safe. President Obama used his final press conference of the year to defend his strategy and remind Americans that they have a role to play.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Squeezing ISIL's heart at its core in Syria and Iraq will make it harder for them to pump their terror and propaganda to the rest of the world. At the same time, as we know from San Bernardino, where I'll visit with families later today, we have to remain vigilant here at home. Our counterterrorism, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement communities are working 24/7 to protect our homeland and all of us can do our part by staying vigilant, by saying something if we see something that is suspicious, by refusing to be terrorized and by staying united as one American family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: President Obama earlier today. His remarks meant to reassure the country and silence his critics on the campaign trail.

Joining me, Fareed Zakaria, CNN world affairs analyst and host of "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS." Also chief national correspondent and anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS" John King.

You know, Fareed, listening to the president, his language choice in dealing with ISIS is always very interesting. Today, again, he made the point, he thinks ISIS is losing ground. He said ISIS is being squeezed inside Syria and Iraq. Is this to reassure the American public or is this to battle back against people who say he's not doing enough?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think Obama has a conception of American interests and security that says, look, we are very strong, we are very powerful, we are actually very secure. ISIS does not pose an existential threat to the United States the way the Soviet Union did with thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at us. It is a nasty, venomous, terrorist organization that every now and then is able to kill, you know, five Americans here or a dozen or 14 here, but, you know, he often points out that gun violence takes many, many more people. So I think part of what he's trying to do is to deliberately not hype the threat not scare people and, yes, point out he has it under control.

[20:30:15] BERMAN: But if he has been burned before, you know, on days when he said that ISIS has been contained, you know, later that day and later that week there's been a terror attack so now he --

ZAKARIA: But he wouldn't - but John, to push back, just to explain what he thinks. He doesn't think he has been burned. He thinks cable news goes nuts and, you know, massively exaggerates this phenomenon and doesn't keep in mind that since 9/11, 45 people have been killed by Islamic terrorist organizations. In that same period, 150,000 people have been killed by guns. So his argument, and you heard it again today was I don't like cable news. I don't like the way that you peddle this stuff and you exaggerate it."

BERMAN: He is not just operating, John, in this 24-hour cable news, twitter environment, he is also operating now within a presidential campaign. He is not running. His name is not on the ballot, but his agenda very much is.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And there Is no denying that one of the reasons he seemed behind, he didn't share the urgency of the American people after Paris and after San Bernardino is because not only are people getting that from cable news, they are getting it from the Republican candidates for president, John.

You saw that. That was trademark Obama today again. You know, he is calm, he is nuanced, he is measured, he says, you know, we are taking back 40 percent of the land and we are doing more sorties. And we are doing that. And he lays it out methodically.

That sometimes has been a great political asset for him. At a time like this, sometimes it's a detriment to him. You know, Obama gave you his plan. They are already laid it out. Trump gives it to you in a few words. I will be the bleep out of them with a little - a lot more passion and a lot more emotion. So, in the Republican primary right now, people are looking for the anti-Obama and in the country at large because they are hearing so much about the Republican Party. The president can seem almost too quiet sometimes.

BERMAN: That's right. And it's not just cable news, John. I mean, you poll the American people right now, terrorism is a leading issue. There are concerns and there have been events in the United States and around the world to cause concern.

KING: And I think part of the Obama strategy as Fareed just noted, he doesn't want to be out there every day three or four times explaining it because he doesn't want to overhype it himself. And he wants to keep it in context. However, I think maybe he should be out explaining it and trying to give that context to say this is terrible. This is horrible. We are going to do something about it, but think about the numbers. It maybe not always give the gun control numbers, just give terrorism numbers.

But that's the back and forth. But being in the campaign environment, I think his preference is to ignore the Republican campaign, especially because it's so critical of him. And because he finds much of it not based in fact, not based really in this universe, but that's how the president of the United States would find it. He chooses to ignore it but he has to realize I think more that his political environment is every minute shaped by.

BERMAN: It this week, you know, for the first time we sort of saw what the president thinks that would cost in terms of live. He had this closed-door meeting with op-ed columnist and, you know, and thinkers and said he thought a thousand U.S. troops would die a month and in countless more injured in the battle. That was behind closed doors. He hasn't exactly been saying that out loud, has he?

KING: No, he hasn't. And it was, forgive me, a crime against journalism that he wasn't pressed by that by the reporters that is here in this conference that they didn't try to get him to say publicly what he is -- if these reports are to be believed, but I believe they are to be believed, what he told in one of his regular off-the-record conversations. Why didn't one of the reporters try to get the president to discuss that?

But look. Remember, this president who came to office saying he going to get us out of Iraq and get us out of Afghanistan. And the last thing he wants to do is get us into Syria. And so, should he explain those numbers to the American people more especially when they are listening to candidates?

You know, most of the candidates don't want to put ground troops in but a few of them do and a few of them have talked about doing it, you know, you could send them in and we could do, and you have the blustery language of Trump. Should he do that? Should he explain the costs at least when he is being briefed on a cost at a time when you have other people - and I'll end on this, you know, it's much easier to run for president than to be president. And so, should he jump into that debate every now and then? You know, he chooses not to. And maybe a lot of people wouldn't listen to him because he is in the last year of his presidency. But, it might be helpful from time to time.

BERMAN: I misspoke. The 100 a month the president said, you think, behind closed doors. Not a thousand but hundred lives lost a month.

Fareed Zakaria, John King, thanks so much.

KING: Thank you.

BERMAN: No doubt about it, there are huge hurdles in the war against terror. Up next, an urgent message from a former Al-Qaeda recruiter, an American who says Washington needs to make changes fast to compete with these often grisly ISIS propaganda videos that draw people to its ranks. The advice in a CNN exclusive ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:38:01] BERMAN: All right. Breaking news, California governor Jerry Brown has issued an emergency proclamation for San Bernardino County to help the community as it recovers from the December 2nd terrorist attack. As we mentioned, investigators say the California killers were ISIS sympathizers. Still unclear how they were radicalized but often it happens online.

Tonight, we have an exclusive look at how that often plays out from an American who inspired others to wage jihad.

Here's Elizabeth Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He admits he was once one of the most effective Al-Qaeda recruiters in the United States.

ABU HURRIYA, FORMER AL-QAEDA RECRUITER: I went to prison for propagandizing on behalf of a terrorist organization.

COHEN: For his personal safety, we've disguised his voice. We can't use his real name or show his face or even say where he is. But now Abu Huriya, a U.S. citizen, regret what is he did and wants to use his expertise to keep others from being recruited.

HURRIYA: I hurt so many people. These are couple of individuals that I influenced are now dead. And I have to walk with that for the rest of my life.

COHEN: He has a message for the United States government: if you want to stop terrorists from radicalizing young people online, get your act together and fast.

HURRIYA: This looks like it was done on windows movie maker.

COHEN: Because videos like this one from the state department --

HURRIYA: This is low-level production quality.

COHEN: -- continue compete with videos like that one from ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are the soldiers of Allah, their honor is in jihad.

COHEN: So what's so powerful about the video?

HURRIYA: Look at the moving imagery, the animation, the fast movement, it's done with computer generated graphics. You see the movement, the very good graphic design skills. This is not done by amateurs. It's far superior to what is being done on the other side.

COHEN: He says ISIS knows its target audience. It's the gaming generation. So just like in games, ISIS uses a lot of symbols.

HURRIYA: The notion is that the entire world community, the United Nations, the U.S. government, its primary leaders, even the soldiers on the ground are in one grand conspiracy.

[20:40:08] HURRIYA: He says the U.S. campaign on the other hand is preachy. Is this going to dissuade a young girl from joining?

HURRIYA: No, she consider it government propaganda. Again, it would actually prove probably counter if you will. The help that story that, there are that narrative that the U.S. is at war with Islam.

COHEN: Another thing about the terrorist target audience he says is that they're lost souls like he used to be.

HURRIYA: Early in life I came from a traumatized and very dysfunctional family. The online community was warm and welcoming. And then as I got engaged more and more I met people (INAUDIBLE) very kind and very, very, very giving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Abu Muslim. I am your brother in Islam here in Syria.

HURRIYA: And now is he has joined this movement and every day he has able to hold a coalition standing in front of black flag, pray with his brothers that are like minded. It sends a sense of community. It's very powerful.

COHEN: And it also looks like sort of a brotherhood.

HURRIYA: It is a brotherhood, yes. For them it is a brotherhood. COHEN: This state department video portraying a former ISIS captive

isn't nearly as emotional, he says. The main character looks cartoonish and you never actually see him talk. He doesn't look real.

HURRIYA: Yes. They would just believe that's an actor.

COHEN: Alberto Fernandez used to run the state department's campaign to fight is propaganda.

ALBERTO FERNANDEZ, MIDDLE EAST RESEARCH INSTITUTE: It was a small operation against a colossus of messaging from the Islamic state.

COHEN: Did you feel like the White House was committed to the mission? To what you were trying to do?

FERNANDEZ: It depends on what day you talk to them.

COHEN: What does that mean?

FERNANDEZ: It means that they varied according to the circumstances, you know. If there was criticism in the media, if, you know, John Oliver made a joke about the work of our operation, it is kind of, you know, caused is them to get flustered. So it depended on the day, the event, on what happened.

COHEN: So one joke on a comedy show would make them anxious?

FERNANDEZ: Yes.

COHEN: The state department says they beefed up their staff for anti- ISIS messaging. At a talk, state department undersecretary Richard Stengel said he knows his department has work to do.

UNDER SECRETARY RICHARD STENGEL, STATE DEPARTMENT: It's a big challenge. And it is a difficult challenge for government because government doesn't always move rapidly and nimbly.

COHEN: Abu Hurriya says if we don't want more attacks like San Bernardino, Chattanooga, Boston, the government must learn to catch up to terrorists online. No more videos that look like this.

HURRIYA: If we juxtapose that against the propaganda of ISIS, we find that it can't compete.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: So Elizabeth, the state department has a tough job. People attracted to the ISIS, they are not going to trust the U.S. government. So given than mistrust, how can the state department reach these people?

COHEN: John, the state department says that they completely understand this and that's why they're reaching out to governments in the region and to large groups to get them to share in this and so that they can do that social outreach. I was also talking with other experts who said the state department

and U.S. government also should support individual intellectuals and scholars who are respected by the Muslim community.

BERMAN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

BERMAN: Up next, the feds now offering a reward for the capture of Ethan Couch, the so-called affluenza teenager who killed four people while driving drunk and avoiding prison. He is now accused of probation violation, possibly with his mother tonight on the run. And tonight his relationship with his parents is far from typical.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:47:25] BERMAN: The U.S. marshals releasing a wanted poster for the so-called affluenza teenager and offering a $5,000 reward for any information on its whereabouts. Ethan Couch accused of a probation violation. This is the kid's lawyers argued and the judge agreed was so rich, so spoiled he didn't know the difference between right and wrong when he was loaded on booze and drove into four people killing them. He avoided prison. He got probation. And recently, video surfaced on twitter showing appearing to show Couch at a drinking party. This got the attention of his probation officer who has a lot of questions but Couch is MIA.

An arrest warrant is out on him and he may be on the run with his mother. Yes, his mother. In fact, the actions of both parents have shocked a lot of people.

Randi Kaye reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Soon after then 16-year- old Ethan Couch got drunk, drove, killed four people, and injured several others, he and his parents testified in a civil suit brought by one of the victims. In these 2013 deposition tapes obtained by ABC News, Ethan Couch talks openly about his drug use.

ETHAN COUCH, KILLED FOUR PEOPLE WHILE DRIVING DRUNK: Taken valium hydrocodone, marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, Vivans. I've tried ecstasy once.

KAYE: So where did it all go wrong? Early and often, it seems. With a defense witness and psychologist placing the blame squarely at the feet of Ethan's parents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ethan learned you should be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that was the message generally.

KAYE: His father denying and he blame.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you teach Ethan that, indeed, because your family was wealthy that the rules didn't apply to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never.

KAYE: But that doesn't square with Fred Couch's own behavior during a DUI stop in 1992.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you tell the arresting officer "I make more than a day than you make in a year"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably.

KAYE: More than 20 years later, CNN was unable to determine the outcome of that traffic stop. Fred and Tanya Couch reportedly married in 1996. They divorced ten years later, remarried, but split again after the crash. Ethan's mother worked briefly as a vocational nurse, according to "D" magazine. His dad owns a metal roofing company.

He and his mother were close. Ethan reportedly slept on separate bed his mother had moved into her room. Ethan Couch often found trouble and few consequences. At 15, he was caught drinking in a parked pickup with a naked passed out 14-year-old girl. He wasn't punished. His mother couldn't recall the last time she disciplined him.

[20:50:12] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You understood, did you not that he was likely to continue the drinking and driving if there wasn't consequences.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I should have known that. Yes. I didn't think that would help again.

KAYE: The teen was allowed to drink at a young age. Even drive himself to school at just 13. When the head of the school questioned that, his father threatened to buy the school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he didn't buy the school, he pulled Ethan out of the school?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he did.

KAYE: Ethan couch's father found trouble, too, once posing as a police officer during a disturbance call. Even displaying a fake badge. He was charged with false identification and is awaiting trial. Now Ethan's mother may be in hot water, too, on the run with her son.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: A lot to discuss here. Jeffrey Toobin joins me now. He is a senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutors.

So Jeff, it really seems like you don't have to look much further than this kids' parents to figure out why he might get the idea that he is above the law. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's not

just that there are some speeding tickets there. This is really an extensive criminal record for an upper middle-class family in America. And the through line, the thing that's so consistent about all of them is a sense of entitlement.

BERMAN: You know. And there's an irony here, right? We don't know exactly why the judge made the decision she did. We know what the defense argued, affluenza, that the kid was spoiled, that the parents somehow ruined the kid into thinking he could get away with anything. But why, then, would you put the kid on probation and really in the custody of the parents where the parents have to bear responsibility for his safety and upbringing?

TOOBIN: Well, he has only got one set of parents and that's really the only choice they had. And, remember, it was not just the parents. He was given a very cushy rehab assignment that the parents paid for. Then he was sent home. And you know, he seems to have picked up the values of his parents as well as, you know, this horrible crime that he committed. And now, his parents have taken the step of entitlement even a step further, at least the mother has, by apparently spiriting him at least out of town if not the country.

BERMAN: She is missing, too, right now. What kind of trouble is she in?

TOOBIN: Well, again, if this were a normal family and not a rich family, she would be in enormous amount of trouble because, you know, this is something that the legal system takes very seriously. Probation, which is what young Ethan got, is a privilege as opposed to going to jail. So he was given this very sweet deal and he can't even manage to follow his probation requirements and now, on top of that, he's disappeared.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much.

TOOBIN: All right.

BERMAN: Just ahead, it's kids usually who complain about home work, but this time parents are outraged. The backlash over this homework assignment on Islam, forcing officials to shut down every school in the district. We will talk about the controversy ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:26:59] BERMAN: There was no school for students in a Costa County, Virginia. Officials shut down the district after receiving concerning messages from across the country and it was all over this -- a single homework assignment meant to teach students about Islam.

Jason Carroll has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a routine homework assignment for ninth graders attending their world geography class at River Hitch High School in Stanton, Virginia. A calligraphy assignment to copy this is what caused an entire school district to cancel classes.

CHUCK LAYMAN, PARENT: Most people don't really understand what exactly was put into that work sheet that the kids were sent home with.

CARROLL: According to the school, the assignment said here is the Shahada, the Islamic statement of faith written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy. But instead of a lesson on calligraphy, the school district learned a lesson about the complexity surrounding Islam. Americans uneasy now with anything having to do with the religion in the wake of the terror attacks overseas and at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will not have my children set under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian and I want to stand behind Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why couldn't we learn to write hello, good buy, you know, not that?

CARROLL: The local sheriff's department says the Augusta school district received hate mail from people accusing the children of trying to convert children to Islam. And so, the district canceled classes Friday for into t entire county, all of its 10,000 students. They say there was no specific threat but school officials said the quote "tone and content" of some of the communication was concerning.

The superintendent released a statement which reads as we have emphasize nod lesson was designed to promote a religious view point or change any students' religious you belief. Although, students will continue to learn about world religions as required by the state board of education and the commonwealth standards of learning a different non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future.

A number of students took to Facebook to defend the lesson and the teacher. One post reads I personally was not offended by this. I like the assignment, calling his instructor "an amazing teacher." The teacher had lifted the calligraphy lesson from a standard work book on world religion and had used it before without threat or backlash. Muslim leaders now say the cultural climate has shifted to an unsettling place.

COREY SAYLOR, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN HISTORIC RELATIONS: It shows us the level of anti-Islam hysteria in the United States. We want our children to understand the world in which they will live and unfortunately we find that some parents are just terrified of even a simple calligraphy assignment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Jason Carroll is here.

Jason, you spoke to the sheriff. Did he talk about the tone of the (INAUDIBLE)?

CARROLL: He did. And he was very concern about it. He was concern about the volume of emails that they had. He said that they were hateful, that they relates with profanity. He said he build this way. He said the district superintendent, bought of them felt they had no other choice but to shut the schools down.

BERMAN: All right. Jason Carroll, thanks for the report.

That is all of us tonight. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts now.