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Raw Rhetoric at the United Nations; Barack Obama on the World Stage

Aired September 23, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Today, at the United Nations today, though, bizarre does not even begin to describe it.

Moammar Gadhafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, two international pariahs, two rambling speeches, which left protesters fuming and U.N. delegates walking out in disgust. Ahmadinejad just finished talking a short time ago, and what he said sent the outrage meter off the charts, blasting the United States, Israel, and describing his own tainted, blood-stained election as glorious.

Many walked out on -- on him while speaking. You can see there were plenty of empty seats, probably more empty seats than filled ones.

As for Gadhafi, his sartorial splendor was just the start. He delivered a rambling 96-minute speech, six times longer than the official limit. He called President Obama his son, slammed the United States, said the Security Council was a bunch of terrorists, suggested swine flu was created in a military lab, and even called for more investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy.

He had a lot of walkouts and no-shows, as well. Outside the U.N., however folks were listening and protesting. Here in New York, hundreds of demonstrators turned out blocks from the U.N., mostly protesting Mr. Ahmadinejad's appearance. And, in Los Angeles, as well, sizable demonstrations against the Iranian president were seen.

President Obama did not listen to either of the two speeches today, but gave his own address, which was met with howls of derision by many conservatives in the United States. We will talk about James Carville and Bill Bennett about Mr. Obama's words.

But, first, Tom Foreman has the raw rhetoric and "Raw Politics" on Gadhafi and Ahmadinejad -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, you really hit the nail on the head. You have a sense of what the president, President Obama, is up against.

The Iranian president got right to his central point. The United States, he says, should get its nose out of Middle East affairs. Though he generally avoided calling countries by name, he suggested many powerful nations are plundering the Middle East for oil and other resources, then using military power to impose their own views about human rights, who should have nuclear weapons, and much more. He hit very hard, of course, on U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and defended his own country's right to intervene in such places.


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is not acceptable that some who are several thousands of kilometers away from the Middle East should send in troops for military intervention and for spreading war, bloodshed, aggression, terror, and intimidation, while blaming the protests of nations within the region that are concerned about their fate and their national security as a move against peace and as interference in other's affairs.


FOREMAN: You saw some officials walking out there. Of course Ahmadinejad took shots at Israel -- he always does -- saying Zionists continue to abuse the Palestinian people, killing them, taking their land, destroying their homes. And other nations, he says, defend those actions.


AHMADINEJAD (through translator): While much to the surprise of the international community, calling the occupiers peace-lovers, and portraying victims as terrorists.


FOREMAN: He mocked President Obama by repeatedly using the word "change," suggesting the U.S. president is talking a new foreign policy, but not delivering.

Sort of tame for Ahmadinejad, Anderson, in many ways, because he's been more fiery in the past, yet, still plenty there to fire up people in the United States and around the world, because, as you said, Anderson, he totally glossed over all of the problems in his own country.

BLITZER: Bizarre was the term I guess most would use with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, with his address earlier in the day, Tom.

FOREMAN: Oh, absolutely. You know, some of our producers who have been watching this for decades say they have never seen anything like this.

In an often incoherent speech that rambled for an hour-and-a- half, he tossed papers around, he mumbled, he called swine flu a military weapon. He said the Taliban should have its own land, like the Vatican, called for new investigations into the deaths of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and he took particular exception to the U.N. Security Council deciding when to use military power or sanctions against other nations.

Here's a quote. He said: "It should not be called the Security Council. It should be called the terror council."

Gadhafi also, as you noted, called President Obama "my son." And he said -- quote -- "We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as president of the United States of America."

That is probably not an endorsement the White House is thrilled about tonight.


FOREMAN: Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, no doubt about that.

We're going to talk to James Carville and Bill Bennett also about the White House reaction and the president's speech.

Tom, thanks.

Let's dig deeper right now, though, with our panel, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "GPS" and editor of "Newsweek International," and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an author and television host who has been involved in demonstrations against Gadhafi's visit and was outside the U.N. today.

Ambassador Oren, when it comes to Ahmadinejad, a man who denies the existence of the Holocaust, is there room for dialogue?


Here, we have a -- a denier of Holocaust calling for truth, Anderson. We have a -- a man who has opened fire on his own countrymen protesting for freedom, calling for democracy, and the world's largest supporter of terror, who openly calls wiping a fellow member state of the U.N., Israel, off the map, calling for peace. Yet, he referred to Israel by name. He calls it the Zionist regime. It doesn't seem like there's much latitude for dialogue with such a person.

COOPER: Fareed, why does Ahmadinejad come? I mean, what is in it for him?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Oh, it's very important for him to come, particularly this year. But, in general, it's important for him to come...

COOPER: It -- what, it legitimizes him?

ZAKARIA: ... so that it gives him legitimacy, it gives him a platform, it gives him a place where he can present himself as the president of Iran, both to the world, and, by the way, internally.

Remember, there is a power struggle going on in Iran, always has been. In this case, it's particularly acute. But the big story here is that he's trying to distract attention from what is really the -- the -- the most important thing that's happened in Iran in 30 years, which have been this extraordinary democracy movement. That's why...

COOPER: He called his election glorious today.

ZAKARIA: Of course. And -- and you notice, actually, he hadn't spoken much about the Holocaust. He hadn't brought up his -- his -- his, you know, bizarre and repugnant views about it.

Now he's trotting them out again, because, every time he wants to change the subject, he's hoping that we will get into another big debate about the Holocaust, another big debate about whether or not he's -- his views on Israel are reprehensible or not, and forget that the real story is that this guy is heading a regime that is deeply divided internally, has turned itself into a ruthless military dictatorship.

That's the big story.

COOPER: Rabbi Shmuley, you were out there protesting at the U.N. You've been very vocal against Gadhafi's visit, though let's play devil's advocate. Why shouldn't these two men, world leaders, be allowed to come to the U.N. and speak?

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, AUTHOR, "THE KOSHER SUTRA": Well, what was really sad to me about the megalomaniacal rants of both Ahmadinejad and Gadhafi today is that it's so easy to dismiss them as clowns.

I mean, they just humiliate themselves with their -- their rambunctious inanity. But, when you do that, you forget that they're cold-blooded killers. These people must be taken very, very seriously.

To be at that demonstration today, to be with the families of Pan Am 103, and to hear the heartbreaking stories of loss and the horrors that need to be revisited upon these families, seeing that Gadhafi, who ordered and paid for that bomb, being treated as a world leader and addressing the world from the roster of the U.N., this is something that of course it should not be tolerated.

The U.N. is in need of significant reform. And it really should be the U.D. and the United Democratic Nations, because, when we allow these people to speak, we are giving tacit approval to fact that they're representative of their people.

We know that Ahmadinejad is a fraudulent leader. He murdered his own people who protested against him. And as far as Gadhafi is concerned, he just welcomed an international terrorist with a hero's welcome. And they thumb their nose at the international community. And we see this rogues' gallery in America's foremost city's every New York -- every September here in New York.

COOPER: We're going to have more with our panel ahead.

We want to know what you think about all this. You can join the live chat happening right now at Also coming up: President Obama's debut speech at the U.N. sent a much different foreign policy message, certainly, than his predecessor, but did his words match his accomplishments? Bill Bennett, James Carville join us for that.

And, later, in our "Prime Suspect" series: the alleged extortion plot targeting John Travolta -- the actor's heartbreaking testimony today about his son's tragic death and the two men accused of trying to exploit the tragedy, trying to get $25 million from Travolta.

We will be right back.


COOPER: Just a couple hours ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at the U.N. that offended, disgusted a lot of delegates. In addition to bashing his usual targets, the U.S. and Israel, he heaped praise on his own country and his own election.

Take a look. He's saying -- quote -- "Our nation has successfully gone through a glorious and fully democratic election."

It was comments like that, combined with his usual anti-Semitic rants, that caused many delegates to walk out -- a lot of empty seats in the room, as you see.

Let's bring back our panel, Michael Oren, who is the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Fareed Zakaria, host of "GPS," and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was involved in demonstrations outside the U.N. today.

Ambassador Oren, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, recently said that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel.

Do you agree with that?

OREN: I think the defense minister meant was that Israel is a sovereign state that has the means of defending itself.

I think the important thing to remember, now that we're in a very important stage in the world community's dealings with Iran, Israel supports the Obama administration's efforts to reach out to Iran, to try to engage Iran, to dissuade it diplomatically from pursuing nuclear weapons.

But Israel also supports the Obama administration's platform to lead the world community in imposing crippling sanctions on Iran, should diplomacy fail.

COOPER: Is a nuclear Iran something Israel could tolerate, could live with?

OREN: I think that, again, Israel is working very closely with the Obama administration, with many European allies to try to dissuade Iran from becoming nuclear. We have heard this speech today by the president of Iran, with his, as you said, anti-Semitic rants, with his denial of the Holocaust on earlier occasions, his denial, really, of Israel's legitimacy. That's not the type of person you want to be in the possession of a nuclear weapon.

COOPER: Fareed, to Rabbi Shmuley's point earlier, it is easy to dismiss a lot of this as just rhetoric, you know, as this usual kind of stuff we hear. What -- how big a threat to the United States is Iran?

ZAKARIA: Iran is a troublesome regional power that is a sponsor of terrorism, that has sponsored all kinds of nasty groups.

There is no question it will be much better for the region and the United States if Iran did not have nuclear weapons. I -- I actually agree with Ehud Barak, the defense minister of Israel. It is not an existential threat to Israel. And it is certainly not an existential threat to the United States.


COOPER: Even a nuclear Iran?

ZAKARIA: A nuclear Iran has to face a nuclear Israel. Israel has between 200 and 300 nuclear weapons of its own. It has a second -- what is called a second strike capacity. That is, even if it were struck, it has the ability to strike back.

That has deterred madmen like Mao. It has deterred ruthless killers like Stalin. Nothing about the Iranian regime, which is, in its own way, very crafty, very calculating, suggests that it can be deterred. Again, it would be a much more unstable Middle East if Iran had nuclear weapons, because it gives it more influence. So...

COOPER: But it's not just the nuclear issue. It's Iran's involvement in Iraq. It's Iran's involvement in -- in other countries.


ZAKARIA: Precisely. Precisely. It is a destabilizing force in the world right now.


OREN: Because Iran is involved in terror.

You don't have to send a nuclear weapon on the top of a missile. You can give a nuclear weapon or nuclear destructive means to terrorist organizations. And Iran is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can now target Europe. In a matter of years, they will also be able to target American cities.

COOPER: Rabbi Shmuley, as I said, you have been leading protests against Moammar Gadhafi, not allowing him to come to Englewood, New Jersey, to -- to literally pitch his tent and hold meetings.

Do you believe he's changed his stripes? I mean, the U.S. is saying, four years ago, they took him off the list of state sponsors of terror, and he got rid of his nuclear program.

BOTEACH: Well, you have to simply question whether a man who allows a convicted terrorist who killed 280 people to kiss his hands, whether he's -- and giving him some big party -- whether he has changed his stripes. I mean, his actions speak for themselves.

I'm actually quite amazed that my Islamic brothers and sisters do not repudiate people like Gadhafi and Ahmadinejad. Gadhafi today allowed himself to be introduced to the world as the king of kings. That is epitaph that is reserved for God almighty in every great monotheistic faith.

He's a blasphemer. He's a religious fraud. Here's a charlatan.

As far as Ahmadinejad is concerned, Islam was never an anti- Semitic faith. The fact is that Islam took in Jews who were kicked out of Portugal and Spain in the Spanish Inquisition, 1492-1503. They gave us sanction. They gave us refuge. The Muslims were our brothers.

The fact that such -- that an Islamic leader, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, speaks with such vitriol towards Jews, threatening another Holocaust, wiping Israel off the map -- with all due respect to Fareed -- he's one of America's premier public intellectual -- but why not take Ahmadinejad at his word? Why say he doesn't really mean it?

You know, that's the way people dismissed the rhetoric of Hitler. We're 70 years after the Holocaust, 70 years after the start of the Second World War. Surely, we have learned to take these dictators seriously, because, when they make a statement, they're not making it for public consumption.

There's no filter that they have to accommodate. They state their mind and they mean it. And, if you ask me, if Israel has nuclear weapons, compared to Iran, I would trust democratically elected leaders of Israel, if they do have the bomb, a lot more than some of these theocratic monsters who are really, really frightening people. And we in America know not to trust them.

COOPER: Fareed, does Gadhafi matter? I mean...

ZAKARIA: Well, Gadhafi is -- it's an odd case. It's a more complicated than Ahmadinejad, who is, as I say, absolutely a destabilizing force in world affairs.

The -- Gadhafi and the Libyans have actually given up their nuclear program, you know, in a pretty verifiable way. The Bush administration basically brought them in from the cold by giving them certain incentives. What I don't understand with Gadhafi is, does he now feel that he made a mistake, and is he going back on his -- you know, in his -- in the old path that he certainly was on, which was a state sponsor of terror in all kinds of ways?

Or is this some kind of last hurrah, where he feels like he's -- he's joined the -- you know, the international community in action, in terms of giving up his -- his nuclear capacity, but he still can't give up the Third World revolutionary tirades that he's grown up with?

COOPER: I was listening to the 96-minute speech. I -- I didn't quite make it through all of it, I will admit. But I just can't imagine being one of his subjects and having to listen to this stuff all the time.

ZAKARIA: Well, these are the short -- this is the short version.

COOPER: That's his short speech?

ZAKARIA: This is the short version.

No. And this is, I think, his first speech to the General Assembly.


ZAKARIA: And, so, I think he has been saving up a lot of things.


COOPER: There were a lot of notes there.

ZAKARIA: He had -- he had thoughts about the Kennedy assassination.

COOPER: Right.


BOTEACH: ... an Israeli. He said that Jack Ruby was an Israeli.

COOPER: He brought up Patrice Lumumba as well.

Ambassador Oren, I do want to ask you about your perception of President Obama's speech. Josh Bolten, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under -- excuse me -- John Bolton -- under President Bush, said that -- that Barack Obama put Israel on the chopping block today.

OREN: Well...

COOPER: Do you think that's an accurate statement?

OREN: Well, I greatly respect former Ambassador Bolton, but the Israeli government welcomed the speech today by the president. We welcome his reaffirmation for the start of peace talks without precondition, his reiteration of support for Israel as a Jewish state living side by side in peace with a future Palestinian state, the reiteration of his commitment to Israel's security and Israel's legitimacy with the entire Arab world, the Muslim world. Much of that was greatly appreciated.

COOPER: Very quickly, Fareed, Barack Obama, what he talked about, it is a big change from what we have seen over the last eight years.

ZAKARIA: Oh, it's a very big change.

He -- what he's suggesting is, the United States is willing to play ball with the rest of the world, but now you have to be willing to cooperate with us. And we have to get some results to show the world that cooperation works.

COOPER: We have got to leave you there.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, good to have you on.

Ambassador Oren, good to have you on for the first time, and Fareed Zakaria, always.

If you're wondering how Iranians really feel about the United States, President Obama, and their own nuclear weapons program, go to We have posted some poll results that may surprise you.

Coming up: Bill Bennett, James Carville in just a moment to talk about why some are slamming President Obama's speech at the U.N. today. Do his critics have a point or should they cut him some slack?


JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think people understand that, I mean, he's been in office for, what, seven months and -- or so. And I think the country was ready for a change in -- in -- in direction in foreign policy.

And, to -- to be fair to the president, it wasn't like our Afghanistan policy was going all that nifty when he took office.


COOPER: Later, our "Prime Suspect" series continues with the tragic death of John Travolta's son Jett and the two men now accused of blackmailing the actor -- at the center of the case, a piece of paper Travolta signed as his son was dying.

We will be right back.



COOPER: In his first speech before the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama said the time has come for the world to move in a new direction. The question, of course, is it the right direction?

Here is what some of the president said today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. A part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies and a belief on, on certain critical issues, America had acted unilaterally without regard for the interests of others.


COOPER: His all-inclusive approach is getting slammed by critics. A "Washington Times" editorial actually calls the Obama administration's foreign policy the worst foreign policy ever.

Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican and national radio talk show host William Bennett.

Before we talk about President Obama, I have got to talk about Moammar Gadhafi. What did you make of -- of this guy going on for 98 minutes?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I guess he's back in the tent now.

Lunacy, almost laughable.


COOPER: Laughable.


COOPER: This is a guy who now U.S. has changed their opinion of.

BENNETT: Well...

COOPER: I mean, three years ago, they said he's no longer a state sponsor of terror.

BENNETT: Well, that's right. That's right, because they did get rid of their weapons of mass destruction. They scaled that down, and other things.

But let's remember what happened a couple months ago, with the reception for the -- for the bomber, for the Pan Am bomber. That -- I think that puts him back in bad grace.

The guy is a lunatic. He didn't do Barack Obama any favors today.


COOPER: Yes, James, it's got to be the last thing the White House wants, is to be embraced by -- by Moammar Gadhafi. CARVILLE: Yes.


CARVILLE: ... he really doesn't like us. Or he wouldn't have said that. I mean, whatever it is, he can't be that stupid to think that's what he was doing -- I mean, that -- he's got to be a man of some I.Q.

And, you know, that's -- that's what happens. We have the U.N. here in the United States. And we don't just get Singapore and Switzerland that come.


CARVILLE: We get a lot of goofy people that come. And they come here. And, frankly, they make complete fools of themselves, just like Ahmadinejad, who came here and said there were no gays in Iran.


BENNETT: Barack Obama, in the cut you played, said, "my country." You know, Gadhafi said -- called him a Kenyan. He's not a Kenyan. He's an American.


COOPER: He embraced him as a child of Africa as well.

BENNETT: Yes, and his son.

COOPER: His son.

BENNETT: And called him his son. So, this is -- this is lunacy, except it's lunacy that embraces terror.

COOPER: Josh Bolten (sic) said of the president's speech: "It was all extremely naive. The president did everything he could to say, can't we all just get along?"

BENNETT: Well, there was some of that.

Look, I do -- I don't agree with some of the reaction conservatives had today.

COOPER: It's been extremely on it -- on...


BENNETT: ... ballistic on this. I have heard worse.

But I do disagree fundamentally with the direction of foreign policy. Some of the words were fine. But what is he going to do about Iran? About the only meddling -- you know, he loves to say we're not going to meddle in the problems of other countries, but there's an awful lot of insistence about -- to Israel about what it should do, not much to Iran.

COOPER: James, did the -- did the president hurt himself with this speech?

CARVILLE: I don't think so.

I mean, I think people understand that, I mean, he's been in office for, what, seven months and -- or so. And I think the country was ready for a change in -- in -- in direction in foreign policy.

And, to be fair to the president, it wasn't like our Afghanistan policy was going all that nifty when he took office. And these are -- so, and these are things they're going to have work themselves out of over a long period of time.

But there's no doubt that, when he ran, he was pretty clear that he was going to move American foreign policy in a different direction.

BENNETT: Yes, but look at the shifts. The shifts have been against our friends.

Look, he wouldn't even see the Dalai Lama without permission of the Chinese. He's embracing the wrong guy in Honduras, this guy -- this guy who violates the Constitution. The situation in Iran, I have already talked about.

Look what he's -- did to the Czech Republic and to -- and to Poland with the missile defense. I mean, we can argue these as policy questions, but these are real decisions which make a difference. I think, right now, the message is, don't be a friend of the United States, because you are going to get stiffed.

COOPER: For -- for all, though, the talk of the world embracing and changing their opinion of the United States, has President Obama been able to get really any different results? They're...


COOPER: NATO is not ponying up huge amounts of new troops in Afghanistan.

CARVILLE: Look, we haven't won the war in Afghanistan yet. And we have been in Afghanistan...


CARVILLE: Not close to it.

And, you know, as a result -- and you're right. Iran, it continues to pursue, which they have done for a long time. North Korea, they have -- these are all inherent problems, but it's a little bit like, where is the sort of grand, sweeping treaty that we're going to have here? Well, it -- you know, it's going to be a while.

We have got a little restart here in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will change -- the missile policy was the result of the Joint Chiefs, the secretary of defense. It seems to be -- according to a lot of people, it might even be a better policy. Let's give it a chance.

BENNETT: I mean, I agree it takes time, certainly. And a president has to have time to do this.

But in the signals, in the gestures, in the -- in the people he's embraced, in the people he's not embraced, we're learning something. What about Afghanistan?

COOPER: Let's talk about Afghanistan.

BENNETT: How did this happen? How did this 180 take place? What about this didn't he know two months ago, when it was a necessary war? See, this leads you to the conclusion that this was a cynical exercise perhaps from the beginning.

They wanted to condemn Bush. They wanted to condemn the war in Iraq, but they didn't want to appear to be a peacenik party. So, let's embrace a good war. This is what Bob Shrum -- Robert Shrum has written about. So, this becomes the necessary war; we're putting too many resources into Iraq, not enough in Afghanistan, on the premise, as he said, that it's not going well in Afghanistan. Absolutely right.

General McChrystal has made that perfectly clear. It's not going well. General McChrystal also says we can win this war in Afghanistan with the additional troops. What is the reason...


COOPER: Well, actually he -- he doesn't say we can win it with more troops. He just says, without the troops...


BENNETT: We can't win.

COOPER: ... you can't win.

BENNETT: Well, but he -- but he does say, with the additional troops, we can certainly advance and move forward.

CARVILLE: I think it is reasonable, after seven-and-a-half years, to evaluate our policy in Afghanistan.

And I think, if we took this and dropped some -- and dropped some hammers on the government there and took this to do some things, you know, it could be a change.

But this stuff is not -- it's not working too well. And -- and taxpayers see that. Our allies see that. The American public sees that. And that's just what it is. And I think the president is entitled to take a -- to take a fresh look at this thing.

BENNETT: Of course he is. COOPER: We're going to leave it there.

Bill Bennett, thanks very much.

BENNETT: Thank you.

COOPER: James Carville, as well, thanks.


COOPER: Still ahead: A former Bush speechwriter writes a tell- all book, revealing what President Bush really thought about Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton's physique even. But many are now bashing the writer, saying he's a creep for betraying the White House's trust. He defends himself tonight.

Also, 360 Dr. Sanjay Gupta catches swine flu. We will talk to him about what it was like to get the H1N1 virus while reporting with us in Afghanistan.


COOPER: Still ahead, our series "Prime Suspect." Tonight, the alleged extortion plot against John Travolta following his son's death. But first, Erica Hill joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, law enforcement officials are investigating the bizarre death of a U.S. Census worker found hanging from a tree on September 12 in a national forest in Kentucky. The Associated Press reports he had the word "Fed" written across his chest. Door-to-door census interviews have been suspended in the area.

The Federal Reserve says the economy is improving and kept interest rates near zero today but also pointed out ongoing job losses could dampen a recovery.

And a brazen, bizarre robbery out of Stockholm. Police say more than a dozen robbers landed on the roof of a cash depot in a stolen helicopter. They broke into the building, hoisted up bags of money into a chopper, and then took off. The Swedish Trade Federation says the depot handles most of the cash in the city so that ATMs and shops could run out, Anderson.

But they're not actually saying how much money was taken, and apparently the police couldn't follow in a chopper, because they were worried a bomb may have been placed near the police helipad.

COOPER: Amazing.

Erica, when George Bush was president, what did he think of Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Well, former President Bush isn't talking, but his speechwriter is, with a tell-all book. But should the writer have written this book at all? He defends himself tonight. Also, John Travolta's anguish, an alleged extortion plot. Today, he testified in court and described for the first time his fight to save his son's life.


COOPER: A former speechwriter of President Bush is out with a tell-all book, a memoir of his life and his experiences in the White House. It's full of insider gossip, some explosive charges. It has Washington buzzing and the author under fire.

This book is called "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor." It was written by Matt Latimer. Latimer says behind closed doors, his boss shared some pretty frank opinions of a lot of people, politicians, like Sarah Palin. According to Latimer, Bush didn't consider Palin vice-presidential material. He says that Bush said of her, quote, "Just wait until a few days until the bloom is off the rose. This woman is being put into a position she's not even remotely prepared for."

Latimer also said Bush thought then-candidate Obama had no clue about the world and isn't remotely qualified to handle the job. The author says Bush also took shots at Hillary Clinton, at one point making fun of her figure.

The accusations have some on both sides slamming Latimer for cashing in on personal conversations that were never meant to be public. Matt Latimer joins me now.

The picture you portray of life inside the White House, I mean, you say it's less "West Wing" and more like "The Office."

MATT LATIMER, AUTHOR, "SPEECH-LESS": I often found it to be the case, yes.

COOPER: It's a pretty brutal portrayal of just about everybody you worked with.

LATIMER: I actually wouldn't put it that way. You know, in fact, a lot of people said about the president, some of the things they said about the president in the book, you know, they actually see a better perspective of him, more of a 360-degree view of him, if you will.

And some people have thought he's smarter and funnier than he actually has come across in the conventional wisdom.

COOPER: I want to read you a couple things that have been said about you. Your former boss at the White House, a guy by the name of William McGuerin (ph) who, I guess, hired you, or brought you in, wrote in "The Wall Street Journal," said, "The man I hired was not the star he thought he was."

And he basically says that the only person who comes off looking well in the book is Donald Rumsfeld, who you are currently -- you were his chief speechwriter, and you're now currently working for him, helping his with -- with his memoirs, among other people.

Basically, he says, look, you were bitter and, you know, you weren't embraced as a star. And now you're writing this book with sour grapes.

LATIMER: Well, you know, many of the things that Bill has said -- and I like Bill and I worked well with him -- many of the things that he said in this "Wall Street Journal" article have already been debunked on the Internet.

As for Secretary Rumsfeld, it's true that his publisher has asked -- had asked me, along with other people, to help the secretary get his book together. But, Anderson, I think, you know, Secretary Rumsfeld, nobody writes Donald Rumsfeld's memoir other than Donald Rumsfeld.

COOPER: Paul Begala said recently, who is obviously hardly a defender of President Bush, he says he thought it was loathsome that you would write this book.

And Alex Castellanos, a Republican, says that basically, books like yours make it more difficult for a president to do his job. That if the president can't think out loud and have private conversations without fear of them ending up in somebody's book, somebody who he may not even know all that well who's in the back room, taking notes, that inhibits the president from being comfortable and being able to do his job.

LATIMER: I think it's a rather naive view and a look at Washington. I mean, there are many books in history that other presidential aides have written, going back to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Peggy Noonan, George Stephanopoulos, many members of the Bush administration, speech writers who came before me, and other speechwriters I worked with. They've all written books and are writing books and sharing their glimpse of the president and the administration.

COOPER: What you said the president said about Palin, Ed Gillespie is now saying, look, that's a mischaracterization. The president knew that she was the governor of Alaska. You're not saying -- when the quote about, "What is she, the governor of Guam?" He had a twinkle in his eye, you described in the book. He knew who she was. He just didn't think she was qualified.

LATIMER: Here's an example of the Bush administration, former officials of the administration sort of getting excited over something before they actually read the context of what I said.

I think in that instance, it really showed some perception on President Bush's part. He came out, and he didn't say he didn't like Sarah Palin. All he said was, you know, she's not prepared, and her family is not prepared for the national media spotlight that they're about to be immersed in.

COOPER: And his opinion of Obama?

LATIMER: Well, his opinion of Obama...

COOPER: Sounds very similar to his opinion of Palin, frankly.

LATIMER: You know, President Bush had just come from hearing Senator Obama at the time give a speech that was quite tough on the president, and he had a very human reaction. And presidents have human reactions, and he was basically ticked off.

But at the same time, when President-elect Obama won the election, the president gave a very graceful speech congratulating him and his family.

COOPER: I mean, if I was an employer, and I'd seen that you had written this book about, you know, detailing conversations, I would think twice about having you in a room if I'm having, you know, conversations around the work table.

LATIMER: You know, the reason I wrote this book is because I think I wanted to show the American people what Washington is like. And it is a system that -- I tried to do it in a good-natured way. It's a funny situation, it's a funny system, but it also has a lot of problems and challenges.

And I think, if I shed some light on that, with an unvarnished, uncensored view, the American people can decide for themselves what Washington is like.

I'm not really worried about my own future. I mean, many people from many administrations have written books like this. The difference between my book and other books that have come out is, you know, I didn't worry about positioning myself, and I didn't worry about hurting someone or not hurting someone. I just wanted to tell the truth as I saw it.

COOPER: Matt Latimer, appreciate your time. The book is "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor."

LATIMER: I really appreciate it. Thank you.

COOPER: I'm curious to hear what you think. Is it right for that guy to have written what he saw and heard? Would you hire him? Go to and join the live chat now. Let us know what you think. I'm logged on myself. I'd like to read it.

Also, have you heard about the alleged extortion plot against John Travolta? We're going to tell you who the prime suspects are and how they allegedly hoped to get $25 million after Travolta's son died.

Also later, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and the swine flu, how our chief medical correspondent got sick with the virus while reporting with us in Afghanistan. Sanjay joins us live.


COOPER: Tonight, our series on prime suspects takes a closer look at the alleged extortion plot against John Travolta. Two defendants are accused of trying to blackmail millions from the actor following the tragic death of his son, Jett, in January.

Today, Travolta -- Travolta was in the Bahamas, testifying about the frantic efforts to save his son's life. His account is heartbreaking, and prosecutors say may also be crucial to the case.

Randi Kaye has more in our "Prime Suspect" report.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's called a refusal to transport, a piece of paper that family members must sign to refuse transport for medical services. Paramedic Tarino Lightbourne says John Travolta signed that form and tried to stop the ambulance from taking his dying son, Jett, to the hospital in the Bahamas so he could be flown to Florida.

That sheet of paper is now at the center of a celebrity drama playing out on an island paradise. Lightbourne is one of the prime suspects accused of trying to extort $25 million from Travolta and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, in the days following their son's death.

If they did not pay up, he allegedly threatened to make the private medical form public.

Celebrity watcher Harvey Levin.

HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ: If it's true, it's absolutely beyond despicable.

KAYE: Lightbourne and the other prime suspect, former Bahamian senator Pleasant Bridgwater, have been charged with conspiracy to extort. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Bridgwater's lawyer told us, "There's been no evidence of her involvement to commit an offense against Mr. John Travolta."

Lightbourne's lawyer did not return our calls.

Travolta, first to testify today in the Bahamian court, told the jury, quote, "I received a liability of release document. I signed it. I did not read it. Time was of the essence." And Travolta had his own plane waiting.

LEVIN: John initially felt he could fly him to Miami faster than he could drive him there by ambulance.

KAYE (on camera): Bahamian authorities say Lightbourne was at Travolta's side as he watched the massive seizure take his son's life. In the days following that tragedy, Lightbourne publicized Travolta's most personal moments, telling tabloids how the actor cried and prayed as he fought to save his son.

KAYE: Somebody who was with John Travolta trying to save Jett and then trying to extort money from a grieving father, it is almost beyond belief.

KAYE: Was the alleged plan hatched during a dying boy's final hours? If so, Levin called that the ultimate betrayal.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Not just about extortion; it's about the exploitation of a family in grief.

Steve Helling is covering the trial for "People" magazine. He joins us now.

Steve, what happened in court today? Travolta was testifying about his son's, Jett's, death. Clearly, the entire courtroom was riveted.

STEVE HELLING, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Absolutely. It was one of those moments where you could have heard a pin drop. Everybody was quiet; everybody was listening. John was very intense as he was telling what had happened. And -- and it was one of those -- it was like a courtroom drama that you'd see on television.

COOPER: The -- the extortion trial revolves around this medical liability release form that Travolta signed, apparently without even looking at it, because Travolta said in his own words that time was of the essence.

Do we know what was on the document that this guy thought could be worth $25 million to extort?

HELLING: We don't know what that -- what was on that, and we don't know if it -- there was anything on it that was even remotely incriminating.

All we know is that it was a quick decision that Travolta made during the worst moments of his life. And that somebody was trying to take advantage of him because of it.

COOPER: He revealed in court today his son had autism. What is next in the trial. Where does it go from here?

HELLING: Well, they do have him -- he does need to be cross- examined. And so the defense will cross-examine him, but they won't do that tomorrow. They're going to do that in a few days.

So we're looking at maybe Monday, Tuesday, or even Wednesday of next week when that's going to happen.

COOPER: It's not just the paramedic who's on trial. There's another person involved. What's their alleged involvement?

HELLING: Pleasant Bridgwater was actually working as Lightbourne's attorney at one point. And so it's a little sketchy how -- how she is involved, but we do know that the two of them actually, allegedly, approached Travolta together and allegedly asked for this money.

COOPER: Do we know the time frame of when Travolta was approached?

HELLING: No, we don't know that. And that should come out in the trial at some point. Whether it comes out from Travolta or another witness, we should find out in the next few days.

COOPER: I'm just trying to -- I can't imagine this situation, but maybe it is the situation where his son has just died, and, you know, he signed this document. And then these two people, if it's true, come up to him and hit him up for $25 million. I mean, it's unthinkable, no matter what the time frame is.

Steve, we'll continue to follow it. Steve Helling from "People" magazine.

Appreciate it, Steve, thanks.

HELLING: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up next, when a doctor gets swine flu. In this case, it was our own doctor, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We'll talk to him live about his battle with the virus. He got sick while we were all reporting in Afghanistan.

Also, take a look at this video. An incredible close call. A little girl is unharmed, but what exactly happened in this video? Well, we'll explain it to you ahead. We'll be right back.


COOPER: As of tonight, more than 41,000 Americans who have been infected with the H1N1 or swine flu virus. Maybe you know someone who's come down with it. We do. Our very own Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Our chief medical correspondent got the virus during a recent trip to Afghanistan. Sanjay said it was the sickest he's ever been. He joins us now to talk about it, as a physician and a patient.

Sanjay, first of all, how do you feel now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I feel fine now, Anderson. And, you know, it's worth pointing out. You and I talked about this while we were both in Afghanistan. And you were quite sick, as well. And I'd come to find out later on that H1N1, the swine flu, as it's called, was circulating quite a bit, Anderson, in the area that we were in.

COOPER: Really? No one mentioned that to us. At least not to me.

GUPTA: You know, frankly speaking, we can talk about this now via satellite, but there's a good chance, based on what I'm hearing, that you also had H1N1 virus infection.

COOPER: Well, because I -- I mean, I had similar symptoms to you. I was -- the cough was the worst cough I've ever had, and it, like, even hurt my heart while I was coughing. And I went to you, and you were really sick. And I asked you, "Is it possibly it's swine flu?"

And you said, "Probably not, because usually swine flu has a very high fever right away."

GUPTA: That's right. And, you know, it's interesting because I think the next day, I think, maybe you had gone to a different province. And I was feeling miserable the next day, and I hadn't checked my temperature. You know, you're in the desert, and it's hot outside. I hadn't really thought about it.

I went there, and my temperature was around 102 degrees. So, you know, pretty high, certainly, for me, 98 being normal, 98.6. So that was the first sign. And then, you know, I had that same cough that you did, the light-headedness, and I was freezing cold. I don't know if you had that, as well.


GUPTA: That was really the most memorable part of it. I was freezing cold despite being in the desert. Are you coughing right now?

COOPER: I'm still coughing, I will say. Just a little bit.

GUPTA: I heard that. Yes. I have a little bit of a cough, as well. I don't think we're contagious, though.

COOPER: I love that I just learned that I may have had swine flu from you via satellite.

But what was it like? I mean, it was -- for you, you said it was the worst sickness you've ever had?

GUPTA: It really was. You know, I don't get sick very often. I mean, I can't remember the last time I was sick. I don't remember the last time I had the flu. But this really floored me.

I think the day after you and I talked about it, the next morning I was trying to get out of my sleeping bag. I could barely take a couple of steps without feeling really light-headed. And again, those just profound chills and shakes, despite the fact that it was over 100 degrees outside.

And then, when I went to the -- I went to the clinic, the role -- it's a Role 3 battlefield clinic. You know, they gave me some IV fluids, because I hadn't eaten in a while. And they also did the swab for the flu.

And at first it comes back as the flu-Type A, which is sort of a broader category. And it took some time for the confirmation test to show that, in fact, it was H1N1.

COOPER: See, I did not have a fever, so I'm hoping that means maybe I did not have it. Is that something -- should one get it checked? I mean, we're talking about what, something that happened two weeks ago. GUPTA: Right, you know. And some would argue that you don't need to get it checked now, and maybe you don't -- I didn't need to get it checked then.

What we know is that H1N1 is circulating around the word. You mentioned how many cases have already been, Anderson.

And what most doctors have told me, most infectious disease doctors, is that the testing really doesn't matter, because you're not going to do anything differently based on that testing. It is the flu with a different name.

So, you know, if someone is sick, they might get decongestants. They might get medications for their fever, but most of it is just going to be supportive care. Just like that.

Children and pregnant women do seem to be more at risk, and these are two groups that the CDC and other infectious disease doctors have sort of been targeting and are targeting specifically for the vaccine.

COOPER: I took two rounds of antibiotics for, like, two weeks, and I'm still on something right now for, like, an inner ear infection. Is -- do antibiotics have an effect?

GUPTA: You know, probably not. This is -- excuse me -- a viral infection -- excuse me.

COOPER: It's just getting worse and worse.

GUPTA: I have great news for you. You know, we have viral infections, and you have a -- I know you really trust me now. But you have viral infections, and you have bacterial infections. And bacterial infections -- we're both coughing. It just cracks me up.

Anyway, bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Viral infections, if caught very early, can sometimes be treated with Tamiflu. But you know, you have to take that within the first 24 to 48 hours.

COOPER: Which I hadn't thought about coughing today, and I've been very good. And now, of course, you mentioned it, now I feel it.

GUPTA: Talking to a doctor, yes.

COOPER: Well, I'm glad you're feeling better. And so you're no longer contagious, right?

GUPTA: That's right. I mean, they usually say the first couple of days of worst symptoms. A few days after that is when you usually stop becoming contagious. I made sure that -- in fact, that's part of the reason I stayed home from work for a few days after I got back. And, you know, like I said, I feel perfectly fine now. A little bit of this lingering cough, but I feel fine.

And you feel OK now? COOPER: Yes. I still have the cough. But, you know, they told me -- yes. I don't know, maybe I'm going to get it checked. Let's see.

Sanjay, thanks, I think. I'm not sure.

HILL: The entire studio says...

COOPER: Sanjay wrote about his bout with swine flu -- I also didn't take any days off. So I hope everyone -- everyone else isn't sick around here.

HILL: Nah.

COOPER: It's a very great read. It's on our blog right now at Sanjay, thanks. Glad you're better.

GUPTA: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Let's get caught up with some other stories. Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: (COUGHS) Just kidding.

Anderson, Sarah Palin, speaking with global investors in Hong Kong today. It was her first major appearance since resigning as governor of Alaska back in July. Those in the crowd said she covered everything from human rights to the economy in her 90-minute speech. The speech, however, was closed to the media.

A shocking confession from former TV star Mackenzie Phillips. She says she had a long-term sexual relationship with her own father, John Phillips. You may know him as a member of the Sixties group, The Mamas and the Papas.

In her upcoming book, "High on Arrival," Phillips writes she first had sex with her father on the night before her own wedding, and it grew into a consensual relationship. That's according to, which obtained an advance copy of the book.

Both of them battled drug addiction. John Phillips died in 2001.

And in Sunnyside, Washington, talk about a close call, all caught on tape. Watch this. A car, you're going to see it right there.

COOPER: Yikes. Gee.

HILL: Crashes into the wall of a store. It actually just missed -- I don't know if you saw the little girl on the sidewalk there...


HILL: Just missed that girl. Instead, it landed on a parking pole.

COOPER: Oh, jeez. HILL: The child, incredibly, wasn't hurt. Police say the driver had a suspended license and, if it wasn't for that pole, the child very likely would have been hurt and probably very serious.

COOPER: That is incredible. Wow. Unbelievable.

Coming up, something to make you smile and forget about that before you go to bed, "Single Ladies" for the single baby. The hit that makes almost everyone want to base. Notice I said -- I said almost everyone.

Also tonight, the anger and theatrics on the world stage. We'll bring you the controversial comments at the U.N. and analysis -- analysis from our experts.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: Erica, tonight's "Shot," perhaps the cutest version of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video and maybe the most talented. Take a look.




HILL: Moving its feet pretty good.

COOPER: I know. I thought this was fake when I first saw it, but...

HILL: I did, too.

COOPER: We found this clip on YouTube. The baby can dance better than me.

HILL: Has a mean squat, too. Man.

COOPER: Yes. I think that's it, right?

You can find all the most recent "Shots" at our Web site, You can check that one out, as well.

Just ahead, at the top of the hour, the spectacle that played out at the U.N. today. Two international pariahs taking the stage in a sort of bizarre double feature that inspired a lot of outrage. All the details ahead.