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President Obama Speaks with Shirley Sherrod; Trail of Smears; Tropical Storm Takes Aim at Gulf; Lockerbie Senate Hearing; Teachers in Time Out

Aired July 22, 2010 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news tonight here in the Gulf.

Just a short time ago, the man in charge, Thad Allen, temporarily suspending operations to permanently seal off the BP well; he ordered most of the ships and rigs at the site to move, that because of a tropical storm moving closer to the Gulf, Tropical Storm Bonnie.

Allen tonight says it poses a risk to the safety of thousands of people responding to the BP spill. We'll have the latest on the tropical storm in just a moment.

But we begin with a political storm that nearly destroyed Shirley Sherrod. President Obama spoke with her on the phone today. And we'll speak to her in a moment about that conversation.

But first the blogger who slammed Shirley Sherrod, we're "Keeping Them Honest". He's the only actor in this dismal drama that has not apologized to Ms. Sherrod. And in fact, today, he says he is the victim and that the Obama administration and mainstream media are out to destroy him.

He told Politico today -- quote -- "I am public enemy number one or two to the Democratic Party, the progressive movement and the Obama administration based upon the successes my journalism has had."

Now, calling what Mr. Breitbart does journalism is hard for those of us who actually check facts and try to be fair. I'm certainly not perfect and have made mistakes and have apologized for them. But journalism shouldn't be about left and right. It should be about the truth.

What Mr. Breitbart does and what others on the left and the right do may very well be what journalism has become, but it's certainly not what it should be.

Mr. Breitbart also told Politico -- quote -- "The desire here is to make it about me and not the Democratic establishment and the NAACP versus the Tea Party."

That's been Mr. Breitbart's excuse since it was revealed that his video was not what he said it was. He claims this was never about Shirley Sherrod. In fact, he said to Sean Hannity -- quote -- "I could care less about Shirley Sherrod, to be honest with you."

That is the one thing he has said that is indisputable. He does not care about Shirley Sherrod. He doesn't care about making false allegations against her or ruining her career. Andrew Breitbart has his ideology. He believes he is right. And in his mind that justifies any action he takes.

And that's how ideologues think on the left and on the right. He posted a video clip that's misleading? No problem if it helps you make your argument, if it helps boost visitors to your Web site. Make false claims about a person and why not, if it gets you more Web traffic?

That is where we are today. Andrew Breitbart is conservative. But, as I said, there are liberals online and on TV who did the exact same things. They cherry-pick the facts that prove their arguments and not the facts that reveal the truth.

David Frum, a conservative, said on this program last night the problem is not liberalism or conservatism, its factionalism. Seeing the world through your own limited political lens and never admitting when you have made a mistake, never admitting the other side may be right some of the time, never doing anything that damages your faction.

It's a game for people like Mr. Breitbart and others. They don't go out into the field and meet the people they are supposedly reporting on. They don't go out and challenge their assumptions. They stay behind a desk and see the world as black or white, left or right. And it's a lot more complex than that.

Earlier, President Obama spoke about Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's decision to fire Sherrod. Here's what he told ABC's "World News".


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles. And I have told my team and I have told my agencies that we have to make sure that we're focusing on doing the right thing, instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and think these issues through.


COOPER: Well, as I said, the President talked to Shirley Sherrod today. It was a call she had been hoping for. I talked to Ms. Sherrod about it just a short time ago.


COOPER: Ms. Sherrod, what did you and the President talk about in your conversation today? What did he say to you? SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER GEORGIA DIRECTOR, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, USDA: Well, he first wanted to assure me that he had been trying to -- he had attempted to reach me the night before, but of course my phone has been so full that he couldn't get through.

And he wanted to assure me that the secretary was serious about ridding the department of discrimination and truly sorry, the secretary, for what had happened.

He -- we talked some about the fact that he said some of the things I had been saying over the last few days, he sort of covered some of them in the book that he wrote. And he wanted to assure me that, if I had issues I wanted to share with him in the future, he told me the person who texted me when they couldn't get me earlier by phone was one way to get that to him.

COOPER: Did the president himself say he was sorry, or was he saying that Secretary Vilsack was sorry?

SHERROD: The President didn't say the words, "I'm sorry."

But I felt everything he said was saying to me that he was. I really didn't -- I didn't really want the secretary -- the President to say, "I'm sorry." He is the President of the -- of the United States of America, and I really didn't feel I needed to hear him say he was sorry to me. I didn't -- I didn't have to have that.

COOPER: Now that you have talked to the President, I mean, do you still think somebody in the White House was behind your ouster?

SHERROD: Yes, I still think someone in the White House. He said he didn't know. They briefed him, he said, yesterday. I'm not sure whether he meant yesterday or Tuesday, but he said he did not know until he was briefed on it.

I can accept that. But I -- I firmly believe that someone in the White House was telling them that the White House wanted me to resign.

You know, I've known the person who was on the phone with me. I knew her before we -- she -- before I came to the agency. And I believe if the decision had been hers, this never would have happened.

COOPER: Have you made any decisions about the job that Secretary Vilsack offered you yesterday?

SHERROD: No, I haven't. I really haven't been able to see that decision in writing yet. I haven't been able to get to my e-mail to actually look at it, if they have sent it.

COOPER: I want to ask you about the -- the man who first posted this edited clip of you, Andrew Breitbart.

He said today -- and I'm quoting him -- he said -- quote -- "If anybody reads the sainted, martyred Sherrod's entire speech, this person has not gotten past black versus white."

Do you think you've gotten past black versus white?

SHERROD: I know I've gotten past black versus white.

He's probably the person who has never gotten past it and never attempted to get past it. So, he can't see -- because he has never tried and because he hasn't, he can't see what I have done to get past it. And he's not interested in what I have done to get past it. I don't think he's interested in seeing anyone get past it, because I think he would like to get us stuck back in the times of slavery.

That's where I think he would like to see all black people end up again. And that's why --

COOPER: Do you think -- do you think he's racist?

SHERROD: -- I think he's so vicious. Yes, I do.

And I think that's why he's so vicious against a black president, you know. He would go after me. I don't think it was even the NAACP he was totally after. I think he was after a black president.

COOPER: So, when he says this wasn't about you, that this was just about the NAACP and what he says is their racist -- or their bias, you say you don't buy that?

SHERROD: I don't buy it at all.

What has he done to -- to promote unity among the races? Tell me. Let me -- tell him to come forward and tell us what he has done. I haven't seen him do anything but try to divide us, you know. Where does he think this will take us? What -- what does he think this will accomplish -- accomplish?

I would like to hear him answer that.

COOPER: Are you --

SHERROD: And I would like him to show me how he's not a racist.

COOPER: Are you thinking of pursuing any kind of legal action against him?

SHERROD: I'm certainly not going to turn, you know, away from that, if that's a possibility. I'm certainly going to look at it.

COOPER: Have you come to terms at all with what's happened? Or have you been able to step back from it and kind of look at this in perspective at all?

SHERROD: Not totally.

But, you know, Anderson, I have been through tough times dating back many, many years. And I can't let even this knock me down. I know that there's lots more to be done. I'm a fighter. I am a fighter. And I will continue to fight.

COOPER: Shirley Sherrod, I appreciate you being on tonight. Thank you.

SHERROD: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, let us know what you think. The live chat is up and running at

That is her take. In a moment, you'll hear what Andrew Breitbart had to say.

We got a hold of him earlier. Our Randi Kaye talked to him. We wanted to know a few things, including this.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you plan to apologize to Ms. Sherrod, or no?

ANDREW BREITBART, PUBLISHER, BREITBART.COM (via telephone): Under -- what would -- what would warrant an apology?


COOPER: No apology, but why? The interview with Andrew Breitbart, ahead.

Also tonight, the woman who called Sherrod three times and demanded that she resign, who is she? And was the White House in contact with her?

Tonight, we try to track down exactly what happened. We tried to track her down, in fact, inside the -- inside the -- the -- Capitol Hill and other places -- coming up.


COOPER: Well, before this week, Shirley Sherrod certainly was not a household name. But Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who posted the video that cost her, her job is a star in conservative circles, a popular speaker with a big book deal.

The Sherrod incident is not the first story like this that he has been involved with.

Randi Kaye tonight takes us "Up Close."


KAYE (voice-over): In 2009, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart made his first big splash. It was then he and a pair of conservative activists publicized a series of undercover stings against the federal housing group ACORN, a housing initiative that had publicly supported candidate Obama's campaign.

Breitbart posted videos of the stings on his Web site, ACORN staffers were seen offering to set up a brothel for underage prostitutes. The video went viral. And a conservative star was born.

STEVE ADUBATO, AUTHOR, "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?": We're talking about a guy who, frankly, has an agenda, who -- who is not that concerned about context or facts.

KAYE (on camera): There were questions about the legality of the videos and whether they had been selectively edited to make ACORN look bad. Sound familiar? But it didn't matter. Breitbart got results. ACORN lost its federal funding and collapsed as a national organization.

(voice-over): Eric Boehlert from the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America calls Breitbart a misinformation czar.

ERIC BOEHLERT, SENIOR FELLOW, MEDIA MATTERS: A propagandist and a bit of a charlatan and, as we've seen this week, a -- sort of a character assassin. I mean, he likes to pretend he is doing journalism, but there's nothing he's doing that is remotely close to journalism. He knowingly publishes false information and never posts corrections, doesn't retract. It's really -- he's really a one-man wrecking ball.

KAYE: We called Breitbart to get his take.

Do you consider yourself a propagandist? And do you have an agenda?

BREITBART: Somebody has to stand up to this type of bullyism that happens in the press and journalism is corrupt. And I'm out there, to the best of my abilities and with my conscience, trying to right the wrong.

KAYE: But the ACORN and Shirley Sherrod incidents aren't the only times Breitbart has pumped out misleading information. In 2009, he posted videotape of community organizers praying, he said, to then president-elect Obama. He later conceded, after posting more of the tape, they might be praying to God.

(on camera): Breitbart has built up a small empire of Web sites,, BigGovernment, BigJournalism, BigHollywood and so on. Hits against the left translate directly to hits online.

According to, he serves up more than 20 million news page views each month to about three million unique visitors.

ADUBATO: We're talking about someone who understands our addiction to powerful videos, salacious video, audio taken out of context that says something dramatic. We take it. We use it. He loves it. He gets more attention. He understands what our hot buttons are.

KAYE (voice-over): That makes Breitbart a star in the conservative conference circuit. In the last year, he's spoken at, at least six Tea Party rallies and two big mainstream conservative conferences.

BREITBART: I love confrontation, by the way.

And, by the way, by the way, by the way, you should, too, because it's the only way we're going to win.

KAYE: Seems, the more controversial he gets, the faster his profile and profits grow. He got a half-a-million dollar advance for his upcoming book, and says his Web sites are fully funded by advertisers.

He admits the reaction to how he handled the Shirley Sherrod tape has been mixed, but don't expect a mea culpa from him.

(on camera): Do you plan to apologize to Ms. Sherrod, or no?

BREITBART: Under -- what would -- what would warrant an apology?

KAYE: I'm asking you.

BREITBART: Did I even ask for an investigation of her? I am not the one that threw her under the bus. It was the Obama administration and the NAACP, which was in possession, according to itself, of the full video.


COOPER: Well, that's been his line all along, basically, since this has unraveled, that this wasn't about Shirley Sherrod; it's about the NAACP and it's more about the Obama administration.

But, so, he has no plans, obviously, to apologize?

KAYE: Absolutely no plans and he doesn't think that he needs to. I mean, he actually said it was the Obama administration's fault. It was not him that threw her under the bus.

But one thing that really struck me on the phone with him, Anderson, is how paranoid he seemed to be. He kept saying when we asked him about his -- his funding and where his -- who his advertisers are, he kept saying to me, oh, are you going to start a campaign, stop advertising on

COOPER: Right.

KAYE: And -- and he was accusing us of looking into his background and --

COOPER: Right.

KAYE: -- and maybe he had some racism in his background. And he kept blaming the NAACP.

And I thought for sure you would have some questions for him tonight, so I invited him to come on the show live. And he said he couldn't. He was somewhere in the woods. (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Well, I think -- I read in Politico he started a three- day vacation that was long-planned. And fair enough.

KAYE: Sure.

COOPER: I'm glad we were able to have his voice on the program.

And we should point out, this is not necessarily even about Andrew Breitbart. I mean, this is not about conservative or liberal. There are many liberal bloggers who do the exact same kind of stuff.

KAYE: Absolutely.

COOPER: And it is just as odious. And -- and if a story like this breaks on -- on their side, well, we'll point that out as well.

You know, it's not about targeting Andrew Breitbart.

KAYE: Right.

COOPER: It's about -- it's about this -- this -- what we're in now in this age, where it's all about factionalism.

KAYE: Yes.

COOPER: It's all about, you get hits to your Web site. The more outrageous you are, on the left or on the right, the more popular you become online.

KAYE: And he knows it, too.


Randi, I appreciate it.

You heard Andrew Breitbart doesn't see why he should apologize to Shirley Sherrod. He apparently doesn't see a connection between what he did and what it may have cost her. While many are condemning what he did, others are fully supporting him.

I spoke earlier with CNN's contributors Erick Erickson, editor of -- editor in chief of, and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.


COOPER: Eric, Andrew Breitbart posted this misleading excerpt of the video of Shirley Sherrod, taking it completely out of context, and at the same time, saying that context matters.

But you're backing him up and say you're glad he's on your side and -- and say that he doesn't bear a significant amount of blame for all this. How can that be? ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I definitely think Andrew took Shirley Sherrod out of context and definitely think she was portrayed as someone she wasn't.

But, at the same time, before the tape was even released, it was the Obama administration that was forcing Shirley Sherrod to resign, without even having seen the tape. I think, more than anything, this goes to show how blogs are driving the conversation now.

COOPER: But, I mean, should blogs be driving the conversation? I mean, if some guy, Andrew Breitbart, can put up just some videotape that's completely misleading and say it's one thing, when it's really something else, I mean, doesn't that condemn and isn't that pretty damning of him?

ERICKSON: No, I don't necessarily think so.

You know, what's interesting is, there are a lot of people on the right who listened to that transcript -- or listened to what she said and agreed with Andrew Breitbart.

I don't. And maybe it's because a live in the South. I'm on a city council in the South and deal with these issues all the time. That's how we talk about these issues in the South. I don't think Shirley Sherrod is a racist based on those comments. I applaud what she was -- the point she was getting to.

But a lot of people disagree with me on this. I'm not willing to condemn Andrew Breitbart for it. I do think this overshadows his larger point that race is used as a weapon in this country, a lot of times unfairly.

COOPER: Donna, what do you make of Erick's argument that basically this is about the Obama administration? Seemed -- he seems to be saying that they share more blame in this than Andrew Breitbart.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's ludicrous. And let me tell you why, Anderson.

When Mr. Breitbart decided to put this video on his Internet, and -- and then promote it as a -- a piece of evidence that, somehow or another, an Obama administration was discriminating against a white person, he began to inflame the situation by pushing it out there without checking the facts, without checking the context, but just basically putting it out there without making sure that it was accurate.

Now we know, because he's taken some of the stuff down, that it was not just misleading, inaccurate; it was -- it was doctored. So, I think he bears full responsibility for this saga.

Now, look, I do believe that everyone -- there's a lot of -- there's a lot of crow, Anderson, on everybody's plate, enough to keep the high and mighty in Washington, D.C. talking about birds until we get into turkey season. But the fact is that Mr. Breitbart should be discredited as a reliable journalist, or whatever he is, because if you put this stuff out there, and then you force -- you force others to comment on something that is totally ludicrous, he bears ultimate responsibility.

He should apologize, not just to Ms. Sherrod, but he should also apologize to the Spooners, who he said the other day, after seeing them on TV, that they were impostors.

COOPER: Erick, you wrote on your blog that both sides of the political aisle are engaged in a tit-for-tat war of retribution -- and I quote -- "That war has casualties on both sides. Ms. Sherrod is the latest. It's not fair, but that's how the left plays, and the right must fight on the offense or not fight at all."

I mean, I don't -- I don't get -- as somebody who is not particularly partisan on the left or the right, I try not to view things through the lens of being liberal or being conservative. I don't get -- it just seems like, whether you're a conservative or whether you're a liberal and you have a blog, it doesn't seem like the truth really matters.

It's just, you say whatever you want to say, whether you're on the left or the right, to prove your point. And, if you're wrong, no one ever says they're wrong. No one ever seems to apologize.


ERICKSON: You're right. And, you know, that's -- the right is now having to deal with this conversation. And that's another conversation that needs to be had.

Yes, I think the right needs to fight back, because I believe this happens routinely, from left to right more often than right to left. But, at the same time, I don't think the right needs to adopt the tactics that we condemn on the other side. I think that's wrong.

You -- you become the people you attack when you use their tactics over time. I just -- the whole situation, I find distasteful. But I'm -- I'm not going to condemn Andrew Breitbart for it.

BRAZILE: Well, I'm going to ask him to step up.


COOPER: But it seems like you're -- it seems like you're not going to condemn -- but it seems like you're saying you're not going to condemn him because he's on your side and that doesn't serve your overall purpose.

I mean, if somebody is wrong and I'm not saying condemn, but -- but, if he's wrong, shouldn't he apologize?

ERICKSON: Yes, I said Andrew Breitbart was wrong. Maybe, if he thinks he's wrong, he will apologize. But he doesn't think he's wrong. And I'm not the guy to convince Andrew Breitbart of that. I definitely think Shirley Sherrod was mischaracterized in the video.

COOPER: Donna, at the same time -- let me just argue the flip side of this -- this is also an opportunity that some on the left now are using to hammer conservatives and to hammer their enemies, to hammer Andrew Breitbart. It seems like both sides play this game, and I think a lot of the people in America are just kind of sick of the game.

BRAZILE: Of course, Anderson.

That's why they distrust -- distrust politicians, and members of Congress and others are as popular as a root canal. They're sick of it.

But, at the same time, this is when you need leaders. Where are the leaders on the right? Where are the leaders on the left that can find common ground?

I'm -- I'm just looking for someone on the right who is willing to go out there and walk the plank with me and say we can find common ground on some of these issues. It's not always black and white. There's a lot of gray in between.

COOPER: All right, Donna Brazile, Erick Erickson, I appreciate your time. Thanks.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

And thank you, Erick.

ERICKSON: Thank you.


COOPER: Coming up next on the program: the government official who demanded Sherrod resign, where is she? We went searching to find her.



Would Cheryl Cook be made available for any questions? There has been an allegation that she said that the White House wanted Shirley to resign. Will she be made available to answer questions? And why not?

TOM VILSACK, U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I addressed that yesterday.

HENRY: But nobody is saying what really happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, we'll try to find out the truth -- that story ahead.

Also tonight: more on our breaking news, Tropical Storm Bonnie already forcing most of the ships and rigs to be moved from the BP well area. Chad Myers joins us for an update on where the storm is headed.


COOPER: We have heard from all the major players in the Shirley Sherrod saga, except one. Her name is Cheryl Cook. And she's an undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture.

It was Cook who called Sherrod on Monday, ordered her to pull her car over, and demanded that she text her resignation.

Ed Henry has been trying to track down Cheryl Cook. The reason is because she is the one who said it was the White House -- that this order came from the White House apparently to Ms. Sherrod, that's about according to Ms. Sherrod's account.

So, Ed Henry went looking for her trying to get some answers.


HENRY (voice-over): In the saga of Shirley Sherrod, there's only one mystery left to be solved: where is Cheryl Cook?

(on camera): Cheryl Cook works here at the Agriculture Department as a top aide to Secretary Tom Vilsack. And she's in the middle of this story because Shirley Sherrod alleges that, on Monday when the story first exploded, Cheryl Cook called her three times and demanded that she resign, and that Cheryl Cook said it was at the urging of the White House.

Now, White House officials and Secretary Vilsack have denied that. But Cheryl Cook has not come forward to answer one single question on this matter.

So, we spent the day trying to track her down from here at the Agriculture Department a few blocks away over at White House.

(voice-over): In the afternoon, my colleague Dan Lothian pressed Robert Gibbs on whether the White House would make Cook available.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would point you over to USDA on that. I don't know if you talked to USDA.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, but she's the person who supposedly said that the White House wanted her to step down --

GIBBS: Dan, if you want to reach the undersecretary or the deputy secretary, I -- again, call -- call the Department of Agriculture. HENRY (on camera): You can hear on the overhead intercom that Robert Gibbs is still doing his daily briefing. He just told Dan Lothian that if you want to reach Cheryl Cook at the Agriculture Department, you should call the press office. So, we're going to try to track her down.

Hey there. It's Ed Henry at CNN. We're working on a story about Cheryl Cook. And I just wanted to see if we can get an interview with her, because Robert Gibbs just said in the briefing, for the second day in a row, that if any reporters want to talk to her, we should call over to the press office. Could you help us?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me see. I can -- let me take your information down.

HENRY (voice-over): Later in the afternoon, I got a call back from another press person, who left me a voice-mail shedding no new light on Cook's contact with the White House.

CHRIS MATHER, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, USDA: And I think we have been pretty clear about what the involvement was and wasn't. Obviously, we informed them of what was going on, because that's what we do on a daily basis. And in terms of their request or anything else, they -- this was our decision here at USDA.

HENRY: Then, suddenly, a possible breakthrough.

(on camera): My producer, Shawna Shepherd (ph), has just gotten what we believe to be the direct line at the Agriculture Department for Cheryl Cook as well as her cell numbers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system. The mailbox belonging to Cheryl Cook is full. To disconnect, press one. To enter another number, press two.

HENRY: That means she's getting a lot of calls. She's not returning calls.

(voice-over): So we headed to agriculture headquarters to see if we could find Cheryl Cook there.

(on camera): Have you seen her? Have you seen this woman anywhere?

(voice-over): We tried to talk to Secretary Vilsack, but his driver spotted our camera. And the car was brought to a different entrance, and the secretary left.

But just as we were about to leave, the secretary's car came back to the office, and we confronted him.

(on camera): Mr. Secretary, Ed Henry with CNN. Would Cheryl Cook be made available for any questions? There's been an allegation that, you know, she said that the White House wanted Shirley to resign. Will she be made available to answer questions? Why not? TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I addressed that yesterday.


COOPER: So, I didn't quite hear what he said, but clearly my sense is she's not going to be made available. He said, what, he dealt with this yesterday?

HENRY: He said he dealt with it yesterday. And all he said yesterday was that there was a liaison at the Agriculture Department who talked to the White House but was just sort of informing them about what the Agriculture Department was doing, that basically the White House had no role here in pushing Shirley Sherrod out.

But the bottom line is that they have not made that liaison at the Agriculture Department. They haven't even revealed the name of that person. They haven't revealed the name of the person at the White House who took the call from the Agriculture Department official.

And the bottom line is that this administration has talked a lot about transparency. If, really, there was no White House influence here, why haven't they made these various officials available to just answer some basic questions?

It's kind of interesting, especially because, you know, Shirley Sherrod has repeatedly said to you and others here at CNN that the White House was pushing this to get her out. If that really didn't happen, I don't understand why they haven't made any of these officials available.

COOPER: Yes. And she certainly still believes that, based on my conversation with her today.

Ed Henry, not -- not probably a fun day for you, but I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

HENRY: Thank you.

COOPER: Trying to keep them honest; Ed Henry, tracking them down.

Still ahead, the latest on our breaking news, a tropical storm heading toward the Gulf; we're tracking it closely. We'll tell you where it is, where it's heading.

Plus, why would BP post altered photographs of its work in the Gulf on its Web site? We'll show you the fake photos ahead.

And did BP play a role in setting this guy free, the convicted Lockerbie bomber, the one sentenced to life for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103? Turns out BP had a big oil exploration deal pending in Libya. Now a Senate committee is holding hearings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Want to update you now on the breaking news. As we told you at the top of the hour, the operations to permanently kill the BP well were suspended tonight, the decision made by Thad Allen. He's concerned about Tropical Storm Bonnie, which is gaining strength and speed and moving closer to the Gulf. Allen has ordered most of the ships and the rigs at the site to actually move.

Chad Myers is going to join us in a moment for the latest on the storm. And we should tell you that we're expecting an update from the National Hurricane Center on the storm in just a few minutes.

You would think now that, by now, BP would get that transparency can only help their credibility. BP has now, though, admitted it has posted altered photos on its Web site. It's just a bizarre story. Take a look. Both of these photos show BP engineers at work at the company's oil control center.

This is the original. It shows what the room actually looked like before the photo was fudged. But BP initially posted this one. And as you can see in that photo, all the video monitors are filled with images, unlike the original where three of the video monitors were blank.

BP said a staff photographer made the monitors look like they were displaying underwater shots to, quote, "enhance the quality of the photo". They say he had no intention of misleading anybody, and the altered picture was taken off BP's Web site as soon as it was discovered.

It is not the only time this has happened. Here's another example. This picture was taken from inside a helicopter, but again, this one has been altered. It's not clear what BP or the photographer thought the gain was in either case.

BP says the altered pictures have been removed. Once again, transparency seems to take a hit, and BP's credibility does, perhaps, as well.

In the meantime, the Senate Foreign Relations -- Foreign Relations Committee has asked BP's Tony Hayward to testify next week at a hearing in Washington. Scotland's justice minister turned down the same invitation.

But this is not a hearing about the spill disaster in the Gulf. It's about the release last year of the only man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing incident. He had been serving a life sentence in a Scottish prison.

Did BP -- this is the question -- did BP influence the decision because it stood to lose a $900 million exploration deal with Libya? That's the allegation on the table. Jill Dougherty investigates.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After serving just eight years of a life sentence for bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 270 people, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi returned home last year a free man, released by Scottish authorities on compassionate grounds because he supposedly would be dead of cancer within three months.

Eleven months later, he's still alive. Some U.S. senators are livid. They think al-Megrahi was released because of pressure by BP oil company, which was trying to clinch a $900 million oil contract with Libya.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.

DOUGHERTY: Scotland's first minister, in a letter to the senators, says, categorically, "We had no submissions or lobbying of any kind from BP."

The State Department accepts that.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: There's nothing that, in our -- that we've seen that suggests that this process was skewed in any way.

DOUGHERTY: British Prime Minister David Cameron says the Scottish authorities' decision was profoundly misguided, but there's no need for an inquiry.

Another allegation: that a medical report commissioned by the Libyan government led to al-Megrahi's release.

SCHUMER: The doctor claims that he only has three months to live, and it meets Scottish law's humanitarian parole. Now the doctor comes out and says, "Well, he really has ten years to live, and he's fit as a fiddle."

DOUGHERTY: The Scottish government insists the Libyan doctor played no role. "The fact remains, however, that al-Megrahi is dying of cancer."

(on camera): The British government admits BP did lobby for a prisoner transfer agreement that could have returned al-Megrahi to Libya. BP argued that not having such an agreement could hurt British commercial interests, including BP's, but it denies it lobbied specifically for al-Megrahi.

(voice-over): The Scottish government rejected the prisoner transfer application for al-Megrahi and released him on compassionate grounds.

SCHUMER: BP, of course, got the contract shortly after his release. I think that's a pretty good case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We signed that agreement in 2007.

DOUGHERTY: Libya's oil minister told CNN there was no political interference, and the oil agreement was ratified two years before al- Megrahi's release. The British prime minister insists --

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I haven't seen anything to suggest that the Scottish government were, in any way, swayed by BP.

DOUGHERTY: Behind the scenes, at a time when BP is under attack for the Gulf oil spill, some U.S. officials say the senators' demand for an investigation is partly political grandstanding.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, the State Department.


COOPER: Well, let's not forget: 189 Americans were killed when Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. J.P. Flynn was one of them. His brother, Brian Flynn, joins me now.

Brian, is there any question in your mind whether or not BP played a role in al-Megrahi's release?

BRIAN FLYNN, BROTHER OF VICTIM: No, and they've even admitted that they contacted the British government on numerous occasions. And if you look at the facts here, what you have is a perfect storm of corruption.

BP has admitted that they hired Mark Allen, who is a former MI-6 member. Mark Allen has admitted that he called Jack Straw, the justice secretary. And Jack Straw, who was justice minister in the U.K., has admitted that he called McCaskill and said it's in the overwhelming interest of the United Kingdom to get him -- to get Megrahi out of prison.

On the other side, you've got the Scots who, for a number of reasons, including that they're trying to raise capital from Mid- Eastern sovereign wealth funds, they don't want Megrahi to die in prison either.

And the point we've been making -- we've been making this for many years -- is that sometimes justice isn't convenient. And sometimes the role of a justice minister is, when such lobbying happens, is to fight back and say, "No, we're not going to allow you to buy the freedom of this convicted terrorist."

COOPER: Yes. I mean, it certainly does seem suspicious that BP is all of a sudden concerned about prisoner transfer agreements between the United Kingdom and Libya. I mean, it's hard to believe that that doesn't have something to do with their business interests.

FLYNN: Right. Why -- why would they have one of their top executives call the justice minister more than once, and admit to it, that "we're really concerned about prisoner transfer agreement", other than to get the oil deal?

There's an interesting point made, that the oil contract was signed in 2007. But miraculously, it hit a certain amount of bureaucratic hold-ups, which were communicated to both the British and the Scottish governments by BP. And then, miraculously, as soon as he was released, those hold-ups had ended.

And I think -- what I keep hearing from everyone, whether from Cameron or from McCaskill, is that, "Oh, it was a mistake to release him."

Well, as you said earlier in the show about another matter, the truth does matter. We need to know why he was released, what influences were made and what can be done, No. 1, to get him back in prison, but also No. 2, to change it so that this doesn't happen again.

COOPER: And the man who was released -- I mean, this is the only man convicted. Clearly, there were more involved. But this is the only man who actually faced justice. He was allegedly dying of cancer, allegedly had, you know, three months to live, we were told. It's now been, what, more than a year, and you know, I think one doctor said he could live for many more years.

FLYNN: Yes. And this is a situation where we've said this all upfront. All of the families had an opportunity to talk to McCaskill. And we said he's not dying of cancer. Show us the evidence that he's dying -- show us some evidence, some reason to believe.

And if he had died three months after he was released, perhaps they could have said, "Well, the Scottish system, we were against the idea, but at least he did." But we knew he wouldn't.

And if you ask McCaskill and you ask Salman (ph) now, where is the evidence, they say, "Oh, well, at the time that was the evidence that we had available to us." And then you say -- and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says, "Well, let's see it." And they won't give it up.

COOPER: Brian, it's good to have you on again. Appreciate you being with us. Thank you, Brian Flynn.

FLYNN: Thanks for covering this.

COOPER: Still ahead, more on tonight's breaking news. Tropical Storm Bonnie now heading for the Gulf. How much trouble could it cause? We're going to -- we're expecting a new update, and we'll check in with Chad Myers any moment now.


COOPER: The latest on our breaking news: Tropical Storm Bonnie taking aim at the Gulf. Admiral Thad Allen suspending the operations to permanently seal off the BP well. He's ordered most of the ships and rigs at the site to move.

We'll check in with meteorologist Chad Myers. He's tracking the storm for us.

Chad, you just got the official update from the National Hurricane Center. Where's it going?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's going to go a little bit farther to the right, maybe 50 miles farther to the right, than the advisory we had at 5 p.m. That means probably not New Iberia, but maybe a landfall very close to Grand Isle.

Now, that said, we're still hours and hours and hours away from that. So the cone goes all the way from Mississippi almost over to Galveston. So this thing is still in the Bahamas. In fact, it's right about there. I know it looks like it should be up there near the convection, but it's not. A lot of the convection or thunderstorm activity is to the north of where the center is.

Does it matter? No, not really. It's not very organized right now. It's a 40-mile-per-hour tropical storm, Bonnie. But the storm, as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico, will have a very long time to be in some very warm water and try to gain strength.

This is still the old update from 5 p.m. This is going to take some time to get updated with these graphics. They take some time -- whatever -- they're all hi-def.

Back out here to the West is where it was going, back toward kind of where they make Tabasco, back out to the western side of Louisiana. Now the center of the cone is more, let's say, right up the Mississippi River. So, that makes it right over the oil field, right over the oil spill, at least the center of the cone is right over the oil spill.

Now, let me just say -- and Anderson, just take a look at this. I know you can see it in your field here.

Here are some squalls now just coming in to South Florida. This storm is still way down there. This still has a long way to go before it even gets across Florida, which will be tomorrow, then into the Gulf and then farther to the left. This storm has been wobbling a little bit left and right as it's coming up. The big thing is that no models still bring this to hurricane strength.

Now, that said, there's one model tonight that brings it to 60 knots. That's pretty close. That's 68 miles per hour or so. That would cause more problems. Even at 50 miles per hour, with the center getting so close to the oil spill, all of these ships are going to have to leave.

COOPER: Right.

MYERS: There may be a couple that can handle it and most still can. But they're -- they're going to get these men and women out of the way, because why would you put another person in the way of this? Right?

COOPER: Chad, two questions. One, you may have answered it. When is it going to hit land? I know where is a big question. But when? Also, we have a "Text 360" question from Adam in San Diego. He asks, "If the storm makes a direct hit, will the current cap in place keep all the oil from leaking during the storm?"

MYERS: Let's take it one at a time. Landfall looks like somewhere between noon and maybe 4 p.m. on Sunday. That's the second landfall possibly. There may be a first landfall in the Keys, but that would still only be a 45- to 50-mile-per-hour, what they would call a blow which people in the Keys don't even worry about that.

Back out here, though, because you're worried about the oil, back here, that would happen on Sunday, somewhere at the noon hour, back and forth, plus or minus two or three hours. It could go faster; it could go slower.

Will the cap hold? Well, we certainly hope so. You have a mile of padding of water -- even if there's waves up here, we know the waves will be 20 or 30 feet up on the surface with winds like that. That will not get all the way down to the bottom of the ocean one mile deep. There won't be enough to knock this thing over -- not enough water motion back and forth.


MYERS: So, if they keep the cap on, that's the plan. The cap will keep all the oil down in the well.

COOPER: Yes, fingers crossed. Chad, thanks.

Up next time-out for teachers accused of breaking the rules; they've been kept from their classrooms, some for years in what's been known as the rubber room. But now that's changing. Tonight's "Perry's Principles" report coming up.


COOPER: For years, New York City teachers accused of wrongdoing or incompetence got paid to do nothing while under investigation. They spent their time waiting in temporary reassignment centers known as rubber rooms. Last month officials closed the rooms, but what is next for all those teachers?

Tonight, CNN education contributor Steve Perry searches for answers in "Perry's Principles".


STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: David Suker is a teacher but he has no students.

So you've been a teacher for 12 years.


PERRY: For the last year and a half, what have you been doing?

SUKER: I've been sitting in the rubber room. What did I do today?

PERRY: Yes, what did you do today?

SUKER: I packed up my stuff, played some spades and left.

PERRY: And your salary is?

SUKER: $80,000. I mean there's lots of teachers --

PERRY: About 500 New York City teachers were assigned to rubber rooms when school ended in June. Together, these teachers earned an estimated $30 million a year to simply show up and sit in a room for eight hours, according to the city's Education Department. Some of them, including Suker, claimed they don't know what they're charged with.

SUKER: I don't deserve to be treated like this.

PERRY: He says he shouldn't be there, but should be back in the classroom teaching his students.

SUCKER: This process should have taken, at most, two to three weeks.

PERRY: We weren't allowed to take our camera's inside a temporary reassignment center but film maker Justin Cegnar got inside while making his documentary, "The Rubber Room".

When I watched it, I said, come on. Who lets you film them sleeping?

JUSTIN CEGNAR, EXEC. PRODUCER, FIVE BOROUGHS PRODUCTION: Well, we weren't allowed to. We had to sneak in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really up to you, what you want to do. You are given no guidance.

CEGNAR: There's a lot of sleeping. They read, they paint, they do yoga, there's karate, they have book clubs. But, you know, having said that, it's not a very pleasant place.

PERRY: What's the most amount of time you heard anybody was in there?

CEGNAR: We talked to a guy who was in there 12 years.

PERRY: How could the nation's largest school district afford to let a teacher sit in a rubber room for 12 years?

MICHAEL BEST, GENERAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: We had basically two problems. One was that the system takes a very long time in order to get to the end of the charges.

PERRY: But you're in charge of that, though.

BEST: It's a due process system set up by state law that takes a long time to do.

The second is that we didn't really have an agreement with the union as to where we could put these people if they weren't teaching.

PERRY: Best says all of that will change when a new agreement with the teachers' union takes effect in the fall.

BEST: We're going to have very strict timelines for investigations where teachers are reassigned out of the classrooms. We have 60 days once they're reassigned to get the investigation done and then 60 days after that to do the formal charges and hearing.

While that's going on, they can be assigned to administrative offices or nonteaching duties in the school so that they're doing something while this is going on and they're still getting paid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The education of young people --

PERRY: Department officials say they expect to rule on hundreds of backlog cases by December. But until then, teachers like Suker, will not be in the classroom.

There are children out there who are losing access to resources because you're getting paid $80,000.

SUKER: Right. Am I outraged by -- that the taxpayers are footing this bill? Yes, I am outraged. But should you blame me? I don't think you should blame. I think you should blame the Department of Education that has let this bureaucracy flounder for so long.


COOPER: Steve Perry joins us now. Steve what do you think is the biggest obstacle facing school systems that want to remove teachers they feel are incompetent? I mean he blames the school system. You, I guess, others would blame the union.

PERRY: The biggest obstacle is a process that's so cumbersome and difficult to prove that we begin to put principles in a position where it's virtually impossible to prove the teachers incompetent.

COOPER: So what's the solution? What procedure should be there in place for the teachers?

PERRY: The process should be -- the process that should be in place should be one in which the principal gets the opportunity to do the investigation. The teacher gets a due process and that due process shouldn't last for much more than a month at most.

These systems are too big, and because they're so big, the teachers and the administration don't get full access to a reasonable process. And what ends up happening is more and more teachers are left in these languishing conditions.

COOPER: Yes. Those rubber rooms are just unbelievable.

Steve Perry, appreciate it. Thanks.

That does it for 360. Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow night.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.