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Elizabeth Edwards Dies at Age 61; Republicans Running the Clock Out on Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal?; Interview With Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman; President Obama Defends Tax Cut Deal With Republicans

Aired December 7, 2010 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with the breaking news tonight.

Family and friends have been gathering at the home of Elizabeth Edwards, who died today after a six-year struggle with breast cancer. We're going to take a look at her life, the losses she suffered, the trials she overcame, and the cancer battle that she ultimately succumbed to. We will talk with Larry King and Candy Crowley and a friend of the Edwards who at the house this evening.

Also tonight, "Keeping Them Honest": Politicians against repealing don't ask, don't tell now saying there's just not enough time to vote on it, but are they simply trying to run out the clock, and is their clock even accurate? We have got the facts that indicate no.

Senator Joe Lieberman joins us. He wants to keep working until Christmas and beyond, because he says the troops and justice demand no less.

And later, "Crime & Punishment": the preacher at the center of a sex scandal, accused of forcing sex on several young men in his own congregation, Bishop Eddie Long. His accusers file suit. He said he was going to fight the allegations like David against Goliath, but now he's willing to negotiate, passing on a trial and going for mediation.

Our question, is that simply a legal maneuver to settle things fast and quietly or an admission that maybe the story is a lot more complicated than Bishop Long initially suggested? We will talk to senior -- senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

We begin tonight with the breaking news, the sad news that may have been expected, but frankly few expected so soon. One day after announcing on her Facebook page that she was stopping treatment for breast cancer, Elizabeth Edwards died this morning at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the end of a six-year struggle. And she was just 61 years old.

We're told she died surrounded by family. Her estranged husband, John Edwards, was there, as well as the couple's children. This evening, friends and family members have been visiting the house. In a moment, we're going to talk with a longtime friend and colleague of Elizabeth's who went to the house to pay his respects just a few hours ago.

For the Edwards kids, of course, this is a devastating blow. They have two small children, 10-year-old Jack and 12-year-old Emma Claire. Their daughter Cate is 28.

The Edwards met during law school at the University of North Carolina and were married just days after taking their state bar examples. They look so young there. Elizabeth Edwards said that the one thing she asked of her husband the day they married was that he always remained faithful to her.

As they launched their law careers, they also began a family. Their first child, Wade, was born in 1979, and, three years later, he gained a sister, Cate. Wade was killed in a car accident at the age of 16. It was an unthinkable death that Elizabeth wrote about and talked about years later.


ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF FORMER U.S. SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: You know, there was a long time that happy was just not within any -- within reach. And then you realize that you don't want the legacy of this child to be these wrecks of a parent -- of parents that he left behind. You want the legacy to be the positive -- as positive as the boy himself.


COOPER: Well, Elizabeth Edwards did find joy again. Two years after Wade's death, the Edwards began rebuilding their family. At 48, she gave birth to Emma Claire, two years later to Jack, little kids who made a big impression on the campaign trail in 2004, when John Kerry chose John Edwards as his running mate.

During that campaign, Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer, but, amazingly, she kept it secret, even from her husband, until after the election. She later said that Wade's death gave her perspective on her diagnosis.

Here's what she wrote in her first book.


EDWARDS: "Talked about the strange gift that comes with the awful tragedy of losing a child. I had already been through the worst, I believed. We all had. And I had the gift of knowing that nothing will ever be as bad as that. The worst day of my life had already come. And I knew, too, that I had a chance to beat this, a chance my son never had, a chance we never had to save him."


COOPER: Well, the strength that Edwards brought to her battle won her a lot of fans.

In 2007, when she learned her cancer had returned and spread, she urged her husband to pursue his bid for the White House. After he withdrew from the race, she continued to be a strong advocate for health care reform.


EDWARDS: I sit in a chemotherapy chair once every few weeks and listen to people speaking with the person who accompanied them, wondering how they're going to pay for the kinds of care that they -- that they need in order to stay alive.


COOPER: While facing down death, Elizabeth Edwards also faced, of course, her husband's betrayal and news that he had fathered a child with Rielle Hunter.

Here's what she told Larry King this past June.


EDWARDS: The hardest part, I think, was feeling like somebody who had been -- been the person I had leaned on when I needed somebody, when Wade had died, when the cancer came -- I think it's probably been hard for him, too, to see himself in this new light, as not the person on whom I feel I can lean.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": He disappointed a lot of people.

EDWARDS: Disappointed a lot of people. I don't -- I think that probably includes himself.


COOPER: Well, friends of Edwards say, in these final months, she's been focused on her children.

For all her accomplishments, professor, lawyer, author, health care advocate, being a mom was the most important thing to her. It was how she saw herself.

Cancer has robbed Elizabeth Edwards the chance to see Jack and Emma Claire become teens, become adults. She wanted more time, but that wish was not granted.

On her Facebook page just yesterday, she wrote this: "I have found that, in the simple acts of living with hope and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And, for that, I am grateful."

As we said, friends and family members have been gathering at the Edwards home today, among them, John Moylan, a former campaign adviser for John Edwards. He joins us now, along with Larry King, and -- who interviewed Elizabeth Edwards numerous times, and Candy Crowley, who joins us by phone. John, let me start with you.

You went to pay your respects at the Edwards home tonight. What can you tell us? How is the family doing?

JOHN MOYLAN, EDWARDS FAMILY FRIEND: You know, Anderson, it's a hard time.

But Elizabeth did an amazing job of preparing the family. The Christmas tree is up. The house is decorated. They're prepared for Christmas.

And she met with her children, and I think, until the very end, provided them with comfort and did everything that a mother could possibly do to prepare her children for this day.

COOPER: I don't want to ask too many questions, because, frankly, it's really none of our business, but, to the degree you can talk about it, how are -- how are her little kids doing?

MOYLAN: Well, I saw both Jack and Emma Claire just a few minutes ago. They are very remarkable children. It's hard on them, as you can imagine. It would be hard on any -- on any child. But they are doing as well as -- as could be hoped.

COOPER: Larry, you and I have talked about this privately.

You lost your dad when you were very little. I lost mine when I was 10 years old, around Christmastime as well. Today, I -- after I heard this, I mean, I just couldn't stop thinking about -- about their two youngest, about Jack and Emma Claire, 10 and 12, losing a parent at that age. It's something that reshapes your life. It's something one really never truly recovers from.

KING: Correct.

And it lasts throughout your entire life. My father's death, I was 9-and-a-half. I'm 77. It's with me today. It's going to be with those kids.

But it's important, Anderson. They were raised to this point by an amazing mother. I know you -- Elizabeth -- there was no one like Elizabeth Edwards. I have...


COOPER: She was one of your favorite gets, I remember you saying.

KING: One of my favorites. She was forthcoming. She was tough. She was caring. You liked her when she -- she changed the room. When she walked into the room, she changed -- I knew that, when the time came, she would pass away as gracefully as she did this morning.

COOPER: Candy, I mean, obviously, Elizabeth -- Elizabeth Edwards is well-known as -- you know, as the wife of John Edwards, but she was a political figure in her own right. And, certainly, a lot of people who covered them often came away feeling she was, you know, a more formidable candidate, frankly, than -- than her husband. Why do you think she never ran for office?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she came from a different era, to begin with.

I mean, this is a woman born in the late '40s. Women weren't really thought of, really, at that point as political candidates through that, her growing-up period. Now, she was a lawyer. She was in fact a -- a highly-esteemed lawyer. Many people felt that she was certainly on par with John Edwards, who was -- there are very few who are as good in the courtroom as John Edwards was as a trial lawyer.

So, she was very accomplished. And she was working as a lawyer, raising her two kids, Cate and Wade. And then, when Wade died, it sort of -- it changed her. I mean, she would say there was the pre- Wade era of her life and the post-Wade era. It just -- it completely changed them.

And it's one of the reasons they always said that -- that John Edwards decided to go into politics. But just because she didn't run for politics doesn't mean she wasn't a really good politician. She was better than he was. Part of it was her forthrightness. But she was also much more determined than he was, in so many ways.

She was definitely the power behind the throne. Sometimes, the staff didn't like that very much, because -- make no mistake about it -- Larry's exactly right. This was a woman who was full of grace, who talked to anybody that came up to her, who was a really wonderful woman.

But she was one tough lady. And I remember, one time, she didn't like a story that was on our dot-com that I had written, and she called me at home, and, you know, we had a 45-minute conversation as she laid out one by one by one what was wrong with the story.

And it was about him. So, she was a politician. She just wasn't an elected politician.

COOPER: And, John, in Larry's last interview with Elizabeth Edwards, she talked about wanting to live, you know, just eight more years to see her kids grow up, to see them -- them become the -- the young -- you know, the young man and woman that they will be.

Being a mom, rather than a politician or, frankly, a wife or a lawyer, I mean, being a mom was -- was how she ultimately defined herself, yes?

MOYLAN: Absolutely, I mean, through Cate and through Wade earlier, and then later with Jack and Emma Claire.

I mean, I will never forget being on the bus with Elizabeth, you know, going through New Hampshire with the children in her lap, reading bedtime stories. That was -- even during the height of the campaign, there was nothing more important to her than being a good mother to those children.

COOPER: Larry, I mean, I remember her on her program. She was very candid about, you know, the -- the -- the affair that her husband had with Rielle Hunter, ultimately fathering a child with her.

You know, she wrote in the book: "Just as I don't want cancer to take over my life, I don't want this indiscretion, however long in duration, to take over my life either. But I need to deal with both. I need to find peace with both."

Were you surprised, Larry, just how open she was and, I mean, the fact that she wrote about this toward the end of her life?

KING: Yes, I was. I -- I knew she was an open person, but I thought she was quite open about this, and, also, when you add on something, Anderson, quite forgiving in a sense, and talked about what a good father he was and how important, after she's gone, he's going to be in their lives.

She was an amazing woman. There's no -- it's the best word to describe her. She was amazing. There's no -- I don't think there's ever been anyone like her.

COOPER: And, Candy, she really was, it seems like, trying to set up the life that her kids would face after she was gone, I mean, trying to, you know, even for -- for all the difficulty she had had with John Edwards and the estrangement, you know, as Larry said, she knew that -- that he was the father of these kids, and -- and he would be the one moving forward with them.

CROWLEY: Sure. And she -- and she did that for her kids, not for John.

You know, she knew, obviously, I mean, he's the other parent, and these kids, you know, were going to be with him. So, you can't do scorched-earth policy with that. She still had to deal with him. She did.

But let's also remember that that book was really tough on John Edwards. And then she gave a series of interviews after that book that were just scorching about him. And one of the reasons, what she said, I want to live the rest of my life and, you know, find myself and be myself, and one of the ways she did that was to separate from John.

So, it -- it -- it wasn't, you know -- yes, she forgave him in the sense that, this is my children's father, that's where they're going, they need to have, you know, a smooth way to make that transition. So, she was -- you know, there were reports down in North Carolina they had been seen grocery shopping together.

But there -- there were -- make no mistake about it, there were lots of hard feelings, and she was very angry about it. And you saw it in those interviews.

COOPER: Well, John Moylan, I know it's been a difficult day, obviously, for you. I appreciate you coming on and talking to us, Candy as well for calling in.

And -- and, Larry King, thanks for sticking around longer to talk to us about your -- your -- your memories of her.

Let us know what you think, your thoughts, your memories of Elizabeth Edwards. The live chat is up and running right now at

Coming up next, "Keeping Them Honest": Opponents say there's just no time for repeal of don't ask, don't tell before the Christmas break. But are they simply trying to run out the clock? We're "Keeping Them Honest," and we will talk with Senator Joe Lieberman, well, why doesn't Congress just work until Christmas, like most Americans?

And, later: President Obama takes aim to the left and to right on his deal with Republicans on tax cuts. The question tonight: Does that make him a moderate, as he's -- and has he been a moderate all along? We will talk about that ahead.


COOPER: Tonight's "Keeping Them Honest" report is about don't ask, don't tell.

And lawmakers have figured out a way to stop the repeal of don't ask, don't tell without actually having to say that's what they're doing. You already know about Senator John McCain, who has been moving the goalposts on lifting the law, as we have shown you numerous times, repeatedly changing his conditions for -- for considering repeal.

Well, now opponents of repeal are borrowing another football tactic: running out the clock. Senators saying there simply isn't enough time left in the current session, too much to do, too little time.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The defense authorization bill requires four or five weeks to debate. But, instead of having that debate or turning to the defense appropriations bill, which funds the military, they want to use this week for a political exercise.


COOPER: The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. That was back in September. He's talking about the legislation that -- that don't ask, don't tell repeal is attached to, the 2011 defense authorization bill.

The House, you know, has already passed it. The Senate tried earlier this year and failed in a fight over procedure. And, yes, the Senate does have certainly a lot on its plate, but, last week, the Pentagon report came out, the top brass telling senators that implementing repeal can be done, Defense Secretary Gates urging, in fact, fast action, before courts force the issue.

Yesterday's tax deal also potentially speeding up another big item on the Senate's agenda, yet, just this weekend, Senator McConnell was still talking about how long it typically takes to pass a defense authorization. Only, this time, he shortened the time frame a bit.


MCCONNELL: Once you get on the defense bill, it typically takes two weeks. I don't see how we can possibly finish the defense authorization bill, a two-week bill -- wholly aside from these controversial items that are in it, there are a whole lot of other things in it -- before the end of the year.


COOPER: Senator McConnell this week on "Meet the Press," again saying that there's too little time before the 17th, when the Senate is scheduled to adjourn for Christmas.

He's not the only one saying this, by the way. Take a look.


SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: There's not going to be time to do it this year, not before Christmas.


COOPER: That was Jon Kyl. So, that's the premise: too little time, that it just takes too long. It takes two weeks, typically. That's what McConnell said.

We did some checking, however. Here's the legislative history of last year's defense authorization, Senate Bill 1390. The Senate took it up on July 13, considered 340 amendments, and passed it just 10 days later. That's actually unusually long. In other years, the time frame is even shorter. According to Democratic congressional staffers who have crunched the numbers, since 1990, there have only been four occasions when passing a defense authorization has taken more than a week.

Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, who has been following the Hill for decades, agrees, adding that, on occasion, such bills have been adopted after just a day or two.

So, "Keeping Them Honest" tonight: Lawmakers are free to support or oppose repealing don't ask, don't tell as they see fit on the merits of it, but to say they don't have enough time to consider it, that doesn't wash.

What's more, although the Senate does adjourn on the 17th, there's no reason it has to. Senators passed health care reform on Christmas Eve last year. Most Americans work basically up until Christmas Eve. This year, a number of senators who support ending don't ask, don't tell want to extend the session again. Among them is independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

We spoke earlier tonight.


COOPER: Senator Lieberman, some Republicans are saying there needs to be weeks of debate on the defense bill. Mitch McConnell's latest figure, I think, was a two-week minimum, even though these bills are typically passed in a matter of days.

Are Republicans just trying to run out the clock on don't ask, don't tell?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Well, it sure looks like that to me.

And I -- I don't make that conclusion -- I don't reach that conclusion lightly. But we have got the time to take up the underlying defense bill, which is very important to our military. It authorizes pay increases and equipment to protect our troops, better housing for their families back home.

That bill has been passed in every Congress since the '60s. And for opponents of don't ask, don't tell being repealed to hold up that bill, because there's so much against the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, I just think is plain wrong.

And we have got the time to do it. That's why I have been saying that, though I know everybody has this goal of leaving Washington on December 17, this is too important. We should stay into the next week to get it done.

If we have to come back after Christmas, we should do that. This is -- look, most Americans are working until the day before Christmas, and all of our troops will be out on the battlefields right through Christmas and New Year's.

We in Congress should work at least that long to get done what is the nation's business.

COOPER: How much support do you have for that idea of staying, you know, through Christmas or -- or -- or coming back after Christmas?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I raised that in the Democratic Caucus today, and we didn't have a show of hands, but there were applause and two or three people got up after me, said, yes, I will. This is too important, both the defense bill itself to support our military and the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, which people agree in our caucus really is the major civil rights legislation before this 211th Congress.

And we can't let it die because the clock ran out or we left before we had time to get it done.

COOPER: Have you heard anything from -- from Harry Reid's office about that idea?

LIEBERMAN: Senator Reid, I know, wants to take up the bill. I have been talking to him.

Look, the -- the problem -- we have more than 60 votes to stop a filibuster against the bill.


COOPER: You're sure of that? Because Senator Lindsey Graham -- Lindsey Graham is saying that he's counted the votes, that there isn't enough support to bring this to a vote, and there just isn't going to be, no matter what.

LIEBERMAN: I'm -- I'm confident that we will get more than 60 votes. There's a big if, but it's not an insurmountable if.

There -- the if is two things. One is, we do the tax cuts first -- and now there seems to be an agreement on that -- and, two, there be some process that Senator Reid puts in effect that allows for a fair and reasonable number of amendments.

COOPER: Very bluntly, there are a lot of folks out there who think, look, this is just dead, that -- that, you know, maybe everyone doesn't realize it's dead yet, but it's just dead.

You say what, that it's not, that there's still the possibility of repeal?


And I understand that feeling. Look, if -- if the opponents of repeal of don't ask, don't tell are so much against don't ask, don't tell that they're willing to stop the whole defense authorization bill by filibustering every amendment that's put up, every motion to send to conference, they can probably run out the clock, particularly if we try to get out of here a week before Christmas.

But, one, I think we should challenge them by staying in and continuing to work on the bill to really decide whether they -- they're so much against the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, after the Pentagon study made it clear it will not compromise -- compromise military effectiveness at all, or whether they -- they're -- they're -- they're prepared to say, OK, we have made our fight, you have won, repeal goes into effect, and the underlying defense bill is just too important to stop for the first time since the 1960s.

COOPER: Senator Joe Lieberman, appreciate it, sir. Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Anderson.


COOPER: Up next tonight: Did you see President Obama's press conference today, lashing out at liberal Democrats and also conservative Republicans? Some are calling this a defining moment for the president in the literal sense, a moment in which he's defining where he really stands on the political spectrum. Our panel weighs in.

And later: a major development and a surprising one in the case of the preacher of an Atlanta area megachurch, this man, Bishop Eddie Long, accused in civil lawsuits of inappropriate sexual relations with several young men in his congregation. He's the pastor who allegedly sent these photos of himself to at least one of the young men in the congregation, brought them on trips. He's admitted to giving the -- the young men gifts, including cars, says it was not in exchange for sex.

He says he's done nothing wrong and had vowed to fight in court. Now he's apparently looking to get settlement, fast settlement, through mediation -- mediation, we should point out, behind closed doors.

We will talk to legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.


COOPER: I don't know if you saw the president's press conference today. It was really interesting. He came out today swinging against both Republicans, and Democrats who criticized the deal that he struck on extending the Bush era tax cuts, even for the richest Americans, for two years, in exchange for a cut in payroll taxes and 13 more months of jobless benefits.

Our question tonight is, is this actually a defining moment for President Obama, defining him finally, and very publicly, not as a far-out leftist or as a -- a conservative Republican, as some progressives think, but as the candidate that he actually campaigned as, the man in the middle?

That's the buzz on a number of political blogs tonight. And it's easy to see why. He lashed out today at both sides, scolding liberal Democrats who say he caved, likening conservative Republicans to hostage-takers.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then, people will question the wisdom of that strategy.

In this case, the hostage was the American people. And I was not willing to see them get harmed.


COOPER: Mr. Obama today positioning himself in the middle.

Over the past two years, Republicans have called him everything up to an out-and-out socialist, and liberal Democrats have practically called him a Republican, some even talking about a primary challenge in 2012.

If you look at where President Obama today seemed to be positioning himself, however, defining himself, it actually sounds a lot like how he positioned himself and defined himself on the campaign trail and after. Watch.


OBAMA: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.




OBAMA: I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.



OBAMA: What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.



OBAMA: They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel cage match to see who comes out alive. That's not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they're grappling with every single day.


COOPER: So our question, is President Obama throwing down the gauntlet today, attempting to define himself by criticizing extremes on the left and the right. Let's talk about it with former Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, and Nicolle Wallace, who was a senior advisor of the McCain-Palin campaign and the author of the book, "Eighteen Acres."

Cornell, what about this? Is this a defining moment for President Obama?

CORNELL BELCHER, FORMER OBAMA POLLSTER: I think it is a defining moment. I think one of the important things to understand is it does go back to the Obama that you saw in the campaign.

Look, part of the thematic that we built on back there in '08 was the idea that -- that Washington was broken. Politics as usual was broken. We had two divided sides. And you need to come up the middle on this and sort of have a conversation with both. Today he had a conversation with both.

This is the first significant piece of legislation to come out of Washington in two years. Think about this. In the last two years, what you can clearly say is bipartisan. You've got House Republicans, Republicans in the Senate, a Democratic White House, and more than a handful of Senate Democrats sort of making this deal -- making this deal happen.

And when you listen to the broad swath of middle America, Anderson, what have they been saying for the last couple of years? Why can't you guys get together and be bipartisan? Why can't you guys get together and make something happen? Because Democrats don't have all the answers; Republicans don't have all the answers. That's exactly what the president did. He was the adult in the room.

COOPER: Nicolle, do you think, A, it was a defining moment? And do you think the president risks alienating, you know, the left wing of the Democratic Party?

NICOLLE WALLACE, FORMER ADVISOR, MCCAIN-PALIN CAMPAIGN: Well, you and I talked about this last night, and I agree with a lot of that. And I don't think this is the political debacle that those on the far left think it is.

I think that there was another campaign promise that he would have broken if he hadn't reached across the aisle and struck this deal. But I think he has to be real careful. I think he sounded more like he was whining than throwing punches today, and I think he has to be really careful not to present himself to the public, who isn't following every blow in this debate, as someone who is the victim of the political reality he created.

Someone who was impotent and powerless against the mean Republicans who wouldn't budge, he said today, and who's someone frustrated with the members of his own party for being mad that he didn't get more than a 13-month extension of unemployment. He has to celebrate the outcome, not complain about it.

COOPER: Did it sound like complaining to you, Ari? Or did it sound like it was reaching out to the independents?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Exactly right. The tone is wrong. Presidents have to rise above it, Anderson. Nicolle's got that exactly right. The tone is wrong. Presidents have to rise above. That is always a job that has vexing problems with both parties, and the president has to set the broadest tone for the country to bring people together so he can lead them ahead.

I think his problem, though, is politically perilous for the Democrats, and it's two years late for the Republicans. If he had kept that campaign tone immediately as part of his policies in 2009 and governed in a bipartisan way, it would have been very different measure. COOPER: But wasn't he talking -- he was talking a lot about bipartisanship.

FLEISCHER: He talked about it, but then he didn't do it until right now. If you take a look at everything that passed, whether it was cap and trade, the stimulus or health-care bill, he could not get any bipartisan support. In fact, the only thing bipartisan was Democrats opposing him on it. It was such narrow, only made to appeal to the Democrat legislation, and that's why many conservative Democrats ditched him on it. And it's why the election was so bad for him.

COOPER: Cornell, do you buy that?

BELCHER: But Ari, I mean, you've got to -- you've got to sort of admit. So if we're going to be truthful here, is that it is a brilliant strategy that part of your -- part of the Republican strategy, part of the Republicans' House strategy, still Mitch McConnell's strategy, was to, in fact, say, "No, no, no." And it was a very successful strategy, and it was a very successful playbook. So they didn't necessarily want bipartisanship, because they wanted to block everything that the president did.

And you see Nancy Pelosi, I think, and the House Democrats picking up that same playbook. Because you know what? Unfortunately, it can be a successful playbook in politics. Has it moved the country forward? No. But can you win politically because of it? Unfortunately, yes. And that's part of the broken politics.

FLEISCHER: Cornell, forgive me for giving you a one-word answer to that: no. That's not what they did. This was ideologically based objection by Republicans and by many Democrats. Thirty-four Democrats voted against him on cap and trade; 34 Democrats voted against him on health care reform.

He was governing too far from the left for the first two years. He had his chance in 2009 to get Republicans to go with him. They were scared of him he had such momentum and popularity coming into office. But he governed too far to the left. Now the problem is the Democrats are in the minority. They expect him to continue to govern from the left. Hence, the rebellion now on taxes.

BELCHER: But one quick think, Ari. How many -- how many amendments, Republican amendments that happened in health care? There were a lot of Republicans -- Democrats time and time again allowed Republicans to join in the conversation about health care. But they didn't want to join in the conversation about health care, because they were running a political strategy.

FLEISCHER: Because it was a bad program on health care. They had alternative ideas. The alternative ideas didn't have a chance to pass.

But the Democrats had huge margins. I'm not disputing their right to try to muscle it through on the majorities they have. I might make the same case when Republicans had Watergate-size margins: do it your way. You don't need the Democrats. But you better have the country if you're going to do that. His policies lost the country.

COOPER: Nicolle, just from a purely political standpoint, were you surprised that, basically, this is now setting up another debate in two years at election time on -- on taxes and whether or not these tax cuts should be extended again?

WALLACE: Right. And a lot of people are saying this is Obama's "read my lips" moment. I wonder if he's going to have a big problem on the left. They're already disappointed with his abandoning and never even...

COOPER: Are you saying you buy the idea that there might be, actually, a primary challenger?

WALLACE: Well, I don't know if there will be a primary challenger. I can't imagine they'd have much success, but it's an irresistible story. I'm sure that, even if it's someone with 82 percent...

COOPER: Ari, do you think there could be a primary challenge?

FLEISCHER: I sure do. Afghanistan -- Afghanistan, disappointment with the left. The president's been...

WALLACE: Public option.

FLEISCHER: ... keeping in Afghanistan. Lack of the public option, and now this. This is the heart and soul of the Democratic class warfare. And the president has left the House Democrats to fight by themselves.

COOPER: Cornell Belcher, do you buy the idea that there could be a Democratic challenger on the left of President Obama?

BELCHER: You know, Ari, I've got to tell you. To challenge for Barack Obama from the left in the Democratic Party would be like challenging Sarah Palin from the right. The difficulty is this, and I'll just say it. He is the first African-American president in this country, and you're not going to beat him in a Democratic primary.

FLEISCHER: Correct. Correct.

BELCHER: You know why? Because you have South Carolina. You have Louisiana. You have Georgia. You have Alabama, et cetera. It would be suicide to try to beat him.

FLEISCHER: He can't lose. I don't think he could lose a primary, but neither could George H.W. Bush lose a primary, but Pat Buchanan sure made his life miserable and helped Barack -- helped Bill Clinton. That's what Barack Obama's got to be on the look out for, whether or not there's a principled ideological...

COOPER: Who are you talking about, Dennis Kucinich? I mean...

FLEISCHER: Too soon. You just know there's angst out there.

COOPER: You just say there's no way?

BELCHER: Well, here's the problem. Because the only -- to me, the person who would be most viable to challenge him from the left would be my old boss, Governor Dean, and he says absolutely no way he would do it in 100 years. So I don't -- I think that the bench for it is awfully short.

COOPER: Nicolle Wallace.

WALLACE: Well, but your base, these are the most emotional voters in the electorate. So their passions are the most strong when they're angry.

And they're also the part of the electorate that you can win back with symbolic gestures. And why Obama can't find some issues where he can show passion, where he can be seen fighting, where he can weigh in and put the weight of the office of the presidency behind some of these issues that his base cares about while legislating in a way that doesn't alienate the independents. You know, that's the jujitsu that successful presidents figure out.

COOPER: But -- you were criticizing the tone of it today. You said it sounds whiney, both of you, but in terms of moving forward, do you see the president continuing to position himself, basically trying to position himself as much as possible in the center?

WALLACE: I don't think we know. He looks a little erratic right now. You know, when it came to health care, he -- I think he would have stayed in that cage match mentality if his approval rating was 70 percent at the end of that.

COOPER: Cornell do you see him positioning himself like this moving forward? Being more aggressive about it?

BELCHER: But I think this is sort of who he is. I mean, the truth of the matter is...

COOPER: I have no doubt about that. I'm just wondering if he's going to continue to emphasize it moving forward.

BELCHER: Yes, I think he is going to emphasize it moving forward. It's a different political world. You have to do it when you have Republicans control -- controlling the House. You have no other choice.

COOPER: We've got to leave it there. Ari Fleischer, Nicolle Wallace, thanks very much. Cornell Belcher, as well.

Ahead, fascinating development in the case of Bishop Eddie Long. Remember, he's the prominent conservative mega pastor who has spoken out against gay people but is now accused of pressuring several young men in his congregation into inappropriate sexual relationships. He's completely denied he did anything inappropriate, vowed to fight in court, and now it turns out the bishop is like he's agreeing instead to mediation.

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is going to join us tonight, saying it is a very unusual move and may be a sign the story is a lot more complicated than Bishop Long initially led to mediation.

Also, later tonight, the head of WikiLeaks behind bars tonight. We'll have details on where and how Julian Assange ended up in jail.


COOPER: Tonight in "Crime & Punishment," a spiritual leader accused of coercing young men into sexual relationships has agreed to try to avoid a trial and instead undergo mediation.

When the accusation surfaced, prominent Georgia pastor, Eddie Long, told his cheering congregation he was going to fight what he called an attack on him.

Now the strategy seems to have changed. Joe Johns tonight has details.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Charges of hypocrisy. Bishop Eddie Long, the married minister of the huge New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, who has been highly critical of gays and lesbians, is actually accused of living life on the down low, secretly engaging in gay sex himself. Long denies it.

BISHOP EDDIE LONG, NEW BIRTH MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH: I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that's being portrayed on the television.

JOHNS: But in church, Long preached that homosexuality is immoral.

LONG: You cannot say, "I was born this way." I don't care what scientists say. If you say you were born this way, then you're saying, "God, you're a liar." You can be converted. You were not born that way.

JOHNS: But on September 21, two young men in Georgia, Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg, filed lawsuits, claiming Long had used his position of trust to coerce them into sexual activity. That he had the young men identified as spiritual sons, that he flew them around the country, sleeping in the same rooms, engaging in sex acts, claiming that sex was an important part of spiritual life, accusations Long denied.

But in recently-filed court papers, Long admitted he took the men on trips, occasionally shared rooms with them, and gave them gifts, but he denies sexual misconduct.

Jamal Paris filed another lawsuit against Long, and here's what he told Atlanta TV station WAGS (ph). JAMAL PARIS, ACCUSER: I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head, and I can not forget the smell of his cologne. And I can not forget the way that he made me cry many nights when I drove in his cars on the way home, not being able to take enough showers to wipe the smell of him off my body.

JOHNS: Photos were released of Bishop Long dressed in tight, revealing spandex workout clothing, apparently taking his own picture with the camera phone, pictures Long sent to one of the plaintiffs, according to his lawyer. But Long's attorney said the pictures were not relevant to the case.

With speculation swirling whether he would step down, Bishop Long took to the pulpit.

LONG: This thing, I'm going to fight. And I want you to know one other thing. I feel like David against Goliath. But I've got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet.

JOHNS: By week's end, his fourth accuser filed suit and went public, claiming he, too, had sexual relations with the bishop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pray for everyone, you know, especially Bishop. Especially Bishop.

JOHNS: Now after all the accusations and claims of innocence, Long and his accusers have agreed to try to keep it private with mediation instead of a public trial, according to recently-released court documents. Some legal experts say cutting a deal in private mediation looks like an admission of some guilt, while others say that's not the case.

ELLEN MALOW, MEDIATOR: Almost all mediations, when the case settles, neither side gives any admission of liability or responsibility. That is pretty standard in any settlement agreement.

JOHNS: If mediation succeeds, we may never know what really happened.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: So the question is why has Bishop Eddie Long agreed to undergo mediation? And what does that actually mean for the possible outcome in the case? Earlier I spoke with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.


COOPER: I find this case fascinating, Jeff, because back in September it got so much publicity, and Bishop Eddie Long made this very public statement in front of his church, saying that this would only be resolved, quote, "in the court of justice," and added, quote, "Please understand, I think this is the only place I'll find justice."

Now he's basically going for mediation. What does that tell you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, mediation is usually used -- and it's often used in civil litigation -- in business disputes. You know, somebody says, "You owe me $100." Somebody says, "You owe me $1,000." And they use mediation to settle for $500 rather than go through all the trouble of a trial.

What makes this an unusual candidate for mediation is that you either sexually assaulted somebody or you didn't. And the idea that someone who said it didn't happen at all is now going to mediation sure suggests that the story is a lot more complicated than Bishop Long initially led on.

COOPER: So mediation is usually for somebody, I mean, who's not going to maybe argue the basics of the case but kind of just trying to reach some sort of a settlement, maybe admitting that there is something there, but let's not have a long trial. Let's not have a public trial. Let's just try to settle this thing.

TOOBIN: Certainly, if you heard Bishop Long's initial reaction to these accusations, mediation would be the last place you'd think he would wind up. Because mediation is implicitly a recognition that, well, there are two sides to this story.

COOPER: Some people are saying, look, he's trying to have it both ways that, you know, very publicly he's claiming innocence. In front of his congregation, he's claiming innocence and in the media he is. But in some private mediation settlement, which will be kept private, you know, once they agree to it, he's going to admit basically a degree of guilt.

TOOBIN: I think that's a cynical and perhaps accurate assessment of what's going on here.

Look, Bishop Long runs a gigantic business. And what he's trying to do is get rid of this case and preserve his business. That's a challenge. But he's got a lot of bravado. He's got a lot of poise. And if he can just make this case quietly go away, I think he thinks that people won't worry too much about the details, and he can go on as before.

COOPER: Let's -- just to play devil's advocate, he could argue, "Well, look, I'm going into mediation, because I don't want to spend a fortune on this trial. I want this thing resolved quickly, and we think this is the best way to go about it."

TOOBIN: Well, and I expect that's what he would say if he were here. The problem is, he didn't say that when these accusations came forward. When he was sued initially, he said, "I want to go to court. I want to clear my name." It's one thing to say from the beginning, "Well, let's try to resolve this amicably." It's another to say, "I'm totally innocent," then say, "Well, let's cut a deal."

COOPER: If this wound up in a courtroom, which it still may if mediation doesn't solve the dispute, but he could still win in a courtroom, be found not guilty, and yet evidence would emerge that would, you know, be very harmful for him, given his past pronouncements on -- on, you know, equal rights for gays and lesbians and the feelings of many people in his church.

TOOBIN: And that's got to be a big factor here. Because you know, based on simply on the accusations, that these young men will testify about sex -- you know, sexual advances that Bishop Long made. Now it may be the jury...

COOPER: Allegedly.

TOOBIN: Right. But -- but -- and the jury may wind up not believing them. But they will make these accusations. They will be in public. They will be more detailed than anything that's come in, maybe made public before. That's something any public figure, but especially one with Bishop Long's record on gay rights, would certainly want to avoid.

COOPER: It's a fascinating development. Jeff Toobin, thanks.



COOPER: Coming up, a husband faces murder and kidnapping charges here in America for his wife's death in Australia during their honeymoon. Details on that ahead.

And remember Richard Heene, the balloon guy who pretended his son was trapped in his escaped balloon? That dad cannot seem to stay out of the spotlight. Yet again, he seems to be using his kids to cash in. That lands him a spot on tonight's RidicuList.


COOPER: Coming up, balloon boy is back, and is not far behind. He'll tell you why Dad ends up on "My Christmas Back." But first, tonight's other headlines.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, unrest in Haiti tonight. Reports that a harmful of men are lighting fires in the streets. They are apparently upset over today's announcement that a former first lady will face President Renee Preval's hand-picked successor in a presidential run-off in January.

Critics say Selestin (ph) should have made it this far, and are calling the vote a fraud.

That's right, Richard Heene, self-styled science detective and data balloon boy. The music there was from a theme song that Heene actually commissioned for himself. That's right, he had his own theme song.

Anyway, he's still filled with hot air. The latest tawdry tale from Dad, is that he is trying to use his kids in a whole new way.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is behind bars in London tonight, fighting extradition to Sweden, where police want to question him about alleged sex crimes. A judge refused to set bail after Assange turned himself in.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today. Just a few days after President Obama was there, Gates spoke with troops and praised them with their hard look. He also met with Afghan leaders.

A man accused of killing his new bride on their honeymoon while Scuba diving in Australia in 2003 is now behind bars in Alabama.

David Gate Watson, who was dubbed the Honeymoon Killer, pled guilty Down Under to criminally negligent manslaughter and did time in jail there. Well, now he faces murder and kidnapping charges in his home state, where authorities say he plotted the attack against his wife.

An entire movement today (ph), a secretary marking the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Susan. More than 2,400 Americans were killed that day, the day that lives in infamy. The attack spurred the United States, as we know, to World War II -- Anderson.

COOPER: Susan, thanks very much. Time now to add to the RidicuList, our nightly foray into the land of the ridiculous. Tonight, our new edition is -- wait for it.


COOPER: That's right. Richard Heene, self-styled science detective and data Balloon Boy. The music there was from a pain song that Heene actually commissioned for himself. That's right: he had his own theme song.

Anyway, he's still filled with hot air. The latest tawdry tale from Dad is that he's trying to used his kids in a whole new say. Looks like the balloon boy, Falcon Heene, and his two brothers are getting a band together on a mission from dad, according to Radar Online.

You'll remember Falcon Heene rose to fame last year as the world watches. Everyone thought the 6 year old was drifting away in one of his dad's homemade helium balloons, and the whole thing will turn out to be a host.

His dad falsely reported that Falcon was in the balloon. Dad did not -- he got jail time, actually. And he -- actually, he got home detention. He was also ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution.

So maybe that's why he came up with the idea for the Bear Scratch. That's right, Richard Heene is an inventor of more than just tall tales, which we mentioned before in the program, he's now selling a back scratcher modeled after the way that bears scratch their backs on trees. And he made a really commercial. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD HEENE, INVENTOR: Can't find your back scratcher? Well, there it is right there. That's Bear Scratch. Where's that? There it is. What is it? This right there. This right there, oh, yes. Bear Scratch. You can't lose it.


COOPER: Yes. Seems to me like maybe somebody did lose it. Anyway, if the whole Bear Scratch empire doesn't take off like a helium balloon, it's good to know that Dad has a backup plan for sure- fire success. Making your kids start a band.

The Heene brothers, very cute kids, no doubt about it and hopefully they're very talented musically, and hopefully, this is something they actually want to do, but why am I not convinced that dad's managing skills would be on the up-and-up? I do have a suggestion for the title of their single, though: "Who the hell is" -- well, let's just say Falcon -- let's just let Falcon say it.


HEENE: Say hi to Wolf. There's Wolf.



FALCON HEENE, BALLOON BOY: Who the hell is Wolf?


COOPER: Whether or not the balloon boy and his brothers ever get their band off the ground, their dad has already scored a runaway hit on the RidicuList.

A lot more at the top of the hour. We'll be right back.