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Power, Politics and Scandal

Aired May 17, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Power, politics, and scandal. Arnold Schwarzenegger's bombshell confession. The love child he fathered 10 years ago while married to Maria Shriver.

And IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Khan, behind bars, charged with sexual assault.

JEFFREY SHAPIRO, ATTORNEY FOR ALLEGED VICTIM: And restrained a hotel employee inside of his room. He sexually assaulted her and attempted to forcibly rape her.

MORGAN: Tonight, damage control and political fallout.

Then my interview with one of the sharpest political minds out there, the man who knows President Obama better than just about anybody else, David Axelrod.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: We are a tight group. We are all committed to the same thing.

MORGAN: Perhaps his closest White House adviser.

AXELROD: What we need to do is focus on what's good for the country, what's good for the American people, and move forward.

MORGAN: Now David Axelrod has another cause with his wife Susan, fighting to find the cure for epilepsy. I'll talk to David and Susan Axelrod.


Good evening. A man who heads the International Monetary Fund, the man who was a likely candidate for president of France, is tonight on suicide watch at Rikers Island after being charged with sexually assaulting a maid at his New York City hotel.

Meanwhile, in a shocking political story elsewhere Arnold Schwarzenegger admits he fathered a child with a woman on his household staff. His wife, Maria Shriver, says, quote, "This is a painful and heart-breaking time. As a mother my concern is for the children, I ask for compassion, respect and privacy, as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal. I will have no further comment."

Earlier I spoke to one of the best political minds in the country, David Axelrod. Listen to what he said about the former California governor.


MORGAN: I mean, in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, do you think if the electorate had known that he had a love child by his housekeeper he would have ever become governor of California?

AXELROD: Well, I don't know the answer to that. But I suspect the fact that it didn't become public until after suggested he didn't necessarily believe that.


MORGAN: And joining me now is branding expert, Donny Deutsch, crisis management expert, Mike Sitrick, Don Goldberg, President Clinton's damage control specialist, and Hilary Rosen, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor.

I think I'll start with you, Hilary. I know that you know both Arnold and Maria personally. I have to say I was pretty shocked by this. I saw them at a restaurant in Los Angeles only three or four weeks ago. They were just going in to a restaurant I was coming out of.

I stopped, I talked to them both. They were clearly dining together. They seemed very happy certainly on the face of it. I chatted with them. Had no warning at all about what was coming. And were you aware of what transpired from January?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. And I think that, you know, it was a very small circle of informed. But, you know, this is kind of typical of Maria in that she obviously was worried about her children. She wanted to make sure that whatever happened they knew first and that they were protected and it was handled the right way.

And I just admire her so much for the strength that she's showing through this, and it's enormously distressing for her friends and supporters.

MORGAN: It clearly is. I mean let's turn to the politics here now. Do you think that Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been able to become governor of California if this story had emerged before the election?

ROSEN: Well, I think -- David Axelrod is right, that clearly Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't think so. Otherwise he would have -- this would have come out. You know, he worked extremely hard in that campaign to deny charges. He even had the gall to put Maria out there, denying things that were obviously now true.

And so I think that, you know, politicians just don't seem to get away with the same kinds of things that Hollywood actors get away with. And Schwarzenegger was trying to convert his life into a politician's life, and I think he knew it was going to be a different standard. MORGAN: Yes. I mean, I think this is -- obviously has come at the same time as the boss of the IMF, he's involved in a much more serious scandal. It involves criminal allegations. But the kind of principle there is powerful men misbehaving in a sexually inappropriate manner.

Should we move on, perhaps, morally? I mean forget the criminal aspect of it for a moment. As a traditional sex scandal, should we all just grow up a bit and accept that, you know, people will misbehave sexually and it shouldn't have any effect on their work as politicians or as leaders of banks or whatever it may be?

ROSEN: Well, I think from public figures and politicians we do expect more, particularly because they actually vote on issues of morality and intrusions into people's lives and how people's lives are conducted. That's literally their job, often.

And -- but I think, you know, in the case of Maria Shriver, the one decent thing that Arnold Schwarzenegger did today was say leave her alone. And I think, you know, she is going to go back and try and get some semblance of privacy around this to heal and take care of her kids. And we ought to do that.

But in my mind, that doesn't mean that we should let Arnold Schwarzenegger off the hook or other politicians who sort of live by this double standard.

MORGAN: Donny, let me come to you. You're a resident sex expert. Self-appointed.

DONNY DEUTSCH, CHAIRMAN, DEUTSCH, INC.: Am I a branding expert or a sex expert?


MORGAN: You know what?


MORGAN: So many layers, your expertise.

DEUTSCH: Yes, sir.

MORGAN: Should we be so energized about sex scandals involving by politicians? Putting aside the IMF boss. That's a more serious matter. But doesn't Arnold Schwarzenegger -- doesn't even matter. It matters to his family, clearly. Should it matter politically?

DEUTSCH: Well, whether it should or it does are two different things. As far as should, I'm going to equate a politician to a CEO. If I have a CEO and I own stock in a company, basically if you are voted for politician, you own shares in that country.

Would you rather have a CEO who's tripling the stock price and maybe screws around on his wife, or a CEO who's very faithful and is running the company or the country in the ground? I'm going to compare Clinton and Bush and W. So I'm not condoning it morally, but as far as what I want from my politicians is performance in their job. I am not looking for them to be moral role models. I want them to perform.

Now without the right moral compass, can they get elected? That's another question. The only I want to point out, when are we going to stop be shocked when men of power, when men of stature, when men of fame, also chase women?

I could argue it goes with the character. It's almost more exceptional if they don't so --

MORGAN: It may go with the character but it doesn't necessarily --

DEUTSCH: It's just why do we -- when is this going to end? When it's billion-dollar golf players or movie star governors or -- guess what, they also feel entitled to women. Why is that a surprise to anybody?

MORGAN: Well, because --

DEUTSCH: I'm not condoning it, but it kind of makes sense.

MORGAN: Well, you kind of are condoning it, is what you're saying --

DEUTSCH: No, I'm not condoning it at all. I'm just --

MORGAN: Well, you're saying --

DEUTSCH: We should stop acting surprised.

MORGAN: You're saying men will be men.


DEUTSCH: No. I'm not saying -- I'm saying that men of power and men who are conquerors in other areas of their life, why are we shocked when that stops with women? I'm not saying it's right. Obviously what Schwarzenegger did was clearly horrific on any level. And as far as the guy from IMF, that's breaking the law. That's violence against women. That goes -- that's a completely different territory.

MORGAN: Let me --

DEUTSCH: But we've got to stop being surprised.

MORGAN: Let me bring in Michael.

You're an expert on picking up the pieces when these things all erupt. You're the crisis king of Hollywood. When you look at what's happened with these two powerful men, what's your take on it? MIKE SITRICK, CHAIRMAN, SITRICK & COMPANY: Well, first of all, I don't think that we can look at New York or Los Angeles or Chicago necessarily as America. America is the heart land. America is Modesto or Sacramento or Albany.

And so our view of -- and, you know, I work primarily in the world of business, so I understand what Donny is saying in terms of return on investment. On the other hand, you know, you have to say who's electing these politicians and who's voting for these politicians, and what does middle America think of -- think the moral compass should be and what do they think is acceptable.

You have President Mitterrand fathered a child out of wedlock. The French say who cares, right? But the French --

MORGAN: It's a badge of honor, actually.

SITRICK: Yes, that's correct. That it's a badge of honor. But the French electorate are not the same at the American electorate. And so --

MORGAN: I mean, I kind of feel that the yardstick here really ought to be left with the electorate. You know, I think that you should put all your cards on the table. It's the -- it's the dishonesty. It's the hiding of information that in the end is people's undoing, isn't it? Don't you think?

SITRICK: Yes, of course. It's always the cover-up that is worse than the crime. Well, not always. But in many instances. And so what you really have here, the question is when Schwarzenegger was running, did Maria know? Did he want to -- did he hope to keep it from Maria?

And so there's -- there's is more or there very well could have been more than the electorate --

MORGAN: Donny, let me ask you about Schwarzenegger's acting career. He's now left politics. He's timed this after he stopped being governor. He's now aiming to re-launch his acting career.

Can he do that or are we going to see potentially lots of rumors abounding now about other women and so on? Could we potentially see a movie version of Tiger Woods unfold?

DEUTSCH: Well, here's the sad part. I actually think it will help his movie career. You know here's a guy, it's just -- there's a sizzle to it, this is the world we live in. You always says, what's going to happen, what's going to happen to Lindsay Lohan's career. Should be hotter than ever.

This is the world we live in. Once again, his audience is not female moviegoers anyway so obviously certain women will turn away. But in Hollywood it kind of puts a little ray of blink on him. So it does not only -- does not hurt him, it actually helps him. That's a perverse take on things, but I think it's reality. MORGAN: Don Goldberg, let me bring you in here. I mean we're seeing a slew of sex scandals in recent years, even more than we're probably used to in all forms of entertainment and sport and politics.

Are we seeing an increase in bad behavior? Are we seeing sort of a collective aphrodisiac here linked to power and success? What's going on?

DON GOLDBERG, CLINTON WHITE HOUSE DAMAGE CONTROL SPECIALIST: Well, you know, if we're looking for moral leadership from our sports figures, from our entertainer, now from our politicians and businessmen, I think we're all looking in the wrong place.

And I think to the point of let the electorate decide, we've got a slate of Republican candidates all of whom have some questionable, you know, relationship issues there. We're going to find out what the tolerance is.

This is not a partisan issue. You can go back to Gary Hart. You can go back to -- you know, more recently John Edwards. Obviously, you know, President Kennedy, you can go way back.

I don't think it's new. And I think that because they're politicians you can't keep secrets anymore in this day and age. But I think the tolerance level for this, as long as they're not breaking the law, is getting a little bit easier.

I mean, I think the question with Schwarzenegger will be over the next few days were there any state funds used to pay to take care of her, was she an immigrant who had a green card, for example. I mean he may have some legal issues here that he's going to have to deal with.

ROSEN: Piers --

MORGAN: Hilary --

ROSEN: Piers --

MORGAN: Yes, let me bring you in here. What was your response to that?

ROSEN: Well, I think actually we've seen -- we see more of a divergence right now, that you can get away with it in sports and in entertainment and other places. We've seen it with Tiger Woods and we've seen it with Jesse James, and we'll now probably see it with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I actually think in politics we've gone the opposite direction where it's too big a distraction. The media is too intense. We've seen, you know, with -- I think that it would be a very different environment today with President Clinton than it was when it happened that the onslaught of media and accessibility and endless questions are becoming too distracting for a politician.

MORGAN: But you see I -- let me stop you there. (CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: And we've got lots of examples.

MORGAN: Let me stop you there, because Clinton is a great example, I would say, where it's the kind of -- he's the answer to the argument. I mean the more salacious material came out about Clinton, the more his personal approval ratings began to soar as the American public --

ROSEN: No, that's not what made his approval ratings soar. What made his approval ratings soar was the ridiculous Republican overreach on trying to get rid of him based on what had happened, when his family was sticking by him. That's when the country actually started to come to his defense and realize other things were more important.

MORGAN: Donny, let me bring you in here.

DEUTSCH: Piers, to your point, I think there's a subtext of maybe it adds to his power really, but he is the classic example of a guy who was a spectacularly successful president and as a post president has been nothing but a humanitarian, a leader around the world, what you want from a leader.

Now was this guy a leader (ph)? Of course he was. But we've got to get our heads straight about what we want and what we expect from our leaders. And to me, this has been one of the great leaders of the world. His moral compass when it comes to women? Different discussion. I'm not setting him up for --


MORGAN: It's a good point.

Mike, let me ask you. Would you take on Arnold Schwarzenegger right now? Would you take on Dominique Strauss-Khan?

SITRICK: Well, let's separate the two. I mean, Arnold isn't accused of a crime. You know, what he has -- what he's admitted is fathering a child out of wedlock while he was married. Right. So it's very different.

Look, Hollywood has a very short memory. And you have to put the infraction into context as to what it's all about.

MORGAN: Should he come clean quicker than Tiger Woods did? Should he come out --

SITRICK: Well, you can't compare Tiger Woods.


SITRICK: They're not even comparable.

MORGAN: No, I'm not comparing them yet. I'm just saying that, you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been caught in a sex scandal. He's a high-profile guy. There are rumors of other stories. They may or may not be true.

SITRICK: No, but --

MORGAN: My point is, should he come on a show like this, lay everything on the table and say, you know what, this is the truth.

SITRICK: Eventually.

MORGAN: And get everything out of the way.

SITRICK: Eventually. But the difference is Tiger Woods had this all-American boy image, right? And he had this super-clean image. And so he was the poster boy for that. Arnold Schwarzenegger has this tough guy, macho image, and all of these rumors of --

MORGAN: Not as damaging.

SITRICK: Right. And so -- yes, should Arnold come -- he's already started it. You've already seen this. But I think he wants to give it some time, wants to give it some air. Then I think he needs to come through. Now what he has to find -- what we really have to see is how Maria is -- are they going to reconcile, what's Maria going to say, and then give it a little time and then come on a show.

MORGAN: OK. Thank you all very much, indeed. A good debate. And carry on, no doubt.

Coming up, we'll hear more from David Axelrod. When we come back, stand in the media spotlight. I'll ask Dan Abrams if there is a rush to judgment in notorious cases.


MORGAN: Stories like Arnold Schwarzenegger's or Dominique Strauss-Khan's, what happens when scandal and celebrity collide?

Joining me now is ABC News legal analyst and Mediaite founder, Dan Abrams.

Dan, I mean two very different stories.


MORGAN: And important to keep them very different, because there's no suggestion of any criminality by Arnold Schwarzenegger but there certainly is against Dominique Strauss-Khan from France.

A question I suppose that's coming from France driven back here is, is the guy getting a fair trial in terms of the way the media is behaving, in terms of the way the judiciary is behaving in putting him out there to be photographed and stuff? Is this fair or is it prejudicial?

ABRAMS: I think the only legitimate question for people to really complain about is the perp walk. Right? In France, they've recently outlawed it in part because of the exact questions you're asking.

MORGAN: And what do you think?

ABRAMS: Look, I think that it's probably not necessary. It's been done here for many, many years. I don't think that it -- you know, the goal is to show that the person has been arrested and to demonstrate to the public in essence that the republic is safe. But with that said, you know, I don't know that we necessarily need perp walks anymore. s MORGAN: I mean, I have to say, you know, I've been in newspapers for 25 years before I came into television, and there's no doubt it's a juicy bone to toss a newspaper, to put it on the front pages.

I woke up this morning, saw pictures of this guy looking oddly like Bernie Madoff.


MORGAN: Sort of the French version, and that in itself wasn't helpful to him. It made him look instantly criminal.


MORGAN: And there he is, slumped, looking sort of vaguely guilty. I mean, a damaging image.

ABRAMS: Yes. I'm not as worried about it from a sort of legal perspective. Right? I mean, from a moral perspective I think you've got a legitimate argument. From a legal perspective, people always say well, you know, what about the presumption of innocence, et cetera?

The reality is (INAUDIBLE). Jury selection is really pretty good in this country, meaning they're able to find people who either don't know that much about a case or people who do know but haven't formed opinions.

Think about it. In the O.J. Simpson civil case, after the criminal case in L.A., with all the attention that case had received, they were able to find a fair jury of people --

MORGAN: That's true.

ABRAMS: -- who knew something about the case. They knew facts of the case. They knew what had happened. But they hadn't developed opinions.

MORGAN: Tell me about this separate issue, which I noticed. The Schwarzenegger story. When Maria Shriver made this very painful statement about the horrific ordeal that she and her family are going through.


MORGAN: I mean, completely your heart goes out to all of them involved, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I have always got along very well with him, I think he's a good man, and this is awful for all of them. But she said she wanted privacy for her children.

And shortly after that, some of her children went on Twitter and began to talk quite frankly about what happened, almost breaking their own plea for privacy.

Can we expect any privacy anymore given the existence of Twitter, social networks, Facebook and so on?

ABRAMS: Yes. We can hope for it. We can't expect it. The reality is I think Maria Shriver has every right to ask for it, to demand it, to hope for it, and yet she knows as well as anyone -- you know I know and respect and really like Maria a lot, and I guarantee you she knows, she knows the way the world works.

She knows that she's not going to get the privacy that she deserves to some degree. And, look, kids are kids. You know, the fact that she can't control exactly what her kids do or don't do on Twitter is very typical of a parent/child relationship.

MORGAN: How do you see the legal position in relation to this IMF chief going?

ABRAMS: I think that the first question is going to be, is he going to get bail. Right? He's been denied bail. Initially the defense team is hoping that they will still be able to create a bail package that will get him out, meaning he won't be able to go back to France because as a legal matter --

MORGAN: But he might better get out and stay in New York.

ABRAMS: Correct. Correct. If he was able to get out and go to France, France might not send him back. That's not going to happen.


ABRAMS: But the question is going to be, does he get released at all, that's still up in the air. Probably not, but still has hope. Then question two, of course, is what happens. Big picture in the context of this case. Where does it go -- what's the defense going to be?

And sources close to the defense are telling me that it's likely to be a consent defense, meaning that he's not going to say he wasn't there, he's not going to they got the timing all wrong. They're going to say --

MORGAN: I've got to wrap it up.


MORGAN: But if he does go for consent, then surely he's finished as the boss of the IMF.

ABRAMS: I think so. I think regardless -- I think it's going to be very, very hard.

MORGAN: Dan, thank you very much indeed.

ABRAMS: Good to be here.

MORGAN: When we come back, more from my interview with one of the best minds in Washington, David Axelrod on the Schwarzenegger scandal and more.


MORGAN: And joining me now is former senior White House official David Axelrod and his wife, Susan, who's a founding member of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy.

Thank you both for joining me.

Before we get to the reason that we're doing this interview, I want to talk to you, David, about the extraordinary run -- first, of news stories that we've had this year, quite unprecedented I would think in recent times.

More specifically, this sort of very lively debate on the show about I guess this ongoing, the old-fashioned issue, sex and politics. You're seeing two big sex scandals, very different in their ways. One is a criminal issue. One isn't.

What's your take on it? When you hear these scandals -- you worked with John Edwards before his scandal. You've worked with Eliot Spitzer before his did.

What do you make of this whole issue?

DAVID AXELROD, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think that you -- first of all, these are always stunning developments when you hear them. We hold people up on a pedestal who run for public office to some degree.

MORGAN: Should we?

D. AXELROD: And -- well, I think they're all human beings, and some -- you know, are flawed, and so, you know, I think that we should -- we should put our faith in them to the degree that we know what their public positions have been, what they've done with their -- but I think it's hard to get to know people. And sometimes stunning things happen. So -- and when they do, I think it contributes to some of the cynicism.

MORGAN: I mean, in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, do you think if the electorate had known that he had a love child by his housekeeper he would ever have become governor of California?

D. AXELROD: Well, I don't know the answer to that, but I suspect the fact that it didn't become public until after suggests that he didn't necessarily believe that. MORGAN: You've been out of the White House for a while now. When you see this -- you know, almost apocalyptic series of events we've had in the world with the Middle East uprisings, with what happened in Japan, with the killing of Osama bin Laden and so on, have you missed being back in the center of things at the White House, or are you still quietly there on the end of the phone?

D. AXELROD: Well, you know, look, there's no place like the White House when things are happening. I mean, it's an intensely interesting place to be. And you do miss being in the information flow when these things happen.

I would have liked to have been there the night of the bin Laden mission. But I'm also -- I think as someone who has been around politics all his life, I find it easier to be out in the real world, talking to people, getting a sense of how they're seeing these events, and that I find rewarding, plus being home with my wife, who --


MORGAN: Is it good or the bad to have -- be seeing more of him?



D. AXELROD: Very good. We practiced that.

MORGAN: I mean in terms of the politics of what's been happening, how significant do you think, particularly the bin Laden incident, may have been for the Obama election campaign that will be coming up to?

D. AXELROD: You know, Piers, I've been asked that question a lot, and I think it's very -- one thing you're acutely aware of when you're in the White House is that there are going to be a million developments between now and November of 2012. And some of them completely unforeseen.

The thing you come to expect is the unexpected. And, you know, every day in Washington is treated like it's Election Day. Every event, the seminal event. And few rarely are.

I think, look, it's important for the country what happened. I think it will be remembered. But there are other things that people are grappling with in their own lives.


MORGAN: I mean --

D. AXELROD: Being the center of the campaign.

MORGAN: I've seen you suggest that in the end probably the key issue, as it often is, will be the economy.

D. AXELROD: Absolutely.

MORGAN: Fascinating, though, it all is what's going on with Egypt and Libya and so on and so on. For the average American, when they come to vote, the big question for them will be, has Barack Obama done enough to repair the horrific damage from the financial crisis? Do I have an expectation that he'll continue that process? Would you --


D. AXELROD: Well, I'd add one more dimension to that because elections are not referendums. They're choices. And so the question will be, is his vision a vision that holds up the most hope for people now and in the future, as compared to the vision that his opponent offers.

I think the president has done a great job of turning around what was a catastrophic situation. But that's not the project that he was running to assume. He -- he ran for a larger reason, which is to reinvigorate the American dream in the 21st century. And for many, many years before the crises, people had been struggling, kind of running in place, their paychecks had been flat, their expenses had been going up, harder to educate their kids, harder to retire.

And those are the projects that has been working on. And it's going to take some time to achieve them.

The question is whether people say, you know what, I want to keep on going down that path; that's the right vision. I think they will. But, you know, that's what campaigns are about.

MORGAN: We'll come back to the president a little later.

But I want to turn now to the reason that we're doing the interview.

It's this heartbreaking story -- there's no other way to describe it, really -- involving your daughter, Lauren, who was born perfectly healthy. She was your first born child, nearly 30 years ago. And at the age of seven months, she suddenly, out of nowhere, has this terrible seizure. And it's diagnosed as epilepsy.

Susan, tell me about that moment, because it completely changed your life.

S. AXELROD: Oh, it did. I mean I look back at that and you -- you just -- you just wish more than anything that you could recapture it and somehow change -- change the course of her life mostly, but -- but our entire family's lives.

MORGAN: Watching Lauren go through that seizure?

S. AXELROD: Going through not just that seizure, but she had multiple, multiple -- dozens of seizures every single day. So she -- I put her to bed one night. As you mentioned, she was a totally fine, healthy baby. The next morning, I went in and looked into her crib and she was blue and she was limp. And she went into a seizure, which I had no idea what it was.

And --

MORGAN: It's terrifying for new parents?

S. AXELROD: Totally terrifying. Her arm went up, you know, her -- her eyes rolled back. She was frothing at the mouth. And I didn't know what it was and rushed her to the emergency room. David met me there.

She was hospitalized, that first hospitalization, for a full month. By the time we brought her home, she was on several heavy duty medications that just wonked her out and then still having six seizures every day.

And we saw a lot of the developmental milestones she had achieved in the first seven months just deteriorate. And --

MORGAN: You gave up your job. I mean there's this story, a very poignant story, of you walking to the hospital doors to leave after seeing her. And you suddenly stopped and went, "What am I doing?"


MORGAN: I need to be with my daughter. And that was it. You then dedicated yourself to her.

S. AXELROD: Yes. I mean it really -- it really was -- was just a moment where I thought this is -- this is my obligation in life. This has become my life's work now, to -- to make sure that she's OK, to keep her safe. It -- it wasn't for a number of years that -- that I started CURE, along with the energy of a couple of other moms.

MORGAN: And this is a non-profit making charitable organization designed specifically to increase funding for research for epilepsy?

I mean, David, unless I'm wrong, the great disparity about something like epilepsy is that while you have Parkinson's, for example, the math kinds of work out at, what, about 40 dollars is -- is put forward per patient in terms of research and funding and so on.

The equivalent for epilepsy, based on the number of people in America that have it, is nearer four dollars. I mean, that's a dramatic difference.

D. AXELROD: It is. And -- and --

MORGAN: Why is that, do you think?

D. AXELROD: Well, I think a number of reasons. But the primary reason is that epilepsy has always made people uncomfortable. You know, it goes back to biblical times. But even in modern times, there are many who believe that these -- these convulsions that they see are some sort of demonic possession.

I mean, it really has been something that's made people uncomfortable to talk about, uncomfortable to see.

And there's been this impression that somehow there have been pills that can take care of it, and it's really been solved. It has not. I mean, half the people who have epilepsy are controlled with the existing medications -- although those are punishing -- and treatments. But the other half struggle, as Lauren did; 50,000 people a year in this country dying from this.

I want to get back to -- to Susan's story, though, for a second, Piers, because it kind of explains how we got to this moment and how Susan got to her moment.

When we went into the hospital with Lauren, she had a couple of seizures. We saw them. It was terrifying. And the doctor said don't worry, it's probably a febrile seizure, associated with fever, she'll be fine.

A month later, we left. As Susan said, she was still having multiple seizures a day, heavily medicated.

And we said, well, what is this?

He said well, it's an idiopathic seizure disorder.

And what -- I said, well, what does that mean?

It's just -- it means she's got seizures and we don't know why.

And that is -- that is ultimately the core of this, people are dying; people's lives are being destroyed. And we don't know why it happens.

MORGAN: We're going to take a short break.

When we come back, I want to get into how we can change that, how we can properly try and make a difference.


MORGAN: Back now with David and Susan Axelrod.

I'm going to bring a bit of personal commitment to your cause. My -- my cousin, a very dear cousin of mine who died of epilepsy in his late teens, of an injury he sustained whilst having a seizure. And I saw the devastating effect it had on his immediate family and the wider family. And also the sense of real frustration that this young life had been snuffed out and we couldn't do anything about it. There wasn't the -- a way to treat this, to cure this.

Clearly, by calling this charity of yours CURE, that that's the essence of, really, what the problem is with epilepsy. We can't cure it as things stand.

What are the most effective ways we can try and change this?

S. AXELROD: Well, I think one thing that we can do is just really -- and one of the things we've been successful at doing is changing the focus of research, which was always about sort of slapping more medications on seizures and hoping that you could just make them sort of subside. And that really to -- in our point of view, is not the answer.

We need to understand why it's happening. It's a really complicated disorder, many, many different syndromes within epilepsy and --

MORGAN: Well, you miraculously, it seemed to me, after trying endless different things -- you suddenly found an anticonvulsant pill, I think it was, that -- that worked.

And now Lauren has been how long without a --

S. AXELROD: Eleven years without a seizure.


MORGAN: What a moment for you?

S. AXELROD: We still have no idea why that drug is working. We had no idea that it was going to work at the time. It was the 23rd or 24th drug that we had tried for her.

MORGAN: And do you know how many other people it works on?

D. AXELROD: It's --

S. AXELROD: It's not a miracle --

D. AXELROD: Right.

S. AXELROD: -- for that many people.


S. AXELROD: But it was for her.


S. AXELROD: But it was for her?

MORGAN: It was for you?

S. AXELROD: And we need to understand that.

We need to -- I think we're just getting to the point -- and that's why an infusion of research dollars can really help advance this --

D. AXELROD: And --

S. AXELROD: -- and move -- with improvements in genetic understanding, I think we'll be able to look at people like Lauren -- and studies are just beginning that will look at her and say, OK, maybe 18 years ago, we could have given her that drug and it would have stopped them.

MORGAN: Because one of the things that -- that's devastating about epilepsy is that she was having so many attacks, so many seizures, 28, 30 a day, each one damaging her brain.

D. AXELROD: Right.

MORGAN: And that, in the end, has a -- a devastating impact on the quality of her life.


MORGAN: I mean, even now that she's not had the seizures for a decade, there's still the damage has been done, right?


D. AXELROD: And not -- not just the damage from the seizures, but the truth is, she still takes a handful of pills every day, not just that anticonvulsant, but other anticonvulsants and other medications that if you or I took, would -- we'd find very debilitating.

So, yes, she's -- you know, she -- she has lost so much to this. And -- and there's still in the back of our minds, you know, that fear that how long will this regimen hold, because, you know, I said to you before we started that epilepsy is terrorism of the brain. You never know when it's going to come. You never know whether it will take a life or -- or -- or how it will damage you or where it will happen.

And, you know, you live with that all your life.

MORGAN: Do you feel, Susan, that you've -- you've lost a life with Lauren, although she's alive and she's doing better than she was, that she's never going to lead the life that you would have hoped for when she was first born as a healthy baby?

S. AXELROD: Yes. I think you have to sort of put that aside at a certain point. And what -- what we do on a daily basis now is -- is look at her and marvel at how well she's doing. And one of the reasons I think that I'm energized to keep up with this work is because I want that for other patients.

Particularly when epilepsy starts in childhood, it can really affect development, especially so when -- when the child is under two years old.

So, you know, yes, I mean if I were to sit and think about, you know, a wedding day or her having children -- and she brings that up every now and then.

MORGAN: Does she?

S. AXELROD: I just have to put it somewhere where I, you know -- I don't deal with it very well, because -- because it will get me pretty emotional. On the other hand, she has an amazing life now that -- one that we never ever envisioned her having before we got the seizures controlled. Her cognition has improved just astronomically. She lives in a great place. She has friends and she has a really full life. We never thought that was possible.

D. AXELROD: No. Yes, I mean, you know, just -- if you flash back to the period of time right before we found a regimen that worked for her, we really thought we were going to lose her. She was hurtling toward disaster. The seizures were coming faster and faster. She was more and more debilitated.

And we thought we were going to lose her so -- and then her whole childhood was just filled with misery and loneliness and pain.

MORGAN: Awful.

D. AXELROD: And so the fact that every day is a good day for her now, she's cheerful, she's happy, she's got friends, you know, it isn't what we had envisioned. But it's so much more than we do have hoped for. And, you know, now our goal is to -- is -- is to -- is to take this and move forward and help other people and make that her -- her legacy.

But she's a valiant, wonderful, inspiring young woman.

MORGAN: She certain is.

We're going to take another short break.

When we come back, I want to talk to you specifically about the costs for a family that had to go through what you went through and whether the government is doing enough about this now.


MORGAN: Back again with my special guests, David and Susan Axelrod.

Susan, how prevalent is epilepsy in America at the moment?

S. AXELROD: You know, epilepsy affects one to two percent of the population worldwide. So in -- in the world, it's 50 million. In this country, it's about three million.

MORGAN: A lot of people.

S. AXELROD: A lot of people. It's one of the most common neurological --.

MORGAN: Is that what we know? Because a lot of people, I would imagine, because of the stigma that goes with -- with epilepsy --


MORGAN: -- may not say anything. S. AXELROD: Exactly. And there's certain types, too, that are difficult to diagnose. Absont (ph) seizures in children may -- may present as a learning disability or Attention Deficit Disorder. And until they do an EEG, they might not know that this is actually seizures that are happening, you know, sometimes hundreds a day, that are really disrupting a child's learning.

MORGAN: David, when this hit you as a family, it's obviously very expensive to try and --


MORGAN: -- treat someone with epilepsy.

What impact did it have on you financially?

D. AXELROD: Well, there are all kinds of impacts on the family, Piers. Financially, I was a young reporter when Lauren got sick. And we had an HMO. What we discovered was that was a great policy as long as you didn't get sick. And they didn't cover much of what she needed, especially her medications, which were like 8,000 dollars a year or 10,000 dollars a year. And that was a quarter of my whole salary at --

MORGAN: This is 25, 30 years ago.

D. AXELROD: -- at the time. It was really -- and it put tremendous pressure on us.

You know, the other element that is lost in all of this is the impact it has on the other children in the family. All of her childhood, Lauren -- Lauren's health took precedent -- precedence over everything. So if we were going on a vacation and she would have seizures, that would get canceled.

Or we'd be on vacation and she would get sick and -- you know, the boys, who were younger, would watch all of this in -- in horror and --

MORGAN: Scary for them.


D. AXELROD: And -- and when -- what happens is that these kids feel like -- they're -- they feel resentful that they are -- are losing something themselves, but guilty because they know their sibling is suffering. And it creates tremendous pressures on -- on siblings, as well.

So epilepsy not only affects the person who has it, but it has a tremendous impact on the rest of the family.

MORGAN: Susan, how can people help?

If they're watching this and they either know people with epilepsy or they just want to help, what is the most effective way they can do this?

S. AXELROD: Well, they can certainly join some of the events that we're having around the country that are -- are cropping up in places that other family members --

MORGAN: You have a website?

S. AXELROD: We have a website, You can donate online. You can get involved in regional activities that are happening. And I think it's really going to take the community coming together and supporting these research efforts.

And I always say, you know, we represent the third to a half of patients who have really poorly controlled seizures and are really devastated or lose their lives.

But I think this research -- we need to make the point that the research that we're funding is going to help all people with epilepsy. And even if you feel like you're living OK, you know, they're finding now that there are family tendencies toward epilepsy. Genetics is leading us in that direction.

MORGAN: It just needs more funding --

S. AXELROD: It does.

MORGAN: -- doesn't it?


MORGAN: David, you're on the other side of the fence on this one.

Has the government been doing enough in terms of providing funding for epilepsy research?

D. AXELROD: No, I -- well, look, I believe that medical research generally needs more. The president has given more money to it. But we're obviously in difficult times. And -- and -- and all activities of government have been frozen.

And the truth is that even when times were better, there was a tendency on the part of the government to fund research that was tried and -- and true and tested. And this requires thinking outside of the box.

We need imaginative new approaches to epilepsy research. And the government has been reluctant to fund those.

So part of what Susan's notion was, was let's provide the seed money for these good ideas. They've funded 100 grants around the world. That hold some promise. That could ultimately be taken to the government and get -- given an extra push.

MORGAN: Put a little pressure on them?


MORGAN: Talking of pressure on the government -- we'll have another short break.

When we come back, I want to get your verdict, good and bad, on your friend, President Obama.



MORGAN: Well, I'm back with David and Susan Axelrod.

David, we've talked a little bit about politics. Let's just come to the quick here. You're one of the few people in the world who can literally look the president in the eye and say you're going wrong, and he'll listen to you. He trust you implicitly. You were right there when he got elected. You've stayed in touch with him ever since.

With your teacher's hat on -- let's just make you a teacher here -- if you were doing a report on Obama so far as a president, good and bad, be honest. Where would the ticks be and where would the crosses be?

D. AXELROD: Well, first of all, one of the reasons why we have a trusting relationship is because I reserve those kinds of comments --


D. AXELROD: -- for our private conversations. But look, I -- but I would say the same thing publicly and privately. I -- there wasn't a single day, Piers, that I was there that I wasn't not just proud of him, but happy that he was there, because it is -- no one can fully imagine the pressures that come to that office.

In fact, I often say, having been there for the last two years, I have a greater respect for anybody who's ever held that office.

But these have been particularly challenging times. And I've watched him handle these with -- these -- these one after serial challenges with tremendous calm, with wisdom. One of his great features is that when things get particularly bad, he -- he is more focused, more calm, rallies everyone around him.

MORGAN: How important is his family, not just on his side, but his wife's side?

I've had the pleasure of interviewing his sister Maya, and I've also recently interviewed Michelle's brother.

D. AXELROD: Yes, Craig.

MORGAN: -- interviewed Craig. It's coming out soon. And they were both very calm, generous, warm-hearted sort of people. And I remember thinking after meeting them both, he's a lucky guy. D. AXELROD: He is.

MORGAN: He's surrounded by what seemed very sort of intelligent serenity.

D. AXELROD: And it's not just his family. He's got a wonderful family. He's got wonderful friends, as well. And what it goes to is the centeredness that he has. He -- he understands what's most important in life. He goes home every night to have dinner with his kids.

He -- he -- I think these last few years, as difficult as they have been, has been better for him than the years before that, when he was traveling all the time, because he could live under the same roof with his family.

He values that a lot. And because of that, I don't think he fears making decisions. He -- he knows that there's this backstop there, that there's something --

MORGAN: There's something else.

D. AXELROD: -- most important -- yes.

MORGAN: If it all went wrong --

D. AXELROD: Right.

MORGAN: -- politically, for him --


MORGAN: -- he's still got what --


MORGAN: -- what he has.

D. AXELROD: And -- and I think that's resulted in his ability to -- to -- to make decisions without fear of -- of failure, understanding that failure is a possibility. A lot of people in public life don't have that.

MORGAN: Let's talk about his possibilities, because there's an election campaign looming. Presumably, you will be involved, as you were last time?


MORGAN: Is the apparent chaos of the GOP at the moment an encouraging sign for you?

D. AXELROD: Well, look, you know, 16 months is an eternity in politics. And, you know, you might as well pull out "The Farmer's Almanac" to try and predict what's going to happen 16 months from now in -- in politics. You know, so I -- I -- you know, my theory of politics is you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

My assumption is that there will be a competitive candidate on the other side and we're going to have a battle over the future of this country and which way we want to go.

MORGAN: Are you a betting man?

D. AXELROD: Not really --

MORGAN: An occasional dabble?

D. AXELROD: Occasional.

MORGAN: If you were about to put a little bet on it, who would you think may end up, as things stand, with the Republican nomination?

D. AXELROD: You know, I don't know. I mean you talk about betting money. Obviously, Mitt Romney is raising a lot of it and that's valuable in politics. And he's been around the track.

But, you know, they've got a number of candidates and I'm not sure we've seen -- we've seen them all.

So, you know, I think this is the most unfathomable Republican race of my lifetime. Generally, the Republicans have a frontrunner and that frontrunner ends up being nominated. It was true with McCain. It was true with Bush, Dole. That's the way it's always been in their party --

MORGAN: But as -- as things stand, it's looking pretty good for the president, isn't it?

D. AXELROD: Well --

MORGAN: Been a good few weeks?

D. AXELROD: Well, I think we take it day by day. I think he's been a great president. We're going to -- we -- I think he -- his character of leadership has come through. But -- but we've got to keep working, you know, because the people out there, as you -- as you said at the beginning, look at this through their own -- the lens of their own lives.

And we have to work every day to deal with those problems that are impacting people in their lives. And --

MORGAN: Well, it will --

D. AXELROD: -- if we do, I think we'll be -- we'll be in good shape.

MORGAN: This is going to be a fascinating campaign.

(CROSSTALK) MORGAN: David Axelrod, Susan Axelrod, thank you both very much indeed.

S. AXELROD: Thank you, thank you.

MORGAN: And now, Anderson Cooper with "AC360."