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ATF Acting Director Expected to Resign; Assad's Hard-Line Speech

Aired June 20, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Joe Johns. John King is off tonight.

We begin with the important developments in Washington's newest scandal. Two senior federal law enforcement sources tell CNN the top man at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is expected to resign under pressure in the next day or two.

Acting Director Kenneth Nelson would be taking the fall for the program called "Operation Fast and Furious." It was supposed to find out how guns purchased legally in the U.S. end up in the hands of Mexico's drug gangs.

The scandal is two guns from the ATF program turned up at the scene when a U.S. border patrol agent was killed in Arizona last December. Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has been working her sources and joins us now. Jeanne --

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Joe, this is an embarrassment for the ATF. This is an agency that is supposed to stop the illegal trafficking of firearms specifically.

In recent years, its mission has been to stop trafficking to Mexico. It has had some success in that regard, but when ATF whistle- blowers stepped forward and said, no, their hands were tied.

They were forced to stand by and watch as straw-buyers purchased weapons and passed them on to criminals and cartels. It is an embarrassment, particularly when you hear how they found out about the guns later.

Here's an excerpt of an interview that Drew Griffin did with an ATF agent and whistle-blower.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The only way you're going to find those guns in Mexico is where?

RENE JAQUEZ, ATF SUPERVISORY AGENT: At crime scenes, at the death, at the site of somebody who's dead, at a gun battle between the police and the bad guys in which either the bad guy was killed and his gun was left at the scene or used during the commission of a crime in which the gun was left behind. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Now, the ATF says its goal was to dismantle the larger drug trafficking organizations, but we haven't seen any of those large organizations dismantled, and they said they didn't want to dwell on the small fish.

We haven't heard a lot from the ATF yet, though. They are doing an investigation. I'm sure we'll be hearing more detail from them. Joe --

JOHNS: So Jeanne, I have to ask you, are there other cases out there like this? Do we know how many?

MESERVE: Cases where "Fast and Furious" guns were found? Well, we know about border agent Brian Terry, where two of the guns were found nearby.

ATF whistle-blowers said they showed up at crime scenes in Mexico. I can tell you that at a hearing last week, ATF agents testified that when they heard that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had been shot.

They all looked at one another in horror, with the fear that this was one of the "Fast and Furious" guns that had been used there. It turns out that was not the case, however. Joe --

JOHNS: I would assume there are some wild reactions from the family members of the border agent who was killed.

MESERVE: Well, they were at this hearing last week. The mother of the border agent says she was flabbergasted when she heard about this, and a cousin of the ATF agent said it was his hope and wish that everybody who was responsible for the killing of Brian Terry would be held to account.

He was promised that would be the case. What was a little bit unclear from the testimony and the response is what that included. Does that mean simply the people who were using those guns or could that involve the people who were trafficking the guns? Could it be people who approved the program? We don't know yet. Joe --

JOHNS: Jeanne Meserve with some great reporting from Washington tonight. Stay with the story, will you, and check back with us if you get any more information.

There's lots of fallout tonight from Syrian President Bashar Al- Assad's hard line speech today about the pro-democracy demonstrations in his country. His choice of words speaks volumes.

Assad said "conspiracy" eight times, used the word "vandals" 18 times and said "freedom" only once. The speech provoked a new round of demonstrations. One opponent tells CNN it will give the uprising, quote, "another push."

But tonight, U.S. officials say there is growing evidence that Iran is stepping up efforts to influence events in Syria and may be involved in the Assad regime's brutal crackdown on demonstrators.

CNN Pentagon Chris Lawrence has that part of the story. Chris, we've known about ties between Syria and Iran, but these new revelations take it up to another level. What is the defense department worried about at this stage?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that Iran is increasingly taking an even bigger role in Syria than it has up until now, especially when these protests are concerned.

A U.S. official was confirming to us that they've had a number of electronic communications that were intercepted that show Iran's revolutionary guard has an increased presence in Syria. They say Iranian personnel are moving in and out of Damascus, not only helping to train Syria's forces there, but also facilitating the flow of weapons, which one official said just remains completely unchecked at this point.

Another official says Iran is also providing riot gear to the Syrian government. Really, a lot of this confirms what the British foreign secretary claimed about a week or two ago when he said that Iran was helping to give technological advice and other things to Syria to help it crush the protests there.

And if it's true, it really makes a mockery of something that the spokesman for Iran's foreign secretary or foreign ministry claimed just last week in which he said the internal affairs of Syria are internal. The people there are mature enough to deal with it on their own. Joe --

JOHNS: Sort of opens up a whole slew of questions. Thanks so much, Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon tonight.

So, is it any surprise that Iran's fingerprints may be all over Syria? And what else does that tell us? What do we need to worry about, especially about Iranian influence?

CNN National Security contributor Fran Townsend is a member of the External Advisory Boards for both the CIA and Department of Homeland Security.

She also advised President Bush on Homeland Security. And Fran, how dangerous is this revelation at a time when Syria's in political turmoil and it could be leaderless at any moment?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, you know, it's interesting, because as you mentioned, Joe, the relationship between Syria and Iran is not new, and in fact, the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria's not new. We've had intelligence. We've had public reports of those weapons going there in the past.

And so, Iran would rally to Bashar Al-Assad's assistance in this moment of his crisis is not a surprise to me. Look, this is a client state of the Iranian regime. And so, you're bound to see technical assistance and weapons flowing into Syria. But Syria's not the only place.

During the Bush administration, we saw Iran providing critical parts for electronically performed projectiles. These are the parts of the IEDs that were blowing up our soldiers in Iraq. We've seen very aggressive Iranian activity using their intelligence services in Afghanistan.

And so, this is part of a piece for Iran's -- in terms of their own foreign policy where they're a destabilizing force throughout the region.

JOHNS: What happens if Assad is gone? Do we have any idea what Iran's role will be then?

TOWNSEND: I don't think so. Look, Iran has been providing financial and military support to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a Shiite extremist group. It was the most deadly in terms of killing of Americans until al Qaeda.

And so, they have safe haven in Syria. They're a very strong political force. Hezbollah is also a very strong political force in Lebanon. And so, you know, what will happen if Bashar Al-Assad goes?

It is not at all clear because you would think the opposition would insist most of the regime go with him and who will follow them is not at all clear.

JOHNS: Now, Fran, you know and I know Iran's influence is something Secretary Gates has been very frank about in his exit interviews. Take a listen to this.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I am worried about Iranian influence. The truth is, most of our kids who have been killed recently have been killed by extremist Shia groups, not by al Qaeda in Iraq, but by extremist Shia groups.

And they are clearly getting some fairly sophisticated and powerful weapons from Iran. And so, I do worry about that. And frankly, I think, based on what I've seen in the last few days, I think Prime Minister Maliki's beginning to get worried about it as well.


JOHNS: So, Fran, what is this warning from the outgoing defense secretary telling us?

TOWNSEND: Well, as I mentioned, Joe, look, this is not a new worry for him. I can remember my own time in the White House. We saw weapons being transferred from Iran to extremist groups inside Iraq and being used against our soldiers.

And so, I think this is an ongoing -- this is not a new concern for him. The interesting thing Secretary Gates said there is he thinks Prime Minister Maliki is also beginning to get concerned.

I will tell you, Joe, there are many -- I put myself in this category -- who are suspicious of Prime Minister Maliki's own relationship with Ahmadinejad and with the Iranian regime.

I will tell you also, throughout the region, governments in Saudi Arabia and around that region were also deeply suspicious of Maliki's relationship with Iran.

And so, it remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Maliki has the political will and the courage to try and push back against the Iranians who are providing these weapons that kill our soldiers.

JOHNS: Fran Townsend, one last question, I think very quickly. The president's giving a major speech on Afghanistan on Wednesday. How does this fit into the debate over troop withdrawal?

TOWNSEND: You know, I actually think they've kept this within the National Security Council quite separate. I don't think that this really plays into the president's decision really at all in terms of troop levels in Afghanistan.

The White House has made pretty clear they're focused on al Qaeda and Bin Laden. We've killed Bin Laden in the tribal areas. Al Qaeda is feeling the heat. And I think they're going to use this probably to be more aggressive in terms of a troop drawdown, and I would think wise.

JOHNS: Fran Townsend, thanks so much for that. We'll be checking back with you.

Coming up, the Supreme Court dismisses a massive job discrimination case against Wal-Mart. How does this ruling affect you?

And the controversy caused by the comedian at the RLC was no laughing matter for the conference's organizers.


JOHNS: The bottom line in an important U.S. Supreme Court ruling today is that Wal-Mart won and women who claimed job discrimination lost. But there's much more going on here than meets the eye.

For one thing, today's ruling could affect every private employer, large or small. Plus, there's the politics of the court and the possibility of future lawsuits.

CNN's Kate Bolduan has the details of the case. Kate, will you just breakdown for us now exactly what did the court say?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's a lot going on here, Joe, but let's break it down. A huge win for Wal-Mart here. A big blow for the women who brought this discrimination case and beyond. These women claim in a lawsuit that's now stretched over a decade, that they were paid less and they were passed over for promotion promotions in terms of their male counterparts, and this happened for years.

They called it a corporate culture of discrimination, but Wal- Mart, they defend themselves. They say they've had a longstanding policy against discrimination in their 4,300 facilities, and in the end, the court sided with Wal-Mart, ruling in their favor.

Saying very briefly in the majority opinion, Joe, that the workers, quote, "Did not provide no convincing proof of a company-wide discriminatory pay and promotion policy," effectively ending this class-action lawsuit, Joe.

JOHNS: Is there a lot of impact for businesses and employees going forward?

BOLDUAN: The fallout could be huge. Bottom line, it keeps the upper hand in the hand of businesses, if you will. Businesses say that this offers them some protection against frivolous lawsuits.

But this now makes it harder for the American worker, for workers to ban together and to ultimately succeed in a class-action lawsuit, if they so choose to file one. Joe --

JOHNS: Kate Bolduan at the Supreme Court, thanks so much for that.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

JOHNS: Here to discuss it, our D.C. congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton who was the first woman to lead the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and CNN's senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Congresswoman Norton, I'd just like to start with you. You fought for equal rights all of your career. In your view, is this a setback for women?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: It's a setback, particularly since this is a court intent upon breaking new reactionary ground.

Remember the Ledbetter case, the case that Congress had to overturn because they gave a similar procedural interpretation of equal pay for equal work.

Now, here, they're saying that there's not enough commonality. In my judgment, that's clearly not the case.

JOHNS: Commonality, just to be clear, you're talking about the glue that sort of holds the lawsuit together as to the one million or so people who had actually filed to try to come into a class-action lawsuit? NORTON: Precisely, but let me tell you what there is commonality in. Wal-Mart had a centralized personnel system, and supervisors had unbridled discretion to hire and promote.

As a result of that discretion, look at what you have in Wal- Mart, 14 percent of the managers are women, 80 percent of the floor line supervisors and workers are women.

This should have been a classic case of discrimination. I still think for a class-action, and I still think that there are things that can be done.

JOHNES: Jeff Toobin now, to sort throw out all of the grandiose language here, what we're talking about is the federal rules of civil procedure. At least, that's what the court said today. It has nothing really to do with gender discrimination.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, the issue here was, do these million women who were the plaintiff class, do they have enough in common, are their situations similar enough to each other so that they can bring the case as one case?

And the court says no. And I think, you know, this is characteristic of the Roberts court, which has been very suspicious, very hostile to large civil litigations where corporations have to defend themselves.

Particularly when the accusation is not so much that person A was a bigot, but the allegation is that statistically women were disadvantaged. That is something this court has been very hostile to, and that's why they lost here.

JOHNS: Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average female worker earned something like 80 cents for every $1 earned by her male counterpart. So, at what point do you actually think we'll start seeing women earning the same as men?

NORTON: Well, so far, women have had to do it mostly on their own without a lot of help from the courts, except in the early days. And I agree with Mr. Toobin's notion of this court.

It's beginning to be called the corporate court. But today I had a conversation with the young woman who holds the very seat I once did, this chair of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to discussion what kinds of things can be done. I certainly agree that we can go in to smaller classes.

JOHNS: Jeff Toobin, a lot of people really do not like the idea of the courts interfering in American life in general, and so this notion of there being a million people in a class-action lawsuit, is that just too many? Is that sort of the reasonable argument in your view?

TOOBIN: Well, I think that was very much on the court's mind. I was in the courtroom when this case was argued, and it's also important to remember that all nine justices, the conservatives as well as the liberals, said this case had to be thrown out in its current form.

So, I mean, this was pushing the outside of the envelope. And you know, the plaintiffs got smacked down. But, I mean, it is important to emphasize that parts of this case could be brought back. And if, in fact, there was real discrimination against women, there is a remedy, but it's a lot longer road than it once appeared to be.

JOHNS: Thanks so much, Jeff Toobin and Eleanor Holmes Norton. Appreciate the discussion.

Coming up next, the latest headlines, including the first lady's big trip to South Africa.

And a report from Hollywood. The U.S. Open golf champion's hometown.


JOHNS: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

The Army Corps of Engineers today closed the last flood gates on Louisiana's Bonnet Carre spillway. The spillway's been opened since May 9th to divert the Mississippi River floodwaters from New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

First lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters arrived in South Africa today, the first stop in a week-long trip that includes meetings with leaders as well as a safari.

The sports world is beating a path to, of all places, Hollywood, Northern Ireland. That's Holywood with one "l." Now it's the home of the youngest U.S. Open golf champion since 1923.

Rory McIlroy won the tournament with a record-breaking 16 under par. Yes, that is even better than Tiger Woods in his heyday. So, CNN's Dan Rivers takes us to Holywood.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joining me at Holywood in Northern Ireland. This is where Rory McIlroy learned his trade, and it was here that hundreds of his well-wishers and family and friends crammed into the clubhouse to watch him making golfing history.

The records fell all evening. He was the youngest winner of the U.S. Open in 88 years at just 22 years old, and he also had the lowest aggregate score of 16 under par in the history of the competition.

And it was here, on the fairways behind me, that a 2 1/2-year-old Rory first picked up a golf club and started playing. And boy, what a career he's building now, seems to be setting out an incredible legacy.

A lot of people here have spoken about his incredible strength of character, and many people here also saying that watch out, Tiger Woods, there's a new kid on the block. Joe -- JOHNS: Coming up, who generated the most buzz at the Republican Leadership Conference? We'll talk to the man who stole the show in New Orleans.

And later, why does the U.S. Open have some viewers teed off?


JOHNS: This wasn't the kind of Monday many Republicans had expected. Sure, their weekend gathering in New Orleans attracted plenty of current and perhaps future presidential candidates, but the man who's generating the most buzz today isn't one of them.

He's a comedian, and his impersonation of President Obama not only stole the show, it has people asking what were they thinking? Take a look.


REGGIE BROWN, PRESIDENT OBAMA IMPERSONATOR: My favorite month is February, Black History month. You see, Michelle, she celebrates the full month, and you know, I celebrate half.


JOHNS: Well, early reports say comedian Reggie Brown's jokes about the president got him pulled from the stage on Saturday. He says that isn't the case, and he joins us now to talk about it.

Thanks for coming in, Reggie Brown. Now, you say you were pulled from the stage because you went over your time limit, but the president of the organization said something else.

He said, quote, "I cut his presentation off because of the nature of his comments." He also said, "had I been in the room, I would have pulled him sooner. We have zero tolerance for racially insensitive jokes." So, who's telling the truth here?

REGGIE BROWN, OBAMA IMPERSONATOR: Well, first of all, all I can say is that's what I was told upon exiting. Actually, when they started running the music, I thought it was a technical error. So, I wasn't sure what was going on. Then my microphone was cut.

The gentleman who came up and escorted me offstage said that my time was up, and I went backstage and that was it.

So, that's the first thing. But the racially charged jokes, whatever, I mean -- I don't think there was any problem with the content.

JOHNS: That's part of your act, right? That's always been part of your act.

BROWN: Yes. It's always been part of my act. I've played it all over the world, you know? Like I said in other interviews, I did them for the troops in Guam for the USO. I've done those jokes in Harlem. I've done them all over the country and the world, and never had a problem or an issue with them.

JOHNS: OK. Well, let's listen to another part of your speech that raised some eyebrows.


BROWN: I love this photo. We were ready to take on the world. I had my team of experts use the latest computer technology to predict what Michelle and I are going to look like at the end of my first term.



JOHNS: OK. So, you get the idea. I mean, do you have any regrets? Do you think this was over the top? Should you have toned it back just a little bit?

BROWN: No, I don't agree. I stand by my performance. The audience loved it. The organizers loved it after I left the stage, I guess, with the exception of, you know, the gentleman you're referring to.

But everyone else was a little bit angered and disappointed that my set was cut. I spent the rest of the evening with the attendees in a couple different sessions and signed autographs, took pictures, told some of the rest of my material, and it was very well-received, in my opinion.

JOHNS: Now, you know, we have talked to some people who were in the audience during your speech who say it wasn't the Obama jokes, but the jokes against Republicans that got the crowd upset. Let's listen to one of those.


BROWN: Now, speaking of candidates, a little birdie told me that you're all looking for someone to challenge me in 2012. Yes. Really? Well, how's that going for you?


BROWN: OK. Well, let's see. You've got your front-runner, Mitt Romney. Now, don't get me wrong, he might make a great president along with his first lady, second lady, third lady.



JOHNS: Now, do you think that is ultimately what got you kicked out?

BROWN: That was the first joke that got all the oohs and ahhs from the audience. And, sorry, that's comedy. You know, we got a reaction from them, whether it's hysterical belly laughs or that. I mean, I feel like I was doing my job, and I didn't think that was a hard hit or anything. I mean --

JOHNS: A lot of times, when there's a comedian appearing before an event like this, there's a bit of vetting that goes on. The president of the Republican Leadership Council says he didn't preview your comments beforehand.

Do you think he should have? Would you have allowed him to?

BROWN: Well, I think hindsight being 20/20, he may not make that mistake again. Our material is always available to our clients beforehand, if they want us to modify it, remove some jokes, tweak some jokes here or there. We did submit them the videos of our recent appearances, and they brought me on board. I came and did what I was paid to do.

So, I really don't understand, you know, all the controversy and buzz that's coming out of this.

JOHNS: Are you surprised at how much has been made of this appearance? I mean, what does it say? Are we talking about political correctness here?

BROWN: Well, I don't know. I mean, I am not a politician, you know? I am an entertainer --

JOHNS: You look like a politician.

BROWN: Well, of course, you know, that's what I do. He's got the hard job and I have the easy one. But, you know, it's just -- I like to make people laugh. It doesn't matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you know?

I've done bookings for everyone, full circle, and this is the first time that we've had someone so vocal. And honestly, I want the client pleased, and a lot of the organizers and the attendees said that they had -- that was the best part of the conference for them. And that's great to hear for me.

JOHNS: Reggie Brown, thanks so much. Boy, did you get a lot of attention over this, 15 minutes of fame, for sure, and probably more than that.

BROWN: Tank you very much. Thank you.

JOHNS: CNN political contributor Roland Martin joins us now.

Roland, you watched Reggie Brown's whole routine. Do you think it crossed a line with his Obama jokes?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: OK, we're talking about a comedian. That's what comedians do. They often cross the line.

You know, Joe, every day, when I get a stupid tweet from somebody, I say, congratulations, you have won the stuck on stupid tweet of the day.

This issue right here is truly being stuck on stupid. He's a comedian. He's impersonating President Obama. And, so, clearly, he is going to make fun of himself on the front end, and naturally, he is going to make fun of Republicans.

And so, I don't understand why people are getting upset with a comedian who told jokes. Shocker.

JOHNS: All right. Well, why did people at the RLC get upset? Do you think that audience is different from, say, some other Washington audience or an audience of Democrats or non-partisan or what-have-you?

MARTIN: OK, here's the deal. If you don't want a comedian to go over the line, a line no one can define, don't invite a comedian. And so, look, I've had this battle, this discussion with my folks on Facebook and Twitter. I have some African-Americans who say because of the Republican Party's history, you shouldn't make these jokes.

Look, I love Larry the Cable Guy. "Get 'er done," OK? I'll laugh at his jokes. I might be one of the few black folks in the audience. I can laugh at Jeff Foxworthy.

Wanda Sykes has a joke where she says if the president does great, that's the black side. If he begins to screw up, that's the white side. Wanda Sykes told that joke to millions of people on an HBO stand-up show. And so, are we supposed to get upset with her because she's a comedian?

This is nuts. I think Charlie Davis looks like a fool in that the Republicans got mad because Reggie Brown began to joke about Republicans, but he was impersonating Obama. What do you think he was going to do?

GOP, learn to take a joke. Laugh. It's OK.

JOHNS: I totally agree with you. Larry the Cable Guy is hilarious. But listen --

MARTIN: He is!

JOHNS: -- "The Daily Show" senior black correspondent, at the congressional correspondents dinner in D.C. in March gave quite a performance.

MARTIN: I was there.

JOHNS: Let's listen.


LARRY WILMORE, "THE DAILY SHOW": A lot of people said with the election of Obama, it shows that America is not racist anymore. I don't know if I agree with that. I mean, if we had elected Flava Flav -- I mean, that would show we're past, you know -- no, because Obama, that is a very comfortable level of black.

Be honest, people. Be honest, white people. You are very comfortable with that level. That's the will Smith/Oprah level of black, right? Be honest. Be honest. It is.


JOHNS: So, what is the difference between this guy and Reggie Brown?

MARTIN: Well, there you go. And also, let's be honest, you might have had a few more black people in the room that Larry spoke to than who was at the RLC meeting in New Orleans. But trust me, not that many, Joe. You and I were there, maybe about 20 others.

But it's the same thing -- it is a comedian, and that's what comedians do. And so, I think folks need to lighten up and realize that's what they are paid to do. If you don't want a comedian to cross a line, do not hire them.

And so, this whole notion of -- and look, we also -- let's be honest here, we've got black folks who are saying, hey, not that many black folks were in the audience, the GOP's history. He was impersonating the president. This is what you get.

And if President Obama can joke about Speaker John Boehner's skin color at the White House correspondents dinner, I think we can deal with an Obama impersonator, Reggie Brown, joking about the president and the first lady. Folks, lighten up, please.

JOHNS: Do you buy into the notion, though, that maybe he got kicked out because he actually made jokes about Mitt Romney that the crowd didn't like?

MARTIN: Oh, absolutely! Look, look, here's the deal. OK, I saw the full 20-minute presentation. The so-called "racial" jokes were in the first 9 1/2 minutes of his presentation. Nobody walked out on stage.

And so, when Charlie Davis says, oh, when I heard those, I immediately came right down and we pulled him offstage. No, you didn't, because they didn't pull him off until about the 18-minute mark of his presentation.

So, what, you guys sat around for nine minutes after the racial stuff was made? How convenient, Reggie Brown was pulled when he began to joke about Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, OK? When he did Obama and the "Sanford & Son" photo and the Black History comment and Anthony Weiner, the room was cracking up.

And so, this is just nonsense, simple as that.

JOHNS: Roland Martin, thanks so much. I appreciate you coming in and talking to us.

MARTIN: All right. Get 'er done. JOHNS: Up next, what could be controversial about the "Pledge of Allegiance"? Plenty, if you leave something out. Stay with us for the missing words.


JOHNS: The NBC peacock has a red face today. It's because the network left out part of the "Pledge of Allegiance" during yesterday's coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament. Watch.


CHILDREN: And to the republic for which it stands, one nation --

SOLDIER: Order pull!

CHIDREN: -- with liberty and justice for all.


JOHNS: So, what happened to "one nation under God"? They left it out on purpose twice. Take a look.


CHILDREN: And to the republic, for which it stands --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the greatest golf tournament in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The open championship of the United States of America.

CHILDREN: -- with liberty and justice for all.


JOHNS: NBC started apologizing during the golf tournament and apologized even more today. But is that enough?

Let's ask Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

Tony, what do you think NBC's intent was, doing this?

PETER PERKINS, PRES., FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: I have no idea. I mean, obviously, a lot of people asking that question, what were they trying to get at? Was this a publicity stunt? I don't think you play games with "The Pledge of Allegiance," the national motto.

I mean, look, either it was deliberately done or they need a refresher course over at NBC on American history and sensitivity training to what it means to be an American.

JOHNS: All right. So, they did put out a statement, and this is what it says: "Unfortunately, when producing the piece, which was intended to capitalize on the patriotism of our having our national championship played in our nation's capital -- a decision was made by a small group of people to edit portions of the 'Pledge of Allegiance.' This was a bad decision," they say. They also made an on-air apology.

So, to you, is that the end of the story? Is that enough?

PERKINS: No, I don't think it's the end of the story. I mean, look, they made a deliberate decision to leave out a part of our nation's pledge. What if they would have left out "liberty" or "justice"?

You know, the American people obviously caught this, and they responded to it very quickly and they began to backtrack. I mean, I do think there is a mulligan here for them. That is, if they want to go and do a special, they can do a 30-minute special on why we have "under God" in our pledge, why President Eisenhower and Congress back in 1954 decided to put the pledge -- put that into the pledge, and then two years later, declare our national motto to be "In God We Trust." There's a reason behind that.

And maybe if they want to make amends, they can give the history behind why our pledge is the way it is. And, by the way, Joe, over 90 percent of Americans support the pledge. The last Gallup Poll says 90 percent of adults think it should be that, or 89 percent of adults say it should be that way, 92 percent of kids in schools who say those pledges.

It should remain "one nation under God."

JOHNS: You're talking about the words "under God."

PERKINS: "Under God," absolutely.

JOHNS: Right. On the other hand, though, this sort of comes at a time when a majority of Americans have said in some polls that they don't want government to promote traditional values.

So, the question is, if people don't want the government promoting traditional values, should corporations like NBC be pushing them?

PERKINS: Well, look, I certainly don't think saying our national pledge, "one nation under God," is pushing traditional values. In fact, I think a lot of people have different views of what traditional values actually mean.

But when you start breaking that down, when you look at should we have the pledge -- "one nation under God" in our pledge, that's, like I said, it's an 89 percent issue. When you look at should we have as our motto "In God We Trust," another 85 percent issue.

When you look at, you know, let's define traditional values, you look at marriage -- should marriage be between a man and a woman? Sixty-two percent of Americans say that.

So, when you break it down by subject matter, you have a much different outcome.

JOHNS: And sort of that begs the next question, which is -- you're one of the faces of the conservative movement. How do you think your wing, if you will, of the party is going to fair this election cycle, given this sort of friction over traditional values?

PERKINS: I don't really think there's friction there, Joe. I think what we see here is obviously at the forefront of this debate and of concern is the nation's economy. You know, when you have unemployment bumping up to 10 percent, these are real issues. People care about those. They want those addressed.

But there's also a connectedness, but with the social issues, if you will. I mean, when you look at the breakdown of the family -- that drives up social costs, that drives up the cost of government. And so, when you really begin to look at this, we cannot fix the fiscal problems in our nation unless we strengthen the family.

So, it's not a one or the other, it's a both. And I think you'll see that played out. I think you'll see -- right now, even the Republican contenders all take pretty strong positions in terms of the social issues. So, I don't think you're going to get someone who is hostile to social issues or does not think they should be a part of the equation of fixing what's wrong with America.

JOHNS: We didn't get you into the last segment where we were talking about the comedian getting kicked off --

PERKINS: I always miss being with Roland.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

PERKINS: Roland's my buddy.

JOHNS: So, what do you think of that? Do you want to weigh in on that?

PERKINS: Well, I was there. I was there. I actually spoke after he spoke. Try following him, OK?

JOHNS: Rough, right?

PERKINS: It was -- it was -- he had some funny material. And Roland's right, you know, what do you expect when you invite a comedian? I think there was some pictures that he showed that you did not show of Anthony Weiner, which had been tweeted, which were a little over the edge because there was -- it was a mixed group. Even the media, you know, has not shown all those pictures.

So, I think that kind of ruffled a few feathers. I was in the backroom and people got nervous about that. It was not about the Republican candidates making fun of them.

We -- you know, believe it or not, Republicans have a sense of humor. You've got to dig deep sometimes to find it. But it's there. JOHNS: Right, and one last question we wanted to get while we have you. Herman Cain, Mitt Romney have been among the presidential candidates who refused to sign the Susan B. Anthony antiabortion pledge. Do you think that's going to hurt them in the Republican primary? Do you have to sign that pledge in order to do well?

PERKINS: You know, I think they've made some points about the pledge that bear further investigation in terms of, you know, what it may say, what it may not say or what it may bind them to. I do think it's problematic for them from a political standpoint. I think that, you know, in the Republican primary, to win, you're going to have to be certifiably pro-life.

And so, I do think that this is going to be something that's going to shadow them throughout this primary season. And they've got to somehow fix that. And I'm not sure how they do it without signing the pledge.

JOHNS: Tony Perkins, thanks so much for giving us a little bit of your time. And we will be checking back in with you.

PERKINS: Great. Good to be with you.

JOHNS: Next, what may be Washington's biggest role reversal in the last decade -- Republicans are talking about cutting money for a military operation and a Democrat is taking flak for being an imperial president. What is going on here?


JOHNS: For the first time since the Vietnam era, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is taking a stand on U.S. military policy. The mayors passed a resolution today calling on Washington to speed up ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to, quote, "bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs."

Also today, House GOP sources tell CNN their leaders are planning votes this week on the U.S. military mission in Libya. It seems like a complete role reversal from a decade ago. Bipartisan mayors and Republican lawmakers are questioning a Democratic president's decisions on the use of force.

Has Barack Obama turned into an imperial president?

Let's check in with presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

And, Douglas, let's start with the use of force in Libya.

Listen to Senator Obama in 2007 on the War Powers Act.


THEN-SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: After Vietnam, Congress even wrote a new law, the War Powers Act, to ensure it would not once again be duped into war. No law can make senators read the intelligence that showed the president was overstating the case for war. No law can give the Congress the backbone to stand up to the president.

That's why it's not enough to change parties. It's time to change our politics.


JOHNS: So, Douglas Brinkley, now that he's president, does this no longer apply?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, let's call it the growth index. Barack Obama is learning what it means to be president. This so-called "imperial presidency" issue has been going on now for quite a long time really, as you mention, since Vietnam and Johnson and Nixon.

And every time a president wants to have executive power and do something quickly, you're going to have a course of complaints. Libya has angered people because it was clearly -- whether it's war or not is up for debate. The Obama administration saying it's a NATO action. We're not sending troops in Libya.

And people like the mayors conference are saying we have all these domestic issues. And we're now in three wars. And we elected you to be president largely because of your dissent in Iraq.

So, it's a bit of -- the president is going to have to watch himself on this Libya situation in the coming weeks because there's a growing course of questioning the legality of his action due to the War Powers Act.

JOHNS: Two top lawyers disagreed with Mr. Obama that the War Powers Act did not apply to the conflict in Libya. How does a president get himself into this situation?

BRINKLEY: Well, you know, we used to have foreign policy of a State Department. It was a slower world. Then we created in 1947, a National Security Council. And now, people that we live in this minute by minute world due to technology -- so the president has to make quick decisions, fast decisions, due to -- you saw WikiLeaks. So, imagine a president worrying about leaks.

And so, this sort of idea bringing things to Congress and having huge debates in foreign policy has kind of been ignored really since the 1970s and '80s, and you see President Obama, in my view, just following in the footsteps of George W. Bush or George Herbert Walker Bush or Ronald Reagan and the rest.

When it's about power the president has, and in foreign policy, we more and more keep giving the White House the power to make these decisions more than Congress, and you're always going to have people that feel that it's a constitutional abuse.

JOHNS: Is it isolationism for people to question whether the United States should be in all these conflicts at the same time?

BRINKLEY: Well, look, the president has -- by getting of Osama bin Laden, it's reopening that story, should we be getting out of Afghanistan, for example. You have many senators now calling for us to kind of bring it back home here, that we can't be so extended abroad when we're running up record deficits here in the United States.

So, it's -- but the president, you know, as we're heading into a re-election cycle, he -- nobody can say he's been weak on terrorism. That's for sure. I mean, not only did he get Osama bin Laden, but now, he's after Gadhafi in Libya.

And so, it gives him a kind of tough foreign policy credential in keeping somebody like Secretary Gates for so long of defense and a Republican helped him. You have Petraeus now coming into CIA. He was known as Bush's general.

I think what we're seeing is the so-called the war on terror. There's more continuity in the U.S. government's approach to it that you get in an election cycle when it's Democrat versus Republican trying to score points on each other.

JOHNS: One more flashback for you. Listen to the president on election night.


OBAMA: It's been a long time coming. But, tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.



JOHNS: In this election cycle, do you think it's going to be easy for him to still sell change and hope?

BRINKLEY: Well, he's going to have to say, you know, yes, we did do some things. He's going to have to point to his record, for example, saving of General Motors. It was very risky.

He did pass historic health care legislation, which means a lot particularly down to the Democrats. He's got -- in foreign affairs, as I mentioned, the getting of bin Laden is a big one. People in history will remember it.

But most importantly, if you want change, h did get two Supreme Court nominees in -- meaning you're starting to have a feel of an Obama court. And if some people on the left or liberals are disenchanted with Obama tacking right-center, he can constantly say, look, we're talking about the Supreme Court for the next 20 or 30 years. I've put two Obama people centrist, center-left even, people into the court and you might want me down the line to do another one, too.

JOHNS: All right. I'll cut you off now. Doug Brinkley, thanks so much. Appreciate you coming in. That's all from us tonight. "IN THE ARENA" starts right now.