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Syrian President Denies Crackdown; Rick Perry Goes After President Obama on Religion; Jerry Sandusky Arrested Again

Aired December 7, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, 10:00 here on the East Coast.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with what the dictator of a country says to the parents of a child his own security forces abducted, tortured, and murdered. Syria strongman Bashar al-Assad rules just like his father did, with intimidation and brutality so complete that no one is safe, not even children.

Before you hear what Assad is now saying about 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, you need to see what became of this little boy. We should warn you though it's tough to take. This is what his body looked like when security forces returned Hamza to his parents a month after they arrested him during a protest.

There are burn marks over his body, scars, signs of beatings. His genitals are mutilated. Again, this was a 13-year-old boy, taken off the streets, held for nearly a month, defiled, then dumped on his justifiably and terrorized family.

I want you to see what Bashar al-Assad said when asked by ABC News' Barbara Walters about Hamza, a portion of the interview airing today on "Good Morning America."


BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: You have seen these pictures, have you not?


WALTERS: Is this news to you?

AL-ASSAD: No, no, it's not news. I met with his father, with the father of that child. And he said that he wasn't tortured.


COOPER: He's saying in so many words, who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

An official pathologist attributed what we showed you to ordinary decomposition, as if decomposition leaves burns and scars and signs of castration. As for Assad's claim that Hamza's father told him his son hadn't been tortured, well, what would you say when a dictator who commands an army of torturers asked you that.

In fact according to Al Jazeera the father wanted to press charges until he and his wife got a visit from security police. His wife says they detained him briefly, demanding he tell state media that Hamza was killed by Sunni Muslim extremists.

That's been the regime's line for months. It's Muslim extremists or outside agitators or roving bands of armed Syrian criminals, tens of thousands of them, he says, roaming free in a police state.

Barbara Walters confronted him on that claim.


WALTERS: People went from houses to houses, children were arrested. I saw those pictures.

AL-ASSAD: To be frank, Barbara, I don't think -- how did you know of this? We're here to see. We don't see this.


COOPER: Bear in mind, he said that just days after his propaganda people released video claiming it showed opposition forces committing atrocities. In fact, the video was neither recent nor even taken in Syria. But this was a baby shot dead during a protest over the summer. According to a U.N. appointed investigator, Syrian state forces have killed more than 300 children during the uprising. That's according to investigators.

He says November has been the deadliest month, 56 children killed, 56 children. This is the first chance we've had to see how the dictator Assad responds when confronted with facts. It's a rare opportunity to size up a dictator who barely allows western reporters into Syria, and certainly doesn't allow them to travel freely, let alone answers their questions.


WALTERS: Credible?


WALTERS: You have an ambassador to the United Nations.

AL-ASSAD: Yes. Yes. It's a game you play.


COOPER: Talking about the U.N., a game we play. "Keeping Them Honest," it is not a game, and there are no rules.

In Syria, ambulances and EMTs like this one are targeted -- are targeted. The Red Crescent, in this case, only making them easier to aim at.

In Syria, prisoners in handcuffs are fair game.

Beatings in custody are the norm, not the exception. So are people being taken away in broad daylight, not even put in a police car, but crammed in the trunk, never to be seen again, or, in the case of Hamza al-Khatib, sent home the gruesome way you see him, as a brutal regime's reminder to everyone of what it can do to anyone at any time.

Again, November has been the deadliest month so far for children. In addition, about 4,000 people of all ages have been killed since the uprising began in a crackdown Syria's dictator denies ordering and largely denies is even happening.

A reality check now. I spoke by phone earlier tonight with a member of the opposition we've been talking to throughout this uprising. For his protection, we're only using his first name, Zaidoun.


COOPER: Zaidoun, President Assad says he spoke with Hamza's father and insists that Hamza was not tortured. You've also spoken with Hamza's family. Is Assad right?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Well, he was taken by the security forces, returned after one month with all -- with four bullets in his body and his testicles were cut off, and they went to meet the president, who told them that he personally will follow up the investigation. That was around six or seven months ago. Nothing happened out of that.

COOPER: Assad is also saying that most of the victims of the violence have been Syrian troops and Syrian regime supporters, and he described the videos that we've been seeing for months of security forces opening fire on civilians as -- quote -- "false allegations and distortions of reality." What do you say to that?

ZAIDOUN: This is absolutely not true. If he's saying that, all the videos shot by -- I mean, what do you call, activists, that are using their mobile phones are faked. Then, OK, fine, let the media go inside.

Let CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, everybody go inside the country and let us know what is going on.

This is absolutely not true. Who is killing right now in Syria is the security forces. And unfortunately supported with -- also with the military.

COOPER: And we've repeatedly, of course, requested visas, obviously, and confronted the Syrian ambassador to the U. N. , Syrian ambassador to the United States, saying let us into the country. He claims -- they claim, and they lie and say, well, journalists are free to travel, but we all know from reporters who have been there, that they're not free to travel without government escorts everywhere they go.

Do you believe the president at all when he says that he's not behind any orders to kill or torture demonstrators?

ZAIDOUN: This is not possible. This is not true. We know that he is ruling the country. He's been ruling the country for the past 12 years after he seceded his father, who ruled the country for 30 years. And if he is not in charge, then who the hell is in charge? And if he is not in charge and he cannot control this, then, forgive me, he has to find somebody else to rule the country then.

COOPER: Zaidoun, continue to stay safe. Thank you for talking.

ZAIDOUN: You're very welcome, Anderson.


COOPER: Earlier I also spoke with Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.


COOPER: What did you make of the way the president seemed in this? I mean, he can't be that delusional or that disconnected from what's going on?

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, what's really interesting, I know you are always -- there is something about dictators and rogues that somehow puzzles you and appeals to you, which is how normal they look. They wear nice suits, they speak well.

Look, Bashar al-Assad is a very -- on the surface of it, is a very well-mannered man. He's speaking good English. This is his third language because he was educated in Arabic and French before he was educated in English. He really -- he really believes that in many ways he's a man much misunderstood. And the decision to go public, if you will, the decision to go to Barbara Walters, to bring Barbara Walters and talk to her -- you bring Barbara Walters because, in fact, as we know, Bashar al-Assad is a creature of the order of power in the Arab world.

She had once interviewed the likes of Anwar Sadat, Yasser Arafat. So you come because you actually believe you have a good story to tell, and you tell an incredible story. And here you are the dictator, you are basically almost the owner of this country, Syria. But now you disown the forces of order, you disown the killers, and you make yourself, you know, the innocent man on the scene.

COOPER: Right. I mean, he's essentially saying, no one really controls the army, no one's in charge, that I'm not the one making -- dictating this stuff. He's a dictator.

AJAMI: Right.

COOPER: He just says, I'm the president. He's a dictator. His father was a dictator before him, killed thousands of people. It's as if he's living in an alternate universe. I mean, he can't actually believe that, though?

AJAMI: Well, there's a fraudulent slip where he says, I don't own the country. He owns the country. And he owns not only the country, he also now owns this horrible massacre that's going on in Syria.

COOPER: The blood is on his hands.

AJAMI: Absolutely. And you know there is one reporter who went and made it to the epicenter of the Syrian rebellion now, this torment in the city of Homs and spent four days there. And he -- this reporter basically made a very interesting analogy between Homs today and Sarajevo. It is a bit like Sarajevo. It has become almost like a civil war. That city is divided. There are Alawi neighborhoods, there are Sunni neighborhoods. The killing goes across -- over that fault line --

COOPER: This was the BBC reporter.


COOPER: We had him on the show talking about it.


COOPER: Because it was extraordinary what he did, he was able to sneak in.


COOPER: And he really saw this -- the arming of opposition groups, now arms being smuggled in from Lebanon, the threat of civil war.

Does Assad -- I mean, he seems to project this image that he's -- that things are stable, that he's very -- that he's very safe.

AJAMI: Right.

COOPER: Is he that safe?

AJAMI: See, I genuinely think that Bashar al-Assad thinks that the laws of gravity don't apply to him.

And I also think that he believes what happened to Gadhafi in Tripoli and what happened to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and what happened to Hosni Mubarak does not apply to him. He believe he has his own community. He believes that he has the Alawis behind him.

He believes that he's really immune to this fury and he believe that his community will really actually fight for him and keep him in power. And I think in this kind of -- you know, in this parallel universe, as you described it, it makes perfect sense for Bashar al- Assad to think he could ride out the storm. For example, the Arab League imposes sanctions on him. Guess what he says? He said, we've had 35 years, 40 years of sanctions. We can live with sanctions.

The Arab League again, in a way, tries to corner him, he has nothing but contempt for the Arab League. The United Nations Human Rights Council issues a report accusing him of war crimes. What does he say? He has no regard for the United Nations.

And when pressed, does he not think much of the United Nations? He thinks -- he says, we only play the game that we are members of the United Nations. This is a man who is really now gone rogue, if you will. The Syrian state has really now left the decent and conservative order of nations.

COOPER: Fouad Ajami, thank you.

AJAMI: Thank you very much.


COOPER: Well, let us know what you think of the Syrian dictator's new claims. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight. On Google+, add us to your circles as well.

Just ahead tonight, Rick Perry says that President Obama is waging war on religious traditions, including Christmas. Question, though, did he get his facts straight before he cast the first stone? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also tonight, new -- new accusers and new charges in the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Jerry Sandusky arrested again in connection with alleged abuses as recent as three years ago. Chilling details on this one, including an alleged victim who says his cry for help went unanswered.

Let's also check with Isha. See what she's following -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, nothing can bring back a murdered 7-year-old girl, but tonight authorities say they're one step closer to justice. We'll tell you about the arrest they made and the suspect they're holding -- that and much more when 360 continues.


COOPER: "Crime & Punishment": Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and jailed today on new charges of child sexual abuse, allegations made by two new accusers, bringing the number of alleged victims to 10.

Like the others, the two new accusers met Sandusky through the charity he founded for underprivileged kids, that's according to the grand jury report, which describes in pretty graphic detail their allegations, including rape.

Victim nine is now 18 years old. He says he was 11 or 12 when he first met Sandusky, testified that Sandusky abused him between 2004 and 2008, just three years ago. Victim 10 was 10 years old when he became involved with Sandusky's Second Mile charity.

What they described in the grand jury report is incredibly disturbing.

Jason Carroll joins me now from State College, Pennsylvania.

Jason, you've read the new report. What are some of the details of what happened to victims nine and 10, allegedly.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as you say, some of the details are really disturbing, especially those coming from the man who was identified as victim number nine. He says that when he was a boy, Sandusky allegedly raped him at least 16 times. Many of the assaults, Anderson, he says happened in the basement of Sandusky's home, which was turned into a bedroom and a play area.

He says that whenever he came over to Sandusky's home, that's where he had to sleep, even though there were other bedrooms in the house. He also says that's where he had to eat. He also says that when he was at the home, he knew Sandusky's wife was there on many occasions, but he says she never came down into that bedroom area.

I just want to read to you one particular segment from the grand jury report in reference to this. It says, "The victim testified that on at least one occasion he screamed for help, knowing that Sandusky's wife was upstairs, but no one ever came to help him."

Now switching over now to victim number 10, victim number 10 also testified that he spent a number of times downstairs in that basement as well, and that's where some of the assaults took place with him as well.

Let me just read you one segment of the report in reference to victim number 10, Anderson. It says, "Sandusky asked the boy to perform oral sex on him and victim 10 did so. Sandusky frequently told him -- told the boy that he loved him."

Some very chilling details coming out of this new grand jury report -- Anderson.

COOPER: So, Jason, are these people who came forward after the other charges were revealed? Is this a new grand jury that was impaneled?

CARROLL: That is correct. And in fact, in -- with the case of victim number 10, he called in on a tip line. And what we're hearing are some of the -- some of the similar allegations that we heard in the previous grand jury report.

And you'll remember, Anderson, as you know, that grand jury report outlined eight alleged victims. And some of the similarities that we're hearing has to do with what prosecutors called grooming. That process of giving the boys gifts, giving them money, gaining their trust. And then that would eventually lead to these sexual assaults. That's what we saw with the allegations with the previous eight victims, and that's what we're seeing now with these two new victims, once again, identified as victim number nine and victim number 10 -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jason, appreciate the reporting.

Sandusky, of course, has said repeatedly he's innocent. After his arrest today, he was unable to post bail, which was set at $250,000. He remains in jail tonight.

Joining me now, though, is senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, also former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin, from "In Session" on our sister network, truTV.

So these are -- these are new charges, they impaneled a new grand jury. I get -- I mean, will there -- do we know if they're going to -- are there more people out there who are going to come forward?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We'll see. I mean, you know, these cases often have what are called superseding indictments. You have one set of charges and that leads to more charges -- I mean, this is -- I mean, remember, we're talking about 10 people. That's a lot of people to abuse.

COOPER: So will these be separate trials?

TOOBIN: Probably not. I mean, they usually just do them together if they're the same sort of general set of charges. But that is one of the many pre-trial issues that will have to be dealt with down the line.

COOPER: Were you surprised that he was given bail?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I was surprised he was given bail. I mean, bottom line is, we're talking about 10 victims, in my view, a serial rapist who's clearly a threat to the community. I think he's a flight risk. And so in situations like that when the judge considers these types of facts, you remand him back into custody with no bail.

I think it's certainly better than what we've seen before, because before he had unsecured bail, I think $100,000.

COOPER: Right.

HOSTIN: So now you've got 250, you got an ankle monitor, which is great. He can't be next to any of the victims, he can't contact any of the victims, he can't be next to children. So those are all good things.

COOPER: And has to stay away from the Penn State campus.

HOSTIN: That's right. But bottom line is he should have been remanded. TOOBIN: Although, you know, in a perverse way, I think the prosecution benefited from the fact he was out on bail because he gave all these ridiculous interviews and made all these incriminating statements.

HOSTIN: Well, that's true.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: Now that he's locked up, he can't talk to Bob Costas anymore.

COOPER: Well, also, those interviews seem to have angered some of the victims from the original case. I talked to the -- showed the mother of victim number one, or alleged victim number one, who said hearing that interview made her son all the more determined to move forward with prosecution.

Victim nine, now, is saying that Sandusky's wife was present in the house when some of this abuse took place. If that is, in fact, the case, could she be held accountable?

TOOBIN: I mean, the question would be, is she aiding and abetting, which is a crime. It's rarely -- it's rarely prosecuted in a circumstance like this. It's also complicated because there's the marital privilege. She couldn't be forced to testify against him.

And based on what's in the grand jury report, I don't think she's legally in danger of being indicted. But morally, I mean, just to think about what it is like to be a human being and hear a kid screaming in the basement and not doing anything, that's a --

COOPER: It's hard to believe. I mean, it's hard to believe that somebody would --


TOOBIN: It's just -- I mean, the whole thing is hard to believe.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: But that alone is just a really --

COOPER: You know, we've heard some about the statute of limitations. What is the reasoning for there to be even statute of limitations on -- with child sexual abuse cases? Because we know so many kids who go through this, it's not until much later in life that they're actually able to kind of think about, talk about it, come forward about it.

Why -- will there statute of limitations?

HOSTIN: Well, I think it's really flawed. And you see at least federally there's the movement now after Adam -- the Adam Walsh case that there really is no statute of limitations when it comes to these first-degree sex crimes against children. I think all the states are reviewing it, Anderson, but the bottom line, I think, the theory is memories fade, witnesses don't come forward.

You don't want someone to be accused of something many, many, many years down the line. It's more difficult to defend one's self. But I really do think that the movement has been towards abolishing, really, statute of limitations when it comes to child sex crimes. And I think that's the right way to go.

TOOBIN: I actually think abolition would be -- would be too great a step. I mean, there is a concern.


TOOBIN: No, I mean, I think there's a concern about fairness.


COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: You know, if someone said to you, well, where were you January 23, 1980 --

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, how would you go about proving where you were --

HOSTIN: But these are very different cases because children, when they're abused, it's shrouded in secrecy, they're uncomfortable.

COOPER: Well, it's a different situation.

HOSTIN: But they don't want to come forward.

COOPER: Obviously, there's the -- there's the children's perspective, but then there's the potential that somebody could be accused of something --

TOOBIN: You know, it's important to keep in mind that sometimes these people are innocent. And they have a right to defend themselves and if it's just too long ago to get phone records, to get credit card records --

COOPER: So that's the thinking behind having a statue --

HOSTIN: That's the thinking behind it.

TOOBIN: That's the thinking that it's just unfair.

COOPER: OK. The -- there's going to be a preliminary hearing on Tuesday that's already been scheduled. What comes out of that? What is that -- what happens there? TOOBIN: I think it's going to be a pretty big deal. I mean, all these victims are going to have to testify. Now --

COOPER: So they're going to review all the charges there?

TOOBIN: They're going to review all the charges. And the standard is very low. I mean, all the government has to prove is probable cause. And it's essentially -- essentially it's going to be discovery for the defense. The defense is going to be able to hear the witnesses testify --

COOPER: But the witnesses actually have to be there?

TOOBIN: Absolutely.


TOOBIN: As far as I understand it, under Pennsylvania law, they're going to have to be there and they're all making plans to be there and it's going to be quite a -- it's going to be quite a scene.


TOOBIN: When you consider the number of charges, it's just incredible.

COOPER: Well, we'll be watching, obviously.

Jeff Toobin, Sunny Hostin, thank you very much.

Up next: a major development in the sex abuse investigation at Syracuse University., a really fascinating day. The DA announced today he will not charge former associate basketball coach Bernie Fine with sexually abusing two former ball boys because of the statute of limitations.

After the announcement, he sat down for an exclusive interview with Gary Tuchman and shared new details about the case. You'll want to hear that.

Also tonight, police make an arrest in the murder of a 7-year-old Georgia girl -- how they caught the suspected child killer when we continue.


COOPER: A 360 exclusive now: new information tonight about the Bernie Fine investigation. Prosecutors said today that they will not charge the former Syracuse University basketball coach with sexually abusing two former ball boys, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, but only because the statute of limitations has expired.

The district attorney, William Fitzpatrick, made a point of saying that both men's allegations were credible. He called the taped phone conversation between Davis and Fine's wife compelling evidence. You heard that on this program. He also left the door wide open for new charges.


BILL FITZPATRICK, ONONDAGA COUNTY, NEW YORK, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I can't bring Bernie Fine to justice for what he did to Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, and if there's other victims out there, we'll certainly pursue them with the fullest extent of the law.


COOPER: Well, federal authorities are still investigating allegations brought by a third accuser, named Zach Tomaselli. But Fitzpatrick said his office has turned over exculpatory evidence that would support Fine's defense in that case.

In a statement, Fine's attorney said -- quote -- "It appears now that there is proof that Tomaselli fabricated this allegation. The incredible damage that Tomaselli has inflicted on Mr. Fine cannot be overstated. We are hopeful that federal authorities will soon come to the same conclusion regarding Tomaselli's lack of credibility."

All from the start of Tomaselli's charges, there have been questions about whether or not he was telling the truth. His own father, point-blank, said he was not.

After his news conference, District Attorney Fitzpatrick gave an exclusive interview to our Gary Tuchman. Gary joins me now.

Gary, why is the district attorney so sure that Bobby Davis and his stepbrother are telling the truth?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, he thinks the stepbrothers' words are very credible. And he also thinks that audiotape that we heard with Laurie Fine is devastating. But then we learned this today. And that is there is a witness whose identity is being protected. She's now about 40 years old, but back then she was 16 years old and she was an au pair in the Fines' house. And she heard and saw a lot.

Listen to what the DA told us about that.


TUCHMAN: Is your impression that the au pair is convinced that Bernie Fine had a sexual relationship with Bobby Davis, while she was at that house?

FITZPATRICK: No question about it. She all kinds of things that -- I mean, she didn't physically witness any molestation. But clearly body language, affect, the way they talked to each other, the way they acted around each other, the conversations she had with Laurie Fine. There's no question that she felt that.

TUCHMAN: Like, for example, when it came to -- when it came to Bernie, what did she say about the way Bernie Fine acted that made her know that they were having a sexual --

FITZPATRICK: The way they would do things, the way they would watch TV, the way they would eat food together, the way they would suddenly disappear together.

TUCHMAN: And what did Laurie Fine say to her? FITZPATRICK: Laurie Fine had numerous conversations with her, and the gist of the -- the gist of the conversations were, I don't have the right parts for Bernie. And clearly implicating -- and you recognize the hearsay implications of this, but clearly implicating that Laurie Fine was of the opinion that Bernie Fine was gay, and that they were leading two separate lives.

TUCHMAN: So the --

FITZPATRICK: Under the same house.

TUCHMAN: So the au pair who've worked there said that Laurie Fine talked to her, a 16-year-old girl, about how she didn't have the parts for her husband?

FITZPATRICK: You know, it was -- it was difficult to listen to, but that's exactly right.


COOPER: That's amazing. Gary, are there any other witnesses of Fine's alleged abuse who were in the Fine house?

TUCHMAN: Yes, the district attorney told me that this au pair who he was talking about said there was another girl who worked in the house, doing some housekeeping duties, and they say that particular girl actually saw Bernie Fine with Bobby Davis in a compromising position in the house.

As we speak, the DA is still trying to locate this girl, who is now a woman, to talk to her about that.

COOPER: I -- I also understand the district attorney actually met with Bernie Fine's attorneys before he was fired.

What was that all about?

TUCHMAN: Well, that's exactly right.

The -- the DA went to the attorney's office representing Bernie Fine, and this is before this all went down, while he was still the associate head coach of the Syracuse University Orange. And he said, "Listen, I want to cut a deal with you and with Bernie Fine."

Now, he knew the statute of limitations had expired, but the D.A. is telling us he wanted to cut a deal, because he wanted to keep Bernie Fine away from young people.


WILLIAM FITZPATRICK, ONONDAGA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Before the feds got involved in this case, I met with Bernie Fine's lawyer, and I -- with Bobby Davis' permission, I suggested the following scenario. I said, "Look, I have proof that Bobby Davis is telling the truth." The lawyer didn't seem surprised by that. Bernie Fine needs to acknowledge that Bobby's telling the truth. That's important. Bernie Fine can then say all the lawyerly-like things he wants, "I'm going into counseling, I want to save my marriage," et cetera, et cetera. That's irrelevant to me. He's got to affirm those things, and he's got to resign from his position at Syracuse University with the knowledge that we're going to continue to investigate him.

And the lawyer and I, you know, went back and forth, and we were fairly close to a resolution with those -- those stipulations.


TUCHMAN: We've asked Bernie Fine's attorneys their reaction to what the district attorney just said, and we have not yet received a response -- Anderson.

COOPER: So he said they were close to those stipulations. Do we know why they didn't take the next step and actually make that deal?

TUCHMAN: Because the next day, after this conversation, the tape became public, and the university made the immediate decision to fire Bernie Fine.

COOPER: Hmm, interesting. All right. Gary, appreciate it. Great reporting, as always.

There's a lot more we're following tonight. Isha Sesay is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, there's been an arrest in the murder of that 7- year-old girl in Georgia. The suspect is 20-year-old Ryan Brunn, a maintenance worker at the apartment complex where Jorelys Rivera lived and apparently was killed. Her body was found Monday in a Dumpster at the complex. Authorities say she died of blunt force trauma to the head, was stabbed, and sexually assaulted.

The Chicago federal judge sentenced Rod Blagojevich to prison for 14 years. The former Illinois governor was convicted on corruption charges, including trying to sell President Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. Before learning his punishment, he apologized, saying he was, quote, "unbelievably sorry."

On Wall Street, stocks ended mostly on the upside with investors betting European Union leaders can find the solution to the region's debt crisis when they meet tomorrow and Friday. The Dow rose 46 points. The S&P gained 2 points, and the NASDAQ almost unchanged.

And at Pearl Harbor, thousands gathered to remember this date that lives in infamy. Today marks the 70th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack that launched the U.S. into World War II. Two thousand four hundred people lost their lives in the raid. A lot of painful memories on this day.

COOPER: Isha, thank you. Still ahead, "Keeping Them Honest." Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry claiming President Obama is waging a war on Christmas. We're going to check the claim against the fact, and against the governor's past statements.

Also ahead, after the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, the band's director was put on notice he was being fired. Well, tonight, university officials have changed their minds.


COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report now. The focus, Rick Perry, who's attacking President Obama for waging, in his words, a war on religious traditions, especially Christmas. And while he's taking verbal potshots at the White House, he's also on tape doing precisely what he accuses the president of. He first launched the attack with a campaign ad in Iowa.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian. But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.


COOPER: Well, there's a whole bag of insinuations in the ad, some of them uglier than others, including the suggestion that there's a war being waged against Christianity and Christmas.

Today on "THE SITUATION ROOM," Governor Perry doubled down on the Christmas front.


PERRY: What we're seeing from the left, of which I would suggest to you that President Obama is a member of the left, and substantial left-of-center beliefs, that you can't even have a Christmas party.


COOPER: Let's just state some facts. There are millions of Christians in America, left, right, and center. President Obama and his wife are Christian. And in addition to many Christmas trees inside the White House itself, there's a national Christmas tree outside. And at the lighting ceremony just last week, there was an overtly Christmas and Christ-themed message from the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable among the cattle and the sheep. But this was just not any child. Christ's birth made the angels rejoice, and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God's love for us. And he grew up to become a leader with a servant's heart, who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful, that we should love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

So on behalf of Malia and Sasha and Michelle and our grandmother in chief, Marion, I wish you all a happiest holiday season, the merriest of Christmases. God bless you all, and may God bless the United States of America.


COOPER: Now, we should point out, Governor Perry, too, is Christian. It's not our place to question the sincerity of his faith, the president's, or anyone else's. But keep in mind, in this case not only does Governor Perry not have his facts straight about the president, he himself doesn't always practice what he preaches. Here's the governor's Christmas message to Texans last year. It's posted on his official Web site, and it begins like this.


PERRY: The holidays are a special time of year to pause and take stock of the many blessings we enjoy. Not just as human beings, but as Americans, Texans. Of all those blessings, I offer that the most precious is our freedom.


COOPER: Well, that's how it begins. Here's how it ends.


PERRY: So during this holiday season, remember to thank a first responder or salute a veteran for their service and pray for God's protection on them and their families. God bless you, and through you, may he continue to bless the great state of Texas.


COOPER: Well, nowhere in the message does the governor mention Christmas. In fact, he simply calls it the holiday season. In fact, he simply calls it the holiday season. The governor seems to be using the very same language he, himself, is now railing against the president.

So Rick Perry may be stirring the controversy today. We'll talk more about that shortly. But it's Newt Gingrich who continues to be stirring likely voters.

New CNN/"TIME"/ORC polling gives him a 23-point lead among Florida Republicans. Mitt Romney, the only other candidate in double digits.

In Iowa, Gingrich now up by 13. Ron Paul, Mitt Romney in a statistical tie for second place. And Governor Perry with 9 percent support. Gingrich is destroying Governor Romney in South Carolina, a 23- point lead there. Even in New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney's practically the hometown boy, Gingrich has now moved to within nine percentage points.

To talk about the Gingrich surge and Rick Perry's play for conservative Christians with our political panel, former Bush administration press secretary, Ari Fleischer. You can follow him on Twitter, @AriFleischer. Also, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Hilary Rosen, who happens to be in the White House briefing room tonight.

Ari, so I know Governor Perry is going to try to win over evangelical voters. What do you make of this, kind of the war on Christmas argument he's now making?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, if you look at Republican primaries, there's a history of candidates going to the state of Iowa, particularly, and making an appeal on the basis of being a Christian.

Mike Huckabee did that four years ago. We all remember the advertising he ran, where the window pane had a cross. It looked like a cross, some people said. And of course, Pat Robertson ran a campaign focused on the evangelical vote in Iowa.

So there's a long history of Republicans trying to play up their Christian credentials in the state of Iowa with the caucus-goers because of the evangelical vote there.

COOPER: Hilary, incidentally, you were at the White House Christmas party tonight. What do you make of Governor Perry's suggestions that there's some kind...

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And there are Christmas trees everywhere here at the White House, Anderson.

COOPER: What do you make of the suggestion that there's somehow a war against Christmas being waged by the Obama administration?

ROSEN: You know, I'm not that casual about it the way Ari is, because I just find it offensive that Rick Perry would sort of blame the president for something that is so deeply held in our Constitution, that if you want to be president of this country, you better understand the separation of church and state.

He -- President Obama has nothing to do with whether local communities can celebrate Christmas. Courts make those decisions, and they've ruled multiple times on the separation.

You know, and President Obama, I think, walks as far to the line as Rick Perry does in celebrating Christmas and celebrating his own Christianity. And it's just offensive.

But, really, I think the fact that you read those polls about how far down Rick Perry is, and Newt Gingrich is rising as the anti- Romney, that's really what this is about. He's just looking for anything to get attention, and, you know, taking on some inflammatory position is his latest stab at it.

COOPER: Ari, let's talk about these new poll numbers, particularly for Gingrich and for Romney. How significant do you think are these numbers? How real are they?

FLEISCHER: Well, we haven't seen any real numbers yet, at least any enduring numbers in this Republican primary. Every time somebody goes up, they come down again. So the number that still stands out at me is some 60 to 70 percent of the voters said they were undecided. They can change their minds. So it remains volatile.

I think with Newt Gingrich, you're always one step away from it becoming even more volatile. That's up to Newt.

So Anderson, it still remains a topsy-turvy Republican race. You're starting to get the sense, though, that it could much more likely be a Newt/Romney long sprint than anything else. But I'm still not willing to make any hard predictions. It's just that kind of cycle for Republicans.

COOPER: I just keep -- I'm just stunned at how people had written off Newt Gingrich a few weeks or months ago, and now he's everywhere.

Hilary, I mean, obviously, most people are focused on Gingrich and Mitt Romney as the two front-runners. How worried should Mitt Romney be?

ROSEN: Well, I think he should be really worried. And maybe nationally, 60 percent of the voters are undecided, but in Iowa, there's a much smaller number of undecided voters. And same within New Hampshire and North -- South Carolina. And Gingrich is surging.

But you know, we're going to get our first test of that on Saturday night, and what is Romney's strategy going to be? Is he going to try and take down Newt Gingrich, or is he going to try and actually do what Gingrich is doing, which is really focus attacks on President Obama?

COOPER: Which is what Gingrich has been very effective at in all of the debates, by trying to kind of be the elder statesman, above the fray. And he's had the luxury of doing that, because he hasn't been in the top tier of candidates. But now that he is, I wonder, can he stay kind of above the fray?

ROSEN: Well, my guess is that if Romney starts attacking Gingrich, Gingrich is going to take the bait. And that's always going to be, you know, the risk with Newt Gingrich, is does he take the bait, in any fight?

COOPER: Ari, what do you think?

FLEISCHER: And Anderson, he will. I will predict to you that Mitt Romney is very shortly about to take the gloves off and go after Newt Gingrich. And he's going to hit him on policy. But you've already saw the advertisement that he's run, which really plays up his personal background, the relationship with his wife, et cetera.

I think you're going to the see a tougher and feistier Mitt Romney literally in the days ahead. And who knows how that's going to play? Newt Gingrich has said he's going to stay positive; he won't attack any of his rivals. We'll see about that, too. Newt doesn't have a record for staying silent when things are said about him. He's a record for being rather temperamental about it. It's going to be a test of Newt's abilities now to show what kind of candidate he is for president.

COOPER: It's going to be fascinating. Ari Fleischer, I appreciate it, and Hillary, sorry to interrupt your party. Thanks for being on the air.

ROSEN: It's all good.

COOPER: All right. What's going to happen to the band director at Florida A&M University in the wake of the hazing scandal that allegedly led to the death of a 26-year-old drum major? We have the latest on that.

And new details about what really happened on that American Airlines flight that got Alec Baldwin booted off. The airline has its own version; Baldwin has his own.

And find out why Steven Colbert has landed a spot on "The RidicuList."


SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News Bulletin."

The band director at Florida A&M University has been put on administrative leave with pay during the investigation into the death of drum major Robert Champion, allegedly from hazing.

The director originally had been suspended with termination scheduled for December 22.

The FAA says Randy Babbitt co-piloted a government jet a day and a half after arrest on a drunk driving charge. Babbitt was arrested Saturday and flew Monday. It doesn't seem he violated any rules by doing so since he's not been convicted of a DWI.

And new details tonight about Alec Baldwin's airplane incident. American Airlines says Baldwin was kicked off a flight because he wouldn't turn his cell phone off, was rude to the crew, and slammed the bathroom door. Baldwin has a somewhat different take on the issue. An Twitter Baldwin wrote, "There's always United. Last flight with American. Where retired Catholic school gym teachers from the 1950s find jobs as flight attendants."

Now, back to Anderson.


Let' check in. Erin, what's up?

JERRY SANDUSKY: Anderson, I know you've been talking a lot about the latest developments in the Jerry Sandusky case. We're going to delve more into Bernie Fine, the assistant basketball coach at Syracuse. District attorney today saying that the victims are credible, that what they had to say would result in the arrests, perhaps not the conviction, but the arrest of Bernie Fine. But he's not being arrested. And the D.A. is not prosecuting the case. The reason is a statute of limitations. So we went and looked at this issue. Statute of limitations around this country for child abuse. We have the bottom line on that tonight.

And we're always going to -- special event tonight. We have a new presidential candidate announcing their candidacy on our program. Lucy, you know, people are looking for some alternatives out there, and we have one tonight, Anderson. Back to you.

COOPER: All right And coming up, Steven Colbert does a hilarious report on a story that's near and dear to "The RidicuList," and it sounds very, very familiar. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about you, Colbert.


DALY: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding Steven Colbert. I've got to do it.

Now, look, we love "The Colbert Report" around here, so some of us were watching two nights ago when in a recurring and brilliant segment called "Mysteries of the Ancient Unknown," Colbert did a story about what's really going on at the Denver International airport.


STEVEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE COLBERT REPORT. Strange art, mysterious architecture, signs. What is going on in Denver? No one has been able to crack the code. Until now.

WILLIAM TAPLEY, CRITIC OF DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Phallic symbol. Phallic, phallic, phallic. Phallic shaped. Somebody's butt.

Phallic symbol.


COOPER: Hang on! You mean to tell me there's a guy who sees phallic symbols at the Denver International Airport? Hmm. It sounds similar, for some reason. Tell me more, "Colbert Report".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not understand that I had this gift. It's a gift from the Holy Spirit.

COLBERT (voice-over): A gift that has earned, happily, not one, but two self-bestowed titles.


TAPLEY: William Tapley, also known as the Third Eagle of the apocalypse and the co-profit of the end times.


COOPER: OK. Now I remember why this rings a bell. Roll it.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight we're adding a gentleman by the name of William Tapley. But you probably know him by his other names.

TAPLEY: I'm your host, William Tapley, also known as the Third Eagle of the apocalypse and the co-prophet of the end times.

COOPER: It's quite a resume, isn't it?


COOPER: Did you happen to notice the date on that clip? June. That's when I put William Tapley on "The RidicuList," June.

And I hate to say this, Mr. Colbert, but you, sir, are about six months tardy to this particular phallus party. Let's watch some more "Colbert Report," shall we?


COLBERT: Just look at what Tapley has found, starting with the airport's demon horse. See if you can spot the hidden phallus here.

TAPLEY: Tack a closer look at the mane on this blue demon horse. These sure look like phallic symbols to me.


COOPER: And let's roll these crusty old "RidicuList" from six months ago again.


TAPLEY: Let's take a closer look at the mane on this blue demon horse. These sure look like phallic symbols to me. I don't know. What do you think, Mr. Cooper?


COOPER: That's right. You heard it right. He said, "Mr. Cooper." Colbert conveniently left that part out. I did this story three different times six months ago on "The RidicuList," and some of the video from the Colbert report, some of the video they used came from the Third Eagle's video responses to my "RidicuList." I like to call them "RidiCuli," but you get the point.

In one such video the Third Eagle points out that the baggage area is shaped like a phallus. Let's see some more "Colbert Report," shall we?


COLBERT: And there's more!

TAPLEY: What do you suppose this street name is that runs right down the center? You guessed it. That's Penia Boulevard.

COLBERT: You're kidding?

TAPLEY: No, I am not kidding.


COOPER: And now some more "RidicuList," if you can find that tape. It was just so long ago.


COOPER: It's not just the phallus-shaped terminal and the low- hanging baggage are that now concerns him. It's also salacious- sounding street names.

TAPLEY: What do you suppose this street name is that runs right down the center? You guessed it, that's Penia Boulevard.

COOPER: I'm sorry.


COOPER: Now, Mr. Colbert, I was going to let this whole thing slide, but as long as we're dredging up old stories, I seem to remember something you accused me of back in April.


COLBERT: You, sir, are nothing but a thief! Because your segment, "The RidicuList," is a clear rip-off of my "On-Notice" board. And for stealing my idea, I am putting you and your "RidicuList" on my "AbsurduChart." All right. There you go. Boom!


COOPER: Who's the thief now, sir? Who is the thief now? I await your response. Let's see. It's December. It takes you guys about six months. What the heck, let's just say, end of summer. Give you all some time to enjoy the long July 4 weekend. Yes, it's true, I still want to be your best friend, but until then you are hereby on notice. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I went there on "The RidicuList."

Hey, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.