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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Obama Targets Gas Prices; Interview With Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor

Aired April 17, 2012 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

It is 10:00 here on the East Coast. We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with President Obama doing what presidents do in election years when they have got proposals they know will win votes, but don't have the votes to pass it in Congress. They try to pass them anyway, even if they expect them to fail, sometimes especially if they expect them to fail, just to make a point.

Two examples of that tonight, one on taxes, one on gas prices, in which the president appears to be doing what just a couple weeks ago he mocked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This has been going on for years now. And every time prices start to go up, especially in an election year, politicians dust off their three-point plans for $2 gas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: President Obama, that was March 15 mocking challenger Newt Gingrich. Today he wasn't promising $2 a gallon gas. He wasn't dusting off a three-point plan. He did, however, unveil a five-point plan to lower prices by cracking down on speculators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We can't afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage and driving prices higher only to flip the oil for a quick profit. We can't afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions while millions of American families get the short end of the stick. That's not the way the market should work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, "Keeping Them Honest," though, not even his own advisers could say how this would affect gasoline prices. Brian Deese of the National Economic Council telling "Politico" -- quote -- "I'm not going to speculate about this provision or any other provision and the specific effect it would have on the price at the pump." The proposed legislation is unlikely to get through the Republican-controlled House. Additionally, President Obama is pitching it after spending the last few months arguing this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to high gas prices. There's no silver bullet. What I have also said about gas prices is that there is no silver bullet. There are no short-term silver bullets when it comes to gas prices. There are no silver bullets, short-term, when it comes to gas prices. There's no silver bullet for avoiding spikes in gas prices every year. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now in fairness, President Obama has not forgotten that line. He used a variation of it. Today he's not promising his plan will fix everything. There are a lot of economists, though, of all political stripes, who don't think it can fix much of anything. As we've been reporting there's not much a president, Democrat or Republican, can do to change prices at the pump.

But it hasn't stopped any of them from trying to dodge the political pain from high gas prices while prescribing unlikely cures. President Obama talks about silver bullet and quick fixes, here's George W. Bush using almost identical language.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, if there was a magic wand to wave, I would be waving it, of course. It's -- you know, I strongly believe it's in our interest that we reduce gas prices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, like President Obama, President Bush downplayed any easiest solutions to the problem. Then two months later the proposed one legislation to expand offshore drilling. Legislation that could not get through Congress but could and did become a large campaign issue.

President Obama seems to be doing pretty much the exact same thing. And as we said at the top, he's been following the same playbook on taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote the yeas are 51, and the nays are 45. Three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that's the so-called Buffett bill winning a majority votes in the Senate but not the 60 needed to proceed. Every Republican but one voted to block it. Every Democrat but one voted for it. The bill would have required people earning more than $1 million a year to pay 30 percent in taxes.

Now President Obama has talked up the idea in several different ways. First, that it would put a dent in the debt. But when a congressional study revealed it might only make a tiny dent, the White House changed course. Then last week on a conference call, Jason Furman of the principal -- the principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, the White House said it was -- quote -- "Never our plan to bring the deficit down and get the debt under control significantly through the Buffett Rule."

President Obama later said that even though the legislation wouldn't do enough to cut the deficit, it would help the economy grow. Many economists are skeptical about that. What is clear, though, CNN polling showed the bill enjoyed 72 percent support among Americans, 53 percent support among Republicans.

Where it did not have enough support, though, was in the Senate. Now the White House expected that, pushed the bill anyhow, Republicans, as anticipated, as I said, blocked it, and just moments after the vote, the White House put out this statement from President Obama.

Quote: "Tonight Senate Republicans voted to block the Buffett Rule choosing once again to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest few Americans at the expense of the middle class."

So was the White House playing politics here? Well, you can decide for yourself. The lone Democrat who voted against the bill thinks they were. I spoke with Arkansas senator, Mark Pryor, earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I have heard you called the Buffett Rule, though, a political ploy which essentially agreeing with Republicans on that who say the White House was pushing it knowing full well Republicans would kill it. Supporters of it would say, well, look, what's wrong with one party putting something up for a vote and getting Congress on record?

SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: Well, you know, that happens up here all the time. And I just decided I don't want to play that game anymore. I think people in Arkansas are sick and tired of the partisan games up here. It didn't have the votes to pass the Senate. It was never going to be brought up in the House.

I understand it's a good political issue for the president. I think -- I think he's sincere about it. And I think that what will happen is that will get folded into tax reform either at the end of this year as we do major tax reform next year. But, you know, it is a -- it is political season up here. And with all due respect to the president and to the Republicans, I think both sides are trying to be very political with it. And, you know, let's get back to governing. Let's stop the games up here and let's get back to governing.

COOPER: How much of this is about politics for you? Your critics are saying well, look, you know, you want to -- you're going to be up for re-election in 2014, you're a Democrat in a conservative state, don't want to be a top Republican target. Is that fair?

PRYOR: You know, I know people say that. I wouldn't say that that's particularly fair. I mean, that's -- that's not -- that was not my motivation. I wasn't trying to position myself here at Arkansas.

By the way, I have voted for increasing taxes on millionaires. And I will be the first to tell you that I think millionaires should pay their fair share. I have no mental reservation about that. But trying to do it right now in this circumstances didn't make sense to me. We should do it as part of a larger package.

I have supported something like this with a larger package before. But we need -- we need to get back to really focus on our deficit. We need to connect our tax policy, our spending policy to the deficit and do some serious deficit reduction.

COOPER: You are, though, in an -- in an awkward position. I mean, you really are the last national Democrat standing in a red state like Arkansas.

PRYOR: Well, I am -- let's see. There's two of us in our delegation. There's one House member and then me. And we have several elections this fall. We'll see what happens but, you know, you're right. The state's politics have gone through a change. Who knows how -- if that's a permanent change or if that was just a -- you know, one or two cycle blip and it will return back to the way it normally is.

COOPER: The flip side of this is there's probably plenty of Democrats who are fine to let you vote whatever the way you want as long as it keeps you getting re-elected.

PRYOR: Well, from my standpoint, this tax issue is not about getting re-elected. Like I said before, I have actually voted previously to increase taxes on millionaires. I think millionaires should pay their fair share. But I don't think that we should single them out and pretend like and maybe present that it's really going to change our deficit number because it doesn't change it that much.

This doesn't move the needle that much. We need to do overall tax reform. And, you know, again, I didn't -- I did not try to be political with this. I just thought that the best policy is to wait on this and do it later as part of a larger package.

COOPER: Senator Mark Pryor, I appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

PRYOR: Thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's bring in our political panel, Democratic strategist and Obama 2012 pollster Cornell Belcher and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Cornell, how do you respond to Senator Pryor, a member of the Democratic Party, saying that putting the Buffett Rule up for a vote that everyone knew would fail was basically just a political ploy?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I -- you know, I'm a little confused. I got to get this here straight. So the Senate majority leader, Senator Reid, puts forward a measure that 72 percent, 72 percent of Americans thinks it's a common sense good ideal measure to put forward. And it's not a tossup. It's not even close. Seventy-two percent of Americans think it should be done. And he puts it up for a vote.

And quite frankly, not only you have 72 percent of Americans according to CNN polling would support this, you've got a majority of the senators who quite frankly would vote for it. So I'm a little baffled. The question shouldn't be, why Senator Reid put this up for a vote. Clearly the American people want it. The question is, why are Republicans blocking common sense legislation like this that a majority of Americans want?

That's really the question. Not why Senator Reid put up something that's common sense and that 72 percent of Americans want.

COOPER: Mary, is this a common sense legislation or it is a political ploy?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Of course it's a political ploy. The problem is, it's not an effective political ploy. Because the voters are concerned about the deficit which Senator Pryor properly pointed out this Buffett Rule doesn't do anything for the deficit. If we took all of Warren Buffett's money, $44 billion, he's the third richest man in the world, that would get us through about four and a half days.

But the president is not going to reduce the deficit or stabilize the debt which is another rationale he gave for it. He just wants to be fair. Fair. So if you ask Cornell, he's an excellent pollster. If you say to a voter, do you want somebody else to pay -- more taxes than you, they'll say yes. But when you say it's not helping the deficit, it's not helping the debt, it's -- it is going to hurt small businesses which do create jobs, they don't really have the same fear and loathing of millionaires, successful people, that this president seems to have.

He's been attacking them forever. And that might be good with his base, but it's not going to have any long-term political impact on independents who are not. Again, they do not despise and they do not loathe and they do not malign successful people in this country.

COOPER: Cornell -- MATALIN: This has very limited half shelf life. COOPER: Cornell, what about that?

BELCHER: It is --

COOPER: The White House has changed their reasoning for the Buffett Rule several times.

BELCHER: Well, here's the thing. Sixty-nine percent of independents support this rule. You know, and I feel sorry for Mary having to sort of spin away from that huge number, number of 72, but truth -- the fact of the matter is there's not one solution. There's not a silver bullet solution to the idea that -- of one thing is going to fix the debt. So we've got to -- we have to take steps forward to fixing the debt.

And part of the first step for fixing the debt is asking very wealthy people to pay their fair share. We've got to stop asking sort of the middle class to pay -- to carry all the burden for this. And that's what the middle class in this country get. And that's why they so overwhelmingly support the Buffett Rule.

It is a common sense rule built on American value that everyone should pay their fair share. And the question shouldn't be why they bring it for a vote. The question should be, why is it that a small minority of Republicans in the Senate can stop the majority of the American people, and quite frankly, stop the majority of senators in the Senate from enacting --

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Look, Cornell, there is a political calculation of bringing it up for a vote even though you know it's not going to pass.

BELCHER: Well, there's should be a political calculation. You should pay a political cost when you go against the overwhelming majority of this country. This is a democracy. So the will of the people should have some play, some say in this. And when you go against the overwhelming majority in this country, there should be a political cost that's paid.

COOPER: And, Mary, both sides of the political aisle do this. I mean, this happens all the time. Especially in an election year.

MATALIN: Yes. And while I appreciate Cornell's concern about me, in this occasion I don't have to spin. The numbers don't add up. I will say again when you ask particularly independents, they have been saying resurgent republic -- Cornell knows it's a good outfit. We keep finding among independents they want the president to focus on economic opportunity. Not these inequality arguments. Not these fairness arguments.

They don't think that Warren Buffett paying higher taxes, and prayers for his speedy recovery, by the way, is going to create any more jobs. They do think that this unsustainable debt and runaway deficit is going to impede job creation. That's what they care about and that's what the general election is going to be about. So you could be concerned for me, Cornell, but you don't have a message. You just have these tricks. And they're cute tricks, to be sure. They're good for your base.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there. Mary Matalin, Cornell Belcher, appreciate it.

You can find more political insights at CNN. com. Of course we're on Facebook, Google+. Follow me on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper. Let me know what you think about the arguments.

Some breaking news tonight: Warren Buffett, as Mary alluded to, has cancer. We'll talk about the outlook in his case in just a moment.

And, next, you're going to hear from someone who is right in the middle of this, who might have died as so many Syrians have in the middle of what's supposed to be a cease-fire.

We'll also talk with Fouad Ajami -- the latest on Syria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight: Not only is the cease- fire in Syria not holding. Not only is the Assad regime still killing its own people and continuing to lie about it, it's all now happening under the noses of U.N. observers now in Syria because -- I will say it again -- of a cease-fire.

Several members of the team were out on the streets of Daraa today. They're supposed to be allowed to freely move any place, will be able to observe the cessation of violence. That's according to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The very same day observers were in the city, however, this was going on.

Crowds being fired on, we don't know by whom, but the targets fit the familiar pattern of government snipers shooting at civilians. There's new video claiming to be from the Hama, take a look, appears to be a military snipers nest. One of the troops holding a camera while the rest of the troops ham it up and dance.

So snipers are still in cities, people are still getting shot, and especially in Homs the shelling goes on. Listen.

You don't have to be a U.N. observer to know that's not a cease- fire. Opposition members say at least 70 people were killed in Syria today. We can't independently confirm that number or this video.

And again, for more than a year the pictures really haven't lied. The regime, however, has and does. Something America's U.N. ambassador is now saying plainly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You deal with Syrian representatives all the time. I have had them on this program. And they have said things which are just not true. they have lied. they have said things which are demonstrably untrue time and time again. Do they have any credibility to you? I don't know if you can say that whether or not --

SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: No, they don't. I mean, let's be plain. You're right. They have lied to the international community, lied to their own people. And the biggest -- the biggest fabricator of the facts is Assad himself. His representatives are merely doing his bidding and under probably some not insignificant personal duress.

But, no, words as we have said repeatedly are meaningless. The actions are what matter. And the actions thus far have continued to disappoint.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Earlier today I spoke with the activist named Zaidoun. We've talked to him a number of times over the last year. He was right in the middle of the shelling in Homs over the weekend. The shelling, remember, that wasn't and isn't supposed to be happening at all. Here's our conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Zaidoun, you were in Homs on Saturday. What did you see? What happened?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: In fact, on Saturday, I went with a journalist from the national. Just to see whether the two sides committed to the cease-fire. And the Syrian Free Army has quit the regime's army.

I started just recording every mortar or every shot I hear. I started -- I heard the first mortar fired at Homs at 10: 56. And then the second one at 11:02. And then I stopped recording because I realized that there was no cease-fire from the regime at all whatsoever and part of the shell came over our car and left a hole in (INAUDIBLE) if I had just parked my car 30 seconds before that, I would have been dead by now.

COOPER: The neighborhoods that are being hit in Homs, is the fire indiscriminate or are there actual targets that the regime is trying to strike?

ZAIDOUN: It's indiscriminate. There's no target whatsoever. Nobody could just guess where the shell is coming. Where the bomb is reaching. They are very much accustomed to death now.

People talk about there will be (INAUDIBLE) as if they were talking about crackers. Yes, OK, we are used to it. We just leave our home and we say good- bye to our family. We could just not, I mean, come back.

COOPER: Obviously the U.N. now has been trying to have some sort of diplomatic effort. Is there any chance that Assad has any intention or desire to live up to his end of the bargain, to the agreements that he has been making? Is there any chance --

ZAIDOUN: This regime has one intention only, is to deceive the national community, keep lying, keep deceiving them, and keep killing us. Now, with the U.N. sending us 30 observers -- excuse me. Isn't it too many? Thirty? We need 30 observers for one neighborhood only?

COOPER: What do you hope happens? What do you hope the international community does?

ZAIDOUN: The international community should send 3,000 observers and, believe me, the regime will fall the same day. The regime will be toppled the same day. Because we will have people rushing to the streets for demonstrations. We are a peaceful people. We want this regime to go peacefully. But we need the help. We need the help of the rest of the world.

Don't tell me you couldn't have sent us more than 30 observers. Thirty? These are good to maybe invigilate an examination, not to send and observe an army of half a million people just firing all types of bombs against civilians, against unarmed civilians.

COOPER: Zaidoun, thank you very much for talking to us.

ZAIDOUN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Fouad Ajami of Stanford University's Hoover Institution joins us now. He recently visited the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey.

It's one thing to talk about this in an academic ways, another thing to have just been in these camps. Having seen it with your own eyes, what do you come away with?

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think the word academic is right because as you know I'm an academic and it was an education to be in these camps and education to talk to these people. It was an education to contrast what the diplomats say. These phrases that you hear. The Annan diplomacy. Ambassador Susan Rice's feigning outrage about the lies of Bashar al-Assad.

But then you walk these refugee camps and I think it's something that breaks your heart. And you see proud families. I bonded with one family. I can't tell their whole story, but I can just tell you the headline, the essence of it. This is a family from Jisr Al- Shugur, a city that early on, we remember, really knew the cruelty of the regime. This is a middle-class family, propertied family.

They had a fishery on the Orontes. They had a house of eight rooms. And there they were in this tent, the whole family there. Two of their sons had been killed. One son is missing. And the word missing, by the way, we've been talking about 10,000 people have been killed in Syria. It is by far the number must be much larger because people know what missing mean. Missing mean really being killed.

So a son is still missing, presumed killed. His infant who had -- he had never seen his father, six months old, is there in this tent. And this family with a memory of a life that they had is there in these camps. They had endured one harsh summer. This was their first summer, last summer. They endured one winter.

And it was unusually harsh winter in Latakia at this time. And they are dreading now the onset of another summer. And they know that all the things that are said in the corridors of diplomacy are false. And they understand the situation they're in. It's really something. It's --

COOPER: Refugee camps the world over I find incredibly depressing. And one can look at them. You look at the pictures on the news that we were just showing, these tents, and you start to think these are refugees. But these are not refugees. These are people who have homes but they have been forced to flee their homes. They have families but their families had been murdered and killed or disappeared.

It's very easy to just think of them as refugees, people who live in a camp. These are not people who live in camps, these people who have homes and don't belong in this camp.

AJAMI: Well, it's a humbling experience. Because these people -- this one particular family, because they came from an upper class, if you will, or a solid middle class origin. In this tent they tried to reproduce the grace of their life. They had this, you know, potted flowers. They had stuffed toys for the -- for the little children. And they understand that there is no easy return. And the tales they tell like one of the reasons why they left, for example, their town of Jisr ash-Shugur is they had five daughters and rape had become an instrument of this war.

The things that are going on in Syria are really still not fully appreciated by outsiders. Because the press is not there. Because observers are not there.

COOPER: And we heard Zaidoun, an activist who we talked to a lot over the last years, essentially mocked the idea of 30 U.N. observers. He was saying we need 3,000 in order to flood the country and to stop the regime from killing people.

AJAMI: Absolutely. This --

COOPER: Even that might not work.

AJAMI: Well, these observers will do nothing. I mean, the observers -- we already saw the mission that was led by the Sudanese general, Dabi. This will be the equivalent of it. And I think we have to understand what the Syrian regime has done. The Syrian regime has taken the Annan mission as an opportunity for more killing. And what they have done if you look at the numbers --

COOPER: They upped the killing.

AJAMI: Yes. And they have upped the killing, and not only that, but the Turkish authorities have the numbers now. And the Jordanian authorities on another border. Under and through this Annan mission, the refugee numbers have spiked. People have fled. So we talk about the kind of -- this diplomacy and the diplomats and the powers coming to the rescue of the Syrians. But no rescue is coming. And one thing we have to understand, there's an American role here. There's an American abdication here. The resistance to helping the Syrian -- the Syrians in this crisis now comes for the most part from the United States.

COOPER: Fouad, I appreciate it. I'm glad you were able to visit the camps.

Other news tonight, big news back home. Jeff Neely, not a household name, but this picture of him in a hot tub may make him a symbol of excessive spending by the U.S. -- by a federal agency charged with keeping government costs down -- his agency under fire. He's pleading the Fifth.

"Raw Politics" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In "Raw Politics" tonight, House lawmakers grilled officials of the general services administration, GSA, for more than five hours today, and their outrage was palpable. Until now the GSA was a pretty obscure agency. It's job is to keep federal costs down. It's ironic. Instead it's been doing the exact opposite, squandering tax dollars in lavish spending on its own employees.

Now, one of the key people called to testify before Congress is a guy named Jeff Neely. There he is on the right, taking the Fifth yesterday. The other picture of him on the left is what looks like a Las Vegas hot tub. We don't know if your tax dollars paid for that hot tub or the glasses of wine that I guess he was enjoying while being in the hot tub.

A 2010 conference in Las Vegas that Neely organized is one of the most over-the-top examples of excessive spending that investigators have found so far. Here's Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not only did this 2010 over-the-top Las Vegas GSA conference cost taxpayers more than $800,000, it turns out the lead conference organizer, regional administrator Jeff Neely, took eight trips to Vegas to do what he calls advance work. The cost, $147,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My anger and frustration has finally gotten to a boiling point.

BASH: As tales of extravagant spending unfolded during this five-and-a-half-hour hearing, it's clear why.

REP. TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA: But 44 bucks for breakfast? I'm a big man. I can't spend 44 bucks for breakfast. Somebody had to say that. Are you kidding me?

BASH: The GSA inspector general who investigated it put it this way.

BRIAN MILLER, GSA INSPECTOR GENERAL: We turned over every stone, and every time we turned over a stone, we found 50 more.

BASH: This is the two-story, 2,400-square-foot suite where GSA deputy administrator Robert Peck stayed in Las Vegas.

ROBERT PECK, FORMER PUBLIC BUILDINGS SERVICE COMMISSIONER: I questioned the organizers as to the cost. They told me that all the rooms were within the government rate.

BASH: It is unclear what the cost really was.

The organizer, Jeff Neely, seen here in what appears to be a Las Vegas hot tub, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights for the second day in a row, but he was very much the focus.

Story after story of allegedly skirting and breaking the rules, maybe even the law, to have a good time on the taxpayer dime. For example, it's against government rules to spend money for meals at meetings unless awards are given out, like here in Las Vegas. So they regularly made some up.

Listen again to the man investigating the whole thing.

MILLER: It was a running joke in Region 9 that, in order to get food, you had to give out awards. One of our witnesses characterized them as, I guess, fake awards and jackass awards and things of that nature.

BASH: There was so little accountability inside the GSA its own chief financial officer didn't even know what Neely spent on all of those trips and conferences.

ALISON DOONE, GSA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: It was very difficult to have the visibility into the financial opportunity.

BASH: At a different point, the chairman lashed out at another GSA official about his ability to see their budgets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you hiding the information from this committee from the American public?

BASH: Mindboggling excess went far beyond Las Vegas. At least a week in Hawaii for a one-hour ribbon cutting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would a one-hour ribbon cutting justify a seven- to nine-day trip?

MILLER: Not in my opinion.

BASH: The GSA still hasn't told Congress how much that one cost, but a 2010 conference for interns in Palm Springs has a price tag of $150,000.

Two months ago after the inspector general warned the GSA administrator about Neely's extravagant spending, Neely brought his wife along on a 17-day junket to the South Pacific paid for by taxpayers. And just last month a conference in Napa Valley wine country to the tune of $40,000.

One GSA official said she raised a red flag, to no avail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You notified the regional administrator, Ruth Cox, about the upcoming junket and expressed concern, right?

SUSAN BRITA, GSA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what happened?

BRITA: I expressed concern and asked her to review the plans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that called it off, didn't it? No.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Dana, I mean, it's amazing. It sounds like this is really a systematic problem.

BASH: Absolutely. It is stunning the lack of accountability. That became crystal clear throughout these five-plus hours that we sat and watched today.

First of all, what was really amazing, Anderson, is listening to these people who you would think, maybe even hope would really understand and know what costs are involved here in these conferences and these trips. They didn't only not have a clue; they didn't even think it was their responsibility to know. They said that's just the regional administrator's job, meaning Jeff Neely. Well, now we know that Jeff Neely was spending lavishly and trying to -- trying to get away with it.

The other thing that was really disturbing is that it was also from the bottom up. We heard that he was really intimidating people who maybe in a lower level could have raised their hand and said, "This is not right," but the investigator said that he would, quote, "squash them like a bug" if they tried to challenge him.

COOPER: The idea he needed to take eight scouting trips to Vegas before this conference, I mean, it's just ridiculous.

BASH: Ridiculous.

COOPER: I mean, absolutely incredible. Dana, appreciate it. Thanks.

We're going to follow a number of other stories tonight. Isha is here with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNNI ANCHOR: Anderson, we're learning more about the Secret Service prostitution scandal at that hotel in Cartagena, Colombia. The agency's director told senators that 20 or 21 women were brought to the hotel. An official tells CNN that Secret Service agents implicated in the scandal will be offered polygraph tests. The official also says that some of the agents claim they did not know the women were prostitutes.

And at the trial of man accused of murdering 77 people last summer in a shooting and bombing rampage. Anders Breivik boasted that he carried out the most spectacular political attack in Europe since World War II.

And final touchdown today for the Space Shuttle Discovery. It landed at Washington's Dulles Airport, as you see there, atop a 747. It will be put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. A bittersweet moment.

COOPER: Yes. It's cool that a 747 can carry the shuttle on top. That's crazy right there.

SESAY: And totally modified to carry it that way, but, yes, it's totally awesome.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

In the Trayvon Martin case, we're waiting on word on whether the judge assigned to George Zimmerman's trial is going to recuse herself because of a possible conflict of interest or at least the perception of it. A lot of people think she will. There is some new likely contenders for her replacement. More on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Crime & Punishment," George Zimmerman, the Florida man charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, is due back in court this Friday for a bond hearing. The judge assigned to the trials is the circuit court judge Jessica Recksiedler, will decide by then whether to recuse herself from the case.

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, made the motion yesterday, asking for a new judge because of a conflict of interest. The judge's husband is a law partner of a CNN legal analyst, Mark Nejame, who was the first lawyer that Zimmerman asked to represent him. Nejame referred him to O'Mara.

Judge Recksiedler was assigned the case randomly, but if she recused herself, as many expect she will, it's going to fall to the court's chief judge to appoint a new judge in the trial.

There's a number of factors that could influence the choice, and based on that, there's some very likely candidates. CNN legal analyst Mark Nejame joins me now, along with the former Florida state attorney, Rod Smith.

Mark, there have been some names out there of judges who may replace this judge. We've got pictures of some of them but not all of them. What do you know about the judges? MARK NEJAME, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Quite a bit. Judge Dickey is the senior judge. He could elect to keep the case or just let it go normal. And then it would be a random rotation and would land in one of three of the remaining four judges in the criminal division.

You remember the Casey Anthony case. Judge Perry kept the case as a senior judge -- as a chief judge, excuse me. So that could happen here. Unlikely, but it could happen.

And then there's a kind of long shoot, and that's Judge Jimmy -- Judge Eaton, that used to be the chief judge. Very scholarly, very well-respected jurist. And he is a senior retired judge that's -- he knows death cases. He knows murder cases as well as anybody probably in the state. And he's handled the tough cases before and is not afraid of controversy. He'll do the right thing legally. He doesn't look for what's popular. He looks at what's right and follows the law.

The three remaining ones are Judge Beluzo (ph), Judge Nelson and Judge Lester. They're the remaining three judges who are of the four on the criminal bench in Seminole County.

COOPER: Rod, you've appeared before Judge Lester before in court. Do you think he could potentially be named the judge in this case? Why?

ROD SMITH, FORMER FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: Well, it will be a random selection if the chief judge decides not to keep it, and the chief judge may or may not. I agree with Mark it's unlikely that the chief judge will.

I simply know Lester by reputation. I think I've been in one of his courts one time. But, you know, I would say that it's Judge -- Judge Eaton, of course, had a great reputation. It's somewhat unlikely in high-profile cases that they keep a senior judge. They'll probably put it into rotation.

The only other thing is probably the chief judge will vet the other judges immediately to find out if anybody else has a potential conflict, because you want to know up front.

I mean, the rules were followed well in this case. The judge made a disclosure, and the lawyer acted appropriately and quickly. The system is designed to do just this.

And my guess is that, certainly, Lester is among the remainder. He would be one that certainly has the status to handle the case like this and pretty well seen in that community as a middle-of-the-road judge being neither side goes in with an easy day.

COOPER: Mark, Judge Eaton, as you mentioned, is a retired judge. Why would they appoint a retired judge?

NEJAME: Well, first of all, he doesn't have a docket. And so a case like this can be so demanding on, as crushing as the judicial system already is. It could be that a skilled seasoned judge such as Judge Eaton would not have a docket otherwise and could handle all the motions, the attention and otherwise that might be given to this.

But I would tell you that not only would he be excellent, but the other three, none of them have had any significant controversy that I'm aware of at all. I've known Judge Lester for well over 30 years. We were law school classmates, and he's just spectacular.

Judge Nelson has a great disposition on the bench. And Judge Galuzo (ph) is well-liked and well-respected by all sides. I think out of any three of those or any four of those, there will be -- they would act very, very well, and we could find ourselves having the kind of trial that we hope to have.

COOPER: Rod, when do you see this trial actually -- I mean, assuming he gets to trial, how long, what kind of timeline are we talking about here?

SMITH: The lawyers would -- they'll be discussing that once -- once they get kind of past the preliminaries.

And you know one of the things that I know that everybody will be focusing on is whether or not this case actually ends up being tried in Seminole County. That will be decided late. They may even try to seat a jury before they make.

I've done -- I've done high-profile prosecutions. And I can tell you that O'Mara's office is already in the process, I'm sure, of gathering all the pretrial publicity and evaluating it. There may be polling information. All of that will be determined.

So some of that will be -- there will be a date set for trial, and it will be substantially in the future. And then there will be a question of whether or not they can seat a jury there. They can move it and go somewhere else, which again may shape whether or not a senior judge takes it or not.

I agree with Mark that the convenience of a senior judge is that typically they don't have an ongoing docket and it keeps the rest -- the rest of the court system moving simply. But it's also pretty rare in high-profile cases that they go to senior judges.

COOPER: Right. Mark Nejame, appreciate it. Rod Smith, as well. Thanks very much.

Got breaking news tonight. Just learned Warren Buffett has been diagnosed with cancer. We'll tell you what Buffett has revealed so far and talk to a doctor from the American Cancer Society about it.

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COOPER: Breaking news tonight about the health of billionaire businessman Warren Buffett. He has been diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer and made the announcement in a letter to shareholders today. Buffett says he'll start radiation treatment in July, that his condition is not life-threatening and his energy level is 100 percent. Let's talk about it with Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Dr. Brawley, stage 1 prostate cancer, what does stage 1 mean exactly?

DR. OTIS BRAWLEY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Stage 1 means that the cancer is confined in the prostate. It's usually a very good prognosis cancer. Many of these stage 1 tumors don't even need to be treated.

COOPER: In his letter to stockholders, he said he and his doctor decided on a two-month treatment of daily radiation to begin in mid- July. Why treat it? You're saying some of them don't need to be treated. Is this standard?

BRAWLEY: Yes. The National Institutes of Health about four months ago actually made an announcement that about 130,000 of these stage 1 tumors are diagnosed every year, and most of them can be watched and not treated.

In the United States most men choose to get it treated. Younger men will usually choose surgery. Older men will choose radiation. I personally believe it should be left to the patient and the doctor to decide what to do. But many of these are such good prognosis tumors they can be watched.

COOPER: Buffett said he discovered the cancer because his PSA level had jumped beyond his normal elevation. What is the PSA level, and is that something that most people get checked?

BRAWLEY: Well, the serum prostate specific antigen is a blood test. It's actually quite a controversial blood test. Some organizations have recommended that we not use it for prostate cancer screening. We only use it for diagnosis or following known disease.

Other organizations, such as my American Cancer Society, says that men should know there's a potential risk to prostate screening and a potential benefit. They need to know the risks and the benefits, and they need to make a decision as to whether they want to be screened.

COOPER: If you do get treated, I mean, what are the ramifications of it? What -- I mean, assuming it's successfully treated, what are the side effects?

BRAWLEY: Well, I should say a stage 1 prostate cancer has a 99- plus percent five-year survival in the United States. Indeed, the 15- year survival of all men with stage 1 prostate cancer is upwards of 90 percent. So it's a very good prognosis tumor.

Radiation can cause a lot of side effects, especially bowel and bladder side effects. Surgery actually can cause similar problems: incontinence, as well as impotence. And unfortunately, with radical prostatectomy, there's about a one half of 1 percent chance that the operation itself will actually cause death.

COOPER: All right. I appreciate it, Dr. Otis Brawley. Overall, the prognosis looks good. Good survival rates there for five years and 15 years. Doctor, thanks for being with us.

Let's follow a number of other stories. Isha's back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, breaking news. Good news, all things considered. A three-day-old baby, who was kidnapped after his mom was shot and killed, has been found alive. That's according to Houston affiliates. The station is reporting father and child being reunited tonight.

The abduction happened in Montgomery County, Texas. Witnesses say a woman shot the boy's mom outside the pediatrician's office, then took the baby. The shooter remains at large.

A Michigan woman who continued to collect welfare benefits after she won a million dollars in the lottery is being charged with fraud. Authorities say she didn't report the lottery winnings as required by state law and that she collected more than 5,000 dollars in welfare benefits that she wasn't entitled to.

Police in Georgia are defending their decision to handcuff and arrest a kindergarten student who was having a tantrum. The police say they handcuffed the 6-year-old girl for her own safety.

And "RidicuList" follow, Anderson, last night you talked about the theft of five guitars belonging to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Well, the manager (ph) reports that the guitars have been recovered and the suspect has been arrested. Police caught up with the suspect after he allegedly sold one of the guitars at a pawn shop -- Anderson.

COOPER: Time now for "Beat 360" winners, a chance to show off our staffers by coming up with a caption better than the one that we came up with.

Tonight's photo, Rick Santorum speaking at the NRA meeting in St. Louis. Our staff winner is Teny with the caption, "Santorum campaigns for Birmingham deputy comptroller, 2013."

(SOUND EFFECT: GROANS)

COOPER: The viewer winner is Nicholas from Michigan with this: "And now I will play the air guitar and do some fancy pageant walking."

(SOUND EFFECT: "OOOH!")

COOPER: Nicolas, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.

We'll be right back. "The RidicuList" is next.

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COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight we're adding once again critics of teen bride/America's sweetheart/ambassador of love Courtney Stodden. Now, I know, I've talked about Courtney a lot, but it's only because the haters keep hating, and I'm determined to prove them wrong. That's right; I'm talking about you.

Quick refresher. Courtney Stodden married 51-year-old character actor Doug Hutchinson when she was 16 with her parents' blessing. Courtney sings. She models. She posts a literary stream-of- consciousness pseudo-erotic poetry on Twitter. She does it all.

And tonight I think there's finally a way to succinctly silence the Stodden scoffers once and for all. Courtney has a new message for the world. Actually, three new messages. They all start the same.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURTNEY STODDEN, MARRIED TO DOUG HUTCHINSON: Well, I was in the grocery star today shopping for some sexy veggies.

I was in the grocery store today, shopping for some sexy veggies.

I was in the grocery store today, shopping for some sexy veggies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Yes. She looks really tan. Doesn't she?

Courtney is on an epic quest for sexy veggies, and did she find some. A warning: the produce we're about to show you is extremely graphic, dare I say pornographic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STODDEN: I grabbed these veggies, but then I turned around, and these were calling to me for some reason. They're sexy, aren't they?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Yes, we blurred the veggies. They were that sexy. Sometimes a pepper is just a pepper. Not in this case. Trust me.

Look, I don't even want to show you the cucumber she found. Let's just say it was highly organic.

So the point of these new videos is that Courtney is trying to get people to go vegetarian, a noble cause, no doubt. And she has thrown herself into it, tirelessly working to expose cruelty to animals. Oh, and also her foot hurts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STODDEN: My foot hurts really bad. I don't know what's wrong with it.

DOUG HUTCHINSON, ACTOR: It's the shoes, baby. I keep telling you.

STODDEN: No, no.

HUTCHINSON: Stop wearing the shoes.

STODDEN: I'm not going to stop wearing my shoes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. That is part of a riveting new Web-based reality series that Courtney is starring in, although could someone actually get her a lapel mic, because the ambient sound in the room is driving me crazy. I can barely hear what she's saying.

Anyway, somehow people still manage to have negative opinions about Courtney Stodden, but as a wise man once said, that's theirs to hold, not ours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUTCHINSON: People are welcome to their opinions. That's what the world is about. If they -- if they need to feel this way, that's theirs to hold. Not ours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: See, I always wanted to know what was happening to Courtney in that clip right there. And now I wonder if she was just thinking about her shopping list, all those sexy, sexy vegetables.

So Courtney, you just keep on doing whatever it is you do all day long. Really, I have no idea what you do all day long. Don't listen to critics. We relish all your new endeavors.

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