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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

GOP Senator and Anti-Tax Pledge; Power Grab in Egypt?

Aired November 26, 2012 - 20:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks very much.

We begin with the way Anderson does every night, "Keeping Them Honest." Not just taking sides, not just seeking the truth. We want all of the above.

Tonight talks to diffuse the year-end budget bomb and the difference between Washington progress and real progress. Americans say they want real progress and real give-and-take to get there.

Listen to this. Seventy-two percent in our brand-new CNN/ORC poll say they want President Obama to compromise with Republicans on taxes and spending. An identical 72 percent want Republicans to do the same, compromise with the other side. As for what compromise should entail, 67 percent, more then 2 in 3 favor a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

That's what they say real progress would look like. "Keeping Them Honest," though, real progress is one thing. Washington progress is another. So far at least we're seeing much more of the second than the first, and we're getting late new word that any progress might be stalled. More on that shortly.

First, a good example of Washington progress. Republican lawmakers standing up in a limited way to a beltway power broker named Grover Norquist over the 1980s era pledge he pressures them to sign promising not to raise taxes, any taxes ever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I'm not obligated on the pledge. I made Tennesseans aware. I was just elected. The only thing I'm honoring is the oath that I take when I serve when I'm sworn in this January.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's Senator Bob Corker, and one of the handful of Republican lawmakers repudiating the pledge. He'll join us shortly. I'll ask him to be more specific about whether that means higher tax rates for high incomes are on the table, something President Obama campaigned and won re-election on.

Senator Lindsey graham also breaking with Norquist saying no higher tax rates but he's open to more tax revenue by limiting deductions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm willing to generate revenue. It's fair to ask my party to put revenue on the table. We're below historic averages. I will not raise tax rates to do it. I will cap deductions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Another lawmaker who's breaking with the Norquist agrees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I think everything should be on the table. I am myself opposed to tax increases. I'm not going to prejudge it and I'm just saying we should not be taking ironclad positions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And late today in "THE SITUATION ROOM" Republican Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip, put a fresh spin on what seems to be the talking points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY WHIP: If the goal is to raise more revenue what is the best way to do that at the same time protecting the economy? So if you're able to gain more revenue by closing special loopholes and limiting on them, and in keeping the rate down so have better growth, isn't that a better outcome?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Once again, talk of tax deductions and closing loopholes, but a big note. Raising tax rates. So a lot of talk but perhaps not much real movement at least for now.

As for Grover Norquist, he told CNN's Soledad O'Brien today that although some Republicans are, in his words, discussing impure thoughts on television, they won't really act on them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FOR TAX RETURN: I've had long conversations with Lindsey Graham. And he would -- he says, I would raise taxes if, and then he lists this incredible list of reforms and entitlements that the Democrats would never give him. And as I suggested to him, I said, Senator, you're offering to trade a tax increase for a pink unicorn that doesn't exist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Whether he does or doesn't bet on taxes, pundits here in Washington seem terribly impressed that Senator Graham and others are even talking about going against Grover Norquist.

"Keeping Them Honest," though, outside the beltway, most people don't know Grover Norquist from Grover on Sesame Street.

Standing up to a lobbyist, even a powerful one, is only Washington progress, not real progress.

First step, maybe even a necessary one, but only that. So is going on Sunday talk shows as both Republicans and Democrats are doing and talking about flexibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Let the rates go up to 39. Let us also take a look at the deductions. Let's make sure that revenue is an integral part of deficit reduction. And yes, from my side of the table, bring entitlement reform into the conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So far Senator Durbin has limited company among some of his fellow Democrats. "Keeping Them Honest" during the last budget showdown, both sides talked like this, but then they backed away. Also, as we mentioned a moment ago, there are late new signs that nobody is quite ready to cut a deal.

Another round of White House talks between congressional leaders and President Obama was promised but is yet to materialize.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide telling us that staff level meetings are meant to lay the groundwork haven't been very productive.

Meantime, one Senate Republican leadership aide accuses Democrats of leaking details in order to portray Republicans negatively. But the aide notes that the talks are continuing, which itself can be read as some sort of progress. Whether that's real progress or Washington progress remains to be seen.

A lot to talk about, starting with Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker.

Senator Corker, thanks very much for joining us. Let's talk about Grover Norquist. No new taxes pledge. You said earlier in your career, you told "CBS Morning News" earlier today and I'm quoting now, you said you're not obligated on the pledge, adding, "The only thing that I'm honoring is the oath that I take when I'm sworn in this January."

So what exactly did you mean by that? Did you suggest -- did you mean that under certain circumstances you'd be ready to accept an increase in tax rates for the wealthy?

CORKER: Well, I was just elected, as you know, re-elected, and our campaign materials during the campaign spelled out that the only pledge I would be honoring would be the pledge of the oath of office that you make when you're sworn in. So that's what my comments meant. So, look, I think Republicans have shown a willingness to look at revenues as long as we have entitlement reform. And I think that those are the two ends of the spectrum, Wolf. And it appears that Speaker Boehner has been shown flexibility on revenues and it appears to me that the president has shown flexibility on entitlements.

And the point of my op-ed this morning in the "Washington Post" was that, look, it's so much easier for us just to go ahead and make these decisions and put them behind us and start the new year with economic growth, having dealt with these issues, than it is to negotiate some process where we kick the can down the road and deal with this six months from now with a more limited menu and more draconian steps because we've dug a deeper hole.

BLITZER: What you're talking about, to a certain degree, is capping deductions, let's say, at $30,000 or $50,000 per household. But what if, what if the Democrats insist and say they're not going to sign any deal unless there's at least some increase in the -- in the marginal rate for the wealthy, people making $250,000 a year or more. Right now they're paying 35 percent. It was 39.6 percent as you remember during the Clinton administration.

What if they insist it's got to go up, let's say, to 37 percent? Is that -- is that acceptable under any circumstances?

CORKER: Well, I think the two most important people in these negotiations and I think you would agree are Speaker Boehner and the president. And that's a negotiation that they need to have. Obviously, Speaker Boehner for a bill to pass, it has to pass the House.

What I've attempted to do, Wolf, is to show that there's a way of getting revenues that we need to solve this problem. As long as it -- as long as it's accompanied with entitlement reforms, there's a way of doing that without increasing rates. So if people just want to draw a line in the sand and say no, it has to be my way or the highway, that might be problematic. But I've tried to lay out a bill, as I op-edded today in the "Washington Post" that deals with the issues, deals with the revenues that Democrats want to see and candidly, I think all of us know have to be there to truly deal with this issue but does it in a way that's pro-growth.

BLITZER: Under any of the proposals that you're making, capping deductions, for example, for richer families, for richer Americans, would that, according to your interpretation, be a violation of that -- that Grover Norquist no new taxes pledge?

CORKER: I think a lot of people made the pledge 20 years ago, 25 years ago, 15 years ago. I think they realize that we're in a very critical time for our country, and that this issue has to be dealt with. Revenues need to be a part of the component, and entitlement reform, true entitlement reform has to be there also in order for us to put this in the rear-view mirror.

BLITZER: Senator, leaders of both parties have suggested that major tax reforms simply not going to happen over the next few weeks before the new year. Instead it sounds like there could be an agreement and two steps, a down payment coming right now during the lame duck session including revenue from closing loopholes, spending cuts. The hard stuff, though, major tax reform, put of until next year. What do you think about that?

CORKER: Wolf, we know what the options are. This Congress, the 112th Congress, has been through two dry runs already. No Congress is more aware of what the options are. And certainly we can deal with some kind of tax reform next year, but from the standpoint of dealing with this fiscal issue now, it's only a matter of political courage.

Again, no other Congress has spent more time on this. We can make the decisions we need to make now.

I am telling you, Wolf, it's much easier to do that technically and write it down and pass it than it is to try to negotiate some process that's likely to fail, like the first two processes have. We're better off just going ahead and ripping the band-aid off, making the decisions we need to make, and move down the road.

BLITZER: Senator Bob Corker, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck.

CORKER: Thank you, sir. See you later.

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in the political panel. Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is joining us. Our CNN contributor and the "New York Times" columnist Ross Douthat. And the former Obama adviser, Van Jones, the co-founder of rebuild the dream.

Gloria, even a majority of Republicans in our latest poll, a majority of Republicans, said tax increases should be part of the fiscal cliff solution. Add that to the election results and the exit poll results. So how much do all those numbers change the political equation for the GOP right now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard to say definitively, Wolf. I think it changes the equation a little bit. But I think what's more interesting on what you're hearing from Senator Corker and the rest is this sort of semantic question. Not arithmetic, but semantics. And it's the question of when is the tax increase not really a tax increase?

If you don't raise the top rate, as you were talking to the senator about before, but you do cap deductions for the wealthy, does that count as a tax increase? In my book it does count as a tax increase, but would Republicans then be able to say, well, we didn't raise the top rate? So I think what we see going on right now, Wolf, is a lot of theatrics. You see some Republicans in the Senate, and I would argue that the House Republicans are the ones we really need to hear from, because they're the most dug in on the tax question.

So you hear some Republicans kind of saying, you know, that's a pledge that was 20 years ago, et cetera, et cetera. Bottom line, Wolf, is you need to have entitlement reform and those spending cuts on the table and you need to have tax increases on the table. Then they can all hold hands and jump off the cliff together.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Ross, even though the styles of Republicans are using to peddle their position right now seems to be shifting the substance of the position, seem to be pretty much the same as it's been for a long time. Maybe you disagree?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I actually disagree. I think this is a pretty big shift, and Gloria is right that it's been more of a shift from the Senate than from the House. But for a long time you had Republicans willing to say, look, we'll accept more revenue as long as it's revenue that just comes from growth. So you do a tax reform and then you project that economic growth gives you X amount more tax revenue and so on.

But that's not what Bob Corker and others are saying.

BORGER: Right.

DOUTHAT: Now they're willing to say well, look, we'll sort of set the economic growth component aside. Just do what's called statistic scoring, look at the amount of revenue you get and accept that. And that is a big shift. And I think it is -- I mean Corker is pretty up-front about this. It is in saying, you know, I didn't take the pledge and so on. It would violate the apparent letter of the Norquist pledge.

So it is a big concession. The question is, is it a big enough concession given the stronger hand that the president has right now? I think what you -- what you're seeing right now would have been the makings of a deal a year and a half ago. But the question for the White House is, OK, you've got Republicans -- you know, they have conceded this much. What else will they concede?

And, you know, are you -- is it a situation where the White House's goal is saying, look, this is a once in a -- you know, once in a cycle, once in a generation opportunity to get Republicans to raise taxes, let's see how much revenue we can extract?

BLITZER: And, Van, you know that in exchange for the Republicans biting the bullet, they want Democrats to do the same thing when it comes to entitlement spending. They want cuts, serious cuts, reforms in Medicare and Medicaid.

Will the liberal base of the Democratic Party go along with the president if he puts that into the deal?

VAN JONES, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Probably not. And part of the reason is because the Democrats are in such a much more commanding position. You're talking about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. These are programs that are popular and that are working. If you look at Social Security, the CBO says this program is solvent until 2038. You have a hard time convincing ordinary people there's a big emergency there. Meanwhile, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are both unpopular and they're not working, they're budget busters. And so you're going to have a hard time getting ordinary people to understand why we should take a chainsaw to middle class programs that are working, that are popular, to get Republicans to do something that right now they're going to have to do anyway.

BLITZER: So -- but, Van, so what --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What will the Democrats do to bring in the Republicans to convince the Republicans they're going to really cut spending?

JONES: Well, I think -- I think that spending cuts are on the table right now with regard to defense which I think is appropriate. Seventy-five percent of Americans say that defense should be cut. I just think that -- you're not going to get a 50/50 compromise here. You get a 50/50 compromise when both sides are equal justice from the American people.

The Republicans right now are far from the American people. The Democrats are right there. You've got super majorities that say hands off Medicare, hands off Social Security, defense spending should be cut. So I think the Democrats are -- there's less pressure on Democrats to give away the store here.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But, Van --

BLITZER: But, Gloria, correct me if I'm wrong. Didn't the president, when he tried that deal with John Boehner that didn't work out, didn't he agree to significant cuts in Medicare?

BORGER: Yes, he did. He did. You know, they were almost there once before. And there were different stories about who moves the goalposts in that negotiation. But I would argue, if I were the president and I were going to Van, I would say, look, this president has an opportunity right now to shape the future of American budgets. You know, the blueprint for the American economy and for American spending priorities for a decade to come in this particular deal.

And so if I were the president, I would say, look, it's not going to be perfect, but we really do have an opportunity here. And I have an opportunity as president of the United States to lead this country into fiscal solvency again if each side gives a little bit.

JONES: I think that's exactly right, Gloria.

BORGER: So we -- you know, we can't get what's perfect.

DOUTHAT: But let me -- let me speak up -- for Van --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on a second, Van. I want Ross to wrap it up.

JONES: Go ahead, Ross.

DOUTHAT: Well, I was just going to say, I think I disagree completely with Van on the policy. I think over the long run if you look at the growth rate in Medicare and the fact that every year that you don't change Social Security it gets more expensive to fix. There are deep policy reasons why entitlements should be on the table. But on the politics he makes it -- you know, he makes a strong case, and I think he can -- the liberal base can go back to the president and say, well, why wouldn't you want -- yes, you have an opportunity to shape, you know, the future of American fiscal policy, but why wouldn't you want to extract every last concession you can get.

So I think the fact that the Van Jones wing of the Democratic Party has some political sense on their side is what makes it hard -- you know, hard to cut a deal along the lines we're seeing right now.

BLITZER: And everyone is going to lose, at least in the short term, if there's no deal. Taxes are going to go up for not only wealthy but for the middle class, everybody in the country will be paying more taxes and there will be very serious domestic spending cuts and very serious defense cuts if there's no deal.

Van Jones, Ross Douthat, Gloria Borger, guys, thanks very much.

Let us know what you think. Follow us on Twitter at AC360.

Up next, millions celebrated the demise of a dictator but now they're out on the streets again accusing his democratically elected successor of trying to become once a dictator as well. Things are moving fast in Egypt right now. We're going there to take you on the ride.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He was the man of the hour, Egypt's first democratically elected president. Broker of the latest Hamas-Israel ceasefire. Now Mohamed Morsi is being called a would-be dictator and people are protesting. Some are getting killed.

Massive crowds today at the funeral of a protestor who died overnight fatally injured during demonstrations last week against Morsi's edict, putting his decisions beyond judicial review. Ever since he issued it the streets have looked like this, just like they did when millions rose to overthrow the dictator Hosni Mubarak.

This time the protesters are accusing President Morsi of a naked power grab. Today he met with members of the country's highest judicial body and emerged saying his edict had been clarified. But precisely what that clarification really amounts to remains, shall we say, unclear?

Reza Sayah is joining us now from Cairo with the latest.

Reza, this clarification, as Morsi's advisers are calling it, is it actually just a clarification or is this Morsi faced with those protests we've been seeing trying to save face while actually scaling back his decree?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've spoken to the president's office throughout the day, and they say their position is clear, in that they are not scaling back on these decrees or making any concessions. But they seem to be reshaping and refocusing their message, and Mr. Morsi's message now is that, with these decrees, I didn't amass sweeping dictatorial powers and my decisions are still open to review by the courts, except for the decisions that have to do with the formation of the parliament and the drafting of the constitution.

He says, this is his way of bypassing the old remnants of the Mubarak regime that still want to derail the democratic process. He wants to save it. That message doesn't seem to be winning over the protesters, a few thousand of them still behind me. It's 3:15 a.m., and their numbers seem to be growing, Wolf, in anticipation of their one million man demonstration scheduled for Tuesday.

BLITZER: As you know, the president's office under great pressure from opposition factions and the judiciary to completely, completely reverse his decrees. Are there any signs he's actually considering doing that?

SAYAH: The way things stand right now, they are not. We spoke to a top adviser for Mr. Morsi in an exclusive interview. We asked them about the possibility of concessions in mounting pressure, and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAYAH: What kind of concessions are you willing to make?

DR. ESSAM EL-ERIAN, VICE CHAIRMAN, FREEDOM AND JUSTICE PARTY: This decision is up to the president. Not for us.

SAYAH: Is it possible -- is it possible --

(CROSSTALK)

EL-ERIAN: We are ready for dialogue with our competitors.

SAYAH: Are you prepared to consider rescinding, adjusting some of these decrees?

EL-ERIAN: The decree is up to the president. We are accepting it. We may have some reservations, but as a whole we must take a step forward and not backward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAYAH: And that's where the impasse is. Mr. Morsi and his followers are saying, we want to talk. The opposition faction is saying, no talk until these decrees have been rescinded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the opposition, Reza, viewing all of this as the President Morsi and his party supposedly back down?

SAYAH: I think the only time the opposition is going to view Mr. Morsi and his followers as backing down is if he rescinds these decrees, and that hasn't happened yet. What we also had happened on Monday is the one million -- demonstration for the Muslim Brotherhood. But that was canceled suddenly on Monday night.

They released this statement. They wanted to make sure that no one views -- viewed this as a weakness. They essentially said they canceled it because they were concerned about possible violence, of course. The stage was set for an explosive situation with the one million man demonstration to the opposition and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now a lot are breathing a sigh of relief that that's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Reza is in Cairo. Thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with Stephen Farrell of the "New York Times," who's reportedly extensively from the Middle East. Has written a book on Hamas. Also joining us, Robin Wright, Arab affairs analyst, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington.

Robin, you don't think that President Morsi was trying to create a dictatorship overnight, but you think he did go too far. What do you think he was trying to accomplish?

ROBIN WRIGHT, ARAB AFFAIRS ANALYST: He did go too far and the timing was terrible, but the context is really important. Egypt's judiciary had earlier this year dissolved a democratically elected parliament. And there were deep fears that the judiciary was moving in the next couple of weeks to dissolve the constituent assembly that was writing a new constitution.

And that would have set Egypt back to square one basically in having to elect a new parliament and from that parliament create a new body to then write a constitution. And that's a process that could take a year, year and a half. And this is time that Egypt doesn't have. There is a real interest in moving forward and creating solutions to the many problems that have been left behind by the Mubarak era. And there were -- you know, the problem throughout the region, whether you see changes, is this deep polarization between Islamist parties and secular forces and both sides being deeply afraid that the other side is going to create whether it's an Islamic regime or try to take the countries that have undergone Democratic transitions back into autocratic overrule.

BLITZER: Stephen, you say President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, that after spending decades, being sidelined by the Mubarak regime, that they're terrified of losing power. Beyond that, though, is there much clarity about their motives in recent days?

STEPHEN FARRELL, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There doesn't seem to be. The Muslim Brotherhood is a very opaque organization. And it's motivated. It's been decades out of power and just months in power. So this seems to have been a misstep, a misjudgment.

And the question is, what were the motivations behind it? Was it, as some have suggested, that Morsi was feeling confident, riding a wave of international approval after brokering a ceasefire in the Gaza operation last week? Did he -- did he think that this was a time to capitalize on it, or was it just simply the fact that they fear that the old regime, the old guard might try to move against them through the courts?

I think it's going to become clear. Certainly he has many, many skeptics doubting his actions. And it looks like we're going to be seeing them back on the streets.

BLITZER: Robin, you make the point there is being a fog of transition, if you will, in Egypt. A crucial point, I imagine, as far as Washington is concerned given that Egypt has long been such a key ally in the region.

Here's the question. Is this just growing pains of a new democracy, or is something darker and more nefarious going on?

WRIGHT: Well, that will probably play out over the next few weeks or months. But at this stage I think it's growing pains. This -- remember, President Morsi was eight months ago an unknown engineering professor who is -- been elevated very quickly to what it may arguably be the most important or powerful leadership in the entire Arab world.

And he's surprised many people in some of his decisions in working with the Israelis during the Gaza war. He did not call for jihad. He did not break off relations with Israel. He was a responsible broker in trying to come to a ceasefire. And interestingly enough, today was the day that talks began in trying to take this fragile ceasefire into something that was more enduring. And that will be a very important judge of the caliber of the man, his intentions long term, and the role he'll play in the region.

BLITZER: You know, it's funny, because when I was in Israel, Stephen, last week and met with Israeli officials, they were praising President Morsi. They were pretty impressed by what he was doing in trying to deliver a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

What do you think about the role that he played? Will the ceasefire actually last?

FARRELL: Well, that, nobody knows. But I certainly don't think any questions have been resolved in the long run in Gaza. Both sides have held off, both sides' supporters claim they did what had to be done. But they both reserved the right to carry on doing it in the future. So I think it's very, very unclear what's going to be happening in Gaza other than I think long-lasting harmony is extremely unlikely.

BLITZER: Quickly to you, Robin, is that ceasefire going to last?

WRIGHT: I think there's greater potential for movement on the peace process than any time in the recent history because there's so many Arab governments in the region including and particularly in Egypt that really want to focus on the broader domestic issue, whether it's 40 percent unemployment among young people, creating the kind of solutions that led to these -- to the issues that led to the uprisings in the first place.

So there's enormous pressure to look domestically. There's less interest in promoting or energizing the Arab-Israeli conflict than any time that I can remember, and I've been covering these conflicts since 1973.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Robin Wright, thanks very much. Stephen Farrell, thanks to you as well.

A lot more up happening tonight, including new and horrifying images coming out of Syria. A video showing the aftermath of an airstrike that purportedly hit a playground full of children. It comes as the Assad regime launches a new wave of attacks across the country.

We'll have an update from a photo journalist who spent eight days inside Syria straight ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A big week on Capitol Hill for the United Nations. Ambassador Susan Rice, she is about to face her toughest critics on the Benghazi Consulate attacks. Just ahead, which lawmakers she'll be meeting with.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A horrifying scene in Syria, report of a massacre on a playground outside Damascus. We have to warn you the images are extremely graphic and serve as a reminder that things in Syria remain ugly. Opposition members who posted this video say it was made right after government planes dropped cluster bombs on a playground on Sunday.

Ten children reportedly died. Rebel groups believe the attack was retaliation for the recent victory taking control of a nearby airport. CNN cannot verify the video or those claims. Human rights groups estimate 140 people died today alone in Syria.

About 40,000 civilians have been killed since this all began. The violence is now spilling over into neighboring countries as well. Turkey once an ally has turned against Syria following several deaths there blamed on Syrian forces.

That's where freelance photo journalist Robert King is tonight after spending last week inside Syria and more than eight months covering the conflict.

Robert, you just left Syria today. You say that this type of bloodshed is happening every day. That Syria has become a place where people are constantly burying their children. Describe what you saw. ROBERT KING, FREELANCE PHOTOJOURNALIST: Well, Wolf, on this time inside Aleppo, I was witnessing the hospital being attacked by a Syrian jet fighter. It destroyed the hospital completely, doctors and nurses and assistants scrambling to dig out the wounded and dead.

That was just last week, and prior to that I've seen fathers inconsolable holding their dead children waiting for taxis. Children that had their heads almost cut off from rocket attacks.

I've seen hungry, hungry people. Now the weather is changing and it's getting colder, and so I've seen -- the last eight months I've been covering this region, I've seen just systemic bombings and indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.

BLITZER: Is it your sense that the regime, the Syrian regime was targeting the hospital, or was it just indiscriminate bombing that accidentally hit the hospital?

KING: Well, I personally believe that it was directly targeted. The hospital had taken three to four direct hits in the last few months, and there had been a consistent pattern of bombings just around the hospital whether it was one block to the right or one block to the left.

This bomb actually was dropped precisely on a part of the hospital. The building that was hit was where the medical administrative staff was located, and also where they would sanitize and sterilize their instruments used in operations.

After that bomb hit, their emergency room was completely caved in whoever was in there died. I think there were a few people that actually survived and were -- they broke a hole through the back wall of the hospital to help pull these people out.

BLITZER: Robert, the conflict in Syria as you know is going on now for more than a year and a half. Do the people you talk to while you were there still have faith that President Al Assad's days are numbered?

KING: Yes, I would say so. A lot of the -- the majority of the people I speak with truly believe that Assad will lose Aleppo in the coming months. I think they really understand that in order to take Damascus and to overthrow Bashar might take a few more months than a couple. I strongly believe from what I've heard on the ground that their will to overthrow Bashar is as strong as it was two years ago.

BLITZER: Robert King, thanks very much.

KING: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're following other stories tonight. Isha Sesay joining us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice is preparing to face some of her toughest critics on the Benghazi consulate attacks. She's heading to Capitol Hill this week to discuss the incidents with Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte. Rice initially blamed the murders on protests triggered by anti-Islam film.

The man behind that movie is speaking out about the backlash for the first time. He tells "The New York Times" he has no regrets. He's back in prison after violating his probation on a bank fraud conviction.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg is asking Congress for $9.8 billion to clean up the mess left behind by Superstorm Sandy. Blooomberg said the cash is needed to pay for costs not covered by FEMA and insurance companies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Isha, thank you. Coming up, we told you about a town in California mired in corruption charges that have left taxpayers outraged, a town where the former police chief finagled a salary for himself of nearly half a million dollars.

You won't believe what that former police chief is doing now. He wants more money from the city. We're keeping them honest next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A stunning twist in the Casey Anthony case. What investigators reportedly missed when they searched her computer, could it have changed the outcome of her murder trial? That's just ahead on 360.

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BLITZER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight about a working class town in California we've told you about before. A town where charges of corruption and fraud have left taxpayers outraged.

The former police chief of Bell, California made a whopping salary, almost half a million dollars a year before a corruption case brought down eight leaders in the city government who now face criminal charges.

The former chief wasn't charged in the case, and believe it or not now he says he wants more money from the city and the state. He's suing to double his already large pension.

That is adding major insult to injury for the city's taxpayers who ended up footing the bill for a level of alleged corruption in local government that's hard to imagine. Kyung Lah reports.

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KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A 22-year veteran of the Bell Police force, Sergeant James Corcoran is reminded of the corruption that crushed his town at every turn he takes.

Boarded up buildings, vacant homes and lots and storefront after storefront for lease, but nowhere is a reminder more stark than his own police station where he says his former police chief was there for only one reason, greed.

SGT. JAMES CORCORAN, BELL POLICE DEPARTMENT: He was here for his personal gain. He was not here to better the community, certainly not here to better us.

LAH: He's talking about former Police Chief Randy Adams who was pulling in a whooping $457,000 a year for a police force with only 30 officers, way more than top cops in neighboring Los Angeles, Chicago or even New York. Cash put in his pocket by a city manager and others who were paying themselves inflated salaries, the city manager taking home more than a million dollars.

This was the reaction when the public found out. Outrage, anger boiled over. Prosecutors nabbed eight city leaders saying they used public funds like a personal piggy bank looting the working class city of millions of dollars.

They face criminal corruption charges. Chief Randy Adams wasn't charged because Adams didn't directly control the city's money. But even a judge wondered in court, I don't know why he's not a defendant in this case.

So where is Adams today? He lives in Simi Valley, an upper class L.A. suburb, 50 miles northwest of Bell just off of Country Club Drive in a gated community. His five-bedroom, five-bath, $800,000 home overlooks a picturesque golf course.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Disgusting, and the fact he's living the lavish lifestyles on the backs of us.

LAH: Bell resident, Denise Rodarte, calls Adams the one that got away.

DENISE RODARTE, BELL ACTIVIST: Arrogant, cocky, criminal. If I can find the dictionary where it is corrupt police chief, whatever, his picture would be on it. He's the epitome of what is wrong in this country.

LAH: She says that because of these e-mails from 2009 exchanged between Adams and Angela Spatia, Bell's former assistant city administrator. Adams negotiating the terms of his new job as Bell police chief wrote, I'm looking forward to seeing you and taking all of Bell's money.

OK, just a share of it. Spatia replies, LOL, well, you can take your share of the pie just like us. We will all get fat together. The salary quietly approved by the former city manager.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My jaw drops when you see it.

LAH: Doug Wellmore, Bell's new city manager says he still can't believe what happened and what's still happening. Talking to me in the rundown city council chambers, Wellmore says walking away with that half million dollar paycheck wasn't enough. The former police chief is now suing the city of Bell for what city sources calculate would amount to $600,000 in severance and unused sick days. DOUG WELLMORE, NEW BELL CITY MANAGER: From this small city and community to then have it revealed and get fired and actually comes back for severance, it's incredible. It's outrageous.

LAH: But seeking severance isn't apparently enough, Randy Adams wants more money from the state of California for his pension. Adams is also suing the state to double his pension to half a million dollars a year for the rest of his life. How?

His oversized salary in Bell, that was his last job. His highest-paying job, and even though he only held the position a year, he says his pension should be based on that pay.

(on camera): Hi. Chief Randy Adams, I'm Kyung Lah from CNN.

(voice-over): We caught up with Randy Adams in Simi Valley.

(on camera): The people of the city of Bell saw you milked them for he a salary that was extraordinarily high and now you're doing the same thing with the state.

RANDY ADAMS, FORMER BELL POLICE CHIEF: Well, I disagree, of course, with those types of characterizations. When one day I'm able to tell my complete side of the story, I think you'll see there is a completely different side to that story. Unfortunately, I can't talk at length about it, but that's the situation.

LAH: Do you think you deserve to make double what the LAPD chief made?

ADAMS: I've made all the comments I can make at this time.

LAH: Well, Adams would not elaborate on camera, I did manage to speak to his attorney by telephone who said that Adams is a good cop, a lifelong public servant, who does deserve to double his pension to half a million dollars a year for that one year of service in Bell. But the people who run California's pension system say absolutely not. What is he asking for?

ROBERT GLAZIER, CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM: Basically, he's trying to double his pension from $19,000 a month, which is far surpassing almost anyone else in our system as a retiree to about $38,000 a month.

LAH: Does he deserve $38,000 a month from the taxpayers?

GLAZIER: The taxpayers are outraged whenever anyone does something like trying to use fraud and deceit and hide the way in which they got paid. You don't deserve it and it's not allowed.

LAH (voice-over): A proposed decision by a state board agrees rejecting the Adam's appeal to increase his pension, but Adams is appealing. Inside his gated community, he awaits a final decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And Kyung Lah is joining us now from Los Angeles. Kyung, do people of Bell believe that Adams only wanted to take the police chief job for a short time so he could boost his pension?

LAH: They believe it's twofold. In the short term, Wolf, they believe it was the inflated paycheck, but in the long term absolutely. It's called spiking your pension. You take a job to increase what the state will pay you for the rest of the life. The state pension board also agrees and that's why they're fighting it.

BLITZER: Why did they pick Adams for the job in the first place?

LAH: Well, it's all who you know, right? Wolf, in this situation the documents appear to show it was who he was friends with, and that got him into the city of Bell and that he was merely just trying to cushion that pension pay.

But the people say, we don't want this guy. We didn't think he was anything special, and the state agrees with that. They believe it was a back room deal. That's why they're also fighting it.

BLITZER: What a report. Kyung Lah, thanks for doing it. We appreciate it very, very much.

Just ahead, the Google searches that reportedly never made it into evidence in Casey Anthony's murder trial. Would they have convinced the jury she murdered her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee?

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BLITZER: Let's get the latest and other stories we're following tonight. Isha is back with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Wolf, a new twist in the Casey Anthony case. Detectives investigating the disappearance of Anthony's daughter, Caylee, overlooked more than 1,200 entries on a computer in Anthony's home including a Google search for fool-proof suffocation methods according to reports. Anthony was acquitted of Caylee's death last year.

A new study says injuries are skyrocketing from the inflatable bouncy houses that kids jump in at fairs and birthday parties. The first study shows the number of injuries more than doubled from 2008 to 2010. In 2010, an average of 31 children were treated in emergency rooms every day. Arm and leg injuries are the most common.

And it's time for Powerball fever again. No one hit the jackpot in Saturday's $325 million drawing. The next drawing, Wolf, is Wednesday worth an estimated $425 million.

BLITZER: You going to buy a ticket?

SESAY: Yes! Are you?

BLITZER: Of course. One or two or maybe I'll win. Who knows, even if I do, I'll be back to work the next day. What about you?

SESAY: Yes, sure. Don't look for me. I won't be here.

BLITZER: I'll be here definitely. Isha, thanks. We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: That does it for this edition of 360. We're back at 10:00 Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.