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CIA Analyst Under Fire; Michigan Anti-Union Bill Signed Into Law

Aired December 11, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A new movie has controversy swirling around the CIA analyst credited with finding Osama bin Laden. And a sex abuse verdict topples the wall of secrecy that surrounded an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But, first, this just coming into CNN, word that Michigan's governor has just signed a law that many believe will significantly weaken union power in the state, one of the organized labor movement's few remaining strongholds. There was massive protests as lawmakers approved a so-called right-to-work law which allows members to forego paying dues.

CNN's Poppy Harlow is in Lansing, the state capital, for us.

Poppy, you just spoke to the governor, Rick Snyder, about all of this. What did he tell you?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I spoke with the governor just ahead of that announcement where he confirmed that he indeed did sign this legislation into law, making Michigan a right-to-work state, a sea change for this state, Wolf. The governor saying this is a "opportunity to stand up for workers" and that flying in the face of what many of those workers think, thousands and thousands storming the capitol here in Lansing today.


HARLOW (voice-over): History made in Michigan's state capitol to the tune of furious protesters. Reverend Jesse Jackson joined in, sat in and led a prayer.

A state that shed blood to help launch the organized labor movement, Michigan passed right-to-work legislation making it illegal to mandate workers join a union or pay money to a union.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not good for the economy. I don't know what they're thinking.

HARLOW: From public schoolteachers to autoworkers, the fear is lower wages, fewer benefits, and less bargaining power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our parents, our grandparents and our great- grandparents, they struggled and they fought and some of them even died to have the right to organize for better safety, better wages, better benefits for their children.

HARLOW (on camera): Are you two concerned that your union is next? That you might be subject to something like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We always have that concern.

HARLOW (voice-over): Protesters moved from the capitol and sat in at the entry to Republican Governor Rick Snyder's office and then police removed the media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, really, this is about maintaining democracy in America.

HARLOW: The symbolism is perhaps just as important as the measure itself.

(on camera): Does this mean the beginning of a death of unions in this country? Are you concerned that this is that big symbolically?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think that unions -- I think that things like this are waking the sleeping giant.

I think that workers and working families are tired of losing. They want a fair share of the prosperity of this state and this country.

HARLOW (voice-over): But it puts a spotlight on the decline of union membership in America. More than 20 percent of U.S. workers were unionized in 1983. Today, it is less than 12 percent. While most union workers oppose the right-to-work bills, not all do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be good for the economy and it's going to bring jobs to Michigan.

HARLOW: Brian Panabecker (ph) has worked at Ford as a union member for 16 years. For the past two, he's been fighting to help pass the right-to-work legislation for this reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will give me a voice. It will give me leverage inside the union, because now if I threaten to resign from the union, I'm taking my union dues with me. Under current law, I can resign, but I still have to pay the union, so they don't care.


HARLOW: Wolf, that is a minority view among union workers here in Michigan certainly, but it is the new law of the land in this state as of just a few minutes ago tonight. Governor Rick Snyder saying he didn't seek out timing of this passage. He's come under harsh criticism for rushing it through the legislature.

It was just introduced and passed last week and then the final passage today. But the governor standing by this and saying there will be no public signing, noting what a divisive issue this is in the state of Michigan. I do want to point out that it was just recently that Governor Rick Snyder said that right-to-work was not on his agenda and tonight he has signed it into law.

BLITZER: Dramatic, historic change in the state of Michigan. Thank you very much, Poppy.

Michigan, by the way, is now the 24th right-to-work state. You can see the laws are prevalent in the South and the West. Until recently supporters had been unable to get a foothold in the Industrial Upper Midwest and Northeast, but now Michigan is added to the list. Indiana was recently added as well.

Kate Bolduan is here. She is taking a look at some other important stories we're following right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, especially in Egypt, fresh protests on both sides and new controversy ahead of a critical vote on a new Egyptian constitution this Saturday.

Today, embattled President Mohammed Morsi amended a law so that voters cannot cast their ballots outside their electoral districts, as they have in the past. Just look at the video of the protests in Cairo.

CNN's Reza Sayah visited both sides of the protest.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These could be the final rounds of what has been an often brutal and violent political battle that has supporters of President Morsi taking on opponents of President Morsi.

On Tuesday, both sides in this conflict called for mass demonstrations. The opposition gathered here outside of the presidential palace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't care about the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's thinking only in the Muslim Brother.

SAYAH: And 20 minutes away here in this neighborhood it was the rivals, the supporters of President Morsi who gathered en masse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe our president, Mohammed Morsi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I accept all of the decisions of the president.

SAYAH: The last time these two sides protested, they met outside the palace and things got ugly. Clashes led to nearly 700 people being injured. Several people killed. Thankfully, other than some fireworks, things are peaceful and calm.

The final bell for this conflict could sound on Saturday, the day Egypt votes for its new constitution and that's what's at stake here, Egypt's constitution, the foundation of post-revolutionary Egypt.

The opposition which includes a lot of liberals and moderates say they were pushed out of the process by which this constitution was drafted. Many don't want Saturday's vote to take place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want the liberal way. I want the democratic way, the way that we want. I don't want the rules to be imposed on you. I don't want this constitution.

SAYAH: The president's supporters say if the opposition doesn't like the constitution, the best solution to the conflict is for them to go out and vote no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a democracy. Democracy in anything goes by vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all must go to say yes or no.


BOLDUAN: You can really hear the passion and frustration in all of their voices.

Reza Sayah is joining me live now from Cairo.

Reza, this week the president backed off that decree that he faced a lot of criticism about giving him really sweeping powers but the protests continue. The vote is scheduled for Saturday. Does it look like it will happen as scheduled?

SAYAH: All indications are. You get the impression that opposition faction, the opponents of the president are running out of options. It looks like this referendum is going to happen and beyond protests it doesn't look like the opposition factions can do much else.

Big day for them tomorrow. That's when opposition leaders are set to hold a press conference and announce their decision if they're going to take part in the referendum. If they say yes, look for that to take a lot of steam out of these protesters who have been going at it for nearly three weeks. But it could also defuse the conflict as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Sounds like even early into the morning there the protests and the commotion really continues right there behind you. Reza Sayah in Cairo for us. Thanks so much, Reza.

BLITZER: House Republicans send a new fiscal cliff offer to the White House. We're going to talk about the looming crisis with the former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

Plus, the real-life controversy dogging a CIA analyst. She's the subject of a new movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.


BLITZER: All right, this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

CNN's Dan Lothian is now reporting that the president of the United States and the House speaker, they spoke on the phone just a little while ago after House Republican leaders sent over a counteroffer to the White House on the fiscal cliff negotiations. We don't know what's in the counteroffer. We don't know what President Obama and John Boehner actually discussed. We only know that they did have a phone conversation which potentially could be a sign of some progress. We're monitoring what's going on.

Earlier, though, in the day, House Speaker John Boehner, he accused the president of deliberately holding up negotiations by refusing to provide details of his cost-savings plan.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Where are the president's spending cuts? The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff.


BLITZER: Let's get more with the former treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, Robert Rubin. He's joining us now.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Where are the White House proposals for spending cuts? I know they want to spend a lot of time in terms of raising tax revenues, but why not come up with a specific plan for what the Republicans say they now need, spending cuts?

RUBIN: Wolf, basically, the president has laid out where he wants to be on spending.

As you say, we have to have significantly greater revenues and if you're going to avoid middle income tax increases in one fashion or another, most of this has to come from raising rates on the top two brackets and that's what President Obama has proposed.

In terms of the spending side, they have already enacted roughly a trillion-and-a-half of reductions in what's called the discretionary part of the budget. He has proposed reductions in entitlements as you know and in the budget that he's put out. And then there's substantial savings on interest on the debt that would be incurred if we didn't have deficit reduction and then finally the other big piece of this is the spending that we will not have to have as he continues with his withdrawal from Afghanistan.

If you put it all together, then he has got a little bit over $4 trillion of deficit reduction and he stabilizes the debt somewhere around 75 percent of GDP, which would be a tremendous accomplishment for the country in terms of confidence and job creation now and recovery now, as well, of course, as meeting a long-term imperative. I think he has put his pieces out.

BLITZER: But the Republicans say that's not good enough. A lot of those proposed cuts, they were already in place. They were announced a while ago. They want more.

RUBIN: Well, Wolf, those cuts, those reductions, if you will, in the discretionary part of the budget were indeed enacted last year and they have always been part of this budget discussion and they're part of the effort to get and I think the imperatively important effort to get to in the neighborhood of $4 trillion of deficit reduction.

And that piece of the budget has, I think, without question been in place and been recognized having been in place for quite some time. I think the biggest issue remains the one of revenues and where they're going to come from and if you are going to avoid middle income tax increases, they can only come predominantly from one place and that's increasing rates.

And if you do all this -- and I think this is a point that's too often is missed -- and you get yourself on a sound fiscal -- the country gets itself on a on a sound fiscal path, not only is that imperative, because our long-term fiscal trajectory is unsustainable and dangerous, but it also I think would contribute substantially to confidence in the short-term and you can give yourself even some fiscal room for moderate stimulus if you want to.

I think it's very important in both the short-term and the long- term.

BLITZER: You say raising tax rates for the wealthy important. The president is proposing $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenue. But if you increase the tax rate on the wealthiest, that will bring in about $400 billion. Where is the rest of the $1.2 trillion going to come from?

RUBIN: No, Wolf, if you take all of the increase -- if you take reversal of the Bush tax cuts, not only the rates, but a number of -- there's something called PEP. There's something called Pease. There's the capital gains and dividend reductions that have taken place under President Bush.

You put all of those together, it actually comes out to about $900 billion, in fact, I think a little bit closer to a trillion, between $900 billion and a trillion and that's without counting interest that you save by reducing future deficits. It actually gets him to give to about give or take two-thirds of the total revenue that he needs.

And predominantly the rest of that would come from reducing deductions and preferences for the people in the top two brackets. And his theory of the case which I think is the right theory is that we have had increasing income equality for a long time in this country. We do need to reduce our deficit. It's imperatively important that we do that. It's imperatively important we have resources within our fiscal plan for public investment and those resources, the revenue resources, should come from the most affluent in our society, who have been the greatest beneficiaries of the increasing inequality.

BLITZER: Do you want him to put a cap on deductions, for example, charitable contributions or home mortgage deductions?

RUBIN: What President Obama has proposed is we put a 28 percent cap on all deductions and preferences, except as I recollect the health care exclusion.

And I think that's probably right. Each of us would do that somewhat differently. I probably would not do that for charitable contributions. But I think on the whole turning that deduction into a credit is sensible because the way it's set up right now, the most affluent get the greatest benefit from the deductions and the least affluent get the least credit, least benefit. It's the reverse of progressivity that you want to have in a tax code.

BLITZER: And in your proposal that you have signed on together with the Center for American Progress, a think tank here, a liberal think tank in Washington, you want additional taxes on tobacco, on alcohol and on gambling. Those are pretty regressive taxes.

RUBIN: There was a different theory there. First, they are very small in totality, so that the progressivity of the program doesn't get affected by that. These are all activities that in many ways are considered to be at least socially questionable. And so they have been the source of revenues for a long time, both at the federal level and the state and local levels.

But the progressivity effect, which is the point you're making, the distribution of the revenue increases that we need, is really not affected by those numbers. They're too small.

BLITZER: Yes, but mostly those -- if those taxes went up, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, poor people and middle class families would suffer a lot more as a result of those higher taxes than rich people.

RUBIN: Those taxes would probably affect middle income people more than others, but as I say, those are very small numbers relative to the overall plan.

The overall plan's progressivity, the overall plan's distribution of the revenue burden to the most affluent is not affected by those numbers, number one. Number two, those taxes only are incurred if you voluntarily undertake those activities, unlike the tax code more generally in which you pay taxes on the very segment of your income. This is a truly voluntary activity that has extra cost associated with it.

BLITZER: Who would you like to see as the next treasury secretary? We know Tim Geithner is moving on.

RUBIN: I would like to see as the next treasury secretary whoever the president picks. But let me just say, if I may, one comment on that -- it is a broad and complex job and I think while it is certainly possible that you may find someone who has never been in Washington to do that job, that's absolute possibility, I think there are many advantages to finding someone who has had Washington experience.

So, I think if the president chooses to go outside of that, that range of people, I think, he could find someone -- could find people who have not that experience. I just think there's an advantage of having had it.

Thanks so much for joining us, Robert Rubin, the former treasury secretary. I appreciate you joining us.

RUBIN: I have been delighted to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're getting new information here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now perhaps some compromise negotiating positions in the works. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is now reporting, quoting a Democratic source as telling CNN that the president remains committed to making sure that that highest tax rate goes up, the 35 percent tax rate which is right now the Bush tax cut.

He wanted it originally to go back to where it was during the Clinton administration, 39.6 percent. But there potentially could be something short, she says, quoting this Democratic source, of 39.6. There has been a lot of speculation, maybe something between 35 percent and 39.6 percent, 37 percent. Maybe that's something that could work out.

BOLDUAN: And bouncing right off of that, I'm told today by a Democratic source that the White House had brought an offer earlier this week on Monday to Speaker Boehner who they were asking for $1.4 trillion in revenue.

That's lower obviously than the $1.6 trillion we have been discussing that was their original ask in terms of the revenue number. So you are seeing some movement, but how the numbers all work out and where the numbers exactly are in terms of spending cuts and entitlement reform, obviously they're not in agreement yet.

BLITZER: There will have to be flexibility on both sides. They will have to hold their nose and both make a concession if there's going to be an agreement.


BOLDUAN: I think we can all at least be happy they're talking.

BLITZER: Good idea.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, a very serious story, an explosion and a huge fire involving a major gas line. Look at this video -- more details coming up next.


(NEWS BREAK) BLITZER: The woman who played a key role in finding Osama bin Laden is now embroiled in a new controversy. The new film "Zero Dark Thirty" tells part of the story. We will have the rest. That's next.


BLITZER: Happening now: the woman who played a critical role in finding Osama bin Laden immortalized in a film and embroiled in new controversy at the CIA.

They have been called the three amigos, Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. We're going to preview their interview with our own Piers Morgan. He describes it as funny, agitated and lively.

And a ultra-orthodox Jewish sect rocked by a sex abuse scandal blasting the doors open on their closed world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: A new movie chronicles the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

BOLDUAN: There's a real-life drama swirling around the CIA analyst who helped locate the world's most wanted terrorist.

BLITZER: Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now. She has details.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Kate, haven't we seen this situation before? First, someone is labeled hero and then the talk begins.


JESSICA CHASTAIN, ACTRESS: There are two narratives about the location of Osama bin Laden.

STARR: Behind the character, Hollywood it girl Jessica Chastain portrays in the new movie "Zero Dark Thirty."

CHASTAIN: This is an incredible woman who can't get credit for the sacrifices she's made because she's undercover.

STARR: There is a controversial real woman, the CIA analyst who by many accounts was instrumental in finding where Osama bin Laden was hiding.

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Everybody describes her as a very headstrong and even combative personality at times.

STARR: "Washington Post" reporter Greg Miller says the CIA targeting expert who found bin Laden has become a target herself.

MILLER: She has wrangled colleagues in sort of scuffles over credit for the operation.

STARR: Former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, who was part of the raid described her in a "60 Minutes" interview.

MATT BISSONNETTE, FORMER NAVY SEAL: I can't give her enough credit. She -- in my opinion she kind of teed up this whole thing. And just, you know, wicked smart. Kind of feisty.

STARR: Miller says the analyst received a cash bonus for her work but still felt slighted.

MILLER: She got a more prestigious award than most but nevertheless was put out, basically, that others were included on the list.

STARR: The CIA insists no single person found bin Laden telling CNN, quote, "Hundreds of analysts, operators and many others played key roles in the hunt." But there are questions to be answered.

MILLER: She also is under some scrutiny for her interactions with the filmmakers as part of a broader inquiry at the agency.

STARR: Whatever happened, the CIA analyst was not promoted.

MILLER: It was stunning to a lot of people inside the CIA that this person, who played such an important role in such an historic mission, was -- was blocked from getting a pretty basic promotion.

STARR: Former case officer Bob Baer wonders if the CIA still can't cope with a supposedly prickly personality from a woman.

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA AGENT: If you did run down bin Laden, I don't care if -- what your personality is like. You should immediately get promoted.


STARR: Now, Greg Miller also points out that she does have many supporters still at the agency.

You know, the CIA has still never announced it, but they do have a panel of retired experts looking at this very question. Why women are not aggressively being promoted. Aggressively being promoted to more senior positions. And this has been a problem that has dogged the CIA for years, even though plenty of women over the years worked on that hunt for bin Laden -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A serious question. Thanks very much for that, Barbara.

Let's get more right now with our CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and our CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She's a member of the CIA's external advisory board.

Fran, I'll start with you. How unusual is it that a CIA analyst is getting so much press attention right now, especially because we don't even know her name?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, this really runs against the culture of the CIA. You know, I can't tell you during my career, just limited to the time -- my time in the White House -- I was there five years -- how often the CIA would enjoy a success that never becomes public. It's a culture that prides itself on success at its mission, and the successes are enjoyed inside the family, if you will.

Now on one occasion, we actually had a team who had been very operationally successful -- it never became public -- in to brief the president, and that was a real privilege to them. They had their picture taken with them. He thanked them and it never became public. This publicity to a single member, you know, their successes are team successes.

She may have been very instrumental over a very long period of time, but I suspect, Wolf, that we will -- history will find that there were many people who were working on that issue over a period of time, and so it's just -- it's countercultural for them to have one individual singled out.

BLITZER: Peter, we know you cooperated with these filmmakers in helping them. Right?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, they asked me for an opinion on an early cut of the film.

BLITZER: Yes. So you got -- you gave your opinion. Should this CIA analyst have cooperated with them?

BERGEN: Well, that was a decision that was made way above her pay grade. That was a decision made by the CIA, you know, the managers of the CIA. I mean, certainly, any agency of the U.S. government, which has a big success, would probably want an accurate portrayal of that success. And I think that was why the filmmakers met with this particular woman.

But as Fran points out, you know, there is actually -- there were some men involved in this, by the way. It isn't just a female agent that sort of did everything. The film certainly suggests that a female agent played an absolutely central role. But there's another person that goes by the pseudonym of John who has also got some press attention in the past who was equally important, so I mean, let's be accurate about this.

BOLDUAN: Fran, I want to ask you, I want to read a quote to you that was in this "Washington Post" piece, this from a former CIA official describing the environment at the agency. This is what the quote says. It says, quote, "The agency is a funny place. Very insular. It's like middle schoolers with clearances."

I want to get your take on that. I mean, how does the CIA culture, from your perspective, how do you think this played into this controversy surrounding this woman now? TOWNSEND: Kate, no question it's a very insular place by its very nature. Right? They keep secrets. They have secret missions and secretive goals. They achieve some. They are less successful with others. And it's a very insular organization.

But I must tell you, when I read the quote, I not only cringed but I was offended. This notion of equating it to middle school with clearances. Look, these are people who work in the shadows. It's their choice to work in the shadows. But they do some very important work without which we wouldn't enjoy many of the military successes that we've enjoyed and the diplomatic successes.

And so their work is crucial. And to equate this to sort of a middle-school squabble, I think, undermines the importance of the mission and dedication of the people out there.

BOLDUAN: And Peter, you know, when you look at this, you now have the movie. You have books. There are specials out. Kind of everyone very much interested in looking at this raid to kill Osama bin Laden. There's also been a lot of criticism of that.

Do you think this raid has been overexposed? Do you think this latest episode, as well as all these other kind of stories about the raid and the detail becoming public about the raid, has it hurt our intelligence gathering abroad in the future?

BERGEN: I may not be the best person to answer that, having written a book on the subject.

You know, we spent half a trillion dollars on our intelligence since 9/11 and ultimately the whole point of the war on terror was ultimately finding Osama bin Laden. The American taxpayers spent a lot of money on this. And I think the fact that there's a great deal of press attention is merited by the sacrifices and money that has been spent.

Also at the end of the day it's an American success story. Yes, there's controversy surrounding this, but you know, I think attention is merited and deserved.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, thanks very much. Fran Townsend, thanks to you, as well.

A rare sit-down interview with the Senate trio dubbed the Three Amigos. They talked to Piers Morgan. We talk to Piers.


BLITZER: Republican Senator John McCain confirms he's seeking a spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That would give him a prime position to grill the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice if President Obama nominates her to be the next secretary of state. McCain and his Senate colleagues, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, they sat down with Piers Morgan today. The lawmakers are sometimes called the Three Amigos.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Christmas coming. What would you most like politically as a gift? If the president was bestowing you now with a gift, not in your case, but it may well be a place on this very committee?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Obviously, I think all of us, all Americans, a resolution of the issue of the fiscal cliff so that people can live next year with a sense of predictability, with a sense that they will have a growing economy and, frankly, peace in the world.

MORGAN: And a place on this committee?

MCCAIN: I think it would be fun to do.

MORGAN: I take that as a yes.


BLITZER: Piers is joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Good to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MORGAN: Such an honor to be here in your extraordinary empire.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Senator McCain. Do you think he wants to be on the foreign relations committee, in part, because of a potential Susan Rice nomination as secretary of state?

MORGAN: I think that and also the three of them have obviously immersed themselves in foreign policy for so long. I think he's an expert in the field. And he really enjoys it and he thinks he can contribute a lot to that particular committee.

They were great together. It's like meeting -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's like ZZ Top. One of them goes and we have a woman coming in. This is like bringing in -- I don't know -- Katy Perry. They were laughing.

But they are great friends. Great senators. And they had a lot to say about America.

BOLDUAN: Well, I also wanted to get your impression of these three men. You know, you don't often get -- they're often all together. They're referred to as the Three Amigos of foreign policy, but they don't always sit down together. What was your impression of them? What surprised you about them, especially now that their time is short? Lieberman is retiring.

MORGAN: One of the most interesting parts to me Lindsay Graham said he had just been to see "Lincoln," the movie, and he said it was interesting to him. If you believe what happens in the movie that's pretty close to the truth had really been quite bipartisan and brought people together to get a really important thing done. The abolition of slavery. And I think they all felt that their own relationship is how it can work in Washington. Proper bipartisan friendship that gets things done. And they all agreed that, for whatever reason, it isn't like that right now. And it needs to move that way.

I got a distinct impression talking to them that Republicans are basically about to rollover on the tax issue.

BLITZER: Raise the tax rate.

MORGAN: And let Obama have his way. He campaigned on it. He's not going to give up on it. They believe that it's probably the kind of feeling I was getting, but we're going to have the mother of all battles over the debt ceiling. And come February, I think it's going to be brutal. And I think that's when the Republicans will really dig in. That's my reading.

BLITZER: These three guys are, you know, when it comes to raising the debt ceiling, I suspect in the end they understand the credit worthiness of the United States is at stake if they don't.

MORGAN: It is. But also something has to be done. I mean, something has to give eventually. You can't just keep raising debt ceilings and raising the debt generally in America and expect anything economic to improve.

If you look at countries as Lindsey Graham said, look at Greece and countries like that, you don't want America to suddenly be plunged into that kind of an almost insolvable crisis. So they were very sensible, very funny together. A lot of very quiet exchanges with me about the Constitution, about gay rights, about gun control.

And obviously, I come from a country where almost everything is essentially federal in the terms of you have a law for the country. And I said to them, you know, in gay marriage, are you going to have a situation with that and pot and guns where almost every state has different regulations. Is it not time that America, perhaps, truly was united on these big issues, which in the end are about fairness and equality as with gay rights? They weren't having any of that. So it gets pretty lively.

BLITZER: The full interview tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." Good to have you in Washington. Please come back and visit us.

MORGAN: I'd love to, Wolf. I...

BOLDUAN: It's an invitation.

MORGAN: This is obviously why you get all the Bond movies and I end up with Denzel's castoffs.

BLITZER: If you work really hard, play by the rules, some day, Piers, you might be in a Kames Bond movie, too.

MORGAN: The worst moment of my career was taking my wife to see the bond movie and seeing your head rearing up as the star of the film.

BLITZER: I know. Stuff happens.

BOLDUAN: You know, some day.

MORGAN: I'm seeing the president tonight.

BLITZER: Have fun. Enjoy.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Piers.

We are just getting this in. The president granted an interview to ABC News in which he's predicting the Republicans eventually will agree that 98 percent of American taxpayers won't have a tax hike.

"I'm pretty confident," the president says, "that Republicans would not hold middle-class taxes hostage to try to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals. If that holds, there could be a deal."

President expressing optimism that they're moving closer.

He also said that he now recognizes the Syrian opposition forces as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.


BLITZER: Sitting down with Barbara Walters for that annual Christmas interview at the White House. Making some news in the process.

BOLDUAN: Making some news and acknowledging that him saying that it's a very big step and also talking about -- later in the interview about the fact that they've designated the Al Nusra Front a terrorist organization and that they have to make a distinction between the two groups.

Still ahead, a conviction in a horrible series of crimes is shedding new light on a very private Jewish sect in New York City.


BLITZER: A prominent leader in New York's ultraorthodox Jewish community has now been convicted of dozen of child sex abuse counts.

BOLDUAN: And some are saying this could be a turning point for a once very private group of people. Our Mary Snow has been looking into this and is joining us now from New York.

Mary, it's such a sad story. What are you learning?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And you know, Kate, some are saying they never thought they'd see a case like this even go to trial.

Now the Brooklyn district attorney had come under scrutiny with questions raised about whether he did as much as possible to prosecute claims of sex abuse in this ultraorthodox community. He's now saying a veil of secrecy has been lifted.


SNOW (voice-over): In this Brooklyn enclave, strict rules dictate just about everything the men and women of this Hasidic Jewish community do. It is home to a sect called the Satinars, who are known for being closed off to outsiders. That's why the conviction of a respected member, 54-year-old Nechemya Weberman, is seen as so significant among sex abuse victims. He was accused of sexually abusing a young girl for over three years and was found guilty on 59 counts against him.

PEAR REICH, VICTIM ADVOCATE: I look at this as a new era for the Jewish religious community.

SNOW: Weberman was hired as the counselor by the girl's parents when she began challenging strict Satinar rules at the age of 12. He denied any abuse. His support from the community was so strong, a fund-raiser was held for him that was met with protests.

The Brooklyn district attorney charged four men in June with trying to bribe the victim, who is now 18, to keep quiet with half a million dollars. They've pled not guilty.

The district attorney praised the woman for her courage in coming forward.

(on camera) This trial also went beyond sex abuse allegations, and it exposed practices of an insular community known for its secrecy. And among them is the use of so-called modesty councils.

DEBORAH FELDMAN, AUTHOR, "UNORTHODOX": It's just kind of common knowledge in the community that these squads exist. You hear about them from when you're very little. They're touted as a means to get people to behave, like "You better behave or the Vaad HaTzniu will come after you." So we all know that they're there. In fact, they almost attain a sort of mystique and just sort of communal fear.

SNOW (voice-over): Twenty-six-year-old Deborah Feldman grew up in the Satinar community but broke out as a young adult and wrote the book, "Unorthodox," a memoir about growing up in Williamsburg.

FELDMAN: Ostensibly what modesty squads are looking for is forbidden music, forbidden books, forbidden magazines, forbidden Internet access devices like computers or smartphones. They're looking maybe for love letters or for photographs. SNOW: Feldman hopes the verdict will prompt others to speak out about abuse without fear of retaliation. Others in the community remain convinced Weberman is not guilty, and his lawyer plans to appeal.


SNOW: Now, CNN has reached out to members of the Satinar community, but none was willing to talk.

And on a separate note tonight, police in New York say they're investigating an attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on an outspoken advocate of sex abuse victims. He says a man approached him today on the street and threw bleach in his eyes. He was taken to the hospital -- Wolf.

BOLDUAN: So sad. Mary, thank you so much.

BLITZER: Very sad story indeed.

Erin Burnett is on assignment. Ashleigh Banfield is sitting in tonight, along with a U.S. senator who's running out of patience waiting for answers about the September 11 attack in Benghazi. Ashleigh, tell us more.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you nailed it, Wolf. It is an unfortunate milestone if you count the days. We're at three months now, three months since that attack that killed our ambassador and three others in Benghazi, and you're not missing anything if you haven't seen the news about the arrests and convictions and even any cases. Nothing. No one has been brought to justice yet.

It does not help that the Libyan government, Wolf, has not been particularly cooperative with our folks over there. And here is one of the hooks that you may not believe. The FBI has now taken to Facebook and Twitter -- Facebook and Twitter -- looking for any kinds of tips or leads or anything they might be able to get on this case, because it is just too difficult on the ground to get the help they need.

And like you said, senator sitting on the foreign relations committee is going to talk a little about how this is sitting with that committee and one particular senator working his way to get onto that committee. We'll explain all of that, coming up next on "OUTFRONT," Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching right at the top of the hour. Ashleigh, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, it is holiday party season. Jeanne Moos has tips on what you need to watch out for.


BLITZER: During this holiday season, madcap antics can certainly get you into trouble. BOLDUAN: Yes. But in Great Britain, they're catching them on tape to try to keep people safe. Here's our Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Britain's rail service presents: how not to go up an escalator. Watch this woman seem to get her high heel stuck. Next thing you know she's on her back going up, skirt flying, shoes gone. It's Network Rails festive holiday safety campaign.

Hey, Miss Office Party, save your best moves for negotiating the escalators in those six-inch heels.

Watch out for killer wheelies, luggage on wheels. The faces are blurred so as not to embarrass anybody. This is real surveillance video. The message?

KATE SNOWDEN, NETWORK RAIL SPOKESWOMAN (via phone): If you don't take care, this could happen to you. We don't want that to happen.

MOOS: December is a big month for accidents in train systems.

(on camera) What day is the most popular for falling?

SNOWDEN: Oh, it's Friday.

MOOS (voice-over): After a few drinks too many, people tend to act like this. Speaking of pole dancing, look who's headlining the safety campaign. Lucy V. for Vixen is known for being a British tabloid pin-up.

SNOWDEN: We didn't actually know when we hired her. But we found out subsequently. She's a girl about town. She wears high heels.

MOOS (on camera): And sometimes nothing else.

SNOWDEN: Not in that poster.

MOOS: The folks at Network Rail even gave each mishap a pithy little nickname.

(voice-over) The one involving the two swingers was the Pole Dance Crunch. The luggage face plant was the Mad Dash and Crash.

You've heard of planking, lying face down often in unusual locations? Well, consider this the reverse plank. Never fear, no commuters were harmed in the making of this cautionary video. It's believed even the woman sprawled on the escalator suffered injuries only to her dignity.

(on camera) Let me save mine. It's a double whammy, acting like a heel and losing your heels at the same time.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: She is talented, Jeanne is. She finds unusual stories.

BOLDUAN: And she can do stand-ups on escalators, swinging around poles. I mean, I'm very impressed. I'm just -- want to say I'm not that coordinated. I hope I'm not...

BLITZER: No. Let's be very careful. If you're going on an escalator later tonight, be very careful.

That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.