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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Remembering Victims of Sandy Hook Massacre; Interview with Connecticut's Attorney General
Aired December 20, 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's 10:00 here on the East Coast.
And we have a very full night ahead of us.
A lawmaker talks about the National Rifle Association's power to get what it wants and exact political retribution when it doesn't get what it wants. This is a Republican woman. She -- a strong gun supporter. She followed the NRA line almost to the letter, but paid the price for being only being 98 percent loyal. The NRA speaks out tomorrow in Washington.
In Connecticut, tomorrow, well, it's going to be an official statewide day of mourning.
We begin this hour with the lives that were honored there today.
COOPER (voice-over): Jesse Lewis couldn't wait to get to school that Friday. He was excited for the holidays, and his dad was going to join him in class that afternoon to make gingerbread houses for Christmas. He was 6 years old. Smart, compassionate beyond his years, his dad says Jesse thought he could concur the world. He says Jesse died bravely trying to lead other children to safety after hearing gunshots in the hallway.
That's how he lived his life, his parents say, fearless, full of courage and strength. Jesse loved animals and was learning to ride horses. His favorite toy was a little soldier. Almost every night of his life, Jesse slept in his mother's arms.
His family writes: "The picture that remains etched in our souls is one of him in his boots, no socks, ripped jeans and T-shirt, an Army helmet strapped to his head, a smudge of dirt on his cheek, tromping through the pasture on his way from one adventure to another."
Catherine Hubbard was known not only for her bright red curly hair, but also for the bright smile that was always on her face. She, too, was 6 years old. She had a passion for animals. Every single Christmas, she would ask Santa to bring her a pet. Even as baby, before she could form full sentences, she asked Santa to bring her two fish. She would even give animals to others as gifts. For Mother's Day, she bought her mom a concrete squirrel to put in the garden. Her parents are asking for donations to any local animal shelter in honor of their beautiful little girl.
Benjamin Wheeler's hero was his older brother, Nate. They were both students at Sandy Hook Elementary. On Friday, his parents waited anxiously for word on both their sons. Only 9-year-old Nate survived. Ben was also 6 years old. He always said he wanted to be an architect, but on that Friday morning before school, he said to his mother, "I also want to be a paleontologist because that's what Nate is going to be. And I want to do evening Nate does."
Ben was born in New York City. He loved the Beatles, love lighthouses and the number seven train to Sunnyside, Queens. He also played soccer, often running at full speed across the field, even when it wasn't necessary. He loved his lessons and couldn't wait to go to school every day to see his teacher and his friends.
He was a Tiger Scout. At his funeral, members of the local Boy Scout troop formed an honor guard and performed "Taps." His parents write: "Ben was an irrepressible bright and spirited boy whose love of fun and excitement at the wonders of life and the world could rarely be contained. His rush to experience life was headlong, creative, and immediate. He will be sadly missed."
On her last birthday, Allison Wyatt had a pink cake with six pink candles. A first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary, she loved to draw, wanted to be an artist when she grew up. She often would turn parts of her house into a mini-arts studio by taping rows of her drawings to the wall.
Her parents say Allison was a kind-hearted little girl with lots of love to give. She would sometimes surprise her parents with random acts of kindness to strangers, once even offering her own snacks to fellow passengers on the plane.
Allison loved to laugh, was developing her own sense of humor. She would sometimes made her parents cry with laughter. They write: "Allison made the world a better place for six far too short years, and we now have to figure out how to move on without her. She was a sweet, creative, funny, intelligent little girl who had an amazing life ahead of her. Our world is a lot darker now that she's gone."
Dawn Hochsprung was known as a tough educator who always found time to smile. She was 47 years old. She was principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School. And her pride in her school was obvious to anyone who knew her. Friends and colleagues alike say she had a positive energy and a strong work ethic. She constantly tweeted about her students' achievements at school and recently oversaw the installation of a new security system at Sandy Hook.
Her students loved her. A friend of Dawn's told us, even little kids know when someone cares about them, and that was her. On Friday, Dawn was in a meeting when she heard the gunshots. She ran out into the hall and died lunging at the gunman trying to protect her school. She died a hero. And her family says they expected nothing less than her. GEORGE HOCHSPRUNG, HUSBAND OF DAWN: Dawn put herself in jeopardy. And I had been angry about that, angry until just now, today, when I met two women that she told to go run to shelter while she actually confronted the gunman.
And she could not have -- she could have avoided that, and she didn't. I knew she wouldn't. So I'm not angry anymore. I'm not angry. I'm not angry anymore. I'm not angry. I'm just very sad.
Anne Marie Murphy also died a hero last Friday morning. She was 52 years old, a special education teacher at Sandy Hook. She died with her arms wrapped around a 6-year-old boy, a student with special education needs that she worked with one-on-one at school. Anne Marie was known as a happy soul. She will be remembered for her love of the outdoors and her love for her husband and four children.
In her funeral mass, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said her life brought light to a world sometimes beset by wickedness.
Lauren Rousseau dreamed of teaching every since she was a little girl. Just weeks ago, she was hired as a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, taking over a first grade class for a teacher on maternity leave. She was 30 years old. Her family says this year was the best year of her life, and they take comfort in knowing that Lauren achieved her dream before she died.
She was known for her exuberance, her love of family and kids and her gentleness. She was the type of person who wouldn't even honk her horn at cars who cut her off in traffic.
TONY LUSARDI III, BOYFRIEND OF LAUREN ROUSSEAU: I want the world to know that Lauren was a great person. She touched the lives of everyone she ever met. Even if you only met her once, you liked her. She was a great person and she didn't deserve this. No one deserved this.
COOPER: No one deserved this. Her friends say Lauren always had a smile on her face and always tried to make others smile as well.
COOPER: Another sad day, with many more yet to come.
Yesterday, the friends and family of Sandy Hook teacher Vicki Soto gathered to remember her and to celebrate her life. She died with the children that she loved, trying to protect the children she loved, saving the lives of some of them.
We recognize the people who do that in wartime with the Medal of Honor. There's no such official recognition for those who do the same in peacetime in a classroom under fire.
It's both a shame that there isn't and a shame that one should even be needed. About all we can do right now is tell the stories of people like Vicki.
I spoke just a short time ago with her mother, Donna, her sisters, Jillian and Carlee, and her brother, Carlos.
COOPER: What do you want people to know about Vicki?
CARLEE SOTO, SISTER OF VICKI SOTO: That she's more than just a victim of the shooting, that she was more than just, you know, the teacher that did save her kids.
DONNA SOTO, MOTHER OF VICKI SOTO: We want them to know that, you know, she was a passionate teacher who obviously lost her life saving those children and saved many, many children.
But we want them to know what kind of person she was. She was a very serious teacher. She was dedicated to her job. But she was also a fun-loving -- she had the biggest heart in the world and would do anything for you and loved her family more than anything in life.
COOPER: I heard you used to call her Queen Victoria?
JILLIAN SOTO, SISTER OF VICKI SOTO: Oh, God.
D. SOTO: She -- my grandmother, my mom's mom's name was Helen Victoria. And she was born on Queen Victoria's birthday.
So when I named Vicki, I named her Victoria. And Vicki was the first child. She -- in their eyes, she was the perfect child and...
J. SOTO: Never. Nothing wrong with her.
D. SOTO: They're like, where's the queen, where's the queen?
J. SOTO: When we went to get our Christmas tree every year for the 27 years...
J. SOTO: ... years of my life, she picked the Christmas tree, every year.
CARLEE SOTO: Excuse me. I don't think she picked the Christmas tree when you guys picked it up at like Home Depot. I'm just saying.
J. SOTO: Well, I don't even remember us getting it through Home Depot.
COOPER: I'm sure she didn't like it.
CARLEE SOTO: Oh, no. She's so mad that we did that.
J. SOTO: She was very upset that my mother ever went to Home Depot. And she was pregnant and...
D. SOTO: She was born on December 23, so, one year, it was a little difficult.
J. SOTO: But, no. Like, she picked the Christmas tree.
And even if we found one that was just as good as one she could have chose, no, no, it's too tall. It's just not cute. It's not the right thing.
She -- it didn't matter. She had to choose it.
COOPER: Was Christmas really important to her?
CARLEE SOTO: Yes, very, very important for her.
J. SOTO: Her favorite holidays is December -- right after Thanksgiving, you get your Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas music plays in her car from that day until Christmas.
CARLEE SOTO: And she had it her way, we would have got our Christmas tree like back in October.
COOPER: My dad died in January, when I was a kid, when I was 10 years old. And from then on, Christmas became very, very painful for me for a long time.
D. SOTO: Well, I have to tell you, my mom died on December 22 14 years ago, and that was a very difficult holiday.
Carlee's birthday is December 23. So this year -- Vicki lives for Christmas. She is in charge of secret Santa. She is in charge of everything, this Queen Victoria. It's her way or -- and everybody just goes with it.
CARLEE SOTO: You don't question her, really.
D. SOTO: This Christmas, we -- we have talked about it a little bit yesterday at her funeral. And we will all be together as a family, like we always would, because that's what she would want.
We may not open one present, but we will be together as a family, because she would want nothing less than that. And we wouldn't disappoint her.
J. SOTO: And the cousins are still going to do our secret Santa in honor of her, because it's the thing she started with us. So, we are still going through with secret Santa. We choose names last night. And we're going to wear our Christmas pajamas through Christmas Day. And it fits it. Who wants to get dressed up anyways?
D. SOTO: Last year, they did crazy Christmas sweaters for Christmas.
J. SOTO: Ugly Christmas sweaters.
COOPER: Ugly Christmas sweaters.
D. SOTO: Ugly Christmas sweaters, yes.
COOPER: There's a lot of ugly sweaters out there.
J. SOTO: Well, a lot of them were from when we were little that our grandma actually made.
D. SOTO: Oh, great, because my mom made them.
COOPER: Oh, really?
J. SOTO: Yes.
J. SOTO: But they weren't ugly back then.
CARLEE SOTO: Rolling in her grave right now that you just called...
CARLEE SOTO: sweaters ugly.
J. SOTO: No, well, they were not ugly back then.
Like it was -- like, things that we used to wear were cute then, and you look at them now, and it's like what the...
COOPER: Right. You're saying ugly sweaters lovingly.
J. SOTO: Yes.
D. SOTO: Yes.
But all the cousins did it, too. It wasn't just these four. It was all the cousins. And we have a picture of all of them on the front lawn, except on my won niece deathly ill on Christmas that day with their crazy, ugly Christmas sweaters. And she was proud to have that picture up. She didn't care that she looked kooky in that sweater.
COOPER: Do you find it helps to talk about her?
CARLEE SOTO: Yes.
J. SOTO: Yes.
D. SOTO: Yes, absolutely.
CARLOS SOTO, BROTHER OF VICKI SOTO: Yes.
J. SOTO: It has its moments, like when we are at the house and her picture is everywhere, because we did -- for her wake, we made picture boards of her and...
D. SOTO: Tell them how many we made.
J. SOTO: There was at least 15, I want to say.
D. SOTO: Oh, there was 20.
CARLEE SOTO: Twenty.
CARLOS SOTO: There was 20.
J. SOTO: And they were all over like hanging up on the wall on easels. There was a video made of pictures of her. And, like, it has its moments to see, but it's also nice to see your sister again, and see how lively she was and how funny she was.
And there's times when you walk around the house and it's like, OK, Vick, just stop staring at us for a while, and you have to just walk away. But then it's just nice.
COOPER: You never know how people are going to react in a situation like this. Some people who you think are going to be able to rise to the occasion don't, and some who you never think would -- does it surprise you that she was able to keep her head about her and save these kids' lives?
J. SOTO: No.
CARLOS SOTO: Not at all.
CARLEE SOTO: She would do whatever it took to save those kids.
And, you know, I think she would be upset that there was five of them that passed, but I think she's even more happy that at least so many of them got out and can say that they are alive because of Vicki. D. SOTO: We have been told that the entire incident took three minutes. And her class -- we know where her classroom was because her brother and her cousin set up her classroom.
Every year, they went and set up her classroom. I have been there many, many times. We have all been up to the school. And we know where her classroom was. So, unfortunately, that day, we knew -- although we didn't know definitively. But, you know, in that period of time, she was able to hide many children.
She was able to think on her feet and hide as many children as she possibly could. And I don't -- I'm not surprised in the least, because she loved those children. She still lives at home and she came home every day and told stories about those kids. And, you know, we knew their names. We knew those kids.
When we saw the list, we knew this one was in her class. We didn't know their last names, but we knew, this one was in her class, this one, because she told stories about them. She adored her children. The morning she went to school, she had to borrow tissue paper because they were making their gingerbread houses. And she had to package them up for the parents.
And she asked us -- she asked me, can I take this to school today? I will pay you back when I get home. And, you know, she would do anything. She was just such a dedicated teacher.
COOPER: I notice you sometimes still speak of her in the presence tense. Does it seem real to you?
D. SOTO: No.
CARLEE SOTO: No.
D. SOTO: And I think that's -- I think it's because we're doing this.
And I think because we are staying busy and, you know, doing the press and doing -- we haven't done many. We have done a couple different interviews. The kids are kind of exhausted and really want to not do it, but they also want everybody to know their sister. And I think right now, it keeps us...
CARLEE SOTO: Sane.
D. SOTO: It keeps us sane and it keeps us going right now.
And because it's Christmas, because it's the Christmas holiday, and I -- somebody today, I said, I don't even know what day of the week it is. I don't even know what date it is. We have to get through that, too. And then I think December 26 is when we're going to -- it's really going to really sink in.
I lost my brother when I was 21. He was 22. And I always found -- he committed suicide.
D. SOTO: I have read your book.
But I found that, you know, the days before the funeral, there's a certain sort of adrenaline, that you're focused on that, and then there's people around. And I found that, for me, the hardest part was often like a week after...
D. SOTO: Yes.
COOPER: ... a week-and-a-half after, when the friends and relatives start to move away and go back to their life, and then you're kind of left there with your world, at least in my case, feeling still like my world had stopped, and yet other people's worlds continued to spin.
D. SOTO: I think that's going to happen, but I also now our family is so close that...
COOPER: You all live together, which is nice.
D. SOTO: Right.
COOPER: Carlos, I notice you carry her I.D. on you.
CARLOS SOTO: Mm-hmm.
COOPER: Why is that? Have you been doing that for the whole time?
CARLOS SOTO: Yes.
I'm just carrying it because it's a memory of her. And all my sisters have her jewelry. And I feel like this is the one thing that really can be close to me. And I can keep at my heart.
COOPER: That's nice. You have one of her flamingos in your pocket?
CARLOS SOTO: Mm-hmm.
CARLEE SOTO: I told him he couldn't wear it on his shirt.
COOPER: Did she like flamingos?
CARLOS SOTO: She loved flamingos. We went up to her room, and they were everywhere. And I'm sure in the meantime, we're just going to keep finding them, because they really -- on the Christmas tree, every other of her ornaments are -- is a flamingo.
D. SOTO: We have flamingos all over our front lawn right now, too. We were able to get her jewelry released, and they happened to bring her badge down, which she had on.
COOPER: She was wearing that on that day?
D. SOTO: We were told she had her -- they have to wear it. And we were told she had that in her hand.
COOPER: Well, it's nice to have things of hers that are close to you and touch you.
J. SOTO: It's very nice. It's comforting, like a part of her is still with us and we can hold on to her.
D. SOTO: And I think the girls, a lot of them have her clothes on. And she's probably...
CARLEE SOTO: Well, I have all mine on. No, I'm wearing her shirt, wearing her Uggs, wearing her scarf.
COOPER: Yes. That's nice that she's still with you.
J. SOTO: Yes.
CARLEE SOTO: Yes.
COOPER: And Paul Simon played?
J. SOTO: Yes.
D. SOTO: Paul Simon is a family friend. And he sang. You know, he said, what can I do? And I said, can you sing "Sound of Silence?" And without hesitating, he said, yes, absolutely.
And Mark Eamon (ph), who is also a performer, sang as well. And...
COOPER: I talked to the McDonnell family, I told you, and a lot of people tweeted they were incredibly moved by it. And they were just amazed at Ms. McDonnell's ability to smile and, you know, remember the good things about her daughter.
I mean, how -- you guys are so strong.
J. SOTO: Our sister wouldn't want us to be mourning. She would want us celebrating her life.
D. SOTO: We celebrate it.
J. SOTO: We said that, even going to the wake, our cousins were saying, should we wear black? And my mom is like, no.
D. SOTO: No, she wouldn't want you to wear black.
J. SOTO: She's like, wear green, wear purple, wear what you want. Like, wear color.
COOPER: Green was her favorite color?
D. SOTO: Green was her favorite color.
J. SOTO: But, like, wear color, and we did.
CARLEE SOTO: Who likes green?
J. SOTO: Yes.
COOPER: You wear it well.
CARLEE SOTO: Thank you. I think I have worn more green in the past few days than anything.
J. SOTO: But we're in a lot of color. And there's moments where we are all crying. But then there's a lot of times where we are able to laugh and smile and still be cheerful with each other, and, you know, talk about all the memories we have with our sister, because there's a lot of them we're fortunate to have.
D. SOTO: We have our moments. We crash and we have our moments.
And we just lay down and cry. And, you know, we hold each other. And we, you know, just -- but we have to celebrate her life. And my daughter Carlee said we're not going to keep her room a shrine. And I said, absolutely not. We're going to have her room become a memorial to her and a celebration of her.
CARLEE SOTO: Put up all the pictures that everyone was giving us.
D. SOTO: The outpouring, yes.
CARLEE SOTO: You know, those three families that we met yesterday that Vicki saved their kids''s life gave us pictures.
We have pictures coming in from like little kids in California. Just all of these things that people are giving us for -- in memory of Vicki, we want to put up and...
COOPER: That's nice.
D. SOTO: So we're going to paint that room green and make it a celebration of her life.
D. SOTO: And anybody that wants to see it and see how she touched so many lives, it's just -- it's absolutely amazing, because she would -- she's not somebody for notoriety. She's a homebody.
She's -- her family is everything. She's school and family and her friends. She has very some dear friends. She is a homebody. She wants to be with her family. She wants to be laying on the couch, watching videos, playing video games with her brother, and playing with her dog.
And, you know, so this is just, you know, unreal for her, because she would never have wanted that or expected that. But she deserves it. She deserves it.
COOPER: Well, thank you very much.
D. SOTO: Thank you.
COOPER: Well, she certainly does deserve it.
We have a lot more tonight, including a closer look at a frankly outrageous aspect to this tragedy, insult on top of incredible pain, Internet scammers out there trying to take advantage of your sympathy for the survivors. We will explain how ahead.
COOPER: Well, tomorrow, the National Rifle Association is going to address the Newtown massacre. The NRA has now been through dozens of mass killings, while maintaining its reputation as Washington's most intimidating special interest group.
Lawmakers take them on at their peril, as former Tennessee Republican state Congressman Debra Maggart knows. She joins us now, along with law professor Robert Painter, who served as association White House counsel for George W. Bush.
Debra, you're a strong gun supporter. You had an A-plus rating from the NRA and yet you did something they didn't like and they came after you.
DEBRA MAGGART, FORMER TENNESSEE STATE REPRESENTATIVE: They did.
They had proposed a bill that they wrote that pitted property rights in Tennessee against gun rights. And both of those rights very important to Republicans. Property rights are a cornerstone of our democracy. And so we tried to work with them on that issue, and they simply would not compromise with us. They would not...
COOPER: So, they wrote this bill?
MAGGART: They wrote the bill. And they would not compromise with us about the property rights issue.
It was a mandate that said every property owner in Tennessee, every day care, hospital, nursing home, city hall, county building and your house, you had to allow people to bring a gun on your property. And if you didn't like it, too bad. It was a government mandate.
COOPER: So, when they came after you, they spent a lot of money?
MAGGART: They did.
In a House race in a local House race, they spent and their allies over $150,000 that I know of. That's a tremendous amount of money to spend on someone in 19 days.
COOPER: In 19 days?
MAGGART: In 19 days. They did it right before early voting and when early voting began. And so I could just not overcome that assault. I could not overcome it.
COOPER: You got defeated?
MAGGART: I got defeated, yes. And I was the caucus chairman.
I was the -- in leadership. I was the chairman of the Republican Caucus.
COOPER: Richard, in an op-ed you wrote, you refer to what you call the NRA protection racket. What do you mean by that?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, the NRA has made it clear to politicians, particularly in the Republican Party, that it will support them and it will protect them against challenges from Democrats and other Republicans, but only if they toe the line 100 percent on the NRA's agenda.
And if they deviate at all, it is made very clear to them that the NRA will turn its guns on them and support a challenger and will take them out. And that has happened on a few occasions. And people understand in the Republican Party that they can't cross the NRA.
Well, I think that's going to change. It's going to have to change if the party is going to survive, because what happens is, as we saw the last time around, the nominees simply lose in the general election. The public has lost its appetite for the NRA's political agenda of unlimited access to guns.
COOPER: You know, Debra, the NRA has remained pretty quiet in the wake of this tragedy and often in the wake of other school shootings and the like, and then come out pretty hard against legislation down the road once kind of attention has faded away.
Do you think it's going to be any different now? Do you think there is a change in the public's attitude?
MAGGART: Well, we will have to wait and see. I can tell that you in Tennessee they were quite hypocritical about how they treated me. For years, when we were in the minority, the Republicans were in the minority, the Democrats in Tennessee, they blocked all their legislation, all the NRA legislation. They never once, not one time, came after an incumbent Democrat in Tennessee who was blocking their legislation.
When we got the majority, we started passing Second Amendment bills, and then they turned on me. They turned on my caucus and they made me an example because I was the only person in leadership who had a primary.
COOPER: Was it an eye-opening experience for you?
MAGGART: Well, yes, because, you know, as you said, I had an A- plus rating. They gave me a D. If you went to their Web site and saw the criteria, their criteria for a D, I had never done any of those things. So I went from having an A-plus rating to a D. I have a gun permit.
COOPER: Based on this one issue?
MAGGART: Based on this one issue, because it was a bad bill, it was poorly written. It infringed on the rights of all Tennesseans. And they simply would not work with us.
We just wanted to either give the property owner -- we're talking about all property owners in our state.
MAGGART: We just wanted to give them either the opportunity to opt out or at least have the immunity in case someone used a gun on their property and they were being sued. Absolutely not. Nothing. They would not compromise.
COOPER: They would not compromise.
COOPER: So, Richard, if you just look at the dollars that the NRA spent last year in outside spending, $17 million, with money like that, do they have any incentive to compromise at this point?
PAINTER: Well, they don't if the politicians are willing to take the money and report -- and support the NRA in return.
But I think we have reached a point where the politicians, if they want support from the population as a whole, they are going to have to walk away from the NRA. And they are going to have to...
COOPER: You think this incident has changed things, Richard?
PAINTER: Absolutely. I think this incident and many others. We have just had way too many of these. And we should have known a long time ago that we have way too many guns and we need to do something about it.
COOPER: Well, we will see what happens tomorrow, what they say. It's their first major public statement on this.
Richard Painter, appreciate it. Debra Painter, appreciate it as well. Thank you very much.
MAGGART: Thank you. Thank you.
COOPER: We have been telling you about a sickening part of this story, scam e-mails and Web sites that are being set up trying to fraudulently collect money in the victims' names. One of the e-mails used the name of 6-year-old Noah Pozner.
His uncle alerted us to this about two nights ago. We tracked down the person who seems to be the source of this particular e-mail. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, we learned.
I'm going to speak with Connecticut's attorney general about how to shut these scams down coming up.
COOPER: Well, we have breaking news. Late word that House Speaker John Boehner's so-called Plan B, a proposal aimed at averting the fiscal cliff, won't come to a vote tonight after all. And House lawmakers won't resume business until after Christmas.
Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins me right now.
So, Dana, what is the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that this is bad news for the Speaker.
Very bad news -- really, I would say even devastating because this is a political move that he made for one main purpose and that is to show the president and, more importantly, to show the American people that Republicans are at least for keeping taxes low for Americans making up to $1 million, and more importantly they are OK with raising taxes for people making more than $1 million.
He simply could not get the votes from fellow Republicans in order to put this bill on the floor. They tried. I was watching on the House floor the moves of many of the House leaders trying to cajole their fellow Republicans to back the speaker on this.
And at the end of the day, they simply could not get the votes, so they decided to just pull it off the floor and go home. We are told that the speaker told rank-and-file Republicans that he is going to continue to try to meet with the president, to talk to the president to resume those talks which have really been dead for the past week; they have been stalled. So bad news politically for the speaker, but perhaps, perhaps a bright spot when it comes to the big picture and that is, a broader deal on deficit reduction that could avert the fiscal cliff.
COOPER: Well, I guess the reason -- my question is why did they not want to bring it to the floor? Why did they not back the speaker on this? Because they just didn't buy what he was saying? Or they're more supportive of the president's position? Or did they think it's too much compromise? What?
BASH: They're definitely not more supportive of the president's position. They think it's too much compromise.
I talked to a number of Republican lawmakers who were planning on voting no if they had to vote, and the main reason that they didn't want to vote for it was because it would still effectively being -- it would be raising taxes, which many of them vowed not to do, even though it would just be raising taxes on people making $1 million or more. That's just not something that a lot of them could swallow.
COOPER: So it shows the lines are very firmly drawn, even more than the speaker had hoped. All right.
Dana, appreciate it.
Blizzard in the Midwest is making for nightmarish travel conditions and has left tens of thousands of people right now with no power. Check out these amazing pictures from Waterloo, Nebraska. Flashes in the sky, power lines are snapped, transformers blowing. More than 38,000 customers right now without power in the Omaha area alone.
Back on Interstate 35 near Ft. Dodge, Iowa, blinding snow caused this 30-car pileup. Two people died in that. It could be another foot of snow on the way to parts of the upper Midwest. Our meteorologist, Karen Maginnis, joins us now live with the latest.
What are you hearing, Karen?
KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right now the storm system is moving fairly rapidly through the Great Lakes. But this has been the fiercest that we have seen so far this season. And it has ushered in snowfall in places in Chicago, around northern Illinois, that have not seen snow for 290 days. That is a record.
This imagery coming out of Williamsburg, Iowa, you may see two people just kind of sliding on the ice as they are being blown across a layer of ice on the roadways by 60 mile-an-hour winds. And then in Ames, Iowa, Kevin Callivan (ph), he says that visibility was down to about 100 feet. He also says it's the heaviest snowfall they've seen so far this season, but also the heaviest snow they've seen since 2009.
Some of the other snowfall totals, in Middleton, Wisconsin, 18.5 inches of snow. What happens as we go into the next 24 hours or so? Well, we're looking at the core of this low pressure system making its way into the northeast. Still some snowfall expected here.
Some areas could pick up as much as a foot, but the blizzard conditions, Anderson, are going to be the worst. We could see those winds gusting up over 60 miles an hour. Chicago right now, some snowfall being reported, fog, reduced visibility, hundreds of flights canceled already so far, also into tomorrow morning, probably.
COOPER: And is it expected to slide over New England tomorrow?
MAGINNIS: It is. It's going to move fairly rapidly. And I think the big impact is going to be the snow is going to be fairly slight; a few inches in some areas, heavier along the eastern Great Lakes, but the wind is going to be the critical factor here.
We're going to see maybe wind gusts here 50 to 60 miles an hour. Temperatures much, much colder than they have been. We've seen fairly mild temperatures across a good portion of this region, but now we'll see temperatures that could run 10 to 15 degrees below where they should be for this time of year.
COOPER: All right. Karen, amazing pictures.
Karen Maginnis, thanks.
Up next, disgusting developments, scam e-mails, websites that are trying to fraudulently collect money in the names of Newtown victims. One of those emails used the name of 6-year-old Noah Pozner. We tracked down the person who seems to be the source of the e-mail.
There are many other scams out there as well. I'm going to speak to Connecticut's attorney general about what can be done to shut them down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SR. PASTOR MEL KAWAKAMI, NEWTOWN UNITED METHODIST CHURCH: This past week has been something that I don't think any of us could have begun to anticipate, ever dream, because it's truly been a nightmare. Just the other day someone said, I'm waiting to wake up because the horror is indescribable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's hard to believe that anyone would try to capitalize on this tragedy in Newtown. There are some absolutely sickening scams that are going around right now, people trying to raise donations in the victims' names, fraudulent sites and emails asking for money.
Six-year-old Noah Pozner's uncle told us about several scams that were being perpetrated in his nephew's name. We actually tracked down what seemed to be the source of one of those emails. Someone actually bought the domain name, his name, noahpozner.com. The family was able to get that back. But CNN's Drew Griffin and producer David Fitzpatrick traced one of the emails to a woman in the Bronx in New York. She said she didn't have anything to do with the email at all, denied knowing about it, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
She blames the e-mail on, if you can believe this, her enemies in the crafting community -- whatever that means. It's so bizarre. Here's part of my conversation with Drew last night.
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COOPER: I think it's important to name this person again. It's Noelle Alba is her name?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's her name, and her story is that her enemies, quote, "within the crafting community" sent out --
COOPER: That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, that, A, that she has enemies in the crafting community, and that they have somehow set up a PayPal account and websites about Hurricane Sandy and about this beautiful little boy. I mean, that's just ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I spoke with Noah Pozner's uncle last night. There is an official site to donate to Noah's fund. That's at noahpozner.com -- as I said, they got the name of the website back; also noahpozner.org.
But Alexis Haller, Noah's uncle, had to fight to get that web address, because someone had bought the domain name. Here's what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXIS HALLER, UNCLE OF NOAH POZNER: Well, somebody had set up the domain name noahpozner.com in his name right after the tragedy. And we challenged that with GoDaddy.
COOPER: So someone, after the tragedy, bought the domain name?
HALLER: That's correct.
COOPER: That's just sickening to me.
HALLER: That's correct. And luckily we have a lot of friends in the online community, and it was caught right away. And so we challenged it, and we have the website now, and that's the official website now. And the person -- I don't know what their intentions were -- but I think that's just suspicious by itself.
COOPER: So noahpozner.com is now the website -- HALLER: That's the official website. That's where the website to go to. That's the family's website. And we also bought all of the other related domain names. Yesterday I sat there and went through with my wife --
COOPER: It's incredible that you have to do this in this day and age?
HALLER: You know, that's exactly right. I mean, instead of doing things with our family, I'm running around trying to protect my family. I mean, I look at my nieces and I think of these scammers and I think of -- you know, are stealing from them, you know. They are survivors of this tragedy.
COOPER: It's just -- I mean, it's infuriating.
HALLER: It's infuriating. And so I'm going to do everything I can to protect them and to get the word out. And today as to this Ms. Alba, I did contact the FBI and they are looking into it. They were very interested in the information we provided.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, it's sad to think that family members have to deal with this kind of nonsense in the aftermath of such a tragedy. Drew Griffin spoke with an Internet security consultant who says that 150 websites with ties to Sandy Hook have been registered since the shooting, 30 in just the last 24 hours.
Now Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen is warning people to be on the lookout for scams and to be careful about where you donate money to. And I spoke to him just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I talked about this on the program last night. And, frankly, we were alerted to this by the family of Noah Pozner. Somebody had taken -- bought his domain name. They were finally able to get it back.
And we confronted the person, who we were able to track down as trying to do that. But I was just shocked that this -- that this is happening. I mean, I know it happens in the wake of other tragedies but that people would try to scam money off this tragedy just seems sickening to me.
GEORGE JEPSEN, CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, it's outrageous and it's despicable. It's sickening to me as well, but it goes on, and it happens after natural disasters such as Katrina or more recently Sandy. It also happens in the wake of these kinds of mass shootings, Columbine, the Aurora shootings in Colorado and now here again in Connecticut.
And vigilance is the -- is the bottom line. The public needs to be aware that these scam artists do exist. They are clever. They are smart. And before you give money, make sure it's a legitimate charity.
COOPER: Now, I know in talking to Noah's uncle, they have now -- were able to get the domain name back. So now noahpozner.com, noahpozner.org is in control -- is in the family's control, in Noah's family's control and they will be using it accordingly.
And I guess -- and I know in the coming days, we are trying to -- whenever the families, you know, want us to, to post any information on our website or CNN.com/impact about what's legitimate, what's not. But is it -- is it hard for -- I mean, can you go after the people who do this easily? Or is that difficult?
JEPSEN: Yes, we can. We take this very seriously.
And keep in mind, a lot of the people who create these websites and solicit donations, they actually are well-intentioned. They are not trying to game the system to benefit themselves. They don't understand that, in order to create a charity, there's some legal hoops that you have to jump through.
And so then we have to go after the ones who are more -- who are the systematic scammers, who are trying to raise money for themselves. And they are frequently difficult to catch. Sometimes they are out -- more often than not, they are out of state, actually. They could be creating a website from Hungary or the Ukraine or Uganda or Pakistan. So it's really tricky.
And that's why the critical thing is for the public to understand that they need to do their due diligence. They need to do their research to make sure that it is a legitimate charity before they actually give to it.
COOPER: Attorney General Jepsen, I appreciate your time. Thank you
JEPSEN: Thank you for having me.
COOPER: A woman who lives in Iowa drove all the way to Newtown, Connecticut, after hearing about the tragedy. She came to show how something as simple as pie can bring some smiles to a grieving community. We share her story ahead.
COOPER: The last time we told you about a troubling development in Syria that's hitting close to home for us and for regular viewers of this program, for more than a year now, a man named Zaidoun Al- Zoabi has been our voice inside Syria. He's 38 years old and I consider him a hero.
He put his own safety at risk repeatedly -- at his request, I should add, to tell us about the brutality of the Assad regime, the horrors of the war raging around him, and to demand freedom for his country, the freedom to speak out.
He did it over and over, bravely speaking with us more than a dozen times, speaking truth to the ongoing lies the Assad regime has repeatedly told. Just this week we learned from his family that Zaidoun, shown here on the right, and his 22-year-old brother, Sohaib, were taken away by Syria's secret police and they are being held at a facility notorious for torture and abuse.
Their relatives say time is of the essence to win their release. They've created a Facebook page to try to raise awareness and demand their freedom. They want us to tell their story in hopes that someone inside Syria, maybe someone inside the regime, will listen. We are not forgetting them tonight, and neither should you.
We want to take a moment to listen to my first conversation with Zaidoun more than a year ago and his explanation of why he was willing to put himself in danger to speak with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ZAIDOUN AL-ZOABI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: When I chant "I want freedom," I can hear my voice for the first time in my life. Now how can I give up this, even if it costs me my life?
COOPER: What does that feel like to be the age that you are and to be able to hear your voice for the first time? That's an extraordinary statement, to hear -- that you're hearing your voice for the first time.
AL-ZOABI: You know, Anderson, you don't know this feeling. Maybe you were born free. You could always say whatever you liked to say. But when you dismiss that for 30 years and you think that you can't do this and this is something impossible, and this is something you have to -- you don't have to think of, believe me, when you do it, then you can just easily give up your life after that.
COOPER: Zaidoun Al-Zoabi, I hope to meet you one day in Syria. Thank you.
AL-ZOABI: Thank you very much.
COOPER: Stay safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Should point out that Zaidoun always insisted that we actually use his name. Tonight, we can only pray for his safety and the safety of his brother, Sohaib. Their family, says Zaidoun's mother and sister, two daughters and his wife, are all in Syria right now. We wish them strength and safety.
Let's get to the latest on some of the other stories we're following for you.
Susan Hendricks is here with the 360 bulletin. Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN HOST: Anderson, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is planning to run for Congress. A former top aide to Sanford says a formal announcement will come soon, announcing that Sanford will seek the seat he held almost a decade ago. Sanford was thinking about a 2012 run for president when news broke of an extramarital affair.
Sanford is now engaged to his former mistress.
Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker has announced he will not challenge Governor Chris Christie in the next election. In an op-ed, Booker says he is exploring a Senate run to replace 88-year-old fellow Democrat Frank Lautenberg in the Senate when his term is up in 2014.
The deputy secretaries of state spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Thomas Nides said there were painful lessons learned in Benghazi, and, quote, "we have to do better." The State Department is promising to improve security at diplomatic posts around the world.
Bernie Madoff's brother, Peter, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in helping to cover up his brother's Ponzi scheme. Peter Madoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and falsifying investment records. Before sentencing, he said he's deeply ashamed by his conduct and accepts full responsibility for his actions.
And check out these pictures from a volcano in Ecuador. Hundreds of people have reportedly been forced to evacuate from their homes in the town of Ranson (ph). The volcano has reportedly been active for more than a decade and has recently seen renewed eruptions. Pretty neat sight. Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: Susan, thanks.
Coming up, how something as simple as baking pies is bringing some comfort to Newtown, Connecticut. We'll be right back.
COOPER: One of the great things about this country is that whenever there is a tragedy or a disaster, regular people do extraordinary things. No one asks them; they just do it. No one's watching; they just do it. We've seen it over and over again. It's inspiring every time.
Beth Howard is one of those people. She lives in Iowa, and when the shooting happened, she got in her car; she drove 1,000 miles to Newtown. Again, no one asked her to do it. She just did it. And what she brought to Newtown some might consider unusual, but that something has brought smiles and comfort to a place in desperate need of both.
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BETH HOWARD: Pie represents so many things. It's simplicity and it's nurturing. It's comfort food.
I drove from Iowa on Saturday.
I got plates, forks. This is our third day handing out pie. This is only half a pie.
And after I posted a comment on Facebook about saying, gosh, if it would help the people of Newtown for me to come and bake pie for them, and it would make them feel better, then I would do it.
It's still hot. It was made at the Newtown High School by the high school kids today. We taught a class. So these are just straight out of the oven. But you guys can start cutting slices, if you want.
I lost my own husband three and a half years ago, and mine was a sudden loss, so I understand the pain, and I think that was part of what drove me to come here.
You've got to have some, though. Come on.
I wrote a whole book about it. That's how, you know, that pie helped me get through my grief.
You want some pie? It's warm.
I was nervous that people would think we were imposing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pie is excellent. But the idea is even better.
HOWARD: The reaction has been the opposite. They've all been so grateful and so appreciative.
PAT HOWLEY, PLAINVILLE, CONNECTICUT: I think this is beautiful. I mean, you can only do a little bit, but, you know, you do what you can. Everybody does -- everybody does a little bit, and it means a whole lot to everybody.
HOWARD: It's been a privilege to be here, to be able to do something. People are hurting and feeling bad all across the country about what happened here and they want to help. They care. There's so much compassion and love out there in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So many people wanting to help in ways large and small.
That does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.