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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Newton Fraud Investigation; Fiscal Cliff Talks Resumes Tomorrow; At the Cliff's Edge

Aired December 27, 2012 - 20:00   ET

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


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks.

We begin tonight keeping them honest. It's a phrase we use a lot on this program and one we're passionate about. We feel it's important to point out dishonesty. Perhaps never more important than the story we're bringing you tonight.

Last week, as we were covering the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Anderson learned something that frankly made us all sick to our stomachs. That people were actually attempting to capitalize on the tragedy, fraudulently trying to raise money in the victims' names.

Thanks to reporting by Anderson, Drew Griffin, and our producer David Fitzpatrick, tonight, a woman has been arrested in connection with one of those alleged scams. Drew will join me with the details in just a moment.

But first, here's how we got to this point. Last week, the uncle of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who was among the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary told Anderson there were fake Web sites, Facebook pages and e-mails going around asking for donations in Noah's name.

Drew Griffin and producer David Fitzpatrick tracked one of those e-mails to a woman in the Bronx. Her name was Nouel Alba, and went to her house.

Here is what happened next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID FITZPATRICK, CNN PRODUCER: Oh, hi. Are you Ms. Alba? You've set up, you say, donations on behalf of one of the victims of the Newtown tragedy.

NOUEL ALBA: No.

FITZPATRICK: No? Your name and your address on the e-mail?

ALBA: No. I'm going to show you around. Come here.

FITZPATRICK: Can I come in with a camera crew? No?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Now, Alba eventually agreed to let her voice be recorded and denied that she had anything to do with the e-mail asking for donations.

Here's more of what she told producer David Fitzpatrick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FITZPATRICK: This says, this has your e-mail on it right there, this is about Noah Pozner's funeral.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: -- e-mail asking for donations. Here's more of what she told producer David Fitzpatrick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID FITZPATRICK, CNN PRODUCER: This says, this has your e-mail on it right there. This is about Noah Pozner's funeral. Take --

NOUEL ALBA, ALLEGEDLY SOLICITING MONEY FOR VICTIM: I never sent that.

FITZPATRICK: Well, take a look at it, ma'am. It's got your e- mail all over it. And take a look at the second page, it has -- gives your PayPal account and a bank routing number that you said you say set up.

ALBA: That's not my PayPal account. I mean, I have a PayPal account like that.

FITZPATRICK: But that's your -- is that your e-mail?

ALBA: Which one?

FITZPATRICK: It says right there.

ALBA: Yes, that's one of my Gmails.

FITZPATRICK: So it is your Gmail account?

ALBA: Yes, my personal account. But I never set up any funds for anybody.

FITZPATRICK: You should know the Pozner family tells us that they're very upset by all this. And --

ALBA: But I never did anything to hurt them.

FITZPATRICK: Well -- who does -- who sent this e-mail out then?

ALBA: I never sent this e-mail out. I don't have a reason to send any e-mail out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: This is all so bizarre. Alba claimed that she was being set up by enemies in, of all things, the crafting community. Alba has a business selling Victorian picture frames.

It's really hard to believe. Anderson and Drew spoke about that last week, and that she also allegedly asked for donations after Hurricane Sandy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I think it's important to name this person again. It's Nouel Alba is her name?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: That's her name and her story is that her enemies, quote, "within the crafting community" sent out --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: That's the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. A, that she has enemies in the crafting community and that they have somehow set up a PayPal account and Web sites about Hurricane Sandy and about this beautiful little boy. I mean, that's just ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Anderson spoke with Noah Pozner's uncle, Alexi Haller, after we tracked Alba down. And here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXI HALLER, NOAH POZNER'S UNCLE: Instead of doing things with our family, I'm running around, you know, trying to protect the family. I mean, I look at my nieces and I think of these scammers and I think -- you know, they're stealing from them. You know, they're survivors of this tragedy.

COOPER: It's just -- I mean, it's infuriating.

HALLER: It's infuriating. And -- so -- you know, I'm going to do everything I can to protect them and to get the word out, and today, as for this Miss Alba, I did contact the FBI. And they're looking into it. They were very interested in the information we provided.

COOPER: That's great. I mean, hopefully they can look into her finances. We didn't have the capabilities of looking into her actual bank records, but that should be relatively easy to track down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: That report got a whole lot of attention. And it turns out it got some very specific attention from both the FBI and the U.S. district attorney in Connecticut. And today, Nouel Alba was arrested, charged with lying to federal agents who were investigating her for fraudulent fundraising activity.

Here you see her leaving court in Hartford, Connecticut. She appeared before a U.S. magistrate and was released on $50,000 bond. Now if she's convicted, Alba could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The FBI's criminal complaint refers to the reporting that we did last week, says, quote, "On or about December 19th, 2012, CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" program broadcast a story regarding charity scams and the Sandy Hook tragedy. Alba was a subject of the program and allowed the CNN crew to record her audio voice in response to questions about her involvement with charities to help Sandy Hook victims.

"Alba claimed that the PayPal account listed in the request for donations was not hers, only that she had an account like that. Alba claimed that she never set up any funds for anybody. The journalist reported that Alba claimed she immediately refunded all of the donations she received. She claimed that other members in the scrapbooking community within which she interacted on Facebook had tried to set her up."

The criminal complaint also shows the sickening depths of Alba's alleged deception. And Drew Griffin joins me now.

GRIFFIN: You know, Randi, her story didn't add up to us when we first spoke to Nouel Alba. Now the FBI is alleging some pretty awful things and they say she acted real quickly in an effort to deceive people into donating money.

The FBI complaint shows that within just four hours after the shooting, really just as we were all realizing the magnitude of that tragedy, Nouel Alba, on her Web site which is called Victorian Glam Ferries or VGF in the complaint. Identified herself as an aunt of one of the children who attended school there. VGF also claimed at that time to have provided pictures to law enforcement officers to help identify victims. VGF did not identify the name of her nephew.

Randi, that was at 1:30 in the afternoon. Of course we didn't know the names at that moment.

KAYE: But all of that, it seems, was a lie, right, at this point?

GRIFFIN: According to the FBI, every word of it was a lie. And it didn't stop. That's what's amazing. The FBI claims Alba was basically building in sympathy on this Web site. The very next day started asking for money. This is from December 15th. Some of these spellings are texts and they're wrong. We're trying to take them straight from the complaint here.

"We've set up a funeral fund for my brother and families. Anyone willing to make a donation can make one." Then she goes on to give a PayPal account number and a direct deposit account through Chase Bank. She then writes this, "We ask that you continue to not just pray for us but for the families who have lost their kid." KAYE: I have read the complaint, Drew, this afternoon and was just stunned. I mean, this woman sitting in her home in the Bronx was allegedly telling donors that she was actually visiting the crime scene, identifying the bodies of victims, right, and even meeting with the president?

GRIFFIN: If it's true, it's so outrageous. It's almost like there's a mental issue here, not just fraud. The FBI says she told one donor by phone that she had to go to Sandy Hook Elementary School and enter the crime scene to identify her nephew for law enforcement.

This is what she texted about the president. This is the exact text. "He met with us, hugged us, and even cried with us. He's really down to earth."

And most sickening to me is then she allegedly texted this detail about the victim that she claims is her nephew. Again, a text message, "I'm a mess, not looking forward to see that casket because that is what will kill us all today. Eleven gunshot in his little body or take those bullets. The guilt we have just keeps building up."

This was all just made up. She had no ties at all to any family of this tragedy. She was just -- apparently just trying to get people to donate to her personal accounts.

KAYE: So did she? Did she get any money?

GRIFFIN: You know, at the time, she did tell us she got about $300 which she says she then refunded. That apparently is true. The FBI isn't specific about the money but does say the PayPal deposits were refunded. She's charged with lying here, the same lies she apparently told us she told the FBI, that this wasn't her. That someone else was setting her all up.

According to the FBI, they will be able to prove that it was her, that she was claiming to be this aunt, and was in the process of receiving donations on behalf of this family.

KAYE: You know, Drew, this is so shocking, but really the most shocking thing out of all of this is, is that it's fairly routine, right? I mean you've seen this happen before after other tragedies and other disasters.

GRIFFIN: Yes, fake charities popping up. Recently surrounding Hurricane Sandy victims. And there could be more of these related to Newtown. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut and the FBI being very aggressive, trying to track more of these. Nothing specific, they're telling us, but clearly this arrest today, which could end with a five-year prison sentence, is being announced as a warning to anyone who would try to take advantage of this tragedy and these suffering families.

KAYE: A warning that -- a warning that we certainly hope is heard.

Drew, thank you very much.

Ken Berger is the president and CEO of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that evaluates charities, and he joins me now live.

Ken, good to see you. The details, you were listening there, so disturbing. Have you ever seen anything like this?

KEN BERGER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CHARITY NAVIGATOR: Unfortunately, we have seen situations like this. And I think any time there's a tragedy, unfortunately some really awful people come out and exploit the public. It's really horrible. I mean, this is one of the worst I have seen. It's pretty horrific to say the least, but there are some real low things that people are doing out there when it comes to many of these kind of tragedies.

KAYE: What kind of person -- I mean, I saw you as you were watching that report, you were shaking your head. What kind of person does something like this? I mean this is not your average scam. They're taking advantage here, allegedly taking advantage here of a horrific situation. In your work, I mean, can you paint the picture or take us into the mindset of somebody like this?

BERGER: Unfortunately, it seems there's no simple profile. It's people from all different economic backgrounds and all different kinds of people we've seen engaged in some very unethical behavior. And I think it's a matter of character and integrity of an individual. And also I think there are occasions where clearly there are mental health issues involved. But there is no clear profile. It's just across the boards.

KAYE: Yes. It's just so sad. Authorities have told us that they are investigating other cases. Are you at all concerned that this case, this case in Newtown could be the tip of the iceberg?

BERGER: Absolutely. And that is often the case. You know, in the case of Hurricane Sandy, 1,000 Web sites were created within a week. So that gives you a sense of the scale of how these things can be. And our concern is that the amount of oversight capacity of the government is quite limited and is shrinking while this kind of abuse seems to be steam rolling and there's more and more of it that we see. Especially this year when we've had a number of tragedies.

KAYE: So are authorities outnumbered or can they do anything to stop this?

BERGER: They're definitely outnumbered. The IRS and the State Attorney General's Offices have been long behind in keeping up with these things. And now as government is shrinking, there's even more of a problem and so unfortunately it requires the work of CNN and other investigative reporters to bring this to light. It's almost embarrassment that sometimes drives the government to get involved. So there really is a lack of oversight there and there's a need for far more enforcement.

KAYE: I'm sure you're concerned that people watching at home might be listening to this story, and saying, well, maybe I shouldn't donate. And this might make them afraid to donate. What do you say to those people?

BERGER: Well, first of all, for every horrible story like this, there are inspirational stories and fantastic charities. In this case, United Way of Westchester -- of Western Connecticut, excuse me, is involved and they're having the community help select where the funds are going to go. You have Save the Children, you have Donors Choose is a great organization.

There's a whole lot of organizations out there that have a track record, a reputation. They do wonderful work. So don't despair. Please, just do a little research and don't just give on impulse.

KAYE: All right, Ken Berger, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

BERGER: Sure.

KAYE: And just a note from a local official in Newtown. She said the town has received so many gifts since the tragedy that the post office and local workers can't even handle the volume anymore. She's actually asking people to stop sending things and instead donate them to needy families in their own communities.

Now as far as donations, there are several legitimate funds for the victims, including one for Noah Pozner. You can find the list of places to donate at "Impact Your World," CNN.com/impact.

Breaking news when we come back. Looks like President Obama and congressional leaders will try again tomorrow to steer us back from the fiscal cliff. More on what, if any, deal could be shaping up.

And "Keeping Them Honest," why avoiding economic disaster seems to be so hard to do for some of the folks in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Some breaking news. Late word that President Obama will meet tomorrow with congressional leaders for one more shot at keeping the country from going over the fiscal cliff. Before we get the latest on that, though, let's clear one thing up. Everyone talks about the cliff as if it's simply materialized from out of the blue.

"Keeping Them Honest," that is just not so. The package of drastic budget cuts and tax increases that go into effect Tuesday morning are totally manmade, totally avoidable, and all sides know it. It's a kind of legislative dooms day machine written by the men and women who work here and signed by President Obama.

The idea being to make it so painful not to cut a deal on taxes and spending that they'd be forced to cut a deal on taxes and spending. Except, "Keeping Them Honest," they haven't done it. Even though they knew the stakes, they knew the deadline, and both sides promised that this time things would be different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MINORITY WHIP: We need to return to fiscal responsibility.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: How is it that we're going to be able to do that? Getting our fiscal house in order.

REP TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: The American people have spoken loudly. They want us to get our fiscal house in order.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Fiscal handcuffs on this Congress that are sorely need.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Washington is beginning to get its fiscal house in order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: So they approve legislation that gave everyone nearly a year and a half to reach a long-term agreement on spending and taxes or face truly punishing consequences if they didn't. You'll remember at the time this was a really big deal. Republicans had forced the issue by refusing to raise the debt ceiling without budget cuts. Markets went haywire.

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords even returned to Washington from rehab from her almost fatal gunshot wound just to vote for the bill. And while the experience left everyone bitter, Democrats and Republicans also promised to work extra hard, as they said, to get our fiscal house in order. If only because the law they just passed made it crazy not to.

Well, call them crazy. No progress before the election campaign began. No progress during the campaign. Then more recently, House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama each made important concessions. The president on entitlement spending. Speaker Boehner on upper income tax rates.

Speaker Boehner, though, could not get conservative Republicans to go along and seemed at a loss for what to do next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: But we can't cut our way to prosperity. We need real economic growth. Many of us believe on both sides of the aisle the fundamental reform of our tax code will help us get our economy moving faster and put more Americans back to work. And more Americans on the tax rolls. How we get there, god only knows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: President Obama, meantime, seemed to lose patience. No sign he's eager to go off the cliff, but he's also not ready, either, to concede more to get, in his words, what he'll get for free when the Bush tax cuts expire Tuesday morning. Democratic lawmakers, though, are more willing to let that happen and everything else happened, and both sides are still pointing fingers.

Take a look at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid just this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: You'll excuse me if I'm a little frustrated at the situation.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Republican leader finds himself frustrated.

MCCONNELL: I say I'm a little frustrated because we've been asking the president and the Democrats to work with us.

REID: He complains that I have not delivered the votes and pass solution to the fiscal cliff. But he's in error.

MCCONNELL: I told the president I would be happy to look at whatever he opposes.

REID: He's upset because, quote, "the phone never rang."

MCCONNELL: As I said, this is a conversation we should have had months ago.

REID: We have nobody to work with, to compromise.

MCCONNELL: And Republicans aren't about to write a blank check.

REID: We can't negotiate with ourselves because that's all we're doing.

MCCONNELL: We don't have very many days left.

REID: We're in the same situation we have been in for a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: As you can see, the Senate is back in session today. The House plans to be back on Sunday.

More now on the breaking news. Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us now from Capitol Hill. Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin on the North Lawn tonight.

Dana, I'll start with you. You've been listening to all that big talk we played in that intro. Today was a lot of finger-pointing and even more political chicken, but now both sides will be talking to each other tomorrow instead of just at each other. What is the latest on that? DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, they are going to all be going to the White House. When I say all, I mean the top four congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans, to sit down with the president.

And I am told by a senior Democratic source here in the Senate that the expectation is that if they can't figure out a path forward over the next three days in this meeting tomorrow, a way to actually pass something to avert the fiscal cliff, then it is very likely, almost definite, that we will go over the cliff.

I have to tell you that sources in both parties think that that is the likelihood at this point anyway, but this meeting tomorrow is absolutely going to be crucial. And what the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who you just heard from there, what he is saying that he hopes to get from the president is a more detailed explanation of what he has been saying publicly, which is that he thinks that he just wants the Senate to pass the stop gap measure to keep tax cuts where they are for 98 percent of Americans, which he campaigned on over and over again in this -- in the last election and in the hopes that enough Republicans will come on board and then that could possibly get it through the House.

KAYE: So, Jessica, is there cause then for optimism here or is this meeting really just for show?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Randi, as Dana pointed out, at this meeting they can -- they could work out the details of this scaled down proposal, which could be a final agreement. For example, Republicans have been calling for these details, and the kind of thing they'd like to know is if, just one example, if unemployment insurance is going to be extended, how would that be paid for? These are the sort of things that could be worked out tomorrow.

Now Senate Republicans, the leader, Mitch McConnell, has made it clear today, as Dana reported, that he goes into this meeting looking to hear what the -- what the president is proposing, but Speaker Boehner, his office issued a statement sounding far less willing to compromise before this meeting than he did before his other meetings with the president. So optimism, that's not how I would characterize the mood around this town.

KAYE: Yes.

YELLIN: There's some hope, not a lot of rosiness, though.

KAYE: And, Dana, even if the House does get the chance to vote on some sort of deal, I mean, there's no guarantee Speaker Boehner can deliver his conference, right? I mean, he couldn't even get Republicans to vote for his own bill. How does he convince them to vote for any deal that the president approves?

BASH: That's right. The feeling among House Republicans, particularly those close to Speaker Boehner is that if something could get through the Senate, the capital I, capital F, IF, then it would be something that would probably get a number of Republican votes in the Senate and will do the same in the House. He, the speaker, told members of his Republican conference in a conference call today, we're told, that he's not interested in passing something without -- with a majority of Democrats, without the majority of his own caucus.

But the reality is that he believes that if they get to that point, he will get the majority of his caucus, even if it means passing the president's plan because there are just enough Democrats that will go along with perhaps the majority of Republicans who don't want to see taxes go up on all Americans.

Having said that, the flipside of that argument is what you and I talked about last night, Randi, is that there are a number of House Republicans who would much rather vote after January 1st to cut people's taxes than vote now to raise other people's taxes.

KAYE: Yes, I mean, Jessica, both sides here have been saying the other one could drive the nation over the fiscal cliff, that their opponents have something to gain by letting that deadline pass without a deal.

Does either side have a point here? I mean, do either of them stand to gain or at least think they stand to gain if there's no deal in time?

YELLIN: Right now, both sides, Randi, are trying to win a PR war because, as we've been saying, it's increasingly likely we go over the cliff. So now there's just a lot of posturing. For Republicans it's a lot of arguing to the base because what they're trying to do they can't be seen as raising -- voting to raise taxes on people.

For Democrats, it's positioning for the larger public because they have to be seen as, in their view, upholding the president's promise made during the campaign to increase taxes on the wealthiest and hold them down for middle class Americans.

Right now, the polling is with the president and with Democrats. But if we go over the cliff, it's not hard to project that in a few weeks' time, all of that is going to shift, and the American public will blame everyone in Washington, and everyone will be hurt. So the two sides have to make a deal in short order, whether it's before January 1st or in two weeks after, they have to get something done.

KAYE: Yes. They certainly do. Dana, Jessica, thank you very much.

And with us now, the "New York Times'" finest, columnist Ross Douthat and Charles Blow.

Ross, I'm going to start with you. You think both sides have decided it's in their political interest to go over the fiscal cliff. Is that right?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes, I think that they're -- you know, you never want to rule a deal off the table because we have lived through so many rounds of brinksmanship that have ended in deals in the last couple of years, but in this case, I think Democrats think they get a better deal on policy by going over the cliff. That they end up getting more in taxes with less in spending cuts than they would get if they had to cut a deal right now.

And Republicans have persuaded themselves not completely convincingly in my view, but they have persuaded themselves that it is much better to accept slightly higher taxes that they themselves don't have to vote for directly, even though they'll still be casting a vote for new tax rates, they'll be able to say, well, taxes have already gone up and we're just voting to cut them.

So that's sort of how, at least, I think both sides are persuading themselves to sort of tip-toe off the cliff.

KAYE: Yes. And Charles, I know that you think Republicans have more to lose here, but does either side really get a boost from this?

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: I don't think you get a boost, but I think the Republicans really take a knock. And I think even Ross believes that they take a knock for this. Because what he is saying, and I think he's absolutely right, is that they've kind of convinced themselves, played some sort of mental game on themselves that in principle as long as they don't vote to raise anyone's taxes, they'll take a worse deal than the president was offering them in the first place because they can have the principle to say that they came back after they let the tax breaks expire and then just voted to lower them on fewer people.

KAYE: Right.

BLOW: It's an -- it's an incredible kind of situation that they find themselves in. And they've kind of convinced themselves that that is actually a better situation than having fewer people be subjected to higher taxes, which you would think would be their position. It's extraordinary. And I think that the American public can see straight through that kind of nonsense. And that's why you see in the polls, consistently, people say that they think that the president is doing a better job negotiating on this fiscal cliff, and that they will blame Republicans more if we go over it.

KAYE: Yes. And we've certainly been hearing that.

Ross, you've been saying that no matter who comes out on top in this deal, this sort of showdown actually makes it less likely Republicans will win tax debates anytime soon.

DOUTHAT: Yes, in the sense that, you know, the party has -- I mean I think Charles is right, that the party has sort of locked itself into a corner where yes, there is this possibility that they'll be able to vote for tax cuts and they'll be able to say, well, we held the line. We did our best and so on. But the danger for them is that these stopped being the Bush tax cuts and become the Obama tax cuts, right?

And I think that's what conservatives and Republicans should be most worried about from a long-term political perspective right now. I mean, in a sense, they have sort of -- they have won a particular policy battle in the sense that most of the Bush tax cuts, both parties believe, should be extended. Right? I mean we're talking about 97, 98 percent of the Bush tax cuts.

So you could say that's a policy win for Republicans, but if those tax cuts ended up getting branded as Obama's tax cuts that he passed after we went over the fiscal cliff, I think they -- that loses whatever upside there is for Republicans, except, and we have to mention this, obviously, that for Republicans who are vulnerable to primary challenges, you know, there's obviously a lot of anxiety about being, you know, the first Republican in 20 years to vote for a tax increase.

I think that's the big fear, that it's been so long. Republicans haven't cast this kind of vote. You don't want to be the first one to do it.

KAYE: Yes, and Charles, we're told the Democrats may actually be waiting until the very last minute. Maybe they're banking on pressure and the GOP caving. But what should Americans make of that with so much at stake here?

BLOW: I don't think it is. I mean, I think there's gamesmanship on both sides, that's obviously true, but I think that Democrats understand that they get a better deal out of this if they actually go over the cliff. What the president was offering, his last round of offers, was in fact something that a lot of Democrats and liberals did not take kindly to. And in fact, when Boehner was not able to pass plan B, he basically threw the president a lifeline and said OK, nobody has to be mad at you because I can't even get people to vote for these incredibly higher limits.

KAYE: Right.

BLOW: So, in a way, the president comes out of this in a better, stronger position. The Bush tax cuts will expire if you do not have a deal. The Republicans are not willing to move, as far we can tell at this point. That means that when you come back, you will get exactly what the president has said he wanted all along.

DOUTHAT: Right.

KAYE: Yes.

BLOW: Which was that, you will then have to vote to extend the tax cuts for people making $250,000 or less.

DOUTHAT: But he's --

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: He's in the catbird seat.

DOUTHAT: And basically what's happened here is that the Democrats have learned to love intransigence. Right? I mean, last time we went through this with the debt ceiling, you have this endless Democratic whining might be an unkind way of putting it, but, you know, there was a lot of oh, you know, the Republicans are -- you know, they're playing too much hardball. They're putting the country's future at risk and so on.

And this time the Democrats have decided well, we're just going to play hardball, too. And as Charles says, they have a better hand to play this time.

KAYE: Charles Blow, Ross Douthat, thank you both very much.

Up next, who's still got to worry about that massive winter storm? Chad Myers has the latest forecast, and we'll tell you about the tornado on aisle three. Amazing video when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Before getting the latest on the winter storm from Chad Myers, I want to play you a truly amazing piece of video. It shows a tornado from that storm as it blew past a Walgreens in mobile, Alabama. This is on Christmas day. Just look at that.

There's no sound so you can't actually hear the cars being spun around in that parking lot or the screams of people racing for cover as you see there, or the racket of items literally flying off the shelves from gale force winds inside the store. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt.

Meantime, from Little Rock, Arkansas to Littleton, New Hampshire, and up into Maine, they're digging out from a heavy blanket of snow or getting ready for even more. Here with the latest on all of it, meteorologist, Chad Myers.

Chad, so the dangerous weather that moved across the country this week isn't over yet. Who's getting hit the hardest right now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, down east Maine all the way into New Brunswick, into Canada, but the biggest concern I have right now for the mass amount of people is Boston. It's been 36 all day, raining. Now it's down to 32 and beginning to snow.

So by morning, what was wet will be white or will be an ice puddle. So you have to be careful here, now that we're going to go down below freezing in Boston for the first time, all the way out to the cape as well. That's where the massive amount of people, the most people will be affected by tomorrow's weather when you wake up.

Everything that was just wet is not going to be wet anymore. We will see an awful lot of snow here in parts of Maine, all the way over to Halifax up to a foot of snow. That's where it is now. The storm has moved away from the northeast. It's still going to make cold wind for New York City, cold for Albany, into Boston, even into New Hampshire.

Temperatures are going to be cold tonight, down into the teens for the most part. Vermont, you did very well. I know that depends on your point of view, but for Killington, for sugar bush, for the ski resorts there, almost two feet of new snow in a place that has been very hard hit by a lack of snow the past couple years.

But in Vermont so far, 21 inches of snow. Tomorrow, we get another storm that moves up to the northeast, believe it or not, right up to New York. It's going to be a storm that runs right along the spine of 32 degree weather. So could even see some ice and sleet from Memphis back up to New York City by Saturday.

It's a storm that's going to start in the south, just like the last one did. I don't expect severe weather, just rain here with this one, but then as it runs up the northeast coast, almost a nor'easter but not quite, we will see snow even into New York City.

By Saturday night, could be 3 inches. At least it's good. It's Saturday and not on Friday or Monday when you're trying to get somewhere. Saturday, stay home and watch the pretty pictures.

KAYE: Watch CNN. Chad, thank you very much. We're following other important stories. Isha Sesay joins us with a "360 Bulletin."

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Randi. The man who ambushed firefighters in upstate New York died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound according to an autopsy. Police don't know how William Spengler, a convicted felon got the gun or guns that he used. He killed two firefighters and seriously injured two others Monday apparently by calling a truck to them to the house and car fire.

Major U.S. retailers are recalling three models of "Nap Nanny" baby recliners after reports of five infant deaths. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has filed a complaint against the manufacturer. "Nap Nanny's" owner and founder told CNN, quote, "We continue to stand behind the product 100 percent."

And Randi, a Florida man who illegally bought and sold whole and partial dinosaur skeletons on the black market has pleaded guilty. He violated U.S. and Mongolian laws and now faces up to 17 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines. He's in a lot of trouble.

KAYE: He certainly is. That's one big shipment that's for sure. Thanks, Isha.

We're also following some troubling developments in Utah, where Warren Jeffs is still considered a prophet. The town's only major grocery store has shutdown and Jeffs' followers are being told the world will end by Monday. Authorities' concerns are growing. Gary Tuchman investigates just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Tonight, new concerns that Warren Jeffs may be planning something dire from his prison cell. We have been following the saga of Jeffs for years now from his fugitive days to his conviction. Jeffs remains a revered figure among his followers in the FLDS Church even though he's serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting two underaged girls.

Now, the closing of a grocery store in a town on the Utah-Arizona border has authorities on high alert. Jeffs followers are being told the world will end no later than this coming Monday, December 31st.

With the store now closed, what other preparations might they be making, and at what potential cost to themselves? Gary Tuchman went to Utah looking for some answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is Warren Jeffs' birthday, the imprisoned prophet of the FLDS Church. In the neighboring twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Utah, his followers have a message for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We send our love.

TUCHMAN: By all accounts, the man they love is still making major decisions and pronouncements from behind bars, and church members almost never want to talk about that.

(on camera): So why are you running away from us?

(voice-over): Our visit comes at a bizarre tenuous and potentially disturbing time. Sam Brower is a private investigator who has represented more than 100 former members of the FLDS Church.

SAM BROWER, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: The consensus seems to be that Warren is indicating that by the end of the year the end of the world will be here.

TUCHMAN: When leaders of religious sects talk about the calamitous end of the earth, people in law enforcement take careful notice.

BROWER: You know, Jim Jones, Curesh, history has shown that these things happen when religious zealots take charge of a group of people.

TUCHMAN: A point of concern, the church-owned grocery store, the only big store in the community, was abruptly shutdown.

(on camera): Not only was this the sole grocery store in the FLDS community, but it was an essential gathering point. Authorities fear that its closing may signify something potentially dire.

Is it your belief that Warren Jeffs believes the store no longer needs to be open because the end of times are near and his people don't need to buy groceries anymore?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: It's believed that many residents here have been storing up extra food in anticipation of the end times. Others though are driving out of town to shop. So what do Warren Jeffs' faithful followers have to say about all this?

They're told to never talk to reporters, and some use their reporter intimidation technique, large vehicles speeding and screeching by us and then emitting black smoke for added emphasis.

(on camera): One of the things we're hearing is that he's been talking about the possible end of times, end of the world, and that people need to be faithful. Is that your understanding of what he's been talking about also?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would rather not talk.

TUCHMAN: A lot of ladies in this community don't want to talk to me. Are you one of them?

(voice-over): The ladies are almost always polite. Not always the case with men.

(on camera): Can I just ask you, do you still believe in your prophet? Do you not want to talk to me, because you do hear me? OK, you can tell me no comment. We can walk away instead of just being silent to me. Were you told not to say any words?

What language are you speaking, sir? Can I ask you, do you believe the end of time is near at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It depends. If you fly an airplane, then it's the end of your time.

TUCHMAN: We've been told that your prophet Warren Jeffs has said that the end of time will be coming by the end of the year. Do you believe that to be true? How come you're scratching my microphone? You don't want to talk to me, do you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Police and prosecutors say Warren Jeffs' end of time declaration is the mark of a desperate man, a man who is marking his time by serving a sentence of life plus 20 years. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Hillsdale, Utah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: Still ahead, new information about President Bush Senior's health and why his chief of staff said, quote, "please put the hearts back in the closet."

Also this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What is this thing with you and Ryan Seacrest?

KATHY GRIFFIN: What is the thing with you and Ryan Seacrest. You're so in love with him. He's your buddy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: What will happen this year in Times Square? Anderson and Kathy Griffin have a preview straight ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: A troubling report from a Syrian opposition group is hitting close to home tonight. A local coordination committee of Syria says 50 bodies were found in a refrigerated truck reportedly executed by regime forces.

Right now, a man we consider one of our own is being detained, according to his family, by those very same forces. Zaidoun Alzawabi has been our voice from inside Syria. He willingly and repeatedly put his own safety at risk to tell us about the brutality of the Assad regime and the horrors of the war raging around him.

Last week, relatives showed that he, shown on the right, and his brother, were taken away by Syrian police and are held in a facility notorious for torture and abuse. Their family said time is of the essence. They created a Facebook page to raise awareness and demand their release.

They want us to tell their story in hopes that someone inside the Syrian regime will listen. We want to make sure Zaidoun's voice is still heard. Here, he tells Anderson his people will keep fighting whatever the cost.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via telephone): Nobody cares for us. Everybody knows the story. It's OK. We know now the world is happy watching us being killed, and we will do it on our own, even if it takes us ten years. We are in the streets and it will not change. We will not retreat, we will not give up.

COOPER: There's no going back?

ZAIDOUN: No way. You know, if we go back, this is just like committing suicide. With this regime, if we say stop, no revolution, they will thrash us. We will just stay the rest of our lives in jails. They are criminals, and this is our chance, Anderson. This is our chance to get freedom. We have been dreaming of this moment for the past 40 years. No one can take this from us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: We certainly hope Zaidoun and his family are safe tonight. Zaidoun's mother, sister, two daughters, and his wife are all in Syria right now. We'll try to stay in touch with them.

Let's get the latest on some other stories that we're following. Isha Sesay is back with a "360 Bulletin."

SESAY: Randi, Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf has died in Tampa, Florida. He was 78, known by many as Storming Norman. He commanded the U.S.-led coalition during the first gulf war. A statement by former President George H.W. Bush called General Schwarzkopf a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation.

Former President Bush remains in intensive care tonight. He is being treated for a fever, but his family remains hopeful he'll be released soon. His chief of staff sent a note to reporters today reassuring them that his condition is not dire and telling them to, quote, "Please put the hearts back in the closet."

Randi, check out this video of a shark tank exploding at a Shanghai mall Monday night. That's flexi-glass about six inches thick. At least 15 people were hurt and three sharks died. The mall does not plan to rebuild that aquarium, Randi. It was only about two years old.

KAYE: Wow. That was amazing to see the sharks going right at the people. Isha, thank you very much.

Up next, meet -- with that name, he was bound to end up on "The Ridiculist," right? Anderson is number seven on our best of 2012 countdown, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: On Monday night, Anderson and Kathy Griffin will team up again in Times Square. You can feel the excitement already. We know you can. It will be their sixth year together, co-hosting our New Year's Eve coverage, and the magic is still there.

Kathy loves nothing more than surprises. She set the bar pretty high last year. This year, Anderson is trying to set some ground rules. Good luck with that, pal. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I just want to remind some people what you did last year. Take a look.

My Lord, what are you, kidding me?

KATHY GRIFFIN: We just saw Lady Gaga. We just saw Lady Gaga.

COOPER: Are you kidding me? I swear, I'm literally talking to you guys and I turn around --

GRIFFIN: I'm in my underwear.

COOPER: Where's the sign?

GRIFFIN: It's not nude.

COOPER: Look at the sign. Good Lord.

GRIFFIN: What I like about that clip is that it took you quite a while to even turn around and realize I was almost naked.

COOPER: That sort of thing is not my demo.

GRIFFIN: I understand. You're totally blacking out.

COOPER: The other thing that people probably don't know is that every year I have to fight to get you to be quiet during the sweetest, most special time of the entire night where the ball actually drops and they play "New York New York" and they play "Imagine" and the crowd is singing and I find it an emotional moment. I have to fight you not to talk.

GRIFFIN: Yes, we're not doing that this year.

COOPER: Those are the nicest moments.

GRIFFIN: That's the moment where we have to just punch Ryan Seacrest in the face hard.

COOPER: What is this thing with you and Ryan Seacrest?

GRIFFIN: What is the thing with you and Ryan Seacrest? You're so in love with him, he's your buddy. I can't believe when we went to dinner last year and you actually wanted to talk to him. He was trying to suck the life out of us and get our secrets.

COOPER: We don't have secrets.

GRIFFIN: Did he call you after the dinner?

COOPER: No, I haven't talked to him since last year.

GRIFFIN: When is he going to call us for the dinner? He usually picks up the tab. I'm not paying for this year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: There will be plenty more of that on Monday. CNN's New Year's Eve live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin starts at 10:00 p.m. Eastern from Times Square.

As 2012 draws to a close, we are counting down the top ten "Ridiculists of the Year" based on your votes. Tonight, your choice for number seven. It involves the arrest of a man whose name is quite a mouthful, to say the least. Here is Anderson's take on it from back in January.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding a gentleman for the sake of convenience, I'm going to refer to as Mr. Bop Bop. He is a man who got arrested in a park in Madison, Wisconsin, after police found marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and a knife on him.

According to court records found by the "Capital Times," his name used to be Jeffrey Drew Wilschke, just kind of a tongue twister. I am guessing he got tired of people mispronouncing it because back in October he legally changed his name to Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop- Bop, legally changed it. My favorite part of the story is how different newspapers have been dealing with the conundrum of what to call him on a second reference. Some call him Zopittybop-Bop-Bop. Some call him just Bop Bop or just Bop. Some even call him Beezow, although clearly that's his first name.

Doo-Dou would be his middle name and Zopittybop-Bop-Bop is his last name. If he marries someone with the last name of I don't know say, Skidlybop doo-doo-up and she decides to hyphenate her middle name and last name -- easy, right?

What I want to know is what would compel somebody to change his name to something like that? My first thought, maybe he's a Cab Callaway fan and wanted to pay homage to the scat song.

Or possibly, he's a David Lee Roth fan. It sounds like the break in the song "Just A Gigolo I Ain't Got Nobody."

It's possible, possible or maybe Mr. Bop-bop is just a really big Hanson fan.

I'm sorry, you probably only recently got that song out of your head from 15 years ago and we put it right back in there. And yes, "Um Bop" was released in 1997. I digress, according to what seems to be his Facebook page or maybe someone who coincidentally has the same name, he is a music fan.

His tastes run to grateful dead, so I'm not sure that the David Lee Roth or Hanson series hold any water. So the only other thing I can imagine is the when he changed his name he wanted attention. So congratulations, Beezow-Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop, mission accomplished on "The Ridiculist."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And tune in tomorrow for your choice for no. 6 on the top 10 Ridiculist countdown for 2012. That does it for this edition of 360. We'll see you again at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.