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Rape Case Tears Small Town; They're Back on Capitol Hill

Aired January 3, 2013 - 20:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Erin.

We begin tonight keeping them honest in the eastern Ohio city of Steubenville. Plenty of good people in Steubenville, and our program tonight is not about them. It's about two members of the local high school football team. Hometown heroes, who are now charged with raping a teenage girl back in August. It's about young witnesses who instead of doing what good people do, took pictures and took video, and then some of that video and some of those pictures was leaked online. It is about those who praised the alleged attackers and then attacked the alleged victim.

Tonight's program is about the people, young and old, both who have downplayed what happened because critics say they care so much about the local team and so little about one of their own local daughters.

The good people of Steubenville do care. This is not about them.

Poppy Harlow begins our coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the night of August 11th, teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio, gathered to celebrate the end of the summer. The first day of school was just two weeks away. By many accounts, there was heavy drinking going on for most of the night, spread out over several different parties. But it seems there was more than that, far more.

Tweets, photos, and videos possibly document a crime from that night. An alleged sexual assault of a seemingly intoxicated, unconscious, underage teenage girl by members of the high school football team. An assault that other partygoers allegedly watched and later shared details online.

This tweet from a partygoer reads, "Song of the night is definitely 'Rape Me' by Nirvana." Other tweets call the girl sloppy and talk about a dead body, referring to the girl's state of unconsciousness. One tweet even refers to the fact that the girl may have been urinated on, though there is no evidence that actually happened.

Three days after the party the girl's parents came forward to the police and filed a report alleging sexual assault. They came with a flash drive of incriminating tweets and a possible photo that they saw online, according to local police. Many of the postings were soon taken down.

The police chief in Steubenville told CNN he asked for any witnesses to come forward with details of what they saw that night, but received almost no responses. On August 22nd, two 16-year-old members of the football team, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, were arrested. They were later charged with rape and Mays was also charged with disseminating photographs of a nude minor.

The arrest created a fissure in the community. Some came to the boys' defense, saying they were unfairly and too quickly accused, others were relieved, tired, they said, of the anything-goes culture for the popular football players.

Mays' lawyer denied a rape occurred, saying he will challenge whether any possible sexual activity was consensual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a football player, you get to do what you want as long you got a winning season.

HARLOW: Alexandra Goddard, the blogger and former Steubenville resident, started looking into this story after hearing that high school football players were involved. Goddard found most of the online postings and reposted them on her Web site before they were taken down.

ALEXANDRA GODDARD, BLOGGER: I found -- I, you know, went through the Twitter accounts and I found, you know, very disturbing messages, basically laying out a timeline of what happened that evening and found the cache of the YouTube video, just found all of the social media which told story of what happened that night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greetings citizens of the world. We are Anonymous.

HARLOW: Then, on December 23rd, the Internet hacker group Anonymous got involved, threatening to release information on the high school football players involved in the incident unless a public apology was made to the alleged victim by January 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will not sit tightly by and watch a group of young men who will turn to rape as a game or sport get the pass because of athletic ability and small-town luck. You now have the world looking directly at you.

HARLOW: The deadline passed with no apology and Anonymous posted this picture online showing a girl who is seemingly unconscious being carried by her hands and feet by two males. CNN cannot verify that this is a photo of the alleged victim.

They also posted this 12-minute video where partygoers talk about the alleged assault and continually joke about the girl's condition. Even at one point saying, she must have died because she didn't move during the alleged assault.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if that was your daughter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it isn't. If that was my daughter, I wouldn't care. I'd just let her be dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And Poppy Harlow joins me live now from Steubenville.

Poppy, I know you had a chance to speak with the chief of police of that town. What's he saying about all of this to you?

HARLOW: Well, he's incredibly disturbed as many people are in this town, Ashleigh, about this. He wasn't able to talk about a lot of the details of the investigation that's still ongoing and these two young men will go to trial on February 13th, but this is what he told me disturbs him most.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF WILLIAM MCCAFFERTY, STEUBENVILLE POLICE: The thing I found most disturbing is, depending on who actually was there, why didn't somebody stop it? I mean, you simply don't do that. I mean, it's -- it's not done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: It's important, Ashleigh, to point out obviously that these two men are innocent until found guilty. Again, they're going to stand trial in about a month, but obviously he's sickened that no one stepped in here if indeed these allegations are true.

BANFIELD: But, you know, from a lot of the reporting, Poppy, not everyone is sickened by this and I know you've had a chance to be in that town all day long. Is it tense? What does it feel like there? What are people saying?

HARLOW: It's depressing. I mean, people feel like there's a black -- black cloud over their town. I met a mother in front of the local school today because the elementary school is also in the same building as the high school. She was pulling her first grade child out, Ashleigh, because she felt that they were being threatened, that there was so much focus, so much negative focus on this town and this school, she was worried about the safety of her child.

I also spoke with a lot of local business owners and one of them explained to me exactly how it feels. He's lived here for more than 70 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY BARILLA, BUSINESS OWNER: The buzz that keeps coming about is that Steubenville is a bad place, things are being covered up, more people should be arrested. And I feel that's all unjustly so.

HARLOW: Why? BARILLA: Because I think that to condemn an entire city for something that happened is not -- it's not right to condemn a school, an entire school, and all of the kids that go there for something that took place among a few students is still not right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He said to me, Ashleigh, he feels like this town is now being looked at like Penn State in the wake of that scandal. But I do want to tell you that I spoke today with the father of one of the football players on that team and he told me, quote -- he said to me, "It has divided people to take a position on an incident that may not have even occurred. The alleged rape."

So there you have someone questioning if this is even true -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Well, that will certainly be discussed in a court of law.

Poppy Harlow, thank you for that.

Our Susan Candiotti also has more on the latest details of the investigation. She joins me live now.

Listen, Susan, it doesn't matter what people say. It matters what the police have, it matters what kind of evidence exists. And what have you been able to find out about the gathering of that evidence?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, we won't find out anything for sure until we see what's actually in the end presented at trial if it begins, as expected, next month.

But the latest I'm hearing, Ashleigh, is this that prosecutors and the police have been able to recover at least a dozen cell phones and a couple of iPads that they've been going through and analyzing, being done by a team of specialists.

Now the police chief says -- told me that they got back what they could get back, saying that because there have been some reports that some of the cell phone videos and/or photos were deleted by some of the people who own them. However, there is also information that other -- other information was able to be retrieved by these specialists. So the police chief tells me that they did get some evidence from the phones.

BANFIELD: And is there -- is there an issue about consent? I mean, the photograph that we saw in Poppy's piece was just repulsive. There's no way anybody in that condition could consent to any of the allegations. But is consent an issue for this case?

CANDIOTTI: It will be an issue, according to one of the defense attorneys who represents Trent Mays, one of the 16-year-olds who's charged. Now he maintains that no rape occurred. The lawyer, speaking on behalf of this client, indicates to me that he will challenge whether any possible sexual activity was consensual. He says that Mays and the alleged victim in this case are boyfriend and girlfriend.

Well, that -- all this is being contradicted, of course, by prosecutors who had a probable cause hearing last October, told the court, in their words, that the defendants treated the alleged victim like a, quote, "a toy," and as they put it, one of the prosecutors said, we don't have to prove that she said no, we just have to prove that they are doing things to her. She's not moving. She's not responsive. And the evidence is consistent and clear, as they put it.

BANFIELD: And extraordinarily disturbing, I might add. Susan Candiotti, thank you.

I also want to talk more about this notion that people, some people, witnessed and not only did not do the right thing, they did some of the worst things imaginable.

Dr. Drew Pinsky joins us now along with Rosalind Wiseman, who has been researching teen boys and group behavior for her new book, "Masterminds and Wingmen." And also our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Rosalind, let me begin with you and this whole notion about posting these things online. I mean it is -- you don't have to tell your children you're not allowed to rape for them to know that you're not allowed to rape. So what is it about teen boys and again these are allegations, but what is it about the teen boys that they would think it's OK to do this and then for those who didn't do it to post it and brag about it or joke about it?

ROSALIND WISEMAN, BULLYING EXPERT: Well, I think there's a minority of boys who think this is OK and there's a lot more boys who have no idea what to do about it. And sometimes boys laugh because they are uncomfortable and they are feeling like, I have no idea what to do, and I think the reason why they don't know what to do, in my experience, is two reasons and one of them is the most important but that I think is going on here, is that these boys feel that if they said anything about it, that they would not be believed or that the adults in the community would not take care of it.

And what I'm hearing from these -- from the people is that even if this is not rape, let's just say that that's not the case. Do you actually want boys to conduct themselves and have relationships with girls and talk about girls in this way? As a parent of two boys, I would be so fundamentally ashamed of myself as a mother if my boys talked about girls and women like this, let alone what they did, whatever you want to call it.

So for me, as somebody who cares about boys, who works with boys, who knows that most of them want to do the right thing, what we have got to understand is that what looking like to me is that there's a lot of boys in this community who do not have faith in the adults that they will do the right thing. And they have taught them the basic necessities and the rules of how you conduct yourself.

BANFIELD: So, OK. And I think just to sort of dovetail off of that, Dr. Drew, jump in here with me. I know that you have a --

Yes.

BANFIELD: A very strong opinion about alcohol and how that fuels the flames.

PINSKY: Yes.

BANFIELD: But let me tell you.

PINSKY: Yes.

BANFIELD: Alcohol has been around a long time and this is one of those --

PINSKY: No, but Ashleigh --

BANFIELD: One of those stories that sort of beats the rest.

PINSKY: Yes. We should all be disgusted and we should all be scared to death because here's what all of us that are parents are standing here doing and saying not my kid. But the fact is, we live in a world where we don't know that. Pornography has been raining down on these kids, social media is changing their ability to be emphatic, and they are treating, particularly women, these young men, as objects because that's what they get on the Internet these days. And unless you actively parent against that, you could be stuck with this.

BANFIELD: So, Drew --

PINSKY: On top of that -- wait, Ashleigh. But any measure, any measure of adverse outcome, you look at an adolescent, you find alcohol and drugs. Whether it's rape, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, whatever it is, you always find alcohol and we have to be much more firm and either be much more aggressive on the alcohol issue.

BANFIELD: And you know what, the "New York Times" reported that this all stemmed -- that the genesis of this was a very big party, end-of-summer party, at a coach's house that had a full bar and little plastic glasses, you know, provided. So, I mean, certainly there was a lot of alcohol --

PINSKY: Ashleigh, I told my kids --

BANFIELD: And let me --

PINSKY: -- if they go to a party where a parent is doing that, I'm going to come and show up with the sheriff and have the adults hold off.

BANFIELD: Yes.

PINSKY: And I'm going to lash out in the lawn --

(CROSSTALK) Because they are accountable for this ultimately.

BANFIELD: And I'm -- listen, they may see --

(CROSSTALK)

WISEMAN: And let me -- can I --

BANFIELD: -- some civil suits in this, make no mistake. I sense that this is the story down the line.

Go ahead, Rosalind.

WISEMAN: Well, the thing is, is that the coaches are so meaningful to kids. They are such incredible role models and the coaches that I work with, and there are some extraordinary coaches, know that they are so much more than teaching boys on the field. That they are teaching boys about what it means to be a man. And so what I'm thinking is, is that the coach failed these children in the most fundamental way possible.

And for the parents out there, when you're thinking about what do you want to teach your sons, it is not good enough. In my experience, parents are saying to boys four things. They are saying, be a gentleman but don't -- they're not really saying what that looks like and then they're also saying things like, don't get her pregnant, don't get an STD. If you do something, don't do something stupid, and if you do something stupid, don't get caught.

This is what boys are telling me that their parents are telling them.

BANFIELD: Well, and on the subject of coaches --

WISEMAN: What kind of message are we telling that?

BANFIELD: On the subject of coaches, the "New York Times" actually sent one of their reporters to ask this coach, the head coach, why weren't these players benched after these charges, and the response that they got, and I'm going to quote the "Times" on this. "The coach said to the report, you made me mad now. You're going to get yours and if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will."

And so this is the idolized head coach of this team.

Jeffrey Toobin, jump in here. There were other voices, clearly. There were lots of photographs that involved other boys. How can you investigate this and tell the difference between a conspirator, somebody who also needs to be charged, and somebody who's just a bystander who perhaps doesn't have a duty, a legal duty to respond?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this story is really only a little bit about law. It's mostly about values and culture and parenting. Because the rapists, if they are rapists, they can be prosecuted and certainly the sheriff can try to gather as much evidence as possible. Obviously the best thing would be if there were photographs, some sort of -- you know, recordings like that.

But the larger community that protects people who rape, that gives kids alcohol, most of that is beyond the reach of the law. The kids who are laughing, the kids who are saying stupid things. There's a 20-minute --

PINSKY: Not in California.

TOOBIN: Well, the giving the alcohol, you're right about that, Drew. That is -- that is a crime. But the kids who were laughing and the kids -- there's a 12-minute video online about a kid saying stupid things. I don't see that as a crime.

PINSKY: Yes.

TOOBIN: I see that as a real stupid, bad kid. But you know that's not something that the law can or probably should get involved in.

PINSKY: No. Right. It's a clarion call for parents to be careful about what's happening to their kids because of the culture we live in. I mean think of the world we're living in right now, Jeffrey. That's exactly right. This speaks volumes about our culture and it's not about that little town. It's something we all as parents have to pay attention to.

BANFIELD: You know, I've seen plenty of prosecutions, by the way, of people who think they are posting a cute picture of their girlfriend and they get slapped with child sex offenses, child pornography suits, and they end up being registered sex offenders for life, and these are teenagers.

Is that something that these kids who were involved in posting these alleged crimes could face?

TOOBIN: It's possible. And, remember, one of the two defendants already is charged with distributing a photograph of an underage --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Could he end up being a registered sex offender for life?

TOOBIN: Well, of course. He's also being charged with rape. So that would make him a sex offender for that.

BANFIELD: But he could beat the charges. I mean, if he beats those charges, you can't necessarily beat the charges when they have your phone and you posted something.

TOOBIN: That's true. But the legal aspect of this is actually fairly straightforward. You know, you find out -- you get the victim's testimony, you get as many witnesses as you can, but this story is so much bigger than that and so much more complicated because most of what appalls us, what the police chief was talking about, is something that the law cannot reach. BANFIELD: That morality --

TOOBIN: And that's -- that --

BANFIELD: Rosalind, the police chief did say --

WISEMAN: Yes.

BANFIELD: -- that he has been struggling and begging for witnesses to come forward and help in this investigation and so far it looks as though there are only two or three of these teammates who've come forward and actually ended up being prosecutorial witnesses in this case.

Am I crazy to think that's crazy, that people aren't coming forward?

WISEMAN: No, you are not.

BANFIELD: Or am I naive?

WISEMAN: No, you know, what's happening to -- you know, what's happening is that for good reason -- and I don't know what that reason is, but I know from working with kids for a long time that they are not coming forward because they think that if they get come forward they will be the ones who are punished. They don't have confidence in the adults in the community that they he will do right by them.

And I am begging parents, begging them who are in this community, that if you say it's just a fluke, it's just this thing that got out of control, it was a couple of bad kids, let me tell you, you are wrong. This was not just a little glimpse into their life. It's a window. We got a little moment of what's been going on in their lives.

And I see it, just like Dr. Drew says, I see it around the country and parents consistently say, it's just a fluke because we don't want to ask ourselves the hard questions.

TOOBIN: But it's also --

PINSKY: Or not my kids.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: But it's also it's not that -- it's also not that new. I think a lot of people may remember the Jody Foster movie "The Accused."

WISEMAN: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: "The Accused."

TOOBIN: Which is based on a real case in Massachusetts.

WISEMAN: Sure. BANFIELD: "Grownups."

TOOBIN: "Grownups" but also a lot of the same -- you know, similarities. A rape -- you know, observed by lots of other people, no one came forward.

BANFIELD: Cheers.

TOOBIN: Cheered. But none of that -- I mean, so that spirit among certain men is not something that was invented with Facebook or Twitter.

BANFIELD: I've got to go but you know what, I need to ask you really quickly and literally I'm out of time. But those kids that came forward and did end up being witnesses for the prosecution, immunity, is that part of that deal? Is that possible?

TOOBIN: Well, it is possible but they might -- I mean, they might not need it. The question is, you know, what do they need immunity for? Certainly that would be something that if they got lawyers they'd be asking for, though.

BANFIELD: And it's just distressful on so many levels.

Dr. Drew Pinsky and Rosalind Wiseman and Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.

WISEMAN: Thank you for having me.

BANFIELD: Wish we could talk under different circumstances, that's for sure.

So, coming up next, a whole other story. They swear in a brand new Congress and the question is, are we all going to be swearing at the brand new Congress soon? A possibility of more budget showdowns to come. Yay. All that when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: "Raw Politics" tonight. The terrifying likelihood of fiscal cliff, the sequel. Fiscal cliff part three, fiscal cliff the phantom menace and there'll be a whole lot more headlines like that, trust me. But one thing is really clear, people. A star of the original House Speaker John Boehner is going to be back to reprise his role. He narrowly won re-election to the speakership today. And as he's known to do, he got a little emotional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: If you come here humbled by the opportunity to serve, if you've come here to be the determined voice of the people, if you've come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded by our constituents but by the times, then you've come to the right place.

(APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Speaker Boehner will have fewer Republicans in his camp for the 113th Congress but he will still have that all-important working majority. In the meantime, over on the Senate side, Illinois Republican Mark Kirk -- watch closely. These are -- 45 more strides in a comeback from a stroke. He made it his mission to climb all of the Capitol steps on his return to work. The first inspiring moment of the new Congress. It was bipartisan. It was happy. It was inspiring to Americans. And then it ended.

Will it be the only inspiring moment for us, though?

Joining us now, "New York Times" op-ed columnist Charles Flow who foresees not such inspiration, the fiscal cliff after fiscal cliff in the coming months, and then to his right, the lovely and talented GOP contributor, Margaret Hoover, and then chief business correspondent Ali Velshi, who's also lovely and talented.

I want to start with you, Ali.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, I just have to laugh to this because otherwise I'll cry.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BANFIELD: Honestly, I'm just so tired of this.

VELSHI: Yes.

BANFIELD: And I know that people in the media are not the only ones who are tired of this. We are all tired of it. And yet you say we've got Valentine's debt ceilings, St. Patrick's Day sequester, and then the budget deal after that. Is there any reason for us to believe, regardless of these brand news members, that it's going to be any different in the last few fights?

VELSHI: Well, the only good thing here is that everybody's engaged. This is one of those things where Americans know more about their economic issues and their budgetary issues than we have in a long time and people were taking it serious. And I think Congress seems to be getting the message and it's not -- hey, don't worry about the media, worry about your constituents who are actually mad.

They just want something to get done. Now the biggest problem is there's just a lot of misinformation out there about what's going on. And Margaret is not happy that I've been saying this. But the GOP needs to learn the difference between the debt and the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling was not a spending control measure by any means. It was put in there so that the Treasury didn't have to keep on issuing bonds every time the government passed a bill.

Most other countries, when they issue legislation that has spending associated with it, the money gets spent. America has got this extra stop gap. It's not meant to control spending. It was actually the opposite. Meant to give Treasury room to issue enough bonds so that they didn't have to keep doing it.

So using the debt ceiling and the ability to pay our bills for things we've already spent is just outrageous. It was outrageous in August 11th, and it continues to be outrageous but the Republicans continue to use this language that somehow it's to spend -- to control spending. And it's just incorrect.

BANFIELD: So, Margaret, I'm going to back him up only in the fact that there are plenty of Republicans in the business community, who say, good god, do not use this. This will kill us.

MARGARET HOOVER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: The question is, if we went over the cliff or if we didn't fail to raise the debt ceiling, certainly there would be dire consequences. The question is, when else is the Congress of the United States going to do anything proactively about spending? They have proven definitively over the last 70 years that they cannot do it.

And this has become, for better or for worse, the pivot point. The demarcation, the line in the sand, President Obama says, he is not going to tolerate a debt ceiling fight but the truth is, it doesn't matter whether he's going to tolerate it or not.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: So, Charles --

CHARLES BLOW, OP-ED COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: But it's not for better or for worse, Margaret, and you know that. You know it's absolutely for worse. The idea that --

HOOVER: Is getting our spending under control for worse, though?

BLOW: One second. One second.

HOOVER: Right.

BLOW: The idea that you would allow us to default is outrageous. And there's no way to even -- to kind of deal with that and to argue that as a legitimate point.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: But did the Democrats argue going off the cliff might be the way to actually secure a deal?

BLOW: Well, you do have the -- the fight over the sequester. You may --

VELSHI: That's still coming.

BLOW: You may have a -- you may have a budget. I'm not saying you don't have a fight. I don't -- I'm not saying you don't have an argument. I'm just saying using the debt ceiling as the point -- HOOVER: Because you don't like it.

BLOW: No. It's not about like. It's not about like. It's about destroying the U.S. economy in the process.

VELSHI: Yes, the damage --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: But Margaret is right.

BANFIELD: Ali, tell me this. Because everyone is talking about the leverage of the debt ceiling.

VELSHI: Yes. That's right. That's right.

BANFIELD: What is the actual damage?

VELSHI: The damage is -- well, Moody's has already warned of it, the S&P has warned again, that if we do default that the debt rating of the United States -- even if we don't default, if we -- if we don't increase the debt limit -- the debt rating of the United States may be lower. Now here's the practical application of that.

Generally speaking, if you have a credit rate and your debt -- your credit rating gets damaged, your rate goes up. The last time this happened in August of 2011, America's rates didn't go up. They actually went down. Why? Because Europe was out there in more of a mess than America was.

Today that's not necessarily the case. So we still have a very low borrowing rate. If our borrowing rate goes up as a result of this, that costs everybody. Every loan that everybody touches goes up.

BANFIELD: And Margaret -- the other thing is, back in 2011 it was widely reported that we were downgraded not because we reached that deal and it wasn't appealing, because we were just intransigent and the intransigence is what led to the downgrade. And we're intransigent a lot since and it looks like we're about to be a lot more intransigent.

HOOVER: Intransigent again.

BANFIELD: Right.

BLOW: Exactly.

HOOVER: Well --

BLOW: I think the idea that we are not a functioning government, that you look at Washington and they are incapable of doing the kind of perfunctory work.

BANFIELD: Why? What all of a sudden happen? Is it cable news? I mean, why -- (CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: I'm sorry for being a Pollyanna here.

BLOW: But honestly though --

BANFIELD: But I came to this country 12 years ago.

BLOW: Right.

BANFIELD: Excuse me. Almost 20 years ago. Jesus, it's gone fast.

HOOVER: Two Canadians at the table.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I know, right?

(CROSSTALK)

And when I got here, it was not like this.

VELSHI: Right.

BANFIELD: And cable news was just starting.

(CROSSTALK)

And I sometimes wonder if it's just because you do not want to be called out on TV.

BLOW: They called it Tea Party. Those are called Tea Party.

VELSHI: It could be a bunch of things but where I'm -- you know, I'm telling you clearly right now, the problem here is the GOP on the debt limit. Once we get past that, the problem's probably going to become the Democrats on spending, and that's -- Margaret says the problem is if you let the debt limit go by, then the Republicans have no leverage to force Democrats to spend.

BLOW: Sequester. You do have the sequester.

VELSHI: I think you do --

BLOW: And you do have to look at the Tea Party caucus --

VELSHI: Yes.

BLOW: -- in the House of Representatives. You know, according to what I read, 52 -- 52 of the 59 members of the Tea Party caucus voted against the bill that prevented us from going over the fiscal cliff. Those people are not in Washington to play ball. They are in to be dug into their holes. And that is a problem.

(CROSSTALK) BANFIELD: They may have a merit to their beliefs but don't we all have to negotiate, Margaret, in a deal?

HOOVER: Correct. And the question is, and the challenge for the Republicans now, because they're enormously disorganized right now, they're very scattered, there is no central leadership. Boehner is dinged from this last round. Will they get organized? Will they decide what they're going to live with? Will they learn the lesson from plan B that if they had gone ahead on Boehner's plan B, they would have come out with a lot better deal than they got, and will they actually -- will they play ball?

BANFIELD: Well, you know what, they should all go for a beer.

(LAUGHTER)

It seems to work everywhere else in this country.

BLOW: A beer summit. Yes.

BANFIELD: Except for Harry Reid. Sorry, sorry, Senator. I didn't mean you.

All right, thank you.

Charles Blow, Margaret Hoover, and Ali Velshi. You're all just awesome. I love -- I love the way you just boil it down.

All right. I want to move on to the other news of the day and I'm sorry to say it wasn't something that I like to report. It was a very emotional day in Connecticut. The children from Sandy Hook Elementary School. They've been out of school since that horrible gunman episode, killed 20 of their classmates, and they have returned to class.

Gary Tuchman has got a great report from Newtown coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: The students of Sandy Hook Elementary School went back to class today for the first time since the shooting that killed 20 of their classmates and six adults in the Newtown, Connecticut school. The students were relocated to a different one, a different building together in a different down nearby Monroe, Connecticut.

That's because Sandy Hook Elementary is still part of an active investigation and they don't really if the kids will return to that building. There is certainly increased security at the school, an upgraded system of cameras and locks and counselors were there to help the students and the parents and the teachers as well.

It was, of course, a very emotional day for everyone. The school superintendent said that they've tried to make it as much of a normal routine as possible, doing the kinds of things that they know are good for kids and that they'll be familiar with. Gary Tuchman had a chance to speak to a couple of the people of Newtown who were certainly in our thoughts today. One set of the parents sent their 7-year-old daughter back to school today.

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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ella Seaver is a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think you are going to do today?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excited to see everyone?

TUCHMAN: She is eating breakfast, getting ready for her first day of school since that horrible day nearly three weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a cheesy egg sandwich, one of our favorites, right, with ketchup.

TUCHMAN: She had her nails painted with Sandy Hook colors and with the school initials S and H. Her mom and dad, Amy and Ed, believed she is indeed emotionally ready to go back to school in the new building in the neighboring town where Sandy Hook is for the time being has been relocated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you decided how mom is going to do your hair?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes, you're going to braid my hair and I'm going to keep the head band on.

TUCHMAN (on camera): How do you feel about Ella going back to school?

AIMEE SEAVER, ELLA'S MOTHER: It's mixed emotions. You know, it's good. She needs to go back. They all need to go back. You know, they say the best thing you can do is get back to your normal routine.

All that being one of the hardest things you can do. I'm sure they will be safe. I'm sure that school is going to be like Fort Knox today, but you worry how they are going to react.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Ella was in a first grade class down the hall from where the shootings took place. Her teacher told all the children to go in the cabbies where they keep their jackets and books. There was a knock on the classroom door. To everyone's relief, it was the police.

ED SEAVER, ELLA'S FATHER: They got them out of the hallway apparently there was a line of officers there and said, you know, close your eyes, you know, and they came right out of the school real quick. TUCHMAN (on camera): Does she know that her friends have died?

AIMEE SEAVER: Yes. Yes. She personally wanted to go to some of the wakes and some of the funerals.

TUCHMAN: And did you that?

AIMEE SEAVER: That was her choice and --

TUCHMAN: That was really smart of you.

AIMEE SEAVER: I don't know. Some people would tell me it wasn't.

TUCHMAN: I think it was, to be honest, to your children, as long as they have good parents.

AIMEE SEAVER: Well, I hope. I mean, it was hard. She spent one of the funerals kicking the pew in front of her, which I realize was anger.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Ella says she's nervous, but excited to go back to school. She loves math.

(on camera): Tell me why you love math so much.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I just think it's fun. Even though it's hard, we get fun activities to do. And I like working in our workbooks.

TUCHMAN: Do you know what one plus one is?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Three, right?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No, it's two.

TUCHMAN: You are right. See, I didn't pay attention in first grade. You obviously are.

(voice-over): Ella is clearly ready to start the day. The former middle school has been renovated and retrofitted over the past weeks for its smaller occupants. It's a frigid day and then it's time to head out to the bus stop where Ella joins three other children and their mothers as the bus pulls up.

ED SEAVER: Be good. Love you.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: OK, put me down before my skirt goes up.

ED SEAVER: OK.

AIMEE SEAVER: Love you.

TUCHMAN: The children run to the bus. The bus driver is a familiar face to the kids and the parents, but we watch the parents' faces carefully. They all vividly remember what happened the last day they put their children on the very same school bus.

(on camera): On the first day back, parent were encouraged to spend the day at school with their children so many parents did. There isn't enough parking at the school so buses were provided for of the parents, too.

(voice-over): Just after 4:00 p.m., Ella returned home. Her first day back turned out to be just fine. Sandy Hook Elementary is open once again.

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BANFIELD: And Gary Tuchman joins me live now from Newtown, Connecticut. So, Gary, how did the day go? What was the atmosphere like for everybody at the school?

TUCHMAN: Well, it certainly was an unusual day, Ashleigh. It was very emotional. The children walked in. They hugged their friends. It was wonderful for them to see their friends. It was wonderful for the parents to see their children seeing their friends because so many parents were there.

But it was different inside, increased security and we did a story a few weeks ago about the comfort dogs, the Golden Retrievers who were brought here, 10 of them, by Lutheran Charities that children can pet to make them feel more comfortable and the comfort dogs were actually in the school today, too.

So all in all, it was a very successful return to school. It was something obviously that had to be done and it was certainly very emotional. One thing I want to add too, Ashleigh, that tomorrow here in Newtown, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will be coming here to talk about her situation with family members of the victims and to provide inspiration -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: That's fantastic. It's really nice to hear that. Gary, please pass on our thoughts and wishes to the people of Newtown. Thank you. Gary Tuchman for us live for in Newtown tonight.

Coming up, an adoption battle that centers on a little girl named Veronica and this battle is about to take a dramatic turn because the two families who love her and who want to raise her are soon going to find out if the U.S. Supreme Court will even weigh in on their fate. We've got a "360" follow just ahead.

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BANFIELD: A "360" follow up. Tomorrow could be a major turning point in a story that we've been following for months. It's a heartbreaking adoption battle and it centers around this adorable toddler, her name is Veronica.

The South Carolina couple that she's known as mommy and daddy for most of her life is fighting to get her back. They petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling that took her away from them and gave her biological father custody of little Veronica.

And now Veronica lives in another state altogether. In a private conference room tomorrow, the Supreme Court justices will discuss this case and they'll decide whether or not they are even going to review it. The court's decision will most certainly shape these two families' futures and possibly a lot of other futures, too. Here's CNN's Randi Kaye.

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RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is video from the last time Matt and Melanie Capobiancos saw their little girl, Veronica, New Year's Eve, 2011. They had raised her for two years and were in the process of adopting her when a South Carolina Family Court ordered them to hand her over to the girl's biological father.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think this is in her best interests?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so.

KAYE: A man Veronica had never even met.

MATT CAPOBIANCO, FIGHTING FOR CUSTODY OF VERONICA: For a little girl to be put in a car with strangers and driven to Oklahoma and having no recourse or control over it, I mean, you know, we're her parents. I'm her father, you know, supposed to be there to protect her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to be an engineer when you grow up?

KAYE: Now 3, Veronica is caught in the middle of one of the strangest adoption cases we have ever heard. It all began in 2009 before she was born, when Veronica's biological mother put her up for adoption.

The Capobiancos were thrilled when an adoption attorney connected them with Veronica's biological mom. She told them the girl's father, Dustin Brown, had agreed to waive his parental rights.

When Veronica was born, it was Matt who cut the umbilical cord. Ever since, she lived with them in South Carolina.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO, FIGHTING FOR CUSTODY OF VERONICA: I guess people think that we're not supposed to love her until the ink is dry. We're supposed to kind of care for her until, you know, everything is years down the line and she's adopted.

KAYE: The Capobiancos were heartbroken when just four months after they brought Veronica home, her biological father filed for paternity and custody, even though he had already signed a legal document saying he would not contest Veronica's adoption.

He was able to do so thanks to a little-known federal law from 1978 called the Indian Child Welfare Act. You see, Brown is part Cherokee and a member of the Cherokee Nation, which means Veronica is part Cherokee, too.

Congress passed the law after finding 30 percent of Indian children were being removed from their homes and almost all of them were being placed with non-Indian families. The law is designed to keep Indian children with Indian family members, and protect the interests of those children.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO: I don't know how tearing a child away from the only family she's ever known without any transition period and no visitation is in her best interest.

KAYE: The attorney general for the Cherokee Nation thinks the law is working.

TODD HEMBREE, CHEROKEE NATION ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's not anyone's ever intent to rip a child away from a loving home, but we want to make sure those loving homes have the opportunity to be Indian homes first.

KAYE: After the family court ruled in Dustin Brown's favor, the Capobiancos petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court, hoping the higher court would overturn the ruling.

(on camera): In July, after more than three months of waiting, the Capobiancos got more bad news. The Supreme Court here in South Carolina ruled in favor of Veronica's biological father. It wasn't an easy decision for the court, though. The justices were split 3-2. In the majority opinion, they wrote they are upholding the Family Court's ruling with a heavy heart.

(voice-over): The majority opinion concluded the biological father and his family have created a safe, loving and appropriate home for her. Those in the dissenting opinion argued federal law shouldn't trump state law, finding father knowingly abandoned his parental responsibilities in every respect.

Lawyers for Dustin Brown say quote, "He is a good parent and Veronica is happy, healthy and thriving." Since she went to live with her biological father, the Capobiancos say they have only been allowed to speak with her once.

MATT CAPOBIANCO: We told her we loved her. She said I love you, too. That was it. That was it.

KAYE: But Matt and Melanie haven't given up. They are taking their case to the United States Supreme Court.

MATT CAPOBIANCO: You don't ever stop fighting for your child, ever.

KAYE (on camera): The United States Supreme Court according to our legal experts doesn't take that many cases. They get 7,000 cases a year and they take about 80. Why do you think they should take this one?

MATT CAPOBIANCO: So many families have been hurt by the misuse of this law, and you know, we've said before, too, we don't think it's necessarily a bad law, it was bad-intentioned, but it's definitely being misused. It doesn't apply. She wasn't removed from an existing Indian home. She was never in an Indian home. She was with us from the very beginning.

KAYE (voice-over): And in some ways, Veronica is still with them. Her bedroom is still set up.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO: I look around and I see her toys and her books and her little cook set. It makes it harder, but taking it away is the hardest.

MATT CAPOBIANCO: This is her home. It will always be her home. She's going to come home. She's going to play with this stuff again.

MELANIE CAPOBIANCO: It's a symbol of our hope that she's coming home.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Charleston, South Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: That is tough to watch. We're going to follow the court's decision very closely in the days ahead and of course, we're going to bring it to you.

And still to come tonight, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back at home after being hospitalized with a blood clot and now there is word about when she's going to return to work and we're going to have it for you next.

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BANFIELD: There's a lot happening tonight so let's check in on the latest with other stories that we're following. Isha Sesay is here with the "360 Bulletin." Hi, Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ashleigh. Five men were formally charged today with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman whose attackers triggered outrage and protests across India. Police said the trial is expected to begin this week. Authorities haven't decided whether to charge a sixth suspect as a juvenile.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been out of the hospital for just about 24 hours now. She's continuing to recover at home from a blood clot in her head. The State Department says she is looking forward to getting back to the office and plans to return next week.

Ashleigh, actor Gerard Depardieu who recently ditched his French citizenship over a planned tax hike has a new home if he wants it. President Vladimir Putin today signed a decree making Depardieu a Russian citizen. Russia has a 13 percent flat tax rate. If he plans on moving, he'd better pack some long johns. That's all I've got to say.

BANFIELD: You know, it's just a really good thing Anderson isn't here because the last time I saw her report on Gerard Depardieu, it was not pretty.

SESAY: Well, thankfully you're here tonight, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Right. You know, for all you folks who are watching who don't know what I just said, you got to Google it. In the meantime, Isha, thank you.

We've been counting down, speaking of Anderson and giggling, your top choices for the best "Ridiculist" of 2012 and tonight, we have your pick for number two and it features Jimmy Kimmel and guess what, Anderson giggling. It's coming up next.

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ASHLEIGH: Tonight, number two on the 2012 "Ridiculist" countdown and this one has got Jimmy Kimmel. So take a look.

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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for the "Ridiculist." I don't know if you're aware of this, but there have been a few occasions during this part of the show where I've had some trouble and haven't been able to stop laughing particularly when certain kinds of words come up.

Words an example, tit mouths or asphalt, really high brow stuff, I can only hope that we never do a "Ridiculist" about the French novelist (inaudible) look, I'm not proud of it, but I can't help it. I have a sense of humor as a 12-year-old. Jimmy Kimmel has a theory. Watch this from "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": This is from AC 360's Anderson Cooper show at CNN. At the end of the show Anderson does a show called the "Ridiculist." It tickled Mr. Cooper, to say the least.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The girl is standing back from a pussy willow branch.

COOPER: I'm sorry. I've got to let it out.

KIMMEL: I think Anderson Cooper is high. How else do you explain that?

The word pussy willow is not that funny. No word is that funny. Nothing has ever been that funny. I like to see drug tests all around and get a sample from Wolf Blitzer while you're at it. He's starting to look like the guy on the zigzag packet.

COOPER: First, let's see the zigzag packet of which Mr. Kimmel speaks. All right, there might be a slight resemblance. The zigzag guy might look a little younger. It's hard to tell. I was talking to Jimmy Kimmel about this at a White House correspondence dinner and I asked him about his story about my "Ridiculist" outburst.

The man legalizing marijuana, you're accusing me of being high? KIMMEL: I'm not accusing. I'm just trying to explain that fit. I mean, maybe you're secret Anderson Snooper or something, Anderson Coopdog. I'd love to believe that you're high right now. I really would.

COOPER: Did you smoke before you went on the stage?

KIMMEL: Not before.

COOPER: Not before. Well, they say the White House correspondence dinner is a nerve prom. Is there a stoner prom? That is if anyone remembered to show up. Until then we'll always have the "Ridiculist."

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BANFIELD: That does it for us tonight. We're going to see you in one hour. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.