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Women in Combat; Hillary Clinton on Capitol Hill

Aired January 23, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And there's breaking news tonight and no shortage of compelling stories. There's the unwitting, unknowing face of a hoax, this woman's image stolen, used in the strangest con game college football has ever seen. We will ask Diane O'Meara what it was like to have no connection at all to Manti Te'o, yet be known as his fictitious girlfriend.

And, later, we take you inside Scientology -- my interview with the man who has uncovered details no one else has and can back it up with reporting like no one else can.

We begin with breaking news, a military story that could also seriously alter the political battlefield perhaps for decades to come. CNN has learned that tomorrow Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will open the door to women serving in combat units. Now, it won't happen all at once. There will be certain limitations. But for the first time in the long history of America's armed forces, a very big door will now be opening.

The decision comes with plenty of women already fighting and dying overseas, it's important to mention. At least 130 women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 800 wounded.

In a moment, we will talk with Congresswoman and Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth. We will also explore what could be seismic partisan political consequences.

We start, though, at the Pentagon with our Chris Lawrence.

This is pretty groundbreaking stuff, after women flying helicopters, handling bomb-sniffing dogs, being combat medics, getting assigned to submarine submarines. This is really the last great barrier to come down. Right?


You are talking about Army infantry, Marine recon units and even potentially special operations forces. This was sort of the big glass ceiling that had not been broken yet. You mentioned those other ones. The Army recently opened up special ops aviation that women could be pilots and crew members on aviation flights for special operations forces. But this potentially opens up nearly a quarter of a million jobs to women in the military.

COOPER: What's the timeline on this? It doesn't happen all at once.

LAWRENCE: No. It's not like tomorrow all of these jobs are going to open all at once. Some will open fairly quickly. The easiest ones to integrate where you have got a lot of women already sort of attached or working at a battalion level, those could be open in six to eight months.

But some of the tougher ones, the special operations forces, certain elite infantry units, those may take years. And what the Pentagon has got to do now is the individual commands have to start to assess when they may be able to make this change and that really is the big catch there, Anderson, that these commands can go through and look and say at some point we don't think we can feasibly integrate women without losing combat readiness.

They can then go back to the secretary of defense and ask for an exemption to the rule, so ultimately down the road this may not apply to every single job in the military and it's something that Leon Panetta's successor is going to have to make some big decisions about going down the road.

COOPER: For some of these, would there be different physical standards? Would it all be the same physical standards? How would that work?

LAWRENCE: All that's got to get worked out individually so the Marines will have to look at every job, every combat unit and decide how they want to implement it. If you look at how the Navy did submarines, what they did was they took a small group of women when they were still at the Naval Academy, brought them in as candidates. Those women trained for a couple years.

And just last year in the last few months you started to see the first female submarine officers get on board their subs. After they get integrated, then the Navy is going to bring in some enlisted women behind them and I'm told that's how they may work some of the process with certain elite units.

COOPER: All right, Chris Lawrence, thanks.


COOPER: Joining me now, chief national correspondent John King, CNN political contributor and Republican consultant Margaret Hoover, also wounded Iraq War veteran and Illinois Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth.

Congresswoman, as a veteran, how did you feel when you heard about today's announcement?

REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: I was pleased because I think it's a great step forward for our military and our nation. This opens up a whole new population of Americans who want to serve and who want to defend this nation who will now be able to do it in combat on jobs.

COOPER: John King, how much of this is about politics?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think first and foremost it's something the president believes in. But if you attach it to some other things he said he believes in and will push for in his second term, look at what we heard in the last 48-72 hours.

Women in combat. Groundbreaking language in his inauguration speech on gay rights. More talk in his inaugural address about equal pay for women. The return of climate change and immigration to his agenda and gun control. Take all of those issues, what do they have in common? Two things. They fit the demographics of the Obama coalition. How did he win? With college-educated women. With younger voters. With non-white voters.

He's embracing if you will not only the politics but the policy priorities of his coalition. What else do they have in common? They put pressure like a sharp thumb on some key points in a Republican coalition that this White House frankly thinks is aging, is increasingly white and is fractured.

COOPER: You're saying you think there's no doubt that that is part of this equation?

KING: Without a doubt. If you heard Speaker John Boehner just the to day after the inaugural address he says the president is trying to annihilate the Republican Party. That's a strong word.

But does this president see an opportunity? I would be interested in the congresswoman's perspective. You can't find many Democrats who think that President Obama worries about the Democratic Party 10, 15, 20 years down the road. But you will find a lot of Democrats that say if you can turn the Obama coalition into a Democratic coalition, then the Democrats will have built in on the national stage pretty much what Ronald Reagan had for 20 years and the Republican Party got after Ronald Reagan on the Republican stage.

This coalition, if he can transfer it over, it spells a lot of trouble for the Republicans.

COOPER: Congresswoman, what do you think about what John King was just saying?

DUCKWORTH: I'm not privy to the president's processes and how he came up with the decision. All I can tell you is that women have been fighting and dying and bleeding for this nation in combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They may not have had those jobs specifically other than aviation, my branch of service, but they have been fighting in combat and they have been engaged in combat action. And I think that the last 10 years of women serving in combat has finally pushed us to this point where the Pentagon has finally realized, look, women have served ably and it's time that we open up these fields.

COOPER: But you're a politicians and you know politics. Do you think the president is trying to kind of box Republicans into a corner?

DUCKWORTH: I don't know what the president is trying to do. All I can tell you is that I certainly as a politician supported this throughout my political career, but even beforehand. This is something I have been supporting this all along, even when people were saying women aren't capable of doing it.

Yes, they are. They are capable of defending our country just as well as men are.

COOPER: I know you don't want to say what you think is in the president's mind, but from a political standpoint does this box Republicans into a corner or make it difficult for Republicans?

DUCKWORTH: I think that Republicans are going to -- anyone who would oppose this would have to answer to their constituencies as to why they think women aren't capable of doing their jobs.

I think that America's sons and daughters both want to fight, both want to defend this country, and I think that what women have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military women, has proven that they are fully capable of doing this.

COOPER: Margaret Hoover, Republican, what do you think?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I would encourage Republicans here to not be reactionary and to not take the political bait.

The truth is it's exactly what Representative Duckworth said. Women have been fighting in combat roles. Not only have they been fighting in combat roles in the sense they are taking action in direct combat and seeing engagement, seeing action. There are also some roles, like the female Marine engagement troops in Afghanistan, jobs female Marines are doing that male Marines simply can't do.

They are seeing conflict and they're seeing action as well. To be reactionary would just be to defy the facts on the ground.

COOPER: But also just from a political standpoint, to John King's point, do you think this is a -- is politics involved here, that this is shoring up a liberal coalition and also boxing Republicans in?

HOOVER: I think it's a perfect marriage of the reality of where the military is going and the coalition the president is the trying to coalesce.

It makes perfect sense for him to do this and Republicans shouldn't be reactionary about it. The thing that Republicans should care most about is what will keep the military the most effective and superior fighting force in the world and if opening up to women and frankly just sort of being realistic, women are seeing already combat, they should be...

COOPER: Do you agree with John Boehner that Barack Obama is trying to annihilate the Republican Party?

HOOVER: I think he sees a splintered Republican Party and he is going for the jugular and any politician in that position would.

COOPER: So, you think it's a smart move?

HOOVER: It's certainly savvy. The Republican Party is in a bit of disarray right now. We certainly don't have the upper hand. The president does. He's being wise tactically.

COOPER: John, is part of this payback for those comments that McConnell made about his top job being to make sure the president wasn't reelected?

KING: Part of it is -- you could look at it that way. I'm sure if you asked the president about this he would say he believes these things.

I'm actually told after his inaugural address his former chief of staff, now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked him where did that come from and why did you decide to give that speech again with all those points we talked about? I'm told the president looked at him and said I just decided to say some things that I really believe in.

He's a second-term president. He doesn't have to run for reelection. We can talk about these policies. The president didn't do these things. He didn't do women in combat. He didn't lift a finger on climate change and he didn't push hard on immigration and he didn't do gun control in his first term, so he's a second-term president who doesn't have to face voters and these are things he wants to bring front and center.

How much will he follow up? We will see. But they do believe in the White House pick up a census report, look at the demographics of this country and how they're changing and look at the Obama coalition from the last two elections. And they believe if they can cement the loyalty of those voters in and part of cementing the loyalty of voters is acting on issues they most care about.

Younger voters care about climate change. A lot of voters do, but these are issues that fit the Obama coalition. If they can cement that in on a national scale, the Republicans are in trouble.

COOPER: And Margaret, you would agree the president believes this. It's not just politics. He believes in all of these things.

HOOVER: I think so. I think he's sincere. I think he's earnest. I don't think there's anything insincere about saying Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall. I think it's consistent with what he stood for and it's also politically convenient.

COOPER: It's fascinating days. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, appreciate you being with us. Margaret Hoover, John King as well, thanks.

Let us know what you think. We're talking about it on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper.

Ahead tonight, her face belonged to Manti Te'o. She was the image of the perfect girlfriend, his fictitious girlfriend we now know. We're going to talk to the real woman whose stolen image stole his heart, allegedly.

And next, on a much more serious note, the murder of four Americans in Libya and Secretary of State Clinton's fiery day on Capitol Hill.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.



COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, Hillary Clinton's long- awaited accountability moment in the murder of four Americans in Libya, these four Americans, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith. Their names bear repeating. Their sacrifice deserves honest answers and meaningful action and not political posturing and some evasive answers.

"Keeping Them Honest" are we getting honest answers to truly relevant questions and are the security problems that caused four Americans their lives actually being addressed? Last month a State Department accountability review board identified systematic shortcomings and failures of leadership prior to the killings.

Secretary Clinton says she takes full responsibility. Today on Capitol Hill, lawmakers demanded accountability.


REP. MATT SALMON (R), ARIZONA: I am troubled by what seems to be this administration's pattern of misleading the American people and failing to hold decision-makers accountable.

CLINTON: Chris Stevens, who probably knew more about Libya than anybody else in our government, did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature and scale despite the overall trend of security problems that we faced.

And I have to add neither did the intelligence community. REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: An emergency meeting was held and a cable sent out on August 16 by the ambassador himself warning what could happen and this cable went unnoticed by your office.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: It does cost money to pay for embassy security.

CLINTON: Since 2007, the department has consistently requested greater funding for embassy construction and diplomatic security. With the exception of 2010, Congress has consistently enacted less than requested.

SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something strange out of that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Had I been president at the time, and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it's inexcusable.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Madam Secretary, you let the consulate become a death trap. And that's national security malpractice.

CLINTON: I have great confidence that the accountability review board did the job they were asked to do, made the recommendations that they thought were based on evidence, not on emotion.


COOPER: So there's no shortage of heat today, as you just saw. But "Keeping Them Honest," was there actually light?

With us tonight is chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper and former Bush Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend. Fran serves on the CIA's External Advisory Board. She spent time with Ambassador Stevens back in August visiting Libya with her employer, MacAndrews & Forbes.

Jake, these kinds of hearings, it's very frustrating to watch them. It just seems like it ends up being a lot of posturing and grandstanding. What exactly did we learn today that we didn't know already?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Certainly there were a lot of questions that went unanswered and certainly there were a lot of questions that were buried in paragraphs of speeches that the members of Congress gave that allowed Secretary Clinton to not answer them.

There are a few things that we learned today. One, I think I have never heard the State Department officially confirm that weapons used in Algeria in that crisis came from Libya. That was long reported it was suspected, but it had not been said by the secretary of state before.

In terms of the politics of this, I think we learned that this remains a big issue among Republican rank and file, that Benghazi will continue to be an issue but that Republicans still have yet to find a way to pin down any of the Obama administration officials for any tangible wrongdoings.

COOPER: Fran, do you think it was kind of a waste of time?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I do think it was a waste of time. It was unfortunate.

You have had on family members on your program and I imagine myself as a family member if I had lost somebody watching this. Look, it was a waste of time to ask Secretary Clinton about the talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice.

COOPER: They seemed to spend an awful lot of time on talking points given to Susan Rice.

TOWNSEND: Right. And yet when Secretary Clinton sort of loses her temper in the Senate hearing and says what difference does it make whether this was resulted from a protest or some guys who just went out for a walk and decided to kill Americans, the right comeback to that was, it does matter. If you telling us you want to solve the problem, you have to understand what caused it.


COOPER: Let's play the moment where she got at Senator Johnson.


JOHNSON: Again. We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something spread out of that - an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact.

And the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.


COOPER: You were saying, Fran, it does make a difference. TOWNSEND: It does make a difference, of course, because -- and she alludes to that at the very end of her answer. In order to fix it, you have to understand where it came from.

By the way, they didn't spend a whole lot of time asking her about the several attempts to attack that consulate and the attack on the British ambassador in Benghazi prior to the 9/11 attack on our consulate. There were a series of things -- if they wanted to get to substance of this -- and she took responsibility, but if you wanted to hold her accountable, you need to really organize yourself to ask substantive questions and they didn't do that.

COOPER: Did it seem like they had done their homework?

TOWNSEND: Well, I'll tell you, here's another -- Secretary Clinton said she did not read all of the cables that were talking about the security situation.

Not one senator, not one member of Congress asked her, did she get what is called a roger channel cable from Ambassador Stevens. That is, there is a special channel in which an ambassador posted overseas can communicate directly with the secretary of state on particularly sensitive matters.

We don't know because the answer to that because of course nobody asked her that.

COOPER: Do we know if those cables were sent, roger channel cables?

TOWNSEND: We don't know.

My point is that members of Congress were so busy posturing -- they had an opportunity to really ask her difficult questions and get straight answers and they didn't do that.

COOPER: Jake, where do you think this leaves Secretary Clinton in terms of her legacy? Does it have an impact on any career she may have in 2016 in terms of running for president? Did it do damage today to her?

TAPPER: I think that the quote of hers that you just played, what difference does it make at this point, is ready for a campaign commercial, whether it's from the Biden for president campaign or the Christie for president campaign, I don't know, but I think that will be used against her.

And certainly it comes across as more glib than I think if she could go back and revise and extend those remarks, she would have them as Fran just alluded to.

COOPER: Is it fair, Fran, to attack Secretary Clinton, the administration, for not having brought some of these people to justice already? The flip side of that these things take time. Do you think it's too much time? TOWNSEND: They do take time. Secretary Clinton was asked and she did mention FBI Director Bob Mueller was in Libya last week. The investigation is ongoing. Didn't say much other than we're working with the Tunisian government. One suspect was released...


COOPER: Right. They say he's under observation, but still.

TOWNSEND: Right, and that they weren't ready to bring charges yet.

But, you know, Anderson, here's the problem. The bad guys understand just this. They are watching. There hasn't been anybody brought to justice. They understand very well the environment they are operating in. Security services have melted away after the Arab spring. Borders are easy to cross. Weapons are easily assessable.

The bad guys have an advantage. The longer this takes to bring an investigation to a conclusion and hold people accountable suggests to the bad guys that they have a free operating environment and Americans are at risk throughout that region.

COOPER: Interesting. Fran, appreciate it. Jake Tapper, thanks so much.

TAPPER: Thank you.

COOPER: Another story we're covering tonight, Diane O'Meara learned from a reporter that she was the face of Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend. Her stolen image is at the center of an entire hoax, and a hoax that has changed the way some people see the star linebacker. She joins me live just ahead.

And later, celebrities and Scientology. A controversial new book explores the church's interest in Hollywood. The author, Lawrence Wright, won a Pulitzer Prize for "The Looming Tower," his book about 9/11 and al Qaeda. He joins me about his new book on Scientology next.


COOPER: Welcome back.

Well, 2013 has barely begun. It's possible that a more bizarre story could come along. But the Manti Te'o fake dead girlfriend hoax has set the bar pretty high. We know that Lennay Kekua, who was supposedly the love of Te'o's life and died too young losing her life to leukemia on the same day that Te'o lost his grandmother, we now know none of that was true. Deadspin broke the story, exposed the scam.

But a lot of questions remain and tonight the star Notre Dame linebacker is finally talking. His full interview with ABC's Katie Couric airs tomorrow. In clips, though, released today by "Good Morning America" Te'o admits to lying to the media after learning that his alleged girlfriend's death was a hoax. He also defends his lies. Listen.


KATIE COURIC, ABC: You stuck to the script. You knew that something was amiss, Manti Te'o.



TE'O: Anybody, put yourself in my situation. Katie, put yourself in my situation. This girl who I committed myself to died on September 12. Now I get a phone call on December 6, saying that she's alive, and then I'm going to be put on national TV two days later, and they ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?


COOPER: Te'o is not the only one speaking out tonight.

As bizarre as this whole story is for everyone else, for Diane O'Meara, it is beyond surreal. Her photograph was used to create an online profile for Lennay Kekua, who again never existed. Now, both Te'o and O'Meara have said this California man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, masterminded the hoax. They have said he apologized to them. He's not talking publicly.

Diane O'Meara joins us now.

Thanks very much for being here. First of all,, how are you holding up in all of this? This has got to be bizarre.


I try not to think too much about it because it's very twisted and very disturbing and at this point I'm trying to go day by day.

COOPER: You know Ronaiah Tuiasosopo?

O'MEARA: Right. He was a classmate of mine in high school.

COOPER: In high school. How long ago was that?

O'MEARA: I graduated in 2007.

COOPER: Have you been in touch with him over the years?

O'MEARA: No. He never contacted me up until this past December. I never saw him.

COOPER: The first photograph, how did he get that photograph? Where did he take that from?

O'MEARA: Right. He contacted me through multiple messages on Facebook, relaying that he and his cousin had been in a traumatic car accident and my attorney, Mr. Donahue, he brought these papers today, but he basically said that he's creating a slide show for his cousin who is waiting for his brain surgery, and to help him out if I could send a photo of myself.

Ironically now, thinking back, I thought to myself, what's the difference between me taking a photo and holding up this sign vs. him just taking a photo from my Facebook profile? And it went as far as him sending a photo of his cousin.

COOPER: And this is the photo that he asked you to hold up this sign. We now know that what was written on the sign related to the alleged dead girlfriend's Twitter page.

O'MEARA: Right, which I had obviously no idea at the time. I was told that this was more of a hashtag throughout the photo slide show and that everybody else that was participating in the slide show was holding that sign.

COOPER: And there was another picture of you that -- did he take that from your Facebook page?

O'MEARA: Right. Every other photo was taken from my Facebook profile or my old MySpace or friends, mutual friends' Facebook profiles.

COOPER: To your memory, what is Ronaiah Tuiasosopo like?

O'MEARA: He always seemed upbeat guy. Always smiling. Very religious.

COOPER: Were you close friends at all?


I spoke with him probably two, three times in high school, as I mentioned, since then never heard from him, never hung out with him, you know. And even when he was contacting me on Facebook, I was very hesitant to respond back, but his urgency and his persistence was unavoidable.

COOPER: And has he now -- he's now apologized to you?

O'MEARA: Right.

And yet through the first couple of weeks of January, he was still reaching out to me asking for more content, for more photos and more videos and even as far as for me to send a video saying good luck on the 7th, which now obviously relates to the championship game that was on the 7th.

And, obviously, I didn't give that content or any other photos or anything like that. But when he found out that this was all coming to surface through the Deadspin article and everyone was kind of catching on, he reached out to me a day or two days before the story broke and relayed to me that he in fact was stalking my profile for five years, taking my photos, and he created this...

COOPER: For five years, he was doing that?

O'MEARA: He created this identity that wasn't me. It was this Lennay Kekua with my face on it.

COOPER: How does that feel emotionally?

O'MEARA: It's -- it's unnerving. I mean, it's very frustrating. Even still when I see the photos and when I see how they've been exposed all over the media, it's hard. But, I mean, the fact is this doesn't just happen to me.


O'MEARA: Granted, this is a very unique situation that involves mass media, but this happens every day.

COOPER: It happens to people all the time.

O'MEARA: Yes, which is the most devastating thing.

COOPER: Yes. We've got, actually, digital dashboard question from Facebook. But Robert asks, "If Manti were to call you now to tell you how embarrassed he is about the situation, would you speak with him?"

O'MEARA: You know, I don't know. I think I would just ask Manti directly, if I had a chance to speak to him, I would just directly ask him were you involved? I mean, as anybody else, I'm searching for answers, as well.

COOPER: Do you think he might be?

O'MEARA: You know, I'm not one to say, because this is so confusing and twisted, and it does -- I don't see the real motive behind this. I mean, this seems like it was carefully executed and planned over a course of over two years.

COOPER: Do you now change your Facebook settings? I mean, do you...

O'MEARA: Well, that's the thing. I mean, I was doing everything I could to protect myself. My Facebook was private. You know, I was very careful about going through each and every time line post when it switched to time line and changing all the settings, and making sure I knew what post was there and who was seeing it. But I mean, clearly, it's -- that's not enough nowadays.

COOPER: What's your message to other young women out there? As you said -- I mean, I've interviewed other young women this has happened to.

O'MEARA: Right, and that's the scary thing, is we keep hearing about these cases of identity being stolen in this extremely vulnerable way and nobody is doing anything about it. We just keep going along hoping, wishing that I hope that doesn't happen to me. I hope that's not my daughter. COOPER: Yes.

O'MEARA: I hope that's not my friend or my girlfriend. We just kind of hope. And it's not enough. It's very unsatisfactory that we have literally no protection against the advancements of Internet and social media.

COOPER: Well, listen, I'm sorry that you have experienced this. I appreciate you talking about it.

O'MEARA: Yes. Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you very much. Diane O'Meara.

Coming up, another story about the Church of Scientology. Celebrities like Tom Cruise are the focus of a new book on scientology that takes a very hard look at the church's founder and his interest in recruiting celebrities. The church is slamming the book, says it's full of inaccuracies. The writer is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, Lawrence Wright, who joins me ahead.

And later, the bitter cold that is turning buildings like this one in Chicago into ice castles. Take a look at that. It's just crazy. Is this just a case of winter being winter or something else going on? Some answers ahead.


COOPER: Swift and furious, that's a fair way to describe the Church of Scientology's response to a new book by author Lawrence Wright. It's called "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief." As the title suggests, it focuses on scientology's founder and its interests in recruiting celebrities. It also explores allegations of abuse. It's already in its second printing.

This isn't, of course, the first time an author, journalist or former scientologist has turned a lens on the church. It's also not the first time scientology has tried to discredit the result and threatened legal action. We ourselves have felt those tactics firsthand when we reported on scientology.

In a moment, you'll hear from Lawrence Wright, the author of "Going Clear." But first, here's some background on how he got here.


COOPER (voice-over): The Church of Scientology was founded by a science-fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. Its stated goals to help people, quote, "live in a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights."

Members pay to take courses designed to help them work through issues from their past and reach a higher state of consciousness. To understand what's holding them back, church members are tested with a device called an "E" meter that's used to monitor their feelings and reactions.

L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, and since then this man, David Miscavige, has been the leader. He, like Hubbard before him, oversees a religious order inside the church, an order that's responsible for church management, called the Sea Organization. Members of Sea Org sometimes wear naval-style uniforms. They dedicate their lives to the church, signing billion-year contracts, promising to remain in the church for many reincarnated lives to come.

The Church of Scientology says it's opened some 170 churches around the globe. It claims 10 million members worldwide, 6 million in the U.S. In 2009, then-church spokesman Tommy Davis put it this way.

TOMMY DAVIS, FORMER CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGIST SPOKESMAN: David Miscavige is responsible for the current renaissance that the church is experiencing, and the fact is, the church has doubled in size in the last five years and has flourished under his leadership.

COOPER: The America Religious Identification Survey, however, cites much lower numbers. According to its survey, the number of self-described practicing scientologists in the U.S. actually dropped from 55,000 to 25,000 in the years between 2001 and 2008.

The church is a famously vocal critic of psychiatry, opposing what it calls brutal and inhumane psychiatric treatments.

But for most, this is how the public identifies with scientology, through high-profile believers. The church reaches out to well-known performers and caters to their need with a celebrity center in Hollywood. Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, are long-time scientologists, as is Tom Cruise.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: Being a scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it's not like anyone else. As you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one that can really help.

COOPER: Cruise is so close to church leader David Miscavige that he asked him to be his best man at his wedding. Here's Cruise praising David Miscavige at a scientology event in 2007.

CRUISE: So I say to you, sir, we are lucky to have you. Thank you very much.

COOPER: In 2010, we met with many former Sea Org members, including Tom Cruise's former counselor, or auditor in scientology parlance, who says everything is not as it seems within the church leadership.


COOPER: Marty Rathbun, who used to work directly under David Miscavige, says there's been a culture of violence within the leadership of the church. A culture encouraged by Miscavige himself. RATHBUN: He treats his subordinates and all of international management like -- like slaves in a slave camp and literally -- and beats them down.

COOPER: It's a claim the church vigorously denies. They say Rathbun is a liar and out to destroy the church. The church spokesman in 2009, Tommy Davis, says yes, there was violence in the church, but he blames Marty Rathbun for it, as well as some others now making allegations against David Miscavige.

DAVIS: The allegations are absolutely untrue. There is nothing of the sort as they're describing by Mr. Miscavige.

COOPER: David Miscavige has never kicked somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never punched somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely...

COOPER: Never strangled somebody?

DAVIS: Never, never, never. Absolutely not.

COOPER: As CNN was preparing our 2010 report, the church provided us with large stacks of affidavits from current and former church members. One-time colleagues of these former scientologists, even ex-wives who remain in the leadership of the church. Some interviewed with us to defend the church, saying that their former husbands and co-workers are liars.

JENNY LINSON, SEA ORGANIZATION MEMBER: I never saw one scratch. I never saw one bruise. I never saw one black eye. Nothing. Nor did he complain about anything personally.

COOPER: Now Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright has written a book titled "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief."

He details the church's creation by its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and explores these allegations of abuse. Allegations the church continues to strongly deny, and they've created a Web site to refute the book, chapter by chapter.


COOPER: Well, we're making the Church of Scientology's responses available at To find it, put the word "scientology" in the search field in the upper right-hand corner.

"Going Clear" is based on extensive interviews with former and current church members. Lawrence Wright talked to hundreds of people. I spoke to him earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: So why did you decide to write about scientology?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR: I've always been interested in why people believe one thing rather than another. Especially in this country, where you can believe anything you want. That's not true in a lot of places in the world. But we have this supermarket of religious beliefs. So why would you choose scientology, perhaps the most stigmatized religion in this country?

COOPER: What do you think it does for people? That's the thing I sort of can't get to the bottom of. What does it give people?

WRIGHT: At the beginning level when you go in and get auditing, which is their form of therapy, a lot of people feel like they are helped. In fact, that's what draws people in. They ask, "What is ruining your life? What is your ruin?"

And if you say, "Well, it's my relationship or my profession or something," they say, "We have something that can help you." And sometimes that's true.

COOPER: And is recruiting celebrities -- because they have this celebrity center in Hollywood. Was that a conscious effort by the church, and is that for P.R. reasons?

WRIGHT: Absolutely. These are product endorsements. But the Church of Scientology was created in Los Angeles. The celebrity center in Hollywood, all of it with the design to take over the entertainment industry.

There were people that they were actively recruiting. They were always looking for that exemplary figure that could represent scientology, and it would be a member -- a prominent member of the entertainment industry.

COOPER: A lot of people focus on the origin myth in scientology or the origin story, I should say, and a lot of people make fun of it. I mean, my belief is every religion has a -- has an origin story. If that's their origin story, fine. I've never really focused too much on that.

I find the structure of the church interesting, though. I mean, it's -- is there any other church that you know of that's structured like it in terms of paying to kind of move up through the hierarchy of the church?

WRIGHT: No. I don't -- nothing like that comes to mind. It's very expensive. You know, if you want to climb -- if you walk into the door of scientology today and you go all the way to the top of the pyramid, half a million dollars or more just for -- you know, you get the course work, but then you're -- you know, continually asked for money.

COOPER: The church is obviously very upset about -- about the book. And -- but they say, "Mr. Wright showed the church he has no interest in the facts, only lies and exaggerations being fed to him by angry, bitter sources with agendas based on hatred and revenge. The result is a biased work, more fiction than fact."

I should say they basically said the same thing about our reporting. They published an entire magazine...

WRIGHT: Right.

COOPER: ... devoted to attacking us and CNN and myself.

WRIGHT: I got one in "The New Yorker," as well.

But I want to just say about that disclaimer from the church. First of all, you can only talk to the people that will talk to you. And I asked repeatedly to talk to upper level executives, including David Miscavige, but not just him, and the opportunity was foreclosed to me. I spoke to more than 250 people, the majority of them current or former scientologists.

So it's not just a small group of people. We're talking about more than 150 people. Their stories are very damning. They're very similar in nature.

COOPER: There's a lot of people who were formerly in the upper echelons of the church who talk about a culture of violence that they participated in. Some of them admit that they engaged in violent acts toward others in the church, but that they also point fingers at David Miscavige, the leader of the church, as someone who would leap across desks and would hit people.

WRIGHT: It sounds bizarre. But I had 12 people tell me that they had personally been beaten up by David Miscavige and more than 20 witnesses to such events, and these accounts are very similar. That hair-trigger response. A sudden, you know, jumping up and strangling people, beating people out of the blue. They have no idea what they've done. And oftentimes after that, they're sent off to one of these re-education camps, sometimes for years.

COOPER: We heard Tom Cruise in the setup package saying that, you know, he drives by an accident, and he knows that he's the only one, or scientology is the only one that can really help. What is that idea that somehow a scientologist can -- can help with a road accident?

WRIGHT: It's a laying on of hands, essentially. There's a contact assist.

I was talking to Josh Brolin about this. He once witnessed John Travolta helping Marlon Brando who had actually -- wasn't a traffic accident, but he had stopped to help a motorist on the side of the road and he'd cut his leg. And they all show up at a dinner party. And Brolin is telling this story and using this dead-on Brando accident.

But you know, Travolta said, "I've just gotten up to a higher level in the church, and I think I can help you."

And he said, "Well, if you have powers, John," you know. So he reached over and put his hand on Brando's leg, and Brolin said it was eerie. There was almost a physical charge between the two of them. And Brando said, "You know what? I do feel better."

So who's to say? In Brando's mind, maybe he was making Travolta feel OK about himself or maybe there was some sort of effect. But essentially it's a mystical idea, that you can lay on hands, and you can make someone feel better.

COOPER: The church cites huge membership. Millions and millions of people. Other sources say that the number is actually much smaller, in the tens of thousands: 25,000, 35,000, 45,000. Is membership in decline?

WRIGHT: Yes. I mean, it's hemorrhaging members.


WRIGHT: Well, part of it, I think, people are becoming aware of what's going on inside of the church.

Moreover, the secret doctrines of the church it had kept secret for years are now all over the Internet. They're ridiculed on "South Park." So everybody kind of knows what the secrets are inside scientology, and you don't have to pay a half million dollars to learn them.

COOPER: It's a fascinating book. Thank you so much, Lawrence.

WRIGHT: It's always a pleasure.


COOPER: Lawrence Wright.

Still ahead, the family of NFL star Junior Seau is suing, claiming the brain injury he got playing pro football caused his suicide. Could their lawsuit actually be a game changer?

Also ahead, it is cold out there. It's not just talking about here in New York. Much colder than normal in much of the country. Can you say 33 below? And it's not over yet. We'll explain why.


ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Isha Sesay with breaking news.

The University of Virginia's College at Wise is on lockdown right now after reports of an alleged gunman on campus. School officials are telling students to, quote, "stay put and lock all doors until further notice."

The liberal arts school is in the western part of the state about five hours from the main UVA campus. Let's get more details for you. Joining me now is Jordan Fifer. He's the editor in chief of the school's newspaper, "The Highland Cavalier." Jordan, thank you for joining us.

I know officials are still saying to stay inside with the doors locked. What can you tell us about the situation on campus right now?

JORDAN FIFER, EDITOR, "THE HIGHLAND CAVALIER" (via phone): The latest information we have is that the school is on lockdown and that police are searching for what they say is called an alleged gunman. Actually, there are a lot of rumors going around, but we haven't received any official reports other than that.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight we're adding traditional veterinary medicine, as we know it. Because as it turns out, all you really need if you have a nice, big bottle of booze.

Allow me to explain. This is Clio, a 9-week-old puppy who became very ill after licking radiator fluid off of spare car parts in a garage in Australia. Anyway, Clio started acting kind of drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was really disoriented. She couldn't stand straight.

The poor little thing was a few hours away from kidney failure. The treatment, vodka.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vodka to make it better?

(end video CLIP)

COOPER: That's right. The vet put Clio on a vodka drip, through the nose and into her student. More than a third of a bottle vodka to counteract the effects of the antifreeze.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's toxins in there that are very, very harmful to the kidneys. So what we need to do is give them alcohol, and in this case, we've got vodka to try and mop up some of those toxins.


COOPER: Now, I'm not really much of a drinker, but a third of a bottle seems like a lot for a little puppy. Let's put that in human terms, shall we?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we put it in human terms, for me, it would be the equivalent of having seven or eight shots every four hours.


COOPER: Seven or eight shots every four hours. Now remind me never to go drinking with this Australian veterinarian.

So believe it or not, little Clio is not the only vodka guzzling party animal to cross my path recently. On my daytime talk show, Lisa Vanderpunk of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" told me about taking her dog Jiggy to Andy Cohen's show "Watch What Happens Live."


COOPER: Jiggy was slurping at an ice cube from a vodka tonic.

LISA VANDERPUNK, REALITY TV STAR: Andy Cohen is a bad influence.

COOPER: Yes, he's a bad influence. Did Jiggy pass out after that?

VANDERPUNK: Jiggy -- we were try to wake him up. He would just fall asleep.

COOPER: He looks a little hung over. I will say. Yes.


COOPER: Jiggy seems more of a social drinker, whereas Clio drank for medicinal purposes only, proving once again that, when you're feeling rough after a hard night of drinking radiator fluid and/or hanging out with Andy Cohen, sometimes thing only thing that helps is a little hair of the dog.

That does it for us. Thank you for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.