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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Panel of Descendents of Presidents Discuss What Their Relative Would Make of Current Political Climate; Possible Lanza Motive; ER Doctor's Emotional Testimony; John Walsh Talks Gun Control; Teen Says Parents Tried to Force Abortion
Aired February 18, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thanks very much indeed.
We have lots to get through tonight. I'm going to sit down exclusively with a doctor who tried to save some of the children slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Also John Walsh who makes his living hunting violent fugitives and is for gun control.
Plus new evidence in the shocking murder case against blade runner Oscar Pistorius. On the night everyone is talking about what may have motivated Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, we begin with the breaking news. Some law enforcement sources are advancing the theory that Lanza may have been obsessed with Anders Breivik, a Norwegian who killed 77 people in July 2011.
That's according to CBS News. He may even believe there was a deadly competition between them, a sick competition he hoped to win by killing even more people than Breivik did. Meanwhile, a Connecticut State Police spokesman is throwing cold water on that theory at the moment, telling -- Susan Candiotti on the record, quote, "All of it is speculation. There's no basis to the CBS story. We have not established a motive."
But I want to bring in now Xavier Amador, a psychologist who worked on the Unabomber case and has been a consultant to the Department of Justice.
Welcome back to you, Dr. Amador. Clearly, a the moment, no one is committing to a firm motive, but the CBS report clearly implies that they are finding some kind of evidence that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, had in some way fantasized about some weird, sick competition between him and the Norwegian mass shooter.
In your experience with this kind of thing, would that entirely surprise you, or is there often a copycat element to these kinds of massacres?
XAVIER AMADOR, PSYCHOLOGIST, LEAP INSTITUTE: Well, if I was to understand, I'd say you've asked me a compound question. Let me answer the second question first. It's not common in my experience to see copycat killings. It's not a common occurrence. However, it is common to see multiple factors that influence homicides, and especially in instances like this where it really stretches the imagination, why would somebody do something as horrific as Adam Lanza did?
And watching video games could be a causal factor or it could be in fact the end result of something else. Mental health issues that led him to video games.
MORGAN: I mean, clearly, it's a cocktail of things, not least of which the easy access to his mother's weapons which were in the house that he shared with her. But the local newspaper, the "Hartford Current," is reporting, I think, tomorrow morning that they found thousands and thousands of dollars worth of violent video games in the Lanza home and in particular where Adam Lanza used to have his own little private quarters, if you like.
Clearly, if you mix the cocktail of mental health issues, the ready availability of high powered weaponry, and an apparent obsession with these violent games, that is going to trigger, in the wrong kind of person, a very unpleasant situation.
AMADOR: I think the -- you know, the proof is in the eating of the pudding. When you mix that cocktail, you get oftentimes horrific results like this. I mean, the fact is that millions of people watch violent video games. There's a multibillion dollar industry. The Supreme Court has ruled on whether this causes violence, it doesn't. But as a factor, when you factor this in with somebody who, it looks like, very likely has severe mental health issues -- had very severe mental health issues, along with his on the gun range with his mother, being completely not only desensitized to firing weapons, but introduced to them, comfortable with them, and what other -- other factors we're not even aware of yet.
But certainly those three factors, Piers, I have to -- I have to agree with you. I think that that's the cocktail for the kind of explosion we saw in Newtown.
MORGAN: See, I think you have to attack the whole gun control issue. I was almost rephrasing that, call it gun safety. How do you try and prevent more of these things? How do you try and make it safer for Americans? I don't think you can do both, mental health issue.
AMADOR: No, you can't.
MORGAN: Violent video games, violent movies, whatever it may be, with the ready availability of weapons, it's all of it put together, is a problem. Because normal people with no mental health issues at all can watch violent video games all day and all night and will have any effect on them. They're not the people that we should be concerned about.
AMADOR: Well, and let me --
MORGAN: It's about people like Adam Lanza.
AMADOR: Well -- and let me add to that. People with mental health issues are in -- who are in treatment, which is the majority, can watch these games and play these games and there's no violence. People with mental illness are not more violent than the general population if they're in treatment. The issue is the problem with people falling through the cracks or even being pushed through the cracks of our mental health care system.
That's why starting with Clinton's attorney general's report -- not attorney general's report, surgeon general's report, with President Bush's Freedom Commission on Mental Health, more recent commissions, they all point to the same problem. Obama is going for the same thing. We can't talk about gun safety without talking about our broken mental health system.
So it's not mentally ill people that are the problem. I have said this before on your program, it's getting our system to identify them. This is a guy who was obsessed, is the report that you're getting, obsessed with --
MORGAN: Yes, and I think -- I think I would also -- I would also add that there are many countries around the world, including my own, Britain, where there's lots of mental health issues, but without the ready availability of firearms.
AMADOR: And you don't see this.
MORGAN: We don't get this kind of shooting committee by people with mental problems.
Dr. Amador, thank you as always for joining me. I appreciate it.
AMADOR: You're welcome.
MORGAN: Dr. William Begg was in the emergency room that December day, fighting a losing battle to save the children of Sandy Hook. Since then, he's been speaking out passionately on what he thinks it will take to stop gun violence. And he joins me now.
Dr. Begg, thank you so much for joining me.
DR. WILLIAM BEGG, EMS MEDICAL DIRECTOR: I appreciate the opportunity. Just like to say my heart goes out to the families who lost the 20 children, six teachers at Sandy Hook.
MORGAN: Yes. I totally echo that. I watched your testimony the other day. It was profoundly moving. It was very emotional. I could tell that you were trying to control your anger, I think, at what had happened.
BEGG: I was. I was.
MORGAN: But also a sense of real frustration, I felt, that the message already was being kind of clouded by the usual gun rights lobbyists.
And how do we get through this? How does America move to a safer place, do you think? BEGG: I'm with the group United Physicians in Newtown. We understand it's a multifaceted approach if we want to change. We understand it's education. I have the ability to educate my patients in the same category when I talk to them about obesity and seatbelts and texting while driving.
We have to have education. And so we have to have some research, so when I educate them, I have some real data. I mean, right now, there's a public service announcement that says if you text and drive, there's 23 times more chance you're going to die. Well, I need the same data to give to my patients. Thirdly, mental health. I understand mental health is a big component, and again, towards my testimony, the way health care is going in our government, I just -- don't want to cut resources in this environment, but lastly, there has to be attention to gun legislation, and the three tenets of gun legislation that my United Physicians in Newtown and myself are interested in we have to look at high-capacity magazines, we have to look at assault rifles, and we have to take a look at background checks.
And I know -- and the point of my legislation was that those for and against these particular viewpoints have been talking about it. It's been analysis paralysis. Now we need to have our legislators vote on some of these initiatives and let us move on.
MORGAN: You have been doing the excellent work that you've done for 25 years.
MORGAN: Has anything quite prepared you for the horrors that you saw that day in December?
BEGG: No. You know, for 25 years, I worked in a emergency room setting, and I have seen gun violence, and I have seen a lot of trauma and tragedy, but this is different. Things have changed. It's personal because this is my hometown, but it's children, too. So there's been a creep, where our society, it was -- even for people who are perpetrators of gun violence, but now, to not -- to go after children, but now we've lost a whole classroom full of children, we have to make some change, and I think this really is the tipping point. And this is -- this is what's motivating me to do whatever I can to help try to force some type of change.
MORGAN: When people say that any attempt to outlaw any kind of gun is an infringement of their Second Amendment rights. As one of the people who had to quite literally pick up the pieces of some of those children, what do you say by response?
BEGG: A couple of things. First of all, I do believe that people are allowed to have their Second Amendment rights. And so if people want to own a gun and they go through the proper channels, I accept that. But the Second Amendment did not say that people had to have military -- type rifles, and these high capacity magazines where you can hold thousands of bullets and the like. What I also say is that as a -- as a doctor, I'm not a political activist. As a doctor, I would like to be able to say to my patients that when you own a gun, when you're buying a gun because you think you're going to be safer, you are not going to be safer. The studies are very clear. If you own a gun, you're four times more likely to die of an assault from a gun. If you're a spouse, you have a significantly increased risk of dying from your own partner than you do from the boogie man showing up to shoot you.
And similarly, the suicide rate in our country is astronomical. Almost 20,000 suicides from -- and much more likely to die of suicide if you have a gun in the home.
MORGAN: You know, I think -- I think you've raised a fascinating points there because there've been a spade of stories in the news only this week which lay testament to that. Oscar Pistorius, the paralympian hero, you know, he had a house full of guns. And if those guns had not been there, we'll obviously to have wait for the outcome of his trial, but one thing is for sure. If those guns had not been there, then his girlfriend would not have been shot dead. And he was in a very secure compound.
MORGAN: Where he didn't really need them, but it was the culture of him and his friends and people around him that he felt the need to have those guns in his house. Similarly, I think with the suicide of Mindy McCready, the suicide rate in America is terrifying.
BEGG: It is.
MORGAN: Eighteen thousand Americans a year kill themselves with guns. Now in Australia where they had a massacre in the mid-'90s, I've talked about this many times. But forget the gun murder rate which came down, the gun suicide rate plummeted, I think, by over 40 percent in Australia after they brought in strict gun control following their massacre in the mid-'90s, about the same time that we had the Dunblane massacre in Britain.
So you're not just, when you get rid of guns or bring in effective gun control, targeting gun murder or regular gun crime, you're -- you're targeting gun suicide because --
BEGG: That's right.
MORGAN: People can change their minds when they feel suicidal. They can't if they shoot themselves.
BEGG: That's right. That's right. And even people who are not deemed a mental health type person may have such social stresses that come up unexpectedly. They may immediately go on the health spectrum and may be at significantly increased risk. And so again, if people knew that they were at a significantly increased risk of dying from suicide or dying from domestic abuse when there's a gun in the house, maybe that there'd -- they would be less likely to buy a gun. Because I do think that a lot of people in our country think that if they buy a gun, they're going to be safer, and that is not the truth. You statistically will be less safe if you own a gun.
MORGAN: Dr. Begg, I thank you very much indeed for joining me. I know you went through a very, very harrowing experience in December. I commend you for speaking out. I think it's a powerful voice and we need it right now. Thank you for joining me.
BEGG: Thanks for the opportunity, Piers.
MORGAN: Coming up, more on the shocking blade runner murder case. New evidence from South Africa.
And next, "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh, why he says mental health is as big a problem in this country as guns.
MORGAN: John Walsh has dedicated his life to chasing violent fugitives and now he says the time has come to do something about getting guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, he joins me now.
John, welcome back.
JOHN WALSH, HOST, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED" ON LIFETIME: Thank you.
MORGAN: Fascinating conversation there I had with Dr. Begg, he obviously saw it firsthand the utterly horrific scenes at Sandy Hook and he makes some very good points there that when people try and use the Second Amendment as a defense against any form of gun safety -- let's call it safety, not control, the word control may be conveyed as the wrong sentiment -- they go crazy.
What do we do about this and what do we do about the connection between clear mental health issue and the type of gun violence we saw at Aurora or Sandy Hook or these other massacres?
WALSH: I have profiled so many fugitives on "America's Most Wanted" that were on parole or probation, a guy that we caught several years ago, Joseph Duncan, who is a suspect in four murders of children, an entire family to get at a kid, to kidnap their 8-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, released and was able to get a gun every time.
He was -- violate his probation, parole, sex offender registry, but he's -- was able to get guns and murder children with those guns and -- after he abducted them. And he had a long history of violent pedophilia, and psychiatrists said at each one of his parole hearings, this guy is a health risk to society. He should never be released back into public. So there are so many people that are walking around there that have serious mental health problems that have availability to guns. Eight states don't report to any type of registry whatsoever about people that are violently ill.
(CROSSTALK) MORGAN: And when you hear -- right. And when you hear that 40 percent of all gun sales in America are done without any kind of background check, I find that the most terrifying fact of all because that is a huge amount of fire power that is crisscrossing around America, whether at gun shows or in other ways, hand to hand, going into the hands of people that we have absolutely no accountability for.
WALSH: Some states are tie at 60 percent. And you look at crime after crime. You and I talked about Columbine. A girl -- one of the boys gets a Mac-10 pistol the day before. Just pays cash for it and all the bullets for it, and these two boys go to a gun show. They're not old enough. They're dressed in their trench coats, and they take their little groupie friend of theirs, a girl, who says, let's buy this, let's buy this, let's buy the ammo. No one ever asked them. They go, are you 18? It's against the law in Colorado to own a gun if you're under 18, to buy a gun, and she goes, I'm the one, here's my driver's license.
No background check, nobody asked, what are you going to do for that? And next day, they shoot 39 people. It's just -- it's insane that -- and I'm a responsible gun owner.
WALSH: I go on -- since I saw you the last time, I had one day off in a month, and I went quail hunting. And I asked the guys that I was quail hunting with, including the guide. I said, would you have any problem with background checks? And they said, absolutely not. Responsible gun owners should go through responsible background checks.
MORGAN: And you see, Wayne LaPierre runs the NRA. He's a fascinating and in my view a very dangerous character. He's done complete U-turns on background checks. You know, he -- he used to be totally in favor of universal background checks. He was totally in favor of all schools being completely gun free.
WALSH: It was --
MORGAN: Now he wants the opposite.
WALSH: It would stop -
MORGAN: Everything is geared towards now with the NRA and the leadership, not the membership, the leadership towards the sale of guns and ammunition.
WALSH: And the recommendations are to keep the flow and sale of guns. Three million guns are imported in the United States every year, five million guns that are manufactured here are sold. The NRA is funded by the gun lobbyists. I say to Smith & Wesson, to Remington, all the other gun manufacturers, what about putting a GPS chip in those guns?
You assume the responsibility and the cost. I have proposed this to White House, to Congress. Put a GPS chip in that gun. And so the responsible gun owner whose house gets robbed by some little punks, and those guns are sold to the bad guys, that you'd be able to activate it like I have an iPad, and if somebody steals my iPad, I can activate that iPad app and you can track it.
MORGAN: But you see, John, I think it's a great idea, but when I went down to Texas, I could tell very, very different atmosphere to the streets of New York about this issue. They would see that as a creeping sense of tyrannical government, and they feel that very strongly.
WALSH: Absolutely not. I love Texas. I have done many, many shows there. Those guns wind up in the hands of gang bangers. I -- you and I discussed when I went to Tijuana and did a show about Pablo Guzman, the billionaire drug dealer.
WALSH: That general showed me 5,000 guns in a warehouse that they had confiscated from the cartels. He said these guns were bought at gun shows in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, driven over here, bought for $1200, and sold for $4,000 to the cartels. That caused 42,000 murders in Mexico. He said not only is America's insatiable appetite for guns funding the drug wars and the cartels, your guns are killing Mexican people.
If those guns had GPS chips in them and they went across the border, and were sold to the Sinaloa Cartel or Gulf Cartel you could track those handguns.
MORGAN: It's a good idea. Final question, very quickly, who will stand up to the NRA?
WALSH: I think every person, and I -- most people I know don't know their two U.S. senators, other members of the Congress, they have to say, I will never vote for you again. I will never donate a dollar to your campaign unless you stand up. The will of the country says we need mental health systems, national universal background checks.
Say to those people in Congress, we know you're afraid of the NRA, it's the toughest vote you're ever going to make, but unless you make America safer, unless you make it safer for my children that are in preschool, or schools, safer for me and my wife, I'm never going to vote for you again.
MORGAN: Well said, John. And if anyone hasn't read it, it's a brilliant piece in "Rolling Stone" magazine about the relationship between the NRA and the gun manufacturers. And it's very direct.
WALSH: And there's the bullies of Congress.
MORGAN: And extremely mutually commercially beneficial.
John, good to see you. Thank you very much.
WALSH: Nice to see you, Piers.
MORGAN: Still ahead, a Hoover, a Taft, and a Reagan, live.
And when we come back, the 16-year-old girl who says her parents tried to force her to have an abortion. I'll talk to baby's teenage father and the attorneys who brought the case to court.
MORGAN: The parents of a pregnant 16-year-old agreed today in a Texas court not to try to force their daughter to have an abortion. The girl says her mother threatened (INAUDIBLE) abortion pill and her father allegedly threatened to cancel her health insurance. The girl's both parents told her to have the abortion and tell people it was a miscarriage. Her parents denied the allegations.
Well, joining us now exclusively is Greg Terra and Stephen Casey, attorneys for the Texas Center for Defense of Life, and Evan Madison, who's the 16-year-old father of the baby.
Well, welcome to you all. Let me start with you, Evan, if I may. Your girlfriend is two months pregnant. We're not going to name her to protect the baby's privacy here, but tell me your feelings when you first of all found out that you were going to be a father.
EVAN MADISON, 16-YEAR-OLD FATHER OF THE BABY: Well, I mean, first off, I knew, I knew it wasn't going to be easy at all, but I really didn't imagine this all happening. But I knew that some of her parents -- many of her family were going to have a definitely a negative reaction, but -- I never intended on this happening.
MORGAN: Did you and your girlfriend ever consider having an abortion, or were you always determined to have the baby?
MADISON: We're always determined to have the baby.
MORGAN: So when you heard that her parents were adamant that you would not have the child and that they wanted their daughter to have a termination, how did it make you feel?
MADISON: Well, it didn't surprise me from her father, but her mother, yes, it surprised me. I honestly thought she would have been a lot more supportive than she was.
MORGAN: Did you feel angry? Did you have arguments with them?
MADISON: No, I mean, I tried just to keep my mouth shut. I didn't want to start more than what was already going on.
MORGAN: Let me turn now to your attorneys there.
Stephen Casey, it's a complicated case. Today, I think that the courts ruled that this girl could have the baby without parental interference, if you like. What is the precedent that's being set here, do you think?
STEPHEN CASEY, ATTORNEY, TEXAS CENTER FOR DEFENSE OF LIFE: Well, the precedent has been around for a while. Since 1979, the case of "Bellotti v. Baird" the Supreme Court recognized that a minor has an absolute right to carry her child to term, to make her own reproductive decisions. The precedence that's reaffirmed by this case is no one can force you have to an abortion. It's a highly underreported type of situation, and his girlfriend's case is just one more of a girl standing up for life. And we were here to protect her decision to carry her baby to term.
MORGAN: And Greg Terra, your organization, which is active in Republican politics in Texas and nationwide, says it's dedicated to aggressively defending the sanctity of human life. How important is the "Roe v. Wade" ruling in this case?
GREG TERRA, ATTORNEY, TEXAS CENTER FOR DEFENSE OF LIFE: Well, you know, as Stephen said the -- you know, we like to say the "Roe v. Wade" decision goes both ways. We disagree with the decision in that case and we believe that that decision should -- should instead have stood for the proposition that life is protected from conception through natural death.
But we -- you know, choice goes both ways. So if a girl has a right to choose abortion, she also has the right to keep that child, and if -- you know, as I said in one of our press releases, if the choice is pro-life in the state of Texas, we will stand with her in court to support that choice.
MORGAN: Right. I mean, there will be people watching this saying, well, on that case, you appear like you are pro choice.
TERRA: We are a -- we are a pro life organization, and we support the life -- the choice for life in the state of Texas.
Evan, people will be saying that you're 16 years old. As is your girlfriend. Very, very young to be bringing up a baby. Do you have the responsibility? Do you have the determination to be a good father?
MADISON: Yes, I definitely have the determination to be a good father. I have lots of reasons that I know I'll be a good father. But as in financially, that will be decisions I would make later on.
MORGAN: Do you plan to get married?
MADISON: Yes, sir.
MORGAN: And do you think that you can repair the relationship with your in-laws, as they will be, or your girlfriend's parents?
MORGAN: Do you believe that they will in the end come around to being loving grandparents?
MADISON: Yes, I can see that. MORGAN: Well, I wish you all the very best with it, I really do. It's a very complicated human story. Many families, I'm sure, will have been through a similar dilemma and I appreciate your joining me.
MORGAN: Gloria Allred spent her life defending abortion rights. In this case, she's on the side of the pregnant 16-year-old who doesn't want to have an abortion, and joins me now. It is a complicated case. And I think you can jump into judgments with these, Gloria, but everyone is going to have a feeling about this girl. And the boyfriend sounds a responsible young man to me from the way he was talking.
Similarly, there are lots of parents who will understand how these parents feel. What do you make of this case?
GLORIA ALLRED, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Piers, I definitely understand how the parents feel, because I think they probably understand that when a teenager is pregnant -- she's 16 years old -- and her boyfriend, the father of the child to be, is 16 years old, it's going to be the most important economic turning point in that girl's life, if she takes the pregnancy to term and gives birth.
And generally 16-year-olds often don't understand what is involved, the financial responsibility, the emotional responsibility, the physical responsibility of raising a child. These are children. And the father, well, he said, well, he'll be responsible. Does he have a job? Does she have a job? How are they going to support this child? Do they know how to be parents?
Look, I do support her right to choose not to have an abortion. And I would also support her if she chose to have an abortion. That's what Roe v. Wade is about.
Interesting that the anti-choice attorney whom your interviewed didn't say, well, if she chose to have an abortion and her parents didn't want her to, we would go to court for her. No, they wouldn't because they're not really supporting her right to choose. They're supporting her choice not to have an abortion. But they wouldn't support the other choice as well.
So yes, it's a difficult issue. It's a challenging issue. You know, I would suggest to parents who are in a similar situation, go to Planned Parenthood because they have counseling for teenagers. And they can tell them the options, the choices. They're not going to say, have an abortion, don't have an abortion. But they'll go through all the options, and the risks versus the benefits, the consequences of the choices.
I think that's what is necessary. Because often when parents start talking with their teenage who is already pregnant, the parents are pretty upset, as apparently these parents were, at least according to reports. And maybe they can't be quite as objective, of course, because it's their child and they're trying to protect their daughter.
MORGAN: But when does parental responsibility begin and end? You need parents permission to get a driver's license, to pierce your ears, get tattoos in many states in America. You can't drink alcohol unless you're 21 in many states in America. And yet apparently, you can make the choice to have, as you say, what could be a life changing, the biggest economic commitment of your life, perhaps, without anyone else having any say, the government or your parents.
ALLRED: Well, that's true. And that's a good point, and it is often pointed out by sometimes the anti-choice people. Having said that, I think the court has recognized this is a unique situation, when a young woman becomes pregnant, and she's a teenager. She's a minor. And it is going to have life-long consequences for her. And because of Roe v. Wade, she has a right to choose abortion. Interesting that the anti-choice people have fought to undermine, eliminating, reverse Roe v. Wade, but here they're taking advantage of it.
So fine, because we on this side of it are in support of choice. We're not saying which choice should be made. But I do think it's not too late for both the young man and the young woman to go down there and have counseling. I don't know what the agenda is of the anti- choice people. I'm sure they have deeply held religious beliefs. But, you know, these young people are going to be the ones who are going to have the responsibility for the child.
So it's not too late for them to understand what all of the options are, if they so choose. And I think their attorney should let them be able to do that.
MORGAN: We did approach the mother's parents' attorney, but they didn't respond to requests from CNN for comment. It's a complicated case. I hope they all work it out.
ALLRED: Yes. And I wish them the best, all of them.
MORGAN: I agree. Gloria, thank you very much.
ALLRED: Thank you.
MORGAN: When we come back, who knows more about Keeping America Great than the families of presidents? My presidential panel squares off on the state of the union. And they're all related to ex-presidents.
MORGAN: We're celebrating Presidents' Day, Keeping America Great, with an all-star panel, a really special one here, because they're all members of the families of three former presidents. Joining me now is John Taft. He's the CEO of Wealth Management, author "Stewardship and Great Great Grandson of President William Howard Taft." Also, Michael Reagan, author and son of President Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Hoover, CNN political consultant, Republican strategist, and great granddaughter of President Herbert Hoover.
Welcome to you all. You must all feel a bit tingly on this day. Don't you? You get together like a little club, isn't it?
MICHAEL REAGAN, SON OF PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: I was saying in the Green Room, it would be really nice if the family members of first families that are living really get together, have their own party at the White House for a charitable cause that they like, instead of always listening to the fathers and whomever get together and do something good for the world.
You know, we had to live it or are living it as we speak.
MORGAN: Margaret, do you strut around today at all, everywhere you go? I think you're in Miami. Do you strut around letting everybody know that you are related to a president? Is it a special day for you?
MARGARET HOOVER, GREAT GRAND DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT HERBERT HOOVER: No, it's a special day for all Americans, piers. But look, it's pretty watered down by the time you get to fourth generation. So we respect our heritage, like all Americans who respect the presidency and the institution. But no, there's no strutting.
Although we all do take a moment to really reflect on the legacies of the presidents we're related to. And I think that's what we're delighted to share with you and your viewers.
MORGAN: Well, let's get to some of those legacies. Because, John, now that I've got you here, your great grandfather was the heaviest president in U.S. history. The reason that is significant now is all of the conjecture over Chris Christie and whether he is basically too big to be president.
Your great grand father weighed in at 340 pounds. So pretty much heavier than Chris Christie.
MICHAEL TAFT, GREAT GRANDSON OF PRESIDENT WILLIAM TAFT: Heavy for those days in particular.
MORGAN: Right, let me cut to the quick. Is it true he once got stuck in a White House bathtub? Because you're the guy who must know the answer.
TAFT: That's a timely question to which there is an answer, thanks to an article posted recently on Yahoo!. The answer is no. He was never stuck in a White House bathtub.
MORGAN: You're ruining one of the great stories in American presidential --
TAFT: Here, I'll give you a lesser one. He was in that case able to construct a larger bathtub to avoid getting stuck. And may have constructed larger bathtubs elsewhere as well. But he did not get stuck in the White House bathtub.
MORGAN: Do you care about Chris Christie's weight? Should it be an impediment to him being president? TAFT: I do not. If you need a proof point of the fact that being a large individual is no impediment to serving in high office, my grandfather is that proof point. He was governor general of the Philippines from 1900 to 1903. Don't you think that was an arduous task? Secretary of war, president of the United States, and then chief justice, 30 years, and he weighed over 300 pounds throughout that period.
Chris Christie can be elected and serve as president of the United States.
MORGAN: Good point. Michael, let me talk to you about guns, because -- I tell you why, because a lot of people reference your father when it comes to guns, because although he was the first to publicly endorse the NRA as president, and he was a gun owner himself, he also endorsed an assault-weapons ban. What do you think he would have made of the current debate right now?
REAGAN: Oh, I think the current debate, if he had been president of the United States and leading, he probably would have pulled everybody into the White House and said what are the areas of agreement? What are the things we can do to make it safer in the schools and safer for the children and everybody else in the United States of America.
But we don't have that going on in Washington, D.C. at this moment. Instead, it's just debate, debate, debate that is going on. Something else, though, he probably would have brought up. He said, why wasn't this being spoken about with all of the black children being killed in Chicago every single week, or the children being killed in south Los Angeles every single week?
Why does it take white kids being killed in a school in Connecticut for there to be a debate on gun control, when there was no debate on gun control with that many children and more being killed on the streets of Chicago each and every week? That's a story that really needs to be talked about. And the president of the United States just now went to Chicago, but that's only because a little girl who happened to march in the parade when he was being sworn in happened to be killed in his neighborhood just a few days after that.
MORGAN: I think it's a perfectly valid point. Margaret, let's go through the numbers here. Number 27 was President Taft. Number 31 was Hoover. Number 40 was Reagan. Let's talk about number 44 for a moment. I'm interested in what you think about this Tiger Woods golfing weekend. The idea of Barack Obama slipping away with Tiger Woods on a secret weekend is actually quite alarming given what we know about how Tiger Woods has spent many weekends over the years.
When it comes down to whether he should release a picture, I have a bit of sympathy. I wonder if you do. In the end, in the skeet shooting picture, for example, when he didn't release it, he got hammered. When he finally released it, he got hammered even harder. Can you win as president in this sort of thing? And should the American media, on behalf of the public, cut the president a bit of slack? HOOVER: Well, the governing principle with all presidents and the media is transparency and keeping open lines of communication. And it certainly -- the problem that President Obama ran into isn't that he went golfing with Tiger Woods. And I'm certainly not worried about President Obama. He and Michelle have a very, very strong marriage, as we all know. So I don't think Tiger Woods is going to be influencing the president's behavior in any way.
But what the press core did seem to say is there just hadn't been open communication with them about this weekend. I think that was the brunt of their complaints. I think every president struggles with this. And every president strives to have as much transparency as possible, but still protect their privacy. And that balance is constantly a give and take.
MORGAN: Well, CNN managed to get some sneaky pictures of the president playing golf today, in fact. Let's watch a bit of this.
There he is. It's the president. See if I can see any good shots. I'm not sure I can. The only question I really want to know is having heard the president sing Al Green better than Al Green, did he beat Tiger Woods at golf? If he did, we are now looking at the single most multitasking gifted president in the history of the United States.
So Mr. President, if you're watching -- I know you like to watch -- I want to know, did you beat Tiger? Go on. You can call me. We still have 15 minutes on air. Let's take a break. He may even call in the break. We'll be right back.
MORGAN: Back now with my Presidents' Day panel with the families of former presidents, John Taft, Michael Reagan, and Margaret Hoover. Michael, what do you think your father would have made of the paralysis in Washington over the last couple years? And what would he have done about it?
REAGAN: You know, when he put together the tax break of 1981, he called Tip O'Neal in the White House and had dinner. Tip O'Neal went back the next day to his staff and said I'm going to support Ronald Reagan and I'm going to carry the tax relief bill to the Congress. Now he had 40 Blue Dog Democrats in the Congress who voted with my father, but he had to carry the water.
When they asked Tip O'Neal, what is it the president promised you? What did he say? Tip O'Neal said, you know, he never talked about taxes all night long. He talked about the greatness and goodness of America and her people. Before I knew it, I'm having a glass of wine with the president and I'm telling Irish stories.
You need to bring together the people in Washington. You really do. And that -- that really is not happening. The paralysis -- the paralysis is everywhere. It's not just one party or the other party. It's really everywhere. Nobody is asking Harry Reid why he hasn't had a budget in four years. Nobody is holding his feet to the fire like they are holding Republican's feet to the fire, who have passed a budget?
So I think the media also have to be equal opportunity and say, listen, if I'm going to go after Republicans on this side, Harry, where is your budget?
MORGAN: Margaret, would your great grandfather have looked at this and thought, it's the Republican's fault, that they are too splintered, that the Tea Party element that crept in a couple of years ago split the party too much, and there's no coherent voice? What would he have made of the modern day Republican party?
HOOVER: Well, all descendents can get in the trap of saying -- pretending like they know exactly what their -- whatever their presidential relative would have said. What I can say, and what I do know about Herbert Hoover is that he did have a very successful first part of his term passing bipartisan legislation for trade, the Smoot- Holly Bill, which many people have reflected on since the Depression. Some suggest it was a major contributor to some of the economic slowdown. Others suggest that it's been vastly overstated.
But it -- ultimately passing bipartisan legislation comes down to a president's ability to lead and to work with the Congress. And Hoover had been in Washington. He'd been secretary of commerce for eight years before he became president, and food administrator under a Democrat, President Wilson, beforehand.
So if you have bipartisan relationships on both sides of the aisle. He was very close with President Truman, very close with Joe Kennedy. He had relationships that spanned both sides of the aisle. Presidents work their will. Successful presidents are able to get bipartisan legislation through. And I -- I think you can look at Hoover's history and maybe extrapolate from that how he might view the current situation and polarization in Washington.
MORGAN: John Taft, would your great grandfather go along with that, do you think? Do you think that the bipartisan style of previous presidents is just, for whatever reason, not happening?
TAFT: Well, my great grandfather struggled in his relations with Congress, because he really was a reluctant president. He didn't want to be president. Agreed to run for president because Roosevelt asked him too and because he felt like he needed to serve his country in that way. He wanted to become chief justice of the Supreme Court, which he did.
But I think one of the legacies of his presidency is he struggled to get anything done. And in fact, I think his term probably resembled what is going on in Washington a little bit right now.
MORGAN: Let me ask all you this before we wrap this up. I'll start with you, John, if I may, what do you think is the primary purpose of a president of the United States?
TAFT: I -- I think it's the same as the leader of any organization. A president needs to set a vision and then he needs to step back and let others meander as best suits their purpose toward that vision. I think, Michael, one of the things your father was so good at was doing just that. He was able to articulate a vision and then step back and let other people take us there.
MORGAN: Would you agree with that?
REAGAN: I would agree with that. One thing people need to remember, there was a placard on his desk, "no telling what a man can accomplish if he doesn't worry who gets the credit." Today, we have too many people trying to take credit for everything and they're getting nothing done. Ronald Reagan didn't mind allowing Mikhail Gorbachev, in fact, to take credit when he needed to.
MORGAN: I totally agree with that. That's a great example. Margaret, what would you say is the point of being a president?
HOOVER: I think I agree with Mr. Taft and I agree with Mr. Reagan. I think you set a vision for the country. You lead the country toward that vision, both the American people and the Congress. Remember, the president is but one-third of the federal government, the executive branch. He has to get along with the Congress or they're not going to get anything done.
Then, of course, we're forgetting the critical junction of defending the borders. And in a time of urgent national security needs, the president is the commander in chief of the United States military. And that's not something that -- that Herbert Hoover had to deal with, fortunately. It was more of a peacetime, at the time between World War I and World War II. Although he was deeply involved in the rehabilitation of Europe after World War II and also during World War I.
MORGAN: Well said, all of you. We've reached a point of presidential family consensus. It's a good way to round things off. John Taft, Michael Reagan, Margaret Hoover, thank you all very much.
MORGAN: You should all get together at a party, every president family member.
MORGAN: Quick programming note. Thursday I will sit down for an exclusive hour-long interview with another former president, Jimmy Carter. Looking forward to that. It's Thursday night. And when we come back, new evidence in the case against Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner charged with murdering his girlfriend.
MORGAN: Tomorrow, Oscar Pistorius will ask a South African court to let him out on bail as he faces murdered charges on the shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. CNN's Robyn Curnow is in Pretoria with more on the case against the man they call Blade Runner.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Piers, hi. Well, who would have thought a week ago that I would be sitting here talking to you about Oscar Pistorius facing murder charges? On Tuesday, he is going to be in this courtroom facing a magistrate, and that the state is going to argue not just that he has murder charges against him, but that it's premeditated murder.
We know that his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was supposed to be at his house for the night, because her overnight bag and her iPad were there. We also know, according to an official, that he shot her four times through a closed bathroom door. And afterward, he carried her down the stairs in his house. And she was still alive at that moment.
There are also then those rumors, that sense there was some sort of bloodied cricket bat. What was that used for? We'll find out hopefully in court. And then, of course, we can't forget Reeva Steenkamp. She gets buried tomorrow. Her parents -- she's an only child. Here friends have to say goodbye to a young woman who just did seem so beautiful and bubbly.
And, of course, everybody here asking that same question, why? Why did he do it? What was the motivation? No answers on that one either. We'll keep you posted. Back to you.
MORGAN: Robyn, thank you very much, indeed. An extraordinary case.
That's all for us tonight. Anderson Cooper starts now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Piers.