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The Big Business of College Sports; NYC First Responders Accused of Fraud; Congress Getting More Bipartisan?; Opposition To Marijuana Up In Smoke?; "Justified" Draws Its Guns Again

Aired January 7, 2014 - 16:30   ET


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Recently indicted for fraud, and UNC's own internal investigation found evidence of academic fraud. As a result the school says it put in place 120 reforms and insists that UNC's athletic program is now clean.

And you're confident here that you're doing the right thing by student athletes?

BUBBA CUNNINGHAM, UNC ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: I'm very confident. And I think our track record over time that we admit students can do the work. Now we're also highly competitive and our students have to compete Monday through Friday as well they do on Saturday. And I think the ones that are really committed to being outstanding students, they are.

GANIM: Mary Willingham says she's skeptical these changes have made a difference.

MARY WILLINGHAM, UNC WHISTLEBLOWER: We've said we made 120 changes, which you can make all the changes you want, but if you're still not meeting students where they're at as an educator and bringing them along so that they can have success in a classroom then those changes are all for nothing.


GANIM: Now CNN also talked to about a dozen professors and advisers at multiple universities, and they echo what Mary Willingham found. The universities argue they're satisfied with their overall graduation rates, but the question, of course, is how do they graduate these athletes if these athletes can't read?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And that's the question here, because the universities really are screwing these athletes. They are taking advantage of them, and these kids go out and -- well, how many of them end up playing sports professionally versus having horrible educations and they have to go find a job.

GANIM: Jake, it's a very small number. According to the NCAA, less than 2 percent of these college seniors in football and basketball go to the pros. Less than 2 percent even makes the draft.

TAPPER: Those colleges and universities should be ashamed.

Sara Ganim, great reporting. Thank so very much.

NBC just lost about three hours of programming of cutaway shots of Tiger Woods on the slopes since Sochi. His girlfriend, gold medalist Lindsey Vonn will not be able to compete at the winter games next month, saying her surgically repaired knee is not holding up.

The reigning Olympic downhill skiing champ recently reinjured that knee during a training session. She made the announcement on Facebook saying, quote, "I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough to overcome having no ACL but the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level." But Vonn also says she'll have surgery and be ready for next year's world championships.

Let's check in now with our political panel in the green room.

Gloria Borger, it's award season in Hollywood. That means some A- listers are destined to be denied a little tiny gold statuettes but the political world can snub with the best of them, too,

Check out this event for the Sarasota, Florida, Republican Party honoring Ted Cruz. Not their own senator, Marco Rubio, but Ted Cruz as their statesman of the year.

So, Gloria, which is worse? That or "Good Fellas" losing out to "Dancing with Wolves?"

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. Can't answer that until -- and this is not a cop-out. Until February 2016. Because you know what happens in February 2016? You know.

TAPPER: You can tell me.

BORGER: Florida primary.

TAPPER: Florida primaries so we'll see.

BORGER: So we'll see then so I'm going to hold off.

TAPPER: But Sarasota -- Sarasota, a key part of the state.

BORGER: You bet.

TAPPER: Anyway, we'll have much more with our political panel when THE LEAD returns right after this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for our "Buried Lead." That's what we call stories we think should be getting more attention.

Given the horrors first responders in New York City faced firsthand on September 11th, few questioned the extent of their mental anguish, or even how much it would cost to treat them. But now 80 retired NYPD officers and former New York City firefighters are accused of bilking the system. For some by making fake disability claims for post- traumatic stress disorder.

Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars were used to treat former first responders who claimed they were traumatized by the terror attacks and according to Manhattan's district attorney, along with federal investigators, some of the officers were coached on how to fake mental illnesses to collect more money.

Joining me now is Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance.

Mr. District Attorney, thanks so much for joining us. Explain this to us. There's 106 people indicted, 80 of them retired New York City cops and firefighters, dozens of them arrested this morning. That must have been tough for the police to go after so many of their own.

CYRUS VANCE, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, the New York City Police Department has a very professional Internal Affairs Department. And our own investigators, we have a great number in our office. It was a collaborative effort by law enforcement including Homeland Security and others to make the arrest that were made this morning.

I believe that a great number perhaps in the neighborhood of 80 have been arrested this morning not only in New York state, but in other areas as well.

TAPPER: Some of them had manufactured conditions, your office says. Ones they said were caused by 9/11. Obviously that would dishonor those who have real issues after that tragedy.

Did they take away benefits from those who actually needed them?

VANCE: Jake, I can't answer the question that a dollar taken fraudulently is going to have prevented someone else from getting coverage, but we all note the difficulties that our national financial situation is, and what I would say is that the Social Security disability payments are a real safety net for people who are truly disabled who cannot work at any job.

And as in the alleged in the indictment, for a group of individuals, let alone former law enforcement, to get those disability funds falsely professing to have injuries to the extent that they couldn't do any work is tragic.

TAPPER: You found on social media, the investigating officers and others, evidence that these individuals who claimed they were incapacitated and unable to work revealing that that was obviously not the case. Give us some examples.

VANCE: Well, several examples that came out through the indictment is one individual who declared and was receiving disability benefits that he was unable to work was allegedly in fact operating a martial arts school, and had a YouTube of him on martial arts, doing whatever you do in martial arts.

And other individuals who are engaged in active sports. And across the board what we found for many of the individuals is while professing not being able to do any work we had folks who are working in many professions and clearly were not being honest with the Social Security Administration or the American people.

TAPPER: And you claim that there's four sort of ringleaders that include a former FBI agent and prosecutor, and New York City Police Detectives Union official, and they coach these other people in what to say. What did they tell them to say?

VANCE: Well, the allegations on the indictment are that when individuals were referred to one of the two frontline players for potentially getting disability awards, ultimately the four principal defendants are alleged to have coached them how they should approach the doctors, what they should say, help them fill out paperwork.

You'll note that in the indictment alleged that most of the factual allegations supporting the claim for disability were identical and appeared to even be in the same handwriting. And so essentially there was a pattern of answering questions that was told to the recipients. They did that. They ultimately got Social Security disability insurance and have been receiving it in some cases for years.

TAPPER: A shocking crime. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, thanks so much for your time.

VANCE: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: And attorneys for three of the four main defendants have released statements reiterating that their clients pleaded not guilty with one noting, quote, "It doesn't appear that anyone doubts that initially every single one of these defendants was in fact disabled. It appears to be the extent of their disability that's in question."

We of course put out an invitation to any of these defendants to come on THE LEAD and give their side of the story.

When we come back, a major cultural shift on marijuana. The surprising number of Americans who have changed their views on smoking pot. Why?

Plus it's being called Elmore Leonard's best adaptation ever. Ahead in our "Pop Culture Lead," I'll talk to one of the stars of the critically acclaimed cop drama "Justified" before tonight's season premier.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. And politics 2013 ended with Congress reaching a deal on funding the government without all the end-of-the-year drama we've come to expect at the start of 2014. And another very tiny expression of bipartisanship, the Senate voted to take up debate on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Dean Heller, a conservative-backed venture from Nevada was the first Republican senator to publicly say he would side with the Democrats. I spoke with Heller earlier in the show, and I asked him why he voted against the majority of Republicans in his caucus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DEAN HELLER: The message that I was hoping to bring out, first full day back from our recess was maybe Republicans and Democrats can work together.

TAPPER: Is this going to pass the Senate?

HELLER: I hope so.


TAPPER: Here to talk about this and more, former senator and chairwoman of It's My Business Coalition, Blanche Lincoln, former spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Ron Bonjean and CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

So Ron, Heller went on to say that he does not think -- that things will get more chummy in the Senate, especially in an election year, he gave the cold shoulder. Some colleagues seemed to be giving him the cold shoulder. Do you think this can pass the House? I think that's the big question.

RON BONJEAN, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR TRENT LOTT: I think the larger question is how it will be paid for. The question is whether or not we're not going to offer unemployment benefits. I think every Republican would like to. Most Republicans would like to. The question is how will it be done? There are Republicans in the Senate like Rob Portman that are working on the offsets right now. I think it's up to the Democrats to work with Republicans to figure out how to pay for it.

TAPPER: But Senator Lincoln, as you know generally these emergency unemployment benefits are done without funding. That's why they are called emergency.

BLANCHE LINCOLN, CHAIRWOMAN, IT'S MY BUSINESS COALITION: Well, that's true. I think Heller was spot on. I think the fact is they were just moving to debate. It's time to debate if people want to talk about pay-fors and how they're going to pay for it. Put it out in the open. The other thing you brought was it's now time to get back to figuring out how to solve the long term for this unemployment issue. That is creating jobs. He talked about sensible government. I think he is spot on, on that particularly when it comes to regulations.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think there's a national political issue here, which is that the American public believes the Republicans don't understand the problems in the middle class. It's a real issue for them. Heading into 2016, a lot of Republicans understand that. And this is one way, if they can find a way to pay for it, this is one way to say, you know what?

We agree with you. This is a three-month extension, we want to get it off the table and move on to other things, and we do care about equality of opportunity. So a lot of Republicans like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan, potential presidential candidates are starting -- TAPPER: But I have heard some Republicans say we need to stop funding unemployment insurance because it's a disincentive to people looking for work. I don't know that that's supported by economic studies that the Democrats would cite, but I have heard that people -- have you heard people say that?

BONJEAN: I do think that a lot of Republicans don't want to create this into a permanent entitlement program. This has been going on for 66 months. I think what we'd like to see is a larger, broader package on how to get people back to work and that is the real key here in terms of turning on the middle class and getting them to vote for other side is how do we increase employment.

And let's stop talking about, you know, how do we keep these people on those rolls, which could be a welfare program after a while? Let's figure out how to get them into job training.

TAPPER: Right, because the problem of the long-term unemployment is a big one. Speaker Boehner did not sound supportive. President Obama obviously supported the measure. Here's what Speaker Boehner had to say. Quote, "I personally told the White House another extension of temporary emergency benefit should not only be paid for, but include something to help put people back to work. To date the president has offered no such plan."

What should the White House -- if you were advising President Obama or if he was watching THE LEAD right now because we know he loves to watch cable news. What exactly would you tell President Obama they should to put in the bill to sweeten to get it through the House?

LINCOLN: Well, I don't know that it necessarily has to be in this bill. I think it's important to continue the unemployment. Our economy is still very fragile. Consumers are a big part of the economy. We have to keep that going. We have to have somebody, and I would think it would be great if the president and the administration stood up and said, you know what, we need to look at how we make government a part of the solution. How do we make government more sensible?

Whether it's regulatory responsibilities that we have there, making sure that businesses can create those jobs that we need putting people back to work, or making sure that Congress is doing the same. But somebody's got to step up to the plate and make government a part of the solution.

TAPPER: Let's take a strange turn right now, which is that we were struck by something about new numbers that CNN has, poll numbers on marijuana use in the United States, the majority, 55 percent of Americans say the drugs should be made legal. It's a huge swing from even just a few years ago. Now it's 55 day and night from 1987 when 16 percent thought marijuana should be legalized. How do you account for this?

BORGER: The country is changing. It's not a problem one in people's minds. Number two, take a look at the polling for same-sex marriage, for example, you see the same kind of seismic shift over the last four years. On that issue, if you holdouts here are seniors, Republican, and southerners. Same thing for same-sex marriage and you just sort of see the way the country is shifting. I think everyone will look at the state of Colorado and see how it works there, and whether there are ancillary problems that nobody has anticipated.

TAPPER: Senator, you're from Arkansas. What do you make of this? Fifty five percent to me is unbelievable. I'm old enough to remember when the number was 16 percent.

LINCOLN: But the number for Arkansas was pretty amazing. It was on the ballot. It only lost by two points, two or three points. I was phenomenal. I think what's happening now and I'm bad -- I hate smoke. I'm not -- I don't like smoke.

TAPPER: This is not a personal reflection of your Saturday nights.

LINCOLN: But I also think you're seeing the sensible aspect of this. You look at the amount of money we're spending on incarceration, a whole host of other things on something like marijuana. I think you're right, people are getting more comfortable not only with this, but they're seeing bigger problems that they want to focus on.


BONJEAN: I think that enforcement needs to focus on the harder drugs, like cocaine, methamphetamines, those issues. There are some that came out supporting it, but --

TAPPER: Legalizing marijuana?

BONJEAN: Legalizing marijuana. It is a surprise. We'll just have to see what happens in Colorado.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much. Senator Lincoln, Gloria, Ron, thank you so much.

Coming up, it may be miserable outside, but at least a new season of "Justified" to keep you warm. The show returns tonight on FX. We have one of the major stars coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for our Pop Culture Lead. Tonight is the premiere of the fifth season of one of the best shows on television "Justified." The show stars Tim Olyphant as U.S. Marshall Raylin Gibbons with southern draw, cowboy hat and boyish good looks at least according to the female members of my staff, hides the complicated man, one who is willing to blur moral boundaries in order to get the bad guys.

One of those bad guys the audience is secretly rooting for, Boyd Crowder, who grew up with Raylin in my next family vacation destination, in Harlan County, Kentucky. He's fighting to get his fiancee out of jail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will do whatever I got to do to get you out of here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seeing your house in the country I feel like I'm in my own jail, but I know this will be back on your finger soon enough.


TAPPER: Joining me now is the creator and writer of "Justified," Graham Yost and Boyd Crowder himself, actor, Walton Goggins. I'm so excited to have you on the show. Thank you so much.

Based on the short story "Fire In The Hole" Leonard passed away in August, of course, you'll pay tribute to him at the beginning of the show. How will the show be different without him?

GRAHAM YOST, CREATOR/WRITER "JUSTIFIED": You know, hopefully it won't be that much different because we have tried to do an Elmore Leonard show right from the beginning. That's what we've been doing trying to do characters like he would write them, dialogue like he would write it. I've said it before, I'll say it again. The best thing I think has ever happened in my career is work on this show and have Elmore like it.

TAPPER: You can really get a send of his writing and characters throughout the series. Walton, you weren't even supposed to be on the show. You were supposed to die in the pilot. What's kept Boyd around for so long?

WALTON GOGGINS, ACTOR, "JUSTIFIED": I have a gun, Walton Goggins has a gun -- no. After we did the pilot and then it came off, a and the chemistry between Tim and I, it was very important for Gibbons to have someone there who understands his history, a way to kind of reflect his journey from the very beginning in Harlen County to contextualize his experience history, so I think that's one of the main reasons why Boyd stayed around. I think -- you know, I've gotten pretty good at delivering the incredible lines that these guys write. I'm grateful to be here five years in.

TAPPER: I have to say I'm a little taken aback not hearing that drawl. You talked about the great chemistry that you and Tim Olyphant has -- the great chemistry you guys have. I want to play a little clip of that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think we're in the holler? I am a deputy U.S. Marshal, Boyd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a gibbons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think I'm going to hand a man over to be murdered like some pig I borrowed from you? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You gave me your word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have hand a mind to kick --


TAPPER: So do you like it when they're friendly or when they're fighting?

GOGGINS: You know, I like it any which way it comes, honestly. I'm such a big fan of Tim's and so grateful to be five years into in journey with him, as actors, I don't think you ever know what the chemistry will be like until the first day you're working together, and the first words that came out of his mouth, I thought, wow, this is a match made in heaven for me as an actor, and I just enjoy every single day.

TAPPER: Graham, what is the heart of the show? Do you think it's their relationship, or is it from Railen and Boyd?

YOST: I think it does come down to Railen and Boyd. They're friends from youth, down the mine, one got out and one didn't. One is a lawman, ne is a criminal. To an extent it's the classic thing of the two brothers having taken separate paths. You know, we don't want to have every episode have a scene between them, because we don't want to get tired of that, so what's developed over the seasons is we have these two stories, and they just cross on occasion, and always at the end of the season.

TAPPER: "Justified" premieres took on FX. I know one household that would be watching. Graham Yost and Walton Goggins, thank you so much. Keep up the great work.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jake, thanks very much.