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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
New Warning to Police About Ferguson Violence; Interview with Chief Thomas Jackson; Interview with Tamara Green; Who is Camille Cosby?; Awaiting Immigration Announcement from President
Aired November 20, 2014 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURTNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. Law enforcement officers around the nation on high alert for violence on the wake of a Ferguson grand jury decision. A decision could be just hours away.
Tonight my exclusive interview with Ferguson's embattled police chief.
Plus one of Bill Cosby's accusers speaks to OUTFRONT about why she thought her life was in danger.
And just one hour from now the president of the United States going it alone with an historic address on immigration reform. Republicans vowing a major fight, calling it constitutional war.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. And OUTFRONT tonight we begin with breaking news. A new warning tonight for law enforcement officers around the country to be on high alert for violence in the wake of a grand jury decision on whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That decision could come as soon as tomorrow. In Ferguson city officials also imposed a midnight curfew.
This is as Michael Brown, Sr., the father of the young man whose shooting sparked this racially charged case, recorded a call for calm whatever the decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BROWN SR., FATHER OF MICHAEL BROWN: I thank you for lifting your voices to end racial profiling and police intimidation. But hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son's death to be in vain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Evan Perez is OUTFRONT tonight in Ferguson.
And Evan, officers around the nation are now preparing for what could be some very challenging and frightening days ahead.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Erin. The concern is nationwide because we have groups that say that they're going to have protests around the country. And we know the Federal Protective Service, which protects federal buildings around the country, they say they're increasing their alert for possible demonstrations there.
They also -- we also know that local police around the country are expecting demonstrations and they say they are bracing for possible problems. So the concern really is nationwide, not just here in Ferguson.
BURNETT: Evan, you were the only journalist I know to witness Michael Brown Sr. filming that public service announcement that we just showed a short brief clip of.
What was it like inside the room? What was his emotions like? How many takes did it take? What happened?
PEREZ: You know, he did a few takes. He was very emotional. You know, we talked a little bit about this. He brought his three little kids with him to the studio. And you know, one of the things he's really concerned about is that there is this need to talk about police conduct, especially in these black communities, but he is also very concerned because he doesn't want these demonstrations to get out of hand.
He doesn't want his son's memory to be hijacked, Erin. He wants to make sure that people can go out there and protest, and bring attention to these issues but also not really cause bigger problems that will -- that will lose the message.
BURNETT: Evan Perez, thank you so much. Breaking so much of this news from Ferguson.
Now tonight the top cop at the center of the controversy over Michael Brown's death and the Ferguson Police Department's handling of the aftermath is speaking out about Officer Wilson's future and his own. And in a moment you're going to hear exclusively from the police chief right here OUTFRONT.
But first, Jason Carroll.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Ferguson's police chief Tom Jackson took the position in 2010, it was supposed to be a relatively easy way to cap what would have been a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. Easy, because after some 30 years with the St. Louis County Police Department, serving as commander of a drug task force and SWAT team supervisor, being a police chief of a smaller department should have been less stressful.
The shooting of Michael Brown changed everything.
Brown was unarmed when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer who is white. The incident exposing feelings of distrust between Ferguson's black community and its police department which is overwhelmingly white. From the outset, critics say, there were too many mistakes on the part
of the police. The use of teargas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters, surveillance video allegedly showing Brown stealing from a convenience store released by police the same day they revealed the name of the officer involved in the shooting, Darren Wilson. Brown's body left on the street for hours.
CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON POLICE: I'm truly sorry for the loss of your son. I'm also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street.
CARROLL: Apologies and an attempt to personally engage protesters not ending well.
(On camera): I'm just wondering if it's disheartening when you see the community rising up in this way?
JACKSON: Yes, well it's heartbreaking for me because like I said, this is, you know, my home all of my life. And you know I've served this community all of my life as a law enforcement officer and always seen myself as being part of the solution.
CARROLL (voice-over): The Justice Department clearly sees things in a drastically different way.
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I will say that I think it is pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate.
CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, Ferguson, Missouri.
BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now is the police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, Thomas Jackson.
And, Chief Jackson, thank you for being with us tonight. Well, the FBI is warning law enforcement agencies about potential protests. The decision as we know could come as soon as tomorrow.
You are not overseeing the local response and I know the governor of Missouri didn't include you in his press conference when he laid out his plan to deal with violence.
Do you think you should be running that response to show the community it can trust you and it can trust your police force?
JACKSON: Well, I'm running a response here locally and we are still going to be -- the Ferguson Police Department is still going to be patrolling the city of Ferguson throughout all of this. But we are a smaller police department in a small community and this is a much larger regional issue.
And I know Jon Belmar, the chief of police for St. Louis County, for decades and I have absolute confidence in his ability to see us through this thing. BURNETT: You know, look, you've come under a lot of pressure, as we
all know. You have had local authorities saying look, Chief Jackson, step aside. The attorney general, you know, spoke about the Ferguson police force saying, you know, I think it's pretty clear that the need for a wholesale change in that department was appropriate. You had Claire McCaskill also saying something along those line.
You have publicly said, look, you want to be part of the solution. Do you still think that being part of the solution means staying in your job as the police chief?
JACKSON: Yes. I intend to see this thing through. And I've been working with a lot of community members to work on some progressive changes that will bring the community together and to open up dialogue and getting us all talking about serious issues and actually creating solutions to problems.
So, yes, I think I can -- I think I can see this through and come out on the other side with the community, the region and even the country a whole lot better.
BURNETT: And you want to come out of it on the other side. Because, you know, there are some people who say, Chief Jackson, look, you know, if there is one thing we've learned from this Michael Brown incident, it is that there is a racial divide.
And in your community, let me just read the numbers. I mean, you know them but for our viewers. 67 percent of Ferguson's population is African-American. There are only three black police officers out of 53 on the Ferguson police force, according to the latest numbers we have.
Do you think the racial breakdown of Ferguson needs to mirror the racial breakdown in your police force?
JACKSON: Actually we have four African-American officers. But still we're -- we have been working and we continue to work on recruiting and retaining quality African-American and other minority applicants to increase the diversity within the police department. That has been a goal of ours for a long time and it continues to be and we fully intend to redouble our efforts to increase that.
BURNETT: And look, I understand your point. But obviously in your community, they're not -- African-Americans are not minorities. It's 66 percent of the population. You're saying that they are not applying for jobs, is that the problem?
JACKSON: Yes. With the pool of candidates, it is generally pretty small. And as you can understand there's larger police agencies in the region that can offer more diversity of opportunity, you know, within the ranks. So you know, we're working real hard to do things to help us recruit and retain quality applicants.
BURNETT: You know, I want to play you this video. We first saw it this week. I know you've seen it before. But this is Darren Wilson leaving the police station after he shot Michael Brown. And you know, when we look at the video, he looks OK. This is just the video, obviously, as you can see from sort of the surveillance camera.
In August I know you spoke to our Jason Carroll and you said Wilson was treated at the hospital for a swollen face. I know you didn't see him personally. Have you seen any evidence --
JACKSON: No, I didn't.
BURNETT: -- of Officer Wilson's injuries since you last spoke to CNN?
JACKSON: No, I specifically kept myself away from all the evidence in this case so that the county and the prosecuting attorney's office could conduct a fair and impartial investigation without interference.
BURNETT: You caused a stir recently when you said that if he isn't indicted that legally he could return to his job. And I understand, you may have been making a legal point but the question I have is, have you talked to Wilson about whether or not he will return to the police force if he is not indicted?
JACKSON: I have not talked to him about anything since the first few days after the shooting.
BURNETT: And I guess the question is, given the environment in Ferguson right now, just as a hypothetical question but an important one, do you think Officer Wilson would be safe as a police officer in Ferguson, if he came back and did that?
JACKSON: Well, that's a discussion we're going to have, you know, once all the investigations are over. As you know, we still have a federal investigation coming up. So that's a -- that's a discussion down the road.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Chief Jackson, thank you so much for your time tonight, sir.
JACKSON: Thank you very much.
BURNETT: And breaking news, the head of the St. Louis Police Union tells CNN that he does not expect Officer Darren Wilson to be indicted in the shooting of Michael Brown. Jeff Roorda went on to say that Wilson told him he has confidence in the grand jury and the justice system.
Well, OUTFRONT next, the woman who says Bill Cosby sexually assaulted her when she was an aspiring model. She's going to tell her story tonight about how she says she feared for her life. That is next.
Plus Bill Cosby's wife Camille, new video shows her smiling and calm, as her husband dodges a reporter's questions about rape allegations.
Ahead, who is Camille Cosby?
In less than an hour from now, President Obama with an historic address on immigration. Already dividing Congress.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A longtime Bill Cosby accuser speaks out on OUTFRONT. And we're going to get to that interview in just a moment but first I want to show you something. This is new video that we got today. This is Bill Cosby who is pressuring an Associated Press reporter not to run an exchange of Cosby being asked about resurfacing rape allegations.
Let me play it for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL COSBY, COMEDIAN: And I would appreciate it to be scuttled. I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious, that it will not appear anywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: As you could see, he had his wife by his side. The reporter had asked Cosby about the allegations multiple times. Cosby's response was no, no, we don't answer that. There is no response. And finally, quote, "There is no comment about that."
That part of the interview was held by the A.P. for two weeks. But since then, more women have come forward, including Tamara Green, who was a 19-year-old model when she met Cosby in Los Angeles. Her story is strikingly familiar to that of other accusers. She alleges that in the 1970s she was drugged and assaulted by the man who would become America's favorite television dad, Dr. Huxatable.
Cosby and his attorneys have denied the sexual assault claims. He has never been charged with a crime. But due to a health condition, Green did not want to appear on camera but she joins me now by phone.
Well, Tamara, I want to give you a chance to share with our viewers what it is that you want them to know about what happened that day with Bill Cosby?
TAMARA GREEN, ACCUSES COSBY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT: Well, the most asked question is why didn't you go to the cops, and I -- you know it's like, well what would I have gone? I would have gone to the cops and said Bill Cosby, you know, sexually assaulted me, and they'd say, are you injured? No. Are there marks on you? No. Are there marks on him? No. Were there any witnesses? No.
BURNETT: So what exactly happened that day then when you talked about it, that there weren't marks, there wasn't violence? What exactly did he do?
GREEN: Well, I was working for him. It's -- you know, he wanted to open a club and he wanted me to call all of his pals and to collect enough money to make enough capital to open up a private club because those were the times. Back in the days there was the Daisy and the Candy Store and the clubs were big. You know. And I was ill.
I said -- I called him and I said, I cannot work today. I'm too sick. And he said come on over to this Figaro, this restaurant he owned, and have some lunch and maybe you'll feel better. So I did. And when I got there he said, do you think -- do you think contact would help?
BURNETT: That cold medicine.
BURNETT: Yes, OK.
GREEN: Yes, time release cold medicine. I said, you know, sure, I mean, I didn't know. It wasn't that he and I had a relationship of trust. It was just that I didn't distrust him. So when he came out with two caps in his hand, not in the package, and this is something you should always watch out for. You can take your medicine out of the package and not out of somebody's hand. And he said maybe this will help. I took the pills and he was right.
You know, in a few minutes I felt like a million bucks. After that I was very, very stoned, and I was scared. I thought I was dying. And I -- you know, but I had actually smoked enough pot in my youth, I've been to college, that I knew the difference between being stoned and being ill. And it just began to infuriate me.
So when we got back to -- he drove me to my apartment, saying, oh, she must be more ill than we thought and he was going to help me, which is what he did to Andrea Constand, and so he -- when we got to my apartment, he was going well, he said let me help you take off your clothes and I'll put you to bed. And I'm thinking, wait a minute. You know. And then I'm wondering, why, when I'm sick he has to take his clothes off.
And then the next thing we were having a fight. You know, it was like hand to hand combat. I didn't know if he was going to kill me or rape me or -- I knew he had had his clothes off and he was trying to get in bed with me. So we struggled. And I'm very loud.
My advice to women and children is be loud, make noise. You know. And ultimately, he did not rape me, but he sexually assaulted me and did all kinds of things. And finally when he left, he left two $100 bills on my side table by the front door so that was just a slap, a slap in the face.
BURNETT: Tamara, when you came forward with this story in 2005, this is when you came out about -- to talk about it. You actually went on the "Today" show and it was a pretty tough interview.
I want to just play a clip because you were asked by Matt Lauer why you didn't contact authorities right away and I want to play what you said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREEN: The first thing you feel is stupid. And then you feel that no one will believe you. This is the great Bill Cosby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So you felt like you wouldn't be able to go up against someone of his celebrity and power? Was that it? I mean, did you consciously make a decision to not do it?
GREEN: No. It -- I did not go because I knew he was the great Bill Cosby and because of the run that I -- you know, the things I've stated before. What was I going to say? I'm not injured, I have no blood. And by the way, there was no rape kit back in the day, there was no DNA analysis which people forget. You know, youngsters had grown up knowing that there was DNA all along. We didn't have that.
So there was no ability to prove that kind of crime, not just for me.
GREEN: But for lots of girls who were sexually assaulted.
BURNETT: Well, it's an interesting point.
GREEN: Not just by him, but by --
BURNETT: You make about the rape kit, because I know there have been some recently who have suggested well, you know, if there's a rape kit, there is a case. And if there isn't, there isn't. And you make an interesting point that that wasn't even something available when many of these --
BURNETT: -- alleged crimes may have happened. But there is one thing I want to ask you about, Tamara. And that is that, you say you understand one of the points that Bill Cosby is making which he thinks people are coming after him because of his celebrity. He's saying they're making it up and that he's vulnerable because of his celebrity, because of the weight of the accusation is so great. But that is something that I believe you understand.
GREEN: Well, that's his defense. He has two lines of defense. I'm a celebrity and everybody wants to be famous for 15 minutes. And therefore you want to be famous for what? We -- you know, there are other things I'd rather be famous for than to spend 15 minutes being famous for being sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby.
But there are people who make false allegations. There are people who lie. I understand trying to separate truth from fiction from the people who are not in the room. And I understand that they're allowed to be skeptical. I'm a defense attorney. I know how to break down credibility. So I just thought well, I'm going to have to ride it out. And I did. And I was all by myself back then in 2005, if you'll recall.
BURNETT: If you have the chance to talk to Bill Cosby now, so many years have passed, he's 77 years old, what would you tell him?
GREEN: I've been talking to him all along since 2005 over the years, saying, this is what you did. You know it. I know it. He didn't sue me for defamation. He has no defense other than to say he was misunderstood. But at this point at 77, you better work at some redemption over there. You know, you need to do some good in your life.
And by the way, I didn't hold about him not being -- I don't hold with the sentence that he received that he should never work again. No. You know, when he's employed, a lot of people are employed. So I think -- but I understand that television is a marketing media and his job is to fill up the spaces between commercials and if the commercials don't find him marketable, he's done.
BURNETT: All right.
GREEN: But I did not do this to him. We did not do this to him. He did this to himself and he knows what the truth is. So at age 77, you better get with it. You're running out of time to become heroic.
BURNETT: All right. Tamara, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us tonight and tell your story.
Now during that Associated Press interview that we showed you, and I'm going to show you again because you see Camille Cosby. That's her there in the purple jacket, sitting quietly, smiling, talking with her husband, while he refused to discuss the rape allegations. You can only imagine what she must have been thinking and feeling.
But the thing is, this is actually not the first time Camille Cosby has been forced to face questions about her husband's fidelity.
Susan Candiotti takes a closer look at the woman who has so consistently stood beside Bill Cosby.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's the formidable wife of Bill Cosby, Camille, seven years younger than her instantly recognizable husband. She also has a commanding presence. So during a November 6th interview, as Cosby declined comment on a sex allegation, it was hard to take your eyes off of Camille. Even when he asked the Associated Press to quash his on-camera answer.
COSBY: Now can I get something from you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's that?
COSBY: That none of that will be shown?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- I can't promise that myself, but you didn't say anything.
COSBY: I know I didn't say anything, but I'm asking your integrity that since I didn't want to say anything, but I did answer you in terms of, I don't want to say anything, of what value will it have?
CANDIOTTI: Camille looking on, a smile never leaving her face.
During the hit "Cosby Show," his TV wife Claire Huxtable was based on Camille. Camille even making a guest appearance. Smart, beautiful, wise, unflappable. In real life, the couple exuding charm and classic glamour. Married
50 years, Camille was only 19 when they tied the knot, meeting on a blind date. She dropped out of college. His career took off with "I Spy," the first American TV drama to star a black man in a leading role. It was the height of the civil rights era. The couple has five children. Their son Ennis murdered in 1997.
While grappling with his death, the couple battles a claim from Autumn Jackson. Eventually convicted of trying to extort $40 million from the comedian. Jackson threatening to tell tabloids she was his out- of-wedlock daughter. In court the entertainer admitting to an affair and payments to Autumn's mother, but denying he was her father.
At the time Camille's publicist reading a statement on her behalf.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All old personal negative issues between Bill and me were resolved years ago.
CANDIOTTI: Now at least five women are alleging Cosby sexual assaulted them since the 1960s. He's never been charged with a crime and never publicly admitted sexual assault.
In a 2000 interview, Oprah asked Camille about tough times in their marriage and fooling around. Camille talks about partners being selfish, adding, quote, "You look at each other and determine whether the relationship is worth salvaging, whether you really love each other and want to be together."
Does that hold true now? So far Camille, like her husband, is silent.
Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: Whatever happened, whatever you think happened, one thing we all know, she is going through a lot of pain right now.
Well, OUTFRONT next, countdown to the president's historic address. He said he doesn't want to be an emperor. Is tonight's executive action consistent with that claim?
And Republicans say he's abusing his authority. Democrats say it's no different than other presidents of both parties.
We have the facts. We are now 35 moments away from the president's address to the nation live from the White House. We'll be back OUTFRONT.
BURNETT: I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
We have breaking news: awaiting a primetime address from President Barack Obama on the very controversial issue of immigration reform. The White House just releasing this photo of the president tonight doing a walk-through at the podium where he will deliver his speech moments from now.
The president is expected to lay out his plan for major changes to immigration laws in the United States. This action could impact up to half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. the most far-reaching change will offer papers and work authorization to undocumented parents of American citizens.
Now, according to excerpts of the speech, the president will say, quote, "mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation will be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I'm describing is accountability, a common sense middle ground approach. If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you are a criminal, you will be deported."
But this is not a small move. Again, it's up to 5 million people who will get to stay in the United States and the Republicans are already fuming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: The president will come to regret the chapter of history rights if he does move forward.
Make no mistake: when the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And a huge showdown is looming.
Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill, beginning our coverage tonight.
Dana, so much threats are being thrown around, but what can Republicans actually do about it? He has the stage for the world to see tonight.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has the stage and he has the executive power, which he is using tonight.
So, to answer your question is there some tools that Republicans believe they have, but not many because really across the Republican spectrum, here in the hallways, they are not going to go down the route of a government shut down again. So, using the power of the purse, which is the latest weapon, has limits.
Mitch McConnell said when the Republicans actually are sworn in as the new leaders of Congress in January, they are going to do some things, but again, they're kind of limited on what they can do if they don't want to go to all the way towards government shut down. They can sue the president which they're likely to do. They can censure him, which is also possible. But I think the bottom line is that they are limited.
But you said, look, there are really incendiary e-mails and statements going out. I'll just give you one example. Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, just released this e-mail ahead of the president's statement saying that what the president is going to do is a declaration of war on the American people.
So, that is kind of a prime example of what you are hearing and seeing in terms of the rhetoric and I have to tell you, some concerned that the rhetoric could turn into more than that out in America.
BURNETT: And a declaration of war on the American people. I mean, Dana, you just said it, the Republicans are go going to the mat on this one.
And the big question tonight is, whether there's any situation to avoid this situation going political defcon.
OUTFRONT tonight, White House political director David Simas.
And good to have you with us tonight, David.
Is there any possibility at this time that the president will not go ahead with an executive action or is it a done deal?
DAVID SIMAS, WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The president is moving ahead with his executive actions on immigration and that's what you will hear tonight in a short time. That's going to cover three main areas. The first piece of this is about strengthening and further securing the border. The second piece of the action is going to be about prioritization and deportation on the interior so that we're focusing on our efforts on felons and not families. And in the third piece, it is about bringing more accountability to the actual system that affects undocumented immigrants here in the country.
So, that's what we will do and that's the way he's going to move out tonight.
BURNETT: All right. This is something that he -- has been near and deer to his heart, he has wanted to do for a long time. That's certainly a fair point to make. But he has talked about it a lot, particularly about executive action on immigration reform over the years and here is what he said about using executive action on immigration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that's just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.
I'm not a king.
I'm not the emperor of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, David, what changed to make him decide to go his against his words, quote, "laws on the books Congress has passed"? He said he couldn't do it, but now he says he can.
SIMAS: So, no change, completely consistent. In all of those instances, Erin, there were a couple of different -- there are a couple of different questions. There were questions about suspending all deportations. Presidents can't do that. There are questions about simply doing by executive fiat what the comprehensive immigration reform bill would have done, the president can't do that.
What you are going to see and hear about tonight, Erin, is very, very consistent with what every president since Eisenhower has done and clearly within the constitutional and legal power of the president to prioritize in terms of prosecutorial discretion.
So, this is consistent with what he said in the past.
BURNETT: OK. And when you say it is consistent, let me make sure I understand, because he said, the notion I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that's not the case. He's now going to say he is suspending deportations and the estimates are like 3 million to 5 million depending on what news source you look at.
So, you are saying he can suspend some. So, it is a little different than what he said.
SIMAS: Well, no, it actually isn't because even before that clip that you had, the president had done DACA, which was the DREAM Act kids, where as part of that program, those students, if they came forward, if they registered, if they applied, they would be placed lower on the priority list and would not be subject to a period of time of deportation.
As we move forward, what will you hear tonight is completely consistent with what he had done before. Those clips that you are referencing were in direct response to questions about broad -- much broader action than anything that's intended either what he did in the past or as of tonight.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, David Simas, the White House political director.
SIMAS: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, is President Obama ignoring the Constitution and acting like a king or an emperor? Is this use of executive order an abuse of power? Guess what? We've got the facts.
Where do things stand at the American border tonight? We're going to go live to the southern border, the U.S.-Mexico line.
BURNETT: Tonight, the breaking news -- moments from now, President Obama will lay out the most sweeping reform of the U.S. immigration system in decades. We are standing by for the primetime address.
But his decision to take executive action without the approval of Congress is causing a fire storm. Republicans say it's illegal. Four governors are now threatening to sue the president over his plan, which would spare millions and millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
But Barack Obama is not the first president of the United States to do it alone. These are the facts and Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT with them from Washington.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Erin.
Barack Obama is stepping up his use of executive orders and yet he still lags behind other modern presidents. He's got two years to go, but he's at 191. Look at this, Ronald Reagan finished at 381.
Still, you can understand with all that considered, why are his supporters are furious that he's been painted as some sort of imperial president.
(voice-over): Make no mistake, when President Obama says he wants to use his power to deal unilaterally with immigration --
OBAMA: Everybody agrees that our immigration system is broken.
FOREMAN: -- he is not the first president to do so. In 1986, the Congress passed a huge overhaul of immigration, giving about 3 million people who would come illegally a right to stay. But there was a hole. It gave patients citizenship but not their kids. So, Ronald Reagan used his power to adjust the impact.
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts.
FOREMAN: A few years later, President George H.W. Bush expanded on Reagan's action, creating the Family Fairness Program. It broadened the rules even further to keep families from being split up by immigration policy.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: It also credits the special role of immigrants to America.
FOREMAN: Supporters of President Obama point to both of those cases as proof he is doing nothing unusual. And for Republicans to be outraged is hypocritical.
And opponents say not so fast. Reagan and Bush were tinkering with laws passed by Congress, whereas they say Obama, failing to get the reform he wants, is in effect, enacting a law of his own.
(on camera): These things are not really laws. They kind of act like them, but they can be overturned by enough votes in Congress or by a future president. Still, critics say it's not how many are issued, but the way they're issued, the way they are used.
And, by the way, when you talk about how many? Nobody beats FDR. He was in office for many years and he issued more than 3,500 executive orders -- Erin.
BURNETT: Wow, including creating Columbus Day and a whole bunch of other things like that.
All right. Thank you very much to Tom Foreman.
OUTFRONT tonight, CNN legal -- senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
FDR, man, he never ceases to amaze me, I have to say.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENOR LEGAL ANALYST: For sure.
BURNETT: Putting that aside for a moment.
Republicans say what the president is planning is unconstitutional and the president said it's lawful. You know, I played the sound bite a few moments ago to his political director where he said he can't do this, he can't over -- supersede Congress and now, obviously, they are saying he is being consistent in what he is doing.
Here's the bottom line. You know the reality. Does have he the authority to do what he is doing?
TOOBIN: Well, think about -- think about the way federal law works. Federal law says certain activities is illegal. Smoking pot is illegal under federal law. Being in the country without a visa, sneaking over the border is illegal.
But the courts have always understood that the executive branch can't enforce laws against every person. Every person who smokes pot is not prosecuted by the federal government. Every person -- they can't deport every person who is here illegally.
So, what the courts have said is that the federal government can have priorities. It can say, we're going to deport these people but not others. We're going to prosecute heroin but not marijuana, and that's what the president is doing here. He is establishing priorities for who will be deported.
And as far as I can tell, it's legal. Whether it's a good policy or not -- that's a separate question. But does the president have the authority -- as far as I can tell, he does.
BURNETT: So the bottom line is, you are saying it's legal. So, Republicans who are barking up the "they are going to take it to the Supreme Court" tree are setting themselves up for another big loss?
TOOBIN: I really do think a court case is almost certainly destined to fail. You know, there are very strict rules about who can bring a lawsuit and these four governors -- what President Obama is doing doesn't tell the governors to do anything, so I don't think they have what's called standing, that is the legal right to sue. Congress can pass a law. Congress can impeach the president. But going to court is not likely to be successful. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much.
And a good point to remind everyone that the president of the United States does have a serious background in constitutional law.
OUTFRONT next, you're looking at a live picture from outside the White House. We are just moments away from President Obama's historic address.
So, what is the situation on the southern border tonight? We go live to Mission, Texas.
BURNETT: Now, these are live pictures from outside of the White House right now. These people are protesting in favor of immigration reform and what the president will announce in just a few moments with his executive order to allow up to 5 million illegal and undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States.
According to excerpts from the president's speech, he will also issue a warning, though, saying that, quote, "if you plan to enter the United States illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up."
Alina Machado is on the U.S./Mexican border, in Mission, Texas, tonight.
Alina, you have spent the day speaking with people who are on the border. This is where the truth really lies, where you are tonight.
What are you seeing?
ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, there's growing concern among some people who live in the Rio Grande Valley that tonight's announcement may encourage even more people to try to cross the river behind me. This is the same area where thousands of unaccompanied minors crossed into the U.S. earlier this year.
Now, we talked to a Catholic charities group that has been dealing with many of these new arrivals and they have noticed an uptick in the past two weeks. They also say they believe this uptick may be seasonal but talk about immigration reform could also be a factor.
We went to a bus station where we saw dozens of women and children who had recently arrived from Central America waiting in line for a bus ticket to take them to their next destination.
Listen to what one woman told us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE (via translator): Did the possibility of immigration reform inspire you to come now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via translator): Yes, that's right. That inspired us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MACHADO: Now, most migrants we talked to at the bus station told us they did not know about the possible immigration reform and that the real reason why they wanted to come here was to get a better life -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, thank you so much, Alina.
And that's all for us tonight.
CNN special coverage of President Obama's immigration address begins after this.