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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Brazilian Court Rules in Favor of U.S. Dad; Senate Schedules Key Health Care Reform Vote
Aired December 22, 2009 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again. I'm Erica Hill, in tonight for Anderson Cooper.
And tonight, a 360 exclusive in the case of the American father who has been trying to get his son home from Brazil for the last five years. Only on 360, the boy's grandfather is speaking out.
We also have the latest for you on today's court ruling that could finally bring this heart-wrenching story to a close.
Also ahead, the "Raw Politics" of health care reform and especially your bottom line, just what you will pay, how much you will save, and how much money was spent trying to influence lawmakers. We have got it all.
And a bit later: why Anderson really wanted to be out of the office tonight, or, better yet, out of the country. We have made a list, we have checked it twice, and we have got it for you, the awkward, the embarrassing, the downright strangest moments of the year featuring A.C.
First up, though, health care reform, all the angles tonight, Jessica Yellin on the last-minute maneuvering to get a bill through the Senate by Christmas, Randi Kaye on the staggering amount of money spent to shape it, $635 million. And Tom Foreman standing by at the magic wall with the money angle. Just who's paying for it and who stands to save a lot of money on medical expenses?
Plus, David Gergen on how this fight benefits the Obama administration and, frankly, how it could really hurt next year. We begin with Jessica Yellin with the Senate pushing up its final vote on this bill to 8:00 a.m. Christmas Eve morning.
Jessica, the vote of course was originally scheduled to happen a little bit later, 7:00 p.m. Christmas Eve. So, why the change today?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. Erica, Republicans were really the ones extending debate on health care this week as a way to keep hammering home their message that the bill is unwieldy, in their view, unclear, et cetera.
So, the Democrats would be happy to vote on it right now, frankly. It was the Republicans who relented and agreed to vote on Christmas Eve morning, rather than evening, for three reasons. One, they think they have made their point about the bill. More time won't make it any stronger. Two, a massive storm is brewing that will hit Western states on Christmas Eve. And if senators stayed here, a huge number of them might not get home for Christmas. After all, all politics is local.
And then here's a biggie. Republicans won a major political concession from Democrats on another issue, something they consider important, but totally unrelated to health care. Altogether, that made them decide 8:00 a.m. vote is OK.
HILL: That last one sounds like a little bit of last-minute deal-making on the Hill, which of course never, ever happens.
YELLIN: Never happens.
HILL: So, but what is that unrelated issue that was oh so important?
YELLIN: Yes. It's all about the debt. Republicans got an agreement that, when the Senate comes back from break in January, the members of the Senate are going to take a politically painful vote to likely increase the amount of long-term debt this country's allowed to accumulate.
Now, that's going to be embarrassing for Democrats, because the vote basically says, look, the U.S. is spending a lot more than we have. That vote is going to come right before the State of the Union, so it complicates the president's effort to sell fiscal responsibility.
Republicans want government spending to be their big issue next year. So, Republicans see this as a big political win for them.
HILL: A win, indeed, in their view. So, the big question, though, still becomes, we're dealing with health care at this point. Christmas Eve isn't the last stop here. What's the full schedule for health care as we move forward?
Well, first of all, there will be some procedural votes tomorrow, then the big vote at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday on the overall health care bill in the Senate. And then Senate gets out of town. They go home until January 19.
So, the tricky thing here is that Democrats want this entire health care bill done and to the president by the State of the Union. That's going to be an immensely tight schedule. There's little more than a week between the time the Senate comes back in session and when the State of the Union is likely to happen.
So, you've got to expect there will be some negotiating to take place over this break or an early return from their break. Either way, the pressure is on Democrats to get this resolved fast.
HILL: Yes, somehow, I don't see those two bills being married within a week.
HILL: Jessica, thanks.
We spoke a little bit last night about the sausage-making aspect of this process, a little more sausage there that Jessica alluded to happening today. It's not pretty to watch, especially the more you learn about all the fillers.
But when you consider just how much money is being spent to lobby Congress on health care reform, the price tag actually sounds a little more like filet mignon than sausage.
More on that angle now from Randi Kaye, who has been crunching some seriously eye-popping numbers.
So, Randi, what really is going on behind the scenes here? How much does all of this cost?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, there is an army of lobbyists, let me tell you, working behind the scenes on health care reform.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics -- get this -- there are currently 3,185 lobbyists working all sides of the health care issue. Keep in mind, Congress has 535 members. So, that's almost half-a-dozen lobbyists for every elected official on Capitol Hill.
The Center for Responsive Politics says that lobbyists have actually spent $635 million over the past two years shaping your future health care. And, yes, we did the math. And, "Keeping Them Honest," that translates into lobbyists spending about $870,000 a day pushing their agenda.
Who are the big spenders? Well, take a look. We checked them out for you. AARP spent more than $42 million -- actually, just about $43 million there -- lobbying Congress. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents many of the nation's drug companies, spent $40,385,000.
Not to be outdone, Blue Cross/Blue Shield spent just under $33 million -- actually, just over $33 million. And the American Medical Association spent more than $32 million right there, just under $33 million right there.
HILL: Yes, there's a lot of zeros there.
So, who exactly, Randi, are the lobbyists making this happen?
KAYE: Well, many actually are the former congressional staffers, even former members of Congress. So, they have a lot of access. They know a lot of these people.
For example, the study found that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America employs more than 26 former congressional staffers and members. It's a very cozy relationship. The study also found at least 13 former aides to Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus now work for clients with health care interests.
Senator Baucus is chairman of the Finance Committee and a key overseer of the health care overhaul. So, this is pretty darn good access for those lobbyists. In fact, Senator Baucus received more money from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry in the last election cycle than any other Democrat currently in Congress.
HILL: But, Randi, how are they still -- how are they these ex- staffers still able to lobby so closely, after the president pledged on several occasions to end these kind of dealings, those cozy relationships you referred to?
KAYE: Well, we called the American League of Lobbyists to answer that question for us. And they told us that: "Lobbyists never vote on the final issue. At the end of the day, the members of Congress are pulling the lever and voting."
And, by the way, this is all legal. You may remember, as you just mentioned, candidate Barack Obama had said that he won't allow ex-members of Congress or their top aides to lobby Congress for a couple of years. But some, we found, are getting around that, actually. It's a so-called cooling off period, but they're calling themselves advocates and advising others how to lobby.
We spoke with one former congressional staffer tonight. And he told us -- quote -- "I'm not really a lobbyist. I just help formulate policy."
HILL: Ah. That clears it all up. Big difference.
HILL: Randi, thanks.
So, that's the bottom line on lobbying. Now we want to talk about your bottom line.
These changes, what could they mean for you and your family? Critics say that's something the Obama administration has not done a very good job explaining.
Well, luckily for us, it's a whole lot easier getting answer out of Tom Foreman, who joins us now, "Keeping Them Honest."
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Erica, it's hard to explain. The simple equation is this. The less money you make, the more this bill will help you; the more money you make, the more you will help pay for it. For simplicity's sake, I'm only going to talk about the version which has actually been approved, which is the House version.
And we're talking about what happens three years from now, when this would kick in. So, let's start by looking at those who would gain the most through an online calculator created by the University of California at Berkeley.
It says a family of four making $35,000 a year, with the oldest adult 40 years old, if they purchased insurance through the proposed insurance exchange, or the government option, as we call it, they would get substantial government help, and they would pay annual premiums of about $1,200. Their annual out-of-pocket maximum would be about $1,500, pushing $1,600. And, then, at the end, their total would be $2,781.
That's how much they would be paying for insurance in the course of a year, Erica.
HILL: So, that doesn't look too bad, especially if these are folks who don't have health care right now.
What about people, though, who are making a little bit more money? How do they figure in?
FOREMAN: Same equation, family of four, same age. But, this time, let's double their money to $70,000. Now you see how the numbers go up. They're getting a subsidy, but their premiums are now over $7,000. They're out-of-pocket maximum spending is also about that high.
So, their total bill for health care is now $14,000. That's a lot. Now, it's still much better than the $20,000 that they would be expected to spend without reform, as some experts estimate, but, still, $14,000 -- Erica.
HILL: Still -- and still a big jump there.
So, as we continue on down the line, what about folks who make much more -- folks who make much more than that?
FOREMAN: Yes, well, they pay more. That's all there is to it. Same family, same age, let's give them $200,000 a career. Both parents work, which makes $100,000. And let's say they were eligible for the government exchange. Their premiums would go up to almost $10,000 a year, their out-of-pocket maximum expenses almost $8,000 more. And that would push it up to $18,000 overall.
But -- and this is important to remember, Erica -- there are some wild cards in this equation that could make all of these calculations pretty shaky. For example, this idea of taxing these really hefty health care plans, or the Cadillac plans, as they're called. Let's say you're a union worker and you have a great plan because your union negotiated for it. Well, you might be making $67,000 a year, but you wind up paying for more health care because you have this kind of plan, if you go with that.
The Senate wants to do it that way. And your combined income, if there are two of you working in the house, if you push up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, you could also be facing new taxes, as well, even though you might not see yourselves as really rich people.
But even as we sort through all these vague ideas of what the bottom line may be, bear in mind what we were saying earlier. Many of the supporters of this and even some of the opponents say it would still be worse for almost everyone if insurance and medical care costs just keep going up.
FOREMAN: So, even some people who don't like this solution still say there's a real danger out there that has to be addressed -- Erica.
HILL: Right. And that solution of course is going to be one of the sticking points as they try to merge both the House and the Senate bills.
As always, we want to know what you think about all of this. Now that you have got a lot of the numbers, more information in front of you, let us know what you think. You can join the live chat now under way at AC360.com.
Just ahead: a major victory in a father's fight to bring his son home from years in Brazil. We're going to bring you the very latest, the Brazilian courts' latest custody ruling. And you will also hear exclusively from the little boy's grandfather.
And a bit litter, what happened on those Texas roads was labeled highway robbery. We have covered this story for you, people getting pulled over, their money taken, the local DA spending it on trips to Hawaii?
Well, tonight, new developments -- the DA has just been indicted. We have got the very latest.
HILL: Something unusual happened on the floor of the Senate today, something so out-of-character, it brought the bitter and bruising debate over health care to a brief and poetic standstill, something that we just knew we had to share with you when we saw it.
The moments comes courtesy of Illinois Senator Roland Burris, looking to ease tensions and bring some holiday spirit to Capitol Hill with his revised version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: 'Twas was the night before Christmas, and, all through the Senate, the right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it.
The people had voted. They mandated reform, but Republicans blew off the gathering storm. We'll clog up the Senate, they cried with a grin, and, in the midterm elections, we will get voted in.
They knew regular folks needed help right this second. The fund- raisers, lobbyists and politics beckoned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: So, that's a Democratic view of things with a few touches added by us here at 360, including the Santa hat for the senator.
What about the Republicans, though? How would they revisit the classic poem?
Well, to find out, we turned to Matt Latimer for health. He's a former speechwriter for George W. Bush. And he agreed.
We have asked Bob Angle (ph), a member of the 360 crew, to offer up his own dramatic reading of Latimer's prose -- Bob.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let bureaucrats run health care, the leaders urged with a grin. Don't worry about details. Obama just needs a win.
On Franken, on Landrieu, on Lincoln and Schumer. Dismiss all the facts. Deny every rumor. Forget about burdens on business. Ignore the red tape. We must pass a bill any size, any shape.
More decisions by Washington, the masses, they need it. So, 60 Dems voted yes. Most didn't bother to read it.
HILL: Bob Angle (ph), everyone. He's being wasted on props, frankly.
So, there you have it, two versions of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
David Gergen, what do you say?
HILL: Do you want to make it three?
HILL: And Bob's came with a dance at the end there.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Where's our Twitter -- Twitter king, Jack Gray? He will get -- make great fun out of this.
HILL: We will hit Jack Gray up.
GERGEN: Yes, please.
HILL: We will have hit up next for that.
A little bit more seriously, on the -- on the topic of health care reform, the Senate version, pretty clear that this is going to pass now. So, the focus is really shifting more to the conference. Who has the upper hand when it comes to this stage of the game here, House or Senate?
GERGEN: The Senate has mostly the upper hand here, now, Erica, because they have got such a fragile coalition. They're just barely making it over the top.
So, when it comes to this issue, we have had so much conversation about a public option or the late-minute entry for a buy-in to Medicare. I think the House is going to have to bow to the Senate on that. They can't get it through the Senate without that.
But there is this issue where I think the House may prevail that's going to be, I think, very upsetting for many in the country. And that is on abortion. The House has a more conservative provision on abortion than the Senate. But the House is saying, without this more conservative provision, we can't pass it.
So, there's going to be a lot of hard bargaining and there will probably be opportunities for other people by -- maybe we will have Easter rhymes by the time this is all done.
HILL: It could take that long. So, start preparing your Easter rhyme, David Gergen.
HILL: We may bring you in on that first.
You know, you have also been making the point, as we have been talking about this more and more, that this is different from -- from most other pieces of landmark legislation, social legislation, we have seen, because it's so much more partisan this time. Not only that. There's not a lot of broad public support.
How big of an issue is that for lawmakers?
GERGEN: Well, it's -- I think it is a serious issue for the future of governance in the next few years and how long this -- and whether this health care bill will become a political football, and everyone will be attacking it or trying to amend it over the next few years.
It's such a sharp departure from what we have seen in the past, Erica. I have gone back and looked at past presidents. If you look at Franklin Roosevelt, when we got Social Security through the Congress as a Democratic president back in 1935, he had a vote in the Senate of 76-5 in favor of Social Security. And, among Republicans, the out-party, 14 out of 19 Republican senators voted for it.
Move on to Lyndon Johnson with civil rights, '64-'65 -- '64, 73- 27 vote in the Senate, with 27 out of 33 Republicans voting for it. Medicare/Medicaid under Lyndon Johnson as well, 68-21, with half the Republican senators voting for it.
Think how that contrasts, Erica, with what we're facing today, with a complete partisan split, all 60 Democrats voting for it, all 40 Republicans voting against it. We have never seen landmark social legislation passed with this kind of sharp divide and in the face of this much public opposition.
It is -- it does not bode well, I'm afraid, for what's going to happen the next two or three years.
HILL: Well, we will be following it closely and following it with you, David. Thanks, as always.
GERGEN: Thank you.
HILL: You sure you don't want to try 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" once, quickly?
GERGEN: I -- well, you know, I think we need to get back to some of that lightness. This is -- this is so heavy on Christmas week, isn't it?
HILL: It is.
GERGEN: It's important for the country, but it's heavy.
HILL: It is. Well, that was a nice, lighter moment. And glad you could share it with us. David Gergen, thanks.
GERGEN: Thank you.
HILL: Just ahead, a 360 exclusive: Barry Goldman on the growing possibility tonight that his grandson Sean could soon be coming home with his son of Brazil, years after the little boy was taken from this country.
And, later, a little song, a little dance, a whole lot of Anderson having fun at his own expense -- and more of Bob, frankly. You want to stick around for that.
HILL: A major development tonight in a story we have been following closely all week and, frankly, before that, for years. Tonight, David Goldman's five-year battle to bring his young son, Sean, home to New Jersey may finally be over, Brazil's -- Brazil's Supreme Court ruling today Sean's Brazilian relatives must hand the child over to his father, biological father, David Goldman.
Now, this of course is the latest twist in a case that has been full of them. The question tonight, just how soon could Sean and his dad be reunited? And how soon could they head back to the U.S.? Is the battle in fact over?
In a 360 exclusive interview, I spoke with David's father, Sean's grandfather, Barry Goldman, and also with New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, who is with David Goldman in Brazil.
HILL: Congressman Smith, when you first heard the news today -- I know you're with David Goldman right now -- what did you -- how did you both react?
REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, David, you know, was very elated, but he still is cautious that there be no additional appeals or glitches.
But the fact that Minister Mendes, who is the chief justice in the Supreme Court for Brazil, affirmed the return order on its merits, and did 30 pages of explanation in the opinion -- this wasn't a one sentence or one paragraph or a one-pager -- this is a very serious statement by the chief justice that David Goldman, a man who has persistently sought his son and the return of his son, because he loves him so much, will now be given -- and unless there's some additional appeal, which, God willing, does not happen -- will be with Sean Goldman, his son. And they can return back to New Jersey.
HILL: When will you know whether or not there's going to be another appeal and whether or not this is in fact a done deal for both David and Sean Goldman, that they can come home together?
SMITH: We will know when they file it. And, frankly, you know, we're not sure that -- you know, they have had audacity to file one frivolous (INAUDIBLE) complaint after another, which have been summarily overcome, only to find another complaint, another, you know, tactic to slow the process.
HILL: We're also joined this evening by Barry Goldman, David Goldman's father, Sean's grandfather.
Sir, thanks for your time tonight.
How are you feeling at this moment, with this latest news, this latest ruling from Brazil's chief justice in the Supreme Court?
BARRY GOLDMAN, GRANDFATHER OF SEAN GOLDMAN: Well, I have great gratitude to Congressman Smith.
And I'm elated at what he said. But, you know, I just feel, again, cautiously optimistic. I have been on the top of this roller coaster so many times, to slide down the other side. As David has said many times, until the wheels are up on that plane and Sean and David and Congressman and all are on it, it's not a done deal.
And, hopefully, that's going to happen soon.
HILL: I know you two have been fighting tirelessly, supporting your son throughout all of this, very involved in bringing Sean home.
When you do see your grandson again, what's the first thing you would like to say to him or do with him?
GOLDMAN: I'm going to hug him and kiss him and tell him how much I love him and how much I have missed, and go on from there.
HILL: Are you...
GOLDMAN: I just can't wait.
HILL: I can only imagine.
I know it's been -- it's been so tough for you, too, being in this country as your son goes back and forth. And it must be tough, too, hearing this ruling tonight, knowing that your son is in Brazil.
I'm sure you would like to be there with him. Is there anything you want to say to him? I know he's -- he's been watching CNN a lot tonight and may see this. While I'm sure you're in contact, anything you would like to share to him?
GOLDMAN: Only I have the same feelings he has and I'm very proud of him.
HILL: We see -- we have seen so many times these pictures of your beautiful grandson. And he has this great smile on his face. Obviously, we see him there with your son.
Is there a favorite memory that you have of Sean before he went to Brazil five years ago, a moment that you look back on, perhaps, in a tough moment for both you and your son that can bring a smile to your face?
GOLDMAN: Oh, there were so many memories.
We spent so much time with Sean, just fishing, and going to the circus, and going to the farm, and going to the boardwalk and everywhere. It just -- it was just wonderful. He's such a wonderful boy, and so much life. And I just hope that they haven't taken any of that out of him that we're going to have to put -- you know, going to have to get him back to where he was.
HILL: Congressman Smith, if there is nothing standing in your way, if there is no appeal from the Brazilian family, do you have an idea of when, in fact, the Goldmans will be coming home? SMITH: Only as quickly as humanly possible. And, of course, you know, all those details need to be worked out.
But our hope is, you know, that it be immediate and as quickly as possible.
HILL: I know that the Brazilian family has said that they're concerned that, if Sean does in fact go home to New Jersey, they're concerned about that transition for him. They had at one point requested that he at least be able to stay through Christmastime if a ruling came down prior to that.
David Goldman has said he's open to the Brazilian family visiting. Does that still stand?
SMITH: Oh, sure.
David was absolutely sincere that he doesn't want to do to the family, the maternal grandmother especially, what they had done to him and to Sean all these years.
And when I say to David, anything done to David was done to Sean. The whole idea of parental alienation was -- was -- was very real in this terrible ongoing drama.
HILL: And we have had just an overwhelming response, I have to say, from viewers and also on our live blog last night during the show, as they were hearing from David Goldman.
I know he's there with you. Is he available to come to the phone and talk to us all tonight on CNN? This is the last show of the evening.
GOLDMAN: Honestly, under advice of his attorneys, they have asked him not to say anything yet. And he, you know, will be faithful to that.
You know, he is focused on one thing, bringing Sean home. And, so, I hope you understand that. I'm glad you had his dad on. That was great. But, for David, he's acting on guidance from his attorneys.
HILL: Right. And we understand and we appreciate...
SMITH: And he actually asked me to do this. He actually asked me to say to say -- to be here. And I talked to his other attorney in America. She thought the same thing.
HILL: Great. Well, we -- we do understand that.
We appreciate your time, Representative Smith. And, again, we do of course also appreciate the time of Mr. Barry Goldman as well, David's father. And hopefully, we, will be speaking to you again soon, perhaps some more news tomorrow, as you learn more and as this continues.
Thanks, again, Representative Chris Smith.
SMITH: Again, thank you very much. And have a good night.
HILL: Still ahead tonight: the general in Iraq who is taking heat for making pregnancy a punishable offense, well, speaking out today, standing by his decision, yet backing off just a bit. The 360 follow is coming up.
Plus, when the anchor's away, frankly, the man is fair game. We have collected some of Anderson's most embarrassing moments on the air in 2009. He made us laugh with him, at him. Hopefully, this won't make him cry, because it's all in good fun.
HILL: Later on 360, the FBI releases its files on Michael Jackson. What secrets are inside and why are they keeping files? That's just ahead.
First, though, Randi Kaye joining us with the "360 Bulletin."
KAYE: Hi, again, Erica.
In Arizona at least three people were killed, five seriously injured when a huge dust storm blinded drivers on a major interstate, causing a massive pileup. You can see it right there. Between 30 and 40 cars were involved in this fiery smashup. Many of the injured were burned.
A 360 follow on a story we reported last night. The Army general in Iraq who issued a controversial order making pregnancy a punishable offense for troops under his command, today defended his decision. But Major General Anthony Cucola also said no soldier would ever be court marshaled for violating the order. He said his policies were to make his soldiers, quote, "think before they act."
A dog in suburban New York is the first in the nation confirmed to be infected with the same strain of swine flu that's made so many humans sick. The 13-year-old mixed breed male apparently caught the virus from his owner. His vet is not identifying either one but says the pooch is on the mend.
And first dog Bo also making some news today. He visited Children's National Medical Center in Washington, where Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha chatted with patients and read Christmas stories. All was going rather well until Bo spotted Santa. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Bo, it's Santa. Shhh.
OBAMA: All right, Bo. Sit. Sit. He hasn't -- he hasn't seen Santa before.
OBAMA: He is a believer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: It must have been the beard. Bo actually eventually settled down. The reading went on. But it makes you wonder if Santa is going to skip the White House.
HILL: Oh, I think Santa has got to understand. I'm sure Bo's not the first dog that's been a little freaked out.
KAYE: It must have been the beard.
HILL: Unless Bo steals the cookies on Christmas Eve, and then all bets are off.
KAYE: Note to the president, lock up Bo Christmas Eve.
HILL: Randi, thanks.
Just ahead, he was a former top prosecutor in Texas. Tonight, he is a defendant facing criminal charges that stem from a getaway to Hawaii. It was a high-priced trip, but was it highway robbery?
And later, what killed Brittany Murphy? The latest on the death of the Hollywood star, her husband also responding to reports that she had an eating disorder.
HILL: In Texas tonight, important update in a story we've been following for some time now.
A former district attorney indicted on corruption charges this week, accused of using thousands of dollars in public funds to treat himself and his staff to an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii. Now, we profiled him before. What surprised us: he didn't think he did anything wrong. A grand jury disagreed. We, though, will let you be the judge.
Gary Tuchman reports in this 360 follow.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dusty roads here in Texas hill country have been a gold mine for police and prosecutors. But some defense attorneys call it the best little rip- off in Texas.
RICHARD ELLISON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It makes Texans look like buffoon, and it makes it look like all of our judges and police officers are crooks down here.
TUCHMAN: In Texas and other states, cops can pull over drivers suspected of serious crimes, and they can actually seize the cash and valuables. Four times, the four D.A. here spent tens of thousands of it for all-expense-paid trips to Hawaii for himself, some of his staff, and spouses.
(on camera) Do you think it was OK to spend that money to go to Hawaii?
RON SUTTON, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Absolutely.
TUCHMAN: Why do you think that?
SUTTON: Well, it's part of the United States last time I checked. And we have conferences all over the other states. What's the difference for Hawaii?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The organizers of the annual trip to this resort in Oahu invite spouses, sweeties, friends. The trip does include ten hours of law seminars. Ten hours out of an entire week. The rest of the time is for sun, golf and luaus. The price: 4,000 bucks a couple. Steep. But not when it's paid for by public money made back home on the highway.
Ron Sutton was the district attorney here for 32 years. He didn't run again, but he's still working part time in the D.A.'s office.
(on camera) Could you understand it kind of look bad to people that you're going to Hawaii our times?
SUTTON: Only for those people who are jealous because they haven't been to Hawaii.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The money used by the former D.A. came from the Texas forfeiture law. District attorneys' offices get a cut of the seizure money and are allowed to use the cash for, quote, "official purposes," which the former D.A. says is...
SUTTON: Anything used in connection with promoting and functioning of officer training. Could be anything.
JOHN WHITMIRE, TEXAS STATE SENATOR: It's outrageous.
TUCHMAN: Texas state senator John Whitmire says the forfeiture law often leads to corruption.
WHITMIRE: The law that I am going to change is so general that they -- they can literally get away with stealing in my mind.
TUCHMAN: The purpose of forfeitures is to strip real criminals of ill-gotten gains, although in Texas there have been many accusations that innocent people, often minorities, are targeted and pulled over.
Deputies told this man he was driving too long in the passing lane.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Step out. You're acting funny. I don't like it.
TUCHMAN: It got violent. The driver, a Latino and a U.S. Navy veteran, was charged with endangering police. After his lawyer got his hands on this video, charges were dropped.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was, I think, probably a classic profile stop.
TUCHMAN (on camera): This is the Kimble County seat of Junction, Texas. There are only 4,400 people who live in this entire community. This is Main Street. You can see it's a quiet, sleepy place.
But the sheriff's department deputies here are very active and busy. Getting forfeiture money is a very important industry here.
(voice-over) How important? The sheriff's office keeps more than an average of $1 million annually in forfeitures. The former D.A. says he had more than $1 million in his account when he left office. He says Hawaii wasn't a vacation but a way to learn and get legal credits.
But beyond paying for airfare and hotel rooms, there's spending money for the group. Here's a check paid to cash for $6,000 to cover the week.
(on camera) Why do you guys need $6,000?
SUTTON: Well, you go to Hawaii, you'll see why. A hamburger and a drink is $20.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): But what really got our attention was this. The former D.A. says that one year he took this man to Hawaii, Emil Prohl. He's the judge who hears forfeiture cases.
(on camera) Wouldn't it have been better to say, "Judge, you can't come with us to Hawaii because we're using forfeiture money?"
SUTTON: That issue has never come up.
TUCHMAN: OK, so what's your answer?
SUTTON: Actually, I don't see anything wrong with it. It's there for educating the judges.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): What about this? Our search through the public records shows checks written directly to the judge. Here's one for $3,000, $4,000, $4,500.
(on camera) Why were checks written directly to the judge from the forfeiture fund?
SUTTON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) expenses and competence (ph).
TUCHMAN: Can you see how taxpayers might say, you know, a little more documentation would be nice here?
SUTTON: Yes. In retrospect, maybe so. But I know I did nothing wrong. My conscience is clear.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): We asked for an interview with the judge but were told he did not want to talk. But we needed his side of the story, so we caught up with him outside the courthouse to ask about his Hawaii trip.
EMIL PROHL, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE: You know, I'm really not able to comment on that at this point. I appreciate your interest. Some point I hope I can, but at this point I can't. I appreciate your interest.
TUCHMAN (on camera): How come you can't comment about it?
PROHL: There's just issues. I've got forfeiture cases still pending and I can't...
TUCHMAN: That's what I'm talking about. Because you hear the forfeiture cases but that's the issue.
PROHL: I understand. We're dealing with that issue.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): There is a new D.A. here in Texas hill country. He says there will be no more trips to Hawaii.
HILL: Gary Tuchman joining us now, ironically enough from Hawaii where he's vacationing, although I'm pretty sure, Gary, it is not on the taxpayer dime. Not even on CNN's dime. You should get this vacation day back for working tonight. On your own dime for vacation with your family.
So Gary, thanks for taking time out of your vacation, first of all. Second, what does the former D.A. have to say now about these charges against him?
TUCHMAN: Yes, I talked to Ron Sutton today and told him I was calling from Hawaii, ironically, and he wasn't very happy to hear from me. He told me that -- he intimated that he wasn't happy with the original story. And I asked him why; did he think it's taken out of context? He wouldn't answer me.
And then I said to him, what's your reaction to this indictment? And then he hung up the telephone. So I'm afraid I don't know what his reaction is to the indictment. HILL: So if he's found guilty, though, of these charges what could happen next to him?
TUCHMAN: These are serious charges in the state of Texas. These are third-degree felony charges. Each count carries a possibility of a maximum of two to ten years in prison. So this is a very serious case that the authorities in the state of Texas will now be dealing with.
HILL: And I know you'll be following, but hopefully, Gary, you can enjoy the rest of your vacation before you have to dig a little deeper on that one for us.
TUCHMAN: Thanks, Erica.
HILL: Gary live from Hawaii tonight. Gary, thanks.
Still ahead, some of our favorite moments from 2009, including this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD SIMMONS, FITNESS EXPERT: Anderson, Erica, I'm here in the studio.
HILL: About time I should say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Oh, yes. And there's a reason we waited to run this until Anderson was on vacation. Our top five favorites just ahead.
HILL: A new year, a new decade. Hard to believe it's all happening next week. But before we say farewell to 2009, we thought this was a good opportunity to share with you 360's favorite moments of the last 12 months. And we found a few that stand out. They all have one thing in common: our fearless leader Anderson Cooper.
Whether it's meeting Nancy Grace's twins or having a close encounter with Richard Simmons, Anderson always manages to make us laugh, with him and at him. You know, he's on vacation tonight, which is too bad for him. But hopefully he's watching because I think he's really going to enjoy tonight's "Shot."
KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: Happy birthday, Anderson Cooper!
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, no.
GRIFFIN: Happy birthday Anderson. Happy birthday!
COOPER: Look at the confetti.
GRIFFIN: This is an awesome party.
COOPER: Thank you.
GRIFFIN: Happy birthday!
COOPER: Thank you. That's very sweet. Thank you very much. Wow.
GRIFFIN: I'm so surprised you still have this job and everything. Things are going great.
COOPER: Would you want these kids to follow in your footsteps?
NANCY GRACE, HLN ANCHOR: I want them to do whatever will make them happy. Here she goes.
COOPER: You want a piece of paper? Uh-oh. Uh-oh.
GRACE: Anderson, what did you do to him?
COOPER: I didn't do anything.
COOPER: What's the matter?
GRACE: You did it. And been caught on national television.
HILL: Brian Kelly will coach football at Notre Dame which is in what U.S. State?
COOPER: Notre Dame...
HILL: Come on, football. You love sports.
COOPER: Notre Dame is Notre Dame.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Indiana.
COOPER: It is?
TOOBIN: South Bend.
HILL: Do you know where Indiana is on the map?
COOPER: No, I don't think I do. I'm panicked.
HILL: This is Indiana right here.
COOPER: I'm nervous.
HILL: It's all about teamwork at CNN.
Final question, oh, oh, I think you're out of time. You're out of time.
COOPER: I'm terrible at geography.
HILL: And everyone in Indiana hates you. But other than that it's fine.
SIMMONS: Oh, yes, you dance with Ellen and...
HILL: No, he won't dance. Richard will dance. See?
SIMMONS: Come on. Come on. Come on, Anderson. Give it up. You did it with Kelly Ripa.
COOPER: No, I didn't.
SIMMONS: What about me? She wasn't in a cute outfit like this.
COOPER: So at floor crew Friday, which is a celebration of all things having to do with the floor crew, tonight the guys are giving us their take on Beyonce's "Single Ladies." So releasing the fury, here's Bob, Frank and Jerry.
(MUSIC: BEYONCE'S "SINGLE LADIES")
HILL: This, by the way, Bob let me borrow. Not only did he craft an Aretha Franklin hat, that's right, Beyonce, he can make your jewelry, too.
HILL: Jay-Z wants to talk to...
(MUSIC: BEYONCE'S "SINGLE LADIES")
HILL: There's so much more to Bob than just a dramatic reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
KAYE: Absolutely. And he didn't have the cuff on earlier, though. Glad we got that in.
HILL: I hear the cuff has been donated to the Radio and Television Hall of Fame.
KAYE: Sure. I think Bob might be donated one day.
HILL: Just not right away. We can't afford to let him go just yet.
KAYE: That's true. HILL: As hard as -- I'm so tongue-tied after watching that. As hard as it is to top it, that's not all we have for you. Tom Foreman has been keeping track of some of the other stories that got our attention this year. He's bring it all to us on Christmas Eve, a special called "All the Best, All the Worst of 2009." We've got a preview.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gay marriage supporters saw two more states allow same-sex weddings. But several other votes ran against their cause.
BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST: I think if gay people want to get married more power to them. But I think it should be a state matter.
FOREMAN: Beauty queen Carrie Prejean spoke up against same-sex marriage but ended up out of her crown and out of her gown, too, as rumors of sexy videotapes swirled out of her past.
MARGARET CHO, COMEDIAN/ACTRESS: I think that she -- she really is proof that looks are not everything.
JOEL STEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Did anyone see her sex tape? I don't think she had sex. It's just tease, tease, tease with her. I need more -- either more or less Carrie Prejean. But this level of Carrie Prejean, no thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She goes on Larry King and tries to walk off Larry King.
CARRIE PREJEAN, FORMER MISS CALIFORNIA USA: Larry, you're being inappropriate.
JOY BEHAR, HLN HOST: Larry, it was like, what do you mean I'm inappropriate? He should have said to her, "Eight sex tapes, that's inappropriate."
HILL: And that is only the beginning. The trials and tribulations of Carrie Prejean, what a year for her. What a year for all of us. Tom's full report, "All the Best, All the Worst of 2009," airs this Thursday, Christmas Eve, 7 p.m. Eastern.
Up next on tonight's program, new information about the secret world of Michael Jackson. The FBI releasing its files, hundreds of pages never seen before. We have the details.
Plus, Brittany Murphy's husband speaking out. What he is saying about his young wife's death. Next.
HILL: There is a lot more happening tonight. Randi Kaye joining us again with a "360 Bulletin." Hey. KAYE: Brittany Murphy's husband denying she overdosed on prescription medicine or that an eating disorder may have led to her death. Simon Monjack tells People.com that rumors Murphy was anorexic are, quote, "crazy." Murphy died Sunday morning at the age of 32.
An Italian appeals court has cut the prison sentence for one of the men convicted of killing British exchange student Meredith Kercher. Rudy Guede now faces 16 years behind bars instead of 30. Kercher's American roommate, Amanda Knox, and Knox's boyfriend were also convicted in the case in a separate trial. They each face more than 20 years in prison and also plan an appeal.
The FBI has released its files on Michael Jackson. The documents reveal in 1993 agents help set up an interview in the Philippines for California authorities investigating Jackson for the alleged sexual abuse of young boys. That's where two former Neverland Ranch employees lived. More recently, the FBI files show that police were worried terrorists would attack Jackson's molestation trial back in 2004.
And Irvin, Texas, an unusual sentence for a drunk driver who killed a 10-year-old boy. Rocky Anderson is spending this Christmas behind bars for the fifth straight year. Instead of serving his 108 to days in jail all at once, the judge in the case ordered Anderson to spend nine days in jail around Christmas and nine more days around his victim's birthday every year for a decade.
HILL: Boy, a sentence that will really make you think.
We'll lighten things up a little bit now with our "Beat 360" winners, which is, of course, our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to spice up -- or show up our staffers by coming up with a spicier caption for the photo we post on our blog every day. Plus, there's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that goes along with it.
Tonight's photo, President Obama greeting actor Robert De Niro and musician Bruce Springsteen at a reception for the Kennedy Center honor recipients earlier this month.
Our staff winner tonight, Candy Crowley. Her caption: "All together now, 'Born in the USA. I was born in the USA.'"
KAYE: Sounds just like Bruce there.
HILL: Just like Bruce. Yes. Sorry, Bruce.
Our viewer winner tonight, Colleen from Bloomington, Minnesota, whose caption: "No, Bruce, I'm the boss. And no, Robert, I'm not talking to you." Ouch.
KAYE: Very good.
HILL: Colleen, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.
And stay with us. There's more to come at the top of the hour. With the Senate on the verge of passing health-care reform, we'll take a look at how this affects your bottom line.
HILL: Good evening, again, I'm Erica Hill in tonight for Anderson Cooper. And tonight a 360 exclusive in the case of the American father who's been trying to get his son home from Brazil for the last five years. Only on 360 the boy's grandfather is speaking out.
The latest on today's court ruling that could bring this heart- wrenching story to a close.
Also ahead, the "Raw Politics" of health-care reform and especially your bottom line. Just what you'll pay, how much you'll save, and how much money was spent trying to influence lawmakers? We've got it all.
And a bit later why Anderson really wanted to be out of the office tonight or better yet out of the country. We've made a list; we've checked it twice. And we've got it for you. The awkward, the embarrassing, the downright strangest moments of the year. Featuring AC.
First up, though, health care reform. All the angles tonight. Jessica Yellin on the last-minute maneuvering to get a bill through the senate by Christmas. Randi Kaye on the staggering amount of money spent to shape it, $635 million.