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Former Aide Attacks Ron Paul; The GOP Battle For Iowa; The Rich Get Richer In Congress; Sniper Reported In Homs; Sandusky's Wife Worried He'd Be Accused; Some Sears And Kmart Stores Closing; Man Finds Owner Of $10,000; Haitians Battle for Restitution from U.N. for Cholera Outbreak; GOP Candidates Spend Big On Ads

Aired December 27, 2011 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Randi Kaye. It's 1:00 Eastern. Let's get straight to the news.

One week ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Ron Paul's presidential campaign is blasting allegations from a former aid that Paul opposed the war in Afghanistan, is personally uncomfortable around gays, and thinks Israel, quote, "is more trouble than it's worth." At the same time, in an online essay, Eric Dondero insists his former boss is not anti-semitic, not a racist, and not homophobic. The Paul campaign called Dondero a disgruntled former staffer with zero credibility. He'll join me on the phone in our next segment and we will ask the tough questions.

With one week to the Iowa caucuses, it's an easy guess where most of the major Republican presidential candidates are today. You guessed it, five, in fact, crisscrossing the hawkeye state right now or will be later today. That includes Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. On the ground right now in Iowa, Rick Sanatorium making a stop at the GOP headquarters in Fort Dodge. Romney was on the stump in New Hampshire this morning but is expected in Iowa later today.

Next Tuesday's battle is the first contest in the race for the Republican nomination. For those living in Iowa, you can expect an explosion of campaign television and radio commercials. The latest American research group poll shows a three-way traffic jam for the top spot with Ron Paul at 21 percent, Romney at 20 percent, Gingrich at 19 percent. The poll also indicates this key point, 12 percent of likely caucus goers are still undecided at this late date.

You don't have to be rich to get elected to Congress but it certainly helps, and you'll have lots of company there. Data analyzed by the "The New York Times" shows the freshman class of 2010 had a median net worth of $864,000 up 26 percent from 2004. "The Washington Post" reports that from 1984 and 2009 the median wealth of House members rose from $280,000 to $725,000. In that same period, the wealth of ordinary Americans much, much smaller to begin with, dropped.

Later this hour, I'll talk with a researcher who finds lawmakers do better than the average investor in the stock market, that's coming up in "Facetime" just about 15 minutes from now. Going overseas now and the deadly government crackdown in Syria. Arab league monitors are now in the country and visited the city of Homs which has been under siege for weeks. Tens of thousands of protesters were in the streets, witnesses say security forces attacked anti-government protesters while the monitors were still there. The Arab League team is in Syria to determine if the government of president Barshar al-Assad is upholding his pledge to end the month long crackdown. Rights groups say the dozens of protesters were killed yesterday.

Police in Detroit say three of four women found dead in car trunks have been linked to online sex ads, all of the victims are in their 20s. Police say three of the women had profiles on Backpage.com, it's a Web site used to buy and sell things, but it also offers adult services.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH GODBEE, CHIEF, DETROIT POLICE: We felt that it's imperative to alert the public that deciding to meet unknown persons via the Internet can be extremely dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Police say the deaths could be connected but are stopping short of saying that are linked to a serial killer.

We're now finding out the wife of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky apparently had concerns about his behavior long before he was investigated for raping several young boys. "Patriotic News" talked to a family friend who said Dottie Sandusky feared her husband could be falsely accused because people might perceive things the wrong way and that he had, quote, "boundary issues." Now, 10 men have accused the former Penn State assistant coach of sexually abusing them as children. Earlier this month, Dottie Sandusky said her husband is innocent and denied knowing anything about the alleged abuse.

Well, Christmas is over but it seems the Grinch is still hanging around. Sears Holdings says it's closing between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores because of poor holiday sales. The company has yet to identify the stores to be closed and it isn't saying how many, if any, jobs will be cut. There are more than 4,000 Sears and Kmart stores in the U.S. Sears stock took a hit on Wall Street in early trading this morning. Alison Kosik is at New York Stock Exchange for us today. Hi there, Alison. So, what is Sears stock doing right now?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Sears stock's still getting hammered and guess what? Sear is not selling enough hammers. You look at shares, tumbling right now, more than 20 percent. In fact, Sears has lost half their value just this year, Randi. Sears is not only closing stores, but also sending a warning shot about profit and sales for the quarter so really not such a huge surprise to see these investors running for the exits -- Randi.

KAYE: How bad were the -- were the sales -- the holiday sales for Sears and Kmart this year? KOSIK: You know what? The sales for Sears and Kmart were pretty bad. The company says sales this quarter, they're down more than five percent overall, six percent lower at Sears, down more than four percent at Kmart and then you see how overall holiday sales did this holiday shopping season, they were expected to rise by about three percent this year. So, then you see how bad it is for Sears right now. You know, it's just the old saying, you know, in business, winners and losers. Sears, Randi, it just was a big loser this season -- Randi.

KAYE: Yes, it certainly seems that way. Alison Kosik at the Stock Exchange. Of course, Alison, thank you.

A former Ron Paul campaign aide lit a fire about former boss. The Paul campaign said he is just disgruntled. The aide joins me live next to explain.

But first, as Colorado's Mitch Gilbert left Las Vegas a few weeks ago, he hit the jackpot. At the airport, he found two envelopes, inside $10,000 cash. But instead of keeping it, he actually tracked down the rightful owner and returned the money.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I wanted to show my kids the right thing to do, because if it happened to me, I sure would want that back. You think about the bills you can pay. It felt so good to be able to get it back to the guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: And for doing the right thing, Mitch Gilbert, you are today's "Rock Star."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: There is just a week to go until the first votes are cast in Iowa. Right now, Ron Paul is leading in the latest polls, but there is another story about him that is burning up the conservative blogs. You may remember last week the stories about racist anti- semitic and homophobic comments attributed to Ron Paul in newsletters that were written years ago. The Paul campaign and the candidate himself disavowed any knowledge of those writings.

But now a former aide, his name is Eric Dondero, whom the campaign says was fired years ago has some startling new details about what makes Ron Paul tick. It comments in an article in the conservative "Weekly Standard." Here are just a couple of those nuggets Dondero contributes to Ron Paul. Quoting here, "Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the American taxpayer." Paul also was quoted as saying, was -- he was opposed to the war in Afghanistan, and to any military reaction to the attacks of 9/11.

And Paul, quote, "does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in World War II." Joining me now, on the telephone, is Eric Dondero. Eric, let me first ask you this. You defend Ron Paul by saying that he isn't racist nor is he homophobic, but these comments don't exactly paint him in a very sympathetic light. So, what was your motive in getting this stuff out there in the first place right now? I mean, is this a personal vendetta against Ron Paul?

ERIC DONDERO, FORMER AIDE, REP. RON PAUL (via telephone): Oh, no, no. I like Ron personally. In fact, I just live like 10 or 12 miles away from him there in Texas. I'll state categorically, I worked for the guy on and off for almost 15 years and I don't recall ever hearing any racist word or anything even close to a racist word out of his mouth, like the n-word or something derogatory towards Mexican-Americans. So is he personally racist? No, absolutely not. Now, the homosexual stuff, that might be a little more iffy. I mean, it's up to the individuals to interpret that the way they please. The way they think -- whether or not he's a homophobe or not. That's up to them.

KAYE: Well, you say that you like him and this isn't a personal vendetta. It sounds like you're sort of walking a fine line here between trying to defend him but also throwing him under the bus at the same time.

DONDERO: Yes, I know that. I mean, he's a nice guy and I don't think he's got a mean bone in his body but it's his foreign policy that I have serious problems with. And you know, he said some untrue things, and particularly in Iowa, in the last couple of weeks. I mean, and things that have skirted the edge of straight-out 9/11 trutherism (ph), and I want to make sure that the libertarian movement is not associated with those sort of far out views on foreign policy.

KAYE: Well, I know that you're not -- you're not a fan of his foreign policy. You called that -- you called it pretty extreme, in fact, you called it sheer lunacy. So, why did you stay with and work with the Congressman for so long then?

DONDERO: Well, OK, because in the mid-'90s he really mellowed out. He moderated his tone. We were in a Congressional race in Texas in a conservative district. You know, Ron Paul attended two George Bush events in the mid-'90s. I mean, he played the role of, you know, I'm a gung ho Republican. And if you go back to the campaign back then he was very much a loyal Republican. And then it kind of changed in 2000, 2001, with the 911 attacks. All of a sudden, foreign policy became everything with him.

KAYE: I want to read you what the Paul campaign has told us. And we reached out to the campaign, we asked Ron Paul if he would come on the show today. He turned us down, but the Paul campaign did issue us this statement saying that Eric is a disgruntled former staffer who was fired. They also say you have zero credibility and shouldn't be taken seriously. So let me address the first issue, just to be clear. Were you fired by the Paul campaign back in 2003?

DONDERO: Absolutely not. That is a complete and utter lie. And there's an e-mail out from the former chief of staff, Tom Lazar, that says that that is not true.

KAYE: So, you're saying the campaign is lying?

DONDERO: I resigned over his opposition to the war in Iraq, very specifically, in 2003. So, these people that are putting this out, they weren't around back then. I mean, they -- this Jesse Benton guy, I mean, he came on the -- I guess Ron Paul staff in like 2007, and that's like four or five years after I left the staff. So, they don't know what they're talking about. They don't know what Ron Paul's staff was like back in the early 2000s. So, they have no credibility on this issue.

KAYE: So you're saying you resigned on your own?

DONDERO: Correct. Absolutely correct.

KAYE: And what is your reaction to them saying that you have zero credibility to the campaign saying that?

DONDERO: You know, they're just mad because of the foreign policy differences. I -- you know? They're furious over that. They're mad that at one time Ron actually employed somebody who's pro- defense and pro-military and I am a veteran. And Ron in the mid-1990s purposely hired veterans because we were running in a very conservative district and he really played up that pro-military card. And then, like I said, in 2001 everything changed with 911. He felt -- he started feeling safe in the Congressional district. And he -- you know, pacified the Victoria Republicans -- down in Victoria County, the conservative Reagan idee (ph) Republicans and once they were pacified, he knew he could keep the seat. Then all the craziness started about 2001, 2002.

KAYE: I want to ask you, Eric, do you have a role in any other campaign, and if so, does that candidate support what you're doing here?

DONDERO: I work as a professional political petitioner. I do a lot of different campaigns all around the country. Like --

KAYE: Are you working on behalf of any other GOP candidate?

(CROSSTALK)

DONDERO: Like in San Diego. I petition (ph) a lot in -- I love -- I've been there for five months in California.

KAYE: Are you working on behalf of any other GOP candidate?

DONDERO: I -- at the moment, I'm working -- at least two candidates trying to get them on the ballot as a petitioner, but I'm not directly connected with any political campaign. I'm a contract employee for petitioners.

KAYE: And have you heard directly from the Paul campaign about your comments? About your comments?

DONDERO: No. I don't think they want to contact me. I'd love to talk to them. And, you know what? I'll tell you this much. If Ron continues to deny this sort of thing, I'll -- you know, I have no problem with flying to Iowa and directly confronting him on this. You know, he's an old friend of mine. He knows what he said. He know what he said back in 2001. All the truther stuff and blaming Bush and Cheney and that they knew about the attacks before -- beforehand and all that. He knows what he said and I'd be more than willing to go up to him and confront him to his face and say, Ron, look me in the eye and tell me you didn't tell that -- say that.

KAYE: And just very quickly, before I have to let you go here, how much of this is about the publicity and the spotlight? Because I understand on your blog, you actually made a list of all the media that have reached out to you and tried to call you today.

DONDERO: That's just for my personal readers. For my libertarian Republican blog. And, you know what, I wanted to keep this amongst the conservative blogs. I thought that's what all -- that's all it was going to go to was conservative blogs. And, oh my God, it took on a life of its own yesterday. And now it's almost getting to be sort of an annoyance, if you can believe that or not. But, no, I thought this was just going to stay amongst conservative blog friends that I knew and one national media got a hold of it and, boom, it's exploded.

KAYE: It certainly has. Eric Dondero, thank you very much for your time today.

DONDERO: Great. Thanks.

KAYE: Has the economic downturn bypassed Capitol Hill? Coming up, why so many in Congress seem to be sitting pretty while the rest of the country struggles.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: The rich have always been well represented on Capitol Hill, but never more than today. While less than 1 percent of Americans qualify as millionaires, almost half the current members of Congress do.

And take a look at this. A "Washington Post" analysis of lawmakers' finances shows the median net worth of House members surged from roughly $280,000 in 1984 to $725,000, 15 years later. That's not even including home equity. By contrast, the net worth of ordinary Americans, again not counting homes, dropped from $20,600 to $20,500.

Wealth in Congress has even outpaced that of the richest 10 percent of everybody else. So, what is going on here? Alan Ziobrowski is a professor at Georgia State University who studies one intriguing piece of this puzzle, lawmakers' stock portfolios.

Professor, welcome to the program. You found lawmakers outperform the general public in stock picks. How much are we talking about here?

ASSOC. PROF. ALAN ZIOBROWSKI, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: We're talking about, for members of the Senate, we're talking about 1 percent a month or 12 percent a year. For members of the House, about half that much, or 6 percent a year.

KAYE: And what should we -- what should we make of that?

ZIOBROWSKI: Well, our analysis suggests that they're trading on information that the rest of us simply don't have, which is certainly given their position in terms of the things that they deal with every day, it certainly makes sense.

KAYE: So they're trading on non-public information because they're not held to the same rules?

ZIOBROWSKI: Yes, they're not held to the same rules as us. They're -- well, they're held to the same rules as us, but the bottom line is that they have information that the rest of us don't have. Basically the things that they deal with every day include things like tax policy, regulation and also federal spending. And the result, of course, is that they're the first ones to know the tax laws are going to change, or the regulations are going to change. But that affords them tremendous opportunities in terms of their ability to trade.

KAYE: Right. So what is the answer here? What do you think should be done? What needs to be done?

ZIOBROWSKI: Well, back in 2005, the Stock Act was proposed. The Stock Act was basically designed to outlaw trading by members of the Congress and their staffs. And in addition to that, it also required immediate or not immediate (INAUDIBLE) as to what the trade. (INAUDIBLE) and that sort of died until the (INAUDIBLE) --

KAYE: All right, I think we've lost the connection there.

Professor, thank you very much for the information.

A 20-month-old toddler is snatched out of her own home just before Christmas. Now her emotional grandfather is begging for answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REYNOLDS, AYLA'S GRANDFATHER: Bring her home. Just bring her home to us. I want my baby home. I want her home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: The search for little Ayla Reynolds is next.

And the man who allegedly shot this soldier at his homecoming is now behind bars. Why police say this man pulled the trigger and how he was caught.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: In today's "Crime & Consequence," the man accused of shooting and paralyzing a U.S. soldier in California has turned himself in. San Bernardino Police say a fight broke out over football at a homecoming party for Christopher Sullivan. Nineteen-year-old Ruben Ray Jurado is accused of then firing two shots into Sullivan's back. The family says they've been told the 22-year-old soldier is now paralyzed from the neck down. Sullivan was returning home from Kentucky where he'd been recovering from a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. Sullivan got the purple heart after that attack.

A community in Maine has banded together and collected $30,000 to offer as a reward. They hope it helps bring 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds home. Last seen in her bed just days before Christmas, police believe she was abducted. Her father, Justin DiPietro, was caring for Ayla while her mother completed a rehab program. Once she got out, Trista Reynolds filed for custody. The next day the baby went missing. Reynolds blames Ayla's father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRISTA REYNOLDS, MISSING BABY'S MOTHER: I trusted him to keep her safe. And now she is missing. And I don't know where she is. And I blame him right now because he did not protect her the way that he was supposed to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: DiPietro says he has no idea what happened. Grandfather Ronald Reynolds just wants Ayla back home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REYNOLDS, AYLA'S GRANDFATHER: Bring her home. Just bring her home to us. I want my baby home. I want her home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Police are hoping the reward will help them break the case.

Texas authorities are expected to release the names of those who were shot and killed by a man dressed as a Santa Claus at a Christmas gathering. The seven kill are all related either by blood or marriage. Police say the shooter is among the dead and also a family member. They are trying to piece together what happened and are investigating whether divorce was a factor in the shooting. The victims range in age from the late 50s to as young as 15.

One week to Iowa. Which GOP candidate has the most to win and the most to lose? Plus, turns out Newt Gingrich was actually for Mitt Romney's health care plan before he was against it. Really? It is all "Fair Game" and it is coming up next.

But first, our political junkie question of the day. What percentage of Iowans are expected to take part in the caucuses next Tuesday? If you know the answer, send me a tweet @randikayecnn. I'll give a shout- out to the first person with the right answer when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Before the break, I asked you, what percentage of Iowans are expected to take part in next Tuesday's caucuses. The answer is less than 5 percent, around 150,000 out of the more than three million people in this state. We had a bunch of responses. Unfortunately -- this is the first time this has happened -- nobody got it right. So we'll have to try again tomorrow. Thanks for playing.

Now it's time to get to the heart of the political debate where it's all "Fair Game." And we all know there's just one week left to go until the first votes are cast in Iowa.

Let's bring in my guests today. Republican analyst, Lenny McAllister; and Democratic strategist, Robert Zimmerman.

Hello to both of you.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good to be with you.

KAYE: Ron Paul is leading in the latest poll.

But, Lenny, you say that a win by Ron Paul in Iowa means nothing. Why is that?

LENNY MCALLISTER, REPUBLICAN ANALYST: It doesn't mean much because he's not able to ride the momentum moving forward into the next primary contest. He has that nice little pocket that can influence caucus elections. However, when it comes to primary statewide elections and things along those lines, he doesn't have enough support to move forward with this. All this will basically show is Republicans in 2012 will be more judicious in picking a candidate than Democrats in 2008. The Democrats basically cast aside their best candidate in Iowa, put her in third place behind a trend and a guy that was trying to cover up an affair. At least the Republicans are more judicious in picking their candidate. And Ron Paul --

(CROSSTALK)

ZIMMERMAN: Lenny, I have to give you credit --

(CROSSTALK)

MCALLISTER: -- indicate to others -- what a Ron Paul victory basically indicates to others that, listen, we are going to go through the process and pick the right person for the job in 2012.

KAYE: Robert, I know you want to jump in here.

(LAUGHTER)

ZIMMERMAN: I've got to give you credit, Lenny, you're the only one who can take a Ron Paul victory into a spin against Democrats in 2008.

(LAUGHTER)

So it's a good try. But the reality is a Ron Paul victory is significant. Not that Ron Paul's going to win the nomination. But it does further demonstrate how it really blocks the anti-Romney movement from coalescing and coming together. A Ron Paul victory if it takes place in Iowa or even a strong finish, is a big benefit to Mitt Romney and his campaign for the nomination, just strategically speaking.

MCALLISTER: So let's -- I want to talk a little bit about --

MCALLISTER: I don't know about that.

KAYE: Hold on. Let's move on here because I have a few questions to get to.

I want to talk about Newt Gingrich and a report from "Wall Street Journal." On the campaign trail, you both know that Gingrich has been an outspoken critic of Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, calling it a blueprint for President Obama's plan. but apparently, back in 2006, a former consulting group of Gingrich's put out this, under the heading "Newt's Notes," "The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system." And then this about the individual mandate plan. The memo says, "We strongly agree with this principle."

The Gingrich campaign responded to the story, saying that Gingrich wasn't endorsing that plan. He did actually have some criticism for it and that he didn't write the notes associated with that. But they also say that Newt previously supported a mandate for health insurance and changed his mind after seeing its effects. But he did support this, actually, in a television interview in May, as recently as May, I believe, on "Meet the Press."

Let's start with you, Lenny. What do you make of the latest controversy?

MCALLISTER: It wouldn't be that big of a deal if he wasn't determined to be a super conservative right now. Gingrich was doing well showing that he was more conservative than Romney, but also, not too conservative where he can talk to the Independents, talk to the moderates, and make sense of things and do that during the debates.

Now that he's gone off the tracks with that a little bit, these types of things make him look like a hypocrite. And a guy with personal issues -- people are slamming in on the three marriages, et cetera. Coming across as a hypocrite on such a major issue that he's been bashing Romney on does not play well. He needs to get back on script. Listen, I'm more conservative than Romney and moderate enough to talk to Independent that are disgruntled with President Obama to win in November 2012.

KAYE: Robert, your take?

ZIMMERMAN: Lenny, the problem in your party is the right hand doesn't know what the extreme right hand is doing. Let's be realistic. The concept of a mandate for health care was originally a conservative principle. It was a cornerstone of the Heritage Foundation. It was advocating by many leading conservative members of Congress.

But the issue here is that Mitt Romney -- Newt Gingrich, in this matter, is not only a hypocrite on this, but he also did a commercial with Nancy Pelosi endorsing climate change. And he also claimed to be -- at one point, he was a historical adviser to Freddie Mac. And he was also, at one point, a consultant to the health industry. So the bottom line is, as each of these try to be -- try to play to the extreme right wing of their own party, they lose credibility. And it also blocks the winning of the Independent vote, which you point out is so critical.

KAYE: I want to ask you one final question. The Gingrich campaign has promised, of course, not to go negative, but they did say this. This coming from his campaign communications director, saying, can we trust a Massachusetts moderate to enact a conservative agenda. Now, that's part of an attack in an ad that Mitt Romney put out, touting himself as the conservative businessman.

So does this show now that Gingrich seems to be going slightly negative? Does it show a sign of desperation, Lenny?

MCALLISTER: It does show that he's willing to go negative. And surprisingly enough, talking about the moderate wing of the Republican Party, this makes Jon Huntsman look good. He won't come out of nowhere and win Iowa or place there. But the endorsement he got last week in New Hampshire and now, with conservatives looking and saying, maybe we have overlooked Huntsman a little bit too much. with him not going negative and being stronger in these debates and kind of being steady with his campaign, these type of things make somebody like a Jon Huntsman maybe get that one more look before we really go towards Super Tuesday.

KAYE: Yes. Let me let Robert weigh in here.

ZIMMERMAN: Lenny, the bottom line to the issue is, Newt Gingrich would have gone negative earlier if he could have afforded to have gone negative. And he would have done much more than a slight reference in an e-mail if he could have afforded to. Obviously, he's failed to respond to the attacks he's confronted. But it speaks to a bigger issue in the Republican Party. The reason you're not seeing any of the candidates galvanize more than 20 percent of the electorate, the reason they've been so divided amongst themselves is they're not building coalitions of support. They're running infomercials for anger management therapy. Because all they're doing is playing to the anger in their party.

MCALLISTER: You know who they don't like, Robert.

KAYE: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MCALLISTER: Barack Obama.

ZIMMERMAN: But you have to know what you believe in to lead to and you have to know what you believe in.

KAYE: All right, thank you both very much.

Robert Zimmerman, Lenny McAllister.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you. KAYE: That is "Fair Game" for today.

MCALLISTER: Thank you both.

KAYE: Still ahead, thousands of Haitians killed by a nationwide cholera outbreak. Now victims are locked in a battle for millions of dollars of compensation. I'll speak to their attorney right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Just over a year ago, earthquake-devastated Haiti was hit by a deadly outbreak of cholera. Since then, the government says more than 6,000 people have died and 4,000 others sickened by the disease, a story we think is under covered. Now, a human rights group is suing the U.N. on behalf of more than 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and their families, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Evidence suggests the cholera was inadvertently brought to Haiti by Nepalese troops with the U.N. peacekeeping force. A study by the U.N. found a local contractor failed to properly dispose of the waste at a U.N. base. Attorneys for the victims accuse the U.N. of reckless failure in containing the outbreak.

We received the following statement of the U.N. "The United Nations has received the claim by the Institute for Justice and Democracy and is currently considering the matter. As this concerns a legal claim, we cannot comment on it."

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is based in Boston. Brian Concannon is the group's director.

Thank you, Brian, for joining us today.

What, if anything, have you heard from the U.N. beyond the statement we just read?

BRIAN CONCANNON, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE AND DEMOCRACY: We've heard just that statement. They're studying it. In the meantime, an estimated 40,000 more Haitians have been sick and probably about 300 people have died, and so this is an urgent matter and does require an urgent response. So it's disconcerting that the U.N. is taking so much time to come up with an initial response.

KAYE: How do you intend to prove that the U.N. is responsible?

CONCANNON: Most of the proof is in the U.N.'s own report. The U.N. issued a report by a panel of experts in May which cited overwhelming evidence that it was -- that the cholera was introduced from Nepal and it cited the failure to test peacekeepers coming from Nepal where everybody knew there was a cholera epidemic. And also, the improper -- as you mentioned, the improper waste disposal, which allowed contamination of Haiti's largest river system in two different places. So the proof in the U.N. report is actually all we really need. There have been other studies that are more conclusive in terms of the genetics of the cholera strain. It's actually a very easy case in terms of the actual proof. The hard part is getting to court, which the U.N. has been resisting.

KAYE: But from what I understand, U.N. forces are immune to criminal charges. How do you get around that?

CONCANNON: The U.N. has an agreement with Haiti called the Status of Forces Agreement that protects it from Haitian courts. But there have been other courts, not in Haiti and not with the U.N., but other courts that said that immunity cannot mean impunity. And they said that with the Status of Forces Agreement, the U.N. has a responsibility to set up an alternative dispute mechanism -- dispute resolution mechanism. And in other cases, the courts have said, if the international organization does not set up a fair, alternative mechanism, then they'll refuse to respect the immunity provision. So we think that if the U.N. does not come back with a response soon, we can go in to Haitian or U.S. courts.

KAYE: Just very quickly, before we have to go here, can you let us know how you think the Haitian government is handling the outbreak and how things are going?

CONCANNON: Well, it's the worst Cholera epidemic in the world. There's -- over 200 people are dying each month and this is a year later. Obviously, it has not been handled well. What needs to be happening -- this is what the clients are asking, is for the clean water and sanitation and health care structures put in to place to control the epidemic.

KAYE: Brian Concannon, appreciate your time. Thank you.

From Libya to Cairo and all the way to Wall Street, protesters occupied places throughout the world in 2011. The defining moments of the year from the movements that brought historic change.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: As the New Year approaches, we can't forget the defining events of 2011. From Cairo to Wall Street, protesters were front and center. The protester even made the front page as "Time" magazine's "Person of the Year." So with that, let's take a look at the movements that brought change around the globe.

Here's CNN's Zain Verjee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the year of people power, of revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something I've never seen before, a phalanx of men on horseback and on camels.

VERJEE: -- and bloodshed that doomed a dictator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one's going home. No one's going to go home. We're in this to the end. Even if it means we are going to die.

VERJEE: It started with one man in one country, Tunisia, who set himself on fire when the police confiscated his fruit cart, leaving him with no way to make money. That set off a movement that kicked out long-time president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The region was gripped with freedom fever. Fueled by social media, protests erupt in Algeria, then Yemen.

(SHOUTING)

VERJEE: Its leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, seriously injured when his palace was shelled, left the country for treatment, returned and later gave up power.

(SHOUTING)

VERJEE: Protests in Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan.

Egyptians filled Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo, protesting police.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These protests have gone on all day long. It's now almost 5:00 in the afternoon. It's two hours after curfew has begun but still the square is packed with people. And these protests will likely go well in to the night.

VERJEE: Their demand -- long-time ruler, Hosni Mubarak, has to go. By February, he was gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ever imagine that this would be happening in Egypt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never. A month ago, I would never have imagined. For me, I'm a young man and I always believed that my generation will never make any history.

(SHOUTING)

VERJEE: The Arab Spring then hits Libya. The opposition's galvanized to get hid of Gadhafi. NATO launches air support. The country becomes a war zone. Tripoli eventually falls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is an important day, especially for the rebels who Gadhafi said would never be able to break his spirit, never be able to take the city.

VERJEE: Eight bloody months later, the tyrant was dead.

(SHOUTING)

VERJEE: The world's attention now focused on Syria. Will it be the next domino to fall? Even with the brutal crackdown of the regime, demonstrators are on the streets. According to the U.N., at least 5,000 have been killed since March.

(SHOUTING) (GUNFIRE)

VERJEE: Some fight for their freedom, others protest for bread and butter.

In Europe, thousands demonstrate, angry at tough economic conditions. Furious protesters in Greece battled with riot police for weeks against pay cuts and layoffs.

(on camera): This is a suicide faith earlier on by the Bank of Greece governor. He said, if we don't pass this, the country's gone.

VERJEE (voice-over): In England, peaceful protests turned ugly. Discontented youth fought with police and looted and destroyed parts of the city.

(SHOUTING)

In September, the Wall Street movement started in New York, and soon gripped major capitals around the world, condemning the wealthiest 1 percent for leaving the other 99 percent out in the cold.

(SHOUTING)

VERJEE: And by December, a glimpse of people power in Russia. Thousands marched, rejecting election results favoring Vladimir Putin's party, frustrated, too, with corruption and economic stagnation.

2011 shattered and rattled the political orders of the world.

COOPER: This will send shockwaves throughout the region.

VERJEE: Setting in motion a wave of discontent that promises to wash into the years to come.

Zain Verjee, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: The countdown begins, just one week until the Iowa caucuses. Will voters ban together and pick and clear frontrunner or just muddy the water even more. Joe Johns joins us live from the Hawkeye State -- there he is -- coming your way next.

Plus, a woman allegedly held hostage in her home by this man. Escapes, the social media web site she used to call for help. You don't want to miss this story.

But first, a story of dumb and then really, really dumb. Take a look at these photos. You see a group of Pittsburgh teens posing with about $8,000 in cash. Where did they get it? Police say they robbed a store, then posted the pictures to Facebook the same day for all their friends to see. But one of their relatives saw the photos and tipped off police. Now all four suspects are facing burglary charges. So to these dim wits, we have to say, here is your 15 minutes. Enjoy it.

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KAYE: Time to check stories making headlines at "Street Level."

First, in Colorado, a family survived for two days in their SUV after being buried under four feet of snow. Mom, dad and a 5-year-old girl were on their way to New Mexico for a ski vacation and got stuck in a snowdrift. They tried to ride out the storm but snow and ice quickly piled up on the car. It took rescue crews two days to find the car. Dad said they were running out of oxygen and getting really cold. Just last hour, he spoke to CNN's Drew Griffin.

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DAVID HIGGINS, STUCK IN SNOWDRIFT: We never realized the snow would end up four feet over the top of our vehicle and we would be encased or entombed inside that vehicle. Honestly, I know God guided them to where we were. They said they threw the probe down through the snow ABOUT two or three times when it struck the vehicle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: The family was treated for pneumonia and hypothermia and they are all expected to be OK.

To Hendersonville, North Carolina. Watch this. An armed robber, looking for a fist full of cash when we burst into a "We Buy Gold" store. Instead, he only got a fist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEREK MOTHERSHEAD, STORE CLERK: I was scared about the gun. When I made my mind up, I said, I got to hit him with everything I got.

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KAYE: Reports say the clerk even made the battered would-be robber clean up his own blood. The guy is in now custody charged with attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon.

To Clarksville, Tennessee. Roma Harrison is trying to sell her house, not rent it. So when a would-be renter called about her home, she was surprised. She checked and found several fake rental listings for her home. Someone else was offering up her house for rent. Police say an online scammer put up an ad with her information hoping to bilk potential renters out of phony deposits.

To the suburbs of Salt Lake City now. A woman from Sandy (ph), Utah, told police that Troy Critchfield, the father of her 17-month- old, held her and her baby hostage for five days. She was rescued after hiding in a closet and asking for help on Facebook. Critchfield is now in police custody being held without bail. Also in Salt Lake, a family was shocked to find a deer inside their home on Christmas Eve. The five-foot buck wasn't one of Santa's reindeer. Instead of landing on the roof, if apparently crashed through the basement window. It was stuck for two hours in this room. The family found it trampling over their Christmas gifts. Wildlife officers came to the house and unfortunately they said they had to put the deer down in order to get him out.

Let's check in with Joe Johns. He is in Iowa checking on all things related to the upcoming caucus.

Joe, how is it going there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Real good, Randi. We're looking at the ads the candidates are putting out in the final days. I tell you, it's been a real barrage. Millions of dollars of ads on television. They call it the TV war. Some of these, of course, have been attack ads.

Notably, as you talk to the experts, a number of those ads, perhaps a disproportionate number, depending on who your perspective comes from, have been aimed at Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House. He blames those ads for bringing his poll numbers down.

Now, we can just sort of go to one of these ads. I wanted to give you some idea, at least a flavor of what we're talking about here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD NARRATOR: Know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gingrich's baggage. Newt has more baggage than the airlines. Freddie Mac helped cause the economic collapse, but Gingrich cashed in. Freddie Mac paid Newt $30,000 an hour, $1.6 million. Gingrich not only --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So who is spending the most on these ads? Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney among them, have spent huge numbers, a couple of those over a million dollars, we think. It could be more than that by the end of the day.

The other story about ads here, coming out of Iowa, is about the ads being paid for by so-called super political action committees. These are the groups that say they're not affiliated or related to a specific candidate. Nonetheless, do things to try to benefit that candidate. We've seen just an explosion of ads of that type. And we expect to see more as this campaign goes on -- Randi?

KAYE: Joe, does it seem as though the candidates are connecting? So many people there still haven't made up their minds when they go to the polls. Do they seem to be connecting with the voters there?

JOHNS: You know, that's really interesting. There's something like 10 percent, 12 percent undecided, according to some of the last polling. The other thing that's been really interesting, when you look at these numbers, a lot of the people say their support is soft. They say they supported one person and could support someone else, in other words, change their minds by the time we get to the caucuses. There's been a lot of picking and choosing going on. It makes it clear that people just aren't settled in the decisions, at least not yet. But now, the real ground game gets started where you see a lot of retail politicking in Iowa and that could get people to solidify their positions -- Randi?

KAYE: Our Joe Johns watching it for us in Des Moines, Iowa. Joe, thank you very much.

Remember, next Tuesday night, the country's first real votes and the candidates' first true test taking place in the Iowa caucuses. Watch it unfold live with the best political team on television. "America's Choice 2012" coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins Tuesday night, January 3rd. That's 7:00 p.m. eastern -- mark your calendar -- right here on CNN.

Thanks everyone for watching today. As always, I'd love to hear what you think. You can continue the conversation with me online. You can find me on Facebook or Twitter at randikayecnn.

That will do it for me today. I will now hand it over to Isha Sesay.

Hi there, Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Randi.