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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Veterans Charity Official Speaks; High-Stakes Fiscal Face-Off; Edwards Defense Rests; Edwards Defense Rests; Sex, Lies and Backpage.Com; Backpage Under Pressure To Shut Down; U.N. Monitors Safe After Syrian Attack; Mississippi Highway Shootings; Posthumous Medal Of Honor Awarded; Solar Eclipse Sunday
Aired May 16, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.
We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with a report about a group that claims to be raising money for disabled veteran. Now when you hear someone say they're helping disabled veterans, it sounds like a great cause, a great organization. But we've been investigating this organization for years now. We brought you our reports last week. And what we've discovered, well, it's going to outrage you.
It's called -- this group is called the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. They have an official-looking seal. That's it right there. And they've raised a lot of money. According to their own tax filings, they've raised nearly $56 million in the past three years. $56 million. With that kind of money, you'd think there would be a lot of disabled veterans who they'd help directly, but that's not what we found.
In fact one man who runs a group for veterans accuses them of stealing. Out and out stealing. For months we tried to get them to answer our questions and you'd think they would want to, wouldn't you? I mean you'd think they'd want to show exactly where the money has gone but they've slammed doors in our reporters' face and refused to answer questions.
Of that nearly $56 million, how much do you think has gone to directly help disabled veterans? Ninety percent? Fifty percent? We haven't been able to find any of it that's actually gone to help disabled veterans directly. They do send stuff to some veterans groups, truckloads of stuff, stuff that they actually get for free. Stuff that veterans groups that we've talked to say they didn't want, they didn't ask for, and they don't even need.
Here's what one veterans center director told us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J.D. SIMPSON, SAINT BENEDICT'S VETERANS SHELTER: They sent us 2600 bags of cough drops and 2200 little bottles of sanitizer. And the great thing they sent us was 11,520 bags of coconut M&Ms.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Coconut M&Ms. Thousands of bags. More than 11,000 bags. We've reported on this group a couple of times the last few weeks and our Drew Griffin wanted to ask the president of this group, the DVNF, about those coconut M&Ms and the $56 million. Here's what happened when he originally tracked her down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRECILLA WILKEWITZ, PRESIDENT, DISABLED VETERANS NATIONAL FOUNDATION: You're the one from CNN that we've been talking --
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (on camera): That's right.
(Voice-over): Meet Precilla Wilkewitz, president of the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. We found at a small VFW office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
WILKEWITZ: Well, this is the Veterans of Foreign Wars and I really didn't think you'd do something like this. And we've agreed to talk to you -- answer your questions.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Nobody has agreed. So -- and so here's the question --
WILKEWITZ: Thank you so much.
GRIFFIN: You've raised over three years and none of the money has gone to any veterans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Again, they've raised $56 million. You would think they would want to clarify exactly where that money went, right? Well, Drew discovered that that woman, Precilla Wilkewitz, was scheduled to speak today at a veterans conference in Sacramento. So Drew went there hoping she might finally answer his questions.
Guess what, she cancelled her appearance, but Drew was able to find someone else from this organization, the vice president of the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, but apparently she wasn't too happy to see us.
Drew joins me live now from Sacramento, also with us is CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
So, Drew, you tracked down this vice president of this group. Did you get any idea of where all the money is going?
GRIFFIN: I sure did, and I think the headline here, Anderson, is if you gave money, if you donated money to the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, like so many of our viewers tell us they did, and you thought the money was going to actual disabled vets, that is not what this Board of Directors thought when they started this campaign to raise money.
And the first vice president today, Valerie Conley, basically said she has no apologies for how that money was raised and where it went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: I'm here asking actual questions from your donors and our viewers who want to know what happened to that $56 million that they thought they were giving to actual deserved veterans.
VALERIE CONLEY, VICE PRESIDENT, DISABLED VETERANS NATIONAL FOUNDATION: Well, the cost of fundraising is high, as you know. And it has been for many veteran service organizations who use this kind of approach.
GRIFFIN: What is the point of a fundraiser when all of the funds go to your private fundraising company?
CONLEY: Well, not all the funds do.
GRIFFIN: Well, according to the documents we've seen filed by your organization, they all do and more, $56 million. Plus your other seven million --
CONLEY: Well, I think you need to talk to our Washington, D.C., office.
GRIFFIN: Quite frankly, I've been trying for two years to talk to them and I haven't gotten any answers. That's why I had to resort to this kind of nonsense.
CONLEY: Well, I am a volunteer on the board, OK.
GRIFFIN: Are you concerned about how this fundraising drive has gone with your private fundraiser?
CONLEY: No, we have done nothing illegal.
GRIFFIN: I know you have done nothing illegal, but have you done --
CONLEY: What we'd like --
GRIFFIN: Would you like to have more money going to the veterans or some money going to the veterans?
CONLEY: Absolutely. There is money going to the veterans. We approve grants to individual veterans and veterans organizations on a monthly basis.
GRIFFIN: I've seen no evidence of that other than some gifts and kind programs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, Drew, help me out here, she's saying we've done nothing illegal and she claims money is going to veterans and veterans groups. But have you been able to find any evidence of that? GRIFFIN: We have not. And Anderson, I want to reiterate, we have been asking for that specific information now from this very organization for two years. We have yet to see it. We are basing these reports on the tax filings they are required to file and from what we can tell, they are a legitimate, registered, 501(c)(3) in the eyes of the IRS so perhaps it's true they're not doing anything illegal, but I can't imagine anybody who's donating to this group thinks that all their money should be going to a private fundraising company and not any of it to the disabled vets.
COOPER: So Drew, that's -- that's what you found is that this $56 million that they've raised over three years is just going back into more fundraising?
GRIFFIN: It's actually going directly to a company named Quadriga Art, which we've been reporting, Anderson, is one of the largest groups that helps support these fundraising outfits, these charity outfits across the nation, across the world. Five hundred charities, Quadriga boasts. And Quadriga sent us a statement basically saying, yes, this is pretty much legit.
Let me read you that this was part of the campaign. "The Disabled Veterans National Foundation approached us with a unique mission that we believed in. They lacked the donor file and a name recognition and indicated that they needed a significant and accelerated public awareness and education initiative. Given the large number of wounded soldiers returning home amidst insufficient resources to support them."
So they say given their objective, Anderson, the client knowingly chose an aggressive direct mail strategy that resulted in an expected high cost in the beginning of the program. That program has been going on for three years. It's raised $56 million in private donations and as far as we can tell, all of that money went to pay for a mailing list.
I brought that direct quote right to Valerie Conley, the vice president today, and she basically said yes, that was the strategy. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: As a board member, did you have any idea that the cost would be this high? $56 million would be paid for just to get a list of people?
CONLEY: We did not know how fast this would take off and how well it would do.
GRIFFIN: How can you say how well it would do when the money is going to Quadriga?
CONLEY: When we first started this, we didn't know how fast it would take off.
GRIFFIN: You're basically taking money that people want to go into veterans' pockets and giving it to a private company.
CONLEY: It's worth it for every veteran that we can help.
GRIFFIN: No matter what the cost?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, excuse me.
CONLEY: Well, I put on women veterans conferences in my home state. And we spend several thousands of dollars and they are donated dollars, and my philosophy, my personal philosophy has always been that if we could help one veteran, then every dollar we spend is worth it.
GRIFFIN: Even if it's $56 million?
CONLEY: Well, I'm not going to answer that question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: And she didn't answer any more questions. But basically $56 million raised from the public, they thought they were giving it to disabled vets, it went to this charity's ongoing mailing list. And as far as we can tell continues to fund the actual private fundraiser, who is making money off of this.
It's upside down according to every single charity watchdog group we've talked to, Anderson. It makes no sense.
COOPER: Right. They grade this group with like an F. It's outrageous that the woman can stand there and use that cliche phrase, if we can help one veteran, you know -- I mean if they can only help one veteran with $56 million? That's pathetic. And I mean I think the people who've donated money would be shocked at that.
GRIFFIN: And when the help is a bag of coconut M&Ms, I think that's really shocking or as some people have told us, it's just disgusting.
COOPER: With $56 million you should be able to help a lot more than just one vet, if they've even helped that.
Jeff -- Jeff Toobin is here for the legal aspect of that. And we've got a "Digital Dashboard" question on Google Plus, a viewer, Lauren Bradshaw asked, are the DVN's activities or lack thereof actually illegal or just horribly deceptive?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think there's a clear answer to this -- horribly deceptive, not illegal. You know this is a weird little corner of the law frankly that I didn't know about. A number of states over the years have tried to regulate charities. This is not a new kind of behavior. These charities that basically raise money to support themselves and don't do any good.
And what the Supreme Court has said in the series of cases is that raising money for a charity, that a 501( c)(3), is an act protected by the First Amendment. So states that attempt to criminalize how much you use an administrative overhead are unconstitutional, they're violations of the First Amendment. So every attempt to crack down criminally on these kind of operations has failed.
And frankly the only answer seems to be is that donors have to beware. They have to do their research and see that these sort of generically, good-sounding organizations are actually -- and there are these watchdog organizations that Drew mentioned , then you've got to go to them and see that you've given to decent groups.
COOPER: And, Drew, when they talk about getting a mailing list, basically that's a mailing list so that they can raise more money down the road?
GRIFFIN: That's all it is. It's a cycle of funding that perpetuates on its own self. The idea is to get this mailing list so you continue to make more and more money down the road. What's unnerving, and I think we're going to have a follow-up report tomorrow, is another group that contracted with Quadriga Art saying they were basically deceived by this and they're not getting any payoff.
That's what's happening here. By now this group should have had some kind of money in their bank account. They don't. It's all going to the private fundraiser. And like Jeffrey says, you know, the numbers all line up for the IRS, so it's legal.
TOOBIN: And let's be clear, Quadriga is making profits off of this. Quadriga is a private company. You know, maybe these -- the woman you interviewed, she's a volunteer and that the people who actually are involved with this group are sort of good-hearted, if empty-headed, you know, people who want to help veterans.
Quadriga knows exactly what it's doing. It's making a ton of money, of profit, off of these contributions.
COOPER: Well, Drew, it's also fascinating to hear that woman to say, A, that she's a volunteer on the board and that they didn't know it was going to take off. I mean the people that -- that other woman who slammed the door in your face and has avoided your questions for two years, I mean they seem like not ready for primetime players.
This Quadriga, as Jeff said, certainly seems to know what they're doing. These other folks, I mean maybe they are thinking they're doing some good, but $56 million they have raised and it's not going directly to veterans. That's -- it just boggles my mind.
GRIFFIN: Right. And I think Jeffrey's point is correct. These are not -- these are not bad people that are slamming doors in our face, at least they don't appear to be. They have a long service record. They're involved with many volunteer groups. Perhaps they got hoodwinked, duped, got into a contract that they can't seem to get out of.
Quadriga Art, they tell us that they're not making any money, though they will not talk to us on camera and they won't show us any of their books. They are a private company. They're a huge company. And they draw up specific contracts which lock these fundraising -- these charities for long periods of time, six years. And so I think maybe there's a little bit of problem between the company and some people who are not used to dealing in hard ball, fundraising, for-profit enterprises.
COOPER: Right. The flip side of that, though, is if you are a good person who care about disabled vets and you're raising $56 million and you feel like, you know, it's not going to the right place, you have a duty to say it or resign. They're still slamming doors in your face, not answering questions, and still out there raising money and defending this stuff, which again we're going to keep reporting on it.
Drew Griffin is working on this for two years now. Drew, appreciate it. Jeff Toobin as well.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook and Google Plus.
Have you ever heard of anything like this? Follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. I've been tweeting about this. Let me know what you think about it right now on Twitter.
If you're feeling debt ceiling deja vu tonight, you are not alone. Your Congress, well, they're at it again, drawing lines in the sand as they gear up for what looks to be another bitter standoff. Is this just about election year politics? Find out ahead.
COOPER: In "Raw Politics" tonight, your lawmakers are at it again. Remember last year's bitter showdown over deficit reduction plan that led to the brink of a government shutdown, led to the first ever downgraded U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's, the markets tanked, your 401(k) lost a lot of money.
Well, perhaps get ready for a remake. At the White House today President Obama met with four top Senate and House leaders and much of the main focus on the next debt ceiling increase. It's set to go to a vote at the end of the year and familiar lines are already being drawn in the sand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: When the time comes I will again insist. My simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was House Speaker John Boehner yesterday. His office says he delivered the same message today for President Obama.
Now there are conflicts reports about President Obama's response. According to Boehner's office the president said he proposed a debt hike that does not include spending cuts but House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said he talked about honoring the debt deal reached last year, which included spending cuts and White House spokesman Jay Carney said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You have to ask the speaker of the House whether or not he intends or he believes that it is the right thing to do for the American people, the American economy to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States government.
COOPER: Now the only thing both sides could agree on today, and this is maybe fitting, were the sandwiches the president brought to the lunch. The team going to a local deli to buy the hoagies. Good sandwiches, good times, raw politics.
Joining me now, political contributors Ari Fleischer and Paul Begala.
So, Paul, John Boehner is saying the next increase in the debt limit has to be accompanied by dollar to dollar cut. But the GOP budget, Paul Ryan's budget, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it increases the debt by some $5 trillion over 10 years. Why is that OK?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Right. Well, you have to ask the speaker that. I think -- first, let me just say, John Boehner's a patriotic American, he's a good man, he's a good congressman. He leads his party ably. But what he is proposing is to purposefully damage our country, to take the full faith and credit of our nation to the brink. And they did this once and as you noted it hurt the country.
It didn't just hurt the Democrats and the republicans, it hurt a lot of middle class families and we should never do that again. You know the debt ceiling has been raised for 95 years. We used to not have a debt ceiling and there's no real need to have it. It's a contrivance that Congress put in in 1917.
But every time we've done it for 95 years until this past time, it's been done in a bipartisan way because no one has ever wanted to risk our full faith and credit because then you're really risking hurting the country. And I hate to see Speaker Boehner do that. But it's clearly what he's doing and I have to say it looks like it's just politics.
COOPER: Well, Ari, A, is it just politics? I mean, is it a good thing for the country if the debt ceiling vote becomes a regular battle over spending?
ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I think it's a mixture. Anything of this nature has a political element to it, you can't deny that. But on the same token, who is going to try to finally do something about the debt. And that's why this does become a showdown because Washington for too long for both parties have never done anything about the debt.
And you're right, Paul Ryan, the Republicans' budget, would increase the debt by $5 trillion over 10 years but President Obama's budget, if he gets everything he's asked for, would increase it by $10 trillion, twice the amount, taking us from $15 trillion in the hole to $25 trillion in the hole.
So the question is why are politicians in both parties not doing anything about it before the election? We have massive tax hikes going to hit. The payroll tax reduction gets taken away. We have massive sequestered across-the-board cuts coming in defense and health care providers and a debt ceiling that we face.
Why are they punting? Isn't this what we elect them for, to judge them so we can then vote them in or vote them out?
COOPER: Well, Paul, since they're punting, isn't that -- doesn't that make the argument that this is just about election year politics all the stronger and the fact that this is going to get negotiated basically after the election the fact that it's -- they're now kind of rattling saber? Is it just about kind of jockeying?
BEGALA: I think so. As I say, I think that Speaker Boehner is a good person but I think what he is doing here is really dangerous. And it's really surprising to me because we went through this before. And by the way, I will note and I will correct the record, Ari said well, both parties do it. And that's a false equivalency that pundits have to say but that's -- as a falsehood.
Bill Clinton, a Democratic president with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, passed through tax increases and spending cuts that put us on the path toward a balanced budget. The final deal then was cut with a Republican Congress and a Democratic president. Again President Clinton.
You can do this, but it takes both -- it takes more revenue, we hope from the rich because they can afford it, it takes spending cuts. But that's the obvious thing. And for Speaker Boehner to say we're going to risk the full faith and credit of the United States, it's just something you should never mess around with.
FLEISCHER: Anderson, here's the problem on the path we're on. If we don't do anything about our debt we're risking the full faith and credit of the United States. We can't go on having trillion-dollar deficits. We do turn into Greece. We've never had trillion-dollar deficits until the last three years and they don't end.
That's the problem. You can blame it on George Bush if you want but then why --
BEGALA: I want.
FLEISCHER: -- do they continue for the next 10 years under the president's policies. And as Paul looked into the past, I do have to remind you that of course when Barack Obama was the United States senator, he opposed raising the debt limit. He called it unpatriotic to raise the debt limit. And now of course he wants to do what's so- called clean. Well, clean means we don't cut anything. You can't raise the debt limit and not cut spending. That's acquiescence. That's quitting and that's saying we get conquered by debt.
BEGALA: Yes, Ari makes one really important point. I agree with one, I disagree with Senator Obama did vote exactly the way Ari said. And he has said now that he regrets that, but that was, I suspect, political. It was certainly a mistake and Ari is right and fair to point that out. But when he talks about the path that we're on and staying on it -- again, I served President Clinton. I saw how hard it was for him to balance that budget.
We handed it off to Ari's boss, Mr. Bush, and he squandered it. And so I do -- my Republican friends just don't have credibility talking about debt. And I know Ari cares about it and he knows a lot about it. And we worked together on the hill back in the day, Ari, when you were at the Ways and Means Committee staff.
So I know that you care about it. But you've got to say the path we're on, we got on because if we'd have stayed on the path that President Clinton and the Democrats put us on, we would have zero national debt. Zero. But we diverted from that path, mostly with tax cuts for the rich and wars that we put on the national credit card, both of which were passed and then signed into law by President Bush.
COOPER: Ari, final --
FLEISCHER: Number one, what -- what happened in 2001 was we had an Internet bubble that burst, we had an economy that was in decline already in 2000. George Bush inherited that and inherited the recession, actually turned it around in 2003 or 2007 were robust years. The deficit was only $161 billion in 2007.
We'd love to have that again today. But the problem is not what Bill Clinton did or what George Bush did, it's what Barack Obama is doing. He's our leader. We looked to all of them in Washington. We can't have a debt this high.
COOPER: You're -- but Ari, you're saying the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did nothing in terms of the debt?
FLEISCHER: No, of course -- of course they did, Anderson. And here's another bigger issue, too. Every president has to deal with the issues that are on the plate in the era in which they serve. On September 11th, 2001, everyone's response in this country was fight terrorism. Nobody said we need to do something different on how to pay for the war in Afghanistan.
Iraq was an arguable difference but nobody objected to it on the cost basis. There were other objections to it. That was the era of terrorism and that's how it was fought. Every generation then has another issue
. Barack Obama's issue today is debt. It's his job to deal with it. Just as it was George Bush's job to deal with terrorism. That's the major issue we face today, and the Republicans, too. They have to face it as well.
COOPER: Ari, Paul, appreciate it. Thanks.
The defense rests in the John Edwards trial today. No Rielle Hunter, no John Edwards. The question, did they rest because they simply didn't believe the prosecution made a convincing case? Details ahead.
COOPER: New pressure on Backpage.com to shut down its notorious adult services section. Last week I spoke to an attorney for the Web site who claimed police and child advocates say closing shop is not the answer. Well, we made some calls and found out that's not exactly true. We're "Keeping Them Honest," next.
COOPER: In "Crime & Punishment," lawyers for John Edwards rested their case today without calling their client to testify. Also not called Edwards' former mistress, Rielle Hunter, or his daughter, Cate. Now both sides are set for closing arguments tomorrow. The case could be in the jury's hands Friday.
If Edwards is found guilty in all six counts, he face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. Now I spoke to Diane Dimon, a special correspondent for "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast" who's been in the courtroom following the case.
COOPER: Diane, a lot of people thought that Edwards might testify so the jury could hear directly from him. He's obviously got a, you know, experience winning over juries. Any idea why that didn't happen?
DIANE DIMON, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, NEWSWEEK AND DAILY BEAST: Well, I can only imagine that his attorney said no way, Jose. You know, because if he had taken the stand, Anderson, he would have been open to all sorts of cross examination, you know, about his wife, about his mistress, about the time he was caught at the Beverly Hills Hotel visiting the mistress and his infant daughter.
It would have probably done more harm than good and I think they'd probably finally convinced him of that.
COOPER: There had been talk also of his daughter being called, Cate, or even Rielle Hunter to testify.
DIMOND: Yes, you know, we got a big tease yesterday. Abby Lowell, I wrote in "The Daily Beast," that he didn't quite know what to say when the judge asked him who are your witnesses going to be?
So he got up and he said, well, you know, maybe Cate, maybe the defendant, maybe Rielle Hunter, and we all went crazy. But in the end, none of those three were called.
I was a little surprised about Cate not being called. She looked all dressed up yesterday and ready to go. They didn't call her. So I thought today's the day. She didn't even show up in court, Anderson.
So something happened there. Perhaps it was John Edwards himself thinking, you know what, I've done enough damage here. I don't want to put my 30-year-old daughter through this too.
COOPER: What do you make of his defense overall, how they did?
DIMOND: Well, you know, they may have thought that seven witnesses over two days and a little smidge today was enough, because the prosecution didn't prove their case. But I was surprised that they did not put on more witnesses, especially a friend of John Edwards named David Kirby.
This is an attorney who had dealings with Andrew Young and they sort of set it up during the trial that he was going to come here and say that Andrew Young was full of beans. Well, David Kirby never showed up here at all.
So, again, maybe they thought the prosecution did not prove its case and, I'll tell you, the prosecution has a very high bar to cross here. They have to prove after all is said and done that John Edwards knowingly and wilfully broke the campaign finance law.
Now, you know, they have to prove that he knew what the law was and that, well, I'm going to go ahead and break it anyway. That's pretty tough to prove.
COOPER: The jury might get the case by Friday. Do you -- I mean, what's your sense, do you think -- have they been watching attentively? Do you think this is going to be a long deliberation?
DIMOND: You know, I do think it's not going to be a short deliberation, because there are a lot of layers here for them to decide. There was the affair they're going to have to sift through.
That doesn't really have anything to do with campaign contributions except that all that money that came to hide the affair. There are so many different layers here. I think that they will take their time.
COOPER: Interesting. Diane Dimond, appreciate it, thanks.
DIMOND: You bet.
COOPER: Coming up, calls for backpage.com to shut down its adult services section amid accusations that it contains ads for underage girls and victims of sex trafficking.
A lawyer for the site tells me it actually works with law enforcement to track down child sex traffickers. They say they're part of the solution. Law enforcement and child advocates say that's just not true. We're "Keeping Them Honest" next.
COOPER: Within two days of saying "I do," she was dead. A manhunt of the groom suspected of murdering his bride within hours of their wedding. Details ahead.
COOPER: The most popular internet site for escorts is called backpage.com. In recent weeks, we've reported on growing pressure by law enforcement officials and anti-sex trafficking groups for Backpage to shut down its adult services section, the section where authorities say underage girls are sometimes sold for sex.
Last week, I spoke with a lawyer for Backpage who said the site is not a prostitution site, does not encourage illegal activity and they say it actually works hard with law enforcement to identify and track down child sex traffickers.
The country's 51 attorneys general, however, are calling for Backpage adult section to be shut down. They say time and time again they have seen kids trafficked by pimps on Backpage. Here's some of the reporting done our own Deb Feyerick.
JOHN CHOI, RAMSEY COUNTY, MINNESOTTA ATTORNEY: When we get a case involving the trafficking of prostitution, usually the story is going to start on backpage.com.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The daughter I know is a kid that likes to color.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Dawn that's where the story took her 15-year-old girl, a child who apparently ran away with a man who seduced her online.
Within days, that man had posted pictures of the child on backpage.com selling the girl into prostitution. Allegations detailed in a criminal complaint.
"DAWN," MOTHER OF GIRL ADVERTISED ON BACKPAGE.COM: He officially took her and beat her into submission to raping her and then held her into prostitution. It totally, totally crushed me to know that somebody actually did this to her.
FEYERICK: The accused pimp in that case has pleaded not guilty pending trial. It's one of more than 50 cases in 22 states of people charged with advertising underaged girls for sex on backpage.com.
COOPER: Last week, I spoke with Liz McDougal an attorney for Village Voice Media, which owns backpage.com. She said the attorneys general are just pounding their chest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LIZ MCDOUGALL, LAWYER FOR VILLAGE VOICE MEDIA: Talk to the people who really know how the internet works and what's going on, on the ground and they don't agree. Talk to Dana Boyd at Harvard from the Berkman Institute on Internet and Society.
Talk to David Finkelhore at the University of New Hampshire. Talk to Dr. Mark Latinero who is heading research on human trafficking and technology. There are a multitude of academics out there who are saying as well as the vice cops on the ground this is not the answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Talking about shutting down the adult services section, she says it's not the answer. It took us a couple of days, but we did talk to the people she suggested would back up her argument that shutting the site down wasn't the answer.
The first one she mentioned didn't want to comment. The second, David Finkelhore, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire did talk to us.
He said, quote, "They seem to be doing a very poor job of policing their site." Talking about Backpage, "And I think it would help the situation if Backpage were to shut down.
She also mentioned Dr. Mark Latinero as someone who would back up her contention if Backpage shut down the ads would be pushed further underground to sites that wouldn't cooperate with law enforcement.
Latinero told us maybe that's true, but maybe it isn't. He said there's simply not enough credible data to predict at this point. Liz McDougal also claimed that Backpage wants to be the sheriffs of the internet.
That's the term she uses. I said to her, well, then how come the real sheriffs, the states' attorneys general want it shut down. Here's what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCDOUGALL: If you talk to the vice officers on the ground, and I provided a list of those officers to your producer to talk to, they say just the opposite. They say that Backpage is the most cooperative and one of the most valuable tools they have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Keeping them honest, though, that's not really what police officers told us, not by a long shot. From New York, quote, "The NYPD does not agree with the Village Voice Media lawyer. The Village Voice and its ads are part of the problem. The Village Voice is making a buck at the expense of exploited women."
From Las Vegas, the police department there, quote, "Nothing that in any way promotes criminal activity and trafficking of underage individuals is supported by this or any other law enforcement organization. To say that we want these sites up so we can track them is a misstatement."
From Los Angeles from the LAPD, quote, "I have never received a call from backpage.com indicating that there are suspicious ads." Now, to be fair, the law enforcement officer that McDougal gave us contact information for in San Francisco did back up a lot of what she had to say.
But even he, speaking for himself and not on behalf of the police department on a whole, suggested that Backpage should donate the tens of millions of dollars they make on adult services ads each year.
Quote, "If it's not about money and just about law enforcement, then take your money and give it to groups that support victims of human trafficking and you'll have a clear conscience."
So let's just talk about the money that Backpage is making. More than $2.5 million in ad revenues in the month of March alone according to a group called Aim. That's a conservative estimate.
Liz McDougall said it's not about money. That was her line when we walked about why Backpage isn't verifying the ages of the people who were advertised on the site. Why not actually make the people go to a local Backpage office in person an show an ID. Here's what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCDOUGALL: Money is not the issue. The issue how do you functionally implement this --
COOPER: Unless the person comes directly in and you have to show an ID.
MCDOUGALL: Right, which if you have any knowledge and understanding of how the internet works is a practical impossibility in the internet realm.
COOPER: Do you know when you'll be able to decide whether or not you can do that, physical verification.
MCDOUGALL: It's a matter of exploring and programming and collaboration with other online service providers, other technology providers, with law enforcement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So what about that idea of actually having a physical office in various locations that someone has to come show an ID? We'll let law enforcement have the last word on that.
This is from the LAPD, quote, "I would certainly support the idea of offices set up to verify someone's age. If we can do anything to rescue and save our children from getting caught up in sexual exploitation, we should do it."
Now backpage.com says one of its biggest allies is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but it turns out the head of that organization, Ernie Allen, is actually one of its biggest critics also.
He wants Backpage to remove the adult services section. I spoke with him and with "New York Times" columnist, Nick Kristoff who's done a lot of reporting on this issue.
COOPER: Ernie, Liz McDougall often says she cites your organization as someone that Backpage works with and she says that they're part of the solution and not part of the problem. To that you say what?
ERNIE ALLEN, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN: Well, I say, yes, they have been working with us as have 900 other internet companies. We are the central repository for reports of child sexual exploitation in this country.
And we commend their reporting. But reporting and screening is not a panacea and not a solution to the problem. Our goal is to end the sexual trafficking of children, not simply to create reports.
COOPER: They portray themselves as the sheriffs of the internet and this they're all about, you know, stopping illegal activity. Do you buy that?
ALLEN: I don't. What is happening is that the internet has become the primary resource, the information clearinghouse for the purchase of children for sex and for illegal prostitution.
We've got to do more, and the reality is what law enforcement is telling us, is that these leads aren't terribly useful in most cases because the pimps are smart.
And they don't always post the photo of the person who shows up at the hotel room, or they don't post photos at all, or there's misleading information. These are very difficult cases for law enforcement to work.
COOPER: So while shutting down backpage.com would not end child trafficking and no one is making that argument, do you think it would be a step in the right direction?
ALLEN: I certainly do. We worked for two years with Craigslist in the same way. They reported to us aggressively. They screened and monitored.
After two years, they concluded that it wasn't working and that they needed to do something else. One of the challenges with sites like Craigslist and Backpage is they're so multi-faceted.
It's a site where you can look at a job ad, you can sell your used car, you can buy a toaster and also you can buy a kid for sex.
COOPER: And you think that in a way normalizes the illegal activity?
ALLEN: I don't think there's any question that it not only normalizes it, but facilitates it. COOPER: Nick, what backpage.com, their attorneys say, look, if we shut down, these customers are just going to gravitate to shadier areas of the internet, offshore, foreign countries that aren't even reporting to a group like Ernie's.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And there will be those who do. I mean, there is going to be some migration. But if you're talking about bank robbers, you don't say there's no point in arresting these bank robbers because there will be others that take their place.
In the case of Backpage with 81 percent of the market for prostitution advertising, it would make a vast difference. Sure, there will be some who find others, but it would make a huge dent in the business.
COOPER: Do you agree with that, Ernie, that some customers will not track down other more specific sites?
ALLEN: Well, I think it was proven by the decision that Craigslist made. The volume of ads dropped dramatically when Craigslist shut down its adult ads. Some of that migrated to Backpage, but much of it hasn't.
COOPER: I think a lot of people, and I was surprised to hear this, Ernie, because Backpage says, look, we report to your organization. We send the information and photos. But I was surprised to learn they don't actually take down the ads of people they believe might be children.
ALLEN: Well, much of that is because law enforcement wants the ads to stay up so that they can investigate them and try to develop the nexus with the purchasers.
But one of the real challenges with these ads, and reporting the ads, you know, we handle 326,000 reports last year, most of them for child pornography. When we get an ad -- or we get a report with a child pornography image, that's contraband, that's illegal in and of itself.
So when we send that to law enforcement, they can act immediately. When we send an ad with a picture of somebody who may or may not be the person being advertised, who may or may not be a kid, who may or may not be engaged in broader kinds of illegal activities, what's law enforcement supposed to do with that? And it's frustrating to law enforcement.
COOPER: So the sheer volume of stuff they're sending you is not indicative of stuff that's actually being helpful, some of is it too much.
ALLEN: Some of is it not helpful, some of it is. Some of it has led to prosecutions. But again, our goal is not just three or four successful prosecutions, it's ending the problem.
COOPER: You also make the point just because somebody is 18 years old doesn't mean they haven't been trafficked for years before that. ALLEN: Not only does it not mean that they haven't been trafficked for years before that, but by the accident of their birth, it suddenly doesn't make their behavior voluntary and consensual.
We believe they're 18 and 19 and 20-year-olds and probably older who are being trafficked, who are being victimized, who are not engaging in this in a wilful, intentional way.
COOPER: Nick, you call for advertisers to pull out of advertising with Village Voice Media and many have, Starbucks, Best Buy, Ikea, some of these big advertisers. Do you think that's the solution?
KRISTOF: I mean, it's really painful as a journalist to suggest that advertisers drop advertising. In a newspaper, I have tremendous admiration for Village Voice's newspaper, for its history.
It has done some great reporting more recently. But at the end of the day, you can't fund great reporting by advertisements for underage girls being sold for sex.
COOPER: Nick Kristof, I appreciate it. Ernie Allen, thank you very much.
ALLEN: Thank you.
COOPER: We invited Backpage attorney, Liz McDougall to come on the program again. We didn't hear back until less than an hour before the show started so it didn't work out for tonight. Our invitation obviously stands. We welcome her response and we'll have her on tomorrow if she agrees to come on the program.
In a southern state, there's fear on the roadways. Tonight, the search is on for a man who may be posing as a cop and killing drivers. The latest on the investigation next.
COOPER: We've yet to hear from Isha the whole program. Thankfully she is with us now in a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a group of six U.N. observers stranded overnight following a bomb blast in Syria have made their way to safety. A bomb hit their convoy yesterday damaging three vehicles. No U.N. personnel were hurt. Human rights groups reported at least 15 people died in violence across Syria today.
Mississippi authorities are searching for a killer who may be posing as a police officer. He may have pulled over and murdered a 74-year- old Nebraska man on his way to Florida. Days later, a 48-year-old woman was found dead in her car about 55 miles away.
A 30-year-old Chicago man is wanted for murder after his new bride was found dead in her bathtub just days after their wedding. She was still wearing the dress she wore for their reception celebration. President Obama today awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously to a Vietnam hero. Army Specialist Leslie Sabo Jr. died in a firefight 42 years ago while shielding his comrade from a grenade. His widow accepted the medal.
Anderson, this Sunday, a rare solar eclipse will be visible across much of the Western U.S. and Asia. The moon will be in one of its furthest positions from earth so its shadow will not completely hide the sun. Astronomers warn against looking directly at the eclipse. I cannot say it enough, do not look closely at the eclipse.
COOPER: Can you look through your fingers?
SESAY: No, this is not -- no.
COOPER: Doesn't work that way either. You need a special thing, don't you?
SESAY: Special goggles.
COOPER: What does that have to do -- what is that? That's the special goggles.
SESAY: The special goggles.
COOPER: Are you doing jazz hands? Is that what you're doing?
SESAY: Speaking of dancing, that leads to our next story.
COOPER: That's right. Time for the shot, the teachers at Abby Kelly Foster High School in Massachusetts, using a year-end video to prove they really are the class clowns.
Just like Whitney Houston sings, they want to dance with somebody, but you better watch your back. Take a look. I don't really know what's going on there. I don't quite understand it.
SESAY: So the kids are being asked to, you know, talk about their favorite memories from school.
COOPER: They don't realize the teachers are in the background.
SESAY: They don't realize the teachers are busting some moves.
COOPER: Funny. I like it.
SESAY: Pretty cool.
COOPER: All right, "The Ridiculist" is next. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Time for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding the folks behind a line of sneakers called Sketchers Shape-Ups. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Sketchers has been acting a little sketchy. The FTC said the company agreed to pay a whopping $40 million fine to settle complaints about the sneaker line, specifically, quote, "unfounded claims that shape-ups would help people lose weight and strengthen and tone their buttocks." When it came to buttocks, Sketchers reached for the stars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't really know how to say this, other than to just say it. You're amazing. The best I've ever had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I'm sorry. I think that's the beginning of the Kim Kardashian sex tape, isn't it? No, it's not? That's the ad she did for Sketchers? All right, fine. Let's take another look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But things just aren't working out. Well, that's not completely true. I am working out. It's not someone else, it's something else. Bye-bye, trainer. Hello, shape-ups. Nice shoes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So Kim Kardashian did an ad for Sketcher Shape-Ups, but the company cannot back up the implication that by wearing the sneakers, you get the best buns.
By the way, Kanya West girlfriend wasn't the only celebrity that Sketchers enlisted to sell Shape Ups, the company also did ads with "Dancing with the Stars" co-host Brooke Burke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The newest move in fitness is tying your shoe laces. Once my Sketchers Shape-Ups are on snug and comfy, I'm toning my muscles, strengthening my core, burning calories. Why, because Shape-Ups really work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: According to the government watchdogs, not so much actually. Now, before Brooke Burke sends that cranky British judge to yell at me or I get an angry call from Kris Jenner, I should point the FTC complaint is not against the spokes people, it's against the company.
It's also not a court ruling or even an admission of any wrongdoing. I'm certainly no expert, but if you're trying to sell a product, how about a little demonstration of the end result.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: GLH means great-looking hair. Just spray it on and it instantly covers your bald spot, leaving you with great-looking hair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's what I'm talking about. Frankly, I don't care who you get to sell your sneakers, it's going to take more than Kim Kardashian to top what I think we can all agree it's America's most talked-about television ad. Ladies and gentlemen, the shake weight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a workout, this is a revolution. This is shake weight for men, and it's going to kick your butt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: (Laughing) The Shake Weight! As for Sketchers Shape-Ups, the Federal Trade Commission has spoken and we heard them loud and clear on The Ridiculist.
That's it for us. We'll be back one hour from now -- another edition of 360 at 10:00 pm.
"PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.