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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

New Developments in Trayvon Martin Case; Controversial Anti- Obama Strategy Revealed

Aired May 17, 2012 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

It's 10:00 here in the East Coast. And we begin with breaking news in the Trayvon Martin case.

Tonight, we have more information than ever before, brand new pieces in the puzzle of what happened on February 26, the day George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Now, the state of Florida has released a mountain of evidence in the case, witness statements, medical records, pictures and video released this evening. We are still going through all the evidence. Here's what we found so far, video of Trayvon Martin's last moments alive.

This is surveillance video from the convenience store where Martin bought candy and a drink just before he was shot to death by Zimmerman, iced tea. The newly released autopsy says that Martin died from a gunshot wound to the chest fired at -- quote -- "intermediate range." We're going to talk about what that may mean in a moment.

Toxicology tests found THC in Martin's system, indicating marijuana use. Now, the autopsy report lists the manner of death as homicide. Zimmerman's charged obviously with second-degree murder. He says he shot Martin in self-defense, telling police that Martin assaulted him and his head was hit on the pavement.

Well, tonight, we have new photos of Zimmerman from after the incident and a fire department report says he had abrasions to his forehead -- these are new pictures we're seeing -- bleeding and tenderness to his nose, a small laceration to the back of his head when was treated at the scene.

Also just released, a Sanford police report called a capias, which is a request for charges to be filed. The report says in part -- quote -- "The encounter between the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement or, conversely, if he identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialogue in an effort to dispel each party's concern. There's no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter."

Also in this newly released evidence -- and again, this was just released in the last couple of hours -- a report from the FBI which analyzed that call that Zimmerman made to 911.

Now, there are questions about whether Zimmerman used a racial slur in that call. The FBI could not determine, according to these documents, what the word in question was because the recording quality wasn't good enough, according to this report.

So there's a lot to talk about tonight.

Martin Savidge joins us tonight.

Marty, you have been covering this case since the beginning. I know you're still sifting through the documents, as we all are. What jumps out at you so far?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you were just talking about the 911 calls. This is something that the FBI was given the task of trying to review.

Remember, the FBI from the federal point of view is trying to determine if there's any indication of a hate crime here. This all goes back, of course, to what was the term that George Zimmerman used when he was on the phone to police that night? And of course much has been made about "F'ing coon," which was a phrase that many people thought they heard, the racial slur being used, which would somehow taint of course and give the impression that maybe George Zimmerman was acting beyond just the capacity and more as just as a neighborhood watch person.

The FBI analyzed that, went over and over and over it. And basically as you say they came out and said they couldn't determine what was said due to the poor quality of the nature of the recording and because of other interference that apparently was heard on the telephone.

OK, moving on, then the next part of the 911 call, these are the calls coming in from people in the complex reporting there was an altercation. Remember that huge controversy about someone was heard quite clearly pleading for help. Who was that person?

Well, Trayvon Martin's family says it was their son. George Zimmerman's family says, no, it was George Zimmerman. Again, the FBI tried to listen. There were many voices on the tape at that time. There was a caller on the phone overlapping the background noise. Again, they way due to poor quality and other issues, they couldn't determine.

They point out that stress levels also play into it. Both voices could have been overstressed. Thereby, they can't tell who it is.

COOPER: What else jumped out at you?

SAVIDGE: I think what is very interesting is that part that you brought up with the capias there as far as what Sanford police determined.

All along, we had been told that Sanford police have maintained that this was an issue where George Zimmerman was working and acting appropriately. We want to show you these pictures here of George Zimmerman's hands, because much has been made about a fight. Trayvon Martin's hands, left hand, fourth finger did have a cut. These are George Zimmerman's hands, totally clean, no appearance of that he was duking it out with anyone.

So, you know, you have got the autopsy report that shows something on Trayvon Martin. You have got this that shows George Zimmerman. And then you have got that Sanford police report that says all of this could have been avoided if George Zimmerman had stayed in his car. You can bet that the prosecution is going to make much of that.

COOPER: Yes, Martin Savidge, appreciate it.

Joining me now is criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin, and former scientists Larry Kobilinsky of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Sunny, as a former prosecutor, from all the evidence that you have seen, what really jumps out at you?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think that the evidence is inconsistent at all, Anderson, with the prosecutor's affidavit.

The prosecutor made it clear in the affidavit that the theory of this case is that George Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin, confronted Trayvon Martin, and some sort of confrontation ensued. So I still think that all of these other issues that are being talked about today, like the marijuana in Trayvon Martin's blood, those are non- issues.

The real issue is still who started this confrontation? And if you look at what the Sanford Police Department wrote, they believed that this could have all been avoided had George Zimmerman not gotten out of his car and set this ball in motion.

COOPER: Mark, is that a big deal to you that -- the fact that the police report says the encounter could have been avoided if Zimmerman had stayed in his car?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No. In fact, that's probably never going to come into evidence. That's an argument. That isn't evidence.

The problem with everything that was just released today is it seems to undercut much of what was in that probable cause affidavit, which was thin to begin with. This document dump, and, obviously, I haven't been through it, you haven't been through it yet, but what's been reported so far certainly does not help the prosecution.

COOPER: What about pot found in Trayvon Martin's system? Do you think that enter into the trial?

GERAGOS: No, I don't think that that's going to be of any great moment. Most judges -- even though it's already in the ether, so to speak, now being reported everywhere -- most judges wouldn't let that in because that's not something -- like not like it's methamphetamine or some other kind of a drug that -- or PCP or something like that.

THC in a -- they have so much trouble determining at what levels you're under the influence to begin with that I don't think that that's of any great moment. I think what is of significance here are the injuries or lack of injuries on both parties and where those injuries are.

And those things are going to be telling. And this idea that somehow some cop wrote that this all could have been avoided if somebody sat in the car, that's not evidence. That's a cop opining on something and, frankly, most judges would not let that into evidence.

COOPER: Larry, let's talk about forensics, because this is really the first time we're starting to look and see some actual forensic evidence and particularly sort of bullet trajectory and the distance.

According to the report, Trayvon Martin was shot from an intermediate range. The bullet passed through the right ventricle of his heart, the lower lobe of his right lung. That's a picture of the gun. What does that tell you?

DR. LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, PROFESSOR OF FORENSIC SCIENCE, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Well, it tells us the trajectory was horizontal and straight front to back.

It's very consistent with the positioning of the gun. And there was one entrance wound, no exit wound. The bullet ended up in the sack surrounding the heart.

COOPER: Does it surprise you there was not an exit wound?

KOBILINSKY: No, not necessarily. Sometimes, shots will pierce through the tissues. Sometimes they hit bone and they fragment. The jacket of the bullet did fragment. It ended up in the lung cavity. But, no, there's no surprise here.

COOPER: Intermediate range, what does that mean to you?

KOBILINSKY: Well, there's several possibilities.

There's a contact wound, where the muzzle is right up against the target. There's a close-in distance from zero to six inches. Then there's the intermediate distance, which is about six inches to roughly 1.5 feet. And that's what the pathologist is talking about.

The ballistics people that looked at the clothing are saying it's contact, but it's very inconsistent with what the autopsy report shows.

COOPER: Also, the level of THC in his system, Mark saying it's a difficult thing, may not even get into court.

KOBILINSKY: Yes, I got to agree with Mark.

First of all, the level is very low. It's at a level where if somebody were using marijuana let's say four or five days earlier, they might find that level in his blood.

COOPER: So it could have been days before.

KOBILINSKY: It probably would have no effect on his behavior.

HOSTIN: But, Anderson, I would like to say what's important I think about the intermediate range evidence is that the prosecution's theory is that George Zimmerman was the first aggressor. If that is true, then he had a duty to retreat, he had a duty to try to get away. If you had this close pretty range of six inches, that tells me as a prosecutor he wasn't trying to get away.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But wait a minute. But intermediate range is not six inches, is it?

HOSTIN: It can be six inches.

(CROSSTALK)

KOBILINSKY: It's between six inches and a foot-and-a-half.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: That seems very close range.

(CROSSTALK)

KOBILINSKY: It's consistent with a struggle.

(CROSSTALK)

GERAGOS: The only thing that's closer than that is to actually put it up, as Larry says, which is a contact. So this was not apparently -- apparently not contact, although Larry is right that there has been some indication that it was. But remember you're talking six inches while people are struggling. That's not a large distance.

(CROSSTALK)

HOSTIN: That tells me that he wasn't trying to get away.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You can't read anything into that.

(CROSSTALK)

HOSTIN: I think you can. I think you can. If you're trying to get away from someone... (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Somebody could be sitting on you and you could shoot them and that would be six inches. It doesn't mean you're...

(CROSSTALK)

GERAGOS: Right. Somebody could be pulling -- somebody could be pulling back to hit you and there would be six inches.

(CROSSTALK)

HOSTIN: But it's not consistent with the prosecution's theory that he was the first aggressor and he had a duty to retreat and he didn't do that.

COOPER: Mark, the fact that the FBI voice analysis couldn't determine two important things in this case from a federal standpoint, whether or not there was a racial slur used and who was screaming for help, how significant do you think that is?

GERAGOS: It's very significant, because I think what the defense will do is the defense is going to move to exclude any kind of relative on either side saying that they can identify the voices there.

You have got expert testimony that it's inconclusive. They may let in the layperson's testimony, but certainly there's going to be some kind of a cautionary instruction or there should be a cautionary instruction, so that is significant.

KOBILINSKY: But there is eyewitness testimony that it was Zimmerman who was yelling help. And that's part of the package that was released today. So that is actually part of the totality of evidence that we have got to look at and analyze.

(CROSSTALK)

GERAGOS: And that's different. Eyewitness testimony...

(CROSSTALK)

HOSTIN: ... young person's voice as well.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But the difference is, they believe it. They didn't actually see who was yelling, those witnesses' accounts.

HOSTIN: They heard it. They're ear witnesses.

COOPER: They heard it, right.

Listen, Mark Geragos, Sunny Hostin, appreciate it.

Larry Kobilinsky, thank you for your expertise. Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Follow me on Twitter. We're talking about this right now on Twitter @AndersonCooper.

Ahead, how does Trayvon Martin's family feel about the release of this material? We will talk to one of their attorneys next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: One more segment on the breaking news coverage., the release of evidence in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The family of Trayvon Martin said tonight in a statement they support the public release of this information, that selective leaking of information gave what they call a distorted view of the evidence in the case.

Daryl Parks is an attorney for the Martin family. He joins us now.

Thanks for being with us, Daryl.

What else does Trayvon Martin's family have to say about the release of all this evidence? In particular, are they concerned about the release of the evidence of marijuana in his system may affect peoples' opinion one way or another or that it may affect jury if it ever gets to it -- to that the?

DARYL PARKS, ATTORNEY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN'S FAMILY: Well, Anderson, this actually is not new evidence to us.

As you know, there was an issue with the trace that was found in his backpack in school. So that issue was an issue that we knew that was out already there and not a major concern to us. And addressing the issue of just the great deal of evidence that was released today, we believe that we still have a very strong case against George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon in this case.

COOPER: The photos of the back of Zimmerman's head the night of the shooting, we see gashes on the back of his head, a cut on his nose, things we hadn't seen clearly in the police station video. Does this at all change for you the narrative of what happened that night?

PARKS: No, not at all. It's always been rather clear that Trayvon was followed by George Zimmerman unprovoked.

He finally caught up with him. They exchanged words, and there was an altercation. At the end of the day, we also now know that Trayvon was not armed. George Zimmerman was armed. And Trayvon had to fight the gentleman. And so, yes, he should have -- Trayvon had to fight a guy who was armed. So the level of injuries that we see in this particular case, yes, he has some injuries, but they are not life-threatening injuries.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You're saying he had to fight him. What are you basing that on specifically?

PARKS: Well, if you have someone that's following you, right, and they confront you for whatever reason, right, and you don't know who they are and that person is armed, he is not the person who is initiating the action in this case.

COOPER: The FBI, the voice analysis, they could not, according to these reports now, determine if Zimmerman in fact used a racial slur or who was actually screaming for help. I know Trayvon's mom all along has said that was her child screaming for help.

Does she still say, for a fact, that that was him?

PARKS: Yes. She certainly says that was him.

But also I think that the other part of this case that comes into play with that particular audio aspect of it are the earshot witnesses who were around who have now come forward. So, I certainly believe once you take into perspective the earshot witnesses who will testify in the case along with the young girlfriend from Miami, that certainly it all comes together.

COOPER: Daryl Parks, appreciate you being on. Thank you.

(NEWS BREAK)

COOPER: In the course of our investigation into one group that claims to raise money for disabled veterans -- and we have been reporting on this now for -- well, Drew Griffin has been reporting on for two years. We have been reporting on it now for a couple of weeks, showing you his reports.

We have uncovered yet another charity that asks you to help veterans by opening your wallets. And a lot of people have donated money. But then they use only a very small percentage of that money to actually help veterans. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: GOP strategists come up with a proposal to link President Obama once again to comments by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Reaction has been swift. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" with a report that will very likely make you very angry, and it should, especially if you care about veterans and their well-being.

We have already done a number of reports on this program about one charity that has raised tens of millions of dollars allegedly for disabled veterans, but they haven't actually given any of that money directly to disabled veterans. Hard to believe.

Now, tonight, we have learned about another charity that claims to be raising money to help veterans, but it turns out only spends a small amount of the money raised on actually helping veterans. Now, the charity we have already told you about is called the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. That was their seal, the DVNF.

According to their own tax filings, they raised nearly $56 million in the past three years, a huge amount of money. Of that $56 million, we haven't been able to find even one dime that's gone directly to help disabled veterans. Instead, the foundation sends on tons of stuff, stuff they got for free to veterans groups.

Now, the stuff they send, it hasn't been requested by these veterans groups. It's often not even stuff the groups can use. They sent one veterans group we found thousands of bags of Coconut M&Ms. The stuff that the DVNF gets for free sits in boxes until the various veterans groups can figure out what to do with them. What do you do with 11,000 bags of M&MS? Hundreds of pairs of surplus Navy dress shoes this organization sent to a veterans group.

The group that got the shoes actually tried to sell them at a yard sale to try to raise money for the things they actually do need.

CNN's Drew Griffin tracked down the president of the DVNF to try to get some answers. Here's how that went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRECILLA WILKEWITZ, CEO, DVNF: You're the one from CNN that's...

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Meet Precilla Wilkewitz, president of the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, whom 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. We've agreed to talk to you and answer questions.

GRIFFIN: Nobody has agreed. So here is the question raised over three years.

WILKEWITZ: Only in writing. Thank you so much.

GRIFFIN: And none of the money has gone to any veterans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I hate it when people said they have agreed to talk to us, and in truth they haven't agreed to talk to us.

In the course of investigating the DVNF, we uncovered yet another charity that asks you to help veterans by opening your wallets, but then uses a very small percentage of it to actually help veterans. This is a completely different group. They call temperatures the National Veterans Foundation, but there is a connection to the DVNF.

It turns out they both use the same fund-raising company. And in both cases, that's where the trail of your money seems to lead.

Drew Griffin is on the trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The 27-year-old National Veterans Foundation would like you to believe it takes your money and puts it right back into its unique program, a national hot line to help veterans with anything.

But CNN's investigation has found something the NVF likely doesn't want you to know. Most of your contributions went to pay the private fund-raisers they hired.

DANIEL BOROCHOFF, CHARITY WATCH: Charity Watch gives the National Veterans Foundation an F grade. They are only spending 12 percent on charitable programs and it's costing them $91 to raise $100.

GRIFFIN: Daniel Borochoff runs a nonprofit charity watchdog group that grades charities based on those charities' own tax filings.

And those filings how over the past three years, the NVF has taken in $22.3 million in donations and paid out $18.2 million to its fund-raisers, Brickmill, and the parent company, Quadriga Art.

But Borochoff says the filings also show a common tactic used by charities. Part of the money paid Brickmill and Quadriga Art was designated in tax filings to pay for educational awareness promotional materials. Those solicitations for donations that tell you all about the struggles the vets have and why you should donate? That's the educational awareness and promotion material.

BOROCHOFF: The accounting is somewhat confusing to the public and so they can get tricked if they look at these tax forms or look at these superficial reviews of charities on the Internet, because what they are doing is, they are calling that solicitation that makes you aware of the injured veteran a charitable program.

But that's not what people want to pay for. People want to pay to offer substantial aid or assistance to injured veterans, and that's not what's happening in this group.

GRIFFIN: The National Veterans Foundation's hot line is run out of a fourth-floor office in this building near Los Angeles's International Airport. The group told us they wouldn't speak on camera. We decided to go and see them anyway.

(on camera): Hey, rich.

RICH RUDNICK, NATIONAL VETERANS FOUNDATION: Hello. And you're Drew?

GRIFFIN: Yes. Just wanted to ask one more time if we can chat.

RUDNICK: As we said, we have told you we have -- we have made our statements we have given you and we're not going to be doing anything on camera.

GRIFFIN: So you won't tell me what you told me on the phone on camera, that you're disappointed in this Brickmill and Quadriga?

RUDNICK: I believe if you read our statements, it will cover everything that I have said and anything that you were -- any questions you have.

GRIFFIN: Well, it didn't. That's why I'm here.

Can we take some...

RUDNICK: We prefer not on this subject.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Rich Rudnick is the operations director for NVF and over the phone told us the charity hired Brickmill and Quadriga Art in 2008 to start a new donations campaign. "We were told for two years it would be very expensive. Then we'd be going into the black. That never happened," Rudnick told us over the phone.

But in person, neither Rudnick nor its president, Shad Meshad, a man paid $121,000 a year, would tell us anything.

(on camera): Can we take some photos of the guys that answer the phones? This is where the toll-free line is?

RUDNICK: Yes, this is the toll free line, but they are busy right now. And we would prefer not on this trip.

GRIFFIN: OK. All right. Well, listen, thanks a lot.

And Shad, he's not around?

(CROSSTALK)

RUDNICK: He's never here in the mornings.

GRIFFIN: Shortly after the door closed on our camera, CNN received this statement from the National Veterans Foundation saying: "Knowing what NVF knows now, it would not have entered into a six-year contract with Quadriga Art and Brickmill."

The National Veterans Foundation says it's now trying to terminate that contract, which doesn't end for another two years.

What does Quadriga Art say? Well, it did just what it was supposed to do, increasing the charity's donor base by 700,000 people. But even Quadriga Art admitted to CNN the "fund-raising efforts did not prove as financially viable as the client had hoped."

Quadriga Art says it too now wants to end the contract.

And despite Brickmill and its parent company, Quadriga Art, getting paid more than $18 million, Quadriga Art says it actually lost money.

Daniel Borochoff says baloney.

BOROCHOFF: We really have to ask, why is this going on? What is the point? Who is benefiting here other than the fund-raising company?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Drew Griffin joins me now, also Ken Berger, the president and CEO of Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog group.

I got to say, I just find this unbelievable. And, Drew, I mean, I applaud your reporting on this because this is outrageous. If people knew that these organizations -- first of all, that first organization has not sent any money directly to disabled veterans.

And this one, how much did that guy say, 81 cents on the dollar goes to the fund-raising organization?

GRIFFIN: That's absolutely right.

And that's what's heartbreaking here, because behind all these donations are Americans who really want to help these veterans. That's why this is so disheartening. They're opening up their wallets thinking, they are doing good, and putting money directly into the hands of for-profit companies making a killing off of them.

COOPER: And you go to that office, and they have an American flag there. They have a POW/MIA flag. I mean, if they really cared about veterans they should shut that organization down.

If they're not happy with this contract that they stupidly signed with this fundraising company, shut it down. I mean, how do they sleep at night? That -- I mean, I know you can't answer that question, but that's what I'd like to know. How do these people sleep at night?

The kinds of contracts, Drew, signed by NVF and the other instance, Disabled National Veterans Foundation, they're long. It seems like they're hard to break. So why did they go down that road? Is it simply to expand their mailing list?

GRIFFIN: Here's what we have found out in our reporting. Some of Quadriga Art and Brickmill's contracts with really big charitable organizations are specifically detailed, with money amounts included, all kind of contract obligations that both sides have to meet. Very specific.

These contracts with these two groups that we're talking about, they're rather loose. Not too much specific. It seems like Quadriga Art is driving the legal paperwork here. And these charities are simply -- I don't want to put words in their mouth, but they look to me like they've been duped.

COOPER: Ken, you monitor these charities. Do you agree that these are folks who have maybe been duped? Or do you advise that charities sign these contracts with a marketing firm like Quadriga Art?

KEN BERGER, PRESIDENT & CEO, CHARITY NAVIGATOR: We say avoid them like the plague. We see this happening over and over again.

COOPER: This is not a surprise to you?

BERGER: No. In fact, we have plenty of zero-rated groups -- veterans, police, firefighters, people who risk their lives in this country and the charities that are associated with them, we see a preponderance of this in those kind of groups, that they sign these kinds of contracts. And whether it's consciously or whether they're ignorant and they're made up of volunteers that are well intentioned and they figure, well, if it's 99 cents to raise a dollar, well, that's still a penny that I didn't get otherwise.

COOPER: Even if somebody is naive and -- and -- well, I just question how well-intentioned anybody can be if they are spending 99 cents to raise $1. I mean, that's just outrageous.

BERGER: It is. It's horrific. There's no excuse for it. And that's why our advice is to avoid these kind of arrangements like the plague, and if you're a donor you should -- you should run with fear.

COOPER: How much should a charity be -- if their charity has a marketing firm, how much should they be paying out of a dollar that they've raised?

BERGER: We generally say ten cents on the dollar is a reasonable amount. And the best charities, whether it's internal or through an external source, ten cents on the dollar is what we see as the highest performance.

COOPER: Drew, I mean, can the IRS or somebody get involved and remove the charitable exemption from some of these charities? Because I mean, these are all allegedly nonprofits, but that guy from that organization who is running seems to be making more than $100,000.

GRIFFIN: You know, they -- the IRS has rules that they all follow. They all file these tax filings. These kinds of organizations have been protected in the courts. Part of this is under the free speech amendments.

I don't see really where the IRS can get in and do much of anything here. I do see where there's a lot of value in donor beware. You know, buyer beware. Donor beware. Look up these groups, figure out where exactly the money is going, and find out, you know, am I really giving money to fundraisers or am I giving it to people?

COOPER: For them to claim that part of what they're doing is educating people about the needs of veterans, and what that education is is their own commercials, which is just about fundraising, I mean, that's just...

BERGER: Sleight of hand.

COOPER: Sleight of hand. It's as manipulative as lying. Your organization, Charity Navigator, which monitors these things, the DVNF, you haven't rated them, because they haven't been around for more than four years. You did review this group, the National Veterans Foundation. You actually gave them a three-star rating. Based on what you now know, would you want to continue to look at that?

BERGER: Oh, yes, we're definitely going to check it out. I mean, we do have a very negative rating of the organization for its fund-raising. And its finances in general are below standard. But we're definitely going to have a second look.

COOPER: What -- what should people -- I mean, look, there's so good-hearted people. The fact that DVNF was able to make $56 million of three years of people's donations shows you how good-hearted people and how much people want to help veterans. What should people look for before giving money?

BERGER: Well, in situations, well, generally or in specific with veterans groups?

COOPER: Generally.

BERGER: Well, first thing is to make sure that the group is transparent. I mean, one of things right away we say is if you contact a group, if you call a group, and they refuse to talk to you in any regard, whether it's the media or an individual, be very afraid.

COOPER: You've been trying to talk to DVNF, what, for two years now?

GRIFFIN: Yes, I have.

COOPER: For two years?

GRIFFIN: For two years. They have just stonewalled us all the way.

BERGER: And if you get a call, if you're solicited on the street, our general advice is to just walk away.

COOPER: So if you get a cold call from somebody at home saying they're from this veterans group or whatever, walk away, because...

BERGER: Because you don't know what you're running into. You could be in a disaster, where 99 cents, 100 cents on the dollar could be going to the telemarketing.

COOPER: It also is outrageous because it makes people suspicious of other good veterans groups. I mean, I've worked with the Fisher House, which is a great group. You give them a very good rating. They do amazing work.

And yet, the fear is it's going to -- if people give money to this, you know, group that doesn't actually give out any money, they won't give it to a reputable group.

BERGER: Right. So it not only hurts this group, but it hurts the whole sector, because it damages the public trust. Because they wonder, if this is going on here, how can I trust?

The message that people need to know is do some research. And you can avoid a lot of this because there are some tremendous groups out there that really need your support, and Fisher House Foundation is one of them.

COOPER: Yes. Just -- I want to -- anybody out there who wants to give money should go to Charity Navigator and really just -- you'll get a sense of what other good groups there are out there that help vets or help police or firefighters or any other kind of charity.

BERGER: Absolutely. Yes.

COOPER: Well, I appreciate, Ken, the work you're doing.

Drew, again, we're going to keep on this. I just think it's unbelievable. It's mind-boggling to me. Again, if you're looking for reputable veterans charities, go to our Web site. Go to AC360.com for more information or to CharityNavigator.org. We'll have a link to it, to Charity Navigator on our Web site, as well.

Remember, President Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Well, President Obama's opponents tried to link him to Wright's controversial race-related comments back in 2008.

Four years later, a group of high profile Republicans has pitched an elaborate ad campaign, trying to reignite the issue. It seems to have been rejected, but is it going to pop up somewhere else? "Raw Politics" ahead.

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COOPER: An alligator almost bites a North Carolina man's arm off. The attack caught on camera. The story behind the video, ahead.

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COOPER: In "Raw Politics," the power of super PACs. Report in "The New York Times" about a proposal for a racially tinged, anti- Obama ad campaign is putting the spotlight back on super PACs. The proposal, which was leaked to "The New York Times," was pitched by Republican strategists working with a billionaire named Joe Ricketts who runs a super PAC called the Ending Spending Action Fund. The ad described link -- as described, it links President Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual advisor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The same Reverend Wright whose race-related comments made him an issue in the 2008 campaign. So much so that President Obama distanced himself from Wright publicly.

John McCain did not try to capitalize on the issue in 2008. Here's what he said back then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I've made my position very clear on this issue. And that I do not believe that Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extremist statements or views.

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COOPER: Well, at the time some Republicans criticized McCain for not focusing more on the issue.

Four years later, some want to resurrect it. Ricketts and his super PAC passed on the proposal. The super PAC's president said in a statement not only was this plan merely a proposal, one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors, but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.

Mitt Romney also disavowed the proposal today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make it very clear. I repudiate that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectfully be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America.

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COOPER: It's still early days in the campaign. This is already making for some very "Raw Politics." Earlier I talked to Democratic strategist and Obama pollster, Cornell Belcher, and Republican consultant, political contributor Alex Castellanos.

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COOPER: Cornell, even if this ad campaign never happen, do you expect spots like this by some, you know, super PAC out there, and do you think they could be effective?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, two things. One is I think the last thing Republicans want is for some millionaire nut job, you know, spending millions and millions of dollars taking the nominee off message.

I mean, if you're the Republican nominee, it's just basic politics. You want to sort of be talking about the economy and jobs and trying to contrast yourself with the president on that.

To get into these issues, you know, to spend millions of dollars and have the nominee move off track and talk about issues that quite frankly don't create a job, you know, doesn't keep anyone in their house, doesn't help, you know, with unemployment or a mortgage payment, whatsoever, I mean, that's a nightmare for Republicans.

COOPER: Alex, clearly, someone on the Republican side thinks this is a good idea. They came up with the idea, though it's been rejected, apparently, by the Romney campaign. Why do you think these ideas are still floating out there? Or this idea is still floating out there?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's not a sufficiently good idea, apparently, that they've got any money. Why?

Because I think there are people on both ends of the political spectrum out there, perhaps some rich and not particularly capable folks, who have an idea that they feel is unexpressed. And as long as there are people with money there are probably people out there willing to take it and run a campaign like this.

You know, this was litigated in the last campaign. Actually, it turned out to be one of President Obama's better moments responding to the Reverend Wright situation. And if I recall correctly, he was elected after this.

So, you know, the problem I think is electricity. If you -- if you let some political people near electricity, they make dumb commercials and blow up their campaigns. So we have to do something about electricity.

COOPER: Cornell, your team turned around and said that Romney hadn't done enough to condemn character assassination from his supporters. A, I mean, do you think that's true? Do you believe that somehow Mitt Romney bears responsibility for this at all? Because he had nothing to do with it, apparently.

BELCHER: I think -- and I don't speak for the campaign. I can barely speak for myself. I think some of those comments came out early before Mitt Romney has -- came out and sort of -- a couple of different times now and has backed off of it.

Look, I think this sort of ugly politics on both sides -- we can be bipartisan on this. On both sides, I think we should call for a stand down on this sort -- on this sort of thing.

COOPER: Alex, Mitt Romney and his team have both been accusing the president's campaign of character assassination over the Bain ads. And they did it again today. Is that really a fair assessment? I mean, in the Bain ads, Mitt Romney has been running on his business experience saying it's all about job creation. How does that bringing that up amount to character assassination?

CASTELLANOS: Well, because it's what you do with it. It's one thing to say that someone is incapable or, you know, may not be up to the job. It's another thing to say that Mitt Romney is an evil man who hates people and is out to destroy jobs.

And same kind of attacks that we see even from the president who says on the one hand we shouldn't question anybody's patriotism, but Republicans are putting politics ahead of their country.

You know, it's all over politics now. You -- there's a lot of demonizing someone's character, as opposed to just talking about the issues and the choice the country needs to make.

And you know, Anderson, it's a little bit like Vietnam. America got sick of Vietnam. Not just the tragic loss of life, but it brought out the worst in us. It put one American against another.

And we're almost at that point now. We're -- it's the thing we hate about Washington. Everybody is at each other's throats. And this campaign, I think, particularly the Obama campaign, is asking us to be at each other's throats. Rich against poor, employee against employer, men against women. And that's not the kind of country we want to be.

Obama ran a better campaign last time when he was for hope and change and not division.

COOPER: So Alex, you don't hear Republicans questioning the president's patriotism or whether he's an American or where he's born?

CASTELLANOS: You know, I do, and it's -- and just like this commercial we were just talking about, Anderson, it's not very productive when we do it.

COOPER: Cornell?

BELCHER: You know, Alex is a conveniently nice guy now because Alex, the media consultant, he was one of the most vicious ads you'd ever seen in your life. But look...

CASTELLANOS: I'm kinder and gentler now.

BELCHER: You are. Because you're in Florida. Look, the bottom line is -- you know, spin aside, look, he's making his business experience sort of the centerpiece in his conversation about creating jobs.

Alex, you know very well if you were on the other side, you would -- in fact, look at his business experience and find out what, in fact, his business experience says about him. And his business experience says about him that he's -- he's in a lot of cutting -- of cutting salaries, laying people off, maximizing profit for himself.

And that's fine, but the question we have to ask is is that what we want in the White House or do we want someone in the White House who spent their life cutting -- cutting jobs and maximizing their profit at this time? That's fair.

COOPER: All right. Cornell Belcher, Alex Castellanos, thanks. Appreciate it.

BELCHER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Donna Summer has died. We'll remember her life in music when we continue.

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(MUSIC: "LAST DANCE")

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COOPER: Isha is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNNI ANCHOR: Anderson, Donna Summer, the queen of disco, has died at the age of 63.

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(MUSIC: "LAST DANCE")

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SESAY: Summer's hits included "Last Dance," "Hot Stuff" and "She Worked Hard for the Money." Her publicist -- her publicist, I should say, said Summer had cancer.

An autopsy report shows Mary Kennedy, the estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., died in an apparent suicide. The cause of her death, asphyxiation due to hanging. The mother of four children was found on the property of their Bedford, New York, home.

A second person who has accused John Travolta of sexual battery has also fired his lawyer and dropped the lawsuit. But the case could move into another court. The two accusers have hired a new attorney. The massage therapist claimed the actor groped them in January. Travolta's lawyers called the charges ridiculous.

Mortgage rates have hit record lows yet again. The 30-year fixed rate is now 3.79 percent, while the 15-year fixed is now 3.04.

And Anderson, a North Carolina biologist is one lucky man. While attempting to capture an alligator...

COOPER: Yikes.

SESAY: ... sitting in a ditch near some homes, the animal, as you see there, it attacked and it bit him on the arm. He managed to get away from the gator. And thankfully, the bite was not serious. But it's really scary to watch.

COOPER: Oh, my goodness. Yikes.

SESAY: Yikes is right.

COOPER: All right. Isha, thanks.

Tonight I'm taking it upon myself to defend pale people everywhere. Tanorexics take note. "The RidicuList" is next.

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COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList," and today we're adding a portion of society that I like to refer to as paleness haters. They're a shifty bunch, but I know you're out there laughing and rubbing cocoa butter on each other. You know what? Maybe if there wasn't so much snickering about pale folks, there wouldn't be moments like this in the local news.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so pale.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're on-air.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today snow is crippling much of the Washington low lands.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: All right. She got caught on an open mic. No big deal. She totally picked up, moved on with the weather forecast. Besides, it happens to the best of us. If my microphone was open during commercials, I mean, that's all you'd hear, is me talking about how pale I am and, of course, me yelling at the crew. They keep looking at me in the eyes, and I really don't like that.

I get it, though. Being pale -- shh. They laugh, but they always talk. Being pale has its downsides. Sure, I might be a translucent national treasure with piercing blue eyes, but the reality is that I'm just never going to have the rich leathery glow of George Hamilton. Wow, that's a real nice screen-grab of me. And yes, that's my new head shot.

You know what? It's OK. Pale is beautiful. And if you disagree, you can take it up with my pale sister in arms, Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that she doesn't have time for your pale-hating baloney.

Neither, I'm sure, does the Mr. Gary Busey. Heard of him? Pale? Maybe a little. But stable? Without a doubt.

Speaking of stable, it's not just Gary Busey who knows what it's like to be a little on the pale side. It's also the horse that looks like Gary Busey. Remember him? Ride on, my pale friend. Ride on.

Then, of course, there's the poor cat. You know the cat I mean. Yes. Let me tell you, that cat doesn't worry about being pale. The only thing -- let me tell you, that cat doesn't worry about being pale. The only thing that cat worries about is being too good looking.

I don't know what to say about this. All right. Hold on. I'm reminded of something. If we could, I'd like to pause a moment and check in with Larry King. Hey, Larry. Always good to check in with him from time to time. I love Larry.

But look, back to being pale. I don't know that Larry King there -- rather tangential. Back to being pale.

I get how it's maybe not the most desirable appearance. I get that a healthy base tan is something -- sometimes optimal. In fact, I'll admit it's a stunning look. And I mean, it's not like anything could ever go wrong.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been tanning my whole life. Going to the beach, standing salons. So forth.

And so forth is the understatement of the decade. I still can't even wrap my mind around that. And apparently, now she's turned into some sort of deep-fried paparazzi magnet over there in New Jersey. It's all too much.

So say what you say, pale haters, but you might want to consider the flip side on "The RidicuList."

And that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.