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Protests Continue in Venezuela; Some Americans Helped Shape Harsh Ugandan Anti Gay Law; Rep. Dave Camp Has New Plan to Simplify Tax Code; Report: Credit Suisse Hid Money from IRS

Aired February 26, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Venezuela still in the grip of political turmoil. What started as a campus protest by students has spread to the middle class and across the country.

Karl Penhaul is joining us on the phone from Caracas right now.

Karl, any let-up?

KEN PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not at all, Wolf. Once again, there's a series of dueling protests on one side of the city. We have thousands of women formed the opposition turning out and marching in silence towards the headquarters --


BLITZER: I think we just lost Karl Penhaul.

Karl, can you hear me?

Obviously, his line has just gone down. We're going to try to reconnect.

But just to reiterate what's going on, these protests against the government of the president, Nicholas Maduro, are escalating right now. And as Karl just said, no let-up. This is a tense situation on the streets of Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela. We'll stay on top of it.

In Turkey, meanwhile, there's more fallout from embarrassing tape recordings of apparently the prime minister and his son. Angry people filled the streets in Istanbul today. Police using water cannons to break up the crowds. The main issue, whether the prime minister and his son have stashed away huge sums of money. Political rivals posted online a recording of the prime minister, allegedly giving his son money laundering tips. The prime minister saying the tapes have been edited.

Some gay people in Uganda right now seeking asylum, this after the president there signed a very harsh anti gay law. We're going to talk with an American author about whether U.S. groups actually had a hand in shaping Uganda's hate law.

Also, Senators tell Swiss banks to open up. Officials from banking giant Credit Suisse are being asked to name names.


BLITZER: We've reconnected with Karl Penhaul on the phone in Caracas, watching the demonstrations escalating in Venezuela.

So there's apparently no letup in sight, right, Karl?

PENHAUL (voice-over): The socialist president, Nicholas Maduro, has called for peace talks with the opposition to see if they could bring an end to the three weeks of protest. But we understand now that none of the main opposition leaders have any intention of talking to the president. They say they have nothing to negotiate. They want the president to quit. They don't simply want him to modify what they say are cube an inspired policies here in Venezuela. Once again, we have seen the opposition on the march. Several thousand women in one part of Caracas marching to their headquarters, complaining about the killing and wounding of protesters over the last three weeks.

And then on the other side of Caracas, we have seen President Nicholas Maduro rallying his loyalists. This time it was a pleasant former and fisherman that fought for the presidential palace and swore to fight since the opposition to resist what they see as a coup attempt to overthrow the socialist government here. Certainly, though, no sign that either side is ready to talk in earnest. Both sides still seem ready to do politics on the street -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul in Caracas, Venezuela, for us. Thank you.

Back here in the United States, pressure mounting on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto a controversial bill called anti gay, refusing services to gays and lesbians if that violates their religious convictions. Supporters say the bill protects religious freedoms. Critics insist it will lead to the discrimination of the LGBT community in Arizona and planning protests all week tonight in Phoenix. Dozens of major corporations and the Super Bowl Committee, they are urging the governor to veto the measure, saying it would hurt business in Arizona. The governor, by the way, has until Saturday to make her decision. A new law in Uganda makes some homosexual acts punishable by life in prison. My colleague, Zain Verjee, interviewed Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni shortly after he signed the harsh anti gay laws. He justifies the laws in part by his belief that gay people are not born that way. That's a common belief throughout parts of Africa.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you personally dislike homosexuals?

YOWERI MUSEVENI, PRESIDENT OF UGANDA: Of course. They are disgusting. What sort of people are they? How can you go -- I don't -- I never knew what they were doing. As I've been told, what they do is terrible. It's disgusting.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Now a possible U.S. connection to Uganda's action. Was this anti gay agenda pushed by some American evangelicals?

Let's bring in Dartmouth English Professor Jeff Sharlet, who was reported extensively on this, including in "Harper's" magazine. He wrote "C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to Democracy," among others.

Thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Tell us about this U.S. connection. Some American evangelicals, you suggest, had actually gone to Uganda and elsewhere to try to promote this anti gay legislation. What's going on?

SHARLET: Yeah. There's actually two big connections. Right at the beginning -- the law was introduced in 2009. Right after a fringe American activist named Scott Lively went over. And he preaches a very fierce doctrine. He is also the author of a book called "The Pink Swastika," which claims the Holocaust was a big gay conspiracy. And he met with the author of that bill, David Bahati. But there is a deeper connection. David Bahati himself is the leader of a Uganda- based American evangelical organization called The Flip Ship. And when I asked if there was a connection, he said -- and I quote -- "It's not a connection." He says, the bill is the fellowship. It is a product of the fellowship.

BLITZER: And so the bottom line is here that the idea for this new legislation, you actually think was sort of imported from the United States in Uganda? They wouldn't have done this without this kind of intervention? Is that what you're suggesting?

SHARLET: These weren't part of Ugandan politics as recently as 10 years ago. Certainly, it's a traditional country. It's not friendly toward homosexuality. It was already illegal. But the idea of sort of making it a political weapon -- and that's precisely what it is. It's sort of a nationalist political weapon -- that comes straight from the groups that David Bahati looks to for guidance, groups like The Fellowship, Family Research Council, who describes Senator Jim Inhofe, perhaps our most anti gay politician, who is a regular visitor there, described him as sort of a mentor and hero. And he has studied in the United States. These ideas are being sort of broadcast overseas and amplified and taken to a whole new level in Uganda.

BLITZER: Inhofe, by the way, we checked with him. He says, you know, he's -- had nothing to do with this legislation. He rejects it. He says, "I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days. And as I've said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation." A similar statement coming from other evangelical groups, saying it's one thing to be anti gay, if you will, but it's another thing to say that gay people should spend the rest of their lives in jail or even be executed for engaging in homosexual activity. So it seems to me, and correct me if I am wrong, that there may have been some inspiration. But what they're doing in Uganda goes far beyond what some of these evangelical groups may have wanted.

SHARLET: I think you're exactly right. That's why I use the word "amplification." I just returned from reporting on these issues in Russia, looking again to American sources and saying, OK, you're sort of exporting these ideas of culture war. We're going to take these ideas seriously and put them into action.

But let me just return to Senator Inhofe, who says he has nothing to do with it. You know, I'll agree with him to this far. He was in Uganda just this past January, leading a delegation of congressmen organized by The Fellowship as he's on record saying, "I go to promote the Jesus thing." The Jesus thing did not include, in his meeting, saying one word against the bill. Even when the president of Uganda was looking for an American excuse not to sign this bill. He was looking for a way out. He denounced it as Fascist. When he didn't get that support, he about-faced and now is -- now it's law.

BLITZER: He has been very active in Africa and in Uganda. In a statement, he says, "Many know I have a special place in high heart for Africa. My work with Uganda started many years ago to bring an end to the Lord's Resistance Army and defeat Joseph Coney, who for decades has been kidnapping, mutilating and forcing African youth to become child soldiers in terrorizing northern and central Africa."

By the way, we invited him to join us to discuss this issue. He's got an open invitation if he wants to.

But very quickly, before I let you go, Jeff, Russia, there is anti gay legislation there, as well. Certainly doesn't go as far and not as mean spirited and ugly as what's going on in Uganda. But give us the American connection once again. You think that the Russian legislation was also inspired by some American evangelicals who went over there?

SHARLET: I met with a leader of a Russian Nationalist Umbrella Coalition, and the way he put it, exact same language I heard in Uganda. He says they see homosexuality as a disease that comes from the United States. He says, but you have given us the cure, too. He says the statistics, the social science upon which they base their laws they took directly from the American Family Association, the Family Research Council. This was -- here was a man sitting, telling me about this Russian law, and he had on his desk in front of him an array of U.S.-American Confederate flags. He said, a gift from our American friends, our allies in this international fight against homosexuality.

BLITZER: Jeff Sharlet, Dartmouth University, contributing editor of "Harper's." Thanks, Jeff, very much for joining us.

SHARLET: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: There is a new Republican plan on the table right now to completely try to overhaul the U.S. tax code. We're going to tell you what it means, what it means for you and your finances. That's coming up next.

And later, amid protesters and rite police, it's maybe the last thing you would expect to hear. A piano played by a masked man who says he's playing for patriotism.


BLITZER: And now a new plan to try to simplify the U.S. tax code being proposed by the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Michigan Congressman, Dave Camp. It includes several surprising new taxes targeting the rich.

Alison Kosik is joining us from New York, taking a hard look at Congressman Camp's new plan.

Alison, pretty unusual for a Republican to offer up some new taxes on the wealthy. What exactly is in his proposal?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK, so what this proposal looks to do, Wolf, it takes the existing seven tax brackets that exist right now and actually kind of collapses them into two. So it would slash the top income tax rate from almost 40 percent all the way down to 25 percent, with the lower bracket set at 10 percent. But it also adds 10 percent surtax on certain types of income over $450,000 a year. That would be for married couples.

There has been some analysis on this legislation, and it shows that, believe it or not, a majority of the taxpayers would not see much of a change in their tax bills. Though the "Washington Post" does say that the poorest taxpayers earning less than $20,000, they would see a small rise initially. But analysts also say that that would evaporate within a few years.

You know, what's interesting when you see this new plan being put out there, you know, so many politicians over the years, they have tried and tried, with little success to push their tax code reforms. Who can forget Herman Cain's 999 plan, quite the headline grabber. And now House Republicans offering up their latest try to simplify the U.S. tax code -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What does it mean, this promo -- it's just a proposal right now by Congressman Camp -- for some popular tax breaks?

KOSIK: Yeah. I mean, the simplification for those tax breaks really means that taxpayers could wind up, believe it or not, losing things like the deduction for home mortgage interest. But it may be worth it for some people. You know, just to have, you know, a simpler experience when filing their taxes. Others say, good luck, because some Americans are concerned about eliminating those kinds of things during an election year. It could cost voters.

Regardless, though, none of this likely to happen any time soon. Lawmakers will maybe get around to it by 2017. And something to keep in to it, but this plan itself has been in the works for three years now -- Wolf? BLITZER: It has been in the works for a long time. Don't expect this current president of the United States to sign anything close to that into law either. He has a different view. Maybe one of these days they will work out a grand bargain, grand deal, if you will. That will take some time.

All right, Alison, thanks very much.

A Senate investigative report finds that the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse hid billions from the IRS. Clients were apparently whisked off to a private banking suites in secret elevators and one was said to have stuffed a quarter million dollars in her panty hose to sneak the money out of the United States. Credit Suisse executives and Justice Department officials have been up on Capitol Hill testifying.

Brian Todd has been watching what's been going on.

What have you learned today?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, learning all about some cloak- and-dagger tactics, some of the ones you mentioned that Senate investigators say Credit Suisse, the bank, tried used to hide their money from the IRS. You mentioned a couple of them, but some were extraordinary. There was a secret elevator in at least one branch of Credit Suisse that whisked a client up to a secret banking suite where they could discreetly do their banking. This elevator had no buttons and was operated by remote control. This bank, according to investigators, specialized in helping clients avoid a paper trial.

According to secret court documents that CNN reviewed, one wealthy client had $250,000 in panty hose wrapped around her body. There was one instance where a banker met a client at a hotel in the United States and handed that client bank statements hidden in a copy of "Sports Illustrated" magazine. They were going to lengths, Wolf, to avoid a paper trail. Then the case of a very discreet branch of Credit Suisse that was in the Zurich Airport where clients could fly in, very discreetly do their banking and then fly out, or according to one bank official, they could go to the ski slopes.

Senator John McCain grilled bank officials about that a short time ago.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: So really didn't mean much that you had an office in the Zurich Airport?

MANS ULRICH-MEISTER, SWISS PRIVATE BANK AND WEALTH MANAGEMENT: I didn't say it didn't mean much. That's what I learned in the meantime because I was not as I said accountable for this part. Perhaps he can be ignored.

BRADY DOUGAN, CEO, CREDIT SUISSE GROUP: Senator, if I could add, this airport office, as you mentioned, I think Ulrich-Meister has outlined some of the parameters of it. It was really in an office where as you say was office of convenience for clients--

MCCAIN: It certainly was.

DOUGAN: -- would come in. But basically, they held relatively small amounts of money and there was no active management. And actually, in our investigation, which was a very detailed investigation, we didn't find systematic issues in that area.


TODD: That's a common theme of Credit Suisse bank officials, this was a few bad bankers doing things the wrong way.

But, Wolf, here is staggering figures. Over a period of about seven years, Credit Suisse handled accounts for 22,000 wealthy Americans customers with assets totaling $12 billion and about 95 percent of that was never reported to the IRS.

BLITZER: Brian will have more on this story coming up later today in "The Situation Room," 5:00 p.m. eastern.

Brian, thanks very much.

From the heart of violent political protests comes the sound of a piano. That story is next.





BLITZER: A haunting scene set to music. Here's Phil Black.



PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The man playing the piano wearing body armor is a famous figure in Ukraine's revolution. Few people know his name.


BLACK: He plays at all hours in all weather --


BLACK: -- even on the barricades --


BLACK: -- challenging Ukraine's security forces with haunting melodies on an out-of-tune piano. (MUSIC)

BLACK: Wherever he plays, you will find a crowd. And his performances inspired others to create their own revolutionary art.


BLACK: He's known as the Piano Extremist, a joke, he says, because the now Ukrainian government described everyone in Independence Square as dangerous extremists.

"We want to show our revolution is cultured," he says. "There not only working class people, but also teachers, musicians and artists, all together fighting for our rights."


BLACK: Behind the mask is a man who knows pain. He doesn't talk about the details. He moved to the capital eight months ago after his wife and their child died.



BLACK: "I didn't hope for anything when I moved to Kiev. I thought my life was over," he says. "It's too hard to lose someone you love."

Then came the revolution. He volunteered and helped around the clock with cleaning and security. One day he found a piano near the square. He sat and played for the first time in years.


BLACK: He said he was surprised by the impact, by the way it touched people. For those who listened had no trouble expressing importance to the cause.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People have music in their heart and souls can't kill other people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the spirit. It's definitely the spirit of people in pain and not only the families of people like this. We are all in pain.


BLACK: With the old government gone, he hopes his country can lives part of Europe, and the people will be in charge. But he warns, if the next government doesn't respect the spirit of the revolution, crowds will return to the square and he will continue playing for them.


BLACK: Phil Black, CNN, Kiev. (APPLAUSE)


BLITZER: The power of the piano. A beautiful story indeed.

That's it for me. See you back here, 5:00 p.m. eastern, in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.