July 18th, 2012
11:45 PM ET

Troubled federal agency paid for cooking classes, hosted holiday video contest

Amid an ongoing congressional probe into the General Services Administration, a CNN investigation has uncovered more evidence of wasteful spending at the agency, including cooking classes for employees that cost as much as $3,350 per class.

For years, the GSA paid to send employees to these cooking classes to build team spirit, part of a spending pattern that the agency now says was inappropriate.

Employees based in Kansas City, Missouri, attended classes at The Culinary Center of Kansas City, located in suburban Overland Park, where they cooked meals.

Senator encourage GSA to 'clean house'

The GSA confirmed that there were nine classes beginning in June 2007, with the last class in June 2011. The total cost to the GSA was $20,701.

"We should be thinking about our federal customers, our taxpayers and our associates," said one employee who attended a cooking class. "And that seems to have been lost in these team-building exercises ... If you don't go, you're ostracized."


July 18th, 2012
11:25 PM ET

RidicuList: Life-size Hasselhoff cutouts stolen

At Cumberland Farms convenience stores throughout New England, with a veritable army of very lifelike cutouts, David Hasselhoff lures customers to the store-brand iced coffee. Just one problem: The ads are a hot item and people can't seem to keep their hands off The Hoff. The cardboard copies now reside in a number of dorm rooms, and on the RidicuList.

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Filed under: The RidicuList
July 18th, 2012
11:07 PM ET

KTH: Rep. Bachmann's unproven claim about Huma Abedin

Sen. John McCain took the extraordinary step of speaking out on the Senate floor against fellow Republican lawmaker Rep. Michele Bachmann and four other legislators.

"When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it," McCain said.

He was referring to Bachmann's allegations that members of a radical Jihadist group are infiltrating the U.S. government, specifically naming an aide to Secretary Clinton, Huma Abedin.

McCain also stated in his address, "These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack."

Anderson Cooper traces the roots of the report and debunks the evidence. Keeping Them Honest, he also explains the implications of the claims on U.S. foreign policy.

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Filed under: Islam • Keeping Them Honest • Michele Bachmann
July 18th, 2012
10:20 PM ET

Investigating Bachmann's claims of Islamic infiltration

Rep. Michele Bachmann alleges that Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, may have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Her claims are unfounded.

CNN’s Dana Bash tells Anderson Cooper that she tracked down Rep. Bachmann to try and get some answers. “The good news is I can walk pretty fast in heals,” Bash tells Anderson. “The bad news is Michele Bachmann can walk just as fast.”

Watch the video above to see Bachmann avoid Bash’s questions. While Bachmann says on camera that she can do an interview with Bash later, Bachmann’s office replied saying she didn’t have enough time in her schedule.

Senator John McCain took an unusual step in going to the Senate floor to condemn Bachmann’s remarks. “He knows Huma personally,” Bash said. “He likes her and respects her and feels that she’s being unfairly maligned.”

McCain isn’t the only Republican speaking out against Bachmann’s allegations. Ed Rollins, who ran Bachmann’s campaign for president for a short time, wrote a “scathing” piece where he called her “dishonest” and noted Bachmann had “difficulty with her facts” and that what she’s doing is “akin to McCarthyism.”

Salon writer Alex Seitz-Wald tells Anderson, “I think this was a message that was aimed at her base, trying to gin up some anti-Muslim fever before the election and then it kind of blew up a little too big.”

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Filed under: Dana Bash • Michele Bachmann
July 18th, 2012
10:05 PM ET

Republicans disagree over Romney taxes

Should Mitt Romney release more of his tax returns? That’s the question the Obama campaign pushed into the public discourse, but Republicans are also debating the issue.

The Romney campaign has repeatedly insisted it won’t give into the pressure, but that hasn’t stopped prominent Republicans from pushing the issue. Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Governor Rick Perry, and conservative political analyst William “Bill” Kristol are among those calling on the Romney camp to provide full disclosure.

Ari Fleischer, former George W. Bush White House Press Secretary, thinks the time for releasing more than two years of tax records has passed. “The American people are not there, they’re not focused on this issue,” insists Fleischer.

While conceding that the Obama campaign will surely nitpick Romney’s tax returns, Republican Strategist Ana Navarro thinks the Republican nominee should refocus the conversation on the economy and “take the band-aid off” by releasing more of his tax returns. Navaro added, “We’re not going to learn anything new, he is a wealthy man who has been very successful.”

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Ari Fleischer • Mitt Romney • Taxes
The AC360 Weekly Buzz: Negative campaigning, Syria, snake-handling, mysterious death, Bachmann, Springsteen
July 18th, 2012
07:12 PM ET

The AC360 Weekly Buzz: Negative campaigning, Syria, snake-handling, mysterious death, Bachmann, Springsteen

What everyone’s talking about:

As we get closer to the general election, President Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns are increasing their negative ads, but is Obama running more? We’re Keeping Them Honest. Anderson spoke with David Axelrod, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign, about the issue. Anderson also spoke with CNN Political Contributors Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer about why campaigns go negative. “If we run a single positive ad, I’ll be disappointed,” said Begala.

Churches in the heart of Appalachia use deadly snakes as part of their services. For one man, the practice turned deadly. CNN’s Gary Tuchman explores the history and dangers of the illegal snake-handling tradition.


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Filed under: AC360° Weekly Buzz
July 18th, 2012
07:05 PM ET

Letters to the President #1276: 'Easy street'

Reporter's Note: President Obama receives a letter from me every day. Lucky, eh?

Dear Mr. President,

When the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia died in 1995, I did his obituary for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. It was remarkable how many fans seemed to have been touched by his life and felt unbelievably close to his music.

I honestly never quite understood what that was all about. I liked their songs well enough, but the whole idea of people following the band all over the country, attending one concert after another, and leading the whole Dead Head lifestyle held no attraction for me. I didn’t fault them, but neither did I feel a kinship.

Nonetheless, lately I’ve been listening to a good deal of Grateful Dead music, and I’ve grown fond of it; particularly that tune, Uncle John’s Band. One line strikes me every time I hear it: “When life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door.”

I like that because I think it is a valuable cautionary phrase. So many times when things seem to be going well; on the job, in private life, in…ahem…elections, trouble is just around the corner. Personally I believe there is a mathematical explanation which I have mentioned to you before: Graduation toward the mean.

Simply put, most things want to gravitate toward their “average” state, so when things are really bad or really good, get ready for them to change. Which is a far less eloquent way of saying “When life looks like Easy Street…”

Anyway, if you pass me on the sidewalk and you hear me humming, chances are it will be that tune. And you…and any other politician in the land…might want to give it a listen.

Hope all is well.


July 18th, 2012
06:40 PM ET

Tonight on AC360: 'Bizarre' violence in Syria 

The violence in Syria hit President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle today with a deadly attack against his defense minister, and another top official who was a family member.

Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha; along with al-Assad's brother-in-law, Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat and another top insider were killed in a bombing in the heart of Damascus

According to a leader of the opposition Free Syrian Army, the deadly attack was coordinated by their own rebel brigades and  happened during a meeting of government ministers and security officials.

When news spread of the bombing, Syrians celebrated in the streets.  But it didn't last long.

The pro-government militia also hit the streets attacking people with knives and shooting, an opposition activist told CNN.

Dutch journalist Sander van Hoorn witnessed the aftermath and told Anderson it was a "bizarre" scene.


Filed under: Syria
July 18th, 2012
12:28 AM ET

The RidicuList: Classic novels

How can you possibly improve on a book like "20,000 Leagues under the Sea", "Pride and Prejudice", and "Sherlock Holmes”? You just need to add in some new steamy scenes of course. Rewriting classic works of literature to make them sexier just look in the card catalogue under "RidicuList."

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Filed under: The RidicuList
July 18th, 2012
12:14 AM ET

Anderson interviews 'hero' bus driver

A 7-year-old girl appeared to be dancing on an air conditioner when she fell three stories. If it wasn’t for bus driver Steven St. Bernard, she could have died.

St. Bernard tells Anderson Cooper he realized something was wrong when the girl started running toward him. “Every time I look at it I tear up,” St. Bernard says about the amateur video that captured him catching the falling child.

Now some are calling St. Bernard a hero, but he just shakes off the compliments. “Nah, that’s not a hero. I just saved a life that’s all,” he says. Although he injured a tendon in his left arm, he tells Anderson he wasn’t afraid of the fall.

“A lot of people around the country and around the world right now have you in their thoughts and think you’re just remarkable for what you did and I just wanna add my name to that list,” Anderson says to St. Bernard.