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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Surprise Visit; Unofficial Kickoff; Hurricane Felix: Bracing for Impact; McGreevey on Craig; Racial Justice?

Aired September 3, 2007 - 23:00   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, good Labor Day and surprise. President Bush dropped into Iraq today, surprising nearly everyone at a crucial moment, less than two weeks before his top commander gives Congress a make or break progress report.
We'll show you what he had to say about the mission and our own reporters will give us a reality check.

From Iraq, Michael Ware and from Washington, Candy Crowley.

We're also tracking Hurricane Felix this hour, the second such storm of the season. And like Dean before it, a monster of a storm. We'll tell you where it's heading right now.

And Senator Larry Craig, busted for allegedly seeking sex in a men's room. He resigned over the weekend, still insisting he's not gay. We'll talk with the wife of another famous politician who resigned in disgrace, but who also used the occasion to come out of the closet.

We begin, though, with the president's visit, which came almost literally out of the blue. After slipping out of Washington last night in a fog of cloak and dagger secrecy, Air Force One landed this morning at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq's Anbar Province. It was a well- timed photo op, no doubt about it. Mr. Bush greeting troops. He listened as a Marine described the strain of being away from home for such long tours of duty. When asked by the president, the Marine said morale was still very high.

On the business side, Mr. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates sat down with their Iraqi counterparts. The president later telling reporters that the mission was succeeding in Al Anbar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The level of violence is down. Local governments are meeting again. Police are more in control of the city streets and normal life is returning.

The people of this province are seeing that standing up to the extremists is the path to a better life. That success is possible. America does not abandon our friends. And America will not abandon the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Mr. Bush did hint at a troop cut, but only if the generals say so. And as for progress throughout Iraq, the picture is certainly mixed.

CNN's Michael Ware joins me now from Baghdad where the president did not visit.

Michael, thanks for being with us.

This was just the third visit by the president. Clearly, time for the run up to General Petraeus's trip to Washington. What was the reaction in Iraq to the surprise trip?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN REPORTER: Well, it's been muted at this stage, Anderson. Obviously, there's been very little that we've heard from the Iraqi senior political leadership. Indeed, in a few hours, the Iraqi National Security Adviser Dr. Mowaffak Rubaie, is due to unveil Iraq's new strategy of its own, so we're eagerly awaiting that.

Although we have heard from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that he rejects U.S. criticisms and that he's hardening his government. He's buttressing it, saying that he can deliver as his government sees fit. So they remain defiant -- Anderson.

COOPER: The president flew to Al Anbar Province. We've talked about it a lot. He touted the security progress that has been made there. Undeniable, things are getting better. What is working in Al Anbar and how and really, frankly, can it translate into the rest of Iraq?

WARE: Well, certainly, one of the president's war counsel -- I believe it was Secretary Gates himself -- said that really the success of Al Anbar Province predates the surge. It's really an Iraqi initiative. And what that is is that the Sunni Baathist insurgency turned on al Qaeda and it offered America the same terms of negotiation that it first offered four years ago in 2003 in that it was willing to work with America, but not with the Iraqi government.

And America, after four years of bloodshed, was finally ready to accept those terms. So it's the Sunni insurgency that has turned Al Anbar around and made it safe. And having just returned from that province ourselves, having been with those insurgents, we watched with our own eyes as the insurgents go in one door of a training camp and emerge as the so-called Iraqi police. So they're keeping those streets safe that President Bush referred to -- Anderson.

COOPER: A lot of people probably did not cover this today. But a really important event did happen in Iraq elsewhere where President Bush wasn't. British forces handed over control of Basra, which is Iraq's second largest city. It's down in the south. They handed over control to Iraqi forces. It's a big test.

WARE: Absolutely. I mean, in terms of a test, we already know the outcome. The Brits have by and large been irrelevant to the security situation in southern Iraq for almost a couple of years now. Anderson, they just haven't had control. They never had enough forces in the beginning. They never had the mandate to confront the real problem down there, which is the Shia militia's strangle hold on power and oil revenues and Iran's backing of those Shia militias, according to Western intelligence. So all the Brits have been trying to do down there is stay alive while they've been getting hammered by rockets and missiles. So the significance militarily is minimal at best -- Anderson.

COOPER: Michael Ware, reporting from Iraq.

Michael, thanks.

A lot is riding on the report General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will deliver in about a week militarily, and of course politically.

Let's bring in Candy Crowley now for the politics.

Candy, the president's rare visit to Iraq -- how well orchestrated an effort is this White House now making to set the stage positively for General Petraeus's appearance and the upcoming status report?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're doing everything they can to make sure that the atmospherics are positive, and certainly this trip was part of it.

Remember what the president has to do now. He needs to hold on to Republicans. So if he feels -- the White House feels that they can show enough progress, they can keep the Democrats from peeling off Republicans to do something such as cut off funding or mandate troop withdrawal, so there are some heavy stakes here, and the president in this trip to Iraq, as well as in other ways, his administration has been talking for weeks about progress in Iraq. So this has been very well orchestrated.

COOPER: Candy, today is the unofficial kickoff to the 2008 election races. Labor Day is traditionally that. How much does Iraq come up on the campaign trail?

CROWLEY: You know, it comes up a lot. It comes up in almost every speech. But more than how often it comes up, it's the response. It's always the biggest applause line when Democrats say, "when I become president, if the troops aren't already out, I will take them out on my first day." So this is a huge, huge issue in the Democratic Party. The Republicans don't bring it up as much.

John McCain, obviously does, he being a supporter at this point of the U.S. staying in Iraq. So it does come up. But, you know, today it came up in a speech that we went to, listening to Barack. But there was a lot of other things in between. Today, Labor Day, obviously, the traditional kickoff for the campaign, lots of parades.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): It's Labor Day, and you know what that means, full-throttle politics. SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How is it going, Manchester?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing, sir?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wow, what a great Labor Day crowd!

CROWLEY: From Iowa to New Hampshire to Pennsylvania, much of the '08 presidential field was out holiday shopping for votes and putting a little punch in the rhetoric.

OBAMA: There are those who tout their experience, working the system in Washington. But the problem is that the system in Washington isn't working for us, and it hasn't been for a very long time.

CROWLEY: He's talking about Hillary Clinton.

You think she's old hat, basically.

OBAMA: No. What I think is is that we've got a message that speaks to the American future.

CROWLEY: It is the fall version of summer's story. He paints her as status quo. She frames him as not ready for the job. Change versus experience.

CLINTON: For my time in the White House and in the Senate, I've learned that you bring change by working the system established by our constitution, not by pretending the system doesn't exist.

CROWLEY: Also in the camp, Edwards, where aides say they're delighted Clinton is defending a system that has failed to do anything about things like healthcare and global warming. Edwards spent the most traditional of Labor Days in Pittsburgh, picking up some big ticket endorsements -- the United Mine Workers and United Steel Workers.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America wasn't built on Wall Street. America was built by men and women who were steel workers, who were mine workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to a wonderful Labor Day parade.

CROWLEY: Facing their most hostile political environment in decades, Republicans also did the Labor Day rounds.

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, looking for traction. Arizona's John McCain, searching for mojo (ph). And former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, chasing poll numbers to match his bulging campaign coffers.

Things get more complicated this week with the arrival of Fred Thompson, who will join the race nine months later than most of the others, not that anyone resents the buzz he has generated without breaking a sweat.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I guess the only comment I'd make to Fred Thompson is, why the hurry? Why not take a little longer to think this over.

CROWLEY (on camera): Let me ask you a question. You're here at the parade. Lots of politicians here. Who's made up their mind about who they're going to vote for in January?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not me. I haven't made up my mind yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me neither.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's been an incredible amount of hype that comes with a presidential campaign that you can't trust.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Sixteen weeks until the voting begins. Not long, but there is time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Definitely good advice. Don't trust the hype.

How does Thompson's entry change the mix?

CROWLEY (on camera): Well, that's the question. Does he come in, does he live up to the expectations? I mean, remember, we've been waiting for several months for Thompson to enter the presidential race. He gave clear signals that he was going to do so, but waited an awfully long time.

And now that he's going to come into this race on Thursday, a lot of people think he has to have almost a pitch-perfect campaign. The speeches have to be good, the structure has to be good, the fundraising has to be good. Otherwise, he looks like he doesn't live up to the hype. So expectations at this point are very high. The question is, can he meet those expectations? We'll begin to know that in the next couple of weeks.

COOPER: It's like buying a new car, it starts depreciating as soon as it leaves the lot, I guess.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

COOPER: Candy, we'll be watching. Thanks.

So why is New Hampshire's primary the first in the nation, you may ask? Well, because they really, really want it to be. Here's the raw data:

In 1977 New Hampshire's legislature passed a law stating that its primary should be the first in the nation. Now, to keep it that way, the state has had to move the primary earlier and earlier. Originally, it was in March. In 1996 it moved to February, to January 27th in 2004. Next year's primary is set for January 22nd. Well campaign season may be just getting started, but hurricane season is already well under way. So is Hurricane Felix. You're seeing it right there. Category 4 and taking aim. Tracking it, as always, our severe weather expert, Chad Myers. Facing down Felix in Honduras is Susan Candiotti.

Let's start with you, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, this was at one point, this morning 165-mile-per-hour Category 5 storm. It lost a little energy during the day. A little torn up now. But it is forecast to go back up to 145. Right now the winds are 135. And it will be on shore there, right at the border of Nicaragua and Honduras, right at about 8:00 tomorrow morning, as a big, big storm.

And then the storm rolls right over the mountainous areas of Honduras. This is what I'm really concerned with. The map behind me here -- this is actually Tegucigalpa, a very mountainous area, 1.2 million people live in this city, with major rivers going right through it. Tegucigalpa right about there. So if they pick up 12 inches of rainfall, this could be a devastating mudslide flood story for them. Then it continues on up even into Mexico.

One more thing we want to talk about. Here's the eye of the center. It's getting a little bit more organized now. But we haven't had a plane in this thing now for about four or five hours, so we don't know what the hurricane hunter aircraft would be seeing if it was actually in it.

One more thing, Henriette (ph), this thing is actually going to go very close to Cabo San Lucas as a Category 1 hurricane, turn to the right and maybe make a flood event for southern Arizona and New Mexico for Thursday and Friday. A long way from where it is now, but that tropical moisture will turn into big-time rainfall there across the southern four corners -- Anderson.

COOPER: Chad, thanks for the live report.

Now let's turn to Susan Candiotti on the ground in La Ceiba, Honduras.

Susan, what's it like?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, imagine what it would be like if you were waiting for this strong of a hurricane to be hitting your city.

This is an area that is very popular with tourists. It is also very important to the country agriculturally. There are a lot of banana farms and pineapples that are grown here.

At this hour there is still a fair amount of traffic out on the street, Anderson. People are out buying last-minute supplies. We do see some boarding up going on. And there are long lines at the gas station. The government has been putting out special bulletins, telling people to be prepared, take every precaution they can. And that's what apparently many of them are trying to do.

Unlike in the United States, there are no shelters opening at this time in this region. They are waiting until after the storm hits. But they do expect a fair amount of flooding here.

This country was hit hard by Hurricane Mitch back in 1998. A lot of flooding, a lot of mudslides, as Chad was talking about as well. And so that is a main concern here. So what do you do at this hour? You wait and you worry -- Anderson.

COOPER: Susan Candiotti, appreciate the reporting. Stay safe tonight.

We'll continue to track throughout this hour.

The other story that is still rocking the country tonight is Larry Craig, the Senator from Idaho who says he wasn't soliciting sex in an airport men's room. What must his wife be going through? We'll get a unique perspective on that tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): He resigned after denying the rumors.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I am not gay. I never have been gay.

COOPER: She's been there, but her husband said something very different.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a gay American.

COOPER: One political wife's advice for another and the surprising details of how her husband revealed his secret life.

Later, nooses hanging from a tree, black teenagers facing life in prison for a schoolhouse fight. All-white juries dispensing justice. Louisiana 1967? Wrong. It's all happening now. Tonight, race and injustice in a small southern town, ahead on 360.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I don't -- I am not gay. I don't do these kinds of things and...

SGT. KARSNIA: It doesn't matter. I don't care about sexual preference or anything like that. Here's your stuff back sir. I don't care about sexual preference.

CRAIG: I know you don't. You're out to enforce the law.

KARSNIA: Right. CRAIG: But you shouldn't be out to entrap people either.

KARSNIA: This isn't entrapment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (on camera): Those words were from Senator Larry Craig last week as he tried to work his way out of a bathroom sex scandal. He could not. And this weekend he announced his resignation.

We'll have much more on this in a moment, but first tonight's other headlines.

Randi Kaye has the 360 bulletin -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson.

North Korea claims the U.S. will take the country off its terror list, but tonight an American official says not so fast.

A senior State Department official says North Korea still needs to do several more things before the U.S. could take it off the list, including key aspects of de-nuclearization. This past weekend the chief U.S. negotiator said that North Korean officials have agreed to disable their nuclear program by the end of this year.

The survivor of a mine shaft accident near Chloride, Arizona, has been upgraded to serious condition. A 10-year-old Casey Hicks (ph) was riding an all-terrain vehicle with her 13-year-old sister when they fell into an abandoned shaft Saturday night. Her sister was found dead the next morning. The mine shaft was hidden by brush and was not marked by any signs or barriers.

And beach goers in east central New Jersey caught a break this Labor Day. Officials reopened a three-mile stretch of beach where medical waste had washed ashore yesterday. The debris included syringes and gauze. It is not yet known where all of that waste came from.

COOPER: Yikes. Imagine washing up -- you're laying on the beach and that stuff washing up. Unbelievable.

KAYE: Not exactly what you want to see.

But now, Anderson, our segment, "What Were they Thinking?" You're going to like this one. If you have facial hair, this one is definitely for you. These guys -- check that out. They were crazy enough to let their mustaches and beards go crazy as they competed in the world beard and mustache championship this past weekend in Brighton, England. About 250 contestants took part in that contest. They were barred, of course, from using extensions or hair pins, though wax and hair spray, we were told, was allowed in some of those cases.

Now, Anderson, I understand -- I'm told that you were once involved, the record shows, in one of these contests. COOPER: Really? I didn't know that.

KAYE: Yes.

COOPER: Yes. I forgot about that.

KAYE: So our researchers went through the files and dug it up. There it is in fact. Not sure what year that was, that contest. But lots of folks here, Anderson, asking why you shaved it off. It was a good look for you.

COOPER: Yes, well maybe someday I'll grow it back.

KAYE: Yes, it's kind of nice.

COOPER: Randi, thanks.

The latest scandal to rock the Republican Party took the turn that many expected. This weekend Senator Larry Craig of Idaho said he will resign. He's not stepping down immediately, however. He's going to do that at the end of this month he says.

Take a look at some of his comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG: Idahoans, I represent to my staff, my Senate colleagues, but most importantly, to my wife and my family, I apologize for what I have caused. I am deeply sorry.

It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Craig's long career in Congress collapsed last week, you'll remember, after his arrest by an undercover police officer in an airport restroom after that story became public.

Craig was accused of making sexual advances and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He insists he's not gay. He also says he pleaded guilty just to make the case go away and now regrets the decision and plans to try to reverse the conviction.

Craig's wife, Suzanne, and two of their three children stood by him at Saturday's news conference. It could not have been an easy day for any of them. Just like it wasn't easy for Dina Matos McGreevey to stand by her husband's side three years ago when he announced he was resigning as New Jersey's governor and is gay. The couple is now divorcing and she has written a book, "Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage." About that difficult time, I spoke with her earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So many of us remember that day when you were standing beside your husband when he announced that he was a gay American. As you saw Suzanne Craig standing by her husband when he resigned this weekend, what went through your mind?

DINA MATOS MCGREEVEY, ESTRANGED WIFE OF JIM MCGREEVEY: Well, the first thing I wanted to do was, you know, put my arms around her and say, you know, how sorry I was and how, you know, difficult I know it is for her and just to offer her support. You know, I saw her standing there, and I thought, oh, my gosh, that was me just three years ago. And I know the pain and anguish that she's experiencing.

COOPER: And you wrote about it in your book, but I mean, describe that, what is it like to -- I mean, that whole day -- and it's got to be surreal, to say the least...

MCGREEVEY: Yes.

COOPER: ... when you're standing there.

MCGREEVEY: Well, many people have asked me, what is it like? How did you feel when you were standing there. And I was still in shock. I was in a fog. So, you know, it certainly -- you can see the faces, but I wasn't focused on anyone. And all I kept thinking was I have to stand here and not fall apart in front of all these people and in front of the cameras.

But I can imagine, you know, she felt the same way. It's like an out-of-body experience. You're there physically, but you're really not there in the moment and you have a million things going through your mind.

COOPER: What's your advice to her?

MCGREEVEY: Well, I would just -- hopefully, you know, I hope that he's been completely honest with them, whatever the truth is. And I don't want to speculate as to what's true and what's not true. But, you know, certainly the fact that he pleaded guilty raises some questions, and it's humiliating for his family, but I would say, you know, ask the tough questions and just be sure that he's honest with you and then deal with it however you think you need to, whatever is best for you, not what's politically expedient or people want you to do or your husband wants you to do. Because it's really about her and, you know, moving on from this painful experience.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We'll have more of our interview right after the break, including the surprising answer to this question, how did Governor McGreevey tell his wife that he's gay?

And later, six young black men face decades in prison for a schoolyard fight with a white student. It is a case which has shocked the nation and divided a small Louisiana town. Many black residents saying the civil rights movement just never came to their community. That's ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: For most of us, the career-ending revelations about Senator Larry Craig have played out at a distance, like any other political scandal. But for Dina Matos McGreevey, the story hits uncomfortably close to home. Three years ago she stood next to her husband, then Governor Jim McGreevey, when he announced he was stepping down as New Jersey's governor and announcing he's gay. He dropped the bombshell on her just hours before they faced the television cameras. And that's where part two of our interview picks up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: How did he say it to you?

MCGREEVEY: Well, the first day we sat down and he told me about being blackmailed and when I asked me why, he said, well, I had a relationship. And he said it was sexual, but not sexual. So he wasn't even admitting it to himself.

The second day he was trying to figure out, you know, what he would do, whether he was going to pay this guy off. And he said to me, well, you know, if I pay him off, we won't be able to put our daughter through college, we'll never own a home. And I was thinking, well, what's the sense of paying him if we don't have a marriage after this.

And then the third day, he was meeting with his advisers and he came upstairs with a copy of his speech and he said I want you to read what I'm going to say during the press conference. And that's the first time I read the words, "I am a gay American."

Actually, the night before he had said to me, well I'm confused about my sexuality. I think I might be gay. And then the next morning I'm reading a copy of his speech and I said -- I looked up at him and I said, what do you think, you think you mean you're confused or where is this coming from? He says, well -- he just looked at me and his friend, his -- one of his mentors said now that's what he is and we have to accept it. And I thought, well, that's easy for you to say, but this is all new to me.

COOPER: And you had no idea. No -- I mean in hindsight, I'm sure there's a million things which you pick up on.

MCGREEVEY: Well, there were signs, and you know, I talk about them in the book. But individually, they really didn't mean anything. No relationship, no marriage is perfect. And I never had any suspicions.

COOPER: It's an interesting notion that, you know, the -- whatever it is that has driven or in the case of your husband, whatever it is that drove your husband to not want to, you know, be open, really does affect everyone around.

MCGREEVEY: Absolutely. And we need to allow people to be who they are. And had he been, you know, raised in a climate where homosexuality was accepted, perhaps he wouldn't have destroyed the lives that he did.

COOPER: Thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.

MCGREEVEY: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: That was Dina Matos McGreevey, the estranged wife of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey.

As we've just seen, politics can get very personal and painful. But where there's power, there's always going to be people hoping to get elected. We saw that in a big way today as well.

With more on "Raw Politics," here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this Labor Day week marks a milestone in the labors of President Bush. He has just over 500 days left in office.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): So who is working hardest to get his job? Back in Texas, give the nod to little-noticed Duncan Hunter. He's just patted his resume by winning the Lone Star straw poll. The big GOP name skipped it. But a headline is a headline, especially when you're not getting many.

Working together, the big Democrats are hammering the chaotic primary calendar into shape. The party has threatened sanctions against states moving their votes up earlier in the year. Now virtually all of the candidates are supporting the party. That will protect Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina as the bellwethers and it will make Florida and Michigan very angry.

Going to work with the cows, big Joe Biden says Iowa is the focus of his campaign. He's low enough in the polls and money. If he does not finish in the top three dems, he'll probably call in sick for the rest of the election.

And Fred Thompson set to join the race this week is certainly punching in later than most. So the "Newsweek" article "Lazy Like a Fox" echoes concern among Republicans that Mr. Law and Order just won't work hard enough to win.

Thompson's response? Well, let's not wake him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (on camera): Okay, just kidding. Don't call the D.A.'s office. Thompson has said all along, look, this guy was a successful Senator, he was a star actor, he's serious about the White House. He's hardly a slacker. And as you know, actors and politicians are among the hardest working of all Americans -- Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, thanks. Don't miss "Raw Politics" and the day's headlines with the new 360 daily podcast. You don't need an iPod. You can watch it on your computer. CNN.com/ac360podcast or check out the iTune store where it's a top download.

Just ahead tonight, six teenagers accused of a violent crime. Was it attempted murder or just a schoolhouse fight? That's one question you'll get to answer, but not the most chilling one, which is as scary as it is simple. Simply put, are the bad old days of the racist south lingering in the town we'll take you to next?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Nooses hanging from a tree. Black teenagers facing life in prison for a schoolhouse fight. All-white juries dispensing justice. Louisiana, 1967? Wrong. It's all happening now.

Later, brace yourself. It's happening again. First, Dean, now Felix. Another monster hurricane. We're tracking the storm as people scramble for safety, ahead on 360.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER (on camera): Take a look at that tree. It plays a significant role in the story we're about to tell you. What happened under that tree has triggered a racial battle that is ripping a town apart.

The story is out of Jena, Louisiana. Many of you know about it. You've asked us to report on it. And depending on who you talk to, this is either a case of a town seeking justice for a young white student who was beaten or it's an example of racial injustice in which a town's law enforcement is unfairly going after six black high school students while ignoring the harassment and attacks that some of them have been subjected to.

Here are the facts and we'll let you be the judge. Our in-depth reporting tonight begins with CNN's Susan Roesgen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nestled in the heart of Louisiana is the small town of Jena, where the town motto is "it's a nice place to call home." But not so nice for everyone.

Marcus Jones is outraged and frightened. His son, 17-year-old Mychal Bell has been found guilty of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, charges that could send him to prison for more than 20 years, a chain of events that all began under a tree at Jena High School.

Like the town itself, the school is mostly white and the unwritten rule was that the tree was a meeting place for white students only. But last year several black students sat under the tree and the next day three nooses hung from the branches.

To the black community, the message was clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very offended because that's a racial slur against us.

ROESGEN: But some white residents said it was no big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think a couple boys made a mistake. But I think it's all been blown out of proportion.

ROESGEN: From there, tension between white and black students escalated. In November, a fire destroyed part of the school. Police said it was arson. Many in town suspect it was connected to the worsening race relations.

Then in December, a white student, Justin Barker, was knocked unconscious and kicked as he lay on the ground. Some said Barker provoked the fight. But in an exclusive interview, his parents told us Justin didn't do anything and they believed he could have been killed.

KELLI BARKER, MOTHER OF JUSTIN BARKER: Several lacerations in both sides, both ears was kind of really damaged. And both eyes, his right eye was the worse. It had blood clots in it.

ROESGEN: These are pictures taken of Justin's face by the police department at the hospital. Justin was released the same day and attended a school ceremony that very night. A few days later, six black classmates were charged with attempted murder.

Carwyn Jones, Bryant Purvis, Robert Bailey Jr., and Theodore Shaw all face the prospect of life in prison. A fifth teenager, whose name hasn't been released, is charged with attempted murder as a juvenile. And in June, the sixth teenager, Mychal Bell, was found guilty of aggravated battery.

It took an all-white jury just three hours to reach the verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the blacks do not stand a chance. Threw them away just like that.

ROESGEN: The local district attorney plans to pursue the charges against the other five boys. D.A. Reed Walters released a written statement after the incident last year, saying he had never charged anyone based on who they are. But the boys' parents don't believe that any of them will get a fair trial.

CASEPTALA BAILEY, MOTHER OF ROBERT BAILEY: The D.A. had to come up with these horrendous charges, outrageous charges or whatever and he just felt that since this is the way that he has been doing things for years to the black people, is this is just something that we won't allow him to roll over us and let it happen. ROESGEN: Another mother, Tina Jones, says the D.A. offered to drop the charges against her son if he would testify against the others. Her son refused.

ROESGEN (on camera): Do you think that your son should have agreed to that plea deal?

TINA JONES, MOTHER OF BRYANT PURVIS: No, if he didn't see who hit him, that's a risk we'll have to take, you know.

ROESGEN (voice-over): A risk that could mean life in prison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Susan Roesgen joins us now live in Jena.

Susan, just a couple of questions about this case.

The young man who was beaten -- the young white man -- he basically -- his injuries -- he was treated for some two hours and went to an event that night. So it's not like he spent weeks and weeks in the hospital, is that correct?

ROESGEN (on camera): That is correct. Though his parents like to point out that he did not participate in this fight. He didn't get a punch in. He was, in their opinion, viciously attacked. But he was well enough to go to a school function that very same night.

COOPER: Right. It started -- he was punched in the back of the head, not even in his face, it was just a sucker punch basically in the back of the head and then he was kind of stomped on allegedly, according to this report.

But one of the young black men had been in a previous situation a couple of days and or week or two before at a party -- predominantly white party and a white student had broken a bottle over his head and attacked him and that white student only got charged with a simple assault, not this aggravated assault, which is a much higher charge. Is that correct?

ROESGEN: That is true, Anderson. But I think that's partly because it was at an off-campus party. In this case, that particular student, Mychal Bell, actually has four prior arrests -- misdemeanor arrests. And he's the one tomorrow here at the courthouse. He's got a new lawyer, and his lawyer is going to argue that his conviction on the aggravated battery charge in this case either be thrown out completely or that it be bumped back to juvenile case since he was only 16 at the time of the attack.

COOPER: All right. We're going to talk more about this.

Susan, appreciate the report.

So what do you think at home about what's going on in Jena?

Our in-depth report is going to continue in a moment with a legal panel on the case.

Also ahead tonight, a new update on Hurricane Felix is expected within minutes. Where will the second monster storm of the hurricane season strike next? Full details ahead, on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very offended because that's a racial slur against us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think a couple boys made a mistake. You know, I think it's all been blown out of proportion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Two sides to one story. Before the break we told you about the six black teenagers charged with the attempted murder of a white student in Jena, Louisiana.

One of the defendants was convicted of a lesser charge in June. He could face more than 20 years in prison. There's a hearing tomorrow.

Some say this all began when several black students at Jena High School sat under a tree that was traditionally used by white students. The next day three nooses hung from that tree. That in itself is a story. So is this a case about justice or modern-day lynching?

Jordan Flaherty is the editor for "Left Turn" magazine who broke the story. Lisa Bloom is an anchor at "Court TV," and Charles Ogletree is a Harvard Law School professor and an adviser for the teenage defendant. I spoke to them earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Jordan, you've been covering this story since the beginning. You say it's a clear example of a two-tiered system of justice. How so?

JORDAN FLAHERTY, EDITOR, "LEFT TURN" MAGAZINE: I think that we've seen a public defender office that is under resourced. I think that we've seen these kids haven't gotten a proper defense up until this point. And I think, you know, people around the country have been really concerned about what this says about our justice system.

COOPER: Professor Ogletree, you're working as an adviser in the defense of these African-American young men. Mychal Bell tomorrow has a hearing. He's already been convicted of second degree aggravated battery as well as conspiracy. You say the trial was a complete travesty. How so, and what are his chances of appeal?

PROFESSOR CHARLES OGLETREE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, let me count the ways. The lawyer didn't call witnesses. He didn't do any real investigation. The jury was all white. No African-American served in the jury in a community where race is very significant. The prosecutor had some very threatening remarks.

And I hope to God that this judge doesn't let this case go forward to a sentencing yet. There's a lot of post-trial work. There needs to be a new hearing and new evidence presented.

More importantly, this is a community that's divided along race lines. White kids had nooses -- nooses in a 21st century hanging from a tree. That's not a joke.

COOPER: I want to talk about the nooses and -- especially at the school in just a moment, but Lisa, just as an outside observer, what do you think the chances of an appeal are and what do you make of this trial?

LISA BLOOM, "COURT TV" ANCHOR: Well, legally, I think it's tough. Morally and politically, disgusting what's going on down there. But to show ineffective assistance of counsel, Anderson, it's a very, very high standard. The Supreme Court has said a drunk lawyer, a lawyer who sleeps through a trial, they are effectively assisting their client. I mean, if the lawyer essentially shows up and stays awake and does most of what we expect during a trial, that's probably going to be effective assistance of counsel.

It is disturbing that it's an all-white jury in a racially charged case, but it's an 85 percent white community. I don't know how many blacks were in the jury pool.

So you know, so these facts when they're teased out, may not fly legally, may not help these defendants.

COOPER: Jordan, you've been covering this. This is a school system which basically seems to condone a situation where black students sit on one side of the gymnasium and white students sit on the other side of the gymnasium, a school system which condones a tree where white students get to sit and where African-American students, the one time they do try to sit there, nooses are hung. And the students, I mean, basically get a slap on the wrist for hanging nooses.

JORDAN: That's absolutely right, a slap on the wrist. I believe they got two days suspension. And meanwhile, there was also just outside of the school a black student was beaten up by white students a couple of days before the incident in question.

COOPER: Right. And one of the students is actually accused -- in this case, one of the African-American students had a bottle broken over his head and the white student who did that was charged with simple assault, not the greater charge of aggravated assault.

JORDAN: And received probation. And I think that people of Jena are really concerned that their town is going to become synonymous with racism.

COOPER: Lisa, had the school actually reported the fact that these nooses were hung, an investigation could have been done by outside authorities. BLOOM: Well, the school actually has an obligation under federal law to take prompt remedial action when there's racial harassment, just like when there's sexual harassment. And so the school, arguably, completely fell down on its obligations by treating those nooses as though they were quote, "a silly prank." That's what the school said. I mean, they missed an opportunity to educate -- they missed an opportunity to set these kids straight. And this situation spun out of control after they missed that opportunity.

COOPER: And tomorrow Mychal Bell is in court. What's going to happen tomorrow?

OGLETREE: I hope what will happen at the end of the day is the judge will say, you know what? There's something wrong with this process. Let the court hear all the evidence in a dispassionate way and justice begins to be served in Jena. This will not go away. It's not going to disappear. And this is now having national and international light shed on it. So I applaud the lawyers who are fighting for these young men. I applaud the community coming together and I applaud the white citizens of Jena who are saying, you know what? If there's something wrong with our town, let's fix it.

COOPER: Professor Charles Ogletree, appreciate your time.

Jordan Flaherty, as well.

And Lisa Bloom, as always, thank you.

OLGETREE: Thank you.

FLAHERTY: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, just ahead, he went to bed an accountant and he woke up a multimillionaire. He also said he had some unusual help winning the lottery. Wait until you hear his explanation.

Also ahead, the latest on the fast-moving storm that has many fleeing for safety. Hurricane Felix, next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We continue to keep a close eye on Hurricane Felix, a powerful storm racing towards Central America. It is moving closer to the Nicaragua/Honduras border with winds of 135 miles per hour.

CNN's Severe Weather Expert Chad Myers joins us again with an update -- Chad.

MYERS: Anderson, yes, the very latest coming out now, the 11:00 update coming out. And all things remain the same -- 135 miles per hour, 115 knots. Not expected to get to be a Category 5 before making landfall and literally landfall is only about eight or nine hours away. That eye is very, very close now. About to make landfall south of the Honduras/Nicaragua border and track all the way over toward -- and just to the south of Tegucigalpa. This is the area -- this is a mountainous region here of Honduras that I'm most concerned about.

Where it's going to slam ashore, sparsely populated fishing villages at best.

So this is the good new -- it's not going to hit a major populated area. And then it's going to lose a lot of power, but as it loses its power, it's going to put down a lot of water, a lot of rainfall, maybe a foot of rainfall across the mountains of Honduras, the same type of problem that caused so much damage with Mitch years and years ago. And we can see the same type of thing here with mudslides and the potential for significant flooding is now even greater than it was maybe the last advisory as it's going to stay on the shore on land longer -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Chad, thanks for the update.

Randi Kaye joins us now with a quick check of the headlines and the 360 bulletin -- Randi.

KAYE: Hi there, Anderson.

Take a look at this. An explosion kicked off the biggest-ever expansion of the Panama Canal. The $5.2 billion project is expected to double the waterway's capacity and lower the price of consumer goods on the East Coast of the U.S. The work should be completed by 2014.

In Kittery, Maine, more than 1,000 people chipped in to build this 32-foot high sand castle. The intent is to get into the Guinness Book of World Records and raise funds for terminally ill children and their families. The current record is 29-1/4 feet which just so happened to be built four years ago by the very same person who created that castle.

And a Maryland accountant who appears to have become an overnight multimillionaire says he owes his good fortune to pagan gods associated with his Wiccan beliefs. Elwood "Bunky" Bartlett bought two $5 Mega Millions lottery tickets Friday on his way to a new age bookstore where he teaches. He says he asked the gods for help and promised to continue teaching Wicca if he won. Well, if his ticket is confirmed, he will share a $330 million jackpot.

COOPER: Wow.

KAYE: If it was only that easy, right? Just ask the gods and there you are.

COOPER: There you go.

Just one note before we go tonight.

You know, you've just been watching the first-ever edition of 360 in high-definition television. Hi-def and at this point I think only like three or four people can actually see us in hi-def, but most of them are my bosses, so we think it's important.

Don't ask me how the whole hi-def things work, but the kids on the Internet, they tell me it's the thing to get. For those of you who have not seen high-definition images, I want to give you a chance to see what you're missing. See, this is me in the old-fashioned standard TV. But check out what I look like in high-definition. Do we have that? There you go. That's me on CNN HD, not a wrinkle, not a line. Isn't that amazing? That stuff? Look. See, on the old TV, the regular TV, when I raise my eyebrows, I have all these lines. See in hi-def, eyebrows raised, no lines. Technology is amazing.

Still to come, what you're saying about our 360 special, "Anvil of God," which aired on Friday night. Many of you have been writing in. We'll read some of the comments when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "On the Radar" tonight, a lot of you have been writing to us about the 360 special "Anvil of God," which ran on Friday. I hope you saw it. I really just thought it was remarkable.

CNN's Tom Foreman brought us inside the battle of Fallujah, the most intense fight of the war so far.

For Angie in Bay, Arkansas, the account touched home. Her cousin was killed there. She writes: My prayers are with all of our troops who are still fighting every day. My prayers are also with all of the family members who mourn over a fallen loved one and those who must face daily the reality that their son or daughter may not return.

Lorie Ann in Buellton, California, writes: As a daughter of a veteran, I can say I am forever grateful to the military for their service and the endless work they do for our country. I can't say it enough, thank you.

And Grace in New York City had a brother in Fallujah. She writes: Thank you for the raw, honest portrayal of an event that hit home for us with such intensity during this confusing war. Although my brother and many of his men returned from the battle alive, I still feel the losses deep within my heart for those that didn't make it. We all do.

That's for sure, Grace.

As always, keep sending us your comments and go to CNN.com/360 and link to the blog or send us a v-mail through our Web site.

For international viewers, "CNN TODAY" is next. Here in America, "LARRY KING" is coming up.

Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow night.

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