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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Terror Plot in Germany; Senator Fights Back: Craig not Resigning?; Search Underway; Stealing the Spotlight; America Votes 2008; Killer's Brain
Aired September 24, 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: Also ahead, most of his fellow Republicans don't like it, but Senator Larry Craig is having second thoughts about stepping down. He's lawyering up, getting ready to fight. The question is, what are his chances to undo his guilty plea and repair the damages from his bathroom bust?
And later, what drove pro wrestler Chris Benoit to kill his family, then himself? You have heard the rumors of steroid use. Now we're learning there is striking evidence of something else, something in his brain.
We begin tonight with the alleged plot against Americans in Germany, three people arrested so far. German authorities say they have been watching them now for months. And adding to the intrigue and the questions, one of them was actually arrested once before and then later set free.
But it's -- it's what the men were doing when police nabbed them that we are all focusing on right now, allegedly in the final stages of a plot designed to kill hundreds of people.
COOPER (voice-over): If German authorities are correct, this man marked Americans for death. You're looking at one of the three terror suspects accused of plotting a massive and imminent attack on U.S. targets across Germany.
Police are investigating whether their hit list may have included the sprawling Ramstein Air Base, the U.S. air command center in Europe, and home to the largest American community outside the U.S., and whether other attacks may have been aimed at Frankfurt Airport and nightclubs frequented by Americans.
According to German officials, the suspects are in their 20s and have been under surveillance for six months. Two are Germans who converted to Islam. The third is from Turkey. Officials say one of the men was arrested last year for spying on a U.S. military installation in Germany. All three allegedly received training at camps in Pakistan.
Reaction from Washington was swift.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It is a sobering reminder of the fact that, six years after 9/11, the intent of al Qaeda and its allies to wage war on the West remains very much unabated.
COOPER: German officials called the accused very dangerous, highly professional terrorists. They said the terror cell was going to use these containers filled with 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide to set off car bombs.
The developments follow yesterday's terror raids in Denmark, where eight suspected Islamic extremists were taken into custody. While European Union officials see no link between the two arrests, some experts are concerned about the potential.
WILL GEDDES, SECURITY EXPERT: A lot of these groups are looking to up the ante. What more effective, potentially, could there be than to coordinate attacks in two separate countries at the same time?
COOPER: Well, with us now out of Frankfurt Airport, just northeast of Ramstein Air Base, is CNN's Paula Newton.
Paula, one of these suspects, it was said, was arrested earlier this year. Why was he released?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You know, we came here to check that story out ourselves a few months ago. You know, American families here were quite concerned about it. Everyone put it down to even some kind of judicial mistake.
Right now, Anderson, it looks like no mistake, but something that was done deliberately by authorities, so that they could tail this man, tail him for more than six months.
It is crucial, Anderson, that, in trying to investigate these kinds of plots, that they infiltrate the plots, know all they can about it.
COOPER: That's fascinating.
So, and we may not -- you may not know the answer to this. It might not be known publicly. Were they tailing him before the arrests, or did they just decide, after they arrested him, you know what, we will release him and tail him, or -- or had the operation already begun?
NEWTON: It seems that they were alerted to this, and that's when the operation began. And we know, from a lot of the investigations we have covered in Britain, this is how it all starts.
You know, Anderson, if you're going to beat al Qaeda at its own game, you need to play by some different rules. And, as you mentioned before, quite daring of them to actually replace hydrogen peroxide with a weaker substance, and then continue to tail them and figure out what they were up to.
COOPER: Paula -- Paula, thanks for the reporting. Some perspective now on the scope of the suspected plot, al Qaeda connections and all the rest. Joining us now is Stephen Flynn, senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the great book "The Edge of Disaster;" also Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank of the New York University Center on Law and Security.
Good to see you both. Thanks for being on the program.
Stephen, how -- how real was this threat?
STEPHEN FLYNN, SENIOR FELLOW IN NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think it's quite real.
It just shows that the terrorist threat is metastasizing and, increasingly, it has a European footprint. The connection to Iraq is becoming -- and even Pakistan and Afghanistan -- is becoming somewhat tenuous, because these people are sort of self-actualized, self- radicalizing themselves.
And the tools for carrying out terror, which are in this case conventional explosives for a car bomb, you know, are now sort of widely available. So, these kind of attacks, we can keep on expecting, not just in Europe, but elsewhere.
COOPER: You know, Paul, Stephen mentions Iraq and Afghanistan. Germany is not in Iraq. They have a small presence in Afghanistan. So, why target Germany? I mean, why have this action in Germany?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, FELLOW, CENTER ON LAW AND SECURITY: Well, the targets in Germany were primarily American targets. This group had what German authorities describe as a profound hatred for American citizens.
So, there was American targets. This group was clearly operationalized in Pakistan. They were self-radicalized in Germany.
COOPER: How big a problem are -- is homegrown terrorism in Germany? I mean, the Hamburg cell, part of the 9/11 hijacking plot, was plotted in Hamburg.
CRUICKSHANK: It's a -- it's a real problem in Germany that, obviously, three of the 9/11 pilots were from Hamburg. They were obviously Middle Eastern, but students in Hamburg. Many, sort of maybe a couple of dozen German citizens, had traveled to Iraq and back.
So, Germany has had a problem with homegrown terrorism. But the crucial thing here is that -- the fact that -- that they have gone to Pakistan. They have got the training there. It was exactly a year ago that President Musharraf signed a peace deal with militants in western Pakistan. And it was after that period, in December of 2006, according to German authorities, that two of these three individuals went and trained in Pakistan.
COOPER: Do -- do we know -- and I will ask this to either of you -- do we know how well people are tracked when they go to Pakistan? I mean, if a -- if a German citizen goes to Pakistan, does that light up somewhere on someone's radar, and -- and they start watching this guy? Do -- do we know?
CRUICKSHANK: I think it's very, very difficult for intelligence services to track people in Pakistan, but there are attempts to do it, but it's very, very difficult to do it over there.
When people leave Germany, they can do it in certain ways, you know, mobile phone intercepts and so on and so forth. But to actually track people in Pakistan with human intelligence, they have to rely more on the Pakistani security services. And cooperation, obviously, there is crucial.
COOPER: What about cooperation, Stephen, between German authorities and U.S. authorities?
I mean, German authorities pretty -- seem, at least in this, pretty efficient to come up with this idea to release the guy after his early arrest, and then follow him. And to be able to follow them successfully, and even replace chemicals seems like a pretty high-tech operation.
FLYNN: Yes. I think this is one of the important takeaways. While the threat remains real, but it turns out to be one of the most effective tools for confronting it is good law enforcement.
It's not all about our men and women, as brave as they are, and being in Iraq. And, clearly, cooperation is key when we're talking about, in this case, U.S. targets being in Germany. But I think this speaks very well of a law enforcement effort to go after -- not only go after these folks, but really try to follow the plot all the way through. And, so, ideally we have got a pretty good sting going on.
COOPER: It's interesting, Paul, as we look at a couple of these plots. I mean, you look, going back to the subway bombers in London, to these guys, even though they're -- they're homegrown, even though they're radicalized in Europe, either in London or in -- in Germany, they need a connection to Pakistan. They need to actually go there to get training.
Why is that? I mean, you read, oh, it's really easy to build a bomb from reading on the Internet. Is that not the case?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, I think the idea that it's easy to build a bomb on the Internet is overblown.
COOPER: It's overblown?
CRUICKSHANK: It's absolutely overblown. It's very, very difficult.
And these individuals in Germany were handling hydrogen peroxide, which is very unstable, very, very difficult to manipulate. They were sort of using the same techniques as the July 7 bombers used. They were using exact -- exactly the same sort of substance.
COOPER: So, hydrogen peroxide was used in the London bombings?
CRUICKSHANK: Exactly. It's become an al Qaeda signature ingredient to use in these attacks. But you can only use hydrogen peroxide in quite small quantities, because it's so unstable.
So, the idea they could blow up a whole U.S. Air Force base, again, is perhaps exaggerated. But, certainly, they could have targeted discos. They could have had carnage in Frankfurt Airport.
COOPER: Right. A bomb in a disco in -- somewhere in Berlin could cause, you know, havoc.
What are the other takeaways, Stephen? I mean, why is all this happening now? Is it just the 9/11 anniversary? You have this plot foiled. You have -- there was an arrest in Denmark last week. Just coincidence?
FLYNN: No. Certainly, anniversaries are quite important for the terrorists. It's a part of saying, we're still in the fight.
And, you know, they do have limited resources. They can't attack everything at once. So, they tend to repeat patterns. Like, this case, it looked like they were building a car bomb or some efforts that basically would take out discos. So, we get repeat behaviors.
But I think the real takeaway remains that it turns out to be, one of the ways you prevent this is good law enforcement, and also civil engagement.
Going back to the failed car bombings in London this past summer, you know, this was a case of an on-the-ball ambulance driver, an overzealous traffic warden, and a cocky Scotsman that helped in foiling that activity.
It's not all about the national security apparatus and being in Iraq. We have to have a much broader approach to dealing with the terrorist threat than one that just relies on a war in Iraq.
COOPER: Stephen's book is "The Edge of Disaster." If you haven't read it, it's -- it's a great work. It really focuses on problems here at home and what can be done to kind of shore up national security issues here at home, in terms of America's infrastructure.
And, Paul Cruickshank, with the NYU Center on Law and Security, thanks so much for being with us.
Moving on now from the terrifying to the just plain puzzling -- Senator Larry Craig now apparently not resigning, that is, if he's able to get his guilty plea stemming from a bathroom sex sting overturned by the 30th of this month.
Now, Senator Craig, you will recall, denies being gay again. The first time he did was back in 1982 in connection with a scandal involving male congressional pages. Well, now flash forward to the 11th of June, Senator Craig busted after allegedly making suggestive signals to an undercover cop in the stalls of a Minneapolis Airport men's room. That's also when he's later heard on an interrogation tape agreeing, reluctantly and contentiously, to doing whatever it takes not to go to court.
Now here's what may be a crucial milestone to establishing that the Senator was not rushed into actually entering a plea. According to "The Idaho Statesman," he did not mail in the relevant document until the 1st of August. Then, on the 27th, "Roll Call" newspaper ran the story.
September 1, Craig said it was his intent to resign. Then, just yesterday came word that he's reconsidering. And the rest -- well, we're all about to watch.
More from CNN's Joe Johns.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To somehow survive this, Senator Craig has to clear at least three massive hurdles. The first, successfully overcoming the guilty plea he voluntarily agreed to. Last week, this sounded almost insurmountable. And even now, legal observers agree, at best, it's a long shot.
JOE FRIEDBERG, MINNEAPOLIS DEFENSE ATTORNEY: To let it go forward would be a manifest miscarriage of justice.
JOHNS: Still, this defense attorney we asked in Minnesota, where the charges were filed, says withdrawing that plea may not be quite as farfetched as it sounds.
FRIEDBERG: What this is, is a plea to a set of facts that don't constitute a crime.
JOHNS: In other words, what an undercover police officer said about Craig having a wide stance in a bathroom stall, tapping his foot and so on, isn't against the law.
FRIEDBERG: It would be kind of like somebody pleading guilty to attempting to rape a mannequin. It -- it can't happen.
JOHNS: No crime, no valid plea -- that's the theory. And, despite his guilty plea, Craig says he did nothing wrong.
(on camera): In a voicemail before his resignation speech which he apparently thought he was leaving for his criminal attorney, Billy Martin, Craig sounded like he might be willing to bet on the argument that he was railroaded.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: Yes, Billy, this is Larry Craig calling. This thing could take a new turn or a new shape, has that potential.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
JOHNS (voice-over): So, that's hurdle number one. Odds of winning that bet, not great. But if he does, then he gets to hurdle number two, the ethics process.
Even if Craig somehow gets the Minnesota case thrown out, he could still have a massive fight on Capitol Hill with the Senate Ethics Committee. Craig's top-shelf lawyer, Stan Brand, will argue the committee has no business mucking around with a misdemeanor matter like this.
STANLEY BRAND, ATTORNEY FOR SENATOR LARRY CRAIG: In the 220-year recorded history of the Senate, no Senator has ever been disciplined for misdemeanor conduct that doesn't relate to the performance of his official duties. And, so, that's -- that's it in a nutshell.
JOHNS: The last time a Senator was expelled was during the Civil War, but a bunch have been forced out. The problem for Craig is, Ethics Committee investigations can bring up skeletons in a politician's closet that a court of law wouldn't touch.
WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's a very vague and broad standard. And it is not necessary that a crime be committed.
JOHNS: But even if he gets past that second hurdle, his final hurdle is more like a brick wall. It's national politics. A lot of Republicans simply want him gone.
JOHN FEEHREY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The big thing was, Larry Craig got caught trying to solicit sex in a public bathroom. And I think that most Americans find that to be repugnant conduct, especially for a Senator.
JOHNS: Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Craig says, if he can't beat the guilty plea by a self-imposed deadline of September 30, he will resign anyway, which would bring sighs of relief to many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Well, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin has been kind of scratching his head, along with all of us, on this story. Here he is here with us again tonight.
So, is there something in this Minnesota law that could actually work in Craig's favor?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this idea of a manifest injustice, if you plead guilty to something that simply isn't a crime -- there was a recent case that came up in Minnesota where there was a Peeping Tom situation, where someone was sort of lurking around a house, and he pled guilty to burglary.
The court let him withdraw his guilty plea because they said, look, being a Peeping Tom is not a burglary. You pleaded guilty to something that you did not do, so we're going to let you withdraw the plea. That would be Craig's argument, that his gestures, his lurking in the bathroom did not constitute -- not disturbing the peace.
COOPER: Disorderly conduct.
TOOBIN: Disorderly conduct.
COOPER: But -- so what would the charge actually be? I mean, what -- can one be charged with flirting in a bathroom?
I mean, that would be Craig's argument, that this behavior is simply not a crime, so you can't plead guilty to it. But -- but the problem is, the definition of disorderly conduct is so broad, that that sort of peculiar behavior in the bathroom probably does constitute disorderly conduct.
COOPER: And the resignation hinges, according to Craig -- I mean, this is the timetable he has set for September 30, so I suppose he could retract that, as he's now seemingly retracting the -- the whole -- the whole notion.
But -- but, if he sticks to September 30, is it possible for him to get these charges either tossed out or a decision made before then?
TOOBIN: I don't -- I don't see how it's possible, because he hasn't even filed anything yet.
If he files something, the Minnesota court will undoubtedly say, OK, let the government file a response. Then meet in court. How that -- you know, the legal system doesn't tend to work all that efficiently. And, you know, here we are, the first week in September already. There's no way that this could be done by the end of September, as far as I understand how it works.
COOPER: Well, the other thing which you brought up last night, which I completely had missed in all this, is that this event took place on June 11. I had assume he got flustered, signed these documents, and pled guilty that day to disorderly conduct.
But you pointed out last night, it wasn't until August 1, or August, that he sent in the documents actually pleading guilty.
TOOBIN: Right, which -- which makes the argument that, you know, I didn't -- I didn't think this through.
And one of the other interesting points, you look at the -- the records of the officer -- of the officer in the case, in his conversations in that period between June and August, Craig talks about, well, I need to talk to my lawyer. I need -- so, maybe there was a lawyer involved. Maybe he was lying to the cop. But, I mean, obviously, this was a decision, perhaps a stupid decision, but one that a United States Senator reflected on for several weeks. It's not the -- the kind of thing where a judge is going to be particularly sympathetic, and say, well, you know, you didn't really think it through.
COOPER: Let's listen to this voicemail that Craig left for -- for his -- apparently, for his attorney. Let's listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CRAIG: Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense, arguing that it appears, by all that he knows, I have been railroaded and all of that. Having all of that, we have reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: That was left the morning, the Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon is when he made that speech.
In his speech, he doesn't say -- he says the reason he's giving the September date is to allow his staff time to -- where's the wording? -- to allow a smooth and orderly transition of his staff.
That's -- that's either -- that's a lie.
TOOBIN: I heard that's -- I heard that statement. It didn't remotely occur to me that it was a conditional resignation. I thought it was a resignation, period. But now he's trying to work the system and hang in there.
COOPER: You can't predict these things. It's fascinating.
Jeffrey Toobin, appreciate it.
Straight ahead tonight, how did enough nuclear firepower to level a small country end up cruising above the United States, apparently without orders from anybody?
Also, the search for aviation icon Steve Fossett.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): A very small needle in a very large haystack, searching for multimillionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, hoping that a man who's cheated death dozens of times has done it again.
Later, startling new evidence into what might have turned a terror in the ring into a suicidal killer -- evidence from inside Chris Benoit's brain, tonight on 360. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN MORNING")
VOICE OF RICHARD BRANSON, CEO, VIRGIN ATLANTIC: Well, obviously worried. The problem is, there wasn't a flight plan, so he could be anywhere in a 600-square-mile block. It seems more likely than not that he's injured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (on camera): That is the billionaire owner of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson, talking about his friend and fellow adventurer Steve Fossett, who is still missing after his plane disappeared on Monday.
Now yesterday, Branson was much more upbeat, saying that Fossett was probably OK. But as of tonight, search crews have had no luck finding him. At the time of his disappearance, Fossett, who has set more than 100 world records, was scouting locations for his attempt to break the land speed record.
For more on the efforts to locate Fossett, let's go now to CNN's Ted Rowlands, who is live, standing by in Minden, Nevada -- Ted.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, searchers had very high hopes today. The weather was absolutely perfect. They flooded the skies, looking for Steve Fossett's plane. And at one point early this afternoon, they thought that they had found it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR CYNTHIA RYAN, CIVIL AIR PATROL: We thought we had it nailed. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of many dozens of unmapped wreck sites from previous years.
We found that out by sending in a helicopter. And they put a man on the ground and verified that it was not the target that we were looking for. It was not Mr. Fossett or his aircraft.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROWLANDS: Disappointment this afternoon, but they're -- not completed their search, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they say, because it is such a wide area that they are concentrating on, because there was no flight plan, it will take them at least a week before they can comb over this area.
And that's assuming that they have good weather for the next week, which they are hoping for. That said, if Fossett is in good condition, they are convinced that he could last longer than a week with little or no problem. Mentally, he knows what to do.
They have also decided, rather than suspend the searches each evening, they are going to put a C-130 up tonight. They're going to set it up about 10:00 p.m., local time here. When that lands, they will have a short change-around, and they will send up another crew in the C-130, using thermal technology, thermal imaging technology, so that they can continue the search overnight.
Then, tomorrow morning, at first light, they plan to hit it again very hard in search of Steve Fossett, everybody waiting for word around the world who is following this, hoping, hoping for the best. But, as you can imagine, with every hour, concern continues to rise.
COOPER: All right, Ted.
COOPER: Thanks for covering it for us.
Let's check some of the other headlines today.
Erica Hill joins us right now with a 360 bulletin -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, an eight-day heat wave in Southern California has claimed at least 27 lives. Fifteen of the deaths were in Los Angeles County. The temperatures have been in the triple digits. In Riverside County, one of the victims was a 28-year- old man who didn't have air conditioning, another a 38-year-old found dead after his car was stuck in the desert.
In Honduras, Felix downgraded to a tropical depression and dumping lots of rain. The big fear now is flooding. Just yesterday, that storm came ashore in Nicaragua as a fierce Category 5 hurricane, with winds topping 160 miles per hour. At least nine people were killed by the storm.
And in Italy, Mount Etna at it again -- Europe's tallest volcano lit up the sky last night, spewing lava and ash. A nearby airport was closed temporarily as a precaution.
COOPER: Wow. Amazing pictures there.
HILL: Yes, they are pretty wild.
Want to get you on now, speaking of wild, tonight's "What Were They Thinking?" big old mistake by the U.S. Air Force.
It turns out last week...
COOPER: Wow. (LAUGHTER)
HILL: A B-52 bomber, like the one you're looking at here, was mistakenly loaded with six nuclear cruise missiles. It seems that that bomber actually flew all the way from North Dakota to Louisiana loaded with six nuclear warheads. The crew of the plane didn't even know they were on board. Apparently...
They were on missiles that were supposed to be scrapped. The nukes, though, very powerful, Anderson, 15 times the strength of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Experts, though, say that, apparently, there was no risk of a nuclear explosion, because the weapons weren't armed, although conventional explosives in the warheads could have detonated. As you can imagine, this big boo-boo not really going unnoticed.
It was such a big deal, the president had to be notified.
HILL: The squad commander responsible has been relieved of duty. And there's going to be an investigation. But they're not going to stop flights and look into it until the 14th of September.
COOPER: Wow. That's one of those things where it's like, d'oh! The nukes are missing. Yikes!
HILL: Yes. You don't want to be the guy in charge of that one.
COOPER: Not a good day for him.
COOPER: Up next, is John McCain sorry he called a teenager a jerk? The answer in "Raw Politics."
Also ahead, Fred Thompson goes one on one with Jay Leno. Did he finally say what we have all been waiting to hear?
That and more ahead on 360.
COOPER: Sex, lies and audiotape. Who says politics is boring?
Earlier tonight, we gave you the latest on the Larry Craig saga. In just a moment, we're going to catch up with Fred Thompson, who, tonight, is making his presidential bid official.
In the meantime, there are other White House hopefuls making news and taking shots.
CNN's Tom Foreman has it all in "Raw Politics."
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a hallmark of presidential elections these days is, all the insiders start saying they're really outsiders at heart. And the Democrats are screaming it this time.
(voice-over): Senator Barack Obama is ripping front-runner Hillary Clinton as too cozy with the politics of the past. And his latest ad echoes that theme.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you join me, we're going to take our country back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: John Edwards is hammering that same nail, but the Hill is not sitting still. Her latest ad says, real reform requires real experience.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: If we're ready for change, she's ready to lead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Republican John McCain gets a geriatric jab. A high schooler asked whether he can live long enough to serve as president. McCain calls him a jerk.
Senator, do you want to reconsider?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You mean the little guy that said that I was suffering from Alzheimer's? He was a little jerk.
FOREMAN: McCain calls it all good fun.
Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is stepping up the airing of this ad, which at least subtly points out, he's younger.
Run, Forrest. Run.
Congress put aside its bickering for a warm welcome for South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. Back at work following a life-threatening brain hemorrhage nine months ago, he's still struggling, but may seek reelection next year.
SEN. TIM JOHNSON (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: I return to work today to this great body with a renewed spirit and a sharper focus.
FOREMAN: And amid the wreckage of Katrina...
MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: It's going to work out. Hang in there.
FOREMAN: Ray Nagin surprised political analysts by being reelected mayor of New Orleans. Now, a new surprise. Nagin's camp hints he might jump into the pool of folks trying to become governor of Louisiana.
(on camera): Well, the raw read here, he could get an icy reception from state voters who are none too happy about the slowness of the recovery. He better keep a towel handy -- Anderson. (END VIDEOTAPE)
COOPER: Don't miss "Raw Politics" and the day's headlines with the 360 daily podcast. Don't worry, by the time you see the podcast, we'll have it all worked out.
You can watch it on your computer at CNN.com/AC360podcast. Or get it from the iTunes store where it's a top download for one of those iPod thingies.
Now, here's Kiran Chetry with what's coming up tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRAN CHETRY, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Thanks, Anderson.
Tomorrow we bring you the most news in the morning, including the story of a pioneer in the Ivy League. Too young to drive, too young to vote, yet she's already moved halfway across the country, away from her family to become the youngest African-American ever on an ivy campus. We're going to meet her tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING." It all begins 6 a.m., Eastern.
Anderson, back to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, tonight on 360, candidate Fred Thompson -- yep, candidate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): He's got the buzz. He's got the image.
FRED THOMPSON, FORMER SENATOR: I'm Fred Thompson, and I approve this message.
COOPER: But does TV star Fred Thompson also have the money, the message and the drive to become president? The best political team in television weighs in.
Later, startling new evidence into what might have turned a terror in the ring...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no!
COOPER: ... into a suicidal killer. Evidence from inside Chris Benoit's brain, ahead on 360.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (on camera): Well, if it seems like Fred Thompson is everywhere tonight, including "The Tonight Show," that's no accident. The former Republican Senator and "Law & Order" actor has been flirting with a presidential run, is finally, finally, to no one's surprise actually going to take the plunge.
Joining me now is CNN's John King.
He's actually going to do it, John?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is, Anderson.
Now, most of the Republican candidates are in New Hampshire debating tonight, but as you noted, Fred Thompson sat down with Jay Leno. He says he's been testing the waters for some time. In his view, he finds them, quote, "nice and warm," and he made it official.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRED THOMPSON, FORMER SENATOR: I'm running for president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Some applause there on "The Tonight Show". We'll see whether that applause continues when he actually gets into the race. You know, many say Fred Thompson has waited too long, but he thinks his timing is just right.
In his view, none of the other Republicans running has taken command of this race.
KING (voice-over): Fred Thompson is banking on the idea that it's better to be late than to be one of the other guys.
CYNDI MOSTELLER, S.C. REPUBLICAN ACTIVIST: For Giuliani, of course, it's the social issues. For John McCain, it's become the immigration issue. For Mitt Romney there's a sense of what is his core? Is he -- is he the John Kerry Republican in this in terms of flip-flopping?
KING: Mindy Mosteller is a veteran Republican activist in Charleston, South Carolina, a McCain backer until a few months ago, now helping Thompson try to prove waiting so long to officially jump in wasn't a mistake.
MOSTELLER: I think that Fred Thompson really is the intersection of conservative ideology and political electability.
KING: On the one hand, it sounds silly to say he's late to the race, but the first voting is four months away, and the others have been in Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and beyond for months.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Expectations are sky high, which means he'd better perform flawlessly out of the blocks, or a lot of people are going to start grumbling that he's not the great savior we thought he was. THOMPSON: On the next president's watch, our country will make decisions that will affect our lives and our families far into the future.
KING: Thompson is angling for a conservative base that hasn't coalesced around one candidate, promising his commitment to outlaw abortion is more than lip service.
THOMPSON: I don't think as a president you can do anything halfway.
KING: On Iraq, he's in no rush to talk about bringing troops home.
THOMPSON: Right now we need to make every effort to make sure that we don't get run out of there with our tail between our legs before we've done the job.
KING: Thompson is a former federal prosecutor, made his mark as the Republican counsel on the Senate Watergate committee and served eight years in the Senate from Tennessee, but bring up his name and one word trumps all others.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actor. He is known as an actor. Senator Thompson is not that well known. In many ways he's a vessel into whom many Republicans have poured their hopes and dreams. We'll see whether those hopes and dreams get realized.
COOPER: It's going to be so interesting to see once he's actually entering the fray, you know, whether he maintains the popularity that he seems to have now.
Why does he think that he's the candidate who can take Ronald Reagan's role and unify a party, you know, that is, in many ways, on the ropes?
KING (on camera): A couple of reasons, Anderson. The on the ropes part is critical. He believes Republicans will say who can win the White House, who can keep the White House at this very difficult time? He believes from a likability standpoint and a communication skills standpoint, that he matches up very well with Ronald Reagan, who he will say is his idol.
He also believes conservatives out there are looking at these other candidates and maybe checking, say, the crime box when it comes to Rudy Giuliani, but they don't like his position on social issues. Maybe honoring John McCain's military service, but they don't like his views on immigration, looking at Mitt Romney and saying, can we trust this guy on abortion, when he was pro-choice on abortion just a few years ago?
Fred Thompson thinks, if you're a conservative and you have a list of 10 boxes and you're matching up all the candidates, you'll be able to check more when it comes to him. That's what he believes now, Anderson. We'll find out for real whether he can do this when he gets in officially, a rally here on a bus tour in Iowa tomorrow.
COOPER: And it's going to be interesting.
John King, thanks.
With Thompson, we see it's not timing that matters, perhaps, it's the exposure. Here's the raw data.
Since January, "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno gets an average audience of about 5.5 million people a night. His decision to make the announcement there gets him a lot more eyeballs than tuned in for, say, May's Republican presidential debate on FOX network, which was watched by 2.6 million people.
Thompson skipped tonight's Republican presidential debate on FOX, though one of his ads did air during the debate. The location for the debate was Durham, North Carolina, and that's where CNN's Candy Crowley is now -- Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, we're in New Hampshire, Anderson.
It was one of those debates where they went over familiar ground, but there were also some differences here, and we have an answer to the question of what happens when, in fact, you don't show up for a debate. The answer is they talk about you, sometimes with humor, and sometimes with some very pointed statements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was scheduled to be on Jay Leno tonight, but I gave up my slot for somebody else, because I'd rather be in New Hampshire with these fine people.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that's a decision that Fred should make. Maybe we're up past his bedtime. But the point is, I think...
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Fred is a really, really good man. I think he's done a pretty good job of playing my part on "Law & Order." I personally prefer the real thing. But I think Fred will add something to this race.
I think this is a nomination you have to earn, though. Nobody's going to give it to you. Nobody's going to grant it to you. Nobody is going to crown you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Candy, also through the debate, I mean, Iraq was obviously a dominant issue. The candidates really didn't see eye to eye.
CROWLEY: No, they didn't, and that was what was interesting, because in effect, most of these candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have all been quite supportive of President Bush and the war. Ron Paul, of course, has been adamantly against it. But it did produce some fireworks this evening which was really interesting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think you're going to begin to see if the surge is working. And I think we're going to get that report very soon. That we're going to begin to slowly but surely pull back to a support role.
But the timetable for that, I hope, will be as soon as possible. We all hope for that. We all hope for that. But the question of timetable will depend upon how successful the surge is. And the key is we don't start pulling back troops. We don't go into a support mode.
MCCAIN: Governor, the surge is working. The surge is working, sir. It is working.
ROMNEY: That's what I said.
MCCAIN: No, not apparently, it's working. It's working because we've got a great general, we've got a good strategy.
HUCKABEE: Congressman, whether or not we should have gone to Iraq is a discussion that historians can have, but we're there. We bought it because we broke it.
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people didn't go in. A few people advising this administration, a small number of people called the neoconservatives hijacked our foreign policy. They're responsible, not the American people. They're not responsible. We shouldn't punish them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Candy, did any of these candidates do well enough to get a big bounce from tonight?
CROWLEY: You know, I doubt it, Anderson. This is the fifth debate that they've had on the Republican side. And you have to sort of look at these as part of the process. That as each debate comes, it sort of adds a little more to the impressions of these candidates.
This is the first one of the fall, as they billed it. It does matter here in New Hampshire. I'm sure it had some high visibility here. So insofar as New Hampshire is concerned, perhaps it made some -- changed some minds or made up some minds.
But the fact of the matter is there are many more debates to go, as you well know, and this is a process more than a single event that actually makes a big difference.
COOPER: Watching the debate tonight, Candy, it was sort of fascinating to me, and I don't want to toot our own horn, but really since that YouTube debate, it seems like everybody is trying to figure out how to get some user-generated content or some viewer questions in. They tried it again tonight.
We're going to have the YouTube debate with all the Republican candidates. That's going to be November 28. So you can watch the sort of ultimate in user-generated content. But I just think it's interesting to see how the debate, you know, process itself is now being transformed through technology.
Anyway, Candy, thanks for reporting.
Up next, new information about what may have helped drive pro wrestler Chris Benoit to kill his wife and his son. It is not steroids. It's actually something in his brain. Whether that actually led to it or not. Anyway, we'll take a look inside his brain, literally. Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains.
And next month, Sanjay, Jeff Corwin and I are going to literally take you around the world for a look at our "Planet in Peril." Our four-hour documentary airs October 23 and 24 right here on CNN.
COOPER: There's a new development tonight in the case that, frankly, we really haven't been following very much on this program. The case of pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife, young son and then himself two months ago.
Early on, steroid use emerged as a possible cause of the double murder-suicide. Tonight, new test results suggest maybe another possibility. A doctor who studied tissue from Benoit's brain says the wrestler suffered extensive brain damage from his years in the ring.
Earlier I talked with 360 MD, Sanjay Gupta, who's also a practicing neurosurgeon.
COOPER: Sanjay, how extensive was the damage to Benoit's brain?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was actually pretty remarkably extensive. The neurosurgeon, Julian Bailes out of West Virginia, actually looked at the brain, and he determined that Benoit has something known as traumatic encephalopathy. The name's not that important, but basically, he saw significant changes through several areas in the brain.
Anderson, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Let me see if I can show this to you a little bit here.
Looking at a normal brain over here. A couple things I'd just point out. You have sort of smooth borders around some of these cells here in the normal brain. I think even to the untrained eye, you can tell over here Benoit's brain, this is different. First of all, you see a lot of jagged edges around this area. And also just these brown clumps, Anderson, represent these protein deposits. It literally sort of clumps up the brain, sort of mucks it up, makes it hard for signals to transfer back and forth. Incidentally, these sorts of clumps, these sorts of changes that you see over here are the types of things that you might see in someone with Alzheimer's Disease, someone who's at an advanced stage. And remember, this is in Chris Benoit, who was only 40 years old. So pretty significant changes. And these are actual slices of his brain.
COOPER: But one can't actually say that brain damage caused him to kill his family and then himself. I mean, Alzheimer's patients aren't out killing people.
GUPTA: Yes, absolutely. And I think, you know, the cause and effect people, which I think a lot of people, quite frankly, are speculating about today, we don't know and we may never know to take it a step further.
There was a lot of speculation, as you'll remember, Anderson, about steroid use initially. And one thing we can say from looking at these brain slices is that it doesn't appear that he had the brain of someone who suffered from chronic steroid use or that the brain was affected by it.
This is much more as a result of the repeated concussions to the brain. We can't establish the cause and effect, but again, these same doctors who looked at his brain have looked at professional football players in the past, five of them, and found that, when they had brain changes like this, they exhibited erratic behavior. They may have exhibited depression. Some exhibited suicide.
And they went on to say that Benoit's brain was the worst they'd ever seen. Just those repeated concussions over and over and over again. It's not a linearly worse process. It's an exponentially worse process from one concussion to the next.
COOPER: I want to pick up, though, on something you said. It's interesting that I didn't know that, you can actually see changes to the brain of someone who's been on steroids for a long time?
GUPTA: Yes. You know, there's something known as steroid encephalopathy, and you get some pretty characteristic changes, as well, which sometimes you can actually find when someone's still alive by getting an MRI scan.
But certainly at autopsy, you can find that, you know, that same steroid encephalopathy by actually looking at the brain under the microscope.
As you might imagine, Anderson, that's not done very often. It's not like everyone who's been on steroids or who has had concussions gets this sort of examination. But it's fascinating, I think, as a doctor, as a neurosurgeon, to sort of look at the brain in this way.
COOPER: It's amazing.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks.
GUPTA: Thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE)
COOPER: Up next, the mysterious death of a U.S. Congressman.
Plus, the world's strongest man flexes his muscles. How does he do that? It's our "Shot of the Day," next.
COOPER: Ah, "The Shot of the Day" is coming up. Take a look at this. Where is it? There it is. Yep, it's a guy crunching up a pan. Bad day at the kitchen? Not exactly. We'll tell you about it, what's going on.
First, Erica Hill from Headline News joins us with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.
HILL: Anderson, Ohio Republican Congressman Paul Gillmor was found dead in his Washington apartment today after he didn't show up for work. No word on the cause of death. He spent nearly 20 years in Congress. Gillmor was 68 years old.
The Marine Corps says three senior officers have been disciplined for failing to respond to the killings of 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha in 2005. All received letters of censure. Four Marines were initially charged with those murders. Two now are facing charges. Three others are accused of failing to report the incident.
And a little warning out there, parents. There will likely more toys made in China recalled in the coming months. That is according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. They said today after announcing Mattel is recalling another 844,000 toys that may have lead paint. This is the third Mattel recall this summer.
Apple unveiling the new iPod Touch. It's similar to the iPhone, just minus the phone. It has a 3.5-inch wide-screen display and Wi- Fi, allowing users to buy iTunes music wirelessly. The device goes on sale later this month for $300 or $400, depending on which model you want.
But again, it's not a phone, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, you know, this is the kind of thing that, it's exciting and everything, but I feel like as soon as I get it, there's going to be something better coming out.
HILL: You know, that's the chance you take.
COOPER: I know. I know.
HILL: Well, then...
COOPER: I can't commit to the iPhone because I feel like the second generation will be better.
HILL: Well, and it could happen and then you're just the loser with the first generation. Like, ooh, couldn't upgrade, buddy. What's wrong with you?
COOPER: Right, exactly. Oh, yes, no, that's a fine first generation iPhone. But have you seen this?
HILL: Does that still work? It's so heavy and large.
COOPER: Large is the new small, though. No, it's the other way around. Small is the new large. I don't know.
Time for "The Shot." Check out this guy, Bill Kazmaier. That's when he's not crushing kitchen pans -- look at that. He's rolling up...
HILL: He's rolling the pan.
COOPER: With his bare hands.
HILL: Did he heat that up on the stove first?
COOPER: And then look, he -- he can -- I don't think so because he's doing it with his hands. And then he can pull trucks like that.
COOPER: He's been crowned the world's strongest man three times this week. I guess he was at the opening of a YMCA in Pennsylvania. The guy has forearms bigger than, like, I don't know, my thighs.
HILL: That's impressive. I'm in awe, frankly.
COOPER: Yes? Well, you know what? I've been working out a little bit. And watch this.
(CRUSHES ALUMINUM CAN)
HILL: Oh, yes? Oh, Cooper, yes, showing off the guns! Who knew we were getting tickets to the gun show tonight.
COOPER: That's right, you need a permit for this gun right here.
HILL: Yes, well. I'll work on the permit. Have I mentioned that I lift a 20-pound child daily?
(SNAPS PLASTIC FORK)
HILL: This fork stood no chance.
COOPER: You saw my crushed can and...
HILL: I raised you a plastic fork in two. Never a dull moment here on AC 360.
COOPER: Oh, no. That's right. OK. I want you to send us your "Shot" ideas. If you see some remarkable guns, tell us about it at CNN.com/360. We'll show some of your best clips on the air.
Up next, a check of what's on the 360 blog. Many of you talking about the legacy of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, one year after his death. We'll share some of your comments, when 360 continues.
COOPER: This week a year ago, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray barb while snorkeling near the Great Barrier Reef.
On the 360 blog, Wildlife Biologist Jeff Corwin writes about Irwin's legacy and many of you are sharing your thoughts as well.
Tiffany, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has this message for Jeff: I'm thankful that you and other conservationists are out there doing what you do and I'm gad that you would never change your approach for your work after the freak accident that Steve had. Everyone needs to know that nature is not to be feared. We need to learn how to respect and cohabitate with wildlife.
Kendal in Augusta, Georgia, says: The best tribute to Steve Irwin we can make is to try to see the world as he saw it -- with wonder and with the eyes of a child.
While Ina in Garden City, New Jersey, writes: Steve Irwin died doing what many people do not -- living their passion.
A reminder, Jeff, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I are going to bring you "Planet in Peril" next month. It is a four-hour documentary event over two days. Don't miss it.
To weigh in on a story, go to CNN.com/360.
For our international viewers, thanks for watching. "CNN TODAY" is coming up next. Here in America, "LARRY KING" is coming up. And I'll see you tomorrow night.
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