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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

U.S. Journalists Return Home; A Gunman's Chilling Words; Obama Getting "C" from Americans; The War Next Door: Los Zetas; Manson Murders: Were There More Victims?

Aired August 5, 2009 - 22:00   ET

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


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, they are home, two women freed from captivity, two families once again complete.

One father no longer has to tell his little girl, mommy's away on a business trip. They arrived early this morning on a millionaire's jet, landing in Burbank, California, just outside of L.A.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling spent 140 days in North Korean custody, before former President Bill Clinton helped to secure their release on Tuesday. What else may have gone into their pardon, official and otherwise, still undisclosed.

That is the news tonight. But it barely hints at the story, which is, frankly, better told in the sights, the sounds, and the tears of the moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Impossible to watch that and not want to hug your kids a little tighter tonight.

The reunion is especially moving for Euna Lee's husband Michael Saldate, and their 4-year-old daughter, Hana. She's been asking about her mother for months. But, when Michael spoke with Anderson back in June, he recounted a heartbreaking instance of things left unsaid, as mommy's absence started to become the norm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And she drew a picture recently?

MICHAEL SALDATE, HUSBAND OF EUNA LEE: Yes. Yes. Normally, the old pictures that she would always draw were always my wife in the center. And I would always be kind of aside and to -- and smaller. And that would be all three of us.

And she drew a picture, and I was the center, and it was just her and I. And I don't even know what to say. You know, I still have to say: "Thank you, hon. That is -- that's a beautiful picture." But, deep down inside, she didn't include her mother, which really made me sad. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Hard to imagine what it was like for this family thinking that there was a chance Hana might not see her mother for another 12 years.

For Laura Ling, it was a husband and a family waiting for her, a sushi dinner, according to older sister, Lisa, and perhaps some of her mother's special watercress soup, which mom's reportedly been keeping warm these last few days in anticipation. Laura's and Euna's boss, former Vice President Al Gore, spoke briefly today.

His former boss, Bill Clinton, though, did not. President Obama expressed both his relief and gratitude, while Laura Ling, silenced for months, spoke at some length. And, when she did, people across the country seemed to choke up a little.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA LING, JOURNALIST FREED FROM NORTH KOREA: Thirty hours ago, Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea. We feared that at any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp. And then suddenly we were told that we were going to a meeting. We were taken to a location and when we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LAURA LING: We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here home and free.

To our loved ones, friends, colleagues, and to the complete strangers with the kindness of hearts who showed us so much love and sent us so many positive thoughts and energy, we thank you.

We could feel your love all the way in North Korea. It is what kept us going in the darkest of hours. It is what sustained our faith that we would come home. The past 140 days have been the most difficult heart-wrenching time of our lives.

We are very grateful that we were granted amnesty by the government of North Korea and we are so happy to be home. And we are just so anxious right now to be able to spend some quiet, private time getting re-acquainted with our families.

Thank you so much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Laura Ling speaking this morning. She, Euna Lee, and President Clinton, of course, arrived home on that jet this morning provided by multimillionaire Steve Bing. And, frankly, that's pretty much the only hard-and-fast detail we have tonight about the mission -- well, what we know for a fact. But the question swirling about possible deals struck, promises made, legitimacy granted, bad precedent established, well, all of that is open to debate tonight.

And, as Tom Foreman, it is definitely subject to "Raw Politics."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even as two former captives arrived home, the White House was still going to pains to call the former president's trip a private humanitarian effort, nothing more.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reunion that we have all seen on television, I think is a source of happiness, not only for the families, but for the entire country.

FOREMAN: The administration is refuting any suggestion that the visit will lead into new direct negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea over nuclear weapons.

Such one-to-one talks is something Kim Jong Il has long wanted, both for the prestige and the chance to negotiate a favorable deal with a superpower. But the U.S. wants to keep Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea at the table, too.

And the imprisonment of the two journalists had nothing to do with any of that, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have always considered that a totally separate issue from our efforts to reengage the North Koreans and have them return to the six-party talks and work toward a commitment for the full, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

FOREMAN: There are other concerns about letting the former president's visit take on too much official weight.

Some critics, including a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, are already saying the visit rewarded bad behavior by a rogue nation. And analysts admit there is always the risk it could send a bad message to everyone from political foes to terror groups.

MARTIN INDYK, DIRECTOR, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY AT BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think there is a potential danger that other rogue regimes may believe that, by holding Americans hostage, they can get the attention of the administration and -- and get the visit of -- of high-level people like President Clinton. And that -- that is the potential downside here.

FOREMAN: But the tradeoff, this: Americans once held captive now home.

(on camera): It is notable that, despite the White House's stance, North Korea is playing this whole affair quite differently.

Mr. Clinton was met by top North Korean officials. And, while he is a former president, Kim Jong Il is the actual sitting leader of that country, and that fact alone made it very official in their eyes -- Erica.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Tom, it also gives us plenty to talk about. We want to know what you think. Join the live chat happening right now at AC360.com. And you can also send your text us a question for our panel coming up next. Send your text message on the Clinton mission to AC360, or 22360.

A little later, inside the mind of the health club killer, in his own dark, lonely, angry words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: The safe return of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

Former Vice President Gore this morning said Laura's mother had some soup waiting for her. Like any family meal, it's of course the family part that counts the most.

For Laura, it is her mother, father, husband, Iain Clayton, and her sister, fellow journalist Lisa Ling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA LING, SISTER OF LAURA LING: Proud would be an understatement. The -- the -- the little bit that she was able to recount about her experience over the last four-and-a-half months has been challenging for us to hear, and through it all, she has really maintained a sense of strength.

IAIN CLAYTON, HUSBAND OF LAURA LING: It was very lonely. It was the -- one of the hardest things was obviously coming here every night, and, obviously, there's so many reminders of her in the house, and then she is not there.

(CROSSTALK)

LISA LING: But she is now.

(LAUGHTER)

CLAYTON: She is now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: They are home now.

Digging deeper, though, on the global implications of how they got home, what Tom Foreman was talking about before the break. Of course, this meeting all happened at a time when North Korea hasn't hesitated to test nukes and missiles and on the heels of news that three more Americans are now being held in a country America also does not have a diplomatic relationship with, Iran.

So, does this pump up one dictator and perhaps embolden others?

We're joined now by senior political analyst David Gergen, and Peter Brookes, former Pentagon official in the Bush administration and also currently with the Heritage Foundation.

Gentlemen, good to have both of you with us.

PETER BROOKES, SENIOR FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Good evening.

HILL: David, I want to start with you. It -- it's almost impossible to ignore the message many people are saying this sends to North Korea and, for that matter, to other nations, as we just mentioned, who may be on shaky ground with the U.S., that, the next time they have U.S. citizens in their custody, they can use them as bargaining chips for perhaps access to high-level U.S. politicians, essentially rewarding bad behavior.

So, David, how does the U.S. keep that from happening?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Erica, I think this sends a -- a more important message to the world, and that is that America is a country that cares about its own, that it will go to great lengths, a former president will fly around the world, in effect, to bring back two innocent, brave Americans, to reunite them with their families, and that individuals matter in this country.

And, in this situation, we didn't give anything away. It's not as if there was a bargain or a negotiation. Rather, it was that we had a brutal regime that captured these two young women, and, after four-and-a-half months, harrowing months for them, essentially said, we're willing to give them back to you; all you have to do is send the president, a former president.

And that former president had the generosity, compassion and, I think -- generosity to go there. This -- so, this is a moment for, I think, for most of us, it is a heartwarming moment. And it's -- it's churlish, it seems to me, to -- to question whether this somehow sends a terrible message about America. I think it sends exactly the right message about who we are as Americans.

HILL: David, there are people, though, who are questioning that.

In fact, we got a text -- a question to -- from a viewer to text 360 tonight.

And, Peter, I want to pose this to you.

BROOKES: Yes.

HILL: The viewer writes in: "I'm glad the girls are home safe and well. But did we just negotiate for hostages?"

What's your take?

BROOKES: That's a big question. I mean, you know, it is -- you can't argue with the success of the humanitarian effort.

But there are other things here on the table. The relationship with North Korea is much bigger than these young journalists, the nuclear issue, the missiles, and things along that line. And, in some cases, that is how it's going to be seen, that we did ransom people in this case.

Now, the important thing, I think, here in the United States, we're all very happy that these ladies are home with their families. That's -- there's no question about that. But how does the rest of the world see this?

I mean, if you see the differences between how the Obama administration is portraying this and how North Korea is portraying it, they're saying that they did convey a message from President Obama, even though the White House says they didn't.

HILL: Although, in many ways, Peter, is that...

BROOKES: They talked for three hours about a whole host of issues.

HILL: Is that really a surprise, though? I mean, one would probably expect that North Korea is looking at this very different from the way the U.S. is viewing this visit, just based on that picture alone...

BROOKES: But that's...

HILL: ... of Kim Jong Il and President Clinton.

BROOKES: That's critically important, because how are they going to see this? Are they going to see that it's OK that they brutalize their people, that they keep hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps, that they light off nukes, that they send missiles in the direction of the United States, because they got a very large concession from the United States?

You know, the use of a president or a former president as political capital is -- should be used very cautiously.

HILL: Well, moving forward...

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKES: And, so, I think it's just critically important.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Peter -- Peter, I don't understand why you accept the word of the North Korean government about what happened in the conversations over those of the American government.

BROOKES: I don't.

GERGEN: Well, then why -- then why -- then why are...

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKES: The question here is -- the question here is, is that this is how the North Koreans perceive it.

GERGEN: No, but...

BROOKES: But, David, I have been to North Korea. I have dealt with the North Koreans. I know what we're dealing with here. And it's how they see it. It's not necessarily how just we see it.

GERGEN: But it's important -- it's also important what's right. That is the largest question.

BROOKES: I don't think it was necessarily...

GERGEN: And the largest question is -- is whether it's right, if you don't have to give anything away. And the only reason you believe that we gave something away is, you don't believe what the American government is saying. You believe what the North Koreans are saying.

BROOKES: No, that's not true, David.

GERGEN: Well, then...

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKES: You shouldn't put words in my mouth.

The fact of the matter is that this mission probably could have been accomplished without sending President Clinton.

GERGEN: How do you know that? How do you know that?

BROOKES: The fact is, is that Bill Richardson has done a number -- has done at least two missions in North Korea.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Although we have heard reports, Peter, that -- that the North Korean government rejected the idea of Bill Richardson, that they rejected the idea of John Kerry.

BROOKES: I have not -- I have not heard that confirmed.

HILL: But I do want to...

BROOKES: I have not heard that confirmed.

HILL: I do want to move forward, because we're very tight on time. In fact, we're probably out of time. But I want to ask one question quickly.

And, David, I will start with you.

GERGEN: Sure.

HILL: Is there a chance that this trip, though, could, in fact, maybe bring North Korea back to the negotiating table when it comes to nuclear weapons?

GERGEN: Well, we don't know that, because they -- the administration did try to keep the two issues separate.

To be honest with you, President Clinton spent three hours with Kim Jong Il. He's only been -- had a -- given a very brief reading now to the White House. The White House is eager to get a full debriefing.

But there are no indications, none, that any concessions were made by the Americans. The hope is that this is a signal by North Korea that they would like to have a -- perhaps get back into serious conversations about their nuclear capacity.

But the Americans are not going to give concessions willy-nilly because of this. We got the girls hope, thank goodness.

HILL: So many questions that will be answered in those debriefs. Many of us would like to be a fly on the wall. However, I have a feeling we won't know everything.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: David Gergen, Peter Brookes, appreciate both of you offering your insight tonight.

BROOKES: Thank you.

HILL: Thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you.

HILL: Just ahead: the health club gunman's chilling words foreshadowing last night's killing spree, apparently aimed at women, the words he left behind showing he had been planning his rampage for months.

And, later, what happens when horse meets car? Believe it or not, the ending is not only amazing; it's amazingly positive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: New details tonight on that killing spree at a Pennsylvania health club emerging, as police reveal a possible motive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES MOFFATT, ALLEGHENY COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: He just had a lot of hatred in him and he was hell- bent on committing this act. And there was nobody going to stop him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: The gunman murdered three women, Elizabeth Gannon, Jody Billingsley, and not pictured, Heidi Overmier. Nine other people were injured. Tonight, three of them are in critical condition.

There are actually many other clues to his rampage, clues left in the gunman's own words.

Jeanne Meserve has more tonight on the killer's chilling online journal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Sodini was silent when he opened fire at his Pittsburgh area health club, killing three women, before taking his own life.

But, in his online diary, the 48-year-old spoke volumes about the carnage he was to inflict.

"Why do this to young girls?" the journal begins. "Just read below. I kept a running log that includes my thoughts and actions."

Indeed, he did. He called his killing spree his project, and it began months ago. On November 5, 2008, he wrote, "Planned to do this in the summer, but figured to stick around to see the election outcome." And, in an entry from December 22, an apparent reference to the plot and the women at his gym: "Time is moving along. Planned to have this done already. Many of the young girls here look so beautiful, as to not be human, very edible."

The journal also reveals his desperation and loneliness. From Christmas Eve: "No girlfriend since 1984. Who knows why. I'm not ugly or too weird. No sex since July 1990 either."

In May, more despair. "I made many big changes in the past two years," he wrote, "but everything is still the same. Life is over."

This is from August 3: "I took off today, Monday, and tomorrow to practice my routine and make sure it is well-polished. I need to work out every detail. There is only one shot. Tomorrow is the big day."

Hours later, Sodini, wearing shorts and carrying a bag loaded with guns, entered an aerobics class, turned the lights off, and fulfilled his death wish.

MIKE HENTOSZ, EYEWITNESS TO SHOOTINGS: I was right beside the room when it all took place. I seen everybody running. This is a good neighborhood. Stuff like this doesn't happen.

MESERVE: But they did, committed by a man who, at the top of his journal, typed his name, age, date of birth, and listed his date of death as August 4, 2009.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HILL: That's just chilling, Jeanne. I -- I know police at this hour are actually trying to reconstruct the timeline. Have they given you any further details about that?

MESERVE: Well, for one thing, from the blog, we know that he tried to do this back in January, but, in his words, he chickened out.

Police say, yesterday, he came to this club at 11:00, left, came back a little after 7:00. Then they believe he left the building to make a telephone call at about 7:45, went back in at 7:56.

They got the first 911 call at 8:16 at night. They're trying to find out more about who he called and what was said.

Another note: They do not believe he knew anybody who was in that aerobics class. But he did target the class. They found a schedule at his house with this class circled. And police say that -- police say, experts say that it's no surprise that, if he hated women, he wanted to target women, an aerobics class would be a logical place to look -- Erica.

HILL: Boy, it really makes you think twice.

Jeanne Meserve, live for us tonight -- Jeanne, thanks.

If you log on to AC360.com, you can actually read the entire text of the killer's chilling journal.

Our weeklong series on the Manson murders continues tonight with a disturbing question. Could there actually be dozen more victims who have died at the cult's hands? We will tackle that just ahead.

But, first, Gary Tuchman joining us with a 360 bulletin.

Welcome back.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much, Erica.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been sworn in for a second term, even as his victory continues to be disputed on the ground. Key opposition leaders and moderate lawmakers boycotted today's ceremony. Meantime, hundred of protesters turned out in Tehran's streets. Security forces broke up the demonstrations with clubs and pepper spray.

A senior defense official says two Russian attack submarines cruising in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of the U.S. are not causing any alarms to go off at the Pentagon. The Pentagon says the subs are in international waters and not the kind that can launch intercontinental nuclear missiles.

Word tonight of a major deal for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. A source close to contract talks says Manning has agreed to a new six-year $97 million contract extension with the Giants. It's a lot of dough. Once it's signed, Manning will be the highest paid player in the NFL with an average salary of roughly $15 million a year. That's almost one million bucks every regular season game.

And why were three horses running the wrong way down a highway in northern Israel? It's unclear. One of them, the biggest of the bunch, you see, was unable to clear an oncoming car. We're not sure if he was trying to trample it or just couldn't stop. The good news, the driver only suffered minor cuts. The horse was lightly injured -- the entire bizarre scene videotaped by tourists in the other lane.

Talk about...

HILL: That's wild.

TUCHMAN: That's wild. Talk about extra horsepower...

HILL: And...

(CROSSTALK)

TUCHMAN: ... on the expressway, Erica.

HILL: Oh, Gary Tuchman.

By the way, Eli Manning's contract is about the same as yours, right?

TUCHMAN: His contract is a little less than mine is.

HILL: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Well, you know, Gary Tuchman, priceless. That's what I have to say.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: Gary, thanks.

Still ahead on 360: At town halls across the country, the health care debate has become a shouting match. But is all the outrage authentic, or is it being carefully orchestrated by opponents, including those with vested interest in the outcome? We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

And, as the war rages on American's doorstep, it is becoming increasingly violent and more ruthless -- Michael Ware crossing Mexico's border tonight to show us the cartel experts say is so dangerous, it has no match.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: President Obama toughening his message on health care reform today, saying he is determined to get an overhaul of the health care system by year's end, with or without bipartisan support.

Meantime, check out a new national poll showing how Americans feel. They're weighing in now. As you can see, when they talk about the president's plan, nearly split, 50 percent in favor of it, 45 percent opposed.

And something else to consider, that poll found those opposed to Obama's plan, Mr. Obama's plan, are actually more likely than supporters to show up at town hall meetings being held by lawmakers around the country.

Some of those meetings have actually turned into outright verbal brawls. And many Democrats are charging that outrage is, in fact, an act being orchestrated by Republicans.

But is that charge fair?

Joe Johns is "Keeping Them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Just say no! Just say no! Just say no!

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The YouTube videos keep coming, town hall meetings on health care held by congressional Democrats dissolving into rowdy shouting sessions.

And now this: a memo from an organizer in Connecticut spelling out instructions on -- quote -- "rocking the town halls with noisy opposition."

It's not rocket science. The memo says protesters should pack the hall with as many fellow activists as possible to challenge the member of Congress. And they're sure doing that. At this Green Bay, Wisconsin, event Tuesday held by Congressman Steve Kagen, people who couldn't squeeze in were demanding it be moved outside to the parking lot.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Move it outside! Move it outside!

JOHNS: The memo also says the team should spread out inside the hall, but should try to get seats in the front half, so they will get called on to speak.

Protesters should watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the representatives' statements early. But, it says: "Don't carry on and make a scene, just short, intermittent shout-outs. The purpose is to make him uneasy early on."

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius felt the heat in Pennsylvania.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: And I was trying to think some questions, so that we can have a number of you participate. You know, or we can just keep shouting at one another.

JOHNS: The memo is all in favor of question time, though. The prepared questions, it says, should put the representative on the defensive and demand a specific answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, my question to you is that, when congressmen scoff at the notion of reading legislation because they are not qualified or they are not competent to understand it...

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... how -- how can we be confident that those congressmen are competent to reengineer the entire health care system?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEBELIUS: I am not a member of Congress, have never been one.

JOHNS: You get the picture. But the Democratic National Committee is complaining that what looks like outrage is canned political theater manufactured by special interests to kill health- care reform.

HARI SEVUGAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: This is angry mobs organized and incited by Republicans and their K Street allies here in Washington, D.C., to derail the president.

JOHNS: CNN was not able to confirm or refute the charge that special interests were paying for the protests. But an organizer with the conservative group accused of fuelling the protest says this.

BRENDAN STEINHAUSER, GRASSROOTS DIRECTOR, FREEDOM WORKS: I would say that clearly these people are doing it on their own. They're not being paid to do this by anybody.

JOHNS (on camera): The group says protestors pay their own way and says it never even saw the memo until it showed up on a liberal Web site. Something nefarious? Some say it's just politics in America.

Joe Johns, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Well, health-care reform is, of course, one of President Obama's key campaign promises. But just one of his many challenges at this hour on his plate.

This week actually marks the end of his second 100 days in office. So how is he doing? We've been digging deeper to find out what you think on that front.

Tom Foreman joining me again now. This time, though, over at the magic wall, which you've mastered, my friend.

FOREMAN: Yes, Erica. Let me tell you something. Whether it's special interest groups or Republicans, there are a lot of -- we have more than a million people have gone to CNN.com to put their grade down for what's happening. And look what's happening on health care over here. Right now, this color means a failing grade. The green in here means basically just a "C." So that's not very good. All over this country, more than a million people, this is the result.

Overall economy, a "C" all across the country for how it's being handled. And here, look down here at the president's ratings overall. "C"s everywhere, with a failing grade down here in Louisiana.

Now, this is all not good for the Obama administration as people have cast their grades on our Web site, CNN.com. But it's even worse for some others. Congress, look at that. Wow! Everything failing. And here's the big one. The media, us, same thing.

HILL: Uh-oh.

FOREMAN: We will add all of this up tomorrow night in our special, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern, Erica, and more into the evening. Make sure you go to CNN.com and cast your own grade for the Obama administration, Congress, and for us, as well.

HILL: I'm going to go cast an "A" for Tom Foreman.

FOREMAN: Thank you. I'd appreciate that.

HILL: Tom, thanks.

As Tom mentioned, we have a special tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Well, tomorrow on 360 we're going to take a closer look at how Americans think President Obama is doing ourselves.

During the campaign, we spoke with seven women in Ohio who just a few weeks before the election said they were still undecided about whether to vote for Barack Obama or John McCain.

Gary Tuchman recently interviewed them again. Turns out six of them ended up voting for Obama. One chose McCain. So, 200 days in, are they happy with their choice? How do they think President Obama is doing? Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How many of you think Barack Obama is doing an amazing job as president? No hands. One hand.

How many of you think he's doing a good job as president? One, two, three, four, five hands.

And the one person who voted for John McCain, what kind of job do you think Barack Obama is doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say average. Well, some -- some things I approve of. Some things I do not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: So what are those things? Well, you can see Gary's full report coming up tomorrow right here on 360.

Ahead tonight on 360, they were once military commanders. Now they are the most ruthless drug cartel in Mexico. Michael Ware is live across the border for this chilling report.

And later, on a much lighter note. No longer an "Idol" threat. Paula Abdul quits the show. We'll have more on her reason and the fallout, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: President Obama travels to Mexico this Sunday for a summit with North American leaders. And the trip comes with some controversy.

Today Senator Patrick Leahy announced Congress is withholding about $100 million in aid intended to help battle Mexico's drug cartel. Why? One Democrat wants to see more evidence that the Mexican government is cracking down on corrupt and abusive police and soldiers.

The drug war next door has left thousands dead, kidnapped, and as we know, the enemy is well armed and it is very well funded. But out of all the ruthless killers, there is one group in particular that stands out. Michael Ware reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dead always tell a story. And here in Mexico that story is the war raging on America's doorstep. Being fought for the right to supply America's demand for illegal drugs, a war becoming more violent, more ruthless, mostly because of one group.

(on camera) To even begin to understand their violence, come with me, here in a barrio in the southern Mexican city of Vera Cruz. Imagine, if you will, a band of special forces, Green Beret soldier go rogue and offer their services and their firepower to the drug cartels.

Well, that's precisely what's happened in Mexico. In the 1990s, commandos from the Mexican army deserted and set up their own cartel, known as the Los Zetas. The Los Zetas, a group that the U.S. government now says is the most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.

And this is an example of some of their most recent work. Until not so long ago, this was the home to a local police commander, promoted just two months before. And at 5 a.m. one morning, two cars pulled up in these streets.

Eight or nine gunmen got out armed with assault rifles and .40 millimeter grenade launchers. They blasted their way into this house, and it took him less than five minutes to execute the father, the police commander, his wife, a police woman, and in the blaze that they started, to kill four children. This is the drug war in Mexico. This is a war that the Los Zetas are fighting. And this is the war on America's doorstep that shows no sign of ending. And with their fearsome weaponry and military expertise, U.S. agencies consider the Zetas America's most formidable enemy in the drug war.

RALPH REYES, MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICAN CHIEF, DEA: The Zetas have obviously assumed the role of being the No. 1 organization responsible for the majority of the homicides, the narcotic rate of homicides, the beheadings, the kidnappings, the extortions that take place in Mexico.

WARE (voice-over): From this Washington, D.C., office, DEA Central American chief Ralph Reyes directs America's fight against the Zetas, a fight he says that will take years.

REYES: They continue to train new recruits through several campaigns. One of them is a very public and open Marco (ph) banners that they pose around the country of Mexico, specifically tailored to the military, in that they will offer better pay and better benefits if they join the ranks of the Zetas.

WARE: With their mastery of combat, says Reyes, this organized crime network operates more like a U.S. infantry company patrolling the streets of Fallujah in Iraq than they do a street gang. And they're only getting stronger.

(voice-over) Vera Cruz is a popular tourist destination with colorful plazas just like this one. But it's actually a thin veneer for what's really going on beneath. Local newspapers almost daily have headlines of the horror, of the bloody violence of the drug cartels. Cartels that here in Vera Cruz are more often than not linked to the Los Zetas.

The American Drug Enforcement Agency tells me that, while it was originally based on military lines, it's being built on a business structure, with quarterly meetings, business ledgers kept, even votes on key assassinations.

And now the Los Zetas are taxing businesses beyond even their drug reach. From human trafficking across the American border to, as one recent scandal shows, they've been imposing a kind of tax on the Mexican government itself. The state-run oil company, it's just been revealed, has been bleeding billions through corrupt officials linked to the Los Zetas.

And as a DEA agent told me, the American border makes little difference to the Los Zetas. To them, it doesn't matter whether their violence is being perpetrated on the Mexican side of the border or on the American side.

(voice-over) On that American side, one of their instruments of assassination was teenager Rosalio Reta. He was just 13 years old when he first killed.

"I love doing it," says Reta (ph) in this police interrogation. "Killing that first person, I loved it. I thought I was superman."

But you can be certain there are more like him. And there will be until America can defeat adversaries like the Zetas and end the drug wars across the border.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Michael, as we mentioned, President Obama is headed to Mexico on Sunday. Clearly, as you mentioned, the Zetas don't have any regard for the borders here. How much, though, do you think the drug wars and, specifically Los Zetas, will actually be on the agenda for these meetings?

WARE: Well, that's a great question, Erica. At this stage we don't know. But what I can tell you is that the Mexican drug war should be foremost on President Obama's agenda when he does come here on the weekend to Mexico.

Right now on average, 570 Mexicans are dying every month in drug- related crime, in a war that is essentially being fought by the Mexicans for America. This is a war that's fueled by America's demand for illegal drugs. And it's being fought with American weapons, on both the government side and on the cartel side.

So this is very much an American problem. And many of us in the region will be looking to President Obama to say something real about what America is about to do -- Erica.

HILL: and clearly, a problem that is not getting better any time soon. Michael Ware live for us in Mexico City. Michael, thanks.

Just ahead on 360, Charles Manson, 40 years after the murders. A new search is under way for possibly more of his victims. Could there be more out there? The man who helped prosecute Manson, Vincent Bugliosi, weighs in.

And later, a former congressman now a convicted criminal. He stashed his money in the freezer. Now, could he be heading to the cooler? Ah, yes, we'll reveal the true meaning behind the cheesy pun when 360 continues.

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HILL: She tried to assassinate President Ford. In just a few days, she'll be free. CNN has learned that Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme will be granted parole after 34 years in prison. Fromme is now 60 years old. She's scheduled to released on August 16.

Squeaky Fromme was also a disciple of Charles Manson. All this week we're taking a closer look at the killings he and his followers are linked to. The anniversary of those killings, this weekend. It will mark 40 years.

But were there actually more victims than first thought? Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi says yes. We'll talk more with him in just a moment. But first, here's Ted Rowlands. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you guilty of any murders?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For decades speculation has swirled that the nine murders linked to Charles Manson and his followers could be just the tip of the iceberg. That more victims, possibly runaways or others who came in contact with the Manson family, may have been murdered.

According to prosecutors, Manson Family members at one time alluded to as many as 35 victims.

(on camera) If there are other Manson victims, the theory is that they could have been buried in one of the Manson family hideouts. Right now we are at the Spahn Ranch. This is where the Manson family was before the Tate-La Bianca murders. This used to be an old movie set. There were buildings right in here. They were all wiped out by a fire. But the theory is that just over this ridge, there could be grave sites.

KITTY COX, SPAHN RANCH CARETAKER: This is where they lived, right on the riverbed.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Kitty Cox is a caretaker at Spahn Ranch.

(on camera) Do you think there are bodies out here?

COX: I think there could be.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): The other place people believe there may be more Manson victims is in Death Valley, the Barker Ranch. where Manson was eventually arrested.

When we traveled there last year we met Emmitt Harder, gold prospector who met Manson and some of his followers, including Tex Watson. Harder says one story he was told by a Manson follower made him believe there are bodies here.

EMMITT HARDER, KNEW MANSON AT BARKER RANCH: This one girl didn't get along with -- with Manson or them at all. And they took her for a walk. And they came back in a short distance and she -- we never saw her again.

ROWLANDS: Paul Dossey (ph), a former police detective, brought his cadaver dog Buster to both the Barker and Spahn ranches. Dossey (ph) says Buster located potential grave sites in both places. The local sheriff authorized a dig at Barker ranch last year, but nothing was located.

One person who would know is Charles "Tex" Watson, Manson's right-hand man. We wrote to him in prison and received this letter back. It says, in part, "I was the first family member to go to the desert after the murders and also the first to leave. I say this only to let you know that no one was killed while I was in the desert, but I don't know what took place after I left." Over the years, none of the Manson Family members have ever said anything specific about other victims. And they are the only ones who may ever know.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Vincent Bugliosi prosecuted Charles Manson and his followers. He's also the author of "Helter Skelter," the definitive account of those killings. It's the top-selling true crime of all time. Mr. Bugliosi joins us now.

We just saw a report about the unsolved murders of Charles Manson. Perhaps as many as 35 bodies out there. Do you believe there are other victims out there?

VINCENT BUGLIOSI, AUTHOR, "HELTER SKELTER": Yes, I do. Manson's been convicted of nine murders. But the Family used the term 35. They said, "We offed 35 people."

Now, if your neighbor told you something like that, obviously you would dismiss it out of hand. But these are people, Erica, who loved to kill. That was their lifestyle, their religion, their credo. They wanted to kill as many human beings as possible. In my opinion, there's many other murders that we don't even know about that the Manson family committed.

HILL: A lot of what was bizarre about the trial were, obviously, the defendants here. Leslie Van Houten being one of them. Last night I spoke with filmmaker John Waters about his friendship. He's actually become friends with Leslie Van Houten over the years. He had this to say about -- about his belief of the kind of person she is now. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN WATERS, FILMMAKER: I think actually she should be the poster girl for the prison system, because she went in a complete lunatic and ended up someone -- a very sober person who -- who really takes responsibility and wants to lead a quiet life if she ever gets out.

I even think Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote "Helter Skelter," which is the biggest best-selling true crime book in the history of literature, I think he knows she's better. He's been fair to her, actually. And I think he believes -- he knows that she's been rehabilitated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: John Waters didn't quite go so far as saying that -- that he believes you believe Leslie Van Houten should, in fact, be paroled. But he seemed to go pretty close. Do you agree that she has been rehabilitated? Should she be paroled? BUGLIOSI: Well, no, I don't think that she should be paroled. I will agree that if anyone is paroled, obviously, it has to be she, for one simple reason. She was not involved the first night in the five Tate murders.

But this argument of rehabilitation, she may be rehabilitated. She appears to be. Who am I to -- it would be presumptuous of me to say that she has not been rehabilitated. I'm not qualified to make that determination.

However, I think the rehabilitation argument as a basis for her release is founded upon a fundamentally flawed premise. And that premise is that if you're rehabilitated ergo, you're entitled to be set free. But that presupposes is that the only reason we put people behind bars is to rehabilitate them.

But there's another very important, more important reason why we put people behind bars, and that's to bring about justice. And you don't bring about justice by rehabilitating people. You bring about justice by punishing them.

HILL: I know that you've been in fairly close contact over the years with the victims' families. Did they feel that justice was done after the trials were over and everyone had been sentenced?

BUGLIOSI: When they were sentenced to death, yes. But as you know, the very next year, the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court set aside the death penalty. And I think the victims' families felt that death -- I mean, that justice has not been served, that these people should have been executed. In a sense, and I hate to say this, but in a sense, Manson has beaten the rap, because he committed these murders, and all we did is send them back home where me came from.

HILL: Vincent Bugliosi, we appreciate your time today. Thanks for talking to us.

BUGLIOSI: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: Up next, the cold cash congressman, now a convict. So does that mean a little jail time in is his future?

Plus, Paula Abdul leaving "American Idol." Say it ain't so. The possible reasons for her departure and how everybody found out about it, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Coming up, the sexier side of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Oh, yes. I know we tried to bring it to you last night. We ran out of time. You're in luck. It's back. Before we get to that, though, Gary Tuchman back with another "360 Bulletin" on some more serious stuff (ph) -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Erica, a jury has convicted former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson of taking bribes in a case where $90,000 was found in his freezer. The New Orleans Democrat plans to appeal. He's out on bond while he awaits sentencing.

In North Carolina, a federal judge has ruled six men accused of plotting a, quote, "violent jihad" overseas must stay in custody pending a trial, but the same judge expressed skepticism about the charges in the case.

And it's official. Paula Abdul says she is leaving "American Idol." After eight seasons as a judge, she is calling it quits. She made the announcement on her Twitter page.

There are reports, Erica, that Paula left because she was getting paid a fraction of what Simon and Ryan Seacrest earn. Kara DioGuardi, who joined the judges' table last season, is widely considered Paula's replacement.

Before the program, I was talking to one of our wonderful makeup artists, Rose. She said she is no longer going to watch "American Idol" if Paula Abdul...

HILL: Without Paula?

TUCHMAN: Without Paula she's not...

HILL: Really?

TUCHMAN: Yes.

HILL: Interesting. I think my husband may watch more without her. But that's a story for another day.

All right. Gary, don't move, because I know you're really looking forward to this. Coming up on 360, we're going to have more, of course, tonight on the moving homecoming that ended two families' shared nightmare. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee reunited with their loved ones. We're going to bring you more on that coming up on 360.

Also, on a lighter foreign policy note. Look out, Michael Phelps. Who is that manly swimmer, you ask? Vladimir Putin, of course. Shedding his dark suit, showing off his pecs, his delts, his triceps? Oh, my. Tonight's "Shot," when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Gary, tonight's "Shot," oh, you are so happy you're here for it. Vladimir Putin's version of "How I Spent My Summer Vacation." Lucky for us, he's sharing the tale with all.

Russia's prime minister releasing pictures of his trip to Siberia. Check it out. R&R, a little action on his off time. And he goes shirtless, whether he's chopping wood, swimming laps, or, "Oh, hey, if I'm going to go for a horseback ride, I don't want tan lines, do I?"

The take-home message, apparently, from all the macho photos: you can leave the summer beachery to someone else. This guy is a man's man.

TUCHMAN: I don't remember Brezhnev or Khrushchev doing that.

HILL: No. I don't, either. And maybe that's a good thing.

TUCHMAN: I think it's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) might have failed (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HILL: Gary Tuchman, I love having you here.

Coming up at the top of the hour on 360, Euna Lee and Laura Ling's emotional homecoming.

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