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Missed Warning Signs in Airline Terror Attack?; Dick Cheney Blasts President Obama; Interview With Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Iran on the Brink?

Aired December 30, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: The warnings, it turns out they were there all along, with a step-by-step, point-by-point guide on how to make air travel safer. And, yet, five-and-a-half years after the 9/11 Commission published its groundbreaking report, a guy practically covered in warning signs manages to board a U.S. airliner and nearly take it down.

Tonight on 360: the man who read that report and whose job it was to implement the recommendations, we are keeping him honest.

Also tonight, former Vice President Cheney accusing the president of not taking terrorism seriously enough. Should you take his allegations seriously? The "Raw Politics" and two sides of the debate. We will let you decide.

And then, a little bit later, she and A.C. certainly know how to light up Times Square, but can Kathy Griffin top last year's show? We will ask her live.

First up tonight, though, breaking news in the Christmas bombing attempt.

CNN has learned the U.S. had intelligence indicating terrorists in Yemen were discussing an operation involving someone they called the Nigerian. And there was also a partial name among that information, Umar Farouk, as in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Tonight, there are also new and striking photographs, including this one. This is seat 19-A aboard Northwest Delta Flight 253. That is the seat where Abdulmutallab sat with 80 grams of the explosive PETN sewn into his underwear, a seat directly above the plane's center fuel tank.

The other photos show what might have happened had that bomb gone off. This is the scene after a suicide bomber, also wearing PETN underwear, blew himself up in hopes of killing Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism chief back in August. That Saudi prince survived.

Metal detectors and pat-downs rarely find these kind of bombs, but a full body scan could. Today, the Dutch government moved to require all passengers on U.S.-bound flights go through those scanners, and they promise full implementation in about three weeks.

Now, by contrast, it has taken years to even begin to move in that direction here at home. But, frankly, the idea isn't anything new. Remember this? This is a copy of the 9/11 report published by the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks from the United States.

It is thick, as you can see. But, frankly, it is pretty basic stuff, including this recommendation. Check it out. It is on page 562, where they say, "The TSA and Congress must give priority attention to improving the ability of screening checkpoints to detect explosives on passengers."

Keep in mind, this was written back in 2004. In this morning's "USA Today," Janet Napolitano, the current secretary of homeland security, writes, "The administration is determined to find and to fix the vulnerabilities in our systems that allowed this breach to happen."

That makes her the third DHS secretary to say that, not the first. So, why are we still talking about these same problems, when we were told how to fix them more than five years ago?

In a moment, you will hear what her predecessor has to say for himself. But, first, we want to get more of those 9/11 Commission recommendations, and, frankly, more unkept promises.

Joe Johns is "Keeping Them Honest."


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, steps to keep us all safe, at the time, they did not seem optional, but, apparently, they were.

Take this recommendation: improved use of no-fly and automatic selectee lists should not be delayed.

(on camera): Translation: Hurry up and figure out how to use the security screening lists to keep track of who is trying to fly. The commission wrote those words in 2004. And now, just one week away from 2010, a guy on a watch list, but not on a no-fly list, was actually able to get on a plane with a bomb in his underwear. How in the world does that happen?

(voice-over): Attorney Richard Ben-Veniste was a member of the 9/11 Commission.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: In view of the fact that he had traveled to Yemen, he had been in possession of a valid visa, he had purchased his ticket under circumstances that raise red flags, and, of course, his father had been concerned enough about him to have gone to the U.S. Embassy and had follow-up conversations with CIA.

JOHNS: And then there's this 9/11 Commission recommendation: "The TSA and the Congress must give priority attention to improving the ability of screening checkpoints to detect explosives on passengers." They have given it priority, all right, but haven't even come close to getting it over the finish line. TSA bought a bunch of so- called puffer machines to detect explosives by blowing air on passengers, but they didn't work very well.

Other scanning technologies allowing authorities essentially to see underneath the clothes of departing passengers have been bottled up, just 40 scanners in 19 airports across the entire country right now. Why? Privacy concerns, mostly.

Richard Ben-Veniste says, get over it.

BEN-VENISTE: I think we need to put aside puritan concerns and get down to the reality of people trying to kill us, and balance those two issues.

JOHNS: And while the investigation is far from over, it is also looking like one of the commission's most important messages of all got lost in translation, even before Northwest Flight 253 hit the skies between Amsterdam and Detroit.

The commission urged over and over again that federal agencies collaborate, instead of compete, writing that information procedures should provide incentives for sharing.

(on camera): Translation: If you have information, share it. Clearly, that didn't happen, as the CIA wrote a report on the suspect, but did not send it to other agencies, seemingly, a major failure in the eyes of the 9/11 Commission, which decided that forcing federal agencies to talk to each other about stuff like this was its most important mission.

BEN-VENISTE: To break down those barriers and to make sure that information gets shared, that was our principal recommendation in 9/11 and one of the principal reasons we were unable to exploit the mistakes made by al Qaeda prior to 9/11.

JOHNS (voice-over): It makes you wonder what it might take for us to actually learn our lesson.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


HILL: "Digging Deeper" now with Michael Chertoff, the country's second secretary of homeland security. He had the responsibility of fixing a great deal of what was broken. The buck was supposed to stop at his desk.

We spoke earlier tonight.


HILL: So, why is it, in the eight years since 9/11, so few of the recommendations in that 9/11 report seem to have been implemented at this point, and so few of those changes seem to have been made where they are really needed?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, we actually did implement a lot of the recommendations, but, frankly, it has been much more difficult than it should have been, because what we discovered is that interest groups that have very strong views, either from a business standpoint or a civil liberties standpoint, mobilize and set up roadblocks.

So, for example, we had to work very hard to implement the requirements with respect to secure documents. And it was delayed by a couple of years because the ACLU and other groups went up to Congress and got Congress to put delays in or to block the money.

HILL: In an op-ed piece, that op-ed that you wrote for The Daily Beast, you write: "Squeamishness about any slight to privacy or worries about whether the evidence meets judicial standards induces the kind of bureaucratic paralysis that allows a terrorist to slip through our existing defenses."

How, though, do you balance individual rights and national security? This is part of what you alluded to before. Frankly, it is still an unresolved issue since 9/11, and a lot of that -- a lot of those unresolved issues surfaced around the Patriot Act.

CHERTOFF: Well, I think, Erica, you are exactly right. And, unfortunately, the way we have resolved this the last few years is by having a pendulum swing back and forth.

Right after 9/11, there was an almost unanimous call to unshackle the intelligence community, allow them the freedom to pursue the enemy and to do what they need to do to protect the country. We changed some of the laws to give them that freedom.

And then, as they became more and more successful and we had no attacks, the critics began to complain that there was too little attention to the restraints, and they wanted to go back to a pre-9/11 mentality. So, we need to have a candid conversation with the American public.

If you want to be safe, you have to unleash a certain amount of flexibility for the agents and the operators to do what they have to do.

HILL: But, if you see that as a problem, and if you saw that as a problem when you, in fact, were -- were in office and -- and were in charge of many of these things, why not push harder to make these things happen, to make the changes -- have the changes made that you felt were necessary to keep the country safer and to make it work better?

CHERTOFF: Erica, I have the scars on my back from the -- from the push I made. I built 601 miles of fence. And, believe me, I was hung in effigy in parts of the border.

I demanded and got secure documentation to cross the border from Canada. And I got vilified in the northern -- by some of the members of Congress from the northern districts for doing that. We -- we pushed hard for increased capability to get information from Europe, and the Europeans condemned me for that.

So, I know what it's like it go through the battles. We did accomplish a lot of things. And, you know, I know my successor has now got this on her plate, and she is going to have to do the same thing.

HILL: Should fingers be pointed at her solely as being responsible for this, or is there a broader responsibility here?

CHERTOFF: While, yes, I think everybody has some role to play in the process, it would be a mistake to single out one Cabinet secretary and say this was her particular responsibility.

I think you have got to look at the way everybody plays together to make sure that they are carrying out their job. And, frankly, it is the job of the president to lay down the law and to make it a personal mandate to get these elements of cooperation fully working.

HILL: So, you think that more needs to be done by the president himself to make people work together?

CHERTOFF: Well, all I -- I don't know what the president says privately to his people.

But I can tell you President Bush always made it very clear -- and we had weekly meetings on this -- that he took a keen personal interest in the details of what happened in terms of intelligence collection and sharing. And, believe you me, the bureaucracy got that message.

HILL: Do you -- do you feel that President Obama is taking a keen personal interest?

CHERTOFF: As I said, I don't know what he says behind the scenes. I think what he said when he came out a couple of days ago suggests he understands he needs to do it. And I have every reason to believe that he is going to take that personal interest to make sure the job gets done.

HILL: It sounds like, though, you are not -- I mean, just to read between the lines here, it sounds like you are saying you are not necessarily confident that he has been doing that up until this point.

Is that accurate?

CHERTOFF: No, Erica, I think what I'm saying to you is, since I'm not in the meetings, I don't want to speculate about what his style is.


CHERTOFF: I have every reason to believe he is committed to this, and I know he knows the responsibility that he has. And, so, I'm going to leave it to him and his spokesmen to speak for his administration.

HILL: Former Secretary Michael Chertoff, we appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

CHERTOFF: Good to be on.


HILL: More somber breaking news tonight compounding an already grim story: We are just learning now that the eight Americans killed by a suicide bomber in eastern Afghanistan tonight all worked for the CIA.

They were actually in the gym at Forward Operating Base Chapman -- that's in Khost Province -- when the bomber, wearing a suicide vest, struck. There is no word yet on how he got through security. Six other Americans were wounded in that attack.

And, as always, we want to know what you think, whether it be about that suicide bombing or anything we are talking about tonight here on the show. You can talk about it on the blog. Join the live chat. It is under way now at

Up next: Dick Cheney's statement that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war touches off a bit of a war of words -- James Carville opening fire.


JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They just dust him off every month. And he sort of cranks some kind of statement out. Let former Vice President Cheney flop around out there and issue all these press statements. I mean, I don't know that it's really relevant.


HILL: The question is, do you think it is relevant? Your take on the former vice president, his take. A prominent conservative blogger will join the fray as well.

And, a bit later: Is Iran on the brink? Huge new demonstrations there is and a chilling new warning to the demonstrators: Stay home, or be crushed.



HILL: Former Vice President Dick Cheney now joining the slam- fest directed at President Obama over his reaction to the botched Christmas Day terror attack.

In a statement, Mr. Cheney said -- quote -- "It is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think, if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war. But we are at war. And, when President Obama pretends we are not, it makes us less safe."

This, of course, is not the first time Mr. Cheney has accused the Obama administration of weakening the country's security. And he is not the only Republican using this moment to slam the White House.

Joining me tonight for this "Strategy Session," CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville and Erick Erickson, who is editor in chief of

Good to have both of you with us.

James, in the written response to this statement from the former vice president, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said: "Too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing finger," but then he goes on to say this -- quote -- "Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the president."

How is that finger-pointing by the White House, James, any different than the finger-pointing that they are condemning?

CARVILLE: Well, I guess it's finger-pointing back.


CARVILLE: All right.

Look, if you -- if you ask me, I wouldn't have responded. They just dust him off every month. And he sort of cranks some kind of statement out.

The president said there was a systemic breakdown. I thought that was a very smart and courageous thing to say. And let's find out what this breakdown is. And, you know, let former Vice President Cheney flop around out there and issue all these press statements. I mean, I don't know that it's really relevant.

HILL: Erick, in terms of the former vice president's statement, which we just read part of there, it's interesting -- and this has got a little bit of play today -- that he does criticize the present administration, but doesn't directly criticize the failed attack itself.

How do you take that?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: I think the presupposition should be that Dick Cheney is opposed to terrorist attack on the United States.


ERICKSON: I think everyone can agree on that point.

I think Dick Cheney's point, though, is that the president, he doesn't want to talk about the war on terror. He seems to have conveyed this image around the world that he is not a big fan of the idea that America is the world leader, which we are, that we are one of a couple hundred.

I mean, to James' point, I don't think anybody has to worry about the president invading any country. He seems to be totally opposed being in the countries we are in right now, including Afghanistan.

CARVILLE: Well, I don't know. Maybe I misread it. I thought he sent 30,000 more of our young people over there.

By the way, this administration's blown up more terrorists with drones in Pakistan in the last year than probably any year in the past. Just -- I think there's this thing. Just because you don't go out and run your mouth every day, and you sit and you do the job, that's fine with me.

All these bellicose speeches and invading countries, and, you know, torturing people, I don't think that is necessary. I -- if, in fact, they find out where this systemic breakdown is, that is going to be fine with me.

HILL: What about the blame...

CARVILLE: There's every evidence -- every evidence that they are very aggressively killing these guys in Pakistan. There's every -- we have committed 30,000 more. That was on top of the 20,000 troops that he committed to Afghanistan, but -- something that makes me a little queasy.



ERICKSON: They're doing so well, in fact...

CARVILLE: No matter what he -- no matter what he does -- no matter what he does...

HILL: Go ahead, Erick.

CARVILLE: ... these guys are going to criticize him.

I'm sorry. Go ahead, Erick.

ERICKSON: They are doing so -- yes, they're doing so well, James, at killing folks overseas, that they are inspiring them to come here, because, if they come here, they are going to get indicted. They're not going to get to thrown in Gitmo.

HILL: Let's stop all that for a second...


CARVILLE: Well, that's kind of like Richard Reid, right?

HILL: Honestly -- hey, guys, that is a separate conversation.

One of the things we really want to focus on here is this political blame game that has come out and really seems to be, at this point, such an established part of the rhetoric in this country, especially for the last few months. And as we had into -- as we head into the 2010 elections, Erick, why does it have to be that everything is about pointing the political finger, when it seems everybody can agree that at least one of the things they want to get to the bottom of is, where is the systemic failure?

ERICKSON: Well, you know, that is the unfortunate thing.

When you go back even to the 9/11 Commission, it was stacked with Democrats who blamed Republicans and Republicans who blamed Democrats. It's very, very hard in Washington these days to have an honest conversation about anything.

James is right, to the extent we need to find out that -- where the systemic failure was in this situation. At the end of the day, someone's got to be held responsible.

The problem is that, right now, there is a Democratic administration, so it will probably be a Democrat held responsible. So, the Democrats will defend against that. The Republicans will attack against that. And, I mean, we have to look at this that both Democrats and Republicans collaborated in building this massive ineffective bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security. The -- all of Washington needs to be held accountable.

CARVILLE: I'm for finding out who's responsible. It might be some -- I don't know who it is, but let's find out what the facts are and address them.

And I don't know why -- and every time the Republicans attack on this, it blows back up in their face. They ought to just say, let's get to the bottom of this. And I suspect, when we get to the bottom of this, there will be plenty of people to attack.

But, right now, I'm -- you know, I fly a lot. I'm sure Erick does. I want to know how a guy can get three ounces of plastic in his underwear and literally come close to blowing up an airplane.

HILL: So...

CARVILLE: I'm curious and concerned about this.

HILL: So, then, do you think, either one of you, because you do -- it seems that we can agree on that point, at least, that this is what people want answer to. Is either side going to call off the political attack dogs?

CARVILLE: You know, I don't know. First of all, I guess I would point out the obvious, that the Democrats didn't start the attack.

But what -- maybe so, maybe somebody...


HILL: But, as you said, even the response from the White House not the way would you have done it. And, you know, they are coming back on certain things.


CARVILLE: I agree. I wouldn't have done it that way. I would have been, you know, in a much different way, but -- but that doesn't detract from the fact that I think the president's response has been -- he is trying to get to the bottom of this. Let's get to the bottom of it.

And, then, look, somebody needs to swing at the end of a rope here. I don't mean literally. I mean, somebody's got to lose their job over this, or something's got to happen. Somebody's got to be held accountable here. There was some breakdown somewhere. And let's find out where it was.

ERICKSON: This is really the first time the Democrats are in charge to deal with the war on terror. And missteps happen. That is natural.

But it doesn't help when the president refers to this guy as an isolated extremist, and we find out the next day al Qaeda is willing to take responsibility. And it really doesn't help when the secretary of homeland security, who says she doesn't like to use the word terrorism, goes on TV on Sunday and says the system worked, when it clearly didn't.

HILL: And who has -- who has since retracted that.




HILL: And that is something we are going to continue to dig into.

James Carville, Erick Erickson, many thanks.


HILL: Ahead on 360: the year in politics, from the election that made history, to the bitter battle over health care, to the scandals that crushed more than one presidential dream.

Plus, Kathy Griffin is here in the studio to share her take on the top stories of 2009, and hopefully a tidbit or two about her plans for tomorrow's big night in Times Square with Anderson.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON") UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: What did you do? Hey, what did you do him? He didn't want this.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What did we do? What did he do? What did he tell you?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Both of you, calm down.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Nothing. He tells me nothing, because he's scared of you.


HILL: That is a scene from "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." It's the fourth top grossing movie of 2009, those vampire kids getting plenty of attention this year.

We are counting down, in fact, to number one. Can you guess the next three? Put your thinking caps on. We're also going to take a look back at some of the year's top political moments, from the historic to the scandalous.

Candy Crowley now with the "Raw Politics" we're leaving behind.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the moment of 2009, literally changing the face of the American president presidency.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

CROWLEY: The new president, Barack Obama, began with a 75 percent approval rating, considerable capital that he spent to create more history.

OBAMA: We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time.

CROWLEY: It was one for the books, a massive $787 billion stimulus plan to fuel a failed economy, a huge victory for the neophyte president and the flash point for an emerging political voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama, can you hear us now?

CROWLEY: The tea party people were out in force on tax day. An umbrella group of furious fiscal conservatives, they protested big- government spending, and, by August, Big Brother overreach -- the tea party at town halls.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute. CROWLEY: They were as effective as they were loud. The right left for dead at the side of the 2008 campaign trail, stirred, sometimes a bit too vocally.



CROWLEY: It was that kind of year, bare-knuckles politics, nation-defining moments.

SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.

CROWLEY: The president wrote more history with the nomination of the Supreme Court's first Latina justice. And he saluted history after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, a political tour de force, one of the most accomplished lawmakers of the 20th century.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives. And the dream shall never die.

CROWLEY: Beyond history, there were the politics of the moment. The president made nice at a beer summit with a Harvard professor and the Cambridge cop. And he won a Nobel Peace Prize even he didn't think he had earned.

It wasn't always about the president.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Only dead fish go with the flow.

CROWLEY: Who could quit their job as colorfully as Sarah Palin, who left the governor's office in Alaska 18 months short of her first term?

PALIN: Thank you so much for being here.

CROWLEY: She promptly wrote a bestseller, slammed McCain aides for bungling the 2008 campaign, and laughed all the way to the bank.

Not laughing...

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I won't begin at any particular spot.

CROWLEY: ... two family value conservative Republicans, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign. They looked like presidential material in January and toast by September. Cherchez la femme.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage.

SANFORD: I have been unfaithful to my wife. CROWLEY: Despite diminished numbers and some boys behaving badly, it turns out the Republican Party did not die this year. The GOP won governor's seats in Virginia and New Jersey.

And the president, who enjoyed in February the approval of three out of four Americans, had dropped by more than 20 points in December.

So, ring out the old, ring in the new, and strap yourself in -- 2010 is an election year.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


HILL: Up next: violence on the streets in Iran, incredible pictures from anti-government protests, serious injuries, even fatalities, as protesters clash with authorities. Sound familiar? We will have the latest details for you from the ground.

And then, a bit later, a 2009 rewind, from Sully's heroic landing on the Hudson, to balloon boy's bizarre flight -- the highlights and, yes, the lowlights.

Plus, Kathy Griffin's unique take on the news and a preview of her special New Year's Eve plans.


HILL: More breaking news tonight, this time coming to us out of Hawaii. There is word Rush Limbaugh was taken to the hospital there. Ed Henry, who is in Hawaii covering the president, is on his way now to the hospital where Limbaugh was reportedly taken. Ed joining us now by phone.

Ed, what can you tell us about Rush Limbaugh's condition and why he was taken there?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, I've just actually arrived at Queens Medical Center here in Honolulu. There's a report from our affiliate, KIPV, that paramedics responded to a call at about 2:41 p.m. here. That's five hours back, so about 7:41 p.m. Eastern Time at the Kahala Hotel and Resort. They're saying Rush Limbaugh that was complaining of chest pains and has been taken to this hospital, Queens Medical Center, in serious condition, according to our affiliate KIPV.

Limbaugh has been vacationing here. Various people around island of Oahu have seen him golfing. I reached out to his attorney, Roy Black, who told CNN he's aware (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He does not have pending confirmation of it, but said he's, quote, "worried" about it, as are others around Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host. Obviously, a strange coincidence that his nemesis, President Obama, is vacationing on this very island, as well, Erica.

HILL: All right. We'll continue to follow it. Ed, glad you're on the scene there for us. Ed Henry live in Honolulu, as we continue to follow this story. Rush Limbaugh rushed to the hospital in Honolulu.

Want to get you caught up now on some of the other headlines we're following tonight. Randi Kaye standing by with the "360 Bulletin."

Hi, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, a British hostage held in Iraq is now free and in good health. Computer expert Peter Moore was one of five men abducted in 2007. Officials say his release is the result of a reconciliation program aimed at convincing insurgents to lay down their arms.

GMAC gets a third round of federal bailout funds. The troubled auto and mortgage lender is set to collect $3.8 billion in aid. If you're keeping track, that's on top of the nearly $13.5 billion already received. According to officials, the fresh lifeline is intended to return the company to profitability by first quarter, 2010.

Well, it's official, Michelle Obama, more popular than the president. A CNN poll out today shows 68 percent of the public have a positive view of the first lady, a good 10 points ahead of her husband. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also beat out the president, scoring a 64 percent favorability rating versus his 58 percent.

And Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is now a national treasure. The iconic graveyard dance, directed by John Landis, is one of 25 films selected for the preservation in the Library of Congress's 2009 National Film Registry.

No word, of course, on whether the famous Filipino prisoner dancers' tribute, which we all know well here on 360, will accompany it.

HILL: We do know that well. You know, if it didn't work for 2009, maybe they can get it in 2010.

KAYE: Maybe in the next decade somewhere.

HILL: Could be. Randi, thanks.

Just a reminder: you can join the live chat happening now at Let us know what you think about tonight's stories. Let us know what you think about the Filipino prisoners and their dancing.

Still ahead, we are bringing you the latest from Iran, where pro- government protestors taking to the streets again today. Why this moment could, in fact, be a crucial turning point.

Plus, we're taking a look back at the stories that stood out this year, from the major news events to the simply bizarre. News hound Kathy Griffin here with her take on the stories we'll all remember from 2009. And as we do look back at the year, here's the movie "Up," which was the third -- the year's third highest grossing film, as we count down to the No. 1 money maker. Stay with us.






HILL: It looks tonight like Iran is on the brink, again. Millions taking to the streets this summer to protest rigged presidential elections. This is video from back in June. The chaos throughout the capital of Tehran.

Well, those scenes actually being repeated again this week, both in their size and in brutality. And I want to warn you what you're about to see is graphic.

This is amateur video. It was posted on YouTube, apparently taken on the streets of Tehran. There you can see a protester, as you watch it here, apparently run over by a police truck. That is when another police truck drives right over him.

That's not the video. That's some of the video we had talked about a little earlier this week. But this is, of course, more protest video that you're seeing right now. We will try to get that up for you.

In the meantime -- here we go. I think this is it. You can see as we focus in there. And that vehicle appears to run right over that person who was already down in the street.

CNN's Reza Sayah is following the fast-moving, explosive story. Joining us now.

Reza, when you look at this, it's hard not to say that it looks like a replay of what we saw six months ago. What exactly is going on?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, I think based on what we've seen over the past few days, especially over the weekend, things have changed dramatically in Iran. These protests are getting to be more intense.

And what's remarkable about these protesters and this opposition movement, they know very well that security forces are out there to hurt them and, in some cases, kill them. Of course, human rights groups have said scores of people have been killed.

And we're going to show you another piece of video that really drives home how nasty things are getting. This is amateur video that reportedly shows the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi shot and killed during the protest on Sunday.

The opposition movements say he was killed by security forces. Iranian police this week are saying, no, his death is suspicious. They're suggesting it was staged by groups who want to spark more unrest, and they're saying they're investigating.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ali Mousavi was buried. Hours later, you saw this: a mass pro-government demonstration in a major square in downtown Tehran. Tens of thousands of people, at least, showing up, chanting slogans against opposition movement, familiar chants of "death to America." Also calling for the arrest of opposition leaders.

There was some talk today that some of the opposition leaders have fled Tehran. A spokesperson for the opposition movement based in the U.S. says those claims are false, that Mir Hossein Mousavi is still at his home with his family.

But here you see two sides, Erica, that are digging in. Neither side wanting to back down.

HILL: And this is something you know really well, because you were there in the thick of it, of course, right after the elections.

The sun is rising right now in Tehran. The government has promised to crush that opposition. Are more protests and, frankly, more bloodshed expected today?

SAYAH: Well, we haven't seen widespread violence over the past three days, but you can look for the turmoil to continue. There's going to be a lot of religious holidays, big calendar days. Look for the opposition movement to take advantage of those days to come out en masse.

And look for the government to continue a strategy that's really been ineffective, this strategy of violence, this campaign of repression and arrests, hundreds of more people arrested over the past few days. But the problem is it hasn't worked, and the opposition movement is gaining momentum.

This is really like a heavyweight prize fight, where you have an underdog taking on an opponent. It's outweighed by the opponent, out- muscled, but the opponent can't knock out this underdog, in this case the opposition movement.

And as you go to the later rounds of the fight, what happens to the opposition movement, this underdog? It gains momentum; it gains confidence. Neither is on the brink of winning or losing, but unfortunately, Erica, look for more bloody and violent rounds to continue.

HILL: Neither one giving up, either. Reza, thanks.

Just ahead, a view of the news you will only see here. We're going to lighten things up just a bit. The one and only Kathy Griffin joining us to dish on her favorite stories of the year and also what she has planned for Anderson tomorrow night as they ring in 2010 together.

Plus, the latest on the Christmas arrest and assault charges against Charlie Sheen. He's accused of holding a knife to his wife's throat, threatening to kill her. Now she is speaking out. Not that ex-wife there you see in the picture, Denise Richards. His current wife, Brooke Mueller.



DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR: ... in the library in the restricted section, and I came across something rather old about a very rare piece of magic. It just got me wondering. Are there some kinds of magic you're not allowed to teach us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think your question is meant to be boastful (ph).


HILL: Oh, Harry and your questions.

Tonight, we're counting down the top movies of 2009. That, of course, was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." It's the year's second highest grossing film, according to

Even Harry Potter, though, is no match for the real-world events demanding our attention this year: the heroes, the history and that monumentally stupid hoax. Comedian Kathy Griffin joining us in a moment to weigh in. First, though, Anderson Cooper takes a look back at the biggest moments of 2009.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Sully becomes a household name. Captain Sullenberger lands U.S. Airways Flight 1549 safely in the Hudson, despite losing power minutes after takeoff.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly...

COOPER: Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president.

"Slumdog Millionaire" wins eight Oscars, including best picture.

Stock market bottoms on March 9, soars the rest of the year.

Daring rescue: Navy SEALs free the captain of the Maersk Alabama, killing three pirates.

Carrie Prejean wins first runner up in Miss USA 2009, where she famously objects [SIC] to...

CARRIE PREJEAN, FIRST RUNNER UP, MISS USA 2009: Opposite marriage. COOPER: H1N1, or swine flu is deemed a global pandemic.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is re-elected as president of Iran.

On the verge of a comeback tour, music legend Michael Jackson dies at 50.

Legendary sex symbol and Charlie's Angel, Farrah Fawcett, dies at 62 after a long struggle with cancer.

A hundred and fifty years, that's the sentence for Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff, who bilked investors of at least $13 billion.


COOPER: America's most trusted man in news and former host of "CBS Evening News," Walter Cronkite, dies at 92.


COOPER: Long-time Senator Ted Kennedy, champion of civil rights and universal health care, dies of brain cancer at 77.

A surprise winner, President Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize. Many ask why.

FALCON HEENE, BALLOON BOY: We did this for a show.

COOPER: Balloon Boy and the Heene family. Need we say more?

Tiger Woods crashes a car, admits transgressions, and takes an indefinite leave from the PGA tour. Stay tuned.


HILL: Add to that this week's big story, the Christmas-Day bomb plot, and that is 2009 in a nutshell, at least as we see it here at AC 360.

Joining us now, though, a woman who's created some rather unforgettable moments of her own, not just this year but every year, Emmy Award-winning comedian Kathy Griffin.


HILL: It's double Emmy. So you have two and Cooper has how many?

GRIFFIN: I don't think he has any. I think he has a Clio award or a Cable Ace Award maybe.

HILL: I think so, yes. So what was your -- what was your big moment of 2009? Was it when CNN came to you and said, "You know what? We're going to let you come back this year"?

GRIFFIN: Can you believe it?


GRIFFIN: OK, so this...

HILL: But I'm happy that they did.

GRIFFIN: Well, thank you. I appreciate it, and I can't wait to see you out there on the risers tomorrow night. I mean, it's going to be cold. Wear your parka.

HILL: Yes, not going to be there.

GRIFFIN: 'Cause?

HILL: 'Cause I have something cooking here. And you know, when you're seven months pregnant, you don't really feel like standing out in the freezing cold and rain. Not that I wouldn't...

GRIFFIN: Not when you don't know who the father is, or is this the wrong time to bring that up?

HILL: Probably not a good time to bring it up, because my husband is watching.

GRIFFIN: Husband? OK, I'll play that game.

Now, look, here's the announcement. I am thrilled to be back co- hosting with Anderson Cooper. And frankly, putting him on the map in a way he can't do for himself.

HILL: We know where that is.

GRIFFIN: This year, I'm very open about the contract that CNN made me with me, which I'm sure they're not thrilled that I'm spilling the beans. But I just think it's funny, so I'm going to say it.

This year, there's a stipulation in my contract, which I'm almost sure is not in yours or Wolf's or Jack Cafferty's, which is if I cuss like I did last year, by accident, I -- I have to write the check back.

HILL: Really?

GRIFFIN: No joke. And so I actually brought my checkbook.

HILL: So you're ready to go?


HILL: Are you thinking you're actually going to have to write a check out?

GRIFFIN: I don't know if I'm man enough to be able to do it. But we're on...

HILL: To be able to write the check?

GRIFFIN: I can write the check. What do I care?

HILL: Or to not cuss? OK.

GRIFFIN: I enjoyed being a YouTube sensation, but I'm going to try not to cuss.


GRIFFIN: But it's a struggle; it's an uphill climb.

HILL: Well, I'll be watching. So I look forward -- I look forward to...

GRIFFIN: Root for me or not. It's up to you.

HILL: No, I'll root for you.

GRIFFIN: And whoever that guy is that you have a baby with.

HILL: We'll talk about that in the break.

But what I really need to know, speaking of guys, whose team are you on, looking back at 2009? Are you team Larry King or team Carrie Prejean?

GRIFFIN: Right. I'm a gay dude. I'm not team Prejean, please. She's a moron. I'm team Larry King all the time, even though he thinks I'm Kathie Lee Gifford.

Larry, don't argue. You know that you're never quite sure.

So yes, I'm -- I'm also team Blitzer. I like "THE SITUATION ROOM."

HILL: Who's not team Blitzer?

GRIFFIN: I like...

HILL: Can you believe Balloon Boy didn't know who he was?

GRIFFIN: OK. I think that's a good relationship for me after I dump Levi.

HILL: Balloon Boy?


HILL: Really?

GRIFFIN: No, the dad. I think that's a good...

HILL: Richard Heene, science detective?

GRIFFIN: Kathy Heene. Do you like the sound of it?

HILL: It's nice. You know, he's got his own theme song, (SINGING) Richard Heene, science detective."

GRIFFIN: And the wife rocks, shredding.

HILL: Yes.

GRIFFIN: So we are going to cover so many things tomorrow night. I'm going to be honest, my lover, fiance, Levi Johnston...

HILL: Yes.

GRIFFIN: Because I'm this close to living in the White House, he is going to be so jealous when he sees me with Anderson that Anderson is going to have to wear his Afghanistan body armor because Levi might...

HILL: Yes.

GRIFFIN: Levi is very jealous.

HILL: I want to hear a little bit more about Levi in a second, but before I get to that, you mentioned things that you're going to be wearing.


HILL: We talked a little bit. It's going to be cold tomorrow.

GRIFFIN: Freezing.

HILL: It's going to be raining.

GRIFFIN: Mm-hmm.

HILL: So I thought you should have a little extra protection. Here's what we have got for you.

GRIFFIN: Some of your afterbirth?

HILL: Yes. No, so there's this CNN hat...

GRIFFIN: Do I get -- I can't get canned for that. Sorry.

HILL: No, I don't think it's swearing. It's a word. It's a medical term.

GRIFFIN: OK. Thank you.

HILL: I didn't want you to have to wear that and mess up your hair. GRIFFIN: My hair is my fortune, Erica.

HILL: So...

GRIFFIN: That and my rack.

HILL: I got you some ear muffs.


HILL: Like Tinkerbell.

GRIFFIN: Adorable. It's like I'm a little angel.

HILL: Well, yes, or a fairy. So I thought you'd like that.

And then also, just so you're that in keeping with team CNN here, a little CNN parka.

GRIFFIN: I would love to wear that.

HILL: Word on the street is they might make you give it back, but don't blame that on me.

GRIFFIN: That is so typical. That's so D-list. I don't even get to keep it?

HILL: Well, you are on the D-list. It's your life.

GRIFFIN: I know.

HILL: So those are some things that you can -- you can think about...

GRIFFIN: Look, it's all about whether or not I write the check back.

HILL: I look forward to it.

GRIFFIN: And you know we're doing tweet. You know normally I don't say tweet. I have a different word.

HILL: Yes, but on this show you say tweet, because you're not writing the check back.

GRIFFIN: I know. What I say is the people can...

HILL: Eat. Yes.

GRIFFIN: They can -- they can send me...

HILL: So that's the Twitter?

GRIFFIN: OK. And so we're going to read questions from the...

HILL: Twitter page. GRIFFIN: Anderson's and mine.

HILL: OK. I look forward to it. We're not done with you yet, by the way.


HILL: We're going to put you to the test a little bit, 'cause Anderson is not here tonight. So you're ready for us tomorrow.

GRIFFIN: Yes, where is he? Did he get canned? What happened?

HILL: He took a vacation.

GRIFFIN: A vacation?

HILL: He's on his vacation.

GRIFFIN: I thought he was supposed to be a newsman.

HILL: Only works 360 days year, not 365.

GRIFFIN: Oh, I get it.

HILL: AC 360.

GRIFFIN: Yes, fine.

HILL: We'll be back with more from Kathy Griffin. And just a reminder, too. Tomorrow, Anderson -- he's back tomorrow -- and Kathy Griffin teaming up again to host CNN's New Year's Eve coverage. They are live from Times Square. That countdown begins at 10 p.m. Eastern. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I am confident there will be a few surprises, too. Kathy has her checkbook ready.

We can't make any promises. Some people think Anderson Cooper just might dance this year. I think pigs could fly, too. But who knows?

Just ahead, actor Charlie Sheen's wife telling police he threatened to kill her. They hauled him off to jail. Well, now there's a new twist in the story. We've got those details for you.

Plus, some of your favorite YouTube moments of 2009, when 360 continues.





HILL: OK. In case you couldn't tell what all that action was on your screen, it's the top grossing movie of 2009, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

So want to get you caught up, too, on some of the Hollywood buzz tonight. We've got Kathy Griffin around to help. She's actually going to join us for a "360 Bulletin" -- Kathy.

GRIFFIN: Do I look like a serious reporter?

HILL: You look like a very serious entertainment reporter.

GRIFFIN: Thank you. And I'm warm and cozy.

All right. Erica, let's start off with the drama over Charlie Sheen. That guy sounds like a tool, right? Can you imagine? Tell me he's not the father.

HILL: He's not.

GRIFFIN: I'm just checking.

HILL: No, I'm happy to report.

GRIFFIN: The drama of his story and his wife. We're hearing Brooke Muller -- or Mueller -- is she related to the former CIA head, 'cause that would be funny?

HILL: I don't think so.


HILL: But I'll look into that for you.

GRIFFIN: Anyway, she wants to make every effort to save her marriage. Why? What is that about?

HILL: Maybe they want to work it out.

GRIFFIN: The money.

HILL: Maybe we don't know the full story. We weren't there. Sorry.

GRIFFIN: Her attorney says that Brooke and Charlie had, quote, "a bad night." I've had those, too, only usually the guy has the shiner. Thank you. I have a 9-iron right now for Anderson tomorrow night.

Anyway, when Charlie allegedly -- that means we can't prove it -- pulled a knife and threatened to kill her. Charming. He would never do that to Jon Crier. It's a sexist thing.

Anyway, but Brooke doesn't want a divorce. You know, whoever writes this news, it doesn't make sense.

HILL: Why?

GRIFFIN: She should divorce him. HILL: But if she says she doesn't want one, you can't force her.

GRIFFIN: We have to rewrite the news. That's what they do over at FOX.

Anyway, Sheen has denied the knife attack. What a shock.

Erica, here's another story I cannot get enough of. Brace yourself. Really, brace yourself.


GRIFFIN: OK. There are new reports that reality TV star -- oh, this is my wheel house -- Jon Gosselin.

HILL: Oh, that one.

GRIFFIN: Anyway, he's trying to make peace with his ex- girlfriend Hailey Glassman. Oh, I met her one time.

HILL: How old is she? Twelve?

GRIFFIN: She's, like, very whiny, and she wears black nail polish, and she says, "People don't get me. You know what I'm saying? It's like I'm not a bad person."

Anyway, things have gotten ugly for them.

HILL: So unfortunate.

GRIFFIN: The point is I run with a pretty impressive crowd.

HILL: That I've known for some time.

GRIFFIN: According to "People" magazine, Hailey filed a complaint with the NYPD alleging -- oh, it's like very "Law & Order SUV," which I'm doing a guest spot on, by the way. It airs February 10.

HILL: With Ice-T?

GRIFFIN: Yes. I'm going to be rolling with his pimps and hos.

Alleging that Jon pushed her -- pushed her during an argument. What is going on? Can't these fools keep their hands off their ladies?

HILL: Apparently not.

GRIFFIN: All right. Jon has implied that Hailey ransacked their Manhattan apartment because she was the only one with keys, which seems like a perfectly good reason for me, but that's because I'm a pretty, pretty lady.

Jon's lawyer -- oh, that one -- Mark Heller or whatever, that one -- he should get his own show -- anyway, he even went so far as to say that Hailey is going to jail.

HILL: Wow.

GRIFFIN: Who isn't? Get in line.

Jon found the mess when get back from his -- spending Christmas with his ex-wife, Kate, and their kids. I had lunch with her.

HILL: How many kids do they have again?

GRIFFIN: They have eight, but I don't think he can name them. Anyway, I had lunch with her one time.

HILL: Really?

GRIFFIN: She does have a wacky haircut, but she's actually pretty nice.

All right. A source now tells "People" -- that's probably me, by the way, the source -- that Jon and Haley are trying to come to a resolution. Why?

HILL: They're trying to work it out.

GRIFFIN: But what's the point?

HILL: Like Brooke and Charlie.

GRIFFIN: Move on.

HILL: Maybe they're meant to be.

Move on to this one. This is the last one.

GRIFFIN: OK. Oh, happy 34th birthday to Tiger Woods.

HILL: Yes. OK.

GRIFFIN: This cannot be -- I was going to say, this can't be a happy birthday for him. It's a happy birthday for me as a comedian.

By the way, I'm doing two nights at Madison Square Garden, for those of you who live here in New York.

Anyway, and I wonder where he is, and with whom, or which one of the 15.

HILL: I don't know.

Here's what I want to know. Here's what I want to know. You -- you mentioned Levi Johnston.

GRIFFIN: My fiance.

HILL: I want tomorrow night -- I want some more details on Levi Johnston. Right now we have to... GRIFFIN: You want to talk about his Johnston?

HILL: No, I want to talk about "The Shot." We're going to go to "The Shot" right now...


HILL: Your checkbook is ready, right?


HILL: We're going to go to "The Shot." So this is -- for tonight's shot, we put together some of what we feel are the best YouTube moments from 2009.

GRIFFIN: I'm wondering maybe where Anderson is, because last time I checked, this was his job.

HILL: He's busy. He's in Namibia.

GRIFFIN: God. But he can't find it on a map. I'll tell you now.

HILL: Next to Indiana.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kooch, kooch, kooch, kooch.






GRIFFIN: I don't like that video.

I'm on the edge.

HILL: But do you love the Susan Boyle.

GRIFFIN: Seacrest, coming after you.

HILL: Are you worried about Seacrest, Carson Daley tomorrow night?


HILL: A little competition?


HILL: You can take them.

GRIFFIN: We are truly an alternative to Ryan Seacrest, and who ever the heck else thinks they're out there. It's us on the riser, holding each other like those cloned monkeys, trying to survive.

HILL: Praying (ph) you won't freeze to death?


HILL: Well, I will be watching from home, in my sweatpants.

GRIFFIN: I know, in your Snuggie.

HILL: Nice and warm and dry. Who has a Snuggie?

GRIFFIN: I know you're not a spokesperson. I just said Snuggie.

HILL: I'm not.

GRIFFIN: All right.

HILL: Kathy Griffin will be back tomorrow. We are back right after this.