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Government Shutdown Looming?; Satellite Threatens Earth

Aired September 23, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It is 10:00 p.m. on the East Coast.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest." And I don't know what else to say, but here we go again.

We are on the brink of a partial government shutdown. And House members -- get this -- they're going on vacation next week. That's right. They're leaving Washington. The do-nothing Congress, they're definitely living up to their name.

Early this morning, the Republican-controlled House did approve a bill that would keep the government running past September 30 through mid-November. But it's laden with spending cuts opposed by the leadership of the Democratic -- the Democratic leadership in the Senate, which meant it was dead on arrival in the Senate.

They killed the bill hours later. The Senate will vote on another version of the bill on Monday. And where will the House members be? On vacation. They sure do like to skip town.

Since January the House has been in session just 125 days. In nine months they spent only 125 days in session. There's a whole lot of time away from Washington, and we realize they take some of that time to meet with constituents back in their home districts and do other official business. But "Keeping Them Honest," when the government could be on the brink of shutting down, this is no time for a recess. After all, most American workers would never be able to take time off what I big project has to get done on deadline. Funding the government, that's a big project with a very important deadline.

And consider this. According to, the average American worker gets 18 vacation days a year, 18, and they only use 14 of them. Did I mention that since January Congress has only been in session for 125 days? Plus the divided 112th Congress is on pace to be the least productive in recent memory.

Since January only 14 House measures have been signed into law by President Obama. And look at this when Democrats controlled the House last year from January to June, 466 bills and resolutions were passed. By comparison over the same time frame this year only 207 bills or resolutions got approval. They spent more time bickering than getting anything actually done.

Yet House lawmakers sure do get paid a lot. Rank and file representatives earn $174,000 a year. The speaker of the House takes home $223,500. Now, compare that to the average American salary of around $43,000, according to the bureau of labor statistics. Meanwhile, the more than one point or the more than 14 million unemployed Americans, 14 million unemployed right now, would love to have a paycheck, any paycheck.

Job fairs all across America, we met Americans seeking work, people like Anna Lowrie (ph) of Atlanta who in August was homeless for four months. She said she was going back and forth, living with her sister or friends. And here's Matt Blodgett (ph). When we met him in Atlanta last month, he said he'd been looking for work since December. He said he'd sit at the computer and apply and apply and you don't get a lot of responses. Americans frustrated, looking for work.

Meanwhile, our high-paying mouse lawmakers are on vacation and we're on the brink of a possible government shutdown. It's not just the House under fire. When I spoke with GOP freshman Senator Rand Paul in May and he admitted he's frustrated by the lack of work getting done.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We go week after week in the Senate and do nothing. I feel like sometimes I should return my check because I go up they do no votes and no debate. Look at this --

COOPER: Really in you feel like that?

KENTUCKY: We don't debate that either.

COOPER: You feel like you're not doing anything?

KENTUCKY: Yes, I -- absolutely. We go week to week and there's no debate in congress. No debate in the Senate. We sit idly by. Some weeks we vote on two or three non-controversial judges and we go back home.


COOPER: That's Senator Rand Paul back in May. Look at this. From the Senate floor time and time again when its roll call, look, a whole lot of senators are missing, they're not on the job. And the vote, the vote has to be delayed because of that.

What is going on? Is this what we're going to face until the 2012 election?

Joining us now tonight is Senior Political Analyst David Gergen and Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to the Bush campaign and Senator John McCain. He co-founded the non-profit group no labels, dedicated to bipartisanship and civil discourse in politics.

David Gergen, if an executive knew that his company was running out of money and rather than deal with it instead he goes on vacation I think most Americans would think that executive should get fired. How can Congress get away with stuff like this? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the board of trustees of that company would fire the chief executive. And the board of trustees in this country happens to be voters. And they may well do that very same thing come 2012 election.

There's so much anti sentiment building up against this congress. And it's not just the House, Anderson, the Senate too. You know a lot of senators had to go home this weekend. They had to go fund raising. They had to build up their coffers. So they'll come back Monday, thank you very much. While everybody's waiting to see not only will the government continue to be funded. But very importantly, whether the federal emergency management agency, FEMA, the one that puts out al the money to disaster relief people, whether that's going to continue. FEMA is right down at you know their coffers are almost empty.

So, I think you're right to take the gloves off on this, Anderson. It is a repeat, we thought, I think most of us thought that after the awful spectacle that surrounded the debt ceiling vote that people in Washington would learn, that people would realize the country is disgusted and here we have another round. It's unbelievable.

COOPER: Mark, is everything now in a political discourse political? I mean is everything in government now just political?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER BUSH CAMPAIGN MEDIA ADVISER: It is, Anderson. That's why the no labels group is such a strong constituency and they came together because they look and see a complete disconnect. They see a time when the Dow's falling through the floor, people are out of work. The Congress isn't showing up to work and when they do show up to work they can't get anything done.

This -- what was happening in the last two days people thought was solved a month ago. So your statistics were great. And we've been compiling similar ones as well that show that in the two months up leading up to the debt ceiling debate Congress only showed up to work half the time. And between now and the November 23 deadline for the super committee they're only going to be in session together 17 days. So --

COOPER: I don't think most people realize that.

MCKINNON: So, Rand Paul should give the money back or they're coming after him with pitchforks.

COOPER: I don't think most people realize the schedule that their representatives are on. I mean David, I think most people --

GERGEN: Most people, most people do not realize. And frankly you know, what they often come just two or three days a week. That's partially driven by money, Anderson. They feel like they have to be home to raise the money and keep the fences built. So they're not lollygaging around on the beach. It's actually a much worse life than people imagine, too to be in Congress and shuttling back and forth and going to fund-raisers all the time. COOPER: But 125 days a session is just insane.

GERGEN: But the truth is they're not, they're not doing the people's work. That's the real point. Here we've got 270 days this year and they have been in session 125 days. The people have a right to expect their members to be in Washington doing their work.

COOPER: I want to play some of what Senator Mitch McConnell said back in May. Let's watch.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Look, divided government when neither party controls the entire government, is the best time, the best time and some would argue the only time when you can do really big stuff.


COOPER: Mark, he has a point. Welfare report, the Gramm-Rudman balanced budget act were both passed when our government was divided. So why is it that this divided Congress, can't seem to get anything done?

MCKINNON: Well, not only can this divided government not get anything done, but when the Democrats held the House and the Senate, they couldn't get anything done, either. It's so hyper partisan and so poisonous, at a time when we have arguably some of our greatest challenges the system is completely paralyzed.

And here's how it translates into a problem, Anderson. The people responding there's a crisis in confidence, not because of the policies that are happening in Washington but because of the politics around the policies. It wasn't the outcome of the debt ceiling debate that created the drop in consumer confidence. It was the way the debate was handled.

And so we have a consumer confidence index which is now at 55, which is the fourth lowest it's been since 1952. And to give you an idea of context, losing presidents on average lose when the consumer confidence index is at 76. Winning presidents win when it's at 95. Today it's at 55.

COOPER: What is the solution here, David? I mean how do you get through the paralysis in Washington?

GERGEN: Well, I do think that Mark McKinnon is doing something very important. This no labels group is the makings of a middle third party of people who are disgusted with politics as usual. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, has come together with him. They had, Mark can talk about this. But they, Schultz had a phone call that asked people to sign up. He had 140,000 people on the phone call to talk about how to change our politics. There is a disgust in the country and if it can be channeled not just into the tea party, because that after all is one manifestation of the unhappiness, but a lot of people in the middle who don't have -- they're not so ideologically driven, I think that Mark is trying to build something like that and it has really potential.

COOPER: Mark, I mean, is it a third party or I mean, that seems like something that's a long way off. What can be done just to change the climate in Washington? There are cannot be done.

MCKINNON: It's a -- Anderson, it's not a third party but it's an alternative voice and it's a voice that represents the majority in this country.

The problem is that fringe, extreme, and special interest groups have grabbed the microphone and dominated the conversation and they're punishing our elected officials for good behavior whenever they exhibit bipartisan behavior or cooperate with anybody from the other party they get punished by these interests.

So no labels was organized because people are demanding it because they want to have a voice that represents the broad middle of America, that referees these debates and says we're fed up, we want some progress, we don't want just partisanship, we want progress, we want cooperation, we want some concerted effort where people actually come to work, work together, get some problems solved, and work together. So no labels community is 100,000 strong growing every day and to provide a voice for the mid -- to give our elected officials a voice and cover for doing the right thing because right now they get punished for doing the right thing.

COOPER: That's a sad state of affairs being punished for doing the right thing or for compromising, coming to agreements. I got to leave it there. Mark McKinnon, David Gergen, thank you very much.

MCKINNON: Exactly right.

GERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Before House lawmakers left town today, members of the Subcommittee on Oversight Investigations held a pretty anticipated hearing. They tried to grill two executives from the bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra about the $535 million loan guarantee they received from the department of energy. Now, lawmakers wanted to know why one month before Solyndra filed for bankruptcy they told the department of energy the company was doing just fine. One month before. But both men invoked the Fifth Amendment. Congressman Fred Upton, the Democratic chairman of the committee, was not pleased with that response.


REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: We finally had to resort to a subpoena and now the outright resistance of getting answers that both of you, our two witnesses, assured us only last week you that would provide. Let me warn you and the other folks involved in this taxpayer rip-off, we're not done. No, we're not.


COOPER: Well, Solyndra was the first loan guarantee approved by the Obama administration, part of a program designed to generate jobs. We, the taxpayers are now on the hook for that loan.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting some tonight.

Up next, Texas Governor and GOP presidential front-runner Rick Perry, stretching the truth on the war of words over his executive order on the HPV vaccine. What he said on the latest Republican debate that now has him on the defensive.

Also, a bus-size satellite falling to earth, within hours. After 26 pieces, some weighing hundreds of pounds are expected to survive re-entry. We'll try to get a grip of when this may happen and where it may land. All for the latest ahead.


COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight.

GOP presidential hopeful and Texas Governor Rick Perry, stretching the truth about what become one of the hottest and most contentious issues between him and Michele Bachmann.

The two candidates exchanging words yet again last night in the debate over the Governor's 2007 executive order mandating the HPV vaccine for Texas girls, sixth-graders. And what happened last night and why Perry is backtracking from his latest message in a moment.

But first, how we got here in the first place? And a note to viewers now would be the time to crank the handle on the bark lounger and settle in because this thing has traveled a long and winding road.

And here we go. The topic first came up during a CNN debate during the tea party Republican debate on September 12. That's when Bachmann attacked Perry claiming donations he got from Merck which makes an HPV vaccine and played a role in Perry's executive order. Watch.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Perry, as you well know, you signed an executive order requiring little girls, 11 and 12- year-old girls, to get a vaccine to deal with the sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer. Was that a mistake?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was indeed. If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently. I would have gone to the legislature, worked with them. But what was driving me was obviously making a difference about young people's lives. Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there was a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can't, we can't deny that.

WOLF: So what are you suggesting? BACHMANN: What I'm saying is that it's wrong for a drug company because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company, the drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat out wrong. The question is, is it about life or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?

WOLF: All right. I will let Senator Santorum hold on for a second. You've got to respond to that.

PERRY: Yes, sir. The company was Merck. And it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended.


COOPER: Perry says he can't be bought for $5,000. It doesn't answer whether he can be influenced by this man, Mike Toomey. He served as Perry's chief of staff from 2002 to 2004. He's now an Austin lobbyist who did work for Merck for years. The day after the CNN debate Michele Bachmann made for headlines for this comment she made about the HPV vaccine on the "Today" show.


BACHMANN: I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida after the debate. She told me her little daughter took that vaccine that injection and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.


COOPER: Bachmann came under fire for that message. Scientists and medical professionals have flat-out debunked the notion that the HPV vaccine could cause mental retardation, to use her term. The Minnesota congresswoman didn't apologize. Instead she explained her controversial comment this way.


BACHMANN: I wasn't speaking as a doctor. I wasn't speaking as a scientist. I was merely passing on in an interview after the debate what I had been told. Because again, the main point of my remarks, were that crony capitalism and also the fact that there was an abuse of executive power.


COOPER: She was just passing it on. Never mind the fact that it was complete misinformation. OK. So, you might think that would be the end of all this.

But no, the topic surfaced again last night during the FOX GOP presidential debate. Congressman Bachmann reiterated her charge that Perry was motivated to sign the executive order because his former chief of staff had worked as a lobbyist for Merck. And now Governor Perry is under fire after he responded with this.


PERRY: I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31-year- old young lady who had stage four cervical cancer. I spent a lot of time with her. She came by my office. She talked to me about this program.


COOPER: A touching story for sure. Part of it is true, but only part of it. "Keeping Them Honest," Governor Perry met the person he's referring to, Heather Burcham, after he issued the executive order to administer the vaccine. A key point because it still leaves open the question whether Perry was improperly influenced by his former chief of staff turned lobbyist, Mike Toomey.

The governor did note Ms. Heather Burcham, who sadly was suffering from cervical cancer in fact they lobbied the legislature together to uphold the vaccination program after his executive order. They reportedly became close friends and Perry sat with her in the hospital during her final days. She died in July of 2007.

As for the executive order, Texas legislature had blocked it just months earlier, in April. So that gap plus an overall debate performance many conservatives call weak now suddenly has put Perry on the ropes.

I spoke earlier tonight about it with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and Contributors Erick Erickson, editor in chief of and Dana Loesch, Tea Party organizer in Saint Louis.


COOPER: So Eric in your opinion, how big a deal was Rick Perry's HPV lie or mistake, whatever it was?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know I don't know that it was a huge deal. I mean, given the rest of his debate performance, you can't help but realize he probably got that wrong, too. I mean, in fact when I e-mailed some of the campaign staff and asked them about it, none of them had actually I guess they had tuned out by that point and were like of course he didn't know the lady before he signed the executive order, he didn't say that and then went back to the transcript.

So very clearly, I mean, even the Perry campaign is willing to admit he had to have screwed up. It wasn't a lie as much as Rick Perry did not have a good debate performance last night.

COOPER: Yes, to say the least. I mean Dana, I want to play one moment from last night that a lot of people felt Perry fumbled. He was trying to attack Mitt Romney for being a flip-flopper. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PERRY: I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the second amendment before he was for the second amendment? The second amendment was it was before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for standing up for roe versus wade before he was against verse roe versus wade? He was for race to the top. He's for Obama care and now he's against it. I mean, we'll wait until tomorrow and see which Mitt Romney we're really talking to tonight.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will use the same term again. Nice try.


COOPER: I saw you tweeted, Dana, last night you that think Perry, has to get better at debating. How long do you think before he's no longer considered the one to beat? Or do you think it's not that bad at this point?

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it was a pretty bad performance last night. And the weird thing is I have seen Perry give speeches before, I have seen him speak from off the cuff, and he does fine. So I don't know if it's just the pressure of the debate format or the intense weight of the national scrutiny that's getting to him. But I mean it's not just his speech skills. It was his physical body language as well. He looked very uncomfortable.

But I think you know it's still really early to call anyone out. But if Rick Perry wants to remain a top-tier contender, he's got to get better at debate. And he's been getting progressively worse with each debate. I have never seen anything like it. And when you can't get up in front of people and adequately convey what your policies are and what your platform is, that's a huge problem. And the Perry campaign needs to act quickly and do something dramatic before the next debate. Otherwise, the conversation could be, well, he's not top tier anymore.

COOPER: So Gloria, I mean he might not be doing great in last night's debate, but he's clearly the one the rest of the field is trying to knock down.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's because he's had this meteoric rise. Look, on paper he looked like the perfect person to come in and grab the front-runner status from Mitt Romney. You know, he's a conservative governor with a low unemployment rate in his state who, could really take on Mitt Romney and was a favorite of the Tea Party.

But running for president is a performance art. And it's very clear he's not somebody who's very practiced at this or who does a very good job at it even if he does practice. And what they have succeed in doing is really turning him into a moderate on stage. You know, his immigration position, for example, which is very much akin to the dream act, has turned him into a moderate. He got booed with this Republican audience last night, his position on the HPV vaccine also. Michele Bachmann attacked him on that.

So instead of being a favorite of these conservative audiences, and by the way, Anderson, I think we can say that perhaps the worst thing about these debates is not the candidates but those audiences and their reactions to the things the candidates are saying or to the questions. For example, to a gay soldier asking about don't ask, don't tell and booing somebody who's fighting for his country was stunning to me.


BORGER: Well, that was two individuals. I think there should be a clarification on it. It was two individuals. And actually, according to the audience members who were in the audience and who were tweeting pictures and updating, the hissing and the boos you ended up hearing were the audience verbally taking those two men apart for daring to stand up and boo a soldier in a war zone simply because they didn't like what he was saying over don't ask, don't tell.

COOPER: But they were cheering for Santorum's answer on the question. Weren't they?

LOESCH: Well, I think towards the end if anyone was cheering they were cheering for Santorum perhaps sticking to his guns. But the bottom line is that the audience, I mean I personally don't think you don't boo a soldier in a war zone, period.

And the audience's reaction, according to all the of the eyewitnesses who were in the audience and who were on Twitter later, those two individuals who stood up and showed everyone their I.Q., they were taken apart by the crowd. And in fact, there's probably some stuff that was yelled that I have heard that you can't say on air toward these two men.

ERICKSON: It might be the same two guys who cheered on the death question last night.

LOESCH: Who knows?


BORGER: That was in the Wolf Blitzer's debate. And that was sort of stunning, too. Saying, you know, somebody who goes into an emergency room who doesn't have any medical care, let him day, somebody said, I believe.

ERICKSON: Yes. But even then it was two or three people, and giving everyone a bad name, two or three people. And maybe, maybe we've got some debate groupies who are going around doing that.

COOPER: Erick, if you're already sick in these debates, we've got a long season ahead of us. Appreciate you all being on, Dana, Erick, Gloria, thanks.


COOPER: Coming up: Amanda Knox's appeal is in its final phase in Italy. Knox was convicted of killing her roommate Meredith Kercher and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Now Knox's family hopes she is going soon be coming home. They're getting optimistic. I will speak with Amanda's mom.

Also ahead, the sky is falling, or at least a really big satellite is falling. Pieces of the satellite, some weighing hundreds of pounds, expected to hit the earth as early as tonight. The question is where? I will have the latest, coming up.


COOPER: Some other important stories we're following tonight.

Susan Hendricks has a 360 news and business bulletin -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At the United Nations today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to begin immediate peace talks, this after Abbas submitted a formal request for full U.N. membership.

The U.N. (sic) has pledged to veto that request if put to a vote before the U.N. Security Council.

On Wall Street, stocks ended a brutal week with some meager gains. The Dow climbed 37 points today but fell more than 6 percent for the week. It is the worst weekly performance since October 2008.

And fans are lining up in London for a peek at Elizabeth Taylor's collection of jewels, what she's known for, valued at more than $30 million. Who can forget her beautiful gems, which include a 33-carat diamond given to the screen legend by husband Richard Burton? The exhibit is part of a world tour, which will end this December at Christie's auction house in New York.

Looking forward to it.

COOPER: We'll see how much it brings in. Thanks very much, Susan.

Still ahead, "Crime & Punishment." Prosecutors in Italy pulling out the stops to keep American Amanda Knox behind bars. She's fighting a conviction for murder she says she didn't commit. Now, what happened in court today and what Knox's mom told me about how she's holding up, next.

Also, new details in that deadly plane crash in the air race in Reno. What investigators now say happened moments before the plane plunged into the crowd, killing 11 people, hurting dozens more.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: "Crime & Punishment" now in Italy, as prosecutors today urged the jury to keep American Amanda Knox behind bars. The former student is appealing her conviction for the murder of British roommate Meredith Kercher, with a decision expected as early as next week.

Now Knox and her then-boyfriend were found guilty in 2009 two years before Kercher's partially clad body was found in the house they shared in Italy. The DNA evidence used in the original trial has since been called into question.

But in final arguments today prosecutors insisted evidence points to Knox and her boyfriend, and they called on jurors to put themselves in the shoes of the victim's parents.

Meredith Kercher's death is certainly a tragedy. Her life shouldn't be forgotten. But what about Amanda Knox? After four years of sometimes frenzied international media coverage, who really remembers the young woman at the heart of this trial? It's part of a CNN documentary. Drew Griffin of CNN special investigations set out to find out who is Amanda Knox. Here's his report.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With an investigation nearly finished and three people under arrest, the press began to focus on who is Amanda Knox? The picture they painted wasn't very flattering.

DEANNA KNOX, SISTER: I think some of the biggest problems that happened with my sister have come from the media. The whole "angel face with cold eyes." The whole "Foxy Knoxy" thing.

GRIFFIN: To know the real Foxy Knoxy, you have to go back to Amanda's hometown, Seattle, Washington.

EDDA MELLAS, MOTHER: Amanda was born here in Seattle in the summer of 1987, the day before I turned 25. So, our birthdays are one day apart.

GRIFFIN: Born into a middle-class family, her mother, a school teacher, her father, an accountant, divorced when Amanda and her sister were still very young.

KNOX: And so growing up, it was -- I spent the majority of my time with my mom. It was every other weekend that me and Amanda went to our dad's.

GRIFFIN: Always active, Amanda earned her nickname, Foxy Knoxy, at a young age, and not from where you might have thought.

(on camera) And soccer is where she earned that nickname that's come back to haunt her?

MELLAS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, at the age of 8. The 8-year-olds, who don't know anything but call each other all kinds of funny nicknames, gave her "Foxy Knoxy."

GRIFFIN (voice-over): She was not a typical teenager. Amanda was driven and focused. Unlike most eighth graders, Amanda wanted an academic challenge. So, for high school, she chose Seattle Prep, a prestigious private school that her parents could not afford.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amanda was scholarshipped out to Seattle Prep. So, it's not like she was given a silver spoon or anything but any means.

GRIFFIN: Kris Johnson, an English teacher at Seattle Prep, recalls a girl who was different from her classmates.

KRIS JOHNSON, TEACHER: She was so diligent that she signed up for an extra English class at a time when she could have had a free period. She took an extra class. So she stood out.

GRIFFIN: And as for boys...

(on camera) Did she have many serious boyfriends before?

KNOX: No. She was definitely a very late bloomer. I don't even remember a boyfriend till college.

GRIFFIN: She knew very early on that she wanted to see the world.

MELLAS: I think Amanda started talking even in middle school about wanting to travel and to see different places.

GRIFFIN: Amanda would take her love of adventure to the University of Washington, where she would major in linguistics. Her friend, Andrew Selaver (ph), describes a woman open to the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was her just open personality to, you know, see the good things in people and have always a positive attitude about everybody and everything in the world.

GRIFFIN: In college, Amanda knew she wanted to spend a year abroad, but to do that, she would have to raise money that her parents did not have.

(on camera) How'd she do it?

MELLAS: She had to save $10,000. She lived extremely frugally, and I mean, spent no money on anything. And then worked several jobs at a time, numerous jobs at a time, and saved every penny.

GRIFFIN: Amanda chose to study in Perugia, Italy, a small town in the center of the country. In the late summer of 2007, Amanda and her sister, Deanna, traveled there to get her settled. On the very first day in town, Deanna found Amanda place to live.

KNOX: We were walking around, and the first thing Amanda did, of course, was go down to her university. So, we walked down there, and she went inside and I sat outside. And this girl came up and was posting something on the fence right next to where I was sitting. And I looked over, and it said -- all I could read, because I don't speak Italian, was "apartmento."

GRIFFIN (on camera): And that was the apartment.

KNOX: Mm-hmm. That was it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Once settled in Perugia, Amanda seemed to be living her dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first set of pictures she ever sent me were of the little house that she had found. You know, and I was kind of looking at her going, you have that kind of a view out of your back yard? You know, and it was really, you know -- I was very happy for her.

GRIFFIN: And just eight days before Meredith's murder, Amanda met a boy, an Italian student named Raffaele Sollecito.

(on camera) Was she falling in love? Did she sound like a girl falling in love?

MELLAS: I thought, you know, she sounded like a girl who was definitely very infatuated with this young man, who was showing her around. You know, they went over to Assisi. So, yes, there was definitely a big infatuation there. I don't think they had time to fall in love by the time they were arrested.

GRIFFIN: Amanda Knox. Devoted daughter. Student. Lover? According to this man, murderer.


COOPER: That's the prosecutor. That was drew Griffin reporting.

Amanda Knox is currently serving a 26-year prison sentence. But with her appeal now in its final stretch, her family is cautiously hopeful that she's going to be back home in Seattle within weeks, maybe sooner. A lot of the DNA evidence has basically been ruled out.

I spoke with Amanda's mom, Edda, just a short time ago.


COOPER: Edda, every Christmas, every summer, every spring break, you've been there in Perugia. Does it feel like maybe the beginning of the end to you?

MELLAS: You know, it really does. I think we're more hopeful now than we've ever been. And a lot of people here are telling us, "Don't worry. It's going great. You're going to take her home." So, it's nice to hear that from a lot of people.

COOPER: When was the last time you got a chance to talk to Amanda? MELLAS: I talked to her briefly today in court. I was just able to tell her, you know, I love her, to ask her how she was doing and tell her to hang in there. Other than that, I think I had -- I talked to her on the phone last Saturday.

COOPER: How does -- I mean, how does she appear to you? How does it seem like she's holding up? Because your husband has said that she's allowing herself a little bit of hope.

MELLAS: She is. She is. You know, she's amazing. I don't know how she does it. She's obviously stressed. Today was horrible. You know, listening to really terrible lies about her, about the case. And she just had to sit and listen, you know, to it. And it obviously caused a lot of stress. But you know, she's hanging in there.

COOPER: Is Amanda planning to address the court again before the trial is over?

MELLAS: Yes. Absolutely. I think right now, the plan is that on Monday, I think it's the 3rd of October, Amanda and Raffaele will speak, and then the judge and the jury will go into chambers and make -- you know, go for a verdict.

COOPER: Are you -- I mean, are you personally optimistic?

MELLAS: I am. But none of us -- you know, none of us lets us go to that "it's for sure" place, because it's not for sure. You never know what could happen. You know, the first trial here, we were sure that she would be acquitted, because there was no evidence, and that obviously didn't happen. But we're -- you know, I think we're all a little less stressed.

COOPER: When -- I mean, do you allow yourself at this point as a mom to think about her coming home, about what you're going to do, the first things you -- I mean, are you allowing yourself to go there?

MELLAS: A little bit. I mean, we -- you know, Amanda's always said that she just wants to go home. She wants to hang out with family and friends. That's as far as I go. You know, thinking about how to get her home and a little bit of that, but not too much, because we're just really focused on fighting for her every day in court and doing what we need to do to get her out of there first.

COOPER: Well, Edda, I know it's just -- I can't imagine what it's been like for you. I appreciate you joining us tonight, and I hope you get good news soon.

MELLAS: Thank you very much, Anderson.


COOPER: Coming up, the national transportation safety board issuing its first report on the deadly plane crash at the air race in Reno. We're going to tell you what they found next.

Also ahead tonight, good news for two of the American hikers who were arrested, held in Iran. They've made it official. They are engaged. Details on that coming up.

And "The RidicuList." P. Diddy has a book coming out. It's -- how shall I put this? It's a book of butts. And I'm not talking about cigarettes.


COOPER: This upcoming Sunday, don't miss a new CNN "Latino in America" special report. Soledad O'Brien shares the story of a Latina boxer about to face the fight of her life as she intends to make her Olympic dreams a reality. Here's Soledad with a preview.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Many U.S. boxers are working-class Latinos and African-Americans.

MARLEN ESPARZA, BOXER: I know back home, a lot of my friends, they're like, Latinos. You know, they're already married with kids and stuff. Never went to school after high school. And me, you know, having boxing, it's put me on a better path.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the red corner, Marlen Esparza.

O'BRIEN: Marlen beats her first box-off opponent, Alex Love.

ESPARZA: I felt like I was fighting a 12-year-old kid.

O'BRIEN: But she is more worried about Christina Cruz. The U.S. Olympic boxing coach, Gloria Peek (ph), has come to the box-off to get a look at the first female Olympic hopefuls.


O'BRIEN: After 33 years of coaching men, Coach Peek (ph) has her eyes on the top two women: Esparza versus Cruz.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think out of the 112, these are the top two girls.

ESPARZA: Christina Cruz boxes as a hobby. I box as a lifestyle.

CHRISTINA CRUZ, BOXER: We are in the same weight class, and we both want the same thing. This is a sport. Someone has to lose.

O'BRIEN: Four-one, Christine. Seven-five, Christina. And the winner is...


COOPER: Inspirational story. Don't miss CNN's "Latino in America: In Her Corner" this Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern.

HENDRICKS: More from Anderson in just a moment. But first, a "360 Bulletin." A satellite the size of a bus is heading towards Earth. That massive. About 26 pieces of it, some weighing hundreds of pounds, are expected to survive reentry any time now between 1 p.m. and 3 a.m. Eastern. As for where, NASA cannot say exactly where, but odds are it will be an ocean, since 70 percent of the planet is covered in water. Still, a little bit unsettling.

A preliminary report on that deadly air race crash in Reno, Nevada, says a small piece of the plane's tail broke off just before the air -- it just crash into spectators. Eleven people, including the pilot, were killed. Seventy-four others were hurt.

Jury selection is over in the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor. Opening statements are set to begin in this Tuesday. Conrad Murray is accused of playing a role in Michael Jackson's fatal overdose.

And in Oman, freed American hiker Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd made their engagement official, ring and all. Bauer proposed while the couple and their friend, Josh Fattal, were in prison in Iran. Sarah Shourd was released a year ago. Bauer and Fattal were freed on Wednesday. Our congratulations to Shane and Sarah on their engagement.

Now back to Anderson.

COOPER: Tonight in "The Connection," the man who transformed the way the world makes videos takes on a new challenge. He'd be the first to admit his new idea is incredibly cheesy. That's the whole point. Here's Dan Simon.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan Kaplan made shooting video a breeze as inventor of the Flipcam.

JONATHAN KAPLAN, INVENTOR OF FLIPCAM: My interest in technology has basically been as a tool to make consumers happy and to develop products that consumers love.

SIMON: Kaplan sold his company to tech giant Cisco for $590 million. Cisco wound up abandoning the Flip in today's era of do- everything smart phones, but Kaplan's sense of what consumers want, he thinks he's still got it, with this.

Yes, it's a grilled cheese sandwich. He's launching a chain of restaurants called The Melt. The first one opening in San Francisco. Quite a radical transition from those engineering rooms in Silicon Valley.

(on camera) So, how do you go from making camcorders to grilled cheese sandwiches? Well, Kaplan says there are some similarities. Both, he says, are about creating a fun, easy experience for customers.

You're a guy who could have happily retired. Yet you chose to go into the restaurant business, which may even be harder than the consumer electronics business.

KAPLAN: It's exciting. I think to me, the idea of making people smile and making them happy has always been what's motivated me. And the idea of a grilled cheese and soup does nothing except for bring a smile onto your face.

SIMON: That may be the case, but as you might have expected, Kaplan has a share of online skeptics. "Who does he think he is, Ray Kroc," referring to the man behind McDonald's phenomenal success? "I predict another empty store front by this time next year," says another.

But Kaplan says, just wait.

KAPLAN: Once you try The Melt, you're like, wow, this is the grilled cheese I wish my mom made, not the grilled cheese my mom made.

SIMON: Customer reception thus far: lines out the door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it. I'm from Wisconsin, so I know cheese. And this is good.

SIMON: Kaplan hasn't let go of his passion for technology. It took customized cooking equipment to make the sandwiches quickly and get the right consistency.

The Melt is also big on mobile.

KAPLAN: We need to let people order on their mobile phones, pay with their mobile phones, pick up with their mobile phones, because that's going to be the way they want to do things.

SIMON: His goal is to open 500 of these restaurants in the next couple years. Maybe then Ray Kroc comparisons will be true after all.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


COOPER: Up next, Sean P. Diddy Puff Daddy Combs' latest product lands sort of on the "RidicuList," in a nice way. We're getting to the bottom of it next.


COOPER: Time now for the "RidicuList." And tonight we're adding Sean Combs' book of butts. That's right, I'm talking about Sean Combs, also known as Diddy, as in did he really just say Sean Combs has a book of butts? Yes. Yes, I did.

P. Diddy has teamed up with a photographer and a record executive -- because really, who knows more about books than record executives? -- to create a book. It's basically 248 pages of women's butts. You could say that in this book, even the beginning and the middle are the end. Thank you very much.

I kind of think that should be the subtitle, but frankly, nobody asked me.

Anyway, like all great works of literature the book has a really flashy promotional video touting its assets. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Jack and Jill went up the hill each with a buck and a quarter


COOPER: All right. The video's more than three minutes long. That's about all we can show you because, frankly, there's a buttload of nudity in it.

The book is called "Culo," which is Italian for butt. See, the Italian thing makes it fancier. Wouldn't sound as good if they just called it "Butt." And it comes out at -- maybe it would. It comes out at the end of November just in time for your holiday shopping needs. And you were wondering what to get grandma this year. Problem solved. Thanks, Diddy.

The book also has an official Web site, which we can't show you because of all the butts and a tag line, quote, "The world is no longer flat." The Web site explains that the book is, quote, "an art, fashion, and pop culture movement." Whatever. It's a coffee table book. But not that I have anything against coffee table books, especially the one Kramer came up with on "Seinfeld."


MICHAEL RICHARDS, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: I'm starting the book tour. First stop, "Regis & Kathie Lee."

REGIS PHILBIN, CO-HOST, ABC'S "LIVE WITH REGIS & KELLY": It's a coffee table book about coffee tables. Yes.


RICHARDS: See, the beauty of my book is, if you don't have a coffee table, it turns into a coffee table.


COOPER: So you may be asking Sean Combs, with everything that's going on in the world, do we really need a coffee table about butts?

What you're forgetting is that many other serious artists have rather butt-centric work, as well. Artists such as Anthony Ray -- excuse me. I'm sorry. You probably know him by the title he received after he was knighted, Sir Mix-a-lot.


SIR MIX-A-LOT, RAPPER (rapping): Your girlfriend rolls a Honda. Workout tapes by Fonda. Ain't got a motor in the back of her Honda. My anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hon.


COOPER: "Baby Got Back." That song actually won a Grammy.

For my money, though, as per usual, nobody did it better -- it did -- than Spinal Tap. Ladies and gentlemen, "Big Bottom."


SPINAL TAP, FAKE ROCK GROUP (singing): Big bottom, big bottom. Talk about bum cakes, my girl's got 'em. Big bottom, drive me out of my mind. How could I leave this behind?


COOPER: That's one of my favorite movies of all time.

I suppose we shouldn't be all that surprised that Diddy's branching out. He's done the music, the movies, the reality show, the clothing line, the vodka. A book was bound to happen. And hey, if it gets someone who doesn't usually read to crack open a book, then Sean Combs' book of butts surely belongs on the best-seller list. I'll probably buy a copy.

That's it for "360." thanks for watching. "JOHN KING USA" starts now. Have a great weekend.