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Penn State Scandal Escalates; Rick Perry Doing Damage Control

Aired November 10, 2011 - 22:00   ET


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

We begin "Keeping Them Honest" with the Penn State child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, the alleged abuse of eight children over a span of 15 years, eight children at this point that authorities know about, abused by Jerry Sandusky, say authorities, a once and later former top assistant to head football coach Joe Paterno.

That is Sandusky right there. He set up a charity for troubled kids from broken homes, allegedly grooming some of them for abuse. He is now facing 40 criminal charges, though he is out on bail right now.

There is breaking news tonight on that. Our Jason Carroll just spoke with Sandusky's attorney, is learning new details about how his client plans to fight the charges against him. And, yes, right now, they say they are going to fight those charges. We're going to talk to Jason shortly.

Before we do that, we want to run through the evidence, because there's a lot of evidence suggesting that so many people so early on knew so much about so much about such revolting allegations, yet seemingly did so little about it.

Tonight, Joe Paterno is out. So is the university president. He's out. And last night, a lot of students did a lot of venting about that on campus, calling for Paterno to play one last game this weekend. They overturned a TV truck, chanted "One more game" and the university cheer, "We are Penn State."

But for the past few days, a lot of people have been asking, what is Penn State?

Overnight Joe Paterno, JoePa to his followers, looked and sounded just like the image he enjoyed for so many years, the no-nonsense, academics-first, do-the-right-thing coach. He told protesters to go home and hit the books.


JOE PATERNO, FORMER HEAD FOOTBALL COACH, PENN STATE: Get a good night's sleep, all right? Study. All right? We still got things to do. All right. I'm out of it maybe now. That phone call put me out of it, but we'll go from there, OK?

Hey, good luck, everybody. Thanks for coming. (CROSSTALK)


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for everything. Thank you.


PATERNO: One thing. Thanks, and pray a little bit for those victims.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're a legend, Joe.




COOPER: It's that image of a coach so revered that's so at odds with the sickening details of this case and the details really matter in this case.

And the details really matter in this case. We want to tell you a little bit, a few of the excerpts from the grand jury finding of fact. I want to read you one of them -- quote -- "While in the shower, Sandusky approached the boy, grabbed him around the waist, and said, I'm going to squeeze your guts out." This allegedly happened in 1998.

When his mother learned about it, she went to the university police. She confronted coach Sandusky who was at the time Joe Paterno's defensive coordinator.

The mother let campus and local police eavesdrop on two conversations she had with the coach. According to the grand jury finding -- quote -- "She asked him if his private parts touched victim 6. Sandusky replied, I don't think so. Maybe."

Later according to the finding he tells victim 6's mom -- quote -- "I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

The grand jury report says he admitted wrongdoing to campus police.

In addition university police detective Ronald Shreffler told the grand jury that at this -- at the time his investigation also included a second child who he says he was subjected to nearly identical treatment by coach Sandusky.

And these are serious allegations and more than one of them. So what happened next? Well, according to the grand jury finding, not much. Detectives Shreffler advised Sandusky not to shower with any child again, and the coach promised not to. He promised.

The local district attorney, Ray Gricar, was notified, but he decided not to pursue charges. Then six years ago, Gricar, he simply vanished. We're going to have more on that in a second.

So the local DA didn't see fit to prosecute, and the university police merely warned coach Sandusky not to do it again.

What about Pennsylvania Child Welfare authorities? Well, it turns out they were notified and did nothing. "Keeping Them Honest," we asked them why and got no answers, just this statement from spokeswoman Anne Bale. Quote, "The law doesn't allow us to confirm or deny an investigation when it involves a child."

So remember now, this is 1998, 13 years ago. The victim's mother knows, campus and local police know, local DA knows, Child Welfare knows, and essentially nothing happens.

coach Sandusky goes on to win Assistant Coach of the Year for 1999 and then he retires at 55 years old. An early age for coaches to retire. He could have written his own ticket but reportedly got no job offers from elsewhere.

That raises the awkward question, did others especially outside of state college know about Jerry Sandusky's alleged transgressions? And if so how could it be that Joe Paterno, his boss, his mentor, his close friend, did not know back in 1998 what was going on?

Coach Paterno says he first learned of trouble in May of 2002 when Sandusky, by then a professor emeritus, allegedly raped a boy in the shower? A graduate assistant saw it happened. According to the grand jury report, he saw a naked boy, victim two, whose age he estimated to be 10 years old with his hands up against the wall being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.

And look, I know these details are hard to hear and no one wants to hear them, but it's important to know specifically what this man is being charged with and what this man is being accused of. It's important to know this wasn't just some few isolated incidents. It's important to know in detail what he's alleged to have done to these young boys.

The graduate assistant left, later told his father that then -- that he then told Joe Paterno what he'd seen but according to Paterno left out the explicit details. Paterno testified that he notified University Athletic director Tim Curley. Then about a week and a half later the grad assistant today his story to Curley and Gary Schultz, Penn State's vice president for finance and business who also oversaw campus police.

Despite that, the grand jury found no one ever notified campus police. Never sought information on the 1998 allegations. What they did do -- and listen to this is bar Jerry Sandusky from bringing any more kids from his Second Mile program into the football building. Schultz also told the grand jury that his memory was hazy about what exactly the graduate assistant told the two of them. He and Curley both denying they were told it was sodomy.

So is that believable? According to the grand jury not entirely -- quote -- "The grand jury finds that portions of the testimony of Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are not credible." And cites them for making materially false statements under oath.

As for the accuser, the grad student, well, his name is Mike McQueary. Guess what? He is now Penn State's receivers coach. The grand jury found his account highly credible. It also found that what McQueary witnessed should have been reported to law enforcement and Child Welfare if not by McQueary himself and Tim Curley or Gary Schultz or, as many are saying, by Joe Paterno.

I mentioned at the top there is breaking news from Jerry Sandusky's attorney. Jason Carroll just spoke with him. Joins us now.

Jason, what are you hearing?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I spoke to Joseph Amendola just about an hour ago, Anderson. He's extremely frustrated.

First off, he's -- he disputes and his client he says disputes all of the allegations that are being made. I asked him about the case. He says that he's still in the infancy of building that case. Still in the very beginning stages of trying to find witnesses and trying to find information that will help his client.

But I really have to say, Anderson, he made it very clear that he feels as though Jerry Sandusky has already been tried in the court of public opinion here at Penn State, being made out to be guilty before he's even had a chance to try and prove his innocence in a court of law -- Anderson.

COOPER: Did you ask about the grand jury testimony?

CARROLL: Absolutely. And once again, he denied all of the allegations that are being made in that 23-page grand jury report. He specifically talked about that incident in 1998 that you mentioned in that. I think by now a lot of people have heard about.

Victim number 6 is identified in that particular incident as an 11-year-old boy. Apparently Sandusky does not deny that he showered with this boy, but he says no sex actually took place. And his attorney wanted to make that very clear. And he said hopefully he'll get a chance to prove that, once again, when he gets an opportunity to put his case together.

COOPER: Did he say how his client feels about his role in bringing down Joe Paterno?

CARROLL: Yes, absolutely. He basically told us that Sandusky at this point feels devastated. Another word that he used is destroyed. Obviously, these two men were very close, Sandusky and Coach Joe Paterno, they had been connected for many, many years. He says that -- quote -- it is eating him up that these allegations have brought down a man who he called a legend -- Anderson.

COOPER: Did it -- did it -- I mean, is it fair to say -- I mean is it -- I guess some people hearing that are going to say, well, wait a minute, is this guy more upset about the effect of this on Joe Paterno or about what is alleged to have happened to these young boys or the effect on these young boys? Did you get a sense of what he's taking more seriously?

CARROLL: It's a fair question. Yes. It's a fair question. And I think based on the conversation that I had this man feels like he's upset on all fronts. First and foremost, he feels as though he's being tried in the public -- in the court of public opinion, if you will, being made out to be guilty not just here at Penn State but in the media as well. So that's first.

And second, I think he also feels deeply hurt that because of all these allegations that are being made about him, a man who he respected has been brought down -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jason, thanks.

Let's turn next to Cory Giger of the "Altoona Mirror" newspaper and local ESPN radio station, also former prosecutor Sunny Hostin, legal contributor for "In Session" on truTV, and "In Session" correspondent Jean Casarez.

Sunny, what do you make of Jerry -- what the attorney said for Sandusky?


COOPER: That he's going to fight these charges?

HOSTIN: Well, certainly it's unfortunate that he is going to force these young children to get on the witness stand and testify against him, because it's always -- not young children, but they're older now. But it's very difficult for victims of sex crimes to come forward and testify in front of the person that is accused of doing these things to them and also in front of a jury and in front of a packed courtroom.

So I think at the first level they need to think about these young victims. I mean, we're not talking about mere accusations from one person. We're talking about at this point, I believe, there are nine victims that have come forward, Anderson. So I think that's unfortunate, that it looks like this is something that is going to go perhaps to trial.

COOPER: Sunny, he's out on bail. If a guy is arrested for this, I mean, are they able to, like, seize his computers? Are they able to look into -- you know, to search his home based on these charges? HOSTIN: Well, certainly that's typically something, Anderson, that happens before arrest. Right? You get a search warrant. If you have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. In this case since you have a grand jury presentment, a grand jury finding, there's a preliminary hearing that's coming up.

My understanding is that the investigation is still ongoing. That is always part of an investigation, so certainly they are looking into all of these things in terms of Jerry Sandusky's alleged behavior. COOPER: Jean, there's an NBC News report out tonight that Joe Paterno has hired a criminal defense attorney. A family spokesman told CNN an attorney has not retained.

If you were Joe Paterno, would you be hiring a criminal defense attorney? It would seem to be a logical step.

JEAN CASAREZ, LEGAL CORRESPONDENT, "IN SESSION": Sure, because the attorney general's office has said that there will be no charges in regard to not reporting alleged child abuse, but as this investigation continues, the twists and the turns, perjury, obstruction of justice, not without -- with outside the realm of the possibility.

Also, the civil suits could in the future absolutely mount toward him, and I think eight victims may be just the beginning.

COOPER: Jean, this is a dumb question. But why was there a grand jury, and why did it take three years? I mean why weren't just -- if there were children who had come forward or allegations made, why didn't -- I mean why does a grand jury get impound as opposed to just police investigating them and bring them charges?

CASAREZ: You know it's not a dumb question. I was asked that question earlier today. I don't think there's an answer. The official answer is it took the investigation that long because they had to be so careful.

But, Anderson, look at the years that have transpired and the grand jury proceeding, you're right, December of 2010. We're now almost to December 2011.

COOPER: Cory, I know you're covering the status of Penn State assistant Coach Mike McQueary, and that's where a lot of the focus has been today from a lot of people. He was a graduate assistant. He allegedly saw Jerry Sandusky raping a boy in a locker room shower. Full on rape.

He reported it to Joe Paterno, didn't call the police. He's still employed as a coach by Penn State. And a lot of people are wondering why if Paterno failed a moral test by not calling the police, didn't McQueary fail one as well?

CORY GIGER, SPORTS REPORTER, "ALTOONA MIRROR": Absolutely, Anderson. Mike McQueary's action in that shower are appalling. I mean to do the decent thing would be to help that young boy. You know, you have to wonder what's happened to that young boy's life. Why did Mike McQueary not take him out of that situation? Why did he not protect him?

I know he was stunned. He must have been shocked to see Jerry Sandusky in this act, but my gosh, Anderson, you've got to protect the young child, you've got to take him out. We don't know who this young child is. We don't know if he's alive. We don't know if he's been scarred for life. And so there is clearly a tremendous amount of vilification of Mike McQueary, and now Penn State says earlier today he is still going to be allowed to coach on Saturday against Nebraska. Now that's an ever-changing story, it's 8: 15 here in the East, so we'll see it. I'm hearing --

COOPER: Do you think he'll be -- he might be on the field on Saturday --

GIGER: No --


COOPER: -- coaching in a football game?

GIGER: He'll be in the press box. But now -- I mean it's possible by the end of the night Penn State officials will not allow him to coach at all, which is clearly the right move. You can't have Mike McQueary around the Penn State football team on national TV with cameras pointing at him and everyone in the world watching what he's doing. That would add even further embarrassment to the situation.

COOPER: And Cory, I mean, obviously there's a lot we don't know about, you know, what he saw and, you know, whether he might have been able to intervene or not. So I don't -- I don't want to, you know, speculate too much about, you know, what he might have been able to do. But I guess one of the questions I would like to have answered and I don't know if you have any thoughts on this is, he would then went to work for this football program.

And I mean if you have witnessed something like that, and you have reported it, you would think you would constantly be following up, I mean, every single day saying, what's happening since I reported, you know, this rape of a child that I witnessed in the locker room? What is happening? And yet, he seems to have continued in whatever fashion to work and be elevated through this football program.

GIGER: Yes, you have to wonder how he's lived with himself all these years. And one thing, Anderson, college football coaches spend a lot of time together, they talk about a lot of things, I mean, hours upon hours deep into the night. It's hard for me to believe that the other assistant coaches on Penn State's staff didn't know about this and the 1998 incident.

So when you talk about this scandal, who knew? Who knew what and who knew it when, I have got to believe as the days and weeks go on we're going to find out that many, many more people knew about the 1998 incident and the 2002 incident. It's just, you know, common sense that would lead you to believe somebody might tell somebody and then tell somebody else. And then really one thing that would be devastating would be if we were to find out that officials with the Second Mile organization knew about these allegations -- these incidents in 1998 and 2002, because the Second Mile has been a tremendous help to a lot of young kids, at-risk kids.

But if those officials knew that Jerry was involved in these things in '98 and 2002, well, then you have to ask why they didn't come forward. So I believe this scandal is really in its infancy at this point.

As all the national media converges here at state college, they're going to continue to dig and dig and dig. Everyone should be afraid of what they might potentially find.

COOPER: I want to ask you about a report that a Penn State student, the sister of a boy who was alleged molested by Sandusky, is saying that there's a joke now on campus about being Sandusky. That people are kind of -- students are kind of making fun of this.

We saw the rioting that took place, the violence, you know, the anger that took place yesterday during the demonstrations on the Penn State campus. What do you make of the reaction of so many of the students at Penn State about this? What are they -- it seems like they don't get something, or they're not seeing the big picture here.

GIGER: I would agree with that, but one thing, I talked to a lot of students walking around campus today, Anderson. They were very, very frustrated and outraged because they thought all of us in the media and around the country made this all about Joe Paterno over the past couple of days.

Let's be clear, villain number one here is Jerry Sandusky. I have heard from so many students who were just really furious that there hasn't been more focus on Sandusky the past couple of days as opposed to Paterno, because the students rightly or wrongly they felt that Paterno was vilified when Sandusky actually started the whole mess.

Now that we're beyond the Paterno era as a coach, you're leading your show with Sandusky and McQueary. Now I think the scandal will get back to the focus of the deviants or the alleged deviants who saw certain things and didn't report them. So I think that's where a lot of the frustration from the students came in yesterday.

COOPER: Yes. I mean I would argue that, you know, what we have been looking at is all the people who had some level of information about this, and -- you know whether or not they fulfilled their obligations both morally and legally, which is why Paterno has understandably been, you know, brought up in all of this. But I understand their frustration as well.

Cory, appreciate you joining us tonight, Sunny Hostin, Jean Casarez as well.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook and Google+. You can follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Jerry Sandusky is accused of multiple counts of child sexual abuse over a 15-year time span. We're going to have more next on why it took so long for law enforcement to take some action and more about the charity that Sandusky is now accused of using as a training ground for victims.

And later "Raw Politics": the fallout from Rick Perry's pretty astonishing outbreak of brain freeze last night.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, education and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see.



COOPER: The breaking news tonight, Jerry Sandusky's attorney is speaking out. He's telling told Jason Carroll his client is devastated he's brought down Joe Paterno and denying all the allegations against him. Found guilty on the charges, remember that word, if Sandusky would become only the latest in a long line of predators who insinuate themselves into child-oriented situations to troll for and in many cases groom their next victims.

Once again, here's Jason Carroll.


CARROLL (voice-over): After learning details of the allegations again Jerry Sandusky, listening to him describe the mission of his Second Mile charity is chilling.

JERRY SANDUSKY, FOUNDER, THE SECOND MILE: We thought if we could help a handful of kids, we would do that. And then the staff and people have looked at the resources we had at the needs that existed and have grown. And reached out and touched so many kids.

CARROLL: But that's exactly what prosecutors say was the problem.

FRANK NOONAN, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE COMMISSIONER: What happened here was grooming, where these predators identify a child, become mentors, they're usually children that have had -- they're having a little difficult. They're at-risk children. Through the Second Mile Program he was able to identify these children, then give them gifts, establish a trust, initiate physical contact, which eventually leads to sexual contact.

CARROLL (on camera): For children who are impoverished, abused or neglected, the Second Mile provides opportunities that otherwise might be hard to come by. Things like summer camps, leadership training, and counseling. Each year the organization claims to serve some 100,000 children across the state of Pennsylvania, and for many years Sandusky was its public face and primary fund-raiser.

(voice-over): Troy Craig met Sandusky through the Second Mile when he was a young boy.

TROY CRAIG, PARTICIPATED IN THE SECOND MILE: I got to go to a lot of Penn State football events. I remember standing on the sidelines for certain football games and other games sitting with his family on the 50-yard line.

CARROLL (on camera): With Sandusky's family?


CARROLL: Sandusky's family?


CARROLL (voice-over): But despite those good times, Craig says he knew even at 11 years old something wasn't quite right.

CRAIG: You knew if you're getting in the car with him and you were going somewhere, that he was going to have his hand on your thigh.

CARROLL: This video created by the organization shows the kind of close contact Sandusky had with children in the program. Sandusky started Second Mile in 1977 and last year it raised $2. 66 million.

SANDUSKY: You reach out to young people trying to motivate them, to mentor them, to provide the means for some sort of life of success, the life of excellence.

CARROLL: Second Mile first learned of suspicious behavior by Sandusky in 2003 from Penn State Athletic director Tim Curley who reported Sandusky had been seen in a locker room shower with a young boy. But the group didn't act on that information because Curley said an internal review had found no wrongdoing.

It wasn't until six years later in 2008 after Sandusky himself reported that an adolescent boy had made allegations against him that the group decided to ban him from all of its programs involving children.

Sandusky denied those allegations then and has denied all of the allegations in the just-released grand jury report. In a statement, Second Mile says, "We have done everything in our power to cooperate with law enforcement officials and will continue to do so. Our highest priority always has been and will continue to be the safety and well-being of the children participating in our programs. We encourage program participants to report any allegations of abuse and/or inappropriate sexual activity wherever it has occurred."

(on camera): Now that you see the allegations that are out there standing against Sandusky, do you feel in some ways that you were fortunate that more did not happen?

CRAIG: Absolutely I'm fortunate. And I can only speculate as to -- as to why.


COOPER: That's Jason Carroll reporting.

You've heard our guest tonight talking about how suspicions of wrongdoing went unreported. Well, Pennsylvania law requires notification by certain people under very certain circumstances, but many believe it's not tough enough.

Earlier I spoke with Pennsylvania State Representative Kevin Boyle who's working to change that.


COOPER: Representative Boyle, you say the current law requiring people to report sex abuse in Pennsylvania just isn't strong enough. How so?

KEVIN BOYLE, PENNSYLVANIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: It is not strong enough because quite simply Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary, the graduate school assistant, who assisted the football program, actually did not violate the law in not reporting what they saw and heard to the police.

COOPER: I mean, that's what I think stuns so many of us, is just how can that be? How can it be that somebody isn't required to talk to the police?

BOYLE: Our current law only calls for an employee to report it up the chain of command. And why that's regrettable is not only did this prolong the abuse, but it led to a situation where both Paterno and McQueary can avoid prosecution.

COOPER: So you're planning to introduce legislation to try to toughen up these requirements, right?

BOYLE: We need to toughen this up, the -- the current legislation on the books, because the current law allows for conspiracies. It allows for cover-ups. And I feel if we had stronger legislation on the books, Paterno, who I'm sure was lawyered up from the get-go, would have reported this to the police and hopefully there wouldn't been as many as a dozen victims in the last decade.

COOPER: It does seem incomprehensible that someone could walk in and see abuse happening, see a 10-year-old boy being raped, could be told -- you know, and that someone else could be told the abuse is happening and not go to the police about it, not do something about it?

You say you're convinced that there was a deliberate attempt to cover this up and sweep it under the carpet? BOYLE: You know what? I represent a heavily Catholic district in northeast Philadelphia. Unfortunately, my district in Philadelphia was at the epicenter of the most recent scandal pertaining to the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The local district attorney here, Seth Williams, released a report about a mass conspiracy locally to not protect children. To basically keep this under the carpet.

And when I saw this happen again with Penn State, I said here we go again. And that's what's happening. I think it was a deliberate plot on -- of Penn State to cover this up.

Penn State is -- Penn State football is a huge money-maker for the school. Last year they made over $50 million. This is big business. And unfortunately, protecting kids came secondary to the institution.

COOPER: Do you think there's more here? Do you think this is just the tip of the iceberg?

BOYLE: I think it is the tip of the iceberg. I think this was a deliberate plot going back well over a decade concerning the first report about Sandusky being a sexual predator. It goes back to 1998.

I think this is the tip of the iceberg, and we'll see that this really was a conspiracy that went on for well over a decade.

COOPER: It's just -- it is so stunning to think about.

Representative Kevin Boyle, appreciate your time. Thank you.

BOYLE: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: We'll continue to follow to see if any law does change in that state.

Terror and destruction, coming up, caught on tape. We'll show you new video from the latest earthquake to hit eastern Turkey.

Also, the Republican presidential debate that Rick Perry would probably like to forget. Is this latest gaffe, though, enough to actually put him out of the race?

Our political panel is here to talk about the state of the Republican field after last night's debate when we return.


COOPER: Well, politics is ahead but first let's look at the stories making news tonight. Fredricka Whitfield joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Fredricka.


Hello, everyone.

A bloody day in Syria. More than three dozen people including six children were reported killed by Syrian security forces. We can't independently confirm the report or this video, because we're not allowed in o Syria to see for ourselves.

President Bashar al-Assad has promised to stop the violence and release detainees, but human rights groups say more than 100 Syrians have been killed since he made that vow.

And dramatic pictures from Turkey. A hotel crumbles during yesterday's 5.72 magnitude earthquake. The Bayram Hotel in Van was destroyed in the quake. Twelve people are confirmed dead and more than two dozen have been rescued.

And a new Greek leader is set to be sworn in tomorrow. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou has stepped down, clearing the way for a new unity government led by Harvard economics professor and former banker Lucas Papademos. He has pledged to implement harsh austerity measure s necessary for the country to receive a second bailout from the European Union.

And Britain's Prince William is getting ready to ship out. William Wales, as he is known in the military, will be deployed in February to the Falkland Islands as a search-and-rescue pilot. The prince is expected to be home in time to help prepare for his grandmother's Diamond Jubilee in June.

But at least the good news, Anderson, is he gets to spend Christmas with his new wife with at home.

COOPER: That's cool. That's good he's serving overseas. Fredricka, thanks.

Coming up, a Major League baseball player is missing. This is really fascinating, the story. We'll tell you about the catcher who was reportedly kidnapped at gunpoint when he went home to Venezuela.

And the debate over last night's GOP debate and Rick Perry's "Raw Politics" gaffe.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), FLORIDA: I would do away with the Education, the Commerce. And let's see -- I can't. The third one I can't. So, oops.



COOPER: "Raw Politics" now. Another day, another Republican presidential debate. Last night's may be more memorable than some of the other, but did any step in and stop Mitt Romney? Chief national correspondent John King joins me from Washington -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I think it is safe to say it was not Rick Perry who stepped in. We'll have more on the details in a moment. Let's look at the dynamic in the Republican race. If you come back in time here, here's what we have right now. We've had since the very beginning, who will emerge as the conservative challenger to Mitt Romney.

Remember, at one point it was Donald Trump. Then he didn't run. Then Michele Bachmann had a little boom. Then Rick Perry actually went to the top of the polls for awhile, at 30 percent, and then he fell off the table.

Herman Cain emerged next and still is, despite these allegation against him -- still is the candidate to beat if you're Mitt Romney and you're looking to say who is your conservative challenger?

We're 54 days away from Iowa. Here's the polling. McCain-Romney in a dead heat. Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry. Rick Perry way down here. A lot of ground to make up.

Remember Newt Gingrich, though. He's beginning to move up. But again, this is a Cain/Romney race. Cain the conservative alternative to Romney at the moment.

Then comes New Hampshire 61 days away from today. Romney, a runaway leader. Remember, he's the former Massachusetts governor, but again, who's in second place is Herman Cain. Newt Gingrich as 5 percent, and Rick Perry doesn't even make the DREAM Act top five.

KING: Open last night's debate was supposed to be part of his rebound strategy. South Carolina. On 72 days away to the key primary there. Again it's Romney, Cain, Gingrich. Perry slight in play here, but Romney and Cain, again the dynamic. Romney, the establishment front runner. Cain, the conservative challenger.

After South Carolina, Anderson, comes the state of Florida, 82 days away. This is starting to sound familiar. Right? Cain leads in a new poll out today. Romney just behind him. Newt Gingrich -- this is very significant -- up to 17 percent in Florida. Rick Perry in single digits down at 5.

So Rick Perry got into this race and everyone assumed he would be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. At the moment it is Herman Cain. You talk to a lot of Republicans, they assume at some point -- they may be wrong -- but they assume Herman Cain will start to slip.

Gingrich, they say at the moment, is best positioned to take on Romney. But we still have that giant question mark, Anderson. The whole race we've been waiting to see who would be the consistent conservative alternative to Romney. It is tonight Herman Cain. We'll see what happens going forward.

COOPER: John, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Let's go now to Raw Politics, starting with that one moment that Rick Perry would probably like to forget. In case you missed it, he made a point of saying he would eliminate three government agencies if elected. When he went to actually list them, take a look.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see.


PERRY: Oh, five. Commerce, education and the...


PERRY: The EPA. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seriously? Is EPA one you were talking about?

PERRY: No, sir. No, sir. We were talking about the agencies of government. The EPA needs to be rebuilt. No doubt about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you can't name the third one?

PERRY: The third agency of government, I would do away with Education, the...


PERRY: Commerce and let's see -- I can't. The third one I can't. Sorry. Oops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the...


COOPER: He spent most of today on sort of a damage control tour. But after a series of gaffes, can he be still considered a serious contender? He does have a lot of money. Let's bring in our political panel. John King, also CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley and CNN political analyst David Gergen.

And Candy, Rick Perry, I mean, you have to feel for the guy in that moment. Everybody's had brain freeze. Just not necessarily on public television like that. Is it devastating, though, for his campaign?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: It's certainly not helpful. Is it devastating?

Listen, Rick Perry was not doing well before this. This was the debate where he was going to that show us, that when he could debate that he was up there and up on his stuff. So it doesn't help. You're right. Anyone can have a brain freeze, but the fact of the matter is this was the wrong person and the wrong time to have this sort of slip up. So certainly, it can't help but damage at this point Perry's chances, which were looking pretty grim to begin with and even before this.

You know, people play into a story line. With Mitt Romney it's that he's a flip flopper. With Herman Cain it's that he's not really a serious candidate. And then a lot of times Rick Perry, and what is the rap on him? Well, he's really not up to the job. And then he forgets not just one of the three, but the main, the Energy Department. The main thing he's been talking about, and he forgets that. Understandable, but at this point just with -- I mean, the people forget things but at this point it was just really bad timing and the wrong person to make this kind of mistake, because it feeds into his -- into his Achilles heel.

COOPER: David, he has been doing aggressive damage control all day. He's actually going to be going on David Letterman later tonight, giving his top ten excuses for last night's performance. We've got a little snippet of it. I just want to show that.



PERRY: I thought the debate was tonight.

LETTERMAN: I see. Well, there you go. That happens to everybody. It was a mix up, ladies and gentlemen.

Number six.

PERRY: Hey, listen, you try concentrating when Mitt Romney is smiling at you. That is one handsome dude.


COOPER: I mean, can this strategy work? I mean, nobody is really questioning his charm here.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I think -- I think he's doing the best thing he can do and that is treat it with humor and be a good sport about it. And some people are going to find that fetching about him. And they're going to respond to it in a very warm, human way.

But I think Candy's analysis was absolutely spot on. And the chances of him recovering fully, I think, are slim in the time frame he's got left. But I give him credit for going out and doing what he's doing.

The news to me is "Steady Eddie" Mitt Romney is moving right along. And people keep bouncing up, and they keep rising in the polls, but they fall back. And I think you can see slippage not among Republican voters but around the country. The Quinnipiac poll today in key states -- Pennsylvania, Ohio -- Mitt Romney is dead heat with President Obama. President Obama beats Herman Cain by ten points. Beats him easily.

COOPER: John King, what about Herman Cain? I mean, you know, to David's point, people have been rising up, you know, in comparison to Mitt Romney, and then they -- they bounce back down. Herman Cain, though, has been staying pretty steady, despite this, these allegations that have been swirling around him.

KING: And at least so far he has turned it into a fund-raising advantage. We will see if he can turn them into an organizing advantage.

The key test for Mr. Cain is 54 nights from tonight in Iowa. That the place where he needs to prove that he's a serious candidate. You prove that by winning. He has raised a lot of money off this, but if you look at the polling data underneath, his unfavorable ratings are going up and going up at a quite consistent pace over the course of the last few days.

Republican women are starting to peel off his candidacy. It tends to be more women than men that vote in the Iowa caucuses. There are still a lot of Republicans who say he didn't answer the allegations in detail, and he needs to be less testy when he's answering them.

But I'll tell you this, Anderson. There also are a lot of Republicans who say, "You know what? We have a playbook for what you're supposed to do in a situation like this. He does the exact opposite just about every time." And seems, for now at least, to be getting away with it, because people find him likable. And you know what they say about him? He's not a typical politician, and that is the mood of the country right now.

COOPER: John King, Candy Crowley, David Gergen, thank you.

Still ahead tonight, gunmen kidnap a Major League baseball player in front of his family. Have you heard this story? It's extraordinary. We have new details about the bizarre and frightening events that happened.

Also ahead, Michael Jackson's last words, Conrad Murray saying the pop star made a desperate plea for, quote, "the only thing that would put him to sleep." We're talking about Propofol. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Very strange mystery is unfolding involving a Major League baseball player who's vanished in Venezuela.

Washington Nationals rookie captain, Wilson Ramos, was reportedly taken at gunpoint from his family's home. He was in Venezuela playing winter league ball with a local team, the Tigers. A spokeswoman for the team reported the alleged kidnapping on Twitter. It's not unheard of for a successful athlete to return home to Venezuela and find himself in harm's way.

Joining me now to talk about the case is CNN international anchor Luis Carlos Velez. What's the latest on this? What do we know?

LUIS CARLOS VELEZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. This is a huge case in Venezuela.

According to preliminary reports, four heavily-armed man stormed the home of his Wilson Ramos' parents in Valencia (ph), Venezuela, where Ramos was staying. Neighbors tell local media that the gunmen staked out the home several times before breaking in.

Witnesses say the gunmen threatened to kill the player if he refused to go with them. We have been trying to talk to the family directly, but they prefer not to talk to us. But it is said they believe they found the car that was used in the kidnapping. Also, they have assembled two sketches of two of the alleged kidnappers -- Anderson.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: So is the United States involved in any way in trying to figure out what -- what's happened to Ramos?

VELEZ: You know, nothing. They can not do nothing, because basically they can't. The FBI offered help, and it hasn't heard back from Hugo Chavez's government. It has its hands tied, because as you know, Anderson, he is not a U.S. citizen, and the crime did not occur here in the United States.

COOPER: Kidnapping has been increasing in Venezuela over the last few years.

VELEZ: That's right. Kidnapping is becoming a common practice in the country. It is a very unstable country.

The U.S. State Department has warned the increasing cases of kidnappings in Venezuela.

In 2009, for example, the number of reported kidnappings doubled from the previous year, and police have said that many cases don't get reported there. Now, this is the first time that a professional baseball player has been kidnapped in Venezuela, but their families are becoming targets. Criminals tend to go after them as they become better known and presumably wealthier -- Anderson.

COOPER: Wow. Talk about disturbing. We'll continue to follow it. Appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Coming up, we're following a number of other stories. We'll check in with Fredricka Whitfield with a "360 Bulletin" -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Anderson, Penn state has just announced that Mike McQueary will not be in attendance for this Saturday's home game against Nebraska. McQueary is the former graduate assistant who saw Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping a boy but did not call police. Because of threats against McQueary, the university has decided it would be in everyone's best interest for him not to be at the game. A military panel has convicted Army Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs of murdering three civilians in Afghanistan. He has been sentenced to life in military prison with eligibility for parole in ten years. Gibbs is the highest-ranking soldier in a group of five accused of murdering Afghan villagers and then planting weapons on them to make it look like the soldiers were attacked.

Dr. Conrad Murray says he didn't know that Michael Jackson had an addiction problem. In an interview that aired on "The Today Show," Murray also talked about Jackson's last words and how Jackson referred to the anesthetic Propofol as "milk."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you remember his final words before he died?

CONRAD MURRAY, FORMER JACKSON DOCTOR: It was probably. I don't know. It was probably when he was pleading and begging me to please, please let him have some milk because that was the only thing that would work.


WHITFIELD: Ashton Kutcher say he feels awful and is going to take a break from Twitter after he tweeted about Joe Paterno without knowing the full story. Kutcher tweeted, quote, "How do you fire Joepa? Insult. No class. As a Hawkeyes fan I find it in poor taste."

Kutcher says he assumed Paterno was fired because of his coaching performance and only found out later it was because of the child sex abuse scandal.

And Billy Crystal will host the Oscars this year. His was -- it was made aware to everyone, it was announced that he would become the new host today after Eddie Murphy quit yesterday. This will be Crystal's ninth time hosting.

Now back to Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up, it's almost time for one of the biggest fashion shows of the year. One of the Victoria's Secret angels is now talking about how she's getting ready. Here's a hint: it will make you thirsty and hungry just hearing about it. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList." We are adding to the Victoria's Secret diet. Sorry, it's that time of the year again. The annual Victoria's Secret fashion show taped last night. It's going to air in a few weeks on CBS.

But don't make the mistake of thinking the show is nothing women walking around in their underwear. Oh, no. There's a lot of preparation and work that goes into it.

The models have to do a whole lot more than show up and strip down. Take for instance Adrianna Lima (ph). She told the "Telegraph," all about what it really takes to be a Victoria's Secret angel.

Lima (ph) says she worked out every day with a personal trainer for the past few months. And for the past few weeks, she worked out twice a day jumping rope, boxing, lifting weights.

And then there's the diet. Do not try this at home. Lima (ph) says she gets on a regimen of protein shakes, vitamins and a gallon of water a day. For nine days leading up to the show she doesn't eat any solid foods. She only drinks shakes containing powdered egg. Mmm, egg.

Two days before the show she stops drinking the gallon of water and then 12 hours before, she stops drinking any water at all. She says, and I quote, "No liquids at all, so you dry out. Sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds just from that." That is one determined, dedicated, dehydrated model.

So there you have it. I guess just swear off the solid food and water and you'll look great, you know, if you don't drop over dead. It reportedly costs $10 million to produce the fashion show. It airs in more than 90 countries. Nine million people watched it in America last year alone.

This year's show features performances by Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Adam Levine, as well as the diamond-bedazzled bra that's worth $2.5 million. So mark your calendars. The show airs November 29. And if you really want to get in the spirit of things, I guess stop eating solid food nine days before on November 20. And yes, unfortunately, Thanksgiving does fall right in that time period. Sorry, kids. We're having powdered egg shakes this year.

OK, it's an extreme diet, to be sure. But in the interest of getting both sides of the story, there are other Victoria's Secret models who say they actually do ingest food.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the must-have snack while you're in hair and makeup?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, gosh. I am -- I know I'm the queen of snacks. I'm, like, always eating cookies. And like, we had a really good chef this year at the Victoria's Secret fashion show, and they had, like, shrimp and rice and salad. And like, they just had, like -- you can have whatever you want right before you go on the show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The models do eat? That's one thing...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, you need energy to do the show. It's a long day, so -- and carrying heavy wings and everything.


COOPER: Those wings are heavy. Victoria's Secret chef? Now I've heard it all. It's like I always say: Every time a dinner bell rings, an angel gets its wings on "The RidicuList."

Hey, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.