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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Cruise Ship Investigation Continues; President Obama's Critics

Aired January 18, 2012 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with breaking news.

360 has as learned that this was not the first time the cruise ship Costa Concordia steered so dangerously close to shore. We've learned it got even closer at least once before, and that the cruise line not only knew about the route, but approved it.

Now, that's important because the company that owns the ship had been saying the accident was the result of a route decision that the captain -- and only the captain -- had made.

Now, we have learned the previous close call happened back in August. We actually have video of it. This is video of that incident in August taken from the shore. The cruise line says the ship was a safe distance from the coastline, but the world's leading shipping journal, "Lloyd's List," says it was dangerously close, closer in fact than it came on Friday night, when it actually hit the rocks.

This is new satellite imagery I want you show you of the wreck. Look at how big it is against the coast, just a massive, massive ship.

The search for nearly two dozen was suspended today when the wreckage began shifting. It's really dangerous for the recovery divers now, new video underwater today as well. A Dutch salvage team has arrived to off-load diesel fuel as well before it might leak into the sea.

Also today, we got our first look at an interview that the Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, did a day after the grounding. Now, in it, he maintains that the rock he hit was not on his map. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCESCO SCHETTINO, COSTA CONCORDIA (through translator): I don't know if it was detected or not, but on the nautical chart, it was marked just as water at some 100 to 150 meters from the rocks and we were about 300 meters from the shore, more or less. We shouldn't have had this contact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There were more than 4,000 people and you were able to rescue nearly everyone. The captain is usually the last one to abandon the ship. What happened, Captain?

SCHETTINO (through translator): We were the last to leave the ship. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, last night we showed you why that simply is not so. His own phone call to the Coast Guard from a lifeboat during the evacuation is proof enough. His story, by the way, has changed since that interview.

He's now saying -- you got to -- you might want to sit down for this. He's now saying he somehow tripped and fell into a lifeboat. Not kidding. Tripped and fell into a lifeboat and got stuck in the lifeboat along with the rest of his senior officers, by the way.

As for the rock he hit, we got our first up close look at it today, and it, too, is breathtaking. There are, in fact, both rocks and low-water indications on the standard navigational chart of the area. But you look at these images, the size of that rock, that is embedded still in the hull of that ship.

Unanswered, so far, whether the captain simply thought his ship was slightly farther out to sea and therefore clear of the rocks than it actually was. Which is why the "Lloyd's List" story is so intriguing. See, they track ships by satellite and their information shows that the course taken on Friday was not a new course.

Here it is Friday night, as it tried to skim by the island, right along the coast. So the Concordia's chief steward, according to some reports, could wave to his family and friends on shore. That's the whole reason they got so close. Now according to "Lloyd's" satellite tracking, here's the course it took on the 14th of August. Look at the crossing point in the middle of screen right around where Concordia hit the rock Friday night.

In fact, according to "Lloyd's", it came within 230 meters or about two football fields of the island at one point. Neither course, by the way, is anywhere near the route that Concordia and other cruise ships normally take, which is much farther out to sea.

So Monday, Costa Cruise Line's CEO blamed Friday's grounding squarely on the captain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIER LUIGI FOSCHI, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, COSTA CRUISES: We believe it has been a human error here. The captain did not follow the authorized route, which is used by Costa ships very frequently. There is probably more than 100 times in one year, we have this route from south of Mediterranean Sea to north of the Mediterranean Sea and this thing is a tragic event.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, at that same news conference, a stunning admission, though, that as you saw, Concordia had been in the same dangerous waters on a nearly identical path last summer. It happened, he says, quote, "under the authorization of the maritime authority, local maritime authority, with the authority of the island aware, and with the permission of Costa after having reviewed the route the captain intended to take nearby the island."

He goes on to say that when he says nearby, he means not closer than 500 meters from shore." Keeping Them Honest," though, "Lloyd's" tracking system, as we mentioned, puts Concordia within 230 meters. And "Lloyd's" Adam Smallman who joins us shortly says that even 500 meters simply doesn't allow enough room for error in such dangerous waters.

We contacted a representative from the company today because we wanted to know what the standard procedures are for approving course changes like the ones in August and on Friday. The spokesman saying, quote, "Onboard decisions about navigation are ultimately taken by the ship master, who's responsible of the ship and passengers." In other words, the captain.

Joining us now by phone is Adam Smallman, editor and chief of "Lloyd's List."

Adam, if the Costa Concordia sailed just as close to the island back in August, was it just sheer luck that that disaster didn't happen then?

ADAM SMALLMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, LLOYDSLIST.COM: It didn't sail just as close, it actually sailed closer. And basis of the data that we've looked at, which is exclusive analysis from shore base systems called AIS, we're estimating that, you know, it got that close, 230 meters at one point, the closest point on that voyage, which is actually closer than this voyage, up until the last moment when it came in.

So our estimate is that it must have come within sniffing distance of the rock, the underwater rock that it hit on this voyage, way back in August.

COOPER: That's amazing. So when the cruise line says that back in August, the ship was never closer than 500 meters to the island, you say that's simply not true?

SMALLMAN: We don't believe it's true on the basis of the information that we've seen. We've gone to the company today waiting for confirmation of our information. It's not 100 percent accurate, but we think it's pretty accurate. It's used around the world by governments and countries and corporations, to track vessels, and so we think it's reasonably accurate.

And of course, when the court case comes, Anderson, there's going to be a lot of debate about precisely where the vessel was. And you mentioned earlier about what kind of maps they were using. Well, there's going to be a lot of debate about what maps and navigation devices were in operation at the time.

COOPER: And, Adam, regardless of what the ship has done or not done in the past, the responsibility for what the ship does, where it goes, ultimately still lies with the captain, right?

SMALLMAN: Absolutely lies with the captain. You know, of course he's got a marketing responsibility. This is a cruise with thousands of people who paid lots of money and he knows ahead of time where he's taking that ship, what kind of entertainment he's going to lay on, what kind of places he's going to visit. It's down to him whether he executes on all of that, and certainly in August, as was discussed, that was sanctioned.

There's an interesting aspect to this, which is if he believed that the route that was taken then was satisfactory to take again, then, you know, that's going to lie right at the center of who is to blame for this dreadful accident.

COOPER: And a lot of the blame, liability wise, is going to rely on which maps the captain was or wasn't using, right?

SMALLMAN: Up to a point, it will do. I mean, the question is, was the vessel fitted with the right equipment and the right maps for him to do his job? I think you're going to see a lot of debate about that.

Look, there's $500 million worth of asset lying there on its side in the ocean. There's a huge amount at stake. Not just the civil liabilities but also the cost of the ship and who pays for all of that that's at stake. And so there's going to be a lot of very focused debate around the detail of this, which makes the suggestion by the company a very, very quick and fast suggestion, Anderson, that the captain was at fault without any hesitation at all, a little surprising.

COOPER: Yes. Adam Smallman, appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

I want to bring in two people now, one to speak to what it was like in those chaotic last moments aboard that ship, and someone who may well be representing passengers in a legal action to come.

On the phone is Georgia Ananias, who is one of the last passengers, she says, to leave the Concordia. Also maritime trial attorney Jack Hickey. In the first part of his career, he actually represented cruise lines, including Carnival, which owns Costa, and for the past 15 years he's litigated on the other side.

Georgia, you're obviously outraged about what happened. I'm so glad you are OK. What's your reaction when you hear that according to satellite tracking data, the same ship was taken dangerously close to the shore basically the same route that caused this disaster back in August.

GEORGIA ANANIAS, SURVIVOR OF COSTA CONCORDIA ACCIDENT (via phone): I am shocked, but now after the experience I had not surprised. It's disgusting and it just has to be -- there's just so many blatant lies that have been going on with this whole incident. That doesn't surprise me anymore.

COOPER: And we're showing infrared images, which we just got yesterday, of passengers actually crawling over and trying to get down off the side of the ship. Those are nighttime images taken with infrared.

You and your husband and your two daughters, you were stuck on that ship for five hours. What was that like? I mean, did you -- were there times where you thought you were not going to get off of that thing?

ANANIAS: Absolutely. There were four times we thought we were dying. And we -- you know, we said our good-byes to the each other and we just said, you know, there were just so many things.

COOPER: What was it about -- take me to one of those moments where you felt you weren't going to make it? What --

ANANIAS: Well, one of the moments when I was on a -- I had climbed -- when the ship was listing and we had to climb up and form a human chain to pull ourselves up on to a stairwell and another couple turned around and gave me their baby, and said, take my baby.

And I held a 3-year-old and I was holding on and the ship was moving, and I was afraid the child was going to go down the stairwell. And I knew -- I looked at my husband who's been in the Navy, and he said, this is it, and I handed the baby back to the parents and said, be with your baby.

COOPER: Wow. What is -- what is that like? I mean, to be with your family in -- I mean, I just can't imagine this.

ANANIAS: It's an out-of-body experience. It's hard to believe. It's everything you'd see on the "Titanic" and worse, because it was just unbelievable. And you know that was one incident. There were four incidents of that in that 5.5 hours. Not one person from the ship assisted us in any manner. There wasn't one officer.

We got on a lifeboat that wouldn't function. We're all thrown out of the lifeboat and just thrown against the walls of the ship. We crawled down under to try to get on the other side of the ship because they said that if we got on the other side, we got a lifeboat, and at the time, the ship shifted again, and we were thrown back. We had to crawl back out.

We had to climb a 20-foot ladder, with blood falling down from everywhere. And people -- the real heroes were the people, the other passengers on board that lifted us up. And we had to go through crates of things. And then we get to the top of the ship, and we're up there with about 10 people. The rest of the people have left the ship and you see Coast Guards and flashing lights, and you think they're coming for you, and the next thing you know, they're taking somebody from the bridge and airlifting them out. And we're standing there with our lights flashing and yelling, save us, save us.

COOPER: You saw that. You saw them airlifting someone from the bridge out and the passengers are left?

ANANIAS: Yes.

COOPER: And when you hear, you know, that the captain -- the captain now claiming that he tripped and fell into a lifeboat and got stuck in the lifeboat for an hour, does that make any sense to you?

ANANIAS: Absolutely ridiculous. How -- that's insulting to us. Insulting to the people that died, insulting to the people like us that went through 5 1/2 hours.

COOPER: Mr. Hickey, what I think a lot of people don't understand about these cruise ships is the ability to actually sue is very, very limited. Especially if the ship hasn't been in a U.S. port, that the passenger, ticket contract, which is apparently a legally binding document of more than 7,000 words, it's posted on the Web site. It specifically states that any legal action has to take place in the courts in Italy, in Genoa, right?

JACK HICKEY, MARITIME TRIAL ATTORNEY: Right. Right. Anderson, you make a good point. And the remedies, the rights and remedies of every passenger is really governed by that document, which, you know, we printed one out and it's eight pages of about eight-point print. I mean, this is print that is much finer than newspaper print.

And I seem to have lost my ear piece. But the right -- you know, passengers do have rights and remedies, it's just that the rights and remedies are governed by this. In this particular case, in this particular cruise line, the rights and remedies are to bring a claim in Genoa, Italy, only because this particular -- this particular cruise did not touch a U.S. port.

But there are rights and remedies, and the rights and remedies are different for other cruise lines and other cruises.

COOPER: So if you're on a cruise that does not go into a U.S. port, you can't sue in the United States?

HICKEY: No, that's not true. That is true with regard to Costa, because Costa happens to be based in Italy. And so the ticket contract does provide that. For example, with Carnival Cruise Lines, no matter where the accident is and no matter where the cruise is and no matter where the passenger lives, you must sue Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami, in federal district court in Miami. So a lot of people don't know this. A lot of lawyers don't.

COOPER: But also under maritime law, aren't there a very small numbers that you can actually -- I mean, that the ability to win a large sum of money, you really don't have that ability under maritime law, is that correct?

HICKEY: No, that's not 100 percent correct, I'm sorry to, you know, disagree with that.

COOPER: No, let me know what's real.

HICKEY: It would be -- OK, here's what's real, is that if the cruise does not touch a U.S. port, yes, there are limitations which apply, and that's called the Athens Convention, and that's in the ticket.

If the cruise does touch a U.S. port, there are no such limitations. And let me just tell you what there is an exception to the Athens Convention, there are exceptions, and one exception is if there is intentional conduct. And so in this case, even though you have to bring actions in Genoa, Italy, and you know, that can be done, and we are working with Italian lawyers, but even if you bring an action in Italy, if they raise this Athens Convention, certainly, this exception will apply here.

COOPER: Right.

HICKEY: I mean, the captain of the vessel, we've heard this incredibly, one of the most touching accounts of what happened, one of the most powerful accounts --

COOPER: Yes.

HICKEY: -- is that woman that just recounted what happened. I mean, --

COOPER: Let me bring back Georgia --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let me bring Georgia back in.

Georgia, how was it you were finally able to get off that ship?

ANANIAS: When we went up the 24-foot ladder and there were just hardly any of us left, one of the camera -- the photographer from the ship and another German man had a rope, and we had to scoot on our knees, hands and knees, all the way to this rope, and then we had to go down from deck -- I want to say, seven, eight, 10, I don't know which deck it was at the time -- and then we had to shimmy ourselves all the way down.

And it was like, you know, a chain, if one of us would have slip or fallen, then everybody would have gone down. So we were there. And as we got there, we thought, oh, we're safe, we're going to get on a lifeboat, and what ended up happening is the water started to shift and the lifeboat wasn't safe, so we had to try to time it to save our lives and we had to jump on to the lifeboat.

COOPER: Wow.

ANANIAS: I and my younger daughter, Cindy, we jumped to the top of it, and we held another German lady with us, that was left, she was before us, and my husband and other daughter jumped down in.

COOPER: And yet again, I mean, time after time, in these kind of incidents, we see strangers reaching out and saving other strangers. And as you said, a lot of credit goes to them.

Georgia, thank you so much for being with us. I'm so glad your family is safe.

ANANIAS: My pleasure.

COOPER: And Jack Hickey, as well, thank you very much.

HICKEY: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+ Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting. I was tweeting about this right now.

Up next, crews suspend rescue operations today. The rescue operations are suspended because of the danger factor. And we have amazing new video of the work the divers have been doing, despite the risk. We're going to talk to rescue diver Butch Hendrick a little bit coming up right after this break.

Also later in the program, Andrew Sullivan, President Obama's accomplishments as he sees them. And why as that controversial title of his "Newsweek" cover story reads, "Are Obama's Critics So Dumb?" That title, as you might imagine, stirring up a lot of controversy. Republican strategist Bay Buchanan joins the conversation as well.

Let's check in with Isha -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, high school students in Upstate New York want answers. They want to know why a dozen teenage girls at the same school suddenly developed a mysterious condition that looks a lot like Tourette's syndrome.

Scary symptoms and stranger circumstances. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the story when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our breaking news tonight: word that not only did the Costa Concordia come dangerously close to disaster at least once before, the cruise line knew about it and approved it. That happened last August.

We've also learned through precision tracking information from the shipping journal "Lloyd's List" that on that occasion, the Concordia came much closer to danger than the cruise line claims. Two hundred and 30 meters, not 500. In short, Friday's disaster might just as easily have happened last summer.

Again, about two dozen people right now remain unaccounted for. As we said, underwater rescue and recovery was suspended today because of dangerous conditions. We've been talking about how dangerous this is for the divers for several nights now. As you can see in this kind of video, getting around the inside of an ocean liner is tough, even under the best conditions. That video, by the way, newly released by the Italian Coast Guard. There is more but into an expert eye, it shows just what these divers are up against. We're joined by veteran rescue diver, Butch Hendrick. He's been guiding us through the rescue operations all week. He joins us again.

Butch, what surprised you most about this new video of the underwater search and rescue mission? BUTCH HENDRICK, PRESIDENT, LIFEGUARD SYSTEMS: The thing that surprised me the most, Anderson, was the amount of visibility they have. I was not expecting them to have that much visibility.

COOPER: And what do you attribute that to? Is it not very silty down there?

HENDRICK: Well, they're mid-water at that point so they're not on the bottom where they have the silt, but the conditions, the water conditions are just very clear. they have got good 50 to 100-foot visibility while they have light.

COOPER: And good visibility, that would seem like a very good thing, correct?

HENDRICK: Yes. Having good visibility is definitely a good thing because it allows them to be able to work a whole lot of that ship quite freely, especially, you know, reducing the ability to get disorganized, disoriented.

COOPER: At one point in the video, I see something that looks like lines that are in a Y-shape formation. Are those like the lines that you used Tuesday night on this program when you dove inside the wreck to basically mark your course?

HENDRICK: I believe they are. I was looking at the Y point of that. You see the way they're connected, and they're using, obviously, a larger diameter rope. We used a little wreck reel, but yes, I believe that's exactly what they are. They're setting up to be able to get in, get out, and move product, or move items in and out along those lines with them.

COOPER: We can also see the divers using a sledgehammer. That's the kind of tool that you would use underwater in these circumstances?

HENDRICK: It's not the tool I would use, it's what they're using. I would actually try and use -- if you watch video that I'm sure you have on FDNY, New York City Fire Department, the officers carry what's called a Halogen tool. It's about 28 to 32 inches long. It's got a pry bar, it has a very large hammer side on it with a claw. It's a multi-usable tool and you can actually use it well with two hands. And that's what I would be having my guys use.

COOPER: It's got to be tough for the divers who are, you know, obviously invested in trying to recover people from this, to have to suspend operations.

HENDRICK: It's a point where they have decided that now they have to -- they're probably setting up laying lines, getting ready for Schmidt to come in, the salvage company. And yes, it's very difficult for the men to say, just one more dive. Just one more dive. But at some point, the dives are over for now.

COOPER: And how long might they be suspended for? Or is that undetermined just because you've just got to wait on the conditions? HENDRICK: The conditions aren't bad. I think they're probably going to lay -- as we talked about the other night, they're going to lay tracer lines slowly. They're going to work one compartment at a time. And then they're going to be deciding how are they going to salvage, if they're going to try and actually float this ship.

COOPER: Right. Butch, again, I appreciate your expertise.

Coming up tonight, "Raw Politics." a controversial "Newsweek" headline asks -- quote -- "Why Are Obama's Critics So Dumb?" That's on the cover of "Newsweek." Andrew Sullivan wrote the article that's inside. He didn't write that headline, but he wrote the article. And he argues that the president will outsmart all his critics who cannot see that he's using a long game strategy.

I'm going to speak with Andrew Sullivan about that and Republican strategist Bay Buchanan. It's an interesting conversation.

Also ahead, a medical mystery in New York state. This is incredible. Twelve girls from the same high school all apparently have come down with the same kind of tics, including uncontrollable twitching and stuttering. It's unclear what's causing it. It looks like Tourette's syndrome.

We're going to hear from some of the girls. And we'll talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In "Raw Politics" tonight: the "Newsweek" cover story about President Obama that has everyone talking. It's not hard to see why, looking at the headline. The cover asks -- quote -- "Why Are Obama's Critics So Dumb?"

The article was written by columnist Andrew Sullivan. I will be talking with him in just a moment. In the article, he argues that the attacks on the president from everything from job creation to health care plan reform policy are, using Sullivan's words now, empirically wrong. He says the president has already been very effective and that he's long-term strategy will outsmart his critics, that he's playing a long game. We'll talk to him about that.

Joining me now is "Newsweek" columnist, Andrew Sullivan. His Web site is AndrewSullivan.com, and also joining us, Bay Buchanan, Republican strategist and senior adviser to Mitt Romney.

So, wow, this has gotten a lot of attention, Andrew.

ANDREW SULLIVAN, "NEWSWEEK": It has, yes.

COOPER: There you are, writing your blog, and then this happens.

SULLIVAN: Kaboom.

COOPER: First of all, the headline on the cover of "Newsweek," did you write that? SULLIVAN: No. I found out Monday morning.

COOPER: So you in your article are not saying that all of Obama's critics left and right are dumb?

SULLIVAN: Not at all. I just say that I think they're wrong. In my view they're wrong and here's why.

COOPER: And --

SULLIVAN: I make a pretty reasonable I hope fact-based argument for that. I love to have a disagreement about it, and I'm beginning to have that with people. But you won't find the word "dumb" or "stupid" in any of the text of the piece.

COOPER: OK.

Essentially, your argument is that President Obama, sort of unbeknownst to his critics on the left and the right, has actually been waging kind of -- his vision is more long-term.

How so?

SULLIVAN: Yes.

I think from the very beginning he talked, and I think you could tell from the beginning, he was planning on eight years, rather ambitiously, rather than four. And part of that is also due to the scale of what he inherited.

The month before he became president, the United States was losing 750,000 jobs a month. Now, I don't think you can blame him, coming into that kind of recession, for all the jobs that have been lost, say, in the following year. I think that was baked in the cake.

What you can judge him on is whether the policies that he put in action within a year made a difference. And yes, they have. We've been growing. We've been growing now for two years. Not at a fantastic rate, but 200,000 jobs a month.

COOPER: Where is this long game? I mean, because his -- a lot of his critics will say, look, he handed too much over to Congress, to let them decide how to go about things. And he was kind of -- you see in his...

SULLIVAN: The president isn't the Congress. And he had to do it so quickly, the only way to get it through Congress, because it was an emergency stimulus, because the economy was doing that, the global economy, he just said, it's better to get this down now than have it perfect. So it was flawed in many ways, but a third of it was tax cuts, which the Republicans will never tell you.

They will never tell you that over his first term, he has cut taxes aggressively. They'll never tell you that he's actually cut Medicare. They'll never tell you a whole bunch of things that he's done that Republicans used to support, including his health-care plan, which is based on the individual mandate, Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney, and free-market exchanges for health-care insurance policies. That's also a right-wing idea.

So the idea that he's this radical lefty, just not true, I don't think.

COOPER: Bay, what about his argument about President Obama waging a long game? Do you think he's -- because Andrew's coming at this from a conservative viewpoint. Andrew is conservative. Perhaps, I think you would agree with that, although I'm not sure. But that's -- he's coming at it from that viewpoint. Do you think he's giving Obama too much credit?

BUCHANAN: Yes. Listen, if he's -- Andrew makes his case, it's all about long-term. And we've seemed to have missed exactly what Obama's all about.

All I have to say is that, if these reckless deficits he's running up, if the uncontrolled spending, if 25 million unemployed or underemployed Americans is part of Obama's master plan, then maybe Rush Limbaugh is right. Maybe he is trying to destroy America. This is all that's happening under Obama.

SULLIVAN: No.

BUCHANAN: I like to believe he's completely clueless, and he just doesn't know what to do, and that's what's happened here.

SULLIVAN: The vast majority of the unemployment, which is long- term, stems from that recession, which began in 2007 and was intensified in 2008. I don't see anything that Obama has done that has made that worse.

If you look, once we got out of that hole, at the end of the Bush administration, if you go into 2010, this is after the first year, you'll see there's been growth in jobs. And so the policies can be defended and should be defended.

What I can't understand is why Obama doesn't defend them in this way? It seems so straightforward.

COOPER: I read Ezra Klein saying you've actually defended the Obama administration better than the administration has defended.

SULLIVAN: Well, that's very -- very kind of him. But I think also, knowing Obama, and watching him, he -- this is his strategy. He waits. He allows himself to be knocked around the ropes, written off, and then...

COOPER: But you're giving him credit in this article for things which a lot of people point out that he doesn't even verbally support: gay marriage, for instance.

SULLIVAN: Because Obama, from the beginning, if you listen to him and read him said, "Look, I'm not a dictator. I'm not going to tell people what to do. I'm a community organizer." A community organizer tries to build a consensus, opens up and reveals his opponent's hand, then tries to get a deal. That's his entire M.O. That's what he did in Chicago. That's what he's always done.

And if you look at the way he's done this, the way he's set up the Republicans, for example, in this election, I think you'll see, he's going to win this election quite handily, because he's framed the arguments the way he wants to.

BUCHANAN: You know, Andrew, I hope he keeps setting us up like he did there in 2010, and he got completely walloped, the Democrats did, in the off-year election. You can make a case, and I agree with you, going into that first year of his administration, a lot of things were happening that he couldn't control. They were set in place before he was there.

But then in the opening days of 2010, and he was there for a while, he was going into his second year, the economy's percolating almost 4 percent. It slows up a little bit. He talks, though. He takes great credit for the big -- the what he calls is going to be Recovery Summer. They're all excited over there at the White House.

And things go straight downhill to where we're looking at less than 1 percent growth in 2011. He has to take responsibility for that. The recovery was there. His policies impacted it. And we lost the kind of growth and the strength and the movement we were on. He changed the direction.

SULLIVAN: I don't see where policies of his slowed the recovery. What did?

BUCHANAN: Well, the huge, outrageous spending. The kind of...

SULLIVAN: Spending -- spending actually helps growth in the short-term. It may be wrong in the long-term, but spending actually helps...

BUCHANAN: Yes.

SULLIVAN: If you look at somewhere like Italy, where they're cutting and cutting and cutting and seeing their growth go down and down and down and their debt therefore go up and up, he's avoided that debt trap, which is important.

BUCHANAN: No. But he ran it up, that deficit. He runs it up, runs it up until it unnerves the market. It unnerves Americans. They are consumed. They are worried that we're on a path to bankruptcy.

SULLIVAN: He didn't run it up, Bay. Because in a recession, your revenues collapse. And revenues currently are at 50-year lows. Of course, you're going to have a deficit.

The hard thing is to run a deficit in boom times. That's what your party did, adding $5 trillion to the debt under Bush. Five trillion. Even the most expansive understanding of what changes Obama will have brought bring it to, like, something like $1 trillion in extra debt. I think that's too much, too, but compared to Bush, this guy is a fiscal conservative.

COOPER: Andrew, thanks.

SULLIVAN: You're so welcome.

COOPER: Bay, thank you very much.

BUCHANAN: Sure, glad to be with you.

COOPER: Well, a new CNN/"TIME"/ORC International poll out tonight shows Mitt Romney with a ten-point lead in South Carolina but Newt Gingrich closing the gap. Romney is at 33 percent. Gingrich behind him at 23 percent. Santorum, 16; Ron Paul, 13; Rick Perry at 6.

It is coming down to the wire in South Carolina. Watch the debate tomorrow on CNN starting at 8 p.m. right here on CNN. We'll have an additional "360" from South Carolina right after the debate tomorrow at 10.

Still ahead tonight, a mysterious illness striking 12 teenage girls at the same school around the same time, causing them all to develop strange tics. What could be causing it? Sanjay Gupta reports on that.

Also ahead, a major winter storm pummeling the Pacific Northwest. We'll show you who's getting hit the hardest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, a bizarre medical mystery. What could possibly have caused a dozen teenage girls at the same high school in upstate New York to suddenly develop a mysterious condition that looks and sounds a lot like Tourette's Syndrome?

Their symptoms began last fall. Stutters, uncontrollable movements, verbal outbursts. At first the girls didn't realize others were going through the same situation. Now they're demanding answers together.

Here's Jason Carroll.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THERA SANCHEZ, SUFFERS FROM MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS: It's very heartbreaking to me. To be honest I -- knowing that, right now, I can't do what I love.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thera Sanchez was a cheerleader, an honor roll student, and as a senior at LeRoy Junior High School in upstate New York, well on her way to planning her college future. When she woke up from a nap last October, everything changed.

SANCHEZ: I couldn't stop stuttering.

MELISA PHILLIPS, THERA SANCHEZ'S MOTHER: The stuttering had -- I mean, it took over, you know, really contorting on the left side of, you know, with her mouth and her neck.

CARROLL: Doctors told Thera her condition was brought on by stress, and she would get better. But once the stuttering ended, it soon gave way to uncontrollable twitching.

(on camera) And this goes on all day long, Thera?

SANCHEZ: Yes. Yes.

CARROLL: All day long?

SANCHEZ: All day long.

CARROLL (voice-over): This video was taken in the hospital in mid-October by Thera's mother, soon after she brought her daughter in for twitching. It was on that day she says a nurse told her Thera wasn't the only one who had been brought to the hospital with the condition.

PHILLIPS: She had said, not to alarm you, you know, but somebody needs to contact somebody, because you're the fourth girl in a week to come in with us.

CARROLL: In all, health officials say 12 girls from LeRoy Junior-Senior High School have exhibited similar symptoms. The girls were from different grades, and some didn't know each other, but many did, including Thera's friend, Lydia Parker.

LYDIA PARKER, SICK WITH MYSTERY ILLNESS: The last time I went to a neurologist, they said they're not sure and that they'll keep looking into it, but besides that, they haven't told anyone anything.

CARROLL: Hundreds of parents met with health officials, who said tests showed no evidence of any environmental factors at the school. More tests ruled out infection or communicable diseases.

So what is going on? A doctor who has evaluated 11 of 12 girls say it's conversion disorder.

DR. JENNIFER MCVIGE, NEUROLOGIST: What happens is there traditionally is some kind of a stressor or a multiple stressor that provoke a physical reaction within the body. This is unconscious. It is not done purposefully. And it's almost like thinking that the stress wells up in your body, and it has to come out in some way, shape, or form.

CARROLL: Dr. Jennifer McVige could not explain why the disorder typically affects women. Or why it would happen in a group. Thera doesn't think stress triggered her condition, and her mother worries whether time is on their side.

PHILLIPS: She does not have time for "I feel" or guesswork or anything like that. She's deteriorating.

SANCHEZ: I don't think this is in my head. I -- I don't think I can wake up from a nap and this just happened.

CARROLL: Until doctors can do something, Thera says she hopes one day she'll just wake up and be herself again.

Jason Carroll, CNN, LeRoy, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, today a state health department officials has released the results of an environmental test done at the girls' school. They all came back clean. And what makes this story so baffling is all 12 girls were apparently healthy before the tics started.

Some parents have wondered if Gardasil, the vaccine that protects against HPV, could be the cause. That hasn't panned out either. I talked about all this with chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Sanjay, I find this story just bizarre. The idea that these girls could have the same symptoms in the same school, but so far, it seems like no real explanation. What factors have the state health department ruled out?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're looking for commonalities between all these girls. We know they go to the same school, but they're in different grades. They're not necessarily friends with each other. They don't all participate in the same activities. So, you know, those commonalities really weren't there as a starting point.

Then they start looking at things that the girls may have been exposed to: you know, air quality, for example, some sort of environmental exposure. And again, they brought people in who were independent to the school to test, and they didn't find anything that could cause these sorts of symptoms.

And they also look at things like medicines, including vaccines, the Gardasil vaccine, and again said that that wasn't a causative factor. So they start to tick off the list. And in the end, the answer may be not knowable for sure. They just don't have a definitive answer, ever.

COOPER: How do they know that the Gardasil vaccine is not at the root of this?

GUPTA: Well, simply because not all the girls got the Gardasil vaccine. And this was, you know, a prominent theory. A lot of people saying, look, Gardasil could have caused side effects like this. And this is something they explored, but simply, Anderson, there are girls who had these symptoms who did not get the vaccine. COOPER: There have also been reports that the girls are being treated for stress, and a health official told us their symptoms are getting better. Can stress, though, cause these kind of symptoms?

GUPTA: There's a specific sort of pattern of diagnosis in this situation. They look to see, does someone exhibit the specific symptoms? Tic-like symptoms in this case? Did these symptoms perhaps -- were they proceeded by stress? If you take away the stress, do the symptoms seem to get better?

But mainly, I'll tell you, Anderson, in medicine we call it a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that after you have ruled out everything else, you're sort of left with this as the probable -- probably answer.

COOPER: I've also seen this been referred to as mass hysteria. Is that -- is it's possible that they're faking it, or is it possible that this is some sort of -- I mean, what does that mean, mass hysteria?

GUPTA: When they talk about mass hysteria, it's sort of a -- it's more a lay term. You know, people refer to a mass psychosis. as well. What I will tell you, though, and this is important, is that there are very good ways to determine if someone is faking something. You know, I think that's going to be the conclusion a lot of people jump to when they watch this.

There's good ways to figure out if someone's faking it. In this case, they say they are not faking it. I mean, the girls really experience this. And we're getting to the point now, Anderson -- I find this fascinating -- in the brain you can see some changes as a result of this that you can measure. We're not -- they don't do this, you know, widespread yet, but this is something that's coming down the pike.

COOPER: How severe are the symptoms? When I think of Tourette's, I think of stuff from movies of people yelling obscenities or having tics.

GUPTA: No, no. These types of tics, I mean, they can be quite significant. And some of the girls have talked about it quite openly, and it is -- it's shocking, I think, at least startling to watch them.

But I will tell you, you know, observing and hearing about these girls, you see sort of a wide range. And you know, so some have much more severe symptoms than the others, where they're literally having uncontrollable body movements, and involuntary -- they utter involuntary words. But others have much more mild symptoms.

And you know, I wonder, as well, Anderson, if there's people at the very low end of the spectrum in the school, if you really started to examine all the girls, if girls have really mild symptoms that they haven't told anyone about. So it could be a little bit further ranging than just this dozen or so girls.

COOPER: Interesting. Sanjay Gupta, thanks. GUPTA: Thanks, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I wish them the best. We'll continue to follow that.

Up next, winter storms pounding the northwest coast of the United States. The heaviest snowfall in decades for the area.

Plus the giggle fit that landed Brad Pitt on "The RidicuList." See for yourself. Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Isha Sesay. More from Anderson ahead. First, the "360 Bulletin."

A winter storm is making for treacherous travel conditions in the Pacific Northwest tonight. Seattle got about 4 to 5 inches of snow. High elevations in Washington state, but 2 to 3 feet, an avalanche of flood warnings from northern California to Wisconsin.

The Obama administration has rejected a bid to expand the controversial Keystone oil sands pipeline, saying the 60-day decision deadline imposed by Congress didn't give enough time for full review. The plan calls for a 700-mile-long pipeline expansion to carry crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Top Republicans say the president is killing thousands of jobs.

A major development in Syria. This YouTube video shows a crowd in Dhabu Dhami (ph) chanting thanks to the Free Syrian Army. Activists say those opposition forces now control the town, not government troops. The government tanks remain on the outskirts of the suburb, just 30 miles north of Damascus.

A "360 Follow," two U.S. officials tell CNN the letter the Obama administration sent to Iran about their threat to block the Strait of Hormuz did not ask for negotiations, but suggested a direct channel of communication. News of the letter came off as the Pentagon released this video of two incidents earlier this month showing Iranian speed boats coming close to U.S. vessels.

And the world's largest emerald is hitting the auction block in Canada. According to the CDC, the massive 67,000-carat gem is about the size of a watermelon and appraised at about $1.15 million, but could sell for a lot more money -- Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

Soledad anchors from Charleston, South Carolina, and talks to the authors of "The Real Romney," the new book.

Erin Burnett is coming up at 11 p.m. Let's check in. Erin, what's up? ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, we're going to be focusing in on a lot of things that matter a whole lot to Mitt Romney. First, we're going to get the final formal certified results for Iowa tomorrow morning, and it is possible that Rick Santorum actually won. That might make a big psychological difference. We have an exclusive report on that.

And also, Mitt Romney's tax returns. You all know he's worth more than $200 million. Well, Anderson, there is one thing in there that may be legal and may be completely standard. In fact it is, but it's really unfair. We'll get to the very bottom line, break down those taxes, to explain one big issue for Mitt Romney and some of the wealthiest Americans. A tax loophole that needs to go away.

All that top of the hour. Back to you.

COOPER: Erin, thanks.

Coming up, Brad Pitt gets a massive case of the giggles at work. Kind of hard to believe. Never heard of that kind of thing happening. It's "The RidicuList."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList." And tonight we're added Brad Pitt's laugh attack. Although the only thing that's really ridiculous about it is how quickly it elevates your mood. It's kind of like video Prozac.

It's making the rounds online. It was taken during the filming of Pitt's movie "Moneyball," which I just say, by the way, and I enjoyed. He's trying to make it through a scene. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: (LAUGHING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that's only the beginning. Now, all we know is that he's in the scene with Jonah Hill, and every time Pitt looks up at him, he cracks up. We have no idea what Jonah Hill said before the camera started rolling. Frankly, it doesn't really matter, because Brad Pitt's laugh attack goes on for like three whole minutes. Here's just some of the highlights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PITT: (LAUGHING)

Oh, man. Stop! (LAUGHING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now, this isn't the first time we here at the Cable News Network have seen, shall we say, a different side of Brad Pitt. Check out this clip from the CNN show in the late '80s called "SHOWBIZ TODAY." He's talking about moving to Hollywood and getting a part on the TV show "Dallas."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PITT: A lot of the attraction before I came out was the lifestyle, the fame. I was like this. You know, I used to watch these people. I'm a little star-struck, to be honest. You know, it was six months ago, and I was sitting home, watching these people on TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Sounded like there was a jazz funk band behind him.

That was the search (ph) for the most entertaining Brad Pitt clip ever seen on CNN until this laugh attack. And speaking of which, I'm kind of surprised that a professional like Brad Pitt couldn't keep it together. I mean, it's not like it's all that difficult to stop laughing when the camera's on and have a job to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: (LAUGHING) Sorry. Sorry, this has actually never happened to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Never going to live that down, am I? The 360 staff is never going to let me forget that until the day I die. No matter what I say, it's always, "Oh, yes. Let's see the laugh again."

Now, listen, I know, I'm a journalist. I know I giggle like a 13-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber for the first time. I can't help it. I like to think I have varied interests and wide-ranging things I can talk about. Case in point: at our show-planning meeting, I made a pretty eloquent reference to Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," true story, but was anyone actually interested in that? You know, they were like, "Oh, yes, whatever. Hey, let's do a split screen of you and Brad Pitt laughing." So I give up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: (LAUGHING)

PITT: (LAUGHING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Mr. Pitt, welcome to my nightmare and welcome also to your infectious laugh on "The RidicuList."

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