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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Presidential Race Heating Up; Keys to Winning Florida?

Aired January 23, 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: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight with breaking news on several fronts in the battle for Florida.

Newt Gingrich a short time ago trying to take a campaign trail weapon out of Mitt Romney's hand, the allegation, that Speaker Gingrich is a big money Beltway influence peddler. Now, that's the allegation. And the Romney campaign spent all day making it, calling on Speaker Gingrich to reveal his consulting contract with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Tonight, Speaker Gingrich's lobbying firm did just that -- but only partially, releasing one year of a multiyear deal. What they released is raising questions, namely, just what is it Gingrich was paid an estimated $1.7 million to do.

That's not the only breaking news tonight. Reports as well tonight out of Las Vegas that billionaire Gingrich friend, Sheldon Adelson, is writing a second $5 million check to finance the anti- Romney effort by the super PAC supporting Speaker Gingrich. All this as new polling shows Mitt Romney's lead evaporating in Florida and basically gone nationwide.

Take a look at Gallup's latest tracking poll, shows a virtual Romney-Gingrich dead heat. Now that's a sharp change from just last week before this weekend's South Carolina Gingrich blowout victory.

Those numbers could and -- could and almost certainly will change. But for now, the trend is so worrying to the Romney forces, they're doing what front-runners rarely do, attacking the challenger, not through surrogates as they have in the past or through super PACs but directly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that new ad was straight from the Romney campaign, and this earlier today was straight from the stump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm calling on Speaker Gingrich again to do two things, one, release all of the work product associated with his work at Freddie Mac and also return the funds that he made from Freddie Mac.

I wouldn't have normally suggested that other than he was the one that said if you made money on this failed model that you ought to return that money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Within hours of that, the Gingrich people released the 2006 contract. Now you'll recall he's struggled in the past to explain the work he did for Freddie Mac and to reconcile what appears to be beltway insider buck raking with his anti-beltway establishment campaign.

This is what he said back in November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have never done any lobbying. Every contract was written during the period when I was out of the office, specifically said I would do know lobbying and I offered advice. And my advice as a historian when they walked in and said to me, we are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do.

I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So tonight, one year of the contract is out. Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger has the late details on it.

So the contract doesn't really tell us much -- much of anything really. It's got a one line description of Gingrich's job to provide -- quote -- "consulting and related services."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

COOPER: Seems to be kind of -- that's not really much of any kind of a description.

BORGER: Well, it's a little vague. And the contract, by the way, is with the Gingrich group, it's not with Newt Gingrich himself. But that exhibit two, as it's called, about what he was supposed to do for Freddie Mac is vague. And it seems to me that when you have a one-sentence agreement for $300,000 a year contract seems to me that he was probably hired to be some kind of senior counselor, to be available when they needed him, to offer advice, perhaps.

But it's very unclear, and you know, in Washington, lots of agencies, lots of firms, businesses hire people who were once very powerful in Congress to kind of be available to them, if you will, for strategic advice. Now the question that I have in reading this is, what kind of strategic advice was he giving. We've heard Newt Gingrich what he -- what he said in that debate him in the clip you played.

But there's also a quote from him on Freddie Mac's Web site from 2007, in which he says, that I would be very careful about changing the model for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. So he's been a little inconsistent, Anderson. And I think that this still leaves the opening for the Romney campaign to go after him and say, exactly what did you do for Freddie Mac?

COOPER: Well, also, earlier this month, the Gingrich campaign said that Freddie Mac basically wouldn't let them release the contract, then Freddie Mac said, no, no, go right ahead, no problem with that. We're not blocking the release of the -- of the contract.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Now the Gingrich campaign is once again saying that they can't release any more information of this because of Freddie Mac.

BORGER: Right. Well, I spoke with a spokeswoman for the Gingrich group. And I sort of pressed her on whether they had pressed Freddie Mac to release more information, and she wouldn't characterize it one way or another.

She did say to me that the reason we only have one year, by the way, of a consulting relationship that went on for about six years, is that they can't find some of the other contracts because they changed management at the Gingrich group, but she did say these are self- renewing contracts and they're pretty standard.

But how hard Gingrich pushed to release, for example, what the Romney campaign wants, which is, you know, internal communication and more than this, we don't know.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: She did point out, however, that they're governed by non-disclosure agreements that they did sign with attorneys.

COOPER: All right. Gloria, appreciate the reporting. Thanks a lot.

BORGER: Sure.

COOPER: A lot of talk about the contract, the money, new polling, especially the implications of another Gingrich primary victory next Tuesday. Let's talk about it to Democratic strategist James Carville joins us. Republican strategist, Bay Buchanan, who, we should mention, is advising the Romney campaign. Also David Webb, he's the founder of TeaParty365 and host of the "David Webb Show" on Sirius XM radio.

So, James, what do you make of this contract?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's a very -- I have a very simple solution. All Gingrich to do is write a letter to Freddie Mac saying release everything, contracts, memos, all the work I did. The taxpayers have bailed this company out for some -- hundred gazillion dollars. He's running for president of the United States. It's a simple thing. Full transparency and disclosure. That's all Gingrich has to do and if Romney had any kind of campaign, he'd be on that, like we say in Louisiana, gravy on rice.

COOPER: Does the ambiguity of --

CARVILLE: They're clueless.

COOPER: Does the ambiguity of what his services are, does that raise any questions for you or is that standard, do you think?

CARVILLE: You know that this company paid him over $1.5 million, you know there's contracts, you know there's memos, you know there's meetings. This company was also bailed out by the U.S. taxpayer. How simple can it be for him to write them a letter saying, I released myself from any non-disclosure agreement and I want you to make all this public. And do that and you see everything.

I mean, -- you just got to do that one simple thing. This is a -- this is a taxpayer propped up entity here. And anything about a non- disclosure agreement, you can get away -- you can rid of just as easy as you signed it.

COOPER: Bay, your --

CARVILLE: And Romney's --

COOPER: Sorry, go ahead --

CARVILLE: Go ahead. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

COOPER: Well, Bay, your candidate has some Freddie Mac issues of his own. He earned money from investment he made with them in the second half of 2007.

BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Made with whom? Freddie and --

COOPER: Freddie Mac.

BUCHANAN: Well, he -- he's the one. Mitt Romney has had no difficult explaining how he made his money. So I'm sure if somebody were to ask him what was the contract with Bain in that year. Now in fairness, I do believe he was gone from Bain in 2007.

But fair enough, ask him what he did and he'll tell you what he did. He's been talking all along about what he did in the firm in Bain, and he talks about different companies and how some of them succeeded and some of them didn't. He's been completely forthright. But James is absolutely correct. This is an important issue. We need to know what Newt did. He's been evading that question continually. Changes it. First he was hired as an historian, for goodness sakes. When nobody bought that line, he's been moving it a little bit. But if I was paid $25,000 a month, I know one thing, I would be able to tell you why I was being paid.

COOPER: David, is this a big deal for you?

DAVID WEBB, FOUNDER, TEAPARTY365: Yes, it is, as far as the transparency, Anderson. I mean, we've been asking for that from the Tea Party movement. And what Speaker Gingrich should do is what James suggested, write that letter releasing them from the NDA.

And as to the Romney issue, the difference is private capital versus public money. This institution has been bailed out with, what, over $160 billion. There has been no accountability. There has been too much failure. The housing crisis is what it is. One of the big problems that we have now.

I think it's fair that if we're going to elect a president, I -- on this one, I pick transparency over party, over candidate, that it all needs to be out there.

COOPER: James, I want to read to you something that Steve Schmidt said. Steve Schmidt, one of McCain's top adviser back in 2008. He said -- and I quote -- "If Newt Gingrich is able to win the Florida primary, you will see a panic and a meltdown of the Republican establishment that is beyond my ability to articulate in the English language."

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: You know, I know Steve well. He came from my class in Tulane and he's a pretty blunt guy. You will -- I will tell you what, if Romney doesn't win Florida, there's going to be enormous pressure on him to get out.

These guys are not going to let this thing go to Newt Gingrich, I can tell you. And it's already -- I can assure you that conference calls are being arranged, memos are being exchanged and somebody has got a plan B going here.

And Romney better show -- he's got to show these people something here tonight on our network Thursday night, or he's going to be in real trouble.

COOPER: Bay, I know you think Mitt Romney's resources and infrastructure are going to give him the advantage in Florida. He's had the same advantages in South Carolina along with a lead in the polls and he still lost.

BUCHANAN: Yes. You know, South Carolina was extraordinarily unusual. I was down there the week before, things were going crazy. I saw polls where people made their -- I think a majority of people made up their mind within the last two days, enormous sympathy, a lot of emotions going, people are teed off at the media, they bought what Mitt had to say, the accusation that was the media was outrageous and despicable.

So all this emotions comes into play. And he -- and it was always going to be a tough state for Mitt. We always knew Iowa and South Carolina were two tough ones. And so I can -- I can understand what happened in South Carolina. It's very unusual. In Florida, we've got a little more time, we're going to be very aggressive. I think you put Newt on the spot day in and day out, let's get him on the defense.

We took the spotlight off Newt, Anderson. We beat him so badly in Iowa and New Hampshire, we took the spotlight off of him. We got to go back on, we got to push and pressure him. And in the past, he's not done well when the light of day is showing. So we'll see what he does now.

COOPER: But, David, his big backer, Adelson, is now going to pony up another $5 million for his super PAC. That money was used to great effect in South Carolina buying an awful lot of ads that hammered Mitt Romney. Do you think it will have the same impact here in Florida? Do you think he can win in Florida?

WEBB: He's going to need to compete in three major markets. There are 10 markets in Florida. He needs this money. You know the infrastructure argument is going up against the message argument. The danger for Mitt Romney is although he's been in this state for months and he's done a very good job of organizing is that Newt can capture those votes from the message.

He's -- you know, he's tied himself now to Marco Rubio. He's got an extensive outreach to a lot of conservatives in the state. And Romney has to step up his game. Romney has to now capture the first thing that any politician has to do, Anderson, they have to get you to want to listen to them and pay attention.

And Romney has been running what I call more of a national strategy. Now he's got to think about a primary strategy, come out of Florida strong. That $5 million can make a difference. But Romney has got to step up his game to make up the real difference and expand his lead.

COOPER: James, do you think he can? I mean, does he have the fire that Newt Gingrich has? And also, I mean, I guess working in his benefit is 30 percent of the early vote -- almost 30 percent of the early vote is already in.

CARVILLE: Romney's problem is he's terrible on his feet. He can't carry off an attack. He answers the wrong kind of question. He talks about $372 being pocket change. And when he -- you got to know that you can't do this kind of thing.

Unless this guy -- he's got to be a much better candidate. I never thought I would say this in my life. But I agree with everything the Tea Party gentleman just said. BUCHANAN: Yes, I do.

CARVILLE: I thought his analysis was on point and cogent. And that Romney people should be listening to it. But the -- the problem they have is they have everything but a candidate that's good on his feet. Now, you know, maybe he can -- maybe he can game up and maybe he can play tonight, maybe he can play Thursday night.

But just got to -- he's got to be a lot better than he's been because he has not been very good and he's not been very good at attacking and he's not been very good at warding off attacks.

COOPER: To David Webb --

CARVILLE: He got Newt got him.

BUCHANAN: You know, Anderson, in fairness to Mitt Romney, he won most of every one of these debates. He has been extremely good, he's extraordinarily knowledgeable. He doesn't make mistakes --

COOPER: You're saying Mitt Romney won these debates?

BUCHANAN: In most of them. He didn't win the last one. But in fairness, the last one was all about five minutes.

COOPER: Well, I said the last two most people felt he didn't do badly on.

BUCHANAN: Well, the rest. But --

WEBB: But you know --

BUCHANAN: But neither that debate he did extraordinarily well and so did Santorum, but everybody focused on the first five minutes. That was all that it took. And Newt had that thing why -- but in fairness I agree that he needs to be a little tougher.

COOPER: But I think his answer to the tax -- to releasing the tax question, I think that came way after the first five minutes.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

COOPER: And I think that was one of the things that a lot of people are pointing to.

BUCHANAN: You are right. You're absolutely right.

COOPER: Yes.

BUCHANAN: That was a --

WEBB: Yes, and that didn't help him, Anderson. But here's the thing. Winning the debate is a subjective assessment. And that really doesn't carry, yes, is Mitt Romney clearly performed well in the debates, Gingrich had his moment, John King frankly should be getting Christmas gifts from Newt Gingrich for the rest of his life for that.

However, what matters in the long run is the debate at the polls. In South Carolina, where I talked to a lot of voters, I was down there also, they made their decision going into the polls, but they made it on that visceral gut reaction.

COOPER: Right.

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

WEBB: Who they felt could bloody President Obama's nose, when in the long run, we've got to look at the general election, find a candidate that can actually step out there.

COOPER: Yes.

WEBB: Challenge and get conservatives and independents who will decide this election.

COOPER: We got to leave it there. David Webb, I don't know if you want to record the point where James Carville actually said he agreed with everything said.

WEBB: I think we should keep a copy of that, James.

COOPER: If you want to play it on your radio show or not, I'm not sure that's going to work for your or against you. But it's out there for you.

And David Webb, thank you.

CARVILLE: I got to. Yes, we got to call them like you see them.

COOPER: And James Carville, thanks, Bay Buchanan as well.

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 tonight. Just reached two million followers on Twitter, so thank you for that.

Up next: the keys to winning Florida. John King walks us through it.

Also, the not-so-secret weapon in this race: millions and millions of dollars being pumped into shadowy super PACS. People writing big checks, apparently getting some big results.

The question is, who if any one is regulating them? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Later, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' emotional day. Just over a year since she was shot nearly killed, we've watched her make incredible progress. Now she is stepping down from Congress. We'll talk about why. We'll talk to Sanjay Gupta.

Let's also check in with Isha -- Isha. ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, here in the southeast, people are trying to salvage what they can after a powerful storm system did enormous damage.

We'll tell you what happened and how people they are coping when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, one week and one day from now, Newt Gingrich could do to Romney what he did in South Carolina. Now the poll seems to be trending in that direction but as we've seen before this race changes so quickly that a week and a day might just as well be a decade.

My question tonight, how do you win Florida and does a victory in South Carolina help?

John King breaks it down right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we know Newt Gingrich won big in South Carolina. The map tells the story despite being out-spent by the Romney campaign. The dark red is the Romney campaign spending. The lighter red, Romney super PAC spending. More than $3. 3 million combined in South Carolina, Gingrich wins big. That isn't stopping the Romney effort in Florida, though, from going up heavy with TV ads.

Let's start with the Romney campaign. You look at the ads here. You see Romney campaign. Now this is just campaign spending now you're seeing right now here. Now let's bring in that pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future. Notice a lot more ads up in this part of the state. Why does that matter? Restore Our Future doing mostly negative attacks on Newt Gingrich.

What do you have up here in this part of the state? This is a heavily conservative part of the state. The way people describe Florida is the further south you go, the further north you get. Meaning here bordering Georgia and Alabama, a lot of conservative voters, evangelical voters, Tea Party voters, the pro-Romney PAC going after them there.

A lot of spending here as well in Jacksonville. Why? That's a military community, a big important base for the Republican Party. You know this area here from St. Pete, Tampa, all the way over to Orlando. That's the I-4 corridor, heavy population center there. Republican voters more moderate voters critical to the Romney campaign.

You'll notice down here, this is the Naples Market down here. Again, retirees and military community very important.

Interesting, no spending as yet down in here. Miami, that's where you have a Cuban-American population, a lot of radio going on targeting them. A more expensive media market. Look for that over the next few days. Also a lot of retirees from the north in this area. Look for spending here as well. Again, you see some circles. They might be a bit confusing. I just want to go back to the map of 2008 to show you what I mean. The orange is Mike Huckabee, social conservatives up there. This was a McCain-Romney battle in this part of the state down here. A lot of spending, the Romney campaign getting a head start. We do know, though, that the Gingrich campaign is about to buy ads. We'll see how that one plays out. Senator Santorum telling me today he might not spend TV money in Florida, he might wait, Anderson, for down the road a bit.

COOPER: Interesting. John, thanks.

Clearly Florida is a state of big media market, that means, as John just pointed out, spending big money. And for the first time in a presidential campaign, that means super PACs writing huge checks paying for attack ads.

"Keeping Them Honest" tonight, though, who really controls these super PACs? Who can regulate them? Who can make them tell the truth?

Drew Griffin reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NARRATOR: Newt has more baggage than the airlines?

NARRATOR: Rick Santorum, Washington insider, big spender.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They have been called the cancer on American politics, the embodiment of a broken and corrupt system. Super PACs. And if there is one man largely to blame for their rise in electoral power, it is James Bopp.

JAMES BOPP, ATTORNEY: I think that we have made significant progress on restoring the central meaning of -- and effect of the First Amendment.

GRIFFIN: To Bopp, free speech equals free spending in politics, no limits. And since there are limits on what individuals and corporations can give directly to a candidate, Bopp joined a group called Citizens United that took the fight for unlimited spending for a candidate all the way to the Supreme Court.

Advocacy groups that make up their own ads, make their own media purchases, and are free to take as much money from anyone as they want. The Supreme Court agreed, no limits. Bopp calls it free speech.

BOPP: This is a government of, by and for the people. It's not of, by and for the candidates or the news media, or the government.

GRIFFIN: In fact, the government can't do anything about it. How can that be? We went to the Federal Elections Commission, the place where candidates' finances are closely scrutinized. Commissioner Donald McGahn admits super PACs can do just about anything they want. DONALD MCGAHN, FEC COMMISSIONER: Control is impossible because courts have already said that they're legal. So there's not much that the government can do to reign them in, so to speak.

GRIFFIN (on camera): If you were running for president, the most money I could give you would be $2500 for the primaries and another $2500 for the general election. A total of $5,000. But if you had a super PAC supporting you, why, I could give your super PAC literally millions and millions of dollars.

(voice-over): I don't, but Foster Friess comes close. The retired investment fund president may not have a billion but he has lots and lots of millions and he's been giving freely to the super PAC behind the man he wants to be president. Rick Santorum.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Game on.

GRIFFIN (on camera): How much?

FOSTER FRIESS, SANTORUM BACKER: Well, I -- it's like, I got to keep that from my wife. She could kill me if she really found out. I think I want to keep that kind of under the radar. It will be reported eventually. But I just believe in Santorum. I believe in what he can do for the country.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Under the super PAC rules, the Santorum supporting Red, White and Blue funds will eventually tell us how much Friess and others have donated. But on the very morning we met him, he was offering another half million dollars if Sportsman Across America would just match his donation.

FRIESS: Well, sure. One guy, they'll send $1 million check. Didn't know who he was, didn't call him, didn't contact them, bang, $1 million hits.

GRIFFIN: It's the kind of anonymous rich guy influence that makes Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center cringe.

PAUL RYAN, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER: If you do agree with these decades-long principles and understandings that big contributions directly at candidates are a bad thing and potentially corrupting that these super PACs put us right back to the pre-Watergate era with that potential for corruption.

GRIFFIN: Friess thinks the rules and even the super PACs are not needed. He's like to give all his money right to Santorum him and let everyone know it. Even James Bopp admits we'd all be better off without super PACs. And of course without limits.

BOPP: You can't vote against for or against a super PAC but you can vote for or against the candidate. And it would be much better if this money went to candidates and -- from an accountability standpoint. And then, you know, the voter could decide.

GRIFFIN: The complaints or fears really so far revolve around what ifs, not what has actually happened. Paul Ryan is convinced what's about to happen is a wave of political corruption.

(on camera): Have you direct knowledge of corruption or you're anticipating that?

RYAN: No. I'm anticipating it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Super PACs can be penalized if they failed to report in time or coordinate with a candidate, but investigations are rare and fines are, well, minuscule.

Don McGahn says, if you don't like the rules, it's easy to find the people who wrote them.

MCGAHN: As an FEC commissioner, I would say, go see the folks in the white dome, your elected representatives, and complain to them about whether or not the penalties are high enough, not the FEC.

GRIFFIN: Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Drew's report is just one in a series that CNN is releasing this week, the network taking an in-depth look at money and politics, as I said, all week long.

A reminder, tomorrow is the State of the Union address. We've got coverage, special coverage right here on this program starting at 8:00 Eastern time. Then, the president's speech is at 9:00, the Republican response, followed by 360 wrap-up and analysis live until midnight.

Coming "Up Close": Congressman Gabrielle Giffords completes the "Congress on Your Corner" meeting in Tucson that she started just over a year ago. The event that changed her life. A last brave act as a member of Congress. She said she wanted to finish the event before she steps down.

We're going to take a close look at her long fight to recover from being shot in the head. We'll speak to Dr. Sanjay Gupta about how she's doing.

Also ahead, at least two people killed in a tornado near Birmingham, Alabama, more than 100 injured, and tens of thousands without power. We'll go live to Alabama for the latest next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Deadly storms hit the southeast, killing at least two people, injuring more than 100, and damaging homes and knocking out power to thousands.

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down in southwestern Arkansas with winds up to 135 miles an hour. There were reports of possible tornadoes in Mississippi and Tennessee. One emergency management official in Arkansas says it looked like they dodged a bullet compared to the tornado damage in Alabama. Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf joins us from Clay, Alabama, with the latest.

You're in Clay. A tornado touched down there today. What's the latest, Wolf [SIC]?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The latest that we have, unfortunately, the worst news of all is the two fatalities that we had. A 16-year-old girl here in this community that passed away, not in this precise subdivision but in the community of Clay, Alabama. Also in this area, there's a man who lost his life, 82 years old. Those are the two that we know of at this time.

I have to tell you that communication is still very poor around here. We've had some damage to some cell towers. Obviously, some telephone poles have been flattened.

But as we zoom out a little bit, we've got photojournalist Mike Halloway (ph) there. He's on the other side of the camera. Mike, we can zoom out. Let's shows Anderson and the rest of our viewers across America the type of damage that we're seeing in this community.

What's amazing with this, Anderson, if you look around this house, this house less than 24 hours ago, you had families here that were going down to bed. They were maybe watching the football games last night. But they never in their wildest dreams knew that this kind of destruction was coming.

If you can, Mike, let's pan over to that doorway. I want Anderson to see this. You'll see a sign that says "Mountaineer." Anderson, that's actually part of an RV that was about, I'd say, about two or three blocks away that was picked up and thrown by winds topping 150 miles an hour that thrashed this subdivision, a subdivision of about 100 homes. But I can tell you, about 25 to 30 of those completely demolished. These homes, many of them unlivable.

It is a miracle that you only had two people that lost their lives in this area because I'm telling you, the winds that came through were just unbelievable. Very few injuries. Only one person that had to go to the hospital. Other people, thankfully, were able to get to the lower rooms, away from the outside walls and were able to make their way through the storm, Anderson.

COOPER: Reynolds, Clay is in Jefferson County, which has, I think, a history of really bad tornadoes going back to the '30s. This storm is unusual, though, for this time of year, right?

WOLF: It is. It is kind of unusual. But I have to tell you: from a guy who grew up in Alabama, we've had tornadoes every single month, every single season of the year. But to have one this violent, this strong, move this quickly through parts of Alabama, yes, that is a little bit out of the norm, to say the least.

COOPER: And it's under a curfew now, Clay is. Are more tornadoes expected? WOLF: Thankfully, it looks like the worst is going to be over for now. There will be rain, maybe a few thunderstorms that come back into the area, I'd say by Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, back here in this part of Alabama.

But in terms of having the severity, what we had over the last 12 to 24 to 48 hours, no, we're not going to see that again for quite some time.

COOPER: Wow. Just so much devastation. Reynolds, I appreciate it. Thanks for the reporting. Stay safe.

We're following a lot -- lot more tonight. Isha is back with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, two more bodies have been recovered from the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, bringing the confirmed death toll to 15, with about 17 others still missing.

Meanwhile, the cruise line is offering passengers who are booked on Concordia sailings through late March a 30 percent discount or they can cancel without penalty.

The governor of Pennsylvania has ordered all state flags to fly at half-staff in honor of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno who died on Sunday. Paterno will be buried Wednesday in a private family service. A public memorial will follow on Thursday. Public viewings are also scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday on campus.

Paterno died less than three months after he was fired amid accusations he failed to respond to alleged child sexual abuse by an assistant coach. Joe Paterno was 85.

Chaos in Egypt today as the country's first democratically- elected parliament got to work. Those who were leading the chamber struggled to keep control as protesters gathered.

And Anderson, at the White House, Senator John Kerry took part in the celebration honoring the Boston Bruins for their Stanley Cup victory. According to reports, as you may be able to make out there, Kerry is sporting black eyes because he broke his nose in a hockey game. Yes, I know. He's some kind of hockey warrior.

COOPER: All right. Time for "The Shot." Tonight's video we found on YouTube apparently shows a U.S. Marine back from Afghanistan. He and a friend took time out for some fun in Orlando, Florida. This is the greatest video ever. Let's just say it gives new meaning to -- well, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give me like a countdown?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! Argh! (SCREAMING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: He's never going to live that down.

SESAY: Talk about losing any kind of credibility you may have with the guys.

COOPER: I like the way he's expecting a countdown.

SESAY: The other guy...

COOPER: I can laugh, because I giggle like a little girl. He screams like a girl.

SESAY: He does. You two should maybe catch up, trade giggles.

COOPER: I feel his pain right now.

Still ahead, up close, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, her decision to resign from Congress a year after a -- after a bullet nearly killed her. We're going to show you a new video and what it reveals about her progress and the hurdles that remain. We'll talk to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Also ahead, a showdown between Senator Rand Paul and airport security officials in Nashville, why the lawmaker wasn't allowed to board a flight today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Up close tonight, a new chapter for Gabby Giffords. The Arizona congresswoman broke the news that she is resigning in a video message on her Web site.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), ARIZONA: I don't remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me, to be your voice.

Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The horrible day was January 8, 2011, when Giffords and 11 other -- 18 others, excuse me, were gunned down in a supermarket parking lot. Six people died, including a 9-year-old girl.

Well, today in Tucson, Giffords finished with what she was brutally stopped from doing a year ago, meeting with constituents at a Congress on the Corner event. She visited with other survivors of the shooting, including the staffer who's credited with saving her life. Today's meeting one of her last acts in office. Tomorrow, she'll be at the State of the Union address. She missed last year; she in the hospital, fighting for her life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Congresswoman Giffords says she can't remember much that happened the day she was shot in the head. Considering the violence inflicted, allegedly by Jared Loughner, that may be just as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was anybody injured? Did you say Gabrielle Giffords was hit?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's hit. She's breathing -- she is breathing. She still has a pulse. And we've two people and we got -- we got one dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And there's other people that are injured?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other people. There's multiple people shot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Oh, my God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A bullet passed through her brain. She was airlifted to a hospital. The odds of survival were razor thin.

But she did survive, and there was hope and even optimism voiced by her husband and staff about a full recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's a young healthy person who is not only physically strong but mentally resilient. And, you know, they're rising to the occasion.

COOPER: The then 40-year-old Giffords would basically have to relearn nearly every aspect of her life. The challenge is visible in this "ABC News" special, where she could barely walk or even remember simple words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Watch me, Gabby. Gabby. Watch me. Watch me.

COOPER: We saw her frustration when words failed her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you sad?

COOPER: But she fought through it all. Although she was no longer able to full fit most of the duties of her office, she did make a surprise visit to Washington in August to cast a vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling, her presence helping a divided Congress put aside partisan politics, if just for a moment.

During her recovery the people of Arizona didn't seem to mind she wasn't in Washington every day. Just knowing she was still fighting was enough.

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: Knowing Gabby and what she has accomplished in this last year of her recovery, who knows what will happen in the next two years. I don't believe we've seen the last of Gabby Giffords.

COOPER: So what's next for the congresswoman? Listen to what she and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, told ABC's Diane Sawyer.

GIFFORDS: Africa.

MARK KELLY, HUSBAND OF GIFFORDS: We're thinking of going on a trip next summer.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Other things you love right now?

KELLY: Football.

GIFFORDS: No. No.

KELLY: Gabby loves...

GIFFORDS: Awful, awful.

KELLY: Loves.

GIFFORDS: Stinks!

KELLY: I'll get her to come around, eventually.

COOPER: Coming around eventually and finishing what she started.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A strong lady. Let's dig deeper. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon. He's treated many gunshot victims. He's followed Gabby Giffords' story very closely. He joins me now.

Listening to the Giffords in that video she released yesterday, I mean, it is amazing how far she's come. You can hear, though, she still struggles stringing together multiple sentences. Is that typical?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, it's hard to believe it's been just over a year now, Anderson.

You know, what I would say as a starting point, her recovery was pretty atypical, in that, you know, so many people who have gunshot wounds at close range to the head don't survive, let alone have any meaningful neurological recovery. So in that sense, she was in the top few percent in terms of recovery.

But you're right on, Anderson, in terms of the way her speech, you heard that sort of halting speech, at times searching for words. That is pretty typical.

Take a look, Anderson, at this animation. You alluded to this in your piece here. But a gunshot wound to the head like this, the left side of the brain. You can see the bullet went in and out. That's important for a couple of reasons.

First of all, a lot of the energy from the bullet did not release inside her skull but released in the air after passing through. And so that was probably beneficial to her.

But part of the reason that she's having such difficulty with her speech is because those speech areas were also in the path of that bullet. We have the ability to understand speech. In her case, things seem to be preserved and seems to be reserved in expressing herself fluently, both in written and spoken communication would be affected and still seems to be, Anderson.

COOPER: So is there a point at which progress typically plateaus or slows with this type of injury?

GUPTA: Well, you know, if you break it down and you look at the left side of the brain, you say, OK, all the things that this controls. Speech being one of the things that I mentioned. People will say, look, for a few years, people can still have recovery from this. It may be slow coming, you know, but you may gradually become more fluent, more extemporaneous as your ability to speak spontaneously improves.

One thing that you may have noticed, as well, Anderson, is that the right side of her body is very weak. So the physical recovery, people say, look, around 18 months you usually to get, you know, close to a plateau. People can have improvements after that. But she's, you know, about 12-13 months now. So a few more months of recovery as far as the strength goes but still a while longer for her speech, Anderson.

COOPER: From the video from the event today, you can still see that she has difficulty moving the right side of her body. What kind of therapy does someone have for that type of injury to regain mobility?

GUPTA: It's pretty aggressive. And it's everything from the very practical, so for example, if you're a right-handed person, you have right-handed weakness, teaching yourself in the interim how to function with your left hand, from writing to feeding yourself, to taking care of yourself. All of that.

But then short of that, it's pretty aggressive therapy, a couple hours a day, a few days a week. Really focusing on making sure those muscles stay active, they do not become weak, and sending signals back to the brain that, hey, these muscles need to move. Let's reroute things. You think about the brain, sort of a Swiss cheese model. There are holes in it. Let's reroute around those various holes to see if you can get some recovery. That's what happens.

COOPER: What is the likelihood of a full recovery, based on what you know of brain injuries similar to hers?

GUPTA: I think that it's unlikely Gabby Giffords, Congressman Giffords, will ever be the same that she was the day before she got shot. I think most of her doctors and neurologists, everyone who's been caring for her would agree with that.

But I think in terms of a meaningful functional recovery, whether you call it 100 percent or not, that may be open to interpretation. But I think she has a good chance of having a meaningful recovery, where she can speak spontaneously, get around very well on her own, give speeches, things that are required of someone who's a member of Congress.

COOPER: Sanjay, appreciate it. Let me just quickly ask you, does she know -- you know, if she's struggling for words -- does she -- I don't know if we know this, does she know what she wants to say and just can't find the word?

GUPTA: Yes. That is often exactly the case. Her ability to understand language, her ability to process language, her cognitive skills are probably all still very intact. It's that expressive part. And you saw again in your piece how frustrating that is. You saw her nearly break down in tears over that. It's because of that ability. You know what's going on. It's just that expressive part of it is so difficult.

COOPER: Yes. Sanjay, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Still ahead tonight Senator Rand Paul's airport security standoff, what happened when he refused a pat-down.

Also ahead, how one news station is covering a political corruption trial without cameras. The puppet's court, it's in session on tonight's "RidicuList."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hi. I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

In Florida tonight, the Republican presidential candidates faced off in another debate. Newt Gingrich, fresh off his win in South Carolina, got into a heated exchange with Mitt Romney. They traded jabs over the investment company Romney founded and the consulting work Gingrich did for the mortgage giant, Freddie Mac. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt, what's the gross revenue of Bain in the years you were associated with it? What's the gross revenue?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fairly substantial, but I think it's irrelevant, compared to the fact that you were working for Freddie Mac. GINGRICH: Wait a second. Wait a second. There's a substantial -- did Bain ever do any work with an company that did any work for the government like Medicare, Medicaid?

ROMNEY: We didn't any -- we didn't do any work with the government. I didn't have an office on K Street. I wasn't a lobbyist. I didn't work -- I never worked in Washington.

We have congressman who also said that you came and lobbied them in favor...

GINGRICH: I didn't lobby them. That's not true.

ROMNEY: You have congressmen who said that you came and lobbied them with regards to Medicare part D. At the same time, your center was taking in contribution...

GINGRICH: You just jumped a long way over here, friend.

ROMNEY: Another area of influence peddling.

GINGRICH: No. Let me be very clear. You used it on McCain and Huckabee, which is unfortunate. It's not going to work very well, because the American people see through it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: And a showdown between Senator Rand Paul and TSA officials. At a national airport, Rand refused a full body pat-down after setting off an alarm in a scanner. He was later re-booked on another flight and rescreened without incident.

The American Bus Association is asking Priceline to pull an ad that shows its long-time spokesman, William Shatner, dying in a fiery bus explosion. The trade group says the ad is in bad taste. No response yet from Priceline or the actor.

And Starbucks says it will begin offering beer and wine at more locations by the end of this year. Stores in Atlanta, Chicago and southern California are on the list. Some Starbucks cafes in Pacific Northwest already serve alcohol.

Now back to Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up, a corruption trial that would make Miss Piggy herself blush. The puppet's court is in session on "The RidicuList."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding the puppet's court. In Ohio, a former county commissioner is on trial for corruption, and it's big news in the Cleveland area.

There's just one tiny problem: there are no cameras allowed in the courtroom. Usually when that happens, news stations rely on courtroom sketch artists to provide visuals for the story. Well, one enterprising news station has found, let's say, a more creative way to cover the trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back to puppets' court. The testimony you're about to hear is real.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's right. Cleveland's 19 Action News team now includes a puppet squirrel reporting from the puppets' court, if you can believe it.

I said it before, and I'll say it again. Puppets and journalism do not mix, never, not under any circumstances whatsoever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: This is Anderson Cooper, in for Oscar the Grouch, who's on assignment at the dump. I'm here with two legendary grouch newscasters, Dan Rathernot and Walter Cranky, to discuss today's letter in the news, the letter G.

Say hello, Dan Rathernot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd rather not.

COOPER: Walter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grr!

COOPER: I can see this is going to be a tough assignment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I take it back. But look, that was "Sesame Street," for crying out loud. This trial that's going on in Ohio, it's serious news. How are you going to take a complicated corruption trial and turn it into a puppet show? How could that possibly be compelling?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that the invoice you sent, Mr. DeBarr (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And was that invoice ever paid?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's the same dog and pony show with fake invoices for two Rolex watches valued at more than $10,000, wining and dining and the trip to Vegas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A trip to Vegas? I wonder what happened in Vegas. I'm kind of getting into this. Let's roll some more puppet court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the stand, Ferris Cleme (ph), who admits to the judge he paid for the Vegas trip for Jimmy DeBarr (ph), including $8,000 in gambling money and one prostitute named Suzanne.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Say what now? Your eyes and ears did not deceive you. That was indeed a puppet prostitute. And if you'll allow me to employ a bit of journalistic parlance, that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call the hook. Because now we have no choice. You have to hear what happened next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did he say about her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That she talks a lot. And he told me that he told her she was county commissioner. He mentioned that they had sex or something along those lines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: With all apologies to the legacy of Edward R. Murrow, I got to say, I probably would watch this trial coverage.

The director of the news station says he brought in the puppets to show the more absurd aspects of the trial, and it's supposed to be satirical. He also notes that it plays at the end of the broadcast. And as we all know, the end of a news broadcast is a very special time a time for even the most seasoned journalist to ask the hard questions, questions like can a cat really play a keyboard? Is there perhaps a squirrel somewhere that can waterski with the best of them? And is there room for a lady of the evening in the court of puppet opinion? The answer, I would respectfully propose, is a resounding yes.

That's it for us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts next.