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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Romney Surging in Florida; Mississippi Pardon Controversy Continues

Aired January 27, 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: It is 10:00 here on the East Coast. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with the biggest state so far, Florida, deciding on a challenger to President Obama, new polling tonight on that race, new evidence that whatever happens in Florida is probably just the beginning of a long, hot winter for Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

The two traded accusations during the CNN debate last night. And we're "Keeping Them Honest" on a lot of what they said.

First, though, the new polling data out today from Quinnipiac University's latest survey of likely GOP voters in Florida, fascinating stuff. It shows Governor Romney out in front 38 to 29 over Speaker Gingrich, and the speaker's momentum after his South Carolina victory stalling, but 32 percent of those voters said they might change their mind by Tuesday, which is why Floridians targeted by millions of dollars in campaign advertising are about to get a fresh bombardment.

It sounds like a horror movie or a trailer for a horror movie. That's from the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future. It's a trailer for another one of those so-called documentaries, like the one the super PAC ran in South Carolina. Whether it will be any more accurate than the last one is anybody's guess.

What's almost certain is that it's designed to damage Governor Romney both now and further down the road. Despite Romney's momentum in Florida, Gallup's national polling suggests the race could stretch on. It shows Speaker Gingrich maintaining a hefty lead over Romney, 32 to 24 percent, nationwide.

That eight-point gap, in fact, is the widest it's been since primary voting began earlier this month. Now, those numbers can and no doubt will change, but for now, they give the Gingrich camp reason to continue, whatever happens next in Florida, whatever happened last night.

What's happening now in Florida is a Gingrich-Romney brawl over ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Republicans blame for the housing meltdown. It erupted at last night's CNN debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We discovered to our shock, Governor Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that.

Maybe Governor Romney in the spirit of openness should tell us how much money he's made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments that they have made -- we've learned about this as we made our financial disclosure -- have been in mutual funds and bonds. I don't own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We should point out those poll numbers, by the way, were all before last night's debate, so they don't reflect what happened last night.

Speaker Gingrich, you will remember, was a paid contractor for Freddie Mac to the tune of about $1.7 million for his consulting group. And though the contract explicitly said he wasn't acting as a lobbyist, he answered directly to Freddie's chief lobbyist. And several lawmakers claim the former speaker did, in fact, lobby them.

As for Governor Romney's claim that his Freddie investments were part of a blind trust that he had no control over, well, "Keeping Them Honest" that is only partly true.

Take a look at the financial disclosure form he filed with the Federal Election Commission back in August. Right there on page seven, it shows holdings by the W. Mitt Romney IRA, which is not a blind trust, of $100,000 to $250,000 in bonds from FHLMC. That's Freddie Mac.

Also on page seven, there's a similar investment in FNMA, the Federal National Mortgage Association, Fannie Mae. Again, that's money outside of Romney's blind trust.

And last night, Romney spoke of his blind trust almost as a virtue saying it allowed him to -- quote -- "avoid any conflicts of interest."

"Keeping Them Honest," though in 1994, when he was campaigning against Ted Kennedy, he didn't really trust blind trusts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: The blind trust is an age-old ruse, if you will, which is to say, you can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, getting back to today, though, Speaker Gingrich also has some consistency problems. Before last night, he was threatening to boycott any debate like NBC's on Monday that didn't allow audience members to cheer or boo or applaud.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I wish in retrospect I had protested when Brian Williams took them out of it, because I think it was wrong. And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they have done in every debate.

And we're going to serve notice on future debates we won't -- we're just not going to allow that to happen. That's wrong. The media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that was Tuesday.

Today, after CNN's debate, in which there was applause and cheering and booing, his campaign is complaining about the audience.

Senior adviser Kevin Kellems telling The Huffington Post that the Romney campaign -- quote -- "definitely packed the room."

But "Keeping Them Honest," there's simply no evidence of that. First, both Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich got plenty of cheers. Here's a Romney moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: ... is simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long.

And I'm glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I'm glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it, and I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now here's a Gingrich moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I want to control the border. I want English to be the official language of government. I want us to have a lot of changes. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We don't have an applause meter. You can decide for yourself.

As for packing the audience, here's how it worked. Each campaign got 25 seats. The university got 100. The other roughly 1,000 seats were allocated by Florida's Republican Party, which is not aligned with any one candidate.

It distributed tickets to registered Republican voters who are not known to be supporters of any candidate.

Digging deeper now on what the primary picture looks like in Florida and beyond, let's turn to chief national correspondent John King -- John.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, three contests so far, 25 delegates in Iowa, 12 in New Hampshire, 25 in South Carolina.

The biggest prize is Florida. It votes on Tuesday, 50 delegates at stake there. If you look at the polling, the latest polling shows Governor Romney opening a decent lead over Speaker Gingrich. We will see if that holds up in the final days.

And then after Florida, well, where do we go from here? Where we go next is Nevada, 28 delegates at stake when Nevada holds its caucuses on February 4. Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri are next. That's on February 7. The asterisk here because Missouri has a primary on this day. The delegates will actually be awarded a bit later in the process.

But you see what is at stake. Then Maine. Ron Paul was up in Maine today, 21 delegates at stake when Maine holds its caucuses on February 11. Two big primaries end the month, Arizona and Michigan. You see 59 delegates at stake there. This gets you through the end of February. If the race is then going on, wow, March is a huge month, 17 states, plus some U.S. territories, 755 delegates total at play in the month of March.

So we're going to end January in Florida. Arizona and Michigan end February, and then if the race goes on, Anderson, a very, very consequential March.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's going to be fascinating. John, thanks.

Now let's bring in political analysts Gloria Borger and David Gergen. David, Gingrich's performance last night played into the narrative that has plagued him most of his career. When he's good, he's very, very good. And when he's not, he's not.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

It was one of the great mysteries last night, Anderson. And CNN contributors have been doing some reporting. And they tell me that, look, one of the things he did yesterday was he held three events, whereas Romney held one and rested and prepared for the debate.

And from all appearances, Newt Gingrich walked in unprepared, thinking he could wing it. And Romney's team had done a much better organizational job preparing him to stuff him on a couple of things.

And finally Gingrich was getting -- calling around and talking to people and a number of people told him to cool it, don't be so hot. All of that played into the Newt Gingrich of South Carolina disappeared in Florida and lost both debates in effect in the public's mind and I think has contributed to an overwhelming sense now that it's Romney's to lose on Tuesday in Florida. And that's a hugely consequential primary.

COOPER: Gloria, I heard Gingrich on the campaign trail saying -- I read that he had said that he was sort of quieter last night because he was so stunned at the misinformation, the incorrect things that Romney was saying, that he kind of wanted to fact-check it and he was kind of looking down at his feet at times.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's a pretty good explanation and spin from Newt Gingrich.

I have covered Newt Gingrich for a really long time. I covered him when he was speaker of the House. And the thing that strikes me about Gingrich is that he's much more comfortable as a backbencher when he's throwing the bombs than when he has to take a leadership position.

And he went into this debate essentially with a lot of momentum from South Carolina. He's very good at this, he wanted the audience, he wanted to play to the audience, and he was getting the kind of advice, which is, OK, now you're the front-runner. You have to start appealing to a wider swathe, because if you're going to be the nominee, you to have to take it the entire way.

And I think he didn't have much of a strategy. And I think he was uncomfortable for the first time. He seemed really uncomfortable to me. And also don't forget, Mitt Romney had pretty good opposition research on him. So I think he was flummoxed some of the time.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I do think, David, that moment when Wolf Blitzer kind of stood up to him and pushed back on his attempt to kind of turn things on the media, the elite media, as he has done at just about every debate. And then Governor Romney also stepped in. I thought that was kind of interesting and did seem to sort to flummox him. But can he turn it around, David?

GERGEN: I'm not sure he can turn it around in the next three days. He doesn't have the money to spend on television. Romney is overwhelmingly on the airwaves against him.

COOPER: Well, like 3-1, I think.

GERGEN: Yes, it like 3-1.

BORGER: Yes.

GERGEN: And the debates were his best shot.

And for him to show up tired, as he did in the first one, looked tired and he was a little flat earlier in the week, and then to come last night and come last night and to be flat, you know, rather than having a strategy, as Gloria points out, And sort of come in impulsively and change his style, I think left him in a situation where he's very likely to lose on Tuesday.

It's one of the great mysteries of life. Mitt Romney, by contrast, a good organization, changed his debate coach before he came into this week and clearly benefited from it.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Gloria, if Gingrich doesn't win Florida, is there a space on the calendar in the weeks ahead for him to come back into the game?

BORGER: It's very difficult. It will be very difficult. First of all, it's going to be more difficult to raise money. He does have a super PAC sugar daddy, which...

COOPER: By the way, this is the guy who has come back from the dead multiple times.

BORGER: Yes, no, exactly, exactly, exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: But, you know, the states that are coming up that John King pointed out like Nevada, Michigan are very positive towards Mitt Romney. He would be heading into Super Tuesday with a deficit.

And it does get harder to raise money when you're not succeeding on a campaign trail. And I think that would be difficult for him. There is the super PAC, as I said.

But I do think what Gingrich has to do is convince Tea Party voters that he is the conservative who can represent them. And I think Santorum, even though he's not going to win in Florida, still stands in his way on that issue, as we saw in that debate the other night.

And he's also got to convince people, Newt does, that he's the anti-establishment candidate. And that gets more and more difficult when people realize that he spent the last few decades in Washington.

COOPER: Yes.

David Gergen, Gloria, thank you very much. We have got to leave it there.

GERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter tonight @AndersonCooper. I am already tweeting some.

Up next: the hunt for a killer who earned his release by getting to know Mississippi's former Governor Haley Barbour. He was working for the governor in mansion. The governor is speaking out tonight, trying to justify pardoning this guy. You can decide for yourself if you buy it. But he's on the loose. No one knows where he is, and authorities would like to.

Later, we get a rare up-close look inside the battle for Syria, opposition forces getting remarkably close to Damascus, as the government killing escalates. This thing is spiraling out of control very quickly. Our correspondent Arwa Damon is there. We will talk to her.

Let's also check in with Isha -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we have got a follow-up of the Italian cruise ship disaster you simply will not believe.

Remember the cruise line offered survivors a discount on their next voyage? Well, wait until you hear what Costa is now offering passengers as a settlement and the catch that it comes with -- that and more when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Crime & Punishment tonight": There's a killer on the loose, his whereabouts unknown. But Joseph Ozment didn't escape from prison. He was set free by the governor and his record wiped clean, pardoned.

We're talking tonight about the state of Mississippi of course and the outgoing governor's decision to pardon more than 200 felons, including four murderers. The victims' families were outraged. A lot of Mississippians were outraged. Much of the country was basically just puzzled by how this could have happened, especially when it came out that all four killers had earned their pardons because they worked in the governor's mansion.

Tonight on "JOHN KING, USA," former Governor Haley Barbour defended his actions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALEY BARBOUR (R), FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: For decades, our governor's mansion has been served primarily by inmates from the state penal system, almost all murderers, because the experts say people who committed one crime of passion in their life, after they have served 20 years -- and these have served on average 20 years -- are the least likely to ever commit another crime.

That's why they have always been the people who served.

I am comfortable every one of these who were mansion inmates are rehabilitated and have redeemed themselves, and they deserve a second chance.

And that's what we as Christians believe. My wife and I are Christians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, "Keeping Them Honest," though, the experts we have spoken to -- we have had some of them on the program -- say the governor simply doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to this idea of if you committed a crime of passion, if you killed a woman, if you killed your girlfriend or your wife, you're not going to do it again.

Mississippi's attorney general took action to put the pardons on hold. A court ordered the killers to check in with authorities. All of them have, except for one.

More tonight on him from Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joseph Ozment's wanted picture is going up over Desoto County in northwest Mississippi, but this isn't just any place hanging up the picture. It's the Old Road convenience store where Ozment murdered Ricky Montgomery 19 years ago.

MARY MCABEE, VICTIM'S SISTER: To have this relive this is wrong.

LAVANDERA: Mary McAbee can't bring herself to step foot inside where her brother was killed. The thought of her brother's killer walking free and pardoned is pure anguish.

MCABEE: I'm fearful. At this point, you have a cold-blooded murderer. In my opinion, he's a cold blooded murderer to do what he's done. And if he thinks that he may have to go back to prison, what has he got to lose? Where is he? What is he doing?

LAVANDERA: Only Ozment's family seems to know what he's doing now. But on a December night in 1992, he and a group of friends planned to rob a convenience store to get some Christmas money. (on camera): This is Joseph Ozment's confession. He admits coming into this store with a friend, came over to this freezer, grabbed a beer. When his friend walked in, he immediately shot Ricky Montgomery three times.

And as Ozment was walking out of the store, he saw Ricky Montgomery crawling across the floor toward him. He looked own, shot him twice in the head. And he admits that he shot him because he didn't want Ricky Montgomery to be able to identify him. And he did all of this so that his take in this crime could be between $50 and $60.

MCABEE: He said he was begging for help. You can't imagine how that feels.

LAVANDERA (on camera): He was begging Ozment?

MCABEE: And then for him to shoot him in the head, to know that he was all alone, that's the worst thing to know that you can't help somebody that you love.

LAVANDERA: This is the courthouse where Ozment pled guilty.

JOHN CHAMPION, PROSECUTOR: This is the courthouse. He pled guilty right up on the second floor there.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ozment's murder case was John Champion's first case. Prosecutors needed Ozment's testimony against the second killer, so they spared Ozment from the death penalty in exchange for his testimony.

CHAMPION: Ozment already proved he can't live in our society by our rules. And he committed the ultimate act of taking someone's life, so, no, he should never have been out.

LAVANDERA: Do you think he could do this again?

CHAMPION: I certainly think he's capable of it. He's proven he could do it once.

LAVANDERA: The last time Mississippi authorities saw Joseph Ozment, he walked off the grounds of the governor's mansion, his mother picked him up and drove off. They believe he's on the run and hiding out somewhere on these backcountry roads of northwest Mississippi or near Memphis.

JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: He's avoiding service. His mother knows it. All of their relatives know it. We have been to their houses knocking on doors.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Know where he is? I mean, are they cooperating?

LAVANDERA: Well, according to the attorney general, they have been able to make contact with several of the relatives, and they haven't been able to get anywhere with that part of the search.

And, obviously, people around here in northwest Mississippi have their eyes out for him. His picture has gone up. They have heard so much about this case over the last three weeks. We got a lead on what we believe was a relative of Joseph Ozment today. We went and knocked on the door and someone peered through the window and then refused to open the door.

So, everything things to be kind of hitting dead ends at this point. And as someone around here said, look, this guy's got a pardon, a piece of paper that says he's a pardoned criminal. He could be getting a passport and on his way traveling the world, if he wishes.

COOPER: Ed Lavandera, appreciate it. We will continue following it.

Just ahead: new signs that the situation is serious, getting worse, the death toll surging, the resistance digging in -- what a CNN crew found when it traveled just a short distance outs Damascus today, some pretty surprising stuff.

Also ahead, Costa cruise line makes a settlement offer to passengers who survived the shipwreck off of Italy's coast. It also gets slapped with a big lawsuit -- the latest on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In Syria, disturbing signs that things could be spinning out of control.

According to an opposition activist group, Syrian soldiers and security forces have killed 135 people over just the last two days, including 18 children and eight women. Now, of course CNN can't independently confirm the report and we can't verify the video that you're about to see either.

But we got to warn you, the images are extremely hard to look at. You may want to turn away, but again this is what is happening. Activists say at least eight members of a family, the same family shown here, were killed. All but three of them were children.

You can see six of the bodies in body bags. The video was purported shot in Homs, where most of the killings were reported.

The violence in Syria has become so widespread and hard to track, the United Nations has stopped counting the dead, its last official death toll more than 5,000.

Now, today,a CNN crew drove from central Damascus to a town just outside the capital. They had to pass through a checkpoint. It wasn't manned though by the Syrian regime, by the Syrian military. It was manned by the so-called Free Syrian Army, a resistance group that claims to now have control of an area outside Damascus.

Here's Arwa Damon. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Follow us," the armed and masked men say.

They are members of the Free Syrian Army. A group of us journalists had banded together to see how far we could get. We had heard of a funeral in the neighborhood of Sukbah (ph). Few expected the Free Syrian Army to also control this much territory around it.

(on camera): We're hardly a 15-minute drive from the heart of Damascus, and you can see the scene here. No one stopped us on our way and this area seems to be in control of the Free Syrian Army, at least for now.

(voice-over): The activist in our car points out the Free Syrian Army fighting positions. At the main square amid calls for the fall of the regime and Bashar's execution, the Free Syrian Army fighters are hailed as heroes.

(on camera): We are constantly getting mobbed by people who want to show us the various bullet holes in the buildings. This man is saying that up there, that's where a rocket hit and then they have managed to fix that, repair that for now. But everybody's coming, really wanting to get the story out, wanting their perspective to be seen and heard, and wanting people to understand what it is that they're going through, because they say all that they're asking for is freedom.

(voice-over): All of a sudden, chaos. Rumor that the security forces are coming causes mass panic. Everyone here knows firsthand what that means.

It is a false alarm, but we hear government forces have the area encircled.

"Is there anything up ahead?" we ask these men at a checkpoint. They say there are clashes and point us in another direction. That way is also blocked, a sniper up ahead. We could hear gunshots in the distance and scramble away. A small group of activists takes us down back routes. The government may control the heart of Damascus, but it's losing more ground by the day in the restive outskirts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Arwa Damon joins me now from Damascus.

Arwa, you were saying you were shocked to see checkpoints run by the Free Syrian Army, which is an opposition group made up mainly of defectors from Assad's forces so close to Damascus.

DAMON: Yes, we were. And we were quite surprised that it was literally less than a minute after we veered off one of the main highways that we came across the first checkpoint.

What we have been seeing is that the Free Syrian Army appears to be growing and gaining more and more territory. They are not perhaps in full control of these particular areas, but then again neither, it would seem, is the government.

If look to other cities like the flash point city of Homs, they're in control of huge chunks of that city. When we were there with the government a few days ago, there was only one neighborhood that they felt it was safe enough for us to be able to get out of the bus and begin filming it.

COOPER: So how strong is this Free Syrian Army? Because a few months ago, it seemed like it was just a random group of defectors here and there. And where are they getting their weapons from?

DAMON: Well, the numbers are a bit all over the place. Some estimates will go as high as 50,000. Others will say it's 10,000.

They are made up, as you say, mostly of defectors, but the group that we came across today, they had civilians amongst them as well who decided to pick up and join the Free Syrian Army's ranks. And, if you will remember, everyone here has military experience because everyone has to go through a few years of obligatory military duty.

The weapons, we're being told, when they defect, they take weapons with them. Sometimes, they're able to buy weapons off of other soldiers. And they were also saying that when clashes take place, sometimes the Syrian forces leave weaponry behind.

And then of course you have the issue of weapons being smuggled across the various porous borders.

COOPER: You make the point that the opposition to the regime is not one group, but fractured into many sides, and that a genie has been let out of the bottle in Syria. Explain that.

DAMON: The dynamics here are so incredible complex. And the great concern is that neither side really has full control over the situation.

The government is trying to maintain this firm stance, but we keep seeing chunks of territory spiraling out of its control. The opposition is fractured on every single level, Anderson. The street, which is the engine behind this entire movement, operates independently of the organizations that are outside of the country, like the Syrian National Council.

Add to that even the street-level activists sometimes do not necessarily operate as one cohesive unit. Plus, you have the factor of these fringe extremist elements that completely have their own agenda. You have these undertones of sectarian violence emerge in places liked Homs.

And when you look at this entire picture, it most certainly seems as if the country is on a collision course towards some sort of sectarian or civil war.

COOPER: Yes. Entering some difficult days ahead. No doubt about it. Arwa Damon, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Well, ahead on the program tonight, outrage over all the animals left behind in the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster. They've been fending for themselves in this no-man's land. It was evacuated almost a year ago. Our correspondent goes in to see how the animals are doing.

First, Isha joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, some of the passengers who were in the cruise ship that crashed off Italy's coast have filed a lawsuit against the ship's operators. Sixteen people died, and 16 are missing.

Meantime, Costa Cruise is offering payments of $14,000 each to survivors who were not hurt. Accepting the settlement means they cannot sue.

A federal judge sentenced Colton Harris Moore to six and a half years in prison for the infamous string of thefts and burglaries that earned him the nickname. The Barefoot Bandit, Harris Moore, is already serving more than seven years on charges 16 years in prison. The sentences will run concurrently.

A grassroots group is pushing to have a site of two levee breaches in New Orleans placed on the national register of historic places. The industrial canal flooded near the Lower Fifth Ward in Hurricane Katrina. And the 17th Street Levee broke in the storm's aftermath.

And, Anderson, it is time to get your cocoa fix on. It is National Chocolate Cake Day. Some of us thought that every day is chocolate cake day, but apparently, we stand corrected.

COOPER: Yes. Every day should be chocolate cake day.

SESAY: I say by the power invested in me as a foreigner, every day.

COOPER: Time now for "The Shot." On my daytime talk show, we did something called Anderson's mystery guest. Actually, today was the day we did it for the time. I have to guess who's behind the screen by listening to their voice.

Today I was so excited, this was the first time we did it. I was almost floored, I mean that literally. I almost fell down when I jumped on a table. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have an article of clothing in the Smithsonian Institute.

COOPER: Oh, my God. Holy -- is it Fonzie? Oh, wow. Oh, my God! This is so exciting. I'm so excited. Oh, my God.

You sit here.

Yes.

Wow. OK. You have no idea.

Henry Winkler, I am such a fan of Henry Winkler's. This is a man who has accomplished so much in his career.

First of all, as a child, I was obsessed with the Fonz. Obsessed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I was so obsessed. I was -- I had Fonzie sheets. I went as Fonzie for Halloween. No one told me you're not supposed to put Vaseline in your hair. So when I first went as Fonzie for Halloween, I had Vaseline in my hair. I couldn't get it out for weeks. I was mocked in school. I was so obsessed with Fonzie. For me, it was very exciting for me, obviously. I'm a dork.

SESAY: Can you do the -- do the Fonz thing. The hey.

COOPER: What?

SESAY: Fonz did that. Everyone in CNN can hear it all day.

COOPER: Is this some horrible, like, British version of the Fonz? Where he went, like, "Hey!"

SESAY: Do the move. You know the move.

COOPER: I have no idea what you're talking about.

SESAY: Whatever. You almost fell, OK?

COOPER: I love to watch her trying to do the Fonz. I'm going to enjoy that. Give me a little bit more Fonzie. Just a little more Fonzie.

SESAY: Hey!

COOPER: What is that?

SESAY: Whatever.

COOPER: Hey.

SESAY: Really?

COOPER: "Hello, mate. Cheerio, I am the Fonz." Is that how it went?

SESAY: I give up officially. I give up.

COOPER: That's how it went, I think.

SESAY: You don't know how to do it. That's what this is really about.

COOPER: You can't -- you can't challenge me on my Fonz knowledge. I know everything about the Fonz.

Anyway, he was lovely. He's a lovely gentleman, and it was great to have him on the program.

Isha, we'll check back with you a little bit later up. Coming up we have a story by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and it's part of a longer report that he's done. And it's really extraordinary, because if you played a contact sport when you were in school or if your child is currently playing a contact sport. You really need to see this report about how football head injuries are harming, even killing young players. And even just the dangers of a concussion.

I got concussions when I was in college playing sports. It's really an eye-opening report. That's going to be later tonight on this program.

Also ahead, after Japan's nuclear disaster, thousands of animals were left behind in that contamination zone, the evacuation zone. We actually -- our correspondent ventured into the zone to see what's happened nearly one year later. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: When the Giants and the Patriots take the field in this year's Super Bowl, they're going to no doubt hit each other as hard as they possibly can. The odds are high that some could suffer concussion.

It's long been considered an occupational hazard. But the NFL is now facing 25 lawsuits filed by former NFL players and their families. Five hundred plaintiffs in all, all claiming the NFL deliberately downplayed the dangers of concussions for decades, despite knowing the risks. These are former players who are living and, in some cases, dying with brain damage.

But it's not just pro football that's risky. There are more than 3.5 million sports-related concussions each year in the United States. The average high school football player gets 650 hits to the head each season. New research is showing the devastating toll those repeated blows to the head can take on players' brains.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been investigating. What he found is incredibly disturbing. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The ironic thing is that Nathan didn't start football until he was in seventh grade because he didn't want to get hurt. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was October 28, 2010, the last game of his senior year, the best game of his career. He ran for two touchdowns, 165 yards, in just the first two quarters.

And then two minutes before halftime, he walked off the field, screamed that his head hurt, and he collapsed. Nathan died early the next morning. Nathan died of second impact syndrome.

Earlier in the month, in a homecoming game, he got a concussion. Everyone, including Nathan's doctor, thought it had healed.

(on camera) Are you angry at all, Ron?

RON STILES, FATHER OF NATHAN: I was just -- I was just here in shock.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn't look at this book for a long time.

STILES: I know.

GUPTA (voice-over): The Stiles would find meaning in Nathan's tragic death because of this woman.

DR. ANN MCKEE, RUNS BRAIN BANK: I think the last time you were here we had maybe five brains. And now we're up to, we're in the '90s.

GUPTA: Dr. Ann McKee runs the world's largest brain bank. It's a joint project between the Veterans Administration and Boston University. I first met her several years ago when she began finding evidence in the brains of deceased NFL players of unnatural tau protein deposits. Those are the same kinds of proteins found in Alzheimer's patients.

It's called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It's a progressive degenerative disease which leads to dementia and Alzheimer's-like symptoms. But the difference is, these symptoms are usually found in people in their 80s, not their 40s.

(on camera) What we're seeing here, is this definitely caused by blows to the head?

MCKEE: It's never been seen in any reported case except in the case of repeated blows to the head.

GUPTA (voice-over): That's exactly what the Stiles wanted to know when they donated Nathan's brain to McKee's center. Did repeated blows to the brain cause that kind of damage in young Nathan's brain? And the answer was yes. Under the microscope...

(on camera) That's really obvious, Dr. McKee.

GUPTA (voice-over): ... we saw tell-tale signs of tau protein.

(on camera) Did this surprise you? MCKEE: Yes, it definitely did. It can start very early.

GUPTA: Amazing.

MCKEE: Yes.

GUPTA: Seventeen years old.

MCKEE: Seventeen.

GUPTA (voice-over): And for the first time, Dr. McKee is about to show Nathan's parents what she found.

MCKEE: Hi. Ann McKee, how are you doing?

GUPTA: Nothing Ann McKee is about to tell him will bring Nathan back.

MCKEE: This is looking at it under the microscope and seeing all those dark brown...

GUPTA: But the Stiles hope that this rare gift will teach us more about brain concussions than we've ever known before.

STILES: We have all the confidence in the world there's something to be learned from it, this is the right place to do just that.

MCKEE: I think it want it to be my life's mission to make sure that this doesn't happen to other kids.

GUPTA: McKee knows how much more vulnerable these young kids may be.

When the young developing brain is hit during football, no matter how hard, the brain is rocked. It's like an egg inside a shell. It stretches. The delicate fibers pull. Fluids violently slosh around the brain, trying to absorb the blow.

MCKEE: Youth are at risk for any changes in that fluid balance, and they might not be able to handle it as well.

GUPTA (on camera): Sounds like you're saying they're more at risk than adults?

MCKEE: Oh, absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Sanjay, that kind of brain damage in a 17-year-old athlete is shocking. How common is it for football players to get that kind of injury?

GUPTA: Well, you know, the way things stand now, Anderson, the only way this can be diagnosed, this particular process, is after someone has died. So what this lab is doing, this is brand-new science, Anderson. It's emerging now. They've looked at about 100 brains, and they saw these types of changes in 57 of them. So more than half of them had these changes. Again, Alzheimer's-like changes in very young brains.

The one -- the sad story of Nathan Stiles, the one you just saw there in that piece, Anderson, he was just 17 years old. And that was the youngest they've ever seen this in. But there have been five players under the age of 30. So it's quite dramatic to see it in people that young, Anderson.

COOPER: It's so brave for his parents to, you know, to try to -- want to help others and allow science to kind of learn from their loss, from their son.

You say that helmets may be giving players, especially high school players, a false sense of security. They don't actually prevent against concussions. How can that be?

GUPTA: You really have to understand that -- what happens during a concussion. So a helmet can provide a pretty good protection to the skull overall. But the problem is, Anderson, you take a look at this animation here, you see what happens during a concussion. The brain is moving fast, and then all of a sudden it stops. And as a result, the brain sort of rocks back and forth within the skull. You see that?

So the helmet can't stop that movement of the brain within the skull. And that's a misconception that needs to be corrected. Because people say we just need to get better helmets. That alone won't do it, Anderson.

COOPER: And we talked about these 500 plaintiffs, former NFL players, their families suing the NFL over concussions. Are they blaming the league for not doing enough to protect them?

GUPTA: The best -- the best way I can sort of piece this together, and I talked to some of the lawyers and looking at the complaint, is they're -- basically, they're saying, look, the NFL knew some time ago, even, you know, several years ago, tens of years ago, that there was a problem in terms of football causing these concussions and those concussions having long-term effects. So it's really become a question of who knew what and when did they know it.

That's hard to prove. As I mentioned, some of the science, specifically with regard to the brain, is emerging right now. The plaintiffs say, look, since the 1920s, really, we've known the impact of these -- long-term impact of these hits to the brain.

So I don't know where this goes exactly, Anderson. But that seems to be the sort of crux of the lawsuit.

COOPER: I think it's so important, especially for young people, because you know, when you're in school, you want to be in sports. And I remember getting a concussion in college and not thinking anything of it. And I just think it's so important to get that information out there. Sanjay, appreciate you doing that. And you can watch Sanjay's report, "Big Hits, Broken Dreams" this Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Really important stuff.

Coming up tonight, inside Japan's exclusion zone where tens of thousands of people were evacuated after nuclear disaster. But animals, a lot of animals, their pets, were left behind. We're going to take you into the exclusion zone and show you what's being done for those animals nearly a year later. They're still there.

Also ahead, the 911 call from the night that Demi Moore was taken to the hospital.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Now a "360 Follow-up." The animals left behind in the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster. Nearly a year ago, tens of thousands of people, you'll remember, were evacuated from about a 12- mile area near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after the plant was severely damaged in the earthquake and tsunami.

Now the only signs of life in the area are the abandoned animals. They're still there. The radiation levels are still high. But CNN was allowed inside the zone with an animal rescue group.

Here's CNN's Kyung Lah and her report. And a warning: some of the pictures you're going to see are disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What strikes you first is what you can't see, the people, gone almost an entire year. Time has stood still, except for the animals.

(on camera) Something that you see all over this area is there's livestock. These are animals that have been abandoned for almost a year now.

(voice-over) A scene repeated across the exclusion zone throughout these small farming towns: cows, ostriches, domesticated cats and dogs, now running wild, who managed to stay alive in desperate conditions. The remains of those who haven't litter the region.

Animal rights group United Kennel Club Japan found this female puppy about six weeks old dead from apparent disease. "Poor dog," says a volunteer. The group came into the exclusion zone last month with the government's permission to rescue strays.

Then a sound from the back of the house. Another dog is alive. A puppy. And moments later, they find the mother. Rescuers cage the traumatized dogs and carry out the dead puppy. The dogs, two surviving puppies and the mother, are now out of the exclusion zone in the UKC shelter.

(on camera) Can you believe almost a year after this disaster there's still stray animals all over this area? "It's shameful," says Yetsu Norimotso (ph). "We kept asking the government to rescue these animals from the beginning of the disaster." He adds that there must have been a way to rescue the people and the animals at the same time.

Japan's environmental agency tells CNN it wants to rescue as many livestock and animals as it can, but it's chosen to take a prudent attitude because of the risk to humans in the contaminated area.

This shelter is now home to 350 cats and dogs, all from the exclusion zone, the survivors. But now the next challenge. UKC has tracked down almost all the owners who can't care for them, since the residents, victims of the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, remain homeless themselves.

KYUNG LAH, CNN, from inside the exclusion zone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay. Back to Anderson in a moment. First a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

The 911 call seeking help for actress Demi Moore has been released. She was rushed to a hospital Monday night in Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need an ambulance here as soon as possible, please. Why is an ambulance not on its way right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is she awake?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, well, semiconscious, barely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Is she breathing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is she breathing? Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Did she overdose on...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's convulsing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: A spokesman says Moore is being treated for exhaustion but has not responded to reports that substance abuse is involved.

Today, a judge in Connecticut sentenced 31-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky to death. He was convicted of murdering Jennifer Hawke- Petit and her two daughters during a violent home invasion in 2007.

And the Food and Drug Administration detained nine orange juice shipments from Canada and Brazil after they tested positive for low levels of a pesticide banned in the U.S.

That's the latest -- Anderson. COOPER: Isha, thanks.

Coming up, Pat Sajak says he used to host "Wheel of Fortune" drunk? And Vanna White was his margarita buddy. "The RidicuList" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList," and tonight, we're adding "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak's recent confession. On the ESPN 2 show called "Dan Lebitard is Highly Questionable," Pat Sajak admitted that back in the day the wheel wasn't the only thing spinning on his game show. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN LEBITARD, HOST, ESPN 2'S "DAN LEBITARD IS HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE": Have you ever done "Wheel of Fortune" a little bit drunk?

PAT SAJAK, HOST, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE": Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. He's talking about a long time ago, the early days of the show. It's a lot different than the "Wheel of Fortune" you see nowadays.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAJAK: We had a different show then. You didn't win money. You won -- you won fake money with which you could buy cheesy prizes. A turntable would go round, and the housewives from Teaneck would say, "For $100, I'll have the lamp. No, I'll have" -- it was the most boring two minutes in television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I've got to stop him there, because I beg to differ. That part where they chose the prizes, that was TV gold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For $584, I'd like the handbag and stars (ph) package.

SAJAK: All right. I said $19. It was 900, excuse me. You have $392 left.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, for $245, I'd like the ladies shoes.

SAJAK: All right, still $147.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For 85, I'd like the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) prizes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Ah, the Eighties.

So as it turns out, the old format of the show had a lot to do with Pat Sajak's revelation that he and Vanna White knocked back a couple of cocktails.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAJAK: Because we all those prizes, we had endless time between shows. Our dinner breaks would be 2 1/2 hours long while they drove in new cars and boats and gazebos and stuff.

So we had -- at NBC and Burbank, we had a place called Los Arcos across the street, which is Spanish, as you know, for "the arcos." And we go, and they serve great margaritas. So we would go, Vanna and I would go across and have two or three or six and then come and do the last shows and have trouble recognizing the alphabet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK, I need to buy a vowel, because OMG, Pat and Vanna always seemed so composed, so professional. It's hard to believe that they were ever bombed on margaritas on "Wheel of Fortune."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAJAK: Welcome to "Wheel of Fortune." Nice to have you with us. All the vehicles moved out now. It's time to produce -- produce -- boy, lucky this is my last show. Here's Vanna White, ladies and gentlemen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There's no way Vanna could twirl like that and then turn all the letters if she was tanked on tequila. And Pat Sajak just stumbled over his words a little. It happens to everyone. I do it all the time. If they were actually drunk, all sorts of weird things would have happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAJAK: We have about 15 seconds left. I don't know. Come here, baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: For the record, Pat Sajak has since clarified, saying he may have exaggerated a bit, and he says he's too old now to even entertain such an idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAJAK: I would be hesitant to have anything to drink right now. Although I'm hammered at this moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I'd say more, but I'm going to see if I can get a game of beer pong going. I'm thinking Pat Sajak, Alex Trebek versus me and Chuck Woolery. Now that's a game show on "The RidicuList."

That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.