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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Barbara Walters Retiring; President Obama Pushes Gun Control

Aired March 28, 2013 - 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 a lot happening tonight, word that Barbara Walters may soon be retiring.

President Obama laying down the gauntlet on gun control.

Nelson Mandela is seriously ill and back in the hospital.

Also tonight in South Africa, the so-called Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius, he killed his girlfriend, he is charged with her murder. He's already out on bail. You know that. But now he gets a slew of new freedoms. We will explain.

And later tonight, go diving with deadly Nile crocodiles. I went in search of the crocodiles with two daring filmmakers in Botswana. We're going to show you what it's like to come face-to-face underwater with these extraordinary prehistoric creatures underwater.

We begin though tonight with new revelations in the Sandy Hook killings that claimed the lives of 20 young students and six brave educators. Now, we should mention that we do as much as we can on this program to honor the lives of those children and those educators and as little as possible to give their killer any kind of attention at all.

We don't even mention his name because we don't history to remember his name. We want history to remember the names of those teachers and those children. But tonight there is new information about the killer that has a bearing on the story and to some changes in gun policy now being discussed. With that in mind, authorities under pressure from the families released new documents today showing that the killer had an arsenal, more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition in the home he shared with the mother who became his first victim. He killed her with a .22.

They also found two rifles, a handgun, a BB gun, three samurai swords, a bayonet and seven other knives, in his rooms, photos of dead bodies and an article about the 2008 school shooting that left five students dead in Northern Illinois, also in the home, a Christmas card with a check written out by his mother earmarked for yet another firearm.

In addition to the inventory at home, other documents revealed that 154 spent casings were found at Sandy Hook Elementary from that Bushmaster military-style rifle that he used to kill all 26 people there, 26 dead in less than five minutes. The shooter carried nine 30-round magazines. Police also recovered a loaded shotgun from his car and nearly six dozen 12-gauge shells. With that as a backdrop, Newtown parents and survivors of other school tragedies gathered today at the White House, the president declaring this is the moment for Congress to act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is our best chance in more than a decade to take commonsense steps that will save lives. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we have forgotten them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Congress debating a number of gun control measures.

The president underscored how uncontroversial he believes they are. New polling from CBS News shows 90 percent want federal legislation requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers. That's largely a nonpartisan view, according to the poll, support from 96 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of independents and 86 percent of Republicans.

However, that same polling shows more general support for stricter gun laws fading since Newtown, with 47 percent now favoring tougher legislation, which is down 10 percentage points from December, shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy.

So there's mixed messages there.

Let's talk about it with Democratic strategist and former Obama 2012 pollster Cornell Belcher. Also want to welcome Emily Miller to 360. She's senior opinion editor at "The Washington Times."

Emily, what do you make of President Obama saying shame on us if we have forgotten Newtown?

EMILY MILLER, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": I would say the only person that should be ashamed is President Obama. We haven't heard him talk about gun control in weeks, and suddenly on the day which everyone knew in advance that Connecticut was releasing all this information about what happened at Sandy Hook, he suddenly has a press conference at the White House and starts calling for more of his political agenda.

It's just -- I think it's disgusting. That's what he's been pushing for since before he got reelected and he is going to continue to push for it.

COOPER: Cornell, what about that? Emily is saying shame on the president.

CORNELL BELCHER, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: Same on the president for wanting to protect Americans. Shame on the president for calling for commonsense solutions on guns that 91 percent of Americans support.

Shame really here should be on those who stand in the way of this. I mean, look, these high-capacity clips, background checks, we have a moral obligation to try to protect -- you know, there's no perfect law. However, if we can keep guns out of the hands of one crazy person, don't we have the moral obligation to do that?

So I think there's some shame to go around, but it's not on the president. It's the people who are trying to stand in way of commonsense solutions that 91 percent of Americans want. Hey, that's not bipartisan when 91 percent want it. It's not a red state or a blue state issue when 91 percent of Americans want something.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Well, Cornell, you did say 91 percent several times.

Let's be clear about what you're talking about. If you're talking about more gun control laws, only 26 percent of registered voters want more gun control laws. What you're specifically talking about is the so-called universal background checks. That is what the president wants and I do think that, you know, Republicans, people on both sides of the aisle want to strengthen the background checks.

We have in place laws, all of which, you know, this horrible killer -- as Anderson said, let's not even mention his name -- in Newtown committed, he had broke all these laws. We have laws against someone who is mentally ill carrying a gun, laws against someone who is a felon -- that case wouldn't apply to him -- someone under 18. We have laws in place.

The problem is two major problems. One is that these mental health records are not being put into NICS, the federal background, FBI's federal background check. NICS results are not being put into the system, so people aren't getting caught. Also, criminals don't buy their guns from dealers who do NICS checks. You can do a -- you can background check the world. You can background check your mom and dad, but the criminals aren't getting their guns that way.

They're buying them on the streets -- 80 percent -- according to the Justice Department, 80 percent of criminals bought their guns either on the streets or stole them from their friends and family. They're not going through background checks. I think it would be hard to believe that someone is going to be buying, selling or stealing a gun off the street, the seller is going to stop and pick up the cell phone, call the FBI and do a background check.

BELCHER: So, am I understanding that now you are supporting us closing the loopholes in gun shows and you're supporting closing us loopholes that allow these people to buy guns and...

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Let me ask you a question.

(CROSSTALK) BELCHER: Are you now supporting -- no, you talked for awhile. Let me just ask a couple questions. Now you're supporting that. You're supporting that.

Or what you're saying is really we don't need any more gun laws whatsoever, what we are having right now is just fine, that the vast majority of Americans right now just have to grin and bear it and take tragedy after tragedy, so that a few people can do whatever they want -- whenever they want with guns, the rest of us just have to sort of grin and bear it?

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: I don't think -- I think that's selfish. I don't think that's reasonable. And I know it's politically not tenable.

COOPER: Emily, when you talk about strengthening background checks and you say there are a lot of Republicans who agree they should be strengthened, what you're saying, though, is strengthening existing ones, more prosecutions of people who have lied on background checks, making sure states report information more than they currently are.

But do you support any further increasing of background checks to cover all sales or private sales or some private sales?

MILLER: Well, Anderson, I just want to clarify, because Cornell asked me a question. And I want to respond to it. He asked me if I favor closing the gun show loophole.

And I just want to -- since we both seem to be hijacking your show right now, I want to ask Cornell how many percentage of people get their guns through gun shows. Does he know the answer to that?

BELCHER: You know what? I don't care how many percentage of people get their guns at gun shows.

MILLER: So you don't know the answer.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: If one person gets a gun through a loophole and they kill somebody, you know what? That's enough for me.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: You're operating off some sort of -- this sort of world view which President Obama has that we pass laws based on helping one person. If we do that, we will have to pass a lot of laws, because a lot of people die of one person.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: So we shouldn't try to save one life?

(CROSSTALK) MILLER: Let me finish.

We are universally human beings who care, who want to keep our kids safe, who want to stop criminals on the streets. We all have been victims of crimes. We all want to protect ourselves. That is universal. How we go through it has got to be done by policy. And it's got to be done by fact.

There has been one major study by the government, it's done by the CDC, it's a two-year study looked at every gun law, state, local and federal level. It concluded -- and the CDC is obviously not a pro-gun organization -- in fact, it's the opposite -- it concluded there has never been one single law on the books at any level that has reduced crime or has stopped any kind of mass shooting.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Wait, wait.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Emily, let me just jump in here.

There are background checks in place and those background checks have stopped criminals from getting guns. We know it has stopped convicted felons. We know people have been rejected on those background checks.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: We know people who have been rejected.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: How can you say that hasn't had any impact? You can't study a crime that didn't occur.

MILLER: Let's go back to what happened today at the White House. The president has called for a lot of things. He has spent three months exploiting this horrific tragedy and now he's calling for this -- quote -- "universal background check."

The reason he is is because he wants universal registration. He wants to know who owns guns, where they are and everyone who owns them. That's not according to Emily Miller.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Stop.

You just made a jump in logic.

Cornell, let me ask you about this jump in logic that she just made, because do you believe the president, that anybody who wants to expand background checks to cover private sales, gun show sales, however small those gun show sales may be, wants automatically every gun to be registered in this country? I don't see the two are equated.

BELCHER: No. I think that's a conspiracy theory leap.

And, unfortunately, all the people who want guns aren't Emily because if they were, we wouldn't have these mass tragedies that we see almost weekly right now. We wouldn't be, you know, in this studio 10 minutes away from southeast D.C., where these people are reminded of the ravages of gun violence.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Even though it is against the law in D.C. to bring a gun out of the home.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: It is against the law. And you know what they do?

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Emily, they're not getting their guns from D.C. That's the problem.

MILLER: Yes, they are.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: No, they're not getting their guns from D.C.

MILLER: How do you know that, Cornell?

BELCHER: Just -- well, just like people in New York, there is a...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We know that because Mayor Bloomberg and the chief of police in New York City will tell you there is a pipeline of guns coming into the city from Southern states.

MILLER: Mayor Bloomberg makes this stuff up.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You're saying the chief of police is making up where the handguns in his city come from?

MILLER: I absolutely believe the liberal chiefs of police in this country who are not elected, like the sheriffs are, have an agenda.

That's why they support all this stuff. You talk to the elected sheriffs in this country, they do not want more enforcement because they know they're not going to waste their time going after the law- abiders.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You're saying that people who are elected sheriffs don't have an agenda, that they don't need to kowtow and stuff to voters in order to get reelected?

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: ... big city mayors? Absolutely.

COOPER: The thing I don't understand -- and I have asked the NRA this -- and I don't take a position on this. It's not my job. I'm not Piers Morgan here. I'm not trying to push an agenda.

MILLER: Thank God.

COOPER: But the thing I do not understand is if background checks have prevented some felons, some domestic abusers, some people who have been convicted of crimes in the past, has prevented them from getting guns because they have lied on their background checks and they have been caught, and we know the statistics on that, it has done that, why not expand them to prevent more people like them from getting guns?

That's what I just don't understand.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: OK. This is how I will explain it to you. There are some practical issues involved that we're not thinking about.

These 28 percent or so people who don't buy their guns, you know, through the firearms dealers, who use the background check, again, it's between friends and family. So what we're going to have to do is pass some sort of law which requires them to then either go to the gun store and have this done or, you know, somehow, I don't know how they're going to do this. We don't know logistically how that's going to work out.

How will you enforce it? We don't know who owns guns. We don't know who is exchanging guns. If someone has intent to commit a crime, you really think they're going to ask their uncle for a gun, that they're then going to go to a store and get an FBI background check if they're not legally supposed to be having one?

Let's say tomorrow we said, we Congress, we, Congress -- let's say Congress said tomorrow somehow this got passed, which it's not going to, but let's say somehow Congress passed a law that says any time you transfer a firearm in this country, you have to call the FBI and get a background check.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You know what? We have somehow figured out how to do it with cars. You could probably figure out how to do it with guns. I don't really know how the car system works. But you know what? It seems to work. I'm buying a car right now. And you know what? It's a pain in the butt, but you got to do it. Somehow, that works.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Anderson, if you were going to take the car to do a drug deal to steal the car, you're sure not going to the DMV first, number one.

Number two, driving is a privilege. Owning a firearm is a right. The government does not have to be in the middle of it because our founding fathers gave us the right to keep and bear arms.

COOPER: Emily Miller, it's great to have your voice on the program. Thanks for being with us, Cornell Belcher as well.

Let us know what you think about this debate. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper.

Coming up next, the world is holding its breath hoping Nelson Mandela will be OK. He's in the hospital again. We will tell you why, the latest on his condition.

Also in South Africa, the Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius, charged with murder, now free to roam the world. Whatever happened to don't leave town? Why he gets to leave the country.

Also, my visit, my very careful visit dropping in on crocodiles where they live and feed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Oscar Pistorius, the so-called Blade Runner, who is charged in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, already free on bail, is now free to leave South Africa, free to travel overseas. The judge making that decision also allowed him to drink again and, if he wants, to return to the scene of the crime, his house.

Plenty of people not familiar with the South African legal system might be asking why an alleged murderer or an accused murder not only gets bail, but also the official go-ahead to possibly travel beyond the reach of justice.

Our Drew Griffin joins us to explain the why and the how of it all -- Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is a head scratcher. This guy is charged with murder and awaiting trial, but this decision seems to be based on one question. Is Oscar Pistorius a flight risk?

What his attorneys argued is that he's already out of jail, already allowed to live in his uncle's house while he awaits trial. He has already been determined not to be a flight risk, so they say why put any restrictions on him at all?

And they argue that in order for Oscar to actually make a living, perhaps to afford legal defense, he does need to travel internationally to compete in meets. Well, the judge today agreed with that. Here is what Judge Bert Bam had to say in court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE BERT BAM, SOUTH AFRICA: I could find no reason why the defendant should be forbidden to leave the Republic of South Africa if invited to compete in athletic events in other countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Oscar Pistorius was not in court, Anderson, but the judge did place some restrictions on that travel. Pistorius will need to file an itinerary with the court a week in advance. He's going to have to surrender his passport within a day after returning to South Africa, but as you alluded to, there's more leniency in this bail.

He can drink alcohol now and yes, he can return to the very house where he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day.

COOPER: This victim, it's important not to forget her in all of this, nor her family. Was Reeva Steenkamp's family in court? Did they object publicly to any of this?

GRIFFIN: True to their word, Anderson, they weren't in court and they won't comment, they say, on these particular court issues and events that have been coming up from time to time.

We did get in touch with Mike Steenkamp. He's Reeva's uncle, sort of the spokesperson for the family. He confirmed there wouldn't be a comment on the court proceedings, except to say this. "We're feeling a little bit lost about that."

But he did want to tell us this about Reeva. "This is the time of year we are missing Reeva so much. It's close to Easter and she used to spend every Easter with us."

Mike Steenkamp told us that the family early on, Anderson, they made a collective decision never to be in court for any of the proceedings, including the eventual murder trial of Oscar Pistorius.

COOPER: It's so interesting that they're not even going to be in court for the trial, they say.

Drew, appreciate the reporting.

For more on this story, you can go to CNN.com.

Just ahead tonight, television news icon Barbara Walters, who broke so many barriers, so many big stories, got so many huge interviews, is making her own news tonight. She's reportedly decided it's time to retire. We will give you the timetable, all the details ahead. Also coming up, one of the most incredible experiences I have had underwater in Botswana on the trail of man-eating crocodiles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's hard to pursue the crocodile right now. I can't tell how large it is. It's tail is so powerful. I'm almost right on top of it. I can reach out right now and just touch the tail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It looks like the end of an iconic era in TV news may be just around the corner.

Barbara Walters is reportedly ready to retire. The news broke today, and multiple reports that Walters is likely to retire in May of next year. ABC, the place where Walters hosted "The View" since 1997, in addition to prime-time specials, isn't commenting officially. Walters is 83 years old. She's had some recent health problems. She had heart surgery in 2010, took some time off earlier this year to recover from chicken pox and a concussion.

Let's talk about it now with Bill Carter, who covers the TV industry for "The New York Times."

Bill, good to have you on again.

As we said, this is truly the end of an era when she retires. Any idea why she's reportedly doing this now?

BILL CARTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, she hasn't said. I think she will say. I think she will explain it.

But I think this news leaked a little early, obviously. I think they were planning on her doing it on her own terms on the show, probably in May, to say it will be a year from now. But I think, you know, given her age and given her health situation, it's probably just come to her that it's a good time for her to stop.

COOPER: Does that mean stopping from "The View" as well? Because she also has not just on-air responsibilities. She's the co- owner. She's the co-producer of "The View."

CARTER: Yes. Yes. Yes, I don't know about whether she will continue to be supervising on that show. I think she is going to withdraw from appearing every day on the show.

That show's not a really taxing show. You know, it's basically a discussion show, and I don't think it requires as much work. But I also think, you know, the whole notion of getting yourself up, getting yourself on the air, made up, you know the process, it's not always the easiest thing in the world to do every day of your life. And I think probably she's decided that this is a good time for her to step away from that. COOPER: They have had some pretty taxing moments on "The View" over the years, I must say, though.

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER: Yes, they have. Yes.

COOPER: Both on camera and behind the scenes. But, I mean...

CARTER: Mainly off, but yes, yes.

COOPER: Yes, mainly off.

It is remarkable. I read her autobiography when it came out and her career is just extraordinary, more than half a century in this business. It's really hard to exaggerate her legacy and her effect on this profession, particularly I think for women journalists.

CARTER: Well, you have to remember when she started on "The Today Show" in 1962, the women were considered sort of ornaments to television. They were not considered to be journalists.

And she forced her way into that role. She really did and through force of will. And once she got inside that, she's a very determined and ambitious and bright woman, and she just is relentless and always was, and pushed her way into being a serious newsperson, took the job as the co-anchor of "ABC Evening News," and that blew up, but then she remade herself again.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Right. She was treated horribly by her co-workers, as I recall.

CARTER: She was.

That was a famous reaction he had, that he didn't want a co- anchor at all, but to have the first woman. It was just amazing to see almost the ice-cold aspect on the air. They virtually never could do a two-shot with them together. They could only do them separately.

So -- but she recovered from that rather remarkably, because she still talks about that as an incredible low point in her career. But she was doing interviews with every big figure in the news at that point in her time. She was part of that whole shuttle diplomacy era, flying back and forth in the Mideast between Begin and Sadat and all the other big figures, Castro and Gadhafi and all these very famous figures in history that she sat down with.

COOPER: Yes. I think every president since Nixon, she's talked to.

CARTER: Yes.

COOPER: I had her on the show recently, a couple months ago, talking about Moammar Gadhafi, who she had interviewed several times. Just the amount of travel, the amount of situations that she put herself in is really extraordinary.

CARTER: Yes.

And most of the time, it was through her own booking. She would get on the phone and book these people. You know Barbara was often criticized for her social activity because she would socialize with a lot of people, but a lot of that was calculated on her part. She knew how to make relationships, get insiders to listen to her, and then she could book them and get big gets. That's what her business was.

COOPER: Well, I hope she's on air for a long time to come.

Bill Carter, appreciate you being with us. Thanks.

CARTER: Nice to be with you, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, let's get you caught up on some of the other stories we're following right now.

Susan Hendricks is here with the 360 bulletin -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, former South African President Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized tonight for a lung infection. He is said to be responding positively to treatment. He was reportedly conscious when he was admitted. It is the second time this month the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon has spent time in the hospital. Mandela has not appeared in public since 2010.

Just released prison records show that Evan Ebel, the parolee suspected of shooting to death Colorado's prison chief, threatened to kill a prison guard in September of 2005. That was just six months after he entered prison. Now, the records show that Ebel had 28 violations during his incarceration, including three assaults. As a result, his original three-year sentence grew to eight years. Much of that time was served in solitary confinement.

And today we also learned Ebel was wearing an ankle bracelet to track his movement before the attack last week. It is unclear when he removed it.

Also, a 22-year-old woman appeared in court today. Stevie Marie Vigil is accused of purchasing the gun that Ebel used in the killing. She faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted. Now, Ebel couldn't make the purchase himself since he's a convicted felon.

In Washington state, five homes have now been declared unlivable, as you see why. That's according to our affiliate KOMO. Amazingly, no one was injured after that massive landslide on Wednesday.

And police in Reading, California are looking for this guy. A would-be burglar caught on tape with what is believed to be, if you look close here, women's stockings on his head, throwing a rock at the front door of the grocery store. Then he throws a rock at the front door of a grocery store. The suspect fled when the alarm went off, and then he tripped and fell. Not too bright.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Up next, see what it's like to dive with deadly crocodiles in Botswana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): I know I should be terrified but the truth is, it's actually thrilling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Just ahead on 360, I come face-to-face under water with the deadly Nile crocodile.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. I recently filed a report for CBS's "60 Minutes" about deadly Nile crocodiles. They're prehistoric creatures that can grow up to 20 feet, bite as hard as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

I went diving with two very daring filmmakers and it was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. It was a rare chance to show others what few had ever seen. As I said, my guides were two wildlife filmmakers who are doing pioneering work getting up close with Nile crocodiles under water to try to unlock their mysteries.

Although these sometimes man-eating creatures are as old as dinosaurs, little is known about their behavior under water. Studying them under water was always thought to be impossible. Turns out it's not. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Okavango Delta has been called one of the last Edens on earth. Hundreds of miles of winding waterways and untouched islands are home to some of Africa's most exotic and enchanting wildlife. It's also home to tens of thousands of Nile crocodiles.

For the last five years, Brad Bestelink and his wife, Andy Crawford, have been risking their lives filming these man-eaters in the most daring way imaginable: following the crocodiles into their underwater lairs.

It is a dark and foreboding world down there. Visibility is sometimes only a few feet, and you can't even see the crocodiles until you catch a glimpse of their long rows of razor-sharp white teeth.

(on camera): How did you know you could do this?

BRAD BESTELINK, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: We were next to a ledge. And this crocodile swam out and actually swam between us. And then settled on the ground next to us. COOPER: What first went through your mind?

ANDY CRAWFORD, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Well, just lots of bubbles...

BESTELINK: Bubbles.

CRAWFORD: And just panic.

COOPER (voice-over): The panic was understandable. Nile crocodiles are Africa's largest and most feared predator, but surprisingly this one didn't attack. Brad and Andy have been getting closer and closer to these creatures ever since.

CRAWFORD: You do get a different sense of them. They look very beautiful underwater. They're dappled and gold and black. And you see them as more timid, I think. Beyond the teeth and the terror, there's this incredible creature that is actually an amazing animal in its own right.

COOPER: You actually think they're beautiful?

CRAWFORD: I do think they're beautiful. I never used to think they were beautiful. But this is a whole different view of them.

COOPER (on camera): This is the view most people have of Nile crocodiles. Patient and stealthy killers, they grab their prey, drag them into the water, then drown and dismember them. And it's not just animals they eat. Hundreds of people in Africa are killed each year while bathing, laundering clothes, or fishing along the water's edge.

Nile crocodiles are now protected in Botswana, but Brad and Andy believe more needs to be known about their behavior so that humans can better avoid them. They've invited Dr. Adam Britton, an Australian zoologist, to dive with them.

(on camera): When you first heard about what they were doing here, what did you think?

ADAM BRITTON, ZOOLOGIST: Look, I'll be honest. When I first heard about this, my instant, immediate reaction was "That sounds crazy."

COOPER (voice-over): Doctor Britton has been studying crocodiles for more than 18 years.

BRITTON: I describe crocodile like Ferraris. They're just extremely fine-honed creatures. They are just perfectly adapted to do what they do. They're, you know, the smartest of all the reptiles.

COOPER: Britton is building a genetic database on Nile crocodiles in the Delta to better understand how to protect them. For years the only way to study them up close was to capture them.

BESTELINK: Croc on. So once I've got him by the mouth...

COOPER (on camera): It is difficult, dangerous work.

BRITTON: Sit on him, get his legs back. Pin his legs between his knees as well. He's got no leverage.

COOPER: So what are you doing now?

BRITTON: I am just going to cover his eyes so that he can't see what we're doing.

COOPER: So he's not injured at all?

BRITTON: No, no, he's not injured at all, apart from his pride perhaps.

COOPER (voice-over): This crocodile is not sedated. It's simply trying to conserve its energy.

COOPER: Why are you doing this?

BRITTON: If we can get a sample of all the DNA from every single crocodile across the Delta, then we can start to build up a picture then of exactly, not only where these crocodiles came from, but how they're moving within the Delta.

COOPER: Because right now you don't really know that?

BRITTON: No one really knows anything about that at all.

COOPER (on camera): When you actually see the crocodiles up close, there is a beauty to them. Often in pictures they're covered in mud. They look very drab. But up close, you see the variety of color not just on the top, but also on the bottom.

And to the touch it's really -- there's a softness to them, particularly on the feet like this. The claws are about an inch, an inch and a half. But the pads of the feet are actually incredibly soft.

(voice-over): Capturing crocodiles is stressful for the animal and for us. Putting them back in the water is just as hard.

BRITTON: Now, just keep pressing down, Anderson, on the top of the skull. That's good.

OK. And noose ready to go.

COOPER: Noose ready to go.

BRITTON: OK. Three, two, one, go.

COOPER (voice-over): Diving with Brad and Andy has given Dr. Adam Britton a whole new understanding of crocodiles and their underwater world.

BRITTON: You're in the water. You've got the current washing over you. You can feel the changes in temperature. And you suddenly think, "This is what it's like to be a crocodile. This crocodile is experiencing these same things."

COOPER: Britton has actually begun to take DNA samples from crocodiles underwater, cutting off pieces of their tails and, incredibly, they don't seem to mind.

Diving with Nile crocodiles is only possible in the winter months when the water is chilly, and the animals are sluggish. These cold- blooded reptiles are far too dangerous to dive with in the summer.

BESTELINK: The crocs are much more active. They're much more inclined to want to predate. You know, I don't...

COOPER (on camera): Predate, attack.

BESTELINK: Attack, yes. They want to go and eat something.

COOPER: So, two months from now, three months from now, you would not dive in these waters?

BESTELINK: No. No. No, and I don't. I don't want to die. Make no mistake. I do this because I get an understanding as to how these predators work.

COOPER (voice-over): Brad has spent his whole life around these predators. He grew up here in the Delta, and these home movies show his grandfather, who was a legendary crocodile hunter.

BESTELINK: He hunted up here for 25 years, and I believe shot in excess of 30,000 crocodiles.

COOPER (on camera): So your grandfather killed about 30,000 crocodiles?

BESTELINK: Yes, more than -- well, they estimate is very close to the entire population is today.

COOPER (voice-over): Brad and Andy offer to take me diving with them, explaining it's crucial to get off the surface of the water as quickly as possible because that is where crocs attack.

CRAWFORD: That's the most important thing. Because as soon as you're underwater we believe the crocodiles don't know what we are. They don't recognize us as prey.

COOPER (on camera): You say, "We believe." Do you know?

CRAWFORD: We don't know it for sure. We can never know how they're perceiving us. We're trying to establish how they perceive us.

COOPER: Again, you're not really building my confidence here by saying you're not sure. What do I need to know before -- before going in?

CRAWFORD: Well, you need to know we believe you're safe. With all that uncertainty, we believe you're safe. COOPER (voice-over): Safe? Take a look at a recent encounter they had with a crocodile.

BESTELINK: You see how close he comes to me?

COOPER (on camera): And look at the eye.

BESTELINK: Yes.

COOPER: And look at those teeth. Those are huge.

BESTELINK: They are.

COOPER (voice-over): This crocodile was 12 feet long and weighed about 14 hundred pounds.

BESTELINK: And there's a diver. And watch what he does.

COOPER (on camera): Oh my gosh.

But because the croc's moving, it doesn't even really sense that diver there.

BESTELINK: It didn't even know that he was there. And you'll see how it just goes, it hits his light and squashes his light.

COOPER: Whoa. So it just thinks that's some debris or tree or something?

BESTELINK: Yes, yes.

COOPER: That's amazing.

(voice-over): We set off early the next day. It's an hour up river to a spot that has a lot of underwater caves. Three divers will go in with me: Brad, cameraman Richard Uren and Andy. She'll be the safety diver watching our backs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll let you know that there's a croc if I see it first.

CRAWFORD: The international sign for crocodile is that. That's the sign...

COOPER (on camera): It's the international sign for crocodile?

CRAWFORD: That's the sign for-- well, it's a sign for crocodile.

COOPER: OK, OK, good.

CRAWFORD: Brad does this.

COOPER: I didn't learn that in SCUBA school. They didn't teach that.

CRAWFORD: We're going give you one of these to dive with. It makes you feel better. It also gives you some barrier...

COOPER: Makes you feel better? That's really all it's for is to just make me feel better?

CRAWFORD: Well, mainly that, and actually-- to actually anchor yourself in the current.

COOPER: Because no matter what, you do not want to drift onto...

CRAWFORD: You don't want to drift onto the crocodile.

COOPER (voice-over): As soon as the crocs see our boat they disappear. We hope they've gone to the bottom to hide in their underwater caves, but they might still be floating near the surface, waiting to attack.

(on camera): It's a very strange feeling before you go diving because you know there are crocodiles in this area but you don't see any on the surface. The problem is, as the boat comes in, any motion on the surface does tend to attract crocodiles, so you want to try to get here and into the water and to the bottom as quickly as possible.

(voice-over): We suit up, do our final checks and then take the plunge.

BESTELINK: Anderson good? OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Now part two of my report on Nile crocodiles. I went to Botswana on assignment for "60 Minutes" to go diving with these magnificent, sometimes man-eating creatures. I was in good hands. My guides were wildlife filmmakers Brad Bestelink and his wife, Andy Crawford. They've been studying these reptiles up-close, underwater for five years now.

As I prepared to go face to face with my first crocodile, I followed their first piece of advice. As you leave the boat, don't linger at the water's surface, because that is where crocodiles attack.

Here's what happened next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We get to the river bottom as quickly as we can. It's only about 15 feet deep. Thankfully, the visibility is good, and we find ourselves in a stunning underwater garden with overhanging ledges, walls of papyrus, submerged trees and lilies.

(on camera): We know there's at least one crocodile in this area, because we saw the ripples on the water. We believe it's gone into a nearby cave system, so we're going to go into the caves right now to try to see if we can find it. (voice-over): It's eerie and intimidating down here. The only light comes from our cameras, and it's easy to lose your way.

Brad signals that he sees a crocodile. At first I can't see anything, but then out of the darkness, on the floor of the cave, just as Brad warned, I see that gleaming row of white teeth.

COOPER (on camera): To finally see one. It's amazing; there's a beauty to it, but it's also incredibly intimidating. You really have a sense when you're so close to it of just how strong it is. And it looks right at you, and you know and it knows that it could attack you at any moment. And there's nothing you can do about it.

(voice-over): The crocodile disappears into the darkness. We push further into the cave. It gets narrower and more claustrophobic as we move deeper into the gloom. Then, lurking on a nearby ledge, there's another crocodile.

(on camera): This crocodile is about nine feet long. Its tail, though, makes up half its length. Crocs have the amazing ability to actually slow their heart rate down. They can close off one of the valves in their heart, to stop the flow of blood to some of its organs. It allows them to stay underwater for hours at a time. It's amazing how close the crocodile is. You can't tell if it's watching you or not.

(voice-over): Suddenly the crocodile backs away. It's not taking its eyes off me. I have no idea what it's going to do. My heart is pounding. Neither of us moves. Then with a flick of his tail, he's off.

We move further through the undergrowth and find yet another crocodile. This time it's facing me head on. On the stick I'm holding I have a small camera, and I move it closer to try and get a better shot. I know I should be terrified, but the truth is it's actually thrilling.

(on camera): It's extraordinary that I can get so close. I'm literally looking at it right in the face, staring at it face to face. The crocodile's front vision is not very good, so this is actually a relatively safe place to be. The crocodile is also laying low, which is a good sign. If it felt threatened, it would rise up on its feet. That would be an indication it might be ready to strike.

(voice-over): When it finally takes off, we start following it. The crocodile is kicking up so much sand and sediment, we can't see where we're going.

(on camera): We're trying to pursue the crocodile right now, but I can't tell how large it is. Its tail is so powerful I'm almost right on top of it. I can reach out right now and just touch the tail, but I am worried if do that it will somehow turn around. It just doesn't seem like a good idea. But I've got to say it's so tempting.

The croc is moving so fast, we can't keep up for long. It's time to surface and find the boat.

(on camera): Wow, that was amazing. I was right -- I was right on top of it.

BESTELINK: Hey?

COOPER: I was right on top of its tail. I mean, I could have touched it.

BESTELINK: Yes, I know. And then he turns around.

COOPER: And then he turns around! I swear there was a moment where I thought, "Jesus, he could just attack. And there's nothing I could do about it."

BESTELINK: Absolutely. But did you ever feel like he was going to attack?

COOPER: No. Well, maybe a little bit actually.

(voice-over): I've dived with Great White sharks before, but in terms of numbers of people killed each year, Nile crocodiles are far more deadly. Once ruthlessly hunted, still vilified as mindless killing machines, we can finally observe them as they really are: perfectly evolved denizens of the dark, ancient creatures, now for the first time, fully visible in the light.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Just want to reiterate, you should not go diving with crocodiles or alligators. The two divers I went with are very experienced. They've been diving with Nile crocodiles for more than five years now.

And there's a very limited window for when they're able to go, when the water is at a certain temperature and the crocodiles are sluggish and therefore, not as hungry.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Housing prices around the country are starting to climb back. In tonight's "American Journey" report, CNN's Tom Foreman checks in with a community that was devastated in the foreclosure crisis to see how the rising prices are impacting them and what they're doing to fight their way back from the brink of financial disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the housing crash came, no place was hit harder than Georgetown South, a distant suburb of Washington, where the foreclosure rates shot to 30 percent. Some homes plunged in value from $300,000 to just $40,000. People moved out. Crime and squalor moved in. MEG CARROLL, VOICE: This right back here were French glass doors. Inside hardwood, brand new cabinets.

FOREMAN: But the community never lost its voice. Meg Carroll is part of an aggressive effort by some 50 churches, synagogues and mosques called VOICE, and their mission has been saving communities like this one from ruin: cleaning up, maintaining and taking care of properties that are abandoned or in the sometimes neglectful hands of banks.

CARROLL: When I say the investors don't care, the same way as homeowners, you can see that they don't.

FOREMAN: The goal? Keep the neighborhood livable until better times come. Reverend Keith Savage.

REV. KEITH SAVAGE, VOICE: Banks only listen to other people who have power and organization.

FOREMAN: By pooling the efforts of many community activists, VOICE has effectively pushed banks to help pay for financial counseling, more affordable homes here and to help rewrite the loans for those families who have stayed through all the turmoil.

SAVAGE: Most of them aren't having trouble with the income anymore. But they're having trouble, now that they've regained their footing, of getting the banks to work with them so that they can keep this community a home-owner-occupied community instead of a rental community.

FOREMAN: It has been a long and lonely struggle, and the housing rebound still seems far away. But in this corner of Virginia, the battle of the home front goes on.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Hey, that does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.