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California Firefighters Battle Massive Blaze; Wrestler Dead in Murder-Suicide

Aired June 26, 2007 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
We have been following the story for the last couple of days now, and it looked like things were under control. Then the wind kicked up. We have got breaking news tonight. A wildfire that's already destroyed nearly 300 homes has gotten worse, now threatens a whole lot more destruction, 1,000 structures at risk. It is happening right now, outside one of the most popular vacation spots in the country. We will take you there.

Also ahead tonight: the battle on the border. Now, here's progress for you. The Senate today voted to start talking about immigration reform again. Then senators couldn't even do that. We're "Keeping Them Honest," checking the facts and bringing you inside the border battle, including the hunt for dangerous fugitives slipping into America.

And a sad and tragic mystery: What led one top pro wrestler to do what he did, kill his wife, his child, and then himself? And why have so many pro wrestlers seemingly met untimely ends?

All of that ahead, but let's get to the fire.

It is burning just outside the California town of South Lake Tahoe. This is vacation central, where the local chamber of commerce brags about the sun shining 300 days a year. Well, not tomorrow. There is simply too much smoke, too many homes and buildings in jeopardy for anyone to be taking it easy.

Kara Finnstrom is on the scene for us live in Meyers, California.

Kara, what is the latest?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what firefighters had feared happened today. Those winds whipped up. And that spread this wildfire even further.

And now they're fearing that they are going to see repeats of this. If take a look behind me, you can see, actually, the fire still smoldering. This is one of the communities that was hardest hit. And most of the homes here completely burned to the ground, just ashes.

This was a two-story home, and this is all that's left of it. Now, within the last couple hours, there were some crews that started going door to door in South Lake Tahoe neighborhoods, actually forcing mandatory evacuations there. The flames came up within yards of some of the houses there. And we actually watched as some of the people actually just gathered up as much of the belongings as they could, one man running back to get his dogs. And, Anderson, at this hour, they're trying to make their way out to safety.

COOPER: So, at this point, how many people did you say have been evacuated?

FINNSTROM: We don't have any really good totals right now. We actually are still trying to get a feel for how many neighborhoods have been evacuated.

This is -- these are a number of neighborhoods in what is called South Lake Tahoe. But we do know that -- that the highway out of town is jammed. Even the PIOs are just kind of just -- the public information officers are still getting information on this and trying to figure out exactly what's been evacuated.

COOPER: And then the fire jumped a fire line; is that correct?


What happened, you know, they had this area of the fire that was still burning, largely an unpopulated area. And they had cut a fire line around it, and they were trying to contain it in there and get this fire out.

Well, these embers were so hot, and the winds picked up. They just blew right out. A number of areas started going up in hot spots. We understand some structures may have been burning as well. And, right now, firefighters are working on getting all of that out.

COOPER: Kara Finnstrom, appreciate the reporting. We will check in with you in about half-an-hour.

Now, right now, immigration and a news flash for Congress: Life doesn't stand still while you guys debate. That is pretty obvious to anyone who lives outside of Washington. Tonight, the Senate was supposed to begin debate on a set of amendments that might -- might -- allow the full immigration bill to pass. Instead, they got stuck on procedures.

Then, late, this evening, they said they will start talking in earnest tomorrow.

Well, tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest," showing what you has and hasn't been done on the border, while politicians have been talking, showing you how criminals are still getting through. And we will even take you to a town in America where the official language is now Spanish.

We begin with the reality on the border vs. the rhetoric in Washington.


COOPER (voice-over): When it comes to immigration reform, you're guaranteed two things from Washington: promises and plenty of hot air.

The White House sticks to its talking points.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first thing that we have got to recognize in the country is that the system isn't working. The immigration system needs reform. The status quo is unacceptable.

COOPER: But Congress may be no better. They're like a hamster on a wheel, running in place, going nowhere fast.

IRA MEHLMAN, MEDIA DIRECTOR, FEDERATION FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM: I think the American public, in general, is frustrated by the lack of any enforcement of our immigration laws over the last 20 years. The American public has been repeatedly promised that administration after administration would get serious about enforcing our immigration laws. They have done nothing. They have allowed the problem to fester.

COOPER: Fester is a strong word. But look at the facts on where the immigration battle stands tonight.

"Keeping Them Honest," let's start at the border. Last October, the president signed a bill authorizing the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Under this new bill, the barrier would be just 370 miles. But just 88 miles have actually been built.

And, speaking of fences, the so-called virtual fence gets a lot of buzz these days. The problem is, it's not working. Known as Project 28, it's a multibillion-dollar investment that is still plagued by technical bugs. It was supposed to launch on June 13, but didn't. There's no word when it will go online.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": If our borders are secure, if we are enforcing existing U.S. law, there is no illegal immigration problem. Next question, why have they got been secured? Why are we not enforcing our laws?

COOPER: Then there are the border agents. The bill includes $4 billion for enforcement measures, including 18,000 patrol agents. Progress is being made. The number now stands at roughly 13,600, but is it working?

The government says there were nearly 300 arrests of illegal immigrants in the last nine months. That's down 10 percent from the previous year. No one knows if that's because fewer people are attempting to cross or more are slipping through.

And, once they're here, is law enforcement cracking down on employers who hire them? Well, the number of criminal convictions of employers has jumped significantly in the past year. But many critics wonder if it's just window dressing.

One offered this unflattering comparison to the immigration mess. MEHLMAN: This has all the planning and foresight of the war in Iraq, which was: We will go in there. We will get rid of Saddam. And then we will all figure it out later on.

This is exactly the same kind of plan.

COOPER: That's tough talk, but this is a tough issue, and it can get confusing. Just ask the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have heard it, too, about how this is amnesty. Amnesty means that you have got to pay, you know, a price for having been here illegally. And this bill does that.



Well, the White House later said issued a clarification on what the president said, saying that the president misspoke, calling what he said this morning the exact opposite of what he actually meant.

One other late-breaking item, Republicans in the House, which still has to take up the issue, voted tonight to condemn the Senate deal that is being worked out.

So, meantime, of course, more people are slipping across the border. And, as you're about to see, some of them are violent fugitives.

More on that from CNN's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The argument about what to do with illegal immigrants is heated, but it's less complicated when it deals with people like Laura Garrido (ph) Hernandez.

At border fence between California and Tijuana, Mexico, the 20- year-old woman is being handed over by U.S. agents to Mexican agents. As Hernandez crosses the fence, she might be saying goodbye to U.S. soil forever.

JIM HAYES JR., DIRECTOR, LOS ANGELES FIELD OFFICE, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: She's wanted by Mexican law enforcement authorities by questioning of her involvement in the brutal rape, mutilation, and murder of a 10-year-old girl.

TUCHMAN: Among the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, the great majority come here for work, but Laura Hernandez and others are accused of being dangerous criminals, trying to escape justice in their home countries.

HAYES: We're talking about people, they have been accused of murder, rape, theft, burglary, narcotics trafficking, narcotics possession.

TUCHMAN: So, the people with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, have ramped up a program to send alleged violent criminals back home. Wearing bulletproof vests, ICE and other federal agents conduct an early-morning raid east of Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Federal police. Open the door.

TUCHMAN: The moments are tense, as nobody answers. Agents are looking for this man, Almarez Reveles Gonzalo. The Mexican government has charged him with murdering his 74-year-old uncle.

Agents hear noise at the back door and are let in by the suspect's wife.


TUCHMAN: The murder suspect was asleep.

DERRICK TAYLOR, SUPERVISORY DEPORTATION OFFICER, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: It was an infant, I guess maybe less than a year-old, in bed with him.

TUCHMAN: Within minutes, Gonzalo gives himself up, but U.S. agents only tell him this is an immigration arrest. They say it's up to Mexican authorities to inform him about the murder charge once he's sent back.

We are told, if we wanted to witness the raid, we can't tell him about the murder charge either. Gonzalo says, "I don't know. Honestly, that's the truth."

He's brought to an ICE office, where the process of kicking him out of the country begins right away. It's the same journey taken by other high-profile suspects, Odilon Carlos-Marquez, charged with murdering a Mexican state police officer, Alfredo Galiana (ph), an alleged killer, kidnapper and bank robber who escaped from a Mexican prison more than two decades ago.

And then there's Moidin Ahmed (ph), accused of participating in a 1975 coup in Bangladesh that led to the assassination of Bangladesh's prime minister. ICE doesn't know how many illegal immigrants there are in this country who have been accused of violent crimes in other countries.

But the agency does say there are more than 632,000 illegals in the U.S. who are accused of breaking some type of law while they have been here and are sought as fugitives.

(on camera): Gonzalo is given a choice by ICE agents: Go to jail in California, or we will send you back here to Mexico. Because agents in the U.S. have not told Gonzalo he will be charged with murder, this sounds like the better choice, coming here, because he assumes he will be free. But he will assume wrong.

(voice-over): Just hours after the raid, Gonzalo is brought to the border fence and handed over to the Mexican authorities. His identity is verified. And he will be put on a plane and flown to the state of Zacatecas, where he allegedly shot his uncle.

But the Mexicans hadn't yet told him he's being charged with murder. However, now that we're no longer in the U.S., we mention it.


(on camera): Did you kill your uncle?




TUCHMAN: (SPEAKING SPANISH) You don't kill your uncle?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gonzalo will now tell it to a judge in Mexico -- his attempt at a new life in the U.S. foiled.


COOPER: Gary Tuchman joins me now from Laredo, Texas.

ICE agents, are they out there every day looking for these types of fugitives?

TUCHMAN: It's not every day, Anderson. It's kind of sporadic.

What happens is, other countries, like Mexico or Bangladesh or India, lots of countries will call ICE and say, hey, we have a murderer, we have a kidnapper, we have a robber who we believe is in your neck of the woods. ICE starts looking. If they find out where they are, they then conduct a raid. So, it doesn't happen every day.

What happens is every day is, ICE looks for illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and broken laws in this country, some of them very serious, some of them violent, and others minor administrative violations, like overstaying a visa.

COOPER: Gary Tuchman, thanks from the border.

By this point, you might have thought you had seen it all when it comes to immigration. We have shown you on this program tunnels in Tijuana big enough to march an army through. You have seen protesters beaten by cops in L.A., National Guardsmen accused of immigrant smuggling, politicians on every side of this issue. You have also gotten to know hardworking immigrants simply trying to make a better life here.

But here is a prediction. You have probably never seen or heard a town like the one in Texas one we're about to take you to, because, in this American town, the official language is now Spanish. Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera.




(voice-over): If you want to find what you're looking for in El Cenizo, more than just a little bit of Espanol goes a long way.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Habla Espanol or Ingles?



(voice-over): Consuelo Reynera works the cash register in this border town's only grocery store.

(on camera): Most of your customers hear, do they speak Spanish?

REYNERA: They speak Spanish, yes.

LAVANDERA: No English?

REYNERA: They do speak English a little bit.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): El Cenizo is a small Texas town of 6,500 people overlooking the Rio Grande. It's not unusual for people down here to speak Spanish and English. Nearly everyone does. But El Cenizo is different. It officially conducts all of its city business in Spanish.

(on camera): I'm looking for the mayor. I don't know...

(voice-over): Today, the town is led by a 24-year-old mayor whose first language is English. He personally translates meeting agendas into Spanish.

(on camera): So, do you have a stack in English and a stack in Spanish?


LAVANDERA: And, at end of the meeting, which stack is empty?

REYES: This one.

LAVANDERA: And these are all just kind of still sitting -- the English ones are still sitting there, and the Spanish ones are gone?

REYES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Reyes says this was nothing more than a dusty border outpost until 1999, but, now, with the city and its people speaking the same language, streets are paved. There's a police force and a fire station.

REYES: Well, there's like good, positive things happening. And you get to that with the support and the collaboration of the residents that reside in this...


LAVANDERA (on camera): And do you think that happened because city business here is conducted in Spanish?

REYES: That's right. You know, we speak their language.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Most of El Cenizo's residents are Mexican-Americans here legally. Reyes says, since city council meetings are conducted in Spanish, more people participate.

(on camera): What do you say to those people who say, you know, by God, this is the United States; you need to speak English?

REYES: No, I agree. There's no doubt in anybody's mind that, if you want to prosper and you want to get a good job, you need to learn how to speak English.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And having Spanish as the official language isn't all that makes this town unique. It also considers itself a safe haven for illegal immigrants. A local ordinance prohibits city employees from turning in illegal immigrants.

Angry threats poured in after El Cenizo made those changes. And they haven't stopped. But Police Chief Juan Alejandro says the attacks are senseless.

JUAN ALEJANDRO, EL CENIZO, TEXAS, POLICE CHIEF: And, if people get upset by it, then so be it. So be it. Get upset, because you're not here. You're not in this situation, and you're not helping us.

LAVANDERA: People here like to joke that the official language should be Spanglish, a little bit of both languages, so everyone can understand.


COOPER: Ed joins us now live.

Do city officials have any plans to change these ordinances?

LAVANDERA: Well, it's been on the books for eight years. And they say that it's been working well. They're happy with the way it's working. So, there aren't any immediate plans. They are pushing people in the town to continue to learn English as well.

But, you know, this isn't something that is unique to El Cenizo. We have seen a growing number in the last year of towns around the country who create these safe haven-, sanctuary-type designations for their cities. It's a growing trend that we have seen in several dozen cities across the country. And the opposite is true. There's also been a number of communities nationwide who have gone the other route, making it much harder for illegal immigrants in particular to live in their communities as well.

COOPER: Ed Lavandera, fascinating. Thanks, Ed.

So, this small Texas town now on the map in a big way.

I talked about it with syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr., who is also a member of the editorial board of "The San Diego Union- Tribune," and Rick Oltman, director of Californians for Population Stabilization.


COOPER: Rick, you have spent some time down in El Cenizo. What do you think about its policy of conducting city business in Spanish?

RICK OLTMAN, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS, CALIFORNIANS FOR POPULATION STABILIZATION: Well, El Cenizo is a nice enough town, but I think it's a bad precedent to have American cities conducting their business in any language other than the language of the nation and language of the economy.

COOPER: Because?

OLTMAN: Because, for Americans to understand each other and to get over the kind of prejudices that human beings naturally have, we have to be able to understand each other very well. We can't do that if we speak separate languages.

But, beyond that, the children need to be taught English to give them a chance at the American dream. English is the national language. It's the language of our culture. It's also the language of our economy. And, if we want those kids to have a shot at the American dream, which they deserve, they need to learn to speak English. And, so, the precedent needs to be set that English is the important language that you need to learn.

Ruben, should that message be universal, that English is the important language to learn for the future?


It's a message that should be given out in schools, at home, in private situations, through clubs and organizations, but not through government. Government shouldn't be pushing English or pushing Spanish. It should being agnostic on this question. It should neither promote, nor prohibit the given -- given speaking of language.

COOPER: Should they conduct, though, their business in Spanish?

NAVARRETTE: I really -- I will have to be honest with you, Anderson. It's a really small thing to me. It really isn't the end of civilization as we know it.

I'm not really concerned about it. It's a small town on the U.S.-Texas -- Texas -- U.S. border with Texas and Mexico. I think, likewise, I'm not terribly concerned that, in San Francisco, they have ballots in Chinese. You know, I think, if you have a population in a given area that requires, for -- in a pragmatic sense, to speak a given language, I'm not terribly troubled by that. I don't think it's the end of civilization as we know it.

COOPER: Are you troubled by them basically giving safe haven or at least having -- not having city employees turn in illegal immigrants?

NAVARRETTE: That, I am troubled by, because that's a whole different thing.

I don't think that local governments should either impose Hazleton, Pennsylvania-type ordinances that crack down on illegal immigration, nor sanctuary-type laws that go easy on illegal immigration. This is a federal issue. Leave it to Washington.

COOPER: Rick, what about you, the idea that it's sort of an immigrant -- illegal-immigrant-free zone?

OLTMAN: Well, the Hazleton-type ordinance; Farmers Branch, Texas; and the others that are being considered don't crack down on illegal immigrants. They crack down on businesses and set standards for them to deal with, so that, in fact, the illegal aliens won't be -- won't be serviced.

But it does go hand in hand. It isn't the end of the civilized world. Ruben's right about that. However, it does go hand in hand. Everything that happens in our society means something. And what this town is sending the message is, is that you don't need to learn to speak English when, in fact, we know you do need to learn to speak English.

Parents understand this, whether they're illegal alien parents or American citizen parents of any national origin where their home language isn't in English. All parents know, if they want their children to do well, that they need to learn to speak English.

In fact, Governor Schwarzenegger said it quite well a couple of weeks ago at the Convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, when he said you need to turn off the Spanish-speaking media and you learn to speak English.

And he knows. He knows that his success in America is tied to the fact that he learned to speak English at the very beginning.

COOPER: We are going to have to leave it there.

Ruben Navarrette, Rick Oltman, gentlemen, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Straight ahead tonight: a story that has everyone asking a simple question: Why? What moved a pro wrestler to kill his wife, his child, and then himself?

But the bigger question that may be related: What is it, drugs, steroids or something else, that makes pro wrestling so much deadlier out of the arena than other sports? We will investigate ahead.


COOPER: You know, we generally don't do sports stories here at 360. And that's why, when we first heard yesterday about a pro wrestler and his family found dead, we decided we wouldn't cover it.

Then we started digging and learned the details of what happened, how the former wrestling champion, Chris Benoit, reportedly strangled his wife, smothered his 7-year-old son, and then hanged himself. We also learned that police found drugs and steroids in the home. There was more.

We also uncovered a brutal reality of wrestling and how this tragedy is really just the latest in a series of tragedies and deaths to shake the profession. That's when we decided this was a story we couldn't possibly ignore.

CNN's David Mattingly has details.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before the 40- year-old pro wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his family and took his own life, he was at the top of a profession where stars seem to die young.

A 2004 investigation by "USA Today" determined that professional wrestlers are 20 times more likely to die before age 45 than professional football players. At least 27 active or retired pro wrestlers have reportedly died just since 1995. Two were suicides. Five died from heart disease, and four from drug use.

BRIAN CHRISTOPHER, PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER: Me being a wrestler, I think, if you can make it to 45, you're doing pretty good.


MATTINGLY: The pro wrestler known as Brian Christopher is the son of wrestling legend Jerry Lawler. He says 11 of his wrestling friends have died. Most, he suspects, were victims of a punishing lifestyle.

CHRISTOPHER: With wrestling, there is no off-season. It's constant go, always go, go, go, wrestle ,you know, and be prepared to lace up the boots and wrestle the next night. I don't care if have you got a cracked rib and a broken finger. You know, you better be able to walk down that aisle and perform the next night. MATTINGLY: In his biography on the World Wrestling Entertainment Web site, Benoit was reported as saying: "Wrestling has consumed my life, and it defines a lot of who I am as a person."

Benoit was once arrested in Georgia for DUI. He had no other criminal record.

(on camera): But Georgia authorities say they found a lot of prescription medication in the Benoit home, including anabolic steroids. Tests to determine what drugs, if any, were in Benoit's body will take weeks.

(voice-over): Nicknamed the Rabid Wolverine and Canadian Crippler, Chris Benoit starred on a stage steeped in drama and violence. But what authorities found in his home proved to be more tragic and brutal than anything inside the ring.

David Mattingly, CNN, New York.


COOPER: As you just heard, pro wrestler Brian Christopher says he knew several wrestlers who have died in recent years, most, he says, from a punishing lifestyle.

Brian joins me now.

Brian, thanks for being with us.

You knew Chris Benoit for 15 years. What kind of guy was he in the ring and out?

CHRISTOPHER: Well, what kind of guy he was, he was very intense. You know, when you said -- I heard that you said wrestling had consumed his life, that was -- one of the things about Chris was, he was always thinking about wrestling. He was thinking about his opponent that night.

You know, when you were talking to him in the locker room, he's the type of guy that would drop and start doing 25 pushups. You know, he -- wrestling had consumed his life. And I think it was a little bit to do with his size. He was really, really concerned about his size. He wanted to always -- you know, he wasn't the tallest of individuals. So, he would always want to bulk up and be the size guy that could compete in the main event type of matches. And...

COOPER: Well, police say they found steroids and other -- a lot of prescription drugs in his home. Do you think that drug use, that desire to bulb up, had anything to do with his death, or did it affect his lifestyle?

CHRISTOPHER: Well, also, now, I can also say you need to check those bottles and see the expiration date, you know, because, recently, they have cracked down. I can personally tell you that they have cracked down on steroid use, drug use, you know, of all types. Last time I went to an event -- I'm not currently under contract with any major wrestling organization right now. But, last time I went to an event, you know, a lot of wrestlers came running up to me and said, oh, man, you know, we get -- we get random drug testing worse than you hear about baseball and football players nowadays.

COOPER: There is, though, a -- a constant need to -- to keep size, I mean, whether it's Chris Benoit, or -- I mean, the people who really succeed, I mean, some of the sizes of these guys, they're enormous. I mean, how -- whether it's in the past or now, how prevalent do you think steroid use has been?

CHRISTOPHER: In the past? Well, I have been wrestling 19 years. And I grew up -- grew up in wrestling. So, I have seen just about everything.

You know, that's the only job I have ever had. And steroid use, I would say -- when you say the past, I would say maybe 12 years ago, 10 years ago, it was -- it was pretty bad. But, you know, the -- the drug policies were a little different now.

Now, with -- with all the steroid talk in baseball, and things like that, most of them have -- have cracked down on it. And now it's -- I was pulled off to the side and also told, it's not about the size anymore. You know, they're not -- they're -- they're making sure that most of the wrestlers live a good lifestyle and stay away from steroids and things like that.

COOPER: It is stunning. You know, this "USA Today" article was saying that 20 -- that pro wrestlers are 20 percent more likely to die before the age of 45 than pro football players.

What is the lifestyle like? I mean, how difficult is it...

CHRISTOPHER: It's a tough...

COOPER: ... just dealing with the pain?

CHRISTOPHER: It's an unbelievable lifestyle. It takes a very unique individual to become a professional wrestler.

But those articles that you're reading, also, I couldn't tell you how many of those wrestlers were retired. You know, I heard you run the little piece of me saying, if you live to be 45 in the wrestling business, you're doing good.

What I meant was, if you're -- if you live to be 45 years old and still competing in wrestling, you're doing very good, you know? You know, wrestling....


COOPER: But you have lost 11 -- you said you lost 11 friends from wrestling that you know about. That's a lot for, you know, people under the age of 45, for young people.

CHRISTOPHER: That is a lot, but I have a lot of friends.

I say that all wrestlers in general are my friend, because we view wrestling, once you get to a certain point, as a family relationship with everything. So, you know, I have known a lot of wrestlers, but some -- like, Owen Hart, his death was certainly not anything to do with drugs or steroids.

Now, I know that...

COOPER: A lot of the folks who have died have died from heart disease or an enlarged heart, which is certainly uncommon for someone young.

We're out of time, but, Brian, I appreciate you being on, Brian Christopher, talking about Chris Benoit.


COOPER: Thanks so much, Brian.


If there is a dark side to pro wrestling, there's also a lot of dollars, a lot of dollars to the sport. Here's the "Raw Data."

Fiscal year 2006, that's through April, the WWE reported revenues of $400 million. Their audience is massive. An estimated 20 million per week watch professional wrestling on TV and in sports arenas, a massive audience, indeed.

Now, here's Kiran Chetry with what's coming up on -- tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING."


KIRAN CHETRY, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Some familiar old friends are making a comeback, Anderson. Rambo, Indiana Jones, and "Die Hard" detective John McClane are back on the big screen. Action heroes never die in the movies, but can actors in their 60s really pull it off?

We are going to find out tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern -- Anderson, back to you.


COOPER: Kiran, thanks.

Up next: a new poll that shows how Americans really feel about the war in Iraq, and it is not pretty.

Also ahead: What was she thinking? Call me crazy, but I don't think strutting out of prison is really the best way to start rebuilding that image. Yeah.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (MUSIC: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World")

COOPER: Not exactly subtle message from Carolyn from D.C. She thinks "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears would be the perfect theme for 360's political coverage this year.

We continue to get a lot of submissions. All right. Enough with the Tears for Fears, please. We want more before narrowing the field down to the final three. So just logon to and give us your idea for a song.

As for tonight the Republican's pro-choice candidate tries to woo Pat Robertson. The question is, is he courting trouble?

CNN's Tom Foreman has the meeting and more in "Raw Politics".


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anderson, there is one thing that Democrats fear the most from Republican Rudy Giuliani. And that is that he will cozy up to conservatives while somehow keeping a hold of his moderate base, but that is precisely what he's trying to do.

(voice-over) At Pat Robertson's Regent University, Giuliani, who supports abortion rights, met with thousands of conservatives who do not. So his message? Hey, this election can't be just about that.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If this is a one issue election, it's about remaining on offense against terrorists.

FOREMAN: The "Raw Politics" betting line? If enough conservatives buy that argument to give him the nomination, and he can hold moderate voters on social issues, Giuliani could have a strong hand in the general election.

Watch for the Democrats to start shuffling their own cards, if this works.

Dealing from the bottom. We've got the latest CNN poll on how the war is being handled, and the numbers are all bad. Sixty-seven percent oppose the war; 54 percent say it's not morally justified. About as many say it's getting worse.

And what is 32 percent? That's the approval rating for President Bush these days. Only Carter, Nixon, Truman and the first President Bush saw lower numbers.

Looking for big numbers, Democrat Hillary Clinton wining and dining with some big money times, including uber-wealthy Warren Buffett. We'll see if he picks up the tab or kicks in for her campaign.

And the land that time forgot., a big liberal advocacy group, jumping all over a top Democrat. MoveOn has a new radio spot that says Michigan congressman John Dingell, the head of the energy committee, is a dinosaur, Dingellsaurus, for blocking efforts to combat global warming.

(on camera) (on(The press person for the energy committee says, to the contrary, Mr. Dingell is working to help the environment and MoveOn has simply got its facts wrong -- Anderson.


COOPER: That's "Raw Politics". Tom, thanks.

Starting next month presidential candidates are going to have to answer your questions at the CNN/YouTube debates. The Democrats face off July 23; Republicans debate September 17. You can learn more about the debates and how to submit your questions at Be creative.

We're continuing to following breaking developments on the massive wildfire threatening property and people near Lake Tahoe. We'll go back to the fire lines shortly.

Also ahead, these stories.


COOPER (voice-over): His office was in a castle, and he ran it like a king.

PABLO EISENBERG, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, CENTER ON NON-PROFITS: He was disrespectful of the fact that we had a public trust.

COOPER: The public's trust and the public's money. Your money. See what the former head of the Smithsonian, your Smithsonian, allegedly did with your tax dollars. We're "Keeping Them Honest".

Plus something you've never seen before. No one has. A newly discovered species, and a "Planet in Peril". See it first on 360.


COOPER: There is breaking news in Northern California tonight where fierce wildfires jumped a fire line. It's now threatening more buildings, 1,000 buildings in all.

The Angora fire has been burning now for two days south of Lake Tahoe. It's already destroyed more than 2,700 acres, at least 275 homes and other buildings.

Firefighters said the blaze was 40 percent contained. Then things took a turn for the worse a short time ago.

Joining me again from Meyers, California, is Kara Finnstrom.

Kara, what happened?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the winds picked up.

Right now we're coming to you from one of the neighborhoods which has been hit hardest, and the fear is that we're going to see more of this, more of these gutted cars and more of these gutted homes. Just complete devastation in this neighborhood.

What happened this afternoon was those winds shifted, and they picked up strength and started blowing in a new direction. And right now, there are some mandatory evacuations under way in South Lake Tahoe neighborhoods.

Crews going door to door, knocking on doors, asking families to leave and those families scurrying to gather up what they can and get out of town as quickly as possible.

The winds have been very volatile, shifting. Firefighters say it's just really hard to predict what will happen next with this blaze.

But to give you an idea, back here live, of the intensity of the fire, you can see this car here, this shell of a van. Take a look at this. This is actually metal that just melted off the front of this van, and then just kind of pooled up and dropped on the floor.

So extremely intense, hot flames that they've been dealing with here.

COOPER: Unbelievable. Kara, appreciate the reporting. Kara Finnstrom reporting from the fire line.

On the "Keeping Them Honest" beat now, we've come across some pretty brazen stories. This one is right up there with them, with the best of them.

The Smithsonian Institution has been called the keeper of America's treasure, our treasures. Its 18 museums are filled with gems of art, science and culture. Then, of course, there's the National Zoo with its famous giant pandas.

But now the keeper of all that treasure is engulfed in a giant scandal that may have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In a Senate hearing room today, the focus was on one man's greed and watchdogs asleep on the job.

Here's CNN's Joe Johns, "Keeping Them Honest".


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The vast Smithsonian institution has a billion-dollar budget and you, the taxpayers, pay most of it. And evidence is mounting that this guy, Lawrence Small, who ran all of it from a castle-like Smithsonian building, was actually operating like a king.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came out of Wall Street, if you keep that in mind, and they live this kind of life up there, you know, limousines all the time, going first class.

JOHNS: Not to mention, private jets, lavish parties, and a salary that far exceeded the compensation of people who held the job before him.

Small started out seven years ago making $536,000. By the time he resigned, he was up to $915,000, including perks, according to a new report examining his royal treatment.

(on camera) One of the perks Small got for taking the job was a six-figure housing allowance, allowing him to use this house, his personal residence, for official Smithsonian hospitality.

In the year 2000 that housing allowance started out at about $115,000 a year. By 2007, it was up to almost $200,000.

(voice-over) The report said Small rarely used his house for entertaining, that the allowance was actually a way to increase his pay.

Why such a big salary? His bosses, the Smithsonian board, thought with Small's street connections, he'd be a fund-raising superstar, but that report said with Small, private fund-raising actually went down, not up.

All of the controversy comes down to money, not only what the Smithsonian paid him but from what he earned elsewhere at the same time.

Small also earned almost $643,000 in cash, $3.5 million in stock, and another $1.8 million in stock options, by serving on two corporate boards.

So how could Small do all of this, while ruling the Smithsonian kingdom? By taking time off, of course: 64 days of leave to work for the boards, and that's apparently in addition to the 10 weeks of vacation he took almost every year he worked at the castle.

EISENBERG: He was disrespectful of the fact that he had a public trust. I think he tried to be greedy and get every penny he could, serving on two outside corporation boards, not spending sufficient time at the Smithsonian.

JOHNS: But, like any good story about royalty, there's a twist. It appears all of Small's actions were allowable under the deal he had with his bosses, the Smithsonian's board of regents. And as it happens, one of them was on Capitol Hill today, trying to explain how they let this happen.

(on camera) There's been a lot of talk about the board in the past being asleep at the switch.


JOHNS: But I haven't heard the response.

SANT: Oh, we -- I think we said we were. You know, we agreed, you know, when we saw the evidence that some of the thing we'd missed, we just said yes, that's an appropriate title. We are, nonetheless, feel like it's our responsibility to change that. JOHNS: Lawrence Small didn't return our calls. He did say in his resignation letter that accusations about his compensation were baseless, and he suggested he was leaving because of congressional meddling at Smithsonian.

But "Keeping Them Honest", that kingdom where America's treasures are kept is now taking a long, hard look at who gets the crown next time.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Got to give that guy credit for at least admitting, you know what? Yes, we were asleep at the switch. You don't hear that very often.

Up next on 360, wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin on the other side of the world with an amazing discovery that really none of us expected.


COOPER: In our "Planet in Peril" series, we have something cool for you tonight. Comes at a price, however. It is from Madagascar.

Wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin and our team have been on the island for a few days now. They're showing us how the ecosystem and the animals on one of the most breathtaking and rarest places on earth are literally vanishing before our eyes.

In giving us the disturbing facts from Madagascar, we came across what may be a new species. If so, tonight you'll be among the very first to see it.

Here's Jeff's report.


JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST (voice-over): This stretch of habitat belongs to the Adrafiomina (ph) forest, and it's quickly disappearing.

(on camera) It really is a state of urgency, isn't it, with a place like this?

RUSS MITTERMEIER, PRESIDENT, CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL: Absolutely. You have logging activity going on here. You let that continue, within five or ten years this forest will look like a lot of the devastated areas that we've flown over the past couple of days.

CORWIN (voice-over): The scientists working here are in hopes they can provide the scientific evidence, the proof to why this forest should be protected. One of the best ways to do that, through a rapid assessment program, or RAP. MITTERMEIER: Well, the whole idea of RAP is to show that this is not just a wasteland, but it is, in fact, one of the richest and most diverse systems on our planet.

CORWIN: The objective of a RAP survey like this is to bring together a wide range of scientists who an quickly assess the biological diversity of the area.

MITTERMEIER: If we don't get the information quickly, we're going to lose the opportunity to set aside these areas while they still exist.

CORWIN: And it is by no means easy. These scientists live and work in the field around the clock for two to four weeks at a time, attempting to gather data.

(on camera) Trekking through this dense foliage in the heat, going up steep hills, just gives you a bit of a sense of the everyday challenges these biologists face as they go into the field to do their job, to census the wildlife that lives here.

(voice-over) Now despite what you may think, it is not easy catching a gecko.

(on camera) OK. I'm feeling better, because he's even managed to escape from Bertram's experienced digits.

I see him. I see him.

(voice-over) Eventually, after lots of effort, I was able to get face-to-face with this very unique lizard.

(on camera) Look at this gorgeous, gorgeous lizard. I mean, he IS as emerald and as green as the foliage which basically swallows him up. You can see how an animal like this would be so hard to spot.

(voice-over) It was our lucky day.

(on camera) On this piece of timber, ON this old tree, we found three distinct species of gecko.

(voice-over) But one of these geckos in particular is incredibly special.

(on camera) We have this tiny little gecko. This specimen is no more than an inch in length. Its color, rather drab, but it is spectacular in that it's a mystery. We don't know who it is. We don't even know what the genus is.

But there's a very real possibility that this could be completely novel, something totally new.

(voice-over) It will be a number of months before other taxonomic scientists can confirm that this lizard is a new species. But just the mere possibility? Well, it is a biologist's dream. Such discoveries of new life like this are rare in other places in the world, but here in Madagascar, they are an everyday possibility.

Jeff Corwin, Adrafiomina (ph), Madagascar.


COOPER: Well, cool.

Straight ahead, double the danger, double the relief tonight for twin sisters, pulled from raging floodwaters. The incredible rescue is our "Shot of the Day", coming up next.


COOPER: Time now to check the headlines. Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, today, the CIA made public some of its darkest secrets. The agency released hundreds of pages of internal reports describing assassination plots, secret drug testing and spying on Americans.

Much of the information came from CIA officers working in the early '70s. Their accounts sparked investigations that led to new rules for the CIA, FBI and other spy agencies and the creation of oversight committees.

Check out this dash cam video. It was just released by New Hampshire authorities. That is pepper spray the officer is using, and that is a handgun. The officer was killed. The shooter, a 24-year- old cousin of ski champ Bode Miller.

You can't see what happened next, but as he tried to drive away, a passing motorist and former Marine grabbed the fallen officer's gun and killed the shooter.

The incident happened in May but the video, again, just being released.

And finally, a 13-year-old Kentucky girl whose feet were severed in an accident on an amusement park ride last Thursday, there's a report she's in stable condition tonight.

Kaitlyn Lasitter was on the Superman Tower of Power ride last week when that cable broke loose, cutting off her feet above the ankles. Just a horrible story, but some good news that she is in stable condition now, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Certainly. Unbelievable story.

HILL: Yes. Moving on to "What Were They Thinking?" Well, maybe the question tonight should be "What Was She Thinking?"

COOPER: Oh, no! HILL: She, she. We'll just leave it at that, the girl whose name we try not to say here on "AC 360", but out of the slammer. But you would never really know it from these pictures, because the walk out of the slammer, I don't know, it kind of -- there you go -- turns into a little bit of a strut out of the slammer. Um-hum. Doing a little red carpet walk there.

But you think after all the bad publicity for oh, the arrest for drunk driving, the probation violations, the suspended license, the jail time, maybe she'd want to make a little more humble statement? Not happening.

The A.P. reporting she went straight to her grandparents' mansion, where she summoned a hair salon van, causing a traffic jam and angering neighbors. "Us Weekly" is reporting that she had called in the hair people because she was getting 20-inch extensions.

COOPER: A hair salon van? Is that like an emergency mobile hair salon van?

HILL: It's like the emergency hair people.

COOPER: It's in L.A. It's just constantly on call 24 hours a day.

HILL: What else do you do? What if you have a hair emergency at 3 in the morning? Who you going to call, Ghostbusters?

COOPER: All right. Erica, thanks.

Time for the "Shot -- Shot of the Day", two rescues, first near Oklahoma City, 16-year-old twin sisters rescued from their car after it stalled in floodwaters. Remarkable images. They came away unhurt.

And in Santa Clarita, California, helicopters called in to rescue a 70-year-old woman after she drove off a mountain road into a brush- filled canyon. Rescue crews used her cell phone signal to find the woman. She was taken to a hospital with neck and back pains.

We want you to send us your "Shot" ideas. If you see some great videos, tell us about it: We'll put some of your best clips on the air.

Tonight Larry King is part of an historic moment: the remaining two members of the Beatles together with Larry at the Cirque Du Soleil show dedicated to the music of the Beatles.

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr -- Sir Paul McCartney, I think. Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison, together tonight with Larry. They're talking about the history and the music they made.

Larry gives the audience a special surprise you do not want to miss. "Love", that is the name of the show. Love is all you need, love and Larry King, coming up right after 360.

Up next on the program, more of our breaking news. The massive wildfire that's already destroyed hundreds of homes near Lake Tahoe, California, is on the move tonight, threatening more homes, forcing new evacuations. We'll have a live report from the fire line, next.



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