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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Libya Investigation Continues; Importance of Presidential Debates
Aired September 28, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.
And we begin tonight once again with breaking news that you will only see right here on 360.
After being the first to tell you that FBI investigators still have not set foot in the ruins of the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, tonight, we were the first to tell you why.
Tonight, we have the likely reason, and we have it from a top law enforcement official. Four Americans, as you know, were murdered in the assault, one American ambassador, Christopher Stevens.
That was two-and-a-half-weeks ago, two-and-a-half-weeks that have seen the administration first describe this as a spontaneous outburst, even though our reporting revealed that officials knew within 24 hours that it was not. Only much later, did they back away from that assessment.
Today, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, put out a statement explaining that early evidence supported that theory, so that's why they told the White House and Congress.
Clapper says that throughout the investigation, his agency made it clear that the assessment was preliminary and could change. Neither his statement nor our sources specify a time frame for the DNI's change of view. Again, our sources tell us that law enforcement officials knew within 24 hours that this was a terror attack.
Our reporting also reveals that even though the administration says the investigation is going smoothly, the FBI has hit a bump in the road to the crime scene. And tonight, we've got reporting that could explain why that is.
A senior law enforcement official telling Fran Townsend the FBI wanted the U.S. military to provide perimeter support in Benghazi, protection, in other words. But that request was not granted.
Fran's a former White House homeland security adviser. She served in the George W. Bush administration, currently she sits on the CIA external advisory panel and recently visited Libya with her employer, MacAndrews & Forbes.
Also joining us, former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, who has extensive experience investigating attacks on Americans overseas, and former CIA officer, Bob Baer.
So Fran, so the FBI sought military protection to go into Benghazi. Why didn't they get it?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the answer to that question, Anderson, I think, is not really clear. So it's not unusual, when you want to set up a security perimeter, you may look to the host country.
If the host country is unable or unwilling to provide it, we don't know what the answer to that is, you may ask if you think you need it for U.S. military support, but that's got to go through a process, right? So, it needs state department and NSC support. The U.S. military would have to make an assessment about how big a security package that would entail. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you need host government. The Libyan government, in this case, support to allow U.S. military boots on the ground to provide sort of the defensive security perimeter around the Benghazi compound.
Now, I spoke to a senior administration official who said they have been having regular meetings twice daily, secure video teleconferences on updates of the investigation. There has been regular deputies committee meetings hosted by Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, and discussions regarding Libyan support and cooperation.
My law enforcement source was quite clear, it's not that the Libyans haven't been cooperative. There have been discussions that the Libyans were concerned that they themselves couldn't provide the sort of comprehensive security to protect the FBI team and that there were concerns on the Libyan part about having a U.S. military presence on the ground.
All of that said, Anderson, as you point out, 18 days later after the attack, the FBI today sort of indicated to me through a senior law enforcement official they're having serious debates as to whether or not with the passage of so much time, whether it makes sense to take the risk at all even if they could have gotten the kind of support early on. Now, what will they gain by going to Benghazi and taking the security risk. They may decide not to go at all.
COOPER: So just to be clear, we're not sure at this point where the breakdown occurred in terms of who -- I mean, whether it was the Libyans, whether it was -- or state department, we don't know where the breakdown occurred.
TOWNSEND: No, that's right. And Anderson, it could have been something as simple as this sort of -- when the interagency discussion, the U.S. government writ large decided that if that's what you're required for your perimeter security, that indicated itself it was too dangerous and that they shouldn't be bothered, they shouldn't go at all. It's not even clear to us yet whether or not this request was put to the Libyan government.
COOPER: And Fran, you say not only FBI investigators not gone to Benghazi yet, but that some are not even in Libya. TOWNSEND: That's right. Anderson, whenever there's an international terrorism investigation, there's a protocol where FBI agents with palletized cargo and equipment pre-deploy in the region to get closer. In this case, that did happen. There were agents in Germany where they conducted interviews of U.S. personnel who were coming out of Libya, and there are also in another country, a third country in the region where they pre-deployed also to be nearby, but many of those still remain in that third country awaiting visas to get into Tripoli.
COOPER: Still waiting for visas?
TOWNSEND: That's right. Well, look, this is always -- I can tell you myself when I went, it's not easy to get a visa into Libya. Obviously, this is something that the Libyan government can facilitate for the FBI. But you know, we saw yesterday the U.S. government drew down their personnel because of concern in the protests today. And so, it may be that they have just been waiting for sort of a break in the security situation to get them in.
COOPER: Tom Fuentes, you have your own take on what's happening with the FBI contingent.
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, Anderson. During my five years running international operations at the bureau, I oversaw hundreds of these deployments, my staff and I, making the logistical arrangements, working on the visas, working with the host country on how many investigators would be allowed, how they would get there, what kind of equipment we could get in there. And we always had these types of challenges.
What happened in this case, and I talked to several senior executives the day after the attack on September 12, who said looking at the videos of that compound being burnt to the ground, looking at the fact that the Libyans have no control, no ability to maintain law and order in Benghazi, we are probably not going to be able to get in there. We will try, we will deploy, we will get in the neighborhood, we will have equipment standing by, maybe we can have some assurance that we can get in there and be protected. But at this point, we don't think there's going to be a lot of information of value.
And basically, they have to conduct a risk assessment. What evidence are they likely to get after a crime scene has been completely trampled by locals, souvenir hunters, reporters, everybody, much of the material burnt and taken away, and they are weighing that with the odds of if they send a team in there, even with U.S. military protection, and all of a sudden mortars start raining down on their heads from nearby houses, now what do you do. Do the marines attack those houses and kill innocent men, women and children that are -- you know, you suddenly have a war situation in an attempt to get evidence that may be of such limited value that it's just not worth the risk politically or investigated.
COOPER: Bob, we don't really know what other information, if any, there may have been laying around that could have been scavenged by anybody, by Libyans, friendly to the United States or not friendly to the United States. I mean, at both of these installations, there could have been classified information for all we know, correct?
ROBERT BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think almost undoubtedly there's been classified information lost. You simply can't burn out of a consulate like that in a minute's notice. You need termite grenades to burn through the safes. You need to destroy the hard drives. When you are under fire, no one can do that. There was no safe room to do that. There was no oxygen in those safe rooms. There was no way to keep the temperature down. The people in that consulate did exactly what they should have done and that was get out of there as fast as they can, and not get killed.
Now, frankly, I would like to see the FBI's, you know, investigation on this simply because it's the least politicized agency in Washington, and the FBI would come out and tell us exactly what happened there.
Number one, I would like to find out if those mortars in fact hit the annex as it's been described. Also, were the assaults, the people that assaulted the consulate using 12. 5 machine guns. That tells us a lot, that it truly was a military assault, that there's no amount of protection that would have protected that consulate.
And to go back to the military, you know, you are absolutely right. It would be actually occupying that part of Benghazi. You would have to send armor in if in fact you were being hit by artillery or heavy machine guns, and this is something that the White House is reluctant to do and it's of course politically impossible for the Libyan government to let an American military occupy a part of Benghazi.
COOPER: Tom, in past experience, I don't know if there has been a situation like this, but where U.S. personnel had been evacuated, after an incident like this, who was responsible for locking down the facility, for trying to secure the facility?
FUENTES: The Libyan government. And that's where the breakdown is. When we have had these situations overseas, we have had one of two situations. Either we have a country that has an established law enforcement and military such as the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, or you have a failed state like Somalia where we had "Black Hawk Down."
Neither, you know, if you have that situation and it's a failed state or it's a war zone like Iraq and Afghanistan, had it been in the early 2000s, then you send in the military, send in as many troops as you need. You just take over. But when you're trying to do that in a sovereign country or a country trying to gain its independence and stand up for itself, that's an extremely difficult situation to do that in.
COOPER: And Tom, from your experience, is it possible to have a thorough investigation without setting foot at a crime scene like this?
FUENTES: It's still impossible to have a very good investigation. And Bob is correct, it would be nice to go in there and see what kind of armament was used and where, you know, how they actually took down those buildings.
But on the other hand, if they go in there and they find and they do the explosive residue and send everything back to the lab to be examined and they find they have got munitions from the United States, from NATO countries, from other countries, that's going to basically tell them nothing, because, because of the insurrection that led up to the overthrow of Gadhafi.
You have countries from all over the world, including the U.S., sending munitions into that country, training the locals how to do it to overthrow the Gadhafi government. They had on-the-job training for months and months in how to operate mortars and RPGs and assault rifles and pistols. So you had a war zone there for a long time, so you have tens of thousands of civilians who know how to operate that military hardware and would have the equipment to do it.
And after Gadhafi was overthrown, the new government came in, no one has gone to that country and taken the munitions and the weapons and the bombs and mortars out. That's all still sitting there. We will have the same issue in Syria when that ends. For all the stuff that's being sent in to help the rebels, what happens in the aftermath when you've got tons of stuff that came in from all over the world and it falls into the hands of bad guys or terrorists.
COOPER: Bob, you are concerned about that particularly even talking about that now for months.
BAER: Yes. It's all over the Middle East, with weapons are easily available. They are for sale. They are being shipped around. There is enormous amount of money going into countries like Libya and these countries fragment. Libya is a tribalized society. I mean, it is astounding if you look at some of the French intelligence reports which they referred to in the press, that there's something like 100,000 to 200,000 militia men in Libya. But there's only 5,000 to 10,000 regular forces. The central government is outnumbered and to go to the central government and say do something about this is unrealistic.
COOPER: Tom, very quickly.
FUENTES: Anderson, if I could add one more comment. The other issue is even if the Libyans say OK, we are going to provide our best troops, our best police officers to come in and provide perimeter security, you don't know what kind of background checks or who they are loyal to. You know, you could have a situation like in Afghanistan, that people that we have been working with and training and side by side turned and fire on our people. So that's the dangerous aspect here. You can only have confidence if it's U.S. force protection. But bringing that much equipment and even armor, as Bob mentioned, is not feasible.
COOPER: And given that mortars were involved you would have to have a pretty huge perimeter to be able to secure both sites.
Tom Fuentes, appreciate your expertise. Fran, as well, in your reporting. Bob Baer, thanks. Join us on Facebook, follow me on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper. Let us know what you think about this situation.
Next, we are going to introduce you to the fine art of pre-debate trash talking. That's to say trash talking your own team and praising the other side. We will tell you why that happens and why it's happening now and show you one debate moment that changed the face of TV and some that changed American history.
We will also take a preview of what we can expect from this first debate coming next week -- "Raw Politics" next.
COOPER: "Raw Politics" now: the first presidential debate of course coming up next Wednesday.
The thing is, winning a presidential debate just isn't like winning most things. Think of it as like getting an A. on a math test where they grade on a curve. Suddenly, that 60 you got looks pretty darned good.
Debates are like that, which is why you're now seeing each side doing everything they can to bend the curve downward. Lowering expectations, trying to convince you and especially the pundits that their own guy can barely tie his shoes and the other guy can leap, debate opponents in a single bound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: We know that governor Romney's been practicing for months. I think the invasion of Normandy took less preparation than he's putting into these debates.
SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: He's articulate, smart. He did a great job in 2008, his campaign. He was very good during that campaign as a debater. He had some tough debates with Hillary Clinton and he performed well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that was Rob Portman, of course, who has been prepping Governor Romney. And before that, senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod. Each has been working as though the entire campaign depends on what happens in next week's debate. The question is will it? We will talk about that in a moment.
But first, one indisputable truth, debates can make history.
COOPER (voice-over): September 26, 1960, the first televised presidential debate, signaling a new era where appearances matter more than ever and gaffes, however small, are magnified.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The goals are the same for all Americans. COOPER: John F. Kennedy, a young senator from Massachusetts, facing off against vice president Richard Nixon, who is known to be a fierce debater. But on screen, Kennedy looks cool and calm, while Nixon looks uncomfortable, sweating profusely under the hot studio lights.
Nixon flounders under the glare of television for all four debates. Kennedy goes on to win the election. In 1976, President Gerald Ford makes this blunder in his debate with Georgia governor Jimmy Carter.
GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, could I just...
COOPER: The remark becomes a central theme in Carter's campaign and is blamed by many for costing Ford the election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan is repeatedly attacked by President Carter for his stance on health care.
JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Reagan, as a matter of fact, began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare.
COOPER: But Reagan wins fans and the election by staying cool.
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There you go again.
COOPER: Four years later, President Reagan again uses humor to handle attacks on his age during his debate with Walter Mondale.
REAGAN: I want you to know that also, I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.
COOPER: In the next election, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis is asked this controversial question in his debate with vice president George W. Bush.
BERNARD SHAW, MODERATOR: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
MICHAEL DUKAKIS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't, Bernard. I think you know that I have opposed the death penalty during all of my life.
COOPER: The public sees his answer as cold and dispassionate and that very night, his poll numbers dropped.
During the 1988 vice presidential debate, Republican Senator Dan Quayle's comparison to John F. Kennedy elicits this blistering response from his opponent.
LLOYD BENTSEN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.
COOPER: Body language plays a part in the presidential debate. In 1992, George H.W. Bush deliberately looks at his watch and he pays for it when the audience and voters see it as disrespectful.
Body language makes a difference in the debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush as well. Gore sighs over and over again. And Bush, the underdog, surprises by winning the debate and of course, the election.
Both President Obama and Governor Romney are seasoned debaters and experts say neither is prone to making major gaffes. But if there is one thing that history has taught us, when it comes to presidential debates, expect the unexpected.
COOPER: And joining us now to talk about the moments and debate magic yet to come, Republican consultant Romney 2008 campaign adviser, Alex Castellanos and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile. I mean, a lot of folks are saying these debates can be do or die for Mitt Romney.
Donna, to you, that's true?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. As you well know, first impression is very, very important. But Mitt Romney had several opportunities to change the trajectory of the campaign, his selection of a running mate, Paul Ryan, got a small bounce. The convention speech didn't get any bounce, and now the first debate.
This is like the first night on Broadway. There will be more voters tuning in, they will be looking at his performance and if he comes across as somebody who is credible, who is up to the task, he might get another bounce out of it.
COOPER: Aren't undecided voters the least likely to tune into the debates? I mean, does anyone really, Gallup looked back at records and found only two examples where debates really changed the course. That was 1960 and 2000.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: They are important moments for these candidates. But Anderson, you are exactly right. It's so hard to change anything at this point. Why. These two guys are not unpainted canvases.
You know, Barack Obama, his canvas is pretty much filled in. We know him. We have seen him for four years, as president. Mitt Romney has been through a long and grueling campaign. There is very little white space left on his canvas. So if they're really going to do something different that changes how they're understood, it has to be something very big.
COOPER: It's interesting, both candidates, campaigns are trying to lower expectations a lot. Do you think Mitt Romney actually could be kind of better prepared than his campaign that's trying...
BRAZILE: There's no question, he participated in 20 debates. And Anderson, as you know, you hosted a few of them. He was always well prepared. He understood what was at stake.
And I thought, he was perhaps better prepared than any of the other candidates. But you know, these debates can reinforce the current perception of the candidates. And I think that will pretty much help President Obama. But if Mitt Romney can create a different impression that he's somebody that's more likable, that he understands the issues and that he's more compassionate or empathetic, it could re-align the campaign. I don't think by much, because President Obama right now is in a very strong position.
COOPER: What do you think Mitt Romney needs to do?
CASTELLANOS: I think Mitt Romney needs to talk about failure and success. Mitt Romney may not be the perfect candidate, but this president doesn't have much in the way of accomplishments, especially when it comes to this economy. And he has to say look, Barack Obama, you may have succeed as a politician, but you haven't succeeded as a president. I know what it takes to succeed in life. I have done it a lot in business creating growth and jobs. Let's talk about that.
COOPER: It does seem in the last couple days his campaign has been kind of trying to make him seem like a warmer guy. I mean, that photo...
BRAZILE: He's loosened his tie, taken it off. He's laughed a little more. The job for Mitt Romney clearly is to get in the ring, get in the arena and to show that he can handle these tough issues. He hasn't been specific. He has to avoid talking about taxes. He has to avoid talking about the 47 percent. He has to play offense. And President Obama has to make sure that he doesn't play preventive defense.
COOPER: Just being on that stage with the president, does that make Mitt Romney seem more presidential?
CASTELLANOS: Absolutely. Debates are great levelers. You know, any time you're in the ring with the president of the United States, it tends to bring the water level up for both candidates.
BRAZILE: But let me just tell you. I will never forget when Al Gore -- Al Gore had a lot of momentum. He went into the debate and I thought he was very well prepared.
George Bush was there as well. But you know, I don't know if you recall, Anderson, some viewers heard Al Gore sigh, like he sounded like he was tired. And then of course, that debate with Bill Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush where he showed, he looked at his watch. And so, these are moments when people are really assessing your temperament, your body language, your demeanor. So it's a big night for both President Obama as well as Governor Romney.
COOPER: Did you hear him sigh? Were you backstage like stop sighing?
BRAZILE: I heard it the first time. By the third time I pretended not to listen. But more importantly, once they put up that split screen, then you looked at he was rolling his eyes and of course, it was not a pretty moment. But we came back in the second debate.
CASTELLANOS: That's when the Democrats started sighing, too, right after Al Gore.
Mitt Romney has to demonstrate he's changed. There are a lot of voters in this country who are unsatisfied with Barack Obama. They think we could do better. They don't know that Mitt Romney is that change. Neither of these guys has told us what the next four years could be like because of the changes they would bring.
BRAZILE: And that's I think another challenge that Mitt Romney has on Wednesday night. That is to finally lay out some plans. I mean, he has been talking a lot about I have solutions, I know how to get the economy moving, but he really hasn't given us a concrete beyond the 59 points, the five points...
CASTELLANOS: Neither has our president, though.
BRAZILE: But the president did in his convention speech outline what he would do over the next four years which I believe is very important because he'll have an opportunity on Wednesday night to expand upon that.
Mitt Romney once again, this is the third time he's going to have an opportunity to introduce himself. This time, we will see if he can charm us into thinking he's the one.
CASTELLANOS: I think you're a little confused. That was the wrong president. That was Bill Clinton who said that.
COOPER: Donna Brazile. Alex Castellanos. Thank you.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
COOPER: Ahead, we will investigate our shameful fact. After risking their lives on the battlefield, disabled veterans are now fighting a battle they never expected for the benefits they deserve.
We will be right back.
COOPER: A stunning story: a sixth-grade teacher accused of separating special needs and African-American kids from white kids -- what he's saying about the allegations when we continue.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report about veterans having to fight for disability benefits they say they are entitled to. Their doctors have vouched for their injuries. They filed the required , not to mention they've risked their lives for their country, but now find themselves doing battle with the very agency that's supposed to take care of them, the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Randi Kaye investigates.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mike Rioux can't go to the grocery store without making a list even for just one item. He can't drive without gripping the steering wheel so hard, his knuckles turn white. And he can't stand longer than 30 minutes because of severe back pain. This is Mike Rioux's life post-Afghanistan.
MIKE RIOUX, VETERAN: I need to discover who I am again. I'm not asking for help for the rest of my life. I want to feel like I matter.
KAYE: Mike's wife, Maggie, says her husband returned from war a shell of the man he once was. Gone was the fun-loving, free-spirited, laid-back guy he used to be. War, she says, changed him.
He still has ringing in the ears from explosions. He also suffers from vertigo, headaches, and has terrible anxiety. We saw it first-hand during our interview. Mike was so anxious, he could hardly sit still.
We met at Mike Rioux's mother's house near Phoenix, Arizona, where he, his wife and daughter have been living for the last year and a half. Maggie and their daughter share a bedroom, and Mike sleeps every night on the living room couch.
(on camera) What is it like for you at 51 to be sleeping on your mother's couch?
MIKE RIOUX: Ashamed. I feel low. I feel -- how can I support my family, let alone get them a house?
KAYE: Mike doesn't have the money for a place of their own. He can't work. Firefights and an IED blast in Afghanistan left him with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Maggie isn't working, either, so she can look after him. The money is running out, and they find themselves like hundreds of thousands of other veterans, fighting a battle they never expected. One they frankly can't believe. They're fighting for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
MIKE RIOUX: I thought they were there to help us. You know, I -- if it wasn't for my wife, I'd be in the fetal position. I'd be curled up in a ball. I couldn't do it. KAYE: Mike has been trying to get his disability claim processed for nearly two years. There has been lost paperwork, long wait times for appointments, and erroneous lab results. When Mike was prescribed some medication, it was for a bladder infection he didn't have.
(on camera) Mike first filed his claim in January 2011, right after he got back from Afghanistan. In August, that same year, he learned his claim was finally in review. Then in December 2011, he was told to expect a decision by the end of the year. That deadline came and went.
(voice-over) "Keeping Them Honest," we asked veterans affairs assistant secretary Tommy Sowers why veterans who risk their lives for this country are waiting months, even years, for disability, despite V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki's promises for a quick turnaround on claims.
(on camera) Secretary Shinseki said that his goal was to have claims resolved in no more than 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. Why hasn't that happened yet?
TOMMY SOWERS, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, VETERANS AFFAIRS: Well, again, this is -- this is a problem that has been decades in the making. We're transitioning from a paper-based system to an electronic system, and it is a huge amount. It's a huge undertaking and task.
KAYE: Is the current backlog of claims acceptable?
SOWERS: It is unacceptable and we know that. We do.
KAYE (voice-over): Unacceptable, yet more than a year after Mike filed his claim, he was still waiting.
(on camera) We interviewed 16 other veterans for this story. All of them told us they waited many months to get a simple disability claim resolved. In some cases, more than a year. Many of them also told us they weren't helped quickly enough with serious mental health issues related to PTSD.
In one case, a veteran told us he called a V.A. suicide hotline and was told they would call him back. They never did.
(voice-over) Right now, according to the V.A., there are close to 900,000 claims pending and of those, 66 percent of them have been waiting longer than Secretary Shinseki's goal of 125 days.
Worse, more than 228,000 claims have been pending one year or more. On average, the V.A. says veterans wait 256 days before their claim is resolved.
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says troops are tired of the rhetoric.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER, IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: There's a difference between the speak you get out of the bureaucrats in Washington and the reality of what you see on the ground. The guys and gals on the ground don't care about how many bureaucrats there are, how many pilot studies there are, how much money is being spent. They care if they have gotten a decision back from the V.A.
KAYE (on camera): There is a saying among veterans about the V.A. You might have heard it. They say the V.A.'s policy is "Delay, deny until we die." What is your response to that?
SOWERS: I would say that there are many veterans out there that love their V.A. care, that absolutely love it.
KAYE: Assistant Secretary Sowers says the V.A. is on track to process one million claims this year, and that it paid out nearly $5 billion in compensation last year.
Adding to delays, the V.A. says many veterans are returning with severe and complex mental injuries, and sometimes file incomplete paperwork. The backlog also increased when thousands of vets were finally allowed to file claims for Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome.
On June 27th this year, Mike finally got word his disability claim had been processed, 18 months after he'd filed. But Mike was awarded only 40 percent disability, which works out to $659 a month. He got credit for his PTSD, but even though he'd been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury by a doctor at the V.A., he was denied coverage for that injury.
Like so many others, Mike and Maggie plan to appeal their disability rating, a process that could set them back another two years in getting their case resolved.
MAGGIE RIOUX, WIFE: He could have been killed. Every time I spoke to him on the phone I thought this might be the last time I hear his voice. Our relationship has had to take a -- a hit.
MIKE RIOUX: That's another dimension. Yes. Our relationship.
MAGGIE RIOUX: You know, we -- I'm married to a different man now. I love him as much as I've always loved him, but he's different.
KAYE: Different in a way Maggie and Mike hope to make the V.A. understand. That $659 a month in disability certainly doesn't cover the price they've paid for war.
Randi Kaye, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.
COOPER: Incredible, they might have to wait another year or two.
Coming up, disturbing accusations at a school in Minnesota, where students say a teacher segregated the African-American students from the white students and called them horrible names. Gary Tuchman speaks to some of those students and the teacher at the center of the controversy, next.
COOPER: New chapter in the search for Jimmy Hoffa. Police broke through concrete in Michigan today. Their findings ahead.
COOPER: "Digging Deeper" tonight, the families of several students in Minnesota are suing the school and a former teacher they say segregated African-American and white students in his classroom. Now, the teacher had other incidents of questionable behavior on his record dating back several years, and even though he's not in the classroom anymore, get this: he's still collecting checks. Gary Tuchman investigates for us.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the middle of the school day, and this sixth-grade teacher is riding a motorcycle. The reason Timothy Olmsted is not in school is complex and, according to many, deeply disturbing.
Twelve-year-old Aulecia Jones was one of his students.
AULECIA JONES, FORMER STUDENT OF TIMOTHY OLMSTED: He separated me from the white kids and sent me to the other side of the room where all the black kids were.
TUCHMAN: Timothy Olmsted is accused by students and their families of taking black children and disabled children at the Heights Community School in St. Paul, Minnesota, and segregating them from white children.
Melissa Dobbs was also a student in the class. So what did you think when he put you and the other black children in the back of the room? What did it make you think about yourself?
MELISSA DOBBS, FORMER STUDENT OF TIMOTHY OLMSTED: Like I wasn't smart enough, or I'm not good enough -- I'm not good enough for me to be with the other children, the other white children.
TUCHMAN: The children say at first they were afraid to tell their parents and grandparents, but they ultimately did, after they say they were repeatedly called stupid, sloppy and disgusting.
(on camera) Why do you think he was so mean to you?
JAMIA WARE, FORMER STUDENT OF TIMOTHY OLMSTED: Because we was black and he was white.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): And it's not just students and relatives who are speaking out about Olmsted.
(on camera) Do you work at the same school where Timothy Olmsted worked?
JENNIFER COUTURE, SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: I do. TUCHMAN (voice-over): Jennifer couture is a teacher who substituted for the class one day when Olmsted was out. She worries school administrators might punish her for speaking to us about him but backs up what these children told us.
(on camera) When you took over his class, were the black students segregated from the rest of the class?
COUTURE: Yes. As were the special ed students.
TUCHMAN: So special ed students and the black students were not sitting with the white students?
TUCHMAN: The children, the parents and other teachers say the bizarre abusive behavior lasted for months. Finally, after continuing complaints, Olmsted was placed on leave this past January and then two months later, he resigned. But get this. He's still getting paid.
(voice-over) The St. Paul school district says he's owed back sick pay.
All of this has caused a great deal of anger. The three children we talked with and their relatives have filed a civil suit against Olmsted and the St. Paul public schools, who they say knew about his actions for months and did nothing. The superintendent of schools denied to us in a written statement that the district ignored the complaints: "We promptly investigated. We responded appropriately, and we intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit."
But the lawyer representing the children and parents disagrees, saying the school put protecting its reputation above protecting its children.
MARGARET O'SULLIVAN KANE, CHILDREN'S ATTORNEY: They'd rather sweep it under the rug than deal with it. And that's exactly what happened in this case.
TUCHMAN: And then there is this. Documents from the school district indicate Olmsted was reprimanded back in 2011 for sexually offensive behavior toward a female co-worker at a holiday party. And in 2003, he was suspended for five workdays for making sexually offensive and inappropriate references to school children.
In the disciplinary letter to Olmsted, the former superintendent stated, "For no discernible appropriate instructional reason, you digressed to describe some of your experiences of life on a farm and gave the class a graphic description of castrating horses and throwing their testicles into the field for cats to eat."
(on camera) Despite the fact that allegations against Olmsted in the past were excessively disturbing, the St. Paul School District continued to welcome children into his class year after year without ever telling parents a thing. (voice-over) So we wanted to see what Olmsted, who still has a teaching certificate, had to say. He happened to be talking to a cop when we came up to him.
(on camera) Mr. Olmsted? My name is Gary Tuchman with CNN. I want to ask you about what happened in your classroom. Do you have any comments about that?
TIMOTHY OLMSTED, ACCUSED TEACHER: I have no comments.
TUCHMAN: There are allegations you separated the black children from the rest of the children in the classroom.
OLMSTED: No comment.
TUCHMAN: And in 2003 and 2011 reports about you, a fellow employee, saying inappropriate things to other students. What do you have to say about that?
OLMSTED: No comment.
TUCHMAN: Did you do it or not? Just be honest with me.
OLMSTED: No comment.
TUCHMAN: OK, why are you still collecting a salary from the school?
OLMSTED: No comment.
TUCHMAN: I mean, should taxpayers be paying you money after your -- after you resigned from school?
OLMSTED: No comment.
TUCHMAN: How come you don't want to talk, sir? Just with all due respect.
OLMSTED: I won't even comment to that.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Following Olmsted's litany of "no comments," we asked for a comment from his attorney. In a written statement, his lawyer declared, "Timothy Olmsted has never discriminated against any student. Plaintiffs' allegations against Mr. Olmsted are false, and Mr. Olmsted is confident he will be completely vindicated by the true facts."
What those true facts might be remain a mystery. To the children, though, what happened is all quite obvious.
(on camera) Did he make you feel like you were not as important as the white kids in the class?
(voice-over) Children who are still dealing with the emotional ramifications.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, St. Paul, Minnesota.
COOPER: We will certainly continue to follow that story.
As the battle rages on, the latest on what's happening to Syria's chemical weapons. We have that report next.
COOPER: Quick programming note. We ran out of time for our report on the social issues that Americans tell us will be No. 1 for them this election. Health care, we're putting it up in full on our Web site, AC360.com. Right now let's join Susan Hendricks with the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, opposition forces say 144 people were killed today across Syria, 50 in the city of Aleppo alone where a fierce battle is raging between government forces and opposition forces.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. has intelligence that Syria's government has moved some of its chemical weapons to secure them.
Newly-released documents show that Colorado movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes threatened someone at the University of Colorado where he was a graduate student and had been banned from campus. The documents are heavily redacted, but prosecutors say it was a professor that Holmes threatened.
To Michigan now: authorities took two soil samples from beneath a storage shed at a suburban Detroit home in the latest search for former Teamsters chief Jimmy Hoffa. He has been missing since 1975. He was declared dead in 1982. A tipster told police he saw a body being buried at the site the day after Hoffa disappeared. The soil samples will be tested for human remains. But police say today's search did not turn up any evidence that someone was buried there.
And a rare white whale has been spotted off Australia's eastern coast. The albino humpback has been nicknamed Migaloo by researchers who track his movements. There he is. They say Migaloo is the only documented all-white humpback adult whale -- Anderson.
COOPER: Hey, Susan. Thanks.
Coming up, undeniable proof that Wolf Blitzer is hipper than the rest of us. "The RidicuList" is next.
COOPER: Time now for the "RidicuList." And tonight we're adding anyone -- and I mean anyone -- who thinks he's hipper than Wolf Blitzer. No one -- I mean no one -- is hipper than Wolf Blitzer. Yesterday in "THE SITUATION ROOM" he proved it once and for all after a certain news item involving the music business. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Elvis Presley is no longer the artist with the most Billboard hot 100 hits. That title now goes to rapper Little Wayne. Little Wayne now...
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You keep saying "Little." It's Lil' Wayne.
SYLVESTER: Lil'. I'm not all that hip. Not as hip as you.
BLITZER: You've got to know that. He's a rap artist. It's Lil' Wayne.
SYLVESTER: Little Wayne. OK. Thanks.
BLITZER: Not "Little." Not "Little."
SYLVESTER: OK. How do you say it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Wolf Blitzer, rap aficionado. But this is actually just the latest in a long type of hipster moves by Sir Blitz-a-lot.
Need I remind you he danced on stage at the "Soul Train" awards.
COOPER: Lest you think that was an anomaly, check out B. Diddy keeping it real on "Ellen."
COOPER: Shorty got low indeed.
You see, Lil' Blitz had a long history of being hip. He does. And I think he bumped it up a notch recently with the new glasses, although as I said on the "RidicuList" a couple weeks ago when he debuted the new look, I think maybe Gray-Z over there was taking a page from the "nothing's cooler than AC" playbook.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: There's just, I don't know, let me put my glasses on. There's just something -- oh, you know what? I think I know what it is. It would seem that Mr. Wolf Blitzer got himself some new glasses. I wonder where he could have possibly gotten that idea.
Now, I don't want to accuse Wolf Blitzer of going all "Single White Female" on me, but these glasses, they're kind of my thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So last week, Snoop Wolf filled in for me here on 360, and he guest hosted the "RidicuList," or "RiBlitzaList," and I think he made some fair points.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: When two undeniably hunk-tastic men such as Anderson and myself work together, a rivalry is inevitably going to arise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I ask you, is there anything better than hearing Wolf Blitzer say the word "hunk-tastic" on a Friday night? The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is yes, there is something that is much, much better. Pour yourself a cocktail, dim the lights, sit back and behold.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The pussywillows blowing in the wind on the lake of shores of Lake Titicaca are almost as magical as Uranus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What? I leave for one night and you have this poor man doing this? The guy used to be a White House correspondent, for goodness sakes. I mean, I would explain the context of that, but frankly, I have no idea what the context was. And I actually prefer for it to kind of come out of nowhere and just exist in the universe all on its own.
It proves without a doubt that Wolf Blitzer is professionally unflappable, not to mention the biggest rap-loving, beard-sporting "SITUATION ROOM"-hosting, Dougie-dancing hipster ever to steal my glasses. Yes. I'm sorry. I just had to get that one in one last time.
OK, that's it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.