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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Lance's Lies and His Strong-Arm Machine; Growing Sandy Hook Conspiracies
Aired January 15, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks.
Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight as we do every night, "Keeping Them Honest," looking for facts, not offering up opinions or playing favorites. Not supporting on political side or another. Our goal is just reporting, finding the truth and calling out hypocrisy. And there's no bigger example of that tonight, or possibly ever in the history of sports, than what happened to American icon Lance Armstrong over the last 24 hours.
He cheated, lied about it for years and years and years, and now he's reportedly coming clean, somewhat.
How much did Lance Armstrong say in the interview he just taped with Oprah Winfrey. He reportedly admits to using performance- enhancing drugs to win bicycle races. And Oprah says he was, quote, "pretty forthcoming," and that he did not come clean in the manner she expected. Exactly what that means is not clear. Oprah is too good to give it all away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "OPRAH'S NEXT CHAPTER": I choose not to characterized. I would rather people make their own decisions about whether he was contrite or not. I felt that he was thoughtful. I thought that he was serious. I thought that he certainly had prepared himself for this moment.
I would say that he met the moment. And at the end of it, two and a half -- literally two and a half hours, we both were pretty exhausted. And I would say I was satisfied.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, whatever ultimately made it to tape -- and we won't know until later this week, long-time followers of Armstrong say they are not ready to take anything he says at face value. Reporters, teammates, even one-time friends, they all describe the seven-time Tour de France winner, cancer survivor and charity founder, as a born manipulator who'll do whatever it takes for only one person, Lance Armstrong.
"Keeping Them Honest," they point to a record of lying that rivals his record of winning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: We're sick and tired of these allegations and we're going to do everything we can to fight them. They're absolutely untrue.
I've said it for seven years. I've said it for longer than seven years. I have never doped. I can say it again. But I've said it for seven years. It doesn't help.
How could it have taken place when I've never taken performance- enhancing drugs?
BOB LEY, HOST, "OUTSIDE THE LINES": Go back to 1995, one of your former teammates, Steven Swart, he was riding with you, he's a kiwi on the Motorola team. He has told ESPN on the record and on camera that back in '95 when the team was struggling that you announced to the team that you were going to begin doping and you were encouraging other teammates to do the same. What do you say to that account?
ARMSTRONG: Now again, complete nonsense.
It can't be any clearer that I've never taken drugs, then incidents like that could never have happened.
Why would I then enter into a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That's crazy. I would never do that. That's -- no. No way.
My case, I mean, I came out of a life-threatening disease. I was on my death bed. Do you think I'm going to come back into a sport and say, OK, OK, Doctor, give me everything you got, I just want to go fast. No way. Would never do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Lance Armstrong denying it all, time and time again. Since then, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has put out more than 1,000 pages of allegations and evidence against Armstrong and his teammates, calling Armstrong's drug ring the most sophisticated in the history of sports. He's been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, barred from competition, stepped down from the Livestrong charity that he founded.
And until now he's denied everything. Not only that, as you'll see, he's got a long history of lashing out at people who tried to expose him, the people who dared to suggest that Armstrong was on something other than his bike. That was, in many cases, a brave stance to take. Because in almost every case it was followed by a Lance Armstrong sponsored scorch earth campaign.
COOPER (voice-over): Frankie Andreu would have once described Lance Armstrong as one of his closest friends. They were teammates in the 1990s. Frankie and his wife Betsy frequently socialized with Armstrong. This picture shows the three of them cooking dinner together in 1995.
But in what would become a familiar pattern, Armstrong turned on the Andreus after they testified in a 2006 lawsuit alleging Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong vehemently denied the charges and it didn't stop there. Betsy Andreu says Armstrong vilified her in the press, calling her vindictive and jealous, and portrayed her husband as bitter because his cycling contract with Armstrong's team was not renewed after the 2000 season.
And then there was this. A voicemail left for Betsy Andreu in 2008 by a friend and associate of Armstrong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head, but I also hope that one day you will have adversity in your life and you have some type of tragedy. It's pathetic, Betsy. I thought you were a better person than that.
COOPER: Betsy Andreu provided the voicemail to the "New York Daily News" as evidence of the threats and intimidation she says they suffered.
And then there's Greg LeMond, the only American to win the world's most grueling race before Armstrong went on his string of seven straight wins. The relationship between the two men was anything but close, especially after LeMond questioned Armstrong's association with a controversial Italian doctor named Michele Ferrari.
Frankie Andreu said Armstrong was clearly upset at LeMond's comments and in an affidavit Andreu said, "I recall Lance saying words to the effect of, who does Greg think he is talking about Ferrari? I'm going to take him down." And he did.
Armstrong had great influence with the bike sponsored Trek which dropped its support of LeMond brand, damaging LeMond's bike business.
Armstrong also intimidated his critics and rivals during competition. In the 2004 Tour de France, Armstrong comfortably held the race's overall lead but surprised everyone when he chased down Filippo Simeoni. Why? It turned out it was only to punish Simeoni to prove a point.
Simeoni had crossed Armstrong in the past by testifying against Dr. Ferrari about doping. Armstrong publicly called Simeoni a liar and told him privately he could, quote, "destroy him." After catching him, this gesture from Armstrong during the race was widely seen to be directed toward Simeoni, a warning to stay silent.
Former teammate Tyler Hamilton followed a code of silence and lied about doping until this "60 Minutes" interview in 2011.
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS' "60 MINUTES": You saw Lance Armstrong inject EPO?
TYLER HAMILTON, CYCLIST: Yes, like we all did. Like I did many, many times. COOPER: After that interview aired, Hamilton began to cooperate with the federal investigation into Armstrong. He was physically accosted by Armstrong inside a restaurant according to an affidavit and Armstrong told Hamilton he'd make his life a living hell.
LEY: Why would they say these things?
COOPER: In an interview with ESPN, Armstrong was asked about his former friends, teammates and associates who testified about his doping. He had only this to say.
ARMSTRONG: I've surrounded myself with, at times, questionable people and I've not, in the past, been great with -- when riders leave teams or relationships end, perhaps I haven't handled that properly and I admit that freely and personally people hate that. I would hate it, too. But, you know, why people would lie and tell stories -- some of them, obviously, were paid. Some of them had other motives. That's clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So he's lying there. You heard a bit from Tyler Hamilton, he and Daniel Coyle have co-written, "The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at all Costs."
I spoke with Daniel Coyle a short time ago along with ESPN legal analyst, Roger Cossack, and "New York Times" sportswriter Juliet Macur.
COOPER: Daniel, what I don't understand, really, is why Armstrong is doing this now. Because just a few months ago, he had a chance to avoid lifetime banishment. The USADA had invited him to come clean, to be part of the solution. He turned them down flat. So what happened between then and now? What changed?
DANIEL COYLE, AUTHOR, "THE SECRET RACE": This is a perfect glance into the way Lance's brain works. He's really good at figuring out complex situations. Looking at them in a very binary way and figuring out a path forward. You know, it's not about being consistent with him. It's about winning, and that brain is really built for that. So at this point, he figured that the best path forward was to go to Oprah. And that's what he's doing.
But the problem that he faces is that you can win the Tour de France but it's hard to win a confession. That has to do with genuine feeling. It has to do with contrition.
COOPER: But, Juliet, I mean, you were saying that the most important thing to remember is that Armstrong is an athlete, that he's not in this to say sorry or clean up cycling or help charity. He wants to compete in competitions and he can't do that now.
JULIET MACUR, SPORTSWRITER, NEW YORK TIMES: Exactly. I think the difference between several months ago and now is that he's had several months of no competition and for a guy like Lance Armstrong, that must be torture. He's been an athlete since he's just been a little kid, like a teenager. He was a professional tri-athlete and really barely finished high school because of his triathlon career, and he'd had a lot of time to think about how he is lonely, how he doesn't have the adulation of fans at the finish line, and he has nobody to beat right now and it's driving him nuts.
COOPER: And Roger, legally, I mean, there's a whole bunch of reasons why he should not have done this, right?
ROGER COSSACK, ESPN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, I hear what your -- what the other guests are saying, but as a lawyer, it goes against everything that I know. And I'm -- you know, I'm not the only one that knows the liability he's facing. He has wonderful lawyers who have given him advice over the years. But he's looking at, in excess, if everything goes wrong, of judgments in excess of perhaps $100 million.
I am still waiting to actually see what -- see how much he really confesses and what he confesses to.
COOPER: Legally, I mean, what does -- who does he owe money to if he's -- I mean, depending on who decides to sue him or currently who is suing him?
COSSACK: Well, there's a whistleblower's lawsuit that's going on right now that Floyd Landis has brought and that the Justice Department may join. And that has to do with all of the money he got from the U.S. Postal Service. And the question is, did he get it under false pretenses? Because under his contract, he said that he would do nothing that would bring him embarrassment, and not use drugs.
And so if he gets up and admits that he breached that contract, under the whistleblower statute, he not only has to pay back all the money he has -- he has taken, but could get hit with trouble damages, which means three times the amount of money he's taken.
COOPER: It is pretty --
COYLE: This is what makes Lance Lance. He likes risks. This is why he's succeeded in this very corrupt world of cycling for so long. It's why as we describe in our book. There is smuggling bags of blood underneath dog kennels into the tour. They were giving transfusions on the bus during the tour. He doesn't shy away from risk. And that's what this is. And he's made the calculation. He's got a net worth over $100 million. He probably won't lose all of it.
COOPER: I mean, you think he's going to have to pay back some of these lawsuits? COYLE: He'll pay back some. He'll settle. I mean, the government usually settles these sort of cases. The rest of them often can settle. So let's say he loses 50 million bucks, he's still got a fair amount. He's not going to starve. And he will, more importantly, have his narrative back, have his life as a competitive athlete back.
And the question is, is he going to apologize to the people he hurt along the way? You know, this -- we talk about this as if he's the only part of the story. But in fact, he's not. The story is much bigger than just him.
COOPER: I mean, he's got great PR. But, I mean, as you and I talked about before, Juliet, I mean, he was a jerk to an awful lot of people. I mean, he sought to destroy people who would testify against him, who had spoken the truth.
MACUR: I think jerk is an understatement.
I think a lot of those people, I mean, are devastated right now. And I don't really know what to think when he's calling some of these people up to apologize. I actually spoke to a few people that he's reached out to and they're like dumbfounded. They don't know whether to believe him or not.
COOPER: Juliet, did you see him threaten people, reporters who reported things that he felt were inappropriate?
MACUR: Well, I mean, he has threatened lawsuits many, many times against reporters, including one that he actually won, a libel lawsuit against the "Sunday Times of London" when a writer, David Walsh, who was one of his earliest naysayers, shall we say, published some information in the paper that said that he had doped. He won that lawsuit. And of course, the "Sunday Times of London" is asking for that money back right now.
But he was a master at intimidating people. He had this great story going on, he was a fairytale story from the very first time he won the Tour de France and people were enamored with it. That's including many of the journalists who are covering it. And if anybody wrote anything that was negative, he sometimes would call you on the phone in the morning, yelling at you or criticizing you, or he would actually blackball you and not give you any interviews if you -- if you wrote anything negative.
And for a journalist who's -- who'd made their money or made their living covering cycling or covering Lance Armstrong, to not get access to Lance, that meant they were dead in the water. So he had a lot of power.
COOPER: Can he portray himself as just one of many people on his team who dope? Because I read an article in "The Times," I think it was, that seemed to indicate that was sort of the way he was going to spin this. That he wasn't at the epicenter of this. COYLE: He can try. He can try to do that. But I think it's going to be difficult for him because of the thousand pages of his (INAUDIBLE) evidence.
COYLE: That paint a very different picture.
COYLE: Because of the book "The Secret Race" that paints a very different picture. This is about power. It's not really about drugs. Armstrong wielded a tremendous amount of economic, political sporting power and he used it ruthlessly.
COOPER: Because Lance Armstrong called the shots on that team. I mean, he was the star of the team. Everybody was there to make sure he won, right?
COYLE: He was the Tony Soprano.
COYLE: They were literally extensions of his body. You know? Their power was his power. And that's how he used it. And when you crossed him, he cut you dead. You were gone.
COOPER: It's going to be interesting, Juliet, to see how he plays this -- this interview. I mean, they tape, I guess, for 2 1/2 hours, Oprah is going to air this over two nights and she said that she was prepared, she'd done a lot of reading, she's watched a lot of his interviews, she was prepared to get very specific, and found that she didn't have to do that if he denied one thing, she would say, well, what about on page such and such of this book. She said she didn't have to do that.
Whether that means he got specific or -- I'm not sure how to read that. What do you think?
MACUR: I think Oprah is great. She's a -- she's a great business woman and a great interviewer. I'm sure she prepared a lot for this interview. But I guarantee you that Lance Armstrong prepared more. He had about a dozen people telling him what to -- what to do, what to say, what to act. I'm sure he went over and over in a mirror to get the right facial expressions, to find the right emotions. I mean, this is his chance on turning his life around.
COOPER: Well, that's going to be fascinating to watch.
Juliet Macur, appreciate it. Roger Cossack and Daniel Coyle, thank you so much.
MACUR: Thanks. Good night.
COYLE: Thank you.
COSSACK: Thank you.
COOPER: Let us know what you think about this. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I'm tweeting tonight about this.
Just ahead, the outrageous, flat-out, crazy claims being made about the Newtown shootings and the victims. The Florida professor who says the massacre may have been staged is now accusing me of targeting him and trying to do him harm and his family harm.
We're "Keeping Them Honest" ahead.
COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report now on the growing conspiracy theories about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. If you don't know about this, you are going to be stunned.
We were in Newtown last night. And a number of residents have been inundated with hateful messages, crank calls by people who believe they are part of a government and media conspiracy surrounding the shootings.
Now it's not just some Internet extremists alleging these conspiracies. This is a guy named James Tracy, a tenured associate professor at a Florida Atlantic University, a public school that's taxpayer funded. Now as we told you first on Friday Professor Tracy claims the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary did not happen as reported and may not have happened at all.
Here's what he wrote originally on his personal blog. And I quote, "One is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place, at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described."
Now as we told you Friday normally we wouldn't dignify these types of remarks by covering them but James Tracy is a tenured professor at a public university. And these claims by him and others online have begun to cause deep distress to victims' families. We invited Professor Tracy to come on the program Friday night, he declined. He gave a statement, though, saying, quote, "I apologize for any additional anguish and grief my remarks, and how they have been taken out of context and misrepresented, may have caused the families who've lost loved ones on December 14th. At the same time I believe the most profound memorial we can give the children and educators who lost their lives on that day is to identify and interrogate the specific causes of their tragic and untimely demise."
Now after our report aired on Friday, Professor Tracy basically accused me on his blog of targeting him and his family. He post it as a question, as he often does, in the headline of the post, "Does Anderson Cooper want James Tracy and/or his family members harmed?"
He also includes a photo of me that looks like I'm in the middle of a rant. I'm not actually. That's a picture of me from an interview I did with comedian Kathy Griffin on her show. So it's not even from this show.
In the blog post Tracy says that because I named him and showed his picture on air on Friday I must have wanted to cause him harm.
Now I can assure him and anyone else, that is not the case. Like all reporters, I believe in free speech and Professor Tracy has the right to say whatever he wants. But as a teacher at a public university, we think he should be accountable for the things he says and be willing to defend them.
So about that, Tracy makes the case, if you want to call it a case, that news organizations and the government may have worked together to dupe you, the public, in order to gain support for gun control laws. He even suggested that government may have hired trained crisis actors to aid in this ruse.
At the very least, Tracy thinks that reporters botched the story by not digging deep enough, not investigating what really happened in Newtown. On his blog, he points to earlier reports that other suspects were arrested after the shooting, suggesting that perhaps there was more than one gunman.
Now this is a major point many of the conspiracy theorists argue. They say that reporters never followed up on who was arrested. That is not true. We know, for instance, that Chris Manfordonia whose 6- year-old daughter attends Sandy Hook was handcuffed by police the morning of the shooting. He confirmed that to us. He was on his way to the school to help make gingerbread houses with first graders when he heard popping sounds and smelled sulfur. In a chaotic situation, he ended up in handcuffs.
Now as I mentioned, Tracy isn't the only one claiming Sandy Hook might have been staged. Others say the family of Emilie Parker, who passionately spoke about his daughter, this man, who spoke about his daughter, you may remember he came out and spoke to reporters about his daughter being killed, you've probably watched this speech.
Well, a lot of people say he was an actor pretending to be a grieving father. In fact the family of Emilie Parker has had to take down Emilie's online memorial page because they've come under attack in the comment section on site by these conspiracy theorists.
Some Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists say that Emilie, in fact, didn't actually die. As proof, they point to the fact that a dress Emilie wore in a family photo before the shooting is the same dress her little sister wore when the family met with President Obama after the shooting. The Internet conspiracy theorists say that is not Emilie's sister at all, it is Emilie herself.
In a statement earlier today, Emilie's father, Robbie, told us, quote, "As a country we cannot let ourselves become derailed by the preposterous claims that are being made by a tiny number of people. This time is sacred for my family and for every family affected by this horrific event. We cannot let these false claim distract us from the things that matter most to all of us." Now it's one thing for ill-informed people to take to the Internet, to voice their paranoia, there are always these kind of people. But it's another for an associate professor at a university to do it.
Again, we were hoping to talk to the professor tonight. We asked him again yesterday if he'd come on tonight. Today he called us back and said he couldn't come on because he teaches a class on Tuesday nights. We offered to send a satellite truck to him or to pre-tape the interview. He declined.
Alex Seitz-Wald is a political reporter for Salon.com. He's been out in front on this reporting on the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists. He joins me now along with Jordan Ghawi whose sister, Jessica, was killed in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting.
Believe it or not, conspiracy theorists have also been making outrageous false claims about that massacre as well.
Alex, one of these conspiracy videos has gotten millions of hits on YouTube and a lot of the claims are based on initial reporting, which as we all know is often inaccurate. But instead of seeing it as the fog of war, or just incorrect reporting early on, have you seen a theme of why people believe that the media and the government are in cahoots to hire actors and make up killings?
ALEX SEITZ-WALD, POLITICAL REPORTER, SALON.COM: Yes, I spent all day today talking to scholars and academics who have studied conspiracy theories and there's a thread here that goes back to -- conspiracy theories all the way back to Roswell and the John Burke society, and the militia movement. And, you know, these are people who are inclined to believe that the government is out to get them anyway. The media is in cahoots with it and they jump on events like Sandy Hook as further confirmation of these things.
So basically they're kind of have this confirmation bias, as psychologists call it, to look for only evidence that supports their theories and disregard anything that says otherwise. In a way it kind of helps explain what happened, it explains this tragedy, it kind of gives meaning to why all these children died.
COOPER: And, Alex, you spoke to a man named Gene Rosen, a man who sheltered six students fleeing from the shooting at Sandy Hook in his house. And I actually spoke to him last night. He came up to me off camera. We didn't -- and he was weeping because he is being harassed by people who believe he made up the entire experience, that he is some part of some sort of government hoax.
SEITZ-WALD: Yes. This is really tragic. This is a guy who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help. He lives just down the street from the school. He heard the shooting and he's found six kids on his driveway. So he took them inside, he gave them food, he called their parents and he sat with them and talked with them.
And then he kind of became a very public figure in the days afterwards. He gave a lot of media appearances because he told me he wanted to highlight the bravery of these children. But now he's had his whole world turned upside down by these people. They've called him at his house, they've sent threatening e-mails, they've created fake Google Plus and YouTube accounts in his name. And -- I mean, he's afraid. And it's really outrageous.
COOPER: Jordan, you say there were people actually -- that you are lying about your sister's murder in Aurora.
JORDAN GHAWI, SISTER KILLED IN AURORA, COLORADO, THEATER SHOOTING: Correct. Exactly what Alex was saying that I was a crisis actor, that this was a government false lag operation, just -- these aberrant thoughts about how the government is out to pull the wool over our eyes, if you will, and mislead us to let Obama take away gun rights.
COOPER: And you say you've actually had death threats from some of them.
GHAWI: I have received one death threat that was investigated by three -- three separate state entities and the feds.
COOPER: When you -- I mean, it's one thing -- you know, it's bad enough to be grieving the loss of your sister in your family, but to be going through, you know, attacked online and stuff, and have people contact you, what is that like for you?
GHAWI: I'm not worried about the safety of myself or my family. I'm worried about these individuals. Like I said, this is an aberrant behavior. And when you reject facts, reality and you -- you grab up -- grasp to this idea that the government is out to get you, it's a slippery slope. What's next? The helicopters that fly over your house, the Medevac helicopters, the news helicopters, they're out to get you.
These are the type of people that should not have their hands on weapons. These are the type of people that should not have a platform to speak. These are the people that should be seeking mental health and evaluation.
COOPER: Alex, I mean, the other thing that's very upsetting is they often say well, we're just asking these questions. And, you know, I've heard this from the professor and others. Well, we're just asking questions. We don't have the facts. We're just asking these questions.
I mean, that seems like, you know, under that rule, you can ask anything you want, you can say the most heinous things and say -- wash your hands and say, well, look, we're just asking questions.
SEITZ-WALD: Yes, it's absolutely right. And it is a fine line. And, you know, we don't want to trample on the rights of free speech, but asking questions also means asking questions of these conspiracy theorists and they just don't stand up to any kind of logic or interrogation of the facts. So if they are actually asking questions, then ask why 99 percent of the evidence disproves what they're claiming and only this tiny little thing supports what they're trying to say.
COOPER: It's also so upsetting because, I mean, I interviewed family members who those videos have now popped up on some of these conspiracy videos that have been viewed millions of times and people are saying the people that I interviewed are trained actors, that no grieving parent could possibly smile when recounting how beautiful their little girl is. And no grieving parent could appear on a camera without weeping when talking about their child.
And that's just -- that's just not true. I mean, I've interviewed so many people in grief and -- I mean, this is one of the interviews people have pointed to. The other one is another interview I did with a -- with a man and wife whose little daughter, Grace, was murdered. And, you know, the idea that grief has a certain timetable or that you have to appear a certain way and that a parent couldn't have a smile on their face when recounting their beautiful little girl -- I mean, Jordan, it just seems -- it's just so offensive, I think.
GHAWI: It's incredibly offensive. Within days of the shooting, there were videos online just like that from Infowars and other networks out there that were stating that I was -- I was an actor, that there's no way I could deal with this the way that I had dealt with it and that my use of social media just proves -- they were digging through even Facebook photos and photos I posted years prior with me with a SWAT team that I trained with saying, hey look, this is proof that he's an actor, look, he's really an officer, there was multiple shooters. He could have been at the theater.
It's just a complete objection -- rejection of reality and facts. Many of their statements are completely contradictory, in fact.
COOPER: And the idea that, you know, you have to look a certain way when you're grieving, I mean, there are parents who I interviewed on camera who cried off camera before the interview and had to steal themselves, but felt it was important to tell the story of who their child was and they want people to know who their child was, not just how their child got killed, but how their child lived their life.
And so for these people, these anonymous Internet trolls and this professor to suddenly, you know, be suggesting just asking questions, Alex, it just -- I don't know. It's -- I just think it really -- I know for a lot of the families in Newtown, it is -- it's a -- it's something they never thought that they would have to deal with.
SEITZ-WALD: Yes. And another thing is that when you, you know, blame the government or whoever, you're actually removing the blame from the actual perpetrator and you're putting it on somebody else. So in this quest to, you know, speak the truth or whatever, they're really doing a disservice to everyone involved.
COOPER: Well, Alex, I appreciate your reporting, as I said. I honestly didn't know about this until I read some of your stuff -- early last week and that's when we started reporting on it as well.
And, Jordan I'm so sorry that you have had to deal with these people and I wish you continued strength and peace in the days ahead. Thank you.
SEITZ-WALD: Well, thanks for keeping them honest, Anderson.
COOPER: All right.
We got a 360 follow-up now. It involves Newtown and a woman who authorities say was trying to turn the tragedy into cash. Remember, we told you about her. Her name is Noel Alba. And we think it's important that we name these people. Noel Alba. She lives here in New York. And we learned allegations she was falsely claiming to be Noah Pozner's aunt and soliciting donations in his name.
Here's what happened when our producer David Fitzpatrick paid her a visit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID FITZPATRICK, CNN PRODUCER: Hi. Are you Miss Alba? You've set up, you say, donations on behalf of one of the victims of the Newtown tragedy?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
FITZPATRICK: This is your name and address on the e-mail?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I'm going to show you what I have. Come in.
FITZPATRICK: Can I come in with my camera crew?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Close the door.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: She went on to claim that people in the -- in the -- in the crafting community that she's a crafter and that she has enemies in the crafting community who are out to get her.
Well, today, a grand jury in Bridgeport, Connecticut, indicted her. She faces one count of making false statements to federal agents in connection with their investigation into Newtown related fund- raising fraud. We're going to continue to stay on that story.
More Newtown fallout next, specifically how the White House plans to prevent another tragedy or hopes to. We got breaking news on that. Details tonight on what you're going to have to wait to hear tomorrow for President Obama to formally announce the steps he plans to take to try to curb gun violence including one that will be a tough sell with a lot of lawmakers. Jessica Yellin has the inside info, next.
COOPER: We got breaking news tonight, details of President Obama's announcement tomorrow on gun control including one step that gun advocates say is simply a nonstarter. Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin did a lot of digging to get this advance. She joins us now. What have you learned, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Tomorrow when the president unveils his proposal, you can expect him to press for a ban on all high-capacity magazines with bullets or 10 bullets or more, a background check for all gun sales that includes mental health and criminal background checks that would apply to gun shows, private sales and would crack down on what's called private swaps.
If I privately try to sell a gun to you even that would require a background check under the legislation he is pressing for. He would press for an assault weapons ban and also for more funds to either be made available or additional funding to be introduced for mental health preparedness and also to make school safety even more readily available.
Some of this, Anderson, some of these steps he can take could be through executive action, but most of the ones I've outlined just now would require congressional approval.
COOPER: Certainly, I mean, the major one and probably the most difficult would be an assault weapons ban.
YELLIN: Yes, it would be. I'll tell you, I've had a number of conversations with Democrats who have met with the vice president and they have downplayed the assault weapons ban to me.
What they have said is their top priorities are making universal background checks the law of the land and making a ban on high- capacity ammunition the law of the land. They say that those two components could do even more to improve gun safety than the assault weapons ban.
They point out that the Gabby Giffords' shooter used a handgun with a high-capacity ammunition clip and so the assault weapons ban couldn't have done good there whereas their legislation would have.
Whether there's some political reality seeping into that analysis, we can both assume that there may be -- Anderson.
COOPER: Jessica, stay with us. I want to bring in Dan Gross. He is the president of the "Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence." Mr. Gross, what do you make of what Jessica is reporting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's exactly what --
COOPER: Sorry, we're --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like exactly -- COOPER: We're having a hard time hearing you because of the announcement right now. We know you're on the train. Let me bring Jessica back and we'll come back to you again. Hopefully, they will have stopped that announcement.
In terms of what could be possible through executive order, what on this list -- I guess some of the information on background checks perhaps?
YELLIN: Expanding the way background checks -- improving the way background checks are conducted could be done through executive order. Making that information more readily available, improving the way especially mental health is reported forward could be done through executive order.
And also gathering more research on where the guns are in America. That's another thing that could be done. There is a long list. I could go on, Anderson, but you might want to get to your guest.
COOPER: Let's check back in with Dan Gross. Again, Mr. Gross, what do you make of this? Is this what you expected? Is this what you hoped for?
DAN GROSS, PRESIDENT, BRADY CAMPAIGN (via telephone): It is what we expected and what we hoped for. You know, the president and vice president, from the beginning, have been saying they want to take an earnest look at what we can do to prevent not only tragedies like Newtown.
But things that happen every day in our culture, gun deaths that happen every day and they want the American public consensus that we're hearing and there's a passionate outcry from the American public around all of these solutions and all of these solutions will prevent tragedies.
COOPER: If you're not able to get an assault weapons ban, which obviously seems to be the most difficult to get through Congress and perhaps even the high-capacity magazines, would you be satisfied with all the other things on that list?
GROSS: I mean, I don't think it's time to start parsing the list yet. The administration said they were looking for a comprehensive solution to everything we can to make it a safer nation. It's really going to be up to the American public now to rally a voice to hold our elected officials accountable to listen to the conversation that's going on in the public.
And if we can do that, I don't think anything should be off the table. And if we can't, nothing will pass. The White House has done its job. We'll appreciate their continued leadership on this. Now it's up to us, up to the American public to make our voice heard. And it's not time to --
COOPER: We appreciate you joining us on the phone. We know you're on a train. Jessica Yellin as well. There are a lot more we're following tonight. Kyung Lah joins us right now with the "360 Bulletin" -- Kyung.
KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, a month and a day after the Newtown killings, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today sign tough new gun legislation into law. It broadens the ban on so-called assault weapons and limits gun clips to seven rounds maximum. The National Rifle Association denounced the measure, saying it will have no impact on public safety and crime.
Now turning to breaking news from Capitol Hill, the House has approved a $50 billion aid package for areas hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. That's on top of the nearly $10 billion in flood relief money approved late last month. The Senate will either have to take up the House bill or restart with a new bill for the $50 billion and that could delay relief efforts.
Weather watches and warnings are in effect from Texas to main, flooding and icy conditions are the concern in places like Tennessee while heavy snow is forecasted for parts of the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.
And near Stockholm, Sweden, 20-year-old cleaning lady stole a train. Her joy ride ended when she crashed it into an apartment building. No one in the building was hurt, but the woman was trapped in the wreckage for two hours. She was hospitalized with serious injuries. Let that serve as a lesson to you at home, kiddies.
COOPER: Why she decided to take that, who knows? Kyung, appreciate it. Thanks.
We've been following the ordeal of a former U.S. Marine who was jailed in Mexico for more than four months, sometimes even chained to a bed, his life threatens, parents fighting to bring him home. Now Jon Hammar is finally free. I'll speak with him next.
COOPER: "Crime and Punishment" tonight, a former Marine and his harrowing ordeal we've been covering is finally free from the Mexican prison where he was held for more than four months.
Jon Hammar was chained to his bed at times. He was there on a questionable gun charge after crossing the border with a fellow veteran on a surfing trip. He took an antique shotgun that used to belong to his great grandfather with him on the trip.
And U.S. border officials said he could bring it into Mexico with the proper paperwork. But as soon as he crossed the border, he was arrested and taken to jail. Our Gary Tuchman actually went there, tried to talk to Hammar, but he wasn't allowed in.
I spoke with Hammar's parents in early December. They told me the conditions in prison were horrible and it was a nightmare for him and obviously for them. Now after the media coverage and intervention by politicians, Jon Hammar has finally been released. He joins me now live.
It is very good to see you back here. First of all, how are you doing?
JON HAMMAR, FORMER U.S. MARINE WHO WAS IMPRISONED IN MEXICO: I'm all right, Anderson. I'm doing a lot better. I was sick when I first got out. I spent five days in the hospital, but I think I'm doing a lot better right now.
COOPER: So when you crossed the border, you told the U.S. border officials that you had this old gun, that you wanted to bring it down on this trip with you. What did they tell you?
HAMMAR: They told me if I fill out the proper paperwork that they were giving me and I declare it when I get into Mexico, just across the border, that I should be fine. I paid a fee after I filled out their paperwork. Took the paperwork and the weapon to the Mexican side and declared the shotgun.
COOPER: Why did you want to bring a shotgun to Mexico?
HAMMAR: That shotgun is -- you know, it was basically part of my camping equipment. We were planning on camping in the wilderness. So, if we were in a place where hunting was allowed, you know, and we saw something that we could eat and cook on a fire, you know, we would take the shot and have food.
COOPER: So you paid the fee. You fill out the forms. You cross over the border. Basically you get arrested in Mexico. They don't tell you at first they're going to arrest you. They're going to tell you they're going to take you some place. You end up in this jail. What were the conditions like when you first walk in the place? What's it like?
HAMMAR: Well, the first jail that we went to was more like a holding cell. We spent four days over there. They released my friend because I was driving and I declared the shotgun. And after four days, they took me to prison. It was a state-run prison.
And the conditions were pretty bad, especially since they put me in solitary confinement after my first day. And, you know, they -- like you know, they chained me up and, you know, I spent the majority of the time by myself in like an outside shed. So I was outside for the whole time I was there.
COOPER: I know your parents got a call from other prisoners who were basically trying to extort money from you and from your family.
HAMMAR: Right. When I first came into that prison, it was like 3:00 in the morning. And other inmates in there when I first got in there tried to extort money from my family and the American Consulate was contacted and then they told the jail that they had to take me out of the general population. So, their solution to it was put me in a solitary confinement area and have the guards watch me.
COOPER: I mean, I know you're a Marine. You have military training. How do you not completely freak out, you know, in solitary confinement in a Mexican prison with people outside the door, you know, who want to do you harm? HAMMAR: It was very hard and I had to really concentrate. And I think I had two books while -- I somehow got a hold of two books that were in English while I was in there. That helped me a lot. And other parts of it were, you know, I went through the phases of depression, anger and things like that. But, you know, I got through it.
COOPER: I know, you know, a number of news groups, politicians got involved. I know our Gary Tuchman went down there. Were you aware that he was trying to get into the prison to talk to you?
HAMMAR: No, I had no idea.
COOPER: You know, I have to ask that feeling of what was it like to finally be released, finally see your family and to know that you're safe?
HAMMAR: It was pretty amazing. When I crossed that border, I was very sick at the time. But I still, you know, was thrilled and extremely grateful to have my freedom back and be able to see my family.
COOPER: I know the whole point of this trip is to have a relaxing time, to go surfing. You got some recovery to do. Do you still want to go surfing? Do you plan to still -- would you go back down to Mexico?
HAMMAR: Mexico has a lot of issues right now and you won't be seeing me in Mexico for a long time, if ever. But there are a lot of other countries that I would like to visit that are, you know, involved with surfing. And, yes, you know, in the near future hopefully I can get back in the water and do what I like to do.
COOPER: I was just on the north shore of Oahu. They've got great waves there. I recommend that. It's pretty safe. I wish you the best. I'm so glad you're safe and back with your family. Thank you.
HAMMAR: Thank you, Anderson. Thank you very much.
COOPER: All right, you take care, Jon Hammar.
Up next, breaking news, yet another deadly school shooting this time on a college campus. Details ahead.
COOPER: Welcome back. Let's get caught up on some of the other stories we're following. Kyung Lah is back with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Kyung.
LAH: Well, Anderson, breaking news from Kentucky, where officials say two people have died in a shooting in a parking lot at Hazard Community and Technical College. A third victim has been rushed to hospital with injuries. In Orlando, Florida, 50 people are arrested including teachers in a child sex sting. Investigators say the suspects were lured to a home after being led to what they believed were -- they were chatting online with children or parents offering their kids up for sex.
Wal-Mart says it will hire 100,000 U.S. military veterans over the next five years. It will be one of the largest hiring commitments for veterans on record, according to the retailer.
And a man watching a police chase on TV in Englewood, California got an unexpected surprise when he looked out his window and saw the drama live right past his house.
COOPER: That's crazy.
LAH: Up close and personal.
COOPER: Kyung, thanks so much. Coming up, if your GPS told you to drive to a whole different country, would you do it? "The Ridiculist" is next.
COOPER: Time for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we got a rather extreme reminder that in these modern times in which we live, we shouldn't blindly rely on all the technology that's designed to make life easier.
A woman in Belgium learned this had the hard way when she set off to pick up a friend on a train station in Brussels and what should be an hour's drive. Instead she absentmindedly followed her GPS and ended up driving to Croatia, 900 miles away.
Now the journey took more than a day. She had to pull over, sleep, even got in a fender bender. The story is all over the place today. I have to admit, I was skeptical, sounds like an Onion article, frankly, but she reportedly told a Belgian newspaper.
Quote, "I switched on the GPS and punched in the address. Then I started out. My GPS seemed a bit wonky. It sent me on several diversions and that's where it must have gone wrong. I saw tons of different sign posts first in French, later in German, but I kept on driving."
Now I guess it's possible. Some people do tend to do whatever their GPS tells them to do. People like Michael Scott from "The Office" for instance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GPS: Make a right turn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, wait, wait. No, no. It means bear right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Bear. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It said right. It said take a right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. Look, it means go up to the right, bear right.
GPS: Make a right turn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it's a short cut, Dwight. It said go to the right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It can't mean that. There's a lake there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It knows where it's going.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the lake!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The machine knows. Stop yelling at me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no road here!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's not just on "The Office" this sort of thing happens. No, no, in August a man followed his GPS instructions right into a harbor in Alaska. Back in March, three Japanese tourists in Australia drove a rented Hyundai right into the bay. Why, because the GPS told them to, of course.
The tide rose, they had to bail out of the car and get a tow truck driver to come pick them up. Technology is winning people. I know we all rely on these device devices, but when they start telling us to drive into bodies of water or to Croatia and we actually do it, I think we got to take a step back.
I would say more but I'm afraid I'm starting to sound like the drunk uncle from "Saturday Night Live."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nowadays it's just, could you e-mail me dinner? Could you fax me a hug? Text me. Text me. Text me. Why don't you write a letter, you dummy? Spotify me, spotify me. You know what I want a Groupon for, a moment's peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: In conclusion, it is always a god idea to trust your instincts a little bit more and your gadgets a little less or else you might take a wrong turn onto "The Ridiculist."
That does it for us. We'll see you one hour from now another edition of 360 at 10 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.