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Lance Armstrong Coming Clean?; Growing Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theories

Aired January 15, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin, as we do every night, "Keeping Them Honest," looking for facts, not trying to offer opinions or play favorites, not supporting one political side or another. You can get that on plenty of to news channels. We're just looking for facts, finding the truth, calling out hypocrisy.

And there's no bigger example of that nation, of hypocrisy, or possibly ever in the history of sports than what happened to Lance Armstrong in the last the 24 hours. He cheated. He lied about it for years and years and now he is reportedly coming clean somewhat.

How much did he 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," but that she did not come clean in the manner in she expected. Exactly what that means is not clear.

Oprah is too good to give it all away.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "OPRAH'S NEXT CHAPTER": I choose not to characterized. I would rather people make their own decisions 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.


COOPER: Well, whatever ultimately made it to tape -- and we won't know until later this week -- longtime followers of Armstrong say they are not ready to take anything he says at face value.

Reporters, teammates and even one-time friends, they all describe the seven-time Tour de France winner, cancer survivor, charity founder as a born manipulator who will do whatever it takes for only one person, Lance Armstrong. Keep in mind as they point to a record of lying that rivals his record of winning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANCE ARMSTRONG, FORMER PROFESSIONAL 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 have said it for seven years. I have said it for longer than seven years. I have never doped. I can say it again. But I have said it for seven years. It doesn't help.

How could it have taken place when I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs?

BOB LEY, ESPN: Go back to 1995. One of your former teammates, Stephen Swart, he was riding with you, as 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: No, again, complete nonsense.

It can't be any clearer that I have 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. No, no way.

In my case, I came out of a life-threatening disease. I was on my deathbed. 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.


COOPER: That was Lance Armstrong denying it all, time and time again. Since then, the 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 has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, barred from competition, stepped down from the LIVESTRONG charity that he founded. Until now, he has denied everything. Not only that. As you will see, he has 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: 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. Then there was this, a voice- mail left for Betsy Andreu in 2008 by a friend and associate of Armstrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head, but I also hope that one day you 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 voice-mail 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 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-sponsor Trek, which dropped its support of the 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 2001.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 would make his life a living hell.

In an interview on ESPN, Armstrong was asked about his former friends and teammates and associates who testified about his doping. He had only this to say.

ARMSTRONG: I have surrounded myself with, at times, questionable people and I have 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 why people would lie and tell stories -- some of them, obviously, were paid. Some of them had other motives. That's clear.


COOPER: So he's lying there. You heard a bit from Tyler Hamilton there. 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 USDA had invited him to come clean to be part of the solution. He turned them down flat. What happened between then and now? What changed?

DANIEL COYLE, AUTHOR, "THE SECRET RACE": This is a perfect lens 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. It's not about being consistent with him. It's about winning and that brain is really built for that. At this point, he figured the best path forward was to go to Oprah.

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, 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.


I think the difference between several months ago and now is that he has had several months of no competition and for a guy like Lance Armstrong, that must be torture. He has been an athlete since he has just been a little kid, like a teenager. He was a professional triathlete and really barely finished high school because of his triathlon career. And he has had 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, there's a whole bunch of reasons why he should not have done this, right?

ROGER COSSACK, LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, I hear what the other guests are saying, but as a lawyer, it goes against everything that I 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. What he is looking at, in excess -- if everything goes wrong, of judgments in excess of perhaps $100 million. I am still actually waiting to see how much he really confesses and what he confesses to.

COOPER: Legally, what does -- who does he owe money to if he's -- depending on who decides to sue him or currently who is suing him?

COSSACK: Well, there's a whistle-blowers lawsuit that is going on right now that Floyd Landis has brought and that the Justice Department may join. 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. So if he gets up and admits that he breached that contract under the whistle-blower 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 taking.


COOPER: Go ahead.

COYLE: This is what makes Lance, Lance. He likes risk. This is why he has succeeded in this very corrupt world of cycling for so long.

It's why, as we describe in our book, they were 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. That's what this is. He has made the calculation. He has a net worth of over $100 million. He probably won't lose all of it.

COOPER: You think he will have to pay back some of these lawsuits?

COYLE: He will pay back some. He will settle. The government usually settles these sort of cases. The rest of them often can settle.

Let's say he loses 50 million bucks, he still has a fair amount. He's not going to starve. He will, more importantly, have his narrative back, his life as a competitive athlete back. The question is, is he going to apologize to the people he hurt along the way? 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: He has great P.R. But, as you and I talked about before, Juliet, he was a jerk to an awful lot of people. I mean, he sought to destroy people who had testified against him, who had spoken the truth.

MACUR: I think that jerk is an understatement. I think a lot of those people 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 has 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 he had doped. He won that lawsuit.

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 fairy tale story from the very first time he won the Tour de France and people were enamored with it, and that's including many of the journalists who were covering it.

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 wrote anything negative. And for a journalist who had 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. 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...

COOPER: Right.

COYLE: ... of USADA evidence that paint a very different picture.

COOPER: Right. 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 his power ruthlessly.

COOPER: Because Lance Armstrong called the shots on that team. He was the star of the team. Everybody was there to make sure he won, right?

COYLE: He was the Tony Soprano.

They were literally extensions of his body. Their power was his power. That's how he used it. When you crossed him, he cut you dead. You were gone.

COOPER: It will be interesting, Juliet, to see how he plays this, this interview. They tape I guess for two-and-a-half-hours, and Oprah will air this over two nights and she said she was prepared, she had done a lot of reading, she 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 great businesswoman 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 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. This is his chance on turning his life around.

COOPER: It's going to be fascinating to watch.

Juliet Macur, I 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, prank calls by people who believe they are part of a government and media conspiracy surrounding the shootings.

It's not just some Internet extremists alleging these conspiracies. This is a guy named James Tracy, a tenured associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, a public school that is 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 is 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 his and others online have begun to cause deep distress to the victims' families.

We invited Professor Tracy to come on the program Friday night. He declined. He gave us 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 have lost loved ones on December 14. 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 a report aired on Friday, Professor Tracy basically accused me on his blog of targeting him and his family. He posted 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. 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 the 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 and not investigating what really happened in Newtown. On his blog, he points to early reports that other suspects were arrested after the shooting, suggesting that perhaps there was more than one gunmen.

This is a major point many of the conspiracy theorists argue. They say the reporters never followed up on who was arrested. That is not true. We know, for instance, that Chris Manfredonia, 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 who had been killed. You probably watched this speech.

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 Emilie's online memorial page because they have come under attack in the comment section on the site by these conspiracy theorists.

Some Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists say that Emilie, in fact, actually didn't 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 claims distract us from the things that matter most to all of us."

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 would 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 pretape the interview. He declined. Alex Seitz-Wald is a political reporter for He's been out in front on this reporting on this 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 have 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, SALON: Yes, I spent all day today talking to scholars and academics who have stupid conspiracy theories.

And there's a thread here that goes back conspiracy theories all the way to Roswell and the John Birch Society and the militia movement. 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 just further confirmation of these things.

Basically they kind of they 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: Alex, you spoke to a man named Gene Rosen, the 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 found six kids on his driveway. He took them inside. He gave them food, he called their parents and he sat with them and talked to 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 has had his whole world turned upside down by these people. They have called him at his house, they have sent him threatening e-mails, they behavior created fake Google+ and YouTube accounts in his name.

He is afraid. It's really outrageous.

COOPER: Jordan, you say there are people who actually believe that you are lying about your sister's murder in Aurora. JORDAN GHAWI, BROTHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: Correct, exactly what Alex was saying, that I was a crisis actor, that this was a government false flag 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: You say you have actually had death threats from some of them.

GHAWI: I have received one death threat that was investigated by three separate state entities and the feds.

COOPER: When you -- it's one thing -- it's bad enough to be grieving the loss of your sister, and your family, but to be going through -- 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 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 copters, the news helicopters, they're out to get you. These are the type of people that should not have their friends 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 an evaluation.

COOPER: Alex, the other thing that is very upsetting is they often say we're just asking these questions. I have heard this from the professor and others. We're just asking questions. We don't have the facts. We're just asking these questions.

That seems like -- under that ruse, you can asking anything you want, you can say the most heinous things and say -- wash your hands and say, look, we're just asking questions.

SEITZ-WALD: Yes. That's absolutely right. It is a fine line. We don't want to trample on the rights of free speech.

But asking questions also means asking questions of these conspiracy theories and they just don't stand up to any kind of logic or interrogation of the facts. 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 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 have interviewed so many people in grief, and this is one of the interviews people have pointed to. The other one is another interview I did 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, 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 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 of me with a SWAT team that I trained with, showing, look, this is proof that he's an actor, look, he's really an officer, there were multiple shooters. He could have been at the theater.

It's just a complete rejection of reality and facts. Many of their statements are completely contradictory, in fact.

COOPER: The idea that, you know, you have to look a certain way when you're grieving, there are parents who I interviewed on camera who cried off camera before the interview and had to steel 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.

For these people, these anonymous Internet trolls and this professor to suddenly be suggesting just asking questions, Alex, it just -- I don't know. I just think it really -- I know for a lot of the families in Newtown, it's a -- it's something they never thought that they would have to deal with.


And another thing is that when you blame the government or whoever, you're actually removing the blame from the actual perpetrator and you're putting it on somebody else. In this quest to 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 learned 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.

GHAWI: Well, thanks for keeping them honest, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. We got a 360 follow-up now. It involves Newtown and a woman that authorities say was trying to turn the tragedy into cash. You remember, we told you about her. Her name is Nouel Alba. And we think it's important that we name these people. Nouel Alba, she lives here in New York.

And we learned of allegations she was falsely claiming to be Noah Pozner's aunt and soliciting donations in his name.

Here is what happened when our producer David Fitzpatrick paid her a visit.


DAVID FITZPATRICK, CNN PRODUCER: Oh, hi. Are you Ms. Alba? You've set up, you say, donations on behalf of one of the victims of the Newtown tragedy.


FITZPATRICK: No? It was your name and your address on the e- mail.

ALBA: I will show you what I have.

FITZPATRICK: Can I come in with a camera crew?



COOPER: She went on to claim that people in the -- 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 fundraising 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've got breaking news on that, details tonight on what you're going to have to wait to hear tomorrow from President Obama to formally announce, the steps he plans to take to try to curb gun violence, including one that's going to be a tough sell with a lot of lawmakers.

Jessica Yellin has the inside info next.


COOPER: 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. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, did a lot of digging to get this advanced look. She joins us now. What did you learn, Jessica?


Tomorrow when the president unveils his proposal, you can expect him to press for a ban on all high-capacity magazines with bullets -- or ten 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's 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 there would be -- and probably the most difficult would be an assault weapons ban.

YELLIN: Yes. It would be, and 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 are 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 can do even more to improve gun safety than the assault weapons ban. They point out that 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 realities seeping into that analysis, we can both assume that there may be.

COOPER: Jessica, stay with us. I want to bring in Dan Gross. He's president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence.

Mr. Gross, what do you make of what Jessica is reporting?


COOPER: Sorry. We're having a hard time hearing you because of the announcement right now. I know you're on the train. So let me just bring in Jessica -- let me just bring Jessica back, and then we'll come to you again. Hopefully, they will have stopped the announcement. In terms of what could be possible through executive order, what on this list? I mean, I guess some of the information on background checks, perhaps?

YELLIN: Expanding the way that -- 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's a long list. I could go on, Anderson, but you might want to get to your guest.

COOPER: All right. Let's check back with Dan Gross. Again, Mr. Gross, what do you make of this? Is this what you expected? Is this what you hoped for?

GROSS: It is what we -- what we expected and hoped for. The president and vice president from the beginning have been saying that they want to take an earnest look at what we can do to prevent violent (ph) tragedies like Newtown. But 33 murders happen every day and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gun deaths happen every day. And they really want to look at the American public stakeholders and act according to the consensus that they are hearing. And there's a passionate outcry from the American public around all of these solutions and all of these solutions will contribute to preventing tragedies. As a result we're very pleased.

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?

BRADY: You know, I don't think it's time to start parsing the list yet. The administration said they were looking for a comprehensive solution to do everything they can to make this is a safer nation.

And, you know, it's really going to be up to the American public now to rally a voice to hold our elected official accountable to listen to the conversation that's going so alive in the public. And, you know, if we can do that, I don't think that anything should be off the table. And if we can't, nothing will -- nothing will pass.

The White House has done its job. We'll appreciate their continued leadership on this. But now it is up to us, it's up to the American public to make our voice heard. And it's not time to start to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) any solution yet.

COOPER: Dan Gross, I appreciate you joining us on the phone. I know you're on the train. Jessica Yellin, as well.

There's a lot we're following tonight. Kyung Lah joins us right now with a "360 Bulletin" -- Kyung. KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, a month and a day after the Newtown killings, New York Governor Cuomo today signed 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.

And 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 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 Maine. 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, a 20-year-old cleaning lady stole a train. Her joyride 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.


LAH: Let that serve as a lesson to you at home, kiddies.

COOPER: Why she decided to take that out, 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 threatened. His parents fighting to bring him home. Now, Jon Hammar is finally free. I'll speak with him next.


COOPER: "Crime & Punishment" tonight, a former Marine's harrowing ordeal we've been covering is finally free from the Mexico prison -- 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.

Hammar 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 a jail.

Now, Gary Tuchman actually went there to try to talk to Hammar, but he wasn't allowed in. We spoke to Hammar's parents in early December. They told the conditions in the prison were horrible and it was a nightmare for them and, obviously, for them.

Now, with 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: 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 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 the 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 a 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 -- we could eat and cook on a fire, you know, we'd take the shot and have food.

COOPER: So you pay 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 that they're going to arrest you. They tell you they're going to take you someplace, but you end up in this jail. What were the conditions like? I mean, 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, 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 -- I was outside for the whole time I was there.

COOPER: And 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 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. I somehow got ahold of two books that were in English while I was in there. That helped me a lot.

And then other parts of it was, you know, I went through the phases, you know, 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: When -- you know, I've got to ask that feeling, what was it like to finally be released, finally see your family, and to know that you're -- 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.

HAMMAR: I know the whole point of this trip was to have a relaxing time, to go surfing. I know you've got some recovering to do. Do you still want to go surfing? Would 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's a lot of other countries that I'd 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, so I recommend that. It's -- it's pretty safe.

Jon, 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: You take care, Jon Hammar.

Up next, breaking news. Yet another deadly school shooting, this time on a college campus. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LAH: I'm Kyung Lah with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

Officials in Kentucky say two people died in a shooting in a parking lot at Hazard Community and Technical College. A third victim was rushed to the hospital with injuries.

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner made an emergency landing in Japan after an alarm signal on a battery went off. The emergency landing comes as U.S. officials are investigating a battery fire aboard a Boeing 787 in Boston last week. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have now grounded their Dreamliner fleets.

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 company.

And a man watching a police chase on TV in Inglewood, California, got an unexpected surprise when he looked out his window, and he saw the drama drive right past his house -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kyung, thanks very 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," and tonight, we've 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 the hard way when she set off to pick up a friend at a train station in Brussels in what should have been about an hour's drive. Instead, she absentmindedly followed her GPS and ended up driving to Croatia, 900 miles away.

The journey took more than a day. She had to pull over and sleep and even got in a fender bender.

This story is all over the place today, but I've got to admit, I was skeptical. It sounds like kind of 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 signposts, 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 in "The Office," for instance.


ROBOTIC VOICE: Make a right turn. RAINN WILSON, ACTOR: Wait, wait, wait. No, no, no, no, no. It means bear right. Bear.

STEVE CARELL, ACTOR: No, it said right. It said take a right.

WILSON: No, no, no, no, look. It means go up to the right, bear right over the bridge and hook up with 307.

ROBOTIC VOICE: Make a right.

CARELL: Maybe it's a short cut, Dwight. It said go to the right it.

WILSON: It can't mean that. There's a light there.

CARELL: It knows where it's going. The machine knows. Stop yelling at me.

WILSON: No! It's not right.


COOPER: It is 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. And 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 devices, but when they start telling us to drive into bodies of water or to Croatia, and we actually do it, I think we've got to just take a step back.

I'd say -- I'd say more, but I'm afraid I'm starting to sound like the drunk uncle from "Saturday Night Live."


BOBBY MOYNIHAN, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Nowadays, it's just, "Hey, could you e-mail me dinner? Hey, 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." Barf.

You know what I want a Groupon for? A moment's peace.


COOPER: In conclusion, it is always a good idea to trust your instincts a little bit more and your gadgets a little less, or else you might take the wrong turn onto "The RidicuList."

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