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Skakel Murder Conviction Tossed; Obamacare Website Woes; Damage Control; Math Teacher Murder; Interview with Dick Cheney

Aired October 23, 2013 - 20:00   ET



Tonight, only on 360, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is going to join me to talk about his reaction to tonight's breaking news -- the possible release from prison of his cousin Michael Skakel. Now, Skakel was convicted of a brutal murder that went unfinished for a quarter century. He was sentenced 20 years to life. His murder conviction was set aside late today and he could be free perhaps as early as tomorrow. Judge ruling that his defense attorney provided ineffective counsel at his trial 11 years ago. Now that trial was in the 1975 killing of Martha Moxley when she and he were just 15. And it hit just about every hot button imaginable.

In a moment, Bobby Kennedy, Jr. who has long maintained his cousin's innocence, but first Deborah Feyerick and how this all began.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The last time 15-year-old Martha Moxley was seen alive was the night before Halloween, October 1975. She went to a party with friends that night and was seen flitting with 17-year-old Thomas Skakel, nephew to Ethel Kennedy. She never returned home.

The next day Moxley's body was found in her yard in Greenwich, Connecticut, bludgeoned and stabbed to death by a broken golf club that was found near her body. That club was traced back to the Skakel home but no fingerprints were found.

DOROTHY MOXLEY, MARTHA MOXLEY'S MOTHER: They hit her so hard that the golf club broke and then they took the shaft and they stabbed her with it six or seven times.

FEYERICK: Suspicion immediately fell on Thomas Skakel, the last person seen with Moxley the night of the party. Another suspect was Ken Littleton, a Skakel family tutor who moved in with the family the day of the murder but police never charged either of them citing a lack of evidence.

For two decades the case languished. A series of books on the high-profile crime renewed interest and led to new tips. And a new suspect in January of 2000, 40-year-old Michael Skakel, Thomas Skakel's little brother. Michael was also 15 at the time of the crime, which meant 25 years later, he was charged as a juvenile. He turned himself into police after an arrest warrant was issued, all the while proclaiming his innocence.

MICKEY SHERMAN, MICHAEL SKAKEL'S FORMER DEFENSE ATTORNEY: To my knowledge, there's no physical evidence, there's no DNA evidence, there's no scientific evidence, or anything that links Michael Skakel to this crime.

FEYERICK: Despite that, a number of witnesses placed him at the crime scene the night of the murder. Two witnesses testified may heard Skakel boasting he could get away with murder because he was a Kennedy. Prosecutors claimed Michael Skakel was jealous of his older brother's relationship with Moxley and killed the girl in a jealous rage. A charge he denied.

The judge eventually ruled Michael Skakel should be tried as an adult.

SHERMAN: Everyone assumes he's been guilty. He's been arrested. He's this Kennedy cousin. There is books, there's movies, there's a lot of spin, a lot of disinformation, and no one really knows the story. The jury trial will expose the evidence to the public.

FEYERICK: The trial began in 2002, Skakel was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life for Moxley's murder.

MOXLEY: I can't give up. Martha was -- yes, she was very special. I had two children and to lose one was a major, major thing, and I'm just not going to give up.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


GUPTA: As we said earlier, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has staunchly maintained his cousin's innocence and he joins us now along with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Welcome to both of you.

Mr. Kennedy, thanks for joining us. You've long maintained your cousin's innocence, and I know you do want to get to some of the specifics of why you say he's innocent, but let me just start off by asking about you reaction to tonight's news.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., COUSIN OF MICHAEL SKAKEL: Well, I think everybody who knows Michael is overjoyed with it. We actually, my family, prays every night for Michael Skakel and has done so for 12 years that he gets justice, and so this is a -- this is really a -- it's a -- it's a blessed event for us.

GUPTA: Have you been in touch with Michael? I mean, when is the last time you talked to him? How is he doing?

KENNEDY: Well, he wasn't doing too well, but he was -- you know, he was in jail for 12 years for a crime that he didn't commit, and the jail that he was in was not like a country club jail. It was a very, very tough place, and he was -- he had a tough time there. GUPTA: Now your mother --

KENNEDY: Lucky -- well, go ahead.

GUPTA: Your mother is Ethel Kennedy. And she's obviously also Michael's aunt. I'm wondering if you've had a chance to speak to your mother about this and what her reaction has been.

KENNEDY: No, I haven't but I know that she'll be overjoyed. She knows, also, that Michael is innocent. Anybody who looks at the evidence to this case, you know, Michael was 11 miles away with five eyewitnesses at the time that the murder was committed. He has an airtight alibi, but unfortunately, he had a -- he was very poorly represented, and the lawyer in this case did not call those witnesses.

One witness who said that Michael confessed who died of a heroin overdose, Gregory Coleman, prior to the trial and his testimony had to be read at the trial admitted previously that during his testimony of the grand jury he was high on heroin. During his testimony at the evidentiary hearing he was high on heroin. And there were many, many witnesses who testified he was a pathological liar and that the only reason that he appeared was to collect the reward money.

GUPTA: I want to bring in my colleague and CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. I know you two know each other well.

Jeff, you covered this case. You said you were stunned by the news tonight?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Stunned, amazed, and particularly stunned at the reasoning of the judge.

GUPTA: Let me -- I want to get into some of the specifics. Let me ask why -- just to bring people up to speed. This happened in 1975. The trial was in 2002. What is happening now, 11 years later in 2013?

TOOBIN: Well, he has exhausted every appeal. He's directly appealed the conviction. He's filed for writ of habeas corpus. Finally he's filed for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that his lawyer Mickey Sherman was incompetent. He received ineffective assistance of counsel, A claim that is made all the time in our courts and almost never succeeds. It is simply astonishing that it succeeded.

GUPTA: So he had a bad lawyer.

TOOBIN: He said he had a bad lawyer. There are lots of bad lawyers out there. And there are lots of people in prison with bad lawyers. Why Michael Skakel gets out because of that is one of the many mysteries of this case.

GUPTA: And gets out. I mean, so do you think he's going to get out? Is he going to be out of prison?

TOOBIN: I think he'll be out within the week. I think he is now -- his conviction is set aside and he is a good bail risk. He is not a danger to the community. He is not going to flee. I think he is going to get out on bail.

GUPTA: I want to -- I want you to address some of the points that Mr. Kennedy is making, as well, but let me go back to you, Mr. Kennedy, for a second.

You say you know -- you know who actually committed the murder of Martha Moxley and do authorities, people who are investigating this, do they have some of the same information that you have?

KENNEDY: The police -- well the police officer investigated this was a police who was really responsible -- it was a group of people who were responsible for orchestrating the conviction of Michael Skakel. One of them was Mark Fuhrman, the other one is Dominick Dunne, both writers and the third was Frank Garr who was a -- what I would call a crooked police officer who was just dog in his determination to put one of the Skakels in jail, and who dug up evidence from people who were absolutely incredible.

Since -- you know, I published an article I think in 2003 in the "Atlantic Monthly" about the case after the trial, and after that I was contacted by one of the people by a man named Toby Bryant, who is actually a cousin of the basketball player Kobe Bryant, and Tony Bryant told me that he was there the night of the murder. That he brought to Greenwich the two men who murdered Martha Moxley.

He said prior to the murder that they were going to, that they were going to take her caveman style. They were two kids from New York City. A very big man, 6'3", 250 pounds who now lives in Bridgeport, Connecticut, one lives in Portland, Oregon. I have spoken to both of them. One of them is black. When Martha Moxley's body was found, it was covered with hairs from a black person which nobody --


TOOBIN: You know, wait a second. Robert, let me --

KENNEDY: Hasn't explain.

TOOBIN: Let me interrupt for one second. Your article in the "Atlantic" --

KENNEDY: Is this Jeffrey Toobin?

TOOBIN: Yes. Your article in the "Atlantic," just --

KENNEDY: And just -- you should -- you know, you should disclose that -- from the beginning you have absolutely been dogging long before Michael was convicted that Michael was guilty.


KENNEDY: And that was your bias from the beginning.

TOOBIN: No, my bias -- (CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: And now with every news report that you did on that, Jeffrey, was --

TOOBIN: My bias -- well, my bias was watching the trial and watching the evidence, and I, like the jury, thought he was guilty, but what I read in today's opinion was that the judge completely rejected the whole Kobe Bryant thing -- Toby Bryant thing. He rejected the argument that Mickey Sherman made to the jury and the argument that you made in your "Atlantic" article that the real killer was Ken Littleton.

What the judge said in today's opinion --

KENNEDY: I didn't know --

TOOBIN: What the judge said --

KENNEDY: Jeffrey, you're up to it again. You're up to it again. You're twisting the facts here. The judge in this trial said that Mickey was unaware -- that he would not fault Mickey for not having found Kobe Bryant -- I mean, Tony Bryant and those -- and the gentlemen who were with Tony Bryant. So he didn't reject that theory of the case. He just -- he didn't fault Mickey for not finding them but --


TOOBIN: But this --

KENNEDY: I would agree with --

TOOBIN: This is -- this is the key point.

KENNEDY: What he did --

TOOBIN: This is the key point, is that the judge said the evidence all points to your other cousin, Thomas Skakel. He said the failure --

KENNEDY: Well, you know what?

TOOBIN: Do you agree --

KENNEDY: This is what you did -- no. This is what you did with Michael.

TOOBIN: That's what the judge said.

KENNEDY: You're trying to convict somebody before they have a trial. Thomas Skakel has never been on trial -- been on trial for this and I never said that Kenny Littleton did this murder and I wouldn't do that because I wouldn't convict somebody before they went on trial like you do, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: The judge --

KENNEDY: What I said is that the stronger --

TOOBIN: The judge said Thomas --

KENNEDY: What I said -- what I said was that there was stronger evidence against many other people than Michael Skakel and what his attorney failed to do, which any attorney their first year criminal attorney would do studying criminal law is you bring in that evidence because that goes to reasonable doubt.

If you can point to somebody else and say, this person is more likely to have committed this crime than the person whose on trial, why that is the basis for reasonable doubt. And that's what the judge was saying.

TOOBIN: Now he's got a point.

KENNEDY: The judge was not saying that Tommy Skakel was guilty and you should apologize for that. To Tommy Skakel for besmirching his name the same way, Jeffrey, that you did for a whole year on CNN against my cousin Michael Skakel, who was innocent of this crime and who was -- as I said, was 11 miles away with five eyewitnesses that Mickey Sherman failed to turn up, and that were right in front of him.

And that's why the judge said that he was reversing this because those people said he was not there.

GUPTA: But --

TOOBIN: He's right about that.

GUPTA: So, Jeff, let me ask, so that evidence sounds pretty compelling. What he's essentially saying is that Michael Skakel was 11 miles away, there were plenty of eyewitnesses. Is that part of this incompetence of his lawyer again? What exactly happened?

TOOBIN: It is. It is. And, you know, Robert Kennedy and I disagree about a lot about this but he's certainly right that the failure here was to raise other avenues of defense. What Mickey Sherman did in that trial was bet everything on the defense, that Ken Littleton, the tutor, did it, which I thought from day one was a very implausible theory based on the evidence.

But there were these other suspects. Certainly Tommy Skakel was a suspect but what Mickey Sherman did not do was point the finger at him and that's the core of the judge's opinion and he's now --


KENNEDY: You know what, I can tell, Jeffrey --

TOOBIN: I'm trying to agree with you.

KENNEDY: Jeffrey, I can tell you read the first 20 pages -- yes, I know. You read the first 20 pages of the decision. You didn't read the sections about Higgins and Coleman and the other witnesses.

TOOBIN: I certainly did.

KENNEDY: And yes, he talks about Tommy Skakel during the first part of the opinion but it's 136-page opinion, and I can see -- I mean, he just released it. I don't blame you for not having read the whole thing, but, you know, for you to settle on Tommy Skakel and say that -- you know, say on national TV that Tommy Skakel did this crime --

TOOBIN: I didn't say that.

KENNEDY: There's something wrong -- that is -- that's unethical and you shouldn't do it and it's the same thing that you did to Michael Skakel for an entire year.

TOOBIN: I said it because he was -- there was evidence in the trial --

KENNEDY: You said it again and again, Jeffrey. Again and again, Jeffrey.

GUPTA: There is a -- there is no question a long history here. Let me read a statement, quickly, if I can. I think you'd both be interested. A statement from Mickey Sherman, said, "I've always believed in Michael's innocence. I'm happy for his release." That was obtained by Sunny Hostin. And that obviously was his attorney back in 2002.

Look, we're going to have to leave it at that, and we -- we'll see what happens tomorrow, if he actually is out of prison.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

Quick programming note, as well, Martha Moxley's mother Dorothy is going to speak to Piers Morgan in the next hour.

Now coming for us tonight, new fallout in the health care reform mess. Democrats now calling for delays in parts of the law, one even calling for people responsible to lose their jobs.

And later, tragedy strikes yet another school as one more community mourns a fallen teacher.


GUPTA: In "Raw Politics" tonight, the health care mess which is now drawing criticism not just from traditional opponents of the Affordable Care Act but also from those who want to preserve it.

Democratic lawmakers calling for delays in parts of the law, one saying heads should roll. And also today, President Obama briefed congressional Democrats and health care executives at the White House.

Spokesman Jay Carney has now promised daily briefings from Health and Human Services on all of these Web site problems. In the meantime, House Republicans prepared for hearings tomorrow and as we mentioned, a number of Democrats began voicing concern and criticism.

Dana Bash joins us now with all this.

And, Dana, these Democrats are making their displeasure known, I think more than we've seen before. What can you tell us?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, they are. And it is mostly Democrats in the Senate who are up for reelection next year because they realize that politically they need to get in a place where they are aggressive and making their constituents know that they are as frustrated as they are.

And Jeanne Shaheen, a senator from New Hampshire who is one of those 2014 Democrats, as we call them, sent a letter to the president saying that she thinks that the enrollment deadline, which is now March 31st, should be delayed a couple of months because of the problems that people have getting on the federal Web site and she was joined by the end of the day by Mark Begich, Democrat from Alaska, Mark Prior, Democrat from Arkansas, all up for reelection next year.

And in fact, Sanjay, I was told by a Democratic strategist involved in trying to elect Democrats that you'd probably expect to see most of those who were targeted, those who are the most vulnerable, saying the same thing or maybe even going further by the day's end because they are really being encouraged by Democratic political strategists to not wait, to not, in the words of one, be listless and not be -- not be quiet and accept these problems.

GUPTA: And what is the -- I mean, the White House, are they hearing this or do you see any action or what are you hearing from them?

BASH: Certainly, they are hearing it. They understand the politics, even the Democrats have to face with regard to these problems. But one thing that they are also going to have to face is legislation.

Joe Manchin, another Democrat who's not up for reelection but is from a very conservative state, West Virginia, he is going to release legislation next week, Sanjay, to say that he wants to delay the penalty that people will have to pay if they don't get health insurance for a year because he is saying why should people pay if they aren't actually able to get on the Web site? It's a fairness issue.

GUPTA: Yes, if it's too hard to actually sign up.

BASH: Exactly.

GUPTA: And these are Democrats, again. Dana, thanks so much for that.

I want to get more now with chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Alice Stewart, a Republican consultant who served as communications director of the 2012 Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann presidential campaigns.

Welcome to all of you. Lots to talk about.

Paul, you are no stranger to damage control. Damage control in the White House. Were you surprised? I mean, I talked to Secretary Sebelius last night. She told me the president was not aware -- made aware of the problems before the launch, and there were some significant problems out there.

I mean, first of all, does that make sense to you? And why would that possibly be?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It makes sense. It's a big mistake, but it makes sense. Nobody likes to carry bad news to the president of the United States. After all, he's -- you know, he's got his finger on the nuclear button. You don't want to make him mad.


But, frankly the more loyal thing to do would be to come to him, and say, sir, I got real problems here, and clearly there are these problems. But I have to tell you, the politics of this. This as a political consultant, the winning message on Obamacare has been for a year or more, mend it, don't end it. When the Republicans said they want to abolish it, support for it went up. In fact four polls in the last week show more support for Obamacare.

Not because people like computer glitches, it's because they don't want to do away with it but they want to fix it. And you see these smart Democrats running saying, well, adjust the deadline here or there, mend it, don't end it. That's what's going to win in the polls.

GUPTA: Let me just follow up quickly, though, Paul, on that point, though. The White House really has been driving the development of this Web site all along, not Secretary Sebelius. Yet, whenever the White House is asked about it, they say talk to HHS, talk to the secretary.

I mean, it seems like a lot of this. That's what people are seeing. No one is taking responsibility or accountability. I mean, is that -- is that what it seems like to you, as well?

BEGALA: Well, as I understand it, it Web site was put together by Health and Human Services, in fact with their partner there, which you know well called CMS, which is the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. It runs Medicaid and Medicare, and those are the folks who are supposed to have been coming up with this. This of course, ultimately, the secretary is responsible for that.

Nobody thinks that the White House, which actually, as a federal agency is a pretty small one -- when I worked there, it's about 1200 people -- would actually be putting together all these exchanges covering, I guess, about 35 states.

You know, what you're seeing is computer glitches, but what the White House needs to be doing, and they are doing, is explaining to people, 85 percent of us get the benefits of Obamacare without ever having to go online. I've got a college kid who just turned 21 a few weeks ago, hey, I get to cover him. My mom gets mammograms now for free under Medicare. My dad has a donut hole closed with prescription drugs. Don't bankrupt him.

All of that without even having to mess with the Web site. Those are the kind of messages I think that the White House is trying to put out.

GUPTA: And that's what the president is sort of led with when he had that speech in the Rose Garden.

BEGALA: Right.

GUPTA: Gloria, one thing that really caught my attention, probably yours as well, today Jay Carney, White House spokesman, basically did not rule out this idea of scrapping the entire Web site and starting from scratch. That's not the focus now specifically, but how big a political liability is that for the president and some --


GUPTA: And some other Democrats?

BORGER: I don't think there is any indication, Sanjay, that they would scrap this and start all over again. What they are trying to do is change a flat tire where they're going 50 miles an hour and it's really hard and it's a huge political liability for them right now. They're probably longing for the good old days of the shutdown, right? Because during the shutdown, the popularity of Obamacare went up.

The popularity of government itself went up and what they've done now, you know, we spent the last two weeks talking how the Republicans were stepping on their own message about health care reform. Well now the president's message that Paul succinctly stated is being stepped on by his own team, whether it was HHS or whoever you want to point the finger at.

Now they are finding that they have to explain and answer Republicans who are now saying look, if you want the government to run your health care, look at how well they were running this Web site. So do you trust them? So you give that whole line of thought another life and as you -- as Dana pointed out earlier, Democrats are running scared who are running for reelection in red states.

GUPTA: Let's talk more a little bit more about just how significant this Web site is.

Alice, let me bring you in here as well. House Speaker John Boehner advising Republicans not to focus entirely on the Web site. Assuming that's eventually going to be fixed, he's counseling them instead to focus on Gloria saying what this problem with the Web site might represent overall. Is that a wise approach, do you think?

ALICE STEWART, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN FOR BACHMANN 2012 CAMPAIGN: Well, that's certainly one approach and I think the key is, is that this is more than a glitch. This is a systematic failure with the rollout of Obamacare and it's based on the fact that the Web site was not set up properly and one of the key things is that in your interview with Secretary Sebelius last night, one of the key questions you asked was, you know, is this now -- is the administration open to delaying the fine? She said no, that's not really the question. It's whether or not we can continue to make this thing work.

The key is this does not work and the problems with the rollout are symptomatic of the overall illness of Obamacare, and the fact that now that -- after all this time Republicans have asked to delay the implementation, we have key House Democrats or Senate Democrats that are asking for it, and being very hypocritical for the president to delay at this point but he absolutely needs to.

And to Paul's point, no one likes to deliver bad news about how this was not ready to be rolled out, any administration I've ever worked for or a campaign, when you isolate the person at the top and don't deliver the important news, it shows an overall systematic failure in leadership that he does not want to receive the information and those under him don't feel the responsibility to provide it and that's why we are where we are today.

GUPTA: We're going to be talking about this for days and weeks to come, I have a feeling, but tonight, we're going to have to leave it there.

Thanks so much. Gloria Borger, Paul Begala, Alice Stewart, thanks for joining us.

Coming up, my somewhat remarkable conversation, I'd say with Dick Cheney. His heart problems, how he's doing now, and a bombshell about how far he went to protect his heart from -- get this -- a potential terrorist attack.

Also, another school shooting. People mourning yet another fallen teacher who made a difference in so many lives.


GUPTA: In "Crime and Punishment" for the second time in a week there is this tragic news report. A math teacher killed allegedly by a student. First there was the shooting death of a teacher at a Nevada middle school and now another beloved teacher is being mourned tonight.

Twenty-four-year-old Colleen Ritzer was found dead in the woods in Danvers, Massachusetts, about 20 miles north of Boston. Blood was found in the bathroom at Danvers High School where Ritzer taught math. And now a 14-year-old student at the school is in custody charged with murder.

Don Lemon has the latest. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Colleen Ritzer had just graduated college in 2011, a new teacher, just 24. Young enough to still live with her parents.

PETER MARTELLUCCI, COLLEEN RITZER'S UNCLE: She was just a young caring girl that had the whole world ahead of her. And to be taken just so tragically is awful.

LEMON: A young teacher whose ideas and passion for her students spilled on to Facebook, Twitter. A homework blog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A wonderful lady. Couldn't say enough about her. She was always the teacher to go the extra mile for students.

LEMON: So why would 14-year-old Philip Chism, one of her own students, allegedly kill her. According to court documents, he beat her to death, tossed her body in the woods behind the school she loved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The defendant before the court is 14.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that he's arraigned in the adult court --

LEMON: Investigators in Danvers, Massachusetts, alleged Chism incriminated himself in interviews with police, that there was evidence on video cameras at Danvers High School, blood in a second floor bathroom.

KYLE CAHILL, DANVERS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: He's quiet. Just kept to himself. I mean, he's probably he's new to society. But I mean he's a good kid. He didn't seem bad, like nothing out of the ordinary, just a quiet normal kid.

LEMON: The discovery of Colleen Ritzer's body was a surprise ending to what started Tuesday as a hunt for missing student Philip Chism. He was new to the community. Had recently moved there from Tennessee. Facebook lit up with the search for the high school soccer player.

"Philip is my neighbor," said one post. "He's a polite and friendly boy. I pray for his safe return." Then a twist, Ritzer's family contacted police to say she was missing.

JONATHAN BLODGETT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: As a result of that report, Danvers Police initiated a search for the teacher and discovered blood in the second floor bathroom at Danvers High School.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By such assault and beating did kill and murder such person.

LEMON: The teen was found in a nearby town, the teacher's body sometime later. JOE SPANOS, COLLEEN RITZER'S FORMER TEACHER: You couldn't find a more precious girl than Colleen, yes. Very special. You don't expect that to happen, you know, if you had a kid that might have been on drugs or hanging out with the wrong group of people, but she was just perfect.

LEMON: Prosecutors say they will ask a grand jury to indict Chism as an adult. The teen's attorney argued otherwise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this case the defendant wishes to have services to evaluate him. I think the case speaks for itself.

LEMON: But the case doesn't speak to the mystery surrounding his possible motives as the community gathers to grieve the loss.


GUPTA: And Don Lemon joins me now live.

I mean, Don, do we know anything about a possible motive here, and also the relationship between this victim and suspect?

LEMON: Still no motives. The only thing that they would say is that he incriminated -- according to sources incriminated himself when police were speaking with him. So no motive there. But the only relationship that anyone knows about is that he was indeed her student. That's according to the prosecutor's office. That just came out on just a short time ago, Sanjay, and I just have to say that there is a memorial here at the school that's just letting out and it's hard.

We've been standing here watching the faces of the people who are leaving this memorial, and it's really just heartbreaking.

GUPTA: I've covered too many tragedies like this, Don, you and I, over this past year. Thanks for bringing us the story, though.

Just ahead, my interview with Dick Cheney who is just now revealing how close to death he came before his heart transplant. And also how his fight for his own survival intersected with 9/11 and other crucial moments in our nation's history.


GUPTA: You know, for the first time we're learning details about Dick Cheney's fight for survival while he was working in the highest reaches of government. Cheney describes his decades-long battle with heart disease in this new book called "Heart" that he's written with his cardiologist.

As a doctor I've often wondered how Cheney was being advised by his own doctors. And I had a chance recently to ask him about that. In an interview that first aired on "60 Minutes" we talked about how close he came to death and one of most surprising details to come out was this unprecedented action he took just 67 days after becoming vice president. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT (on camera): Basically what I did was I resigned the vice presidency effective March 28th of 2001.

GUPTA: So nearly for your entire time as vice president there was a letter of resignation.

CHENEY: Pending.

GUPTA: Pending.

(Voice-over): Cheney discovered there was no provision in the Constitution to replace a vice president who was alive but incapacitated. So he drew up a letter of resignation to give to the president.

CHENEY: It says, "In accordance with Section 20 of Title 3 of the United States Code, I, Richard B. Cheney, hereby resign the office of vice president of the United States."

GUPTA (on camera): How did President Bush react when you told him about this?

CHENEY: A little surprised, but he thought it was a good idea.

GUPTA (voice-over): It was just three years ago Cheney says that people gasped when they saw how frail he had become. Today, just 20 months after his heart transplant, Cheney's weight is back to normal. The color returned to his skin. H has no shortness of breath.

(On camera): How are you feeling?

CHENEY: Fantastic. Now I'm to the point where I literally, you know, feel like I have a new heart, a lot more energy than I had previously. There aren't any real physical limits on what I do. I fish, I hunt, and I don't ski but that's because of my knee, it's not my heart, so it's been a miracle.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dick Cheney is a product of modern medicine at its best. He has suffered five heart attacks, undergone open heart surgery, multiple catheterization and angioplasties. Had a defibrillator implanted, and a pump attached directly to his heart, all of that before his transplant at age 71. Each time Cheney reached the precipice of death, a breakthrough in medical technology extended his life.

Bad hearts run in Dick Cheney's family and early on he did little to take care of himself. He had his first cigarette at age 12 and by the time he was President Ford's chief of staff at age 34, his daily staples included fatty food, beer and up to three packs a day.

CHENEY: And all the cigarette companies donated cigarettes in a white box with gold trim around it embossed with the presidential seal. That was kind of a -- if you're a cocktail party or meeting in Washington and you whipped out your presidential cigarettes and lit it up with a pack of matches from Air Force One, that's sort of a status symbol.

GUPTA: After his first White House stint Cheney returned to Wyoming to run for Congress. At just 37 his genetics and his lifestyle caught up with him. He suffered his first heart attack and doctors thought he should quit the race, but he didn't want to hear it.

GUPTA (on camera): You were pretty persuasive, I mean, because they said it would be wise to drop out of this at the present time.

CHENEY: They said that in the medical records.

GUPTA: They didn't tell you that?

CHENEY: Well, I don't recall. What I took away from the conversations is that key phrase, hard work never killed anybody.

GUPTA: Patients like to hear what they want to hear.

CHENEY: Well, that may well have been the case here, as well, too, but they also emphasized that stress comes from doing something you don't want to be doing.

GUPTA (voice-over): He won that election and five more after that but his heart disease was steadily progressing. By the time Cheney took over as President Bush's secretary of Defense in 1999 he'd suffered three heart attacks and undergone quadruple bypass surgery. It was a time of global upheaval and Dick Cheney was in the center of it all. The collapse of communism. The uprising in China's Tiananmen Square. And the First Gulf War.

CHENEY: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines prepare for one of the largest land assaults of all times.

GUPTA (on camera): Looking back, do you think the stress affected your heart disease you're your overall health?

CHENEY: I simply don't buy the notion that it contributed to my heart disease. It was, in fact, that getting back to work, getting back to that job, whatever that job might be was important enough that I -- in fact, kept them separate, I guess, would be the way to think about it.

GUPTA: But I do wonder as a doctor is that really plausible? Can you really keep such a significant medical history and such a significant job separate?

CHENEY: I did.

GUPTA (voice-over): But when George W. Bush asked Cheney to be his running mate in 2000, there was enough concern that the Bush campaign sought out the opinion of world renowned Texas heart surgeon, Denton Cooley. After speaking with Cheney's cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Dr, Cooley told the Bush campaign that Cheney was in good health with normal cardiac function.

(On camera): The normal cardiac function wasn't true.

CHENEY: Well, I'm not responsible for that. I don't know what took place between the doctors.

GUPTA: This idea that you have this respected heart surgeon from Texas who didn't see you, didn't examine you, and then write something saying that you have normal cardiac function, that just wasn't true, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: Now go ask Denton Cooley about that.

GUPTA: But you've been -- sir, you saw it.

CHENEY: Listen to me. I think the bottom line is, was I up to the task of being vice president? And there is no question, I think, based upon the fact that I did it for eight years that they were right.

GUPTA: How were they able to say that you were able to do the job?

CHENEY: The way I look at it, Sanjay -- first of all, I didn't seek the job. The president came to me and asked me to be his vice president. The party nominated me. The doctors that consulted on it reached a common conclusion, the people elected me. Now what basis do you want to over ride that decision making process? Do you want to have an offshoot here where we come check with Sanjay Gupta, and say, gee, is he up to the task? That's not the way it works.

GUPTA (voice-over): Despite Cheney's insistence that he was fit for office, and just four months after being cleared by his doctors, Cheney suffered another heart attack -- his fourth.

CHENEY: It was there. It was chest discomfort. Sufficient so I thought I ought to check it out.

GUPTA: This time it came while the country was embroiled in the 2000 presidential recount. Cheney needed a stint to prop open a clogged artery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready to take the oath?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me.

GUPTA: Yet again, modern medicine had helped Dick Cheney dodge a bullet, but it was just nine months later when Cheney confronted what he considers one of the biggest challenges of his life -- 9/11. With President Bush in Florida, Cheney was in a bunker under the White House helping make decisions, even given authority by the president to shoot down passenger airliners.

(On camera): I mean, as far as stress goes and again as a doctor, with your heart history, how worried were you about just your health and its (INAUDIBLE)?

CHENEY: Didn't occur to me.

GUPTA: Not at all?

CHENEY: I didn't think about my health. I was thinking about the problem we were dealing with.

GUPTA (voice-over): But what Cheney didn't know was that his cardiologist, Jonathan Reiner, had received the results of a blood test that morning showing his potassium levels were dangerously high. A condition called hyperkalemia.

(On camera): Big concern. I mean, how big are we talking about?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CARDIOLOGIST: Potassium 6.9 can kill you.

GUPTA: This is a huge problem.

REINER: Yes. I laid awake that night watching the replays of the towers come down and not thinking oh, great, the vice president is going to die tonight of hyperkalemia.

GUPTA (voice-over): Another blood test the next day showed Cheney's potassium levels were normal but this level of scrutiny over Dick Cheney's health is a reminder, he is no ordinary patient and caring for him often required extraordinary precautions.

In 2007 when Cheney needed his implanted defibrillator in place, Dr. Reiner ordered the manufacturer to disable the wireless feature, fearing a terrorist could assassinate the vice president by sending a signal to the device telling it to shock his heart into cardiac arrest.

REINER: And it seemed to me to be a bad idea for the vice president of the United States to have a device that maybe somebody on a rope line or someone in the next hotel room or downstairs might be able to get into, hack into, and I worried that someone could kill you.

GUPTA: It might sound farfetched but years later, this scene from the show time drama "Homeland" showed just how it could be done to the fictional vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm killing you.

GUPTA (on camera): What did you think when you watched that?

CHENEY: Well, I was aware of the danger, if you will, that existed but I found it credible because I knew from the experience we've had and the necessity for adjusting my own device, that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible.

GUPTA (voice-over): The precariousness of Cheney's physical health raises questions about his state of mind when he was helping make decisions, including those about war and peace.

(On camera): You were instrumental in many big decisions for the country, including going into Afghanistan and Iraq.

CHENEY: And terrorist surveillance program and enhanced interrogation techniques.

GUPTA: Terrorist surveillance programs, wiretapping, enhanced interrogation. You've had four heart attacks, three catheterizations at this point, a defibrillator, bypass surgery.

CHENEY: Right.

GUPTA: Did you worry about your physical health impacting your judgment and your cognition?


GUPTA: Not at all?


GUPTA: Were you the best that you could be?


GUPTA: Well, the answer to that question just ahead. Plus Cheney's reaction when I asked him about the research that shows how heart disease often does affect cognition. What his doctors tell him about that.


GUPTA: We're back with part two of my interview with Dick Cheney. It first aired on "60 Minutes." As a doctor, I'm familiar with the ways heart disease and its treatments can affect cognition. Now before the break, you heard me ask Cheney if he was the best that he could be while he was making these crucial decisions in the White House. And that's where we pick up.


GUPTA (on camera): You've had four heart attacks three catheterizations at this point, a defibrillator, bypass surgery.

CHENEY: Right.

GUPTA: Did you worry about your physical health impacting your judgment and cognition?


GUPTA: Not at all?


GUPTA: Were you the best that you could be?

CHENEY: Well, I was as good as I could be, you know, given the fact that I was 60 some years old at that point and a heart patient.

GUPTA (voice-over): Cheney didn't want to acknowledge numerous studies that show a significant connection between severe heart disease and memory loss, depression, a decline in decision-making abilities and impaired cognition or that he could be one of the many patients vulnerable to these side effects.

(On camera): Did they talk at all about potential side effects again because of limited blood flow to the brain, on cognition, on judgment? Was that something that you had heard about in any way? Not -- you didn't know about it, you weren't worried it?


GUPTA: Both --

CHENEY: I wasn't worried about it.

GUPTA: Did anyone counsel you at all on that?

CHENEY: Not that I recall.

GRACE: What about even things like depression?


GUPTA (voice-over) : And that's all he wanted to say about that. But what Dick Cheney was eager to talk about was his transplant detailed in his new book "Heart".

CHENEY: When you emerge from that gift of life itself, there is this tremendous feeling of emotion, but it's very positive. I think my first words when I came out from under the anesthesia and they said, it did work great. It was hot damn. Literally.

GUPTA: Cheney and Dr. Reiner wanted to show us just how dramatic his transformation has been. This is an image of Cheney's ravaged and disease's heart just moments after it was removed.

REINER: This is a rather large basin and here is the -- your heart.

CHENEY: It's the one I lived with for 70 years.

REINER: A normal heart would basically be about the size of two fists clamped together like this maybe in a little smaller.

CHENEY: Right.

REINER: And you see this is about half a foot wide.

GUPTA (on camera): Old heart, new heart.

CHENEY: Old heart, new heart, and it's one of those situations where bigger is not necessarily better.

GUPTA (voice-over): That's because a bigger heart can't effectively pump blood through the body. The X-ray on the left shows Cheney's enlarged heart twice the normal size and pushing on his other organs. On the right, his new heart and then there is this comparison, again, on the left Cheney's diseased heart weakened with narrowed arteries and his new heart with healthy vessels and no blockages.

CHENEY: It dramatically displays how sick I was.

GUPTA: Today Cheney says he's taking good care of his new heart. He spends much of his time back in Wyoming with his family and playing rodeo hand to granddaughter Gracie.

CHENEY: You wake up every morning with a smile on your face because you've got a new day you never expected to have. There is a sad sense of wonderment. Nothing short of magical.

GUPTA (on camera): You know, magical, wonderment, your words, those aren't words you typically, you know, hear or expect to hear from you. I mean --

CHENEY: Darth Vader? No, that's -- that's -- those are the words I choose to describe it.


GUPTA: And one other note, as well. You just saw Mr. Cheney's doctor in that report. You can see more of him tonight on "PIERS MORGAN LIVE."

We'll be right back.


GUPTA: Tomorrow night CNN is going to air the television premiere of the fascinating documentary "Blackfish" which tells the story of a SeaWorld trainer who was killed by a 12,000 pound orca named Tilikum back in 2010. The film goes beyond that story and raises some serious questions about whether killer whales should be kept in capacity at all.

Filmmaker spoke with a number of former SeaWorld trainers about their own dangerous experiences.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe it's 70 plus, maybe even more just killer whale trainer accidents, maybe 30 of them happened prior to me being actually hired at SeaWorld and I knew about none of them.

I've seen animals come out at train trainers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen animals come out trainers. Something is wrong. I've seen people get slammed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whales, they're just playing or upset for a second. There is just something that happened, you know. This culture of you get back on the horse and you dive back in the water and if you're hurt, well then we've got other people that will replace you and you came a long way, you sure you want that?


GUPTA: Tune in tomorrow, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific for CNN Films "Blackfish." And after that at 11:00 stick around for an Anderson Cooper special report called "Inside Blackfish: Killers in Captivity." You can hear from orca experts as well as one of the filmmakers.

That does it for this edition of 360. We'll see you again an hour from now. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.