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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Virginia Senate Race Heats Up; Does Negative Campaign Advertising Work?; Authorities Investigate Suspected Arson in California

Aired October 27, 2006 - 22:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening again, everyone.
A bitter Senate race turns brutal, as graphic passages of candidates' novels are brought to light. Is it a dirty trick or fair game?


ANNOUNCER: Novel charge.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: They certainly are demeaning to women.

JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We can go and read Lynne Cheney's lesbian love scenes, if you want to, you know, get graphic.

ANNOUNCER: Open book or open season? A work of fiction takes center stage in a punishing political campaign that is down to the wire.

Getting personal -- will the bombshell pay off for the Republicans, or backfire? Tonight, James Carville takes the gloves off.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would hit Allen about his work at a dude ranch when Jim Webb was winning three Silver Stars and a Navy Cross.

ANNOUNCER: And fast moving and fatal -- the latest on the California wildfires and how the raging inferno may now be an act of murder.


ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Sitting in tonight for Anderson, and reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here's John King.

KING: In case you're not keeping count at home, we're just 11 days until the midterm elections. And, with control of Congress at stake, many races are not only close; they're downright ugly. That, of course, is nothing new. What is new, though, is how a work of fiction is becoming fact in one vicious campaign. It's in Virginia, where the Republican incumbent, under fire for his own remarks, wants voters to know what his Democratic challenger wrote years ago. The writing is explicit and shocking. It's also purely made up, fiction. But should that matter?

We begin tonight's with CNN's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrat Jim Webb insists sexually graphic passages in novels he wrote between 1981 and 2001 are being taken out of context by his political opponents.

JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Those incidents either were illuminating characters or showing the average reader environments around the world.

BASH: Republican Senator George Allen admits, he stirred this pot.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: My opponent says he is a writer. And he talks about that. And he's running it in his ads. And, so, people can judge some of his writings.

BASH: Allen's campaign compiled this document and gave it to the gossip Web site The Drudge Report, 10 sexually explicit passages plucked from five of Webb's novels, saying they "portray women as servile, subordinate, inept, incompetent, promiscuous, perverted or some combination of these."

One highlighted passage from Webb's book "Lost Soldiers" describes what would appear to Americans as a man performing a sexual act on his son. Webb said it was something he witnessed in a Bangkok slum, and it was not a sexual act.

WEBB: When an individual picks up his son and does that in front of 100 people, and there is an acceptance, culturally, of what he just did, that illuminates a culture. And -- and how can someone be a serious writer and not write about these things?

BASH: In another passage too explicit to quote directly, Webb describes a stripper performing a sexual act with a piece of fruit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What his suspicion is on women in the military.

BASH: At a Washington radio show, Webb called it an appropriate illustration for a military novel about the lives of servicemen abroad.

WEBB: That is a sort of thing that happened. That's from Olongapo in the Philippines. There are hundreds of thousands of American servicemen who have -- who have been in that environment. BASH: Allen sees it differently.

ALLEN: Well, from those excerpts that I read, they certainly are demeaning to women.

BASH: The attack fits a broader Allen message, aimed at convincing women voters that Webb, a former Navy secretary, is insensitive.


NARRATOR: The same Jim Webb who declared the Naval Academy a horny woman's dream and women psychologically unfit for combat.


BASH (on camera): Your critics, Senator Allen's campaign, says that what you chose to wrote in your novels is indicative of how you think.

WEBB: I think it's absolutely -- you know, to -- to -- to pull, you know, one and two sentences out of a body of work, and try to use it for political purposes, is just absurd. And -- and -- and they know that.

BASH (voice-over): Democrats quickly released their own book list of GOP authors, from Newt Gingrich to Lynne Cheney, who put some racy passages in their novels.

WEBB: I'm a serious writer. I mean, we can go and read Lynne Cheney's lesbian love scenes, if you want to, you know, get graphic on stuff.

BASH (on camera): Webb reminded reporters he is an acclaimed novelist. In fact, Democrats also point out that Webb's military fiction, like this, "Lost Soldiers," has been praised by conservatives, from author Tom Clancy to Senator John McCain.

Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.


KING: Now, we don't know what impact Webb's writing will have on this race. We do know he's not the first politician to try his hand at fiction.

There have been many others, including, as Dana just noted, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney. Lynne Cheney has written several children's books. A few of those are listed on the White House Web site.

What is not there is her novel for adults that continues to generate controversy.

Lynne Cheney sat down earlier with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM," where she said, her writing is nothing like Jim Webb's.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the Democrats are now complaining bitterly in this Virginia race, George Allen, using novels, novels that Jim Webb, his Democratic challenger, has written, in which there are sexual references. And they're making a big deal out of this.

I want you to listen to what Jim Webb said today, in responding to this very sharp attack from George Allen.

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Now, do you promise, Wolf, that we're going to talk about my book?

BLITZER: I do promise.

CHENEY: Because this seems to me a mighty long trip around the merry-go-round.

BLITZER: I want -- I want to -- I want you to respond. This is in the news today. And your name has come up. So, that's why we're talking about it. But listen to this.


JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: There's nothing that has been in any of my novels that, in my view, hasn't been either illuminating surroundings or defining a character or moving a plot. I'm a serious writer. I mean, we can go and read Lynne Cheney's lesbian love scenes, if you want to, you know, get graphic on stuff.


CHENEY: You know, Jim Webb is full of baloney. I have never written anything sexually explicit. His novels are full of sexually explicit references to incest, sexually explicit references -- well, you know, I just don't want my grandchildren to turn on the television set.

This morning, Imus was reading from the novels. And it is XXX- rated.

BLITZER: Here is what the Democratic Party put out today, the Democratic Congressional -- Senatorial Campaign Committee: "Lynn Cheney's book featured brothels and attempted rape. In 1981, Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne, wrote a book called 'Sisters,' which featured a lesbian love affair, brothels, and attempted rapes."

CHENEY: You know...

BLITZER: "In 1998, Lynne Cheney wrote about a Republican vice president who dies of a heart attack while having sex with his mistress."

Is that true? CHENEY: Nothing explicit. And, actually, that is full of lies. It's not -- it's just -- it's absolutely not true.

BLITZER: But you did write a book entitled "Sisters"?

CHENEY: I did write a book entitled "Sisters."

BLITZER: And it did have lesbian characters.

CHENEY: This description -- this -- no, not necessarily. This description is a lie. I will stand on that.

BLITZER: There was nothing in there about rapes and brothels?

CHENEY: Wolf, Wolf, Wolf, could we talk about a children's book for a minute?

BLITZER: We can talk about the children's book. But I just wanted to...

CHENEY: I think our segment is like 15 minutes long.

BLITZER: I just...


CHENEY: And we have now done 10 minutes of...

BLITZER: I just wanted to clarify what is in the news today.

CHENEY: Sex, lies and distortion, that is what it is.

BLITZER: This is -- this is -- this is an opportunity for you to explain on these sensitive issues.

CHENEY: Wolf, I have nothing to explain. Jim Webb has a lot to explain.


KING: Lynne Cheney earlier today in "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER."

Now, the -- the novels that Former Naval Secretary Jim Webb wrote aren't new. And neither is the tactic his opponent, George Allen, is using. In poker, it's like having an ace up your sleeve. You want to use it when you need it the most.

Well, whatever you call it, it turned heads today.

Earlier, I talked with veteran Democratic strategist James Carville.


KING: James Carville, thanks for joining us on 360. James Webb today, in defending himself, said that he sat down with you more than a year ago, and that you told him he was -- and I think I'm quoting him now -- "an opposition researcher's dream..."


KING: ... because he had written these books.

He was aware of these books more than a year ago. Why would he not put them out in the public domain, before the Allen campaign could do it to him?

CARVILLE: Well, I guess they -- they were books. They were out in the public domain.


CARVILLE: It wasn't like his books were a secret. I mean, they were some of the -- you know, thought to be the best books ever written on the Vietnam War. So, you know, but I doubt -- you know, we probably thought they were in the public domain.

KING: Well, you could call a news conference and say: I want to show you some of the things I wrote in my book, because I understand they're racy. And I wrote them for a reason. I'm a fiction writer when I'm writing these books, not a candidate for public office. And I want to talk to you about this...


KING: ... today, so that my opponent doesn't talk to you about it 10 days before the election.

CARVILLE: You -- you know -- you know, John, I'm not altogether certain that this is going to work for Senator Allen. I'm not sure this whole thing is not going to backfire.

It -- book burning is -- is -- is not the -- the -- the greatest tactic in American politics in 2006. And I think it's going to draw attention to the fact that Webb is one of the most decorated veterans of the Vietnam War, and Allen sat it out.

I'm -- I'm not altogether sure that this is not going to be -- end up to be a good thing for Webb. I'm really not. I -- I -- this a risky thing that Allen is pulling here. And Webb has got some pretty good answers. And, if I were sitting across the table for him today, I would tell him to be out and -- and -- and take every interview on this, and -- and -- and be very aggressive about pointing to distinctions between he and Allen.

KING: He is someone who would have a vote in the Senate on future Supreme Court justices, who might decide the definition of pornography, the definition of indecency on the Internet or on the television networks. He is someone who would vote on National Endowment for the Arts funding.


KING: So, is it fair game, things that he wrote, things that he put into the public domain in the past?


CARVILLE: I think -- you know what? I'm not saying that this necessarily -- that it's unfair for Allen to do this.

I'm saying there's a political downside for Allen, and a political upside for Webb, if Webb takes advantage of it. I think, if I were him, I would do nothing but interviews on this for the next -- until -- until -- until Monday -- until -- until Monday. I would be available. And I would hit Allen very legitimately -- very legitimately about his work at a dude ranch, when Jim Webb was winning three Silver Stars and a Navy Cross.

KING: And let's follow up on that point you just made.

You have been the campaign manager, the chief tactician, in some pretty bruising campaigns, including one, a guy named Bill Clinton, running for president back in...


KING: ... 1992, when Gennifer Flowers came out, and accused him of infidelity.

And you were the guy who convinced the Clinton campaign and the governor at the time...


KING: ... Governor Clinton at the time, and his wife. They went on "60 Minutes" and they did an interview with which they acknowledged problems in their marriage.


KING: And they said they thought the American people would get what they were talking about.


KING: They did an interview with a young guy named John King who worked for the Associated Press.

CARVILLE: They did.

KING: No idea what happened to that guy in life.


KING: That was a strategic move.

CARVILLE: Right. KING: You said: Get out. Get in front of it...

CARVILLE: Get in front of it.

KING: ... because we're getting thumped.

CARVILLE: And remember...


KING: Take us behind the curtain. How does it work?

CARVILLE: Remember the -- the letter from the -- that -- that -- that he wrote to -- to the colonel at the University of Arkansas?

And what -- what I said was, as soon as that letter came, let's publish it in the -- in the -- in the New Hampshire newspaper.

And you were covering that race every day.

I'm saying to the Webb people, get out in front of this. Go take every interview you can. Challenge Allen to debate your record. Challenge to debate whether or not literature should be -- should be censored. Say: You know what? When I do vote on a Supreme Court justice, I'm going vote on somebody that allows people to write about the horrors of war, without the fear of -- of censorship.

I -- I go back, and -- and I said, yes, when -- when this came up, that -- that then-Governor and Mrs. Clinton ought to go on and take it, because it's going to be there. We're going to talk about this. And you're exactly right.

It's not -- it's not anything low level about taking something that somebody wrote. But it is also taking a high road to put that all into context. And I think that's what Jim Webb needs to do.

KING: James Carville, thank you very much for your time.


CARVILLE: You bet. Thank you.

Now, with just 11 days to go, a reminder of the basic math beneath all the scandal and the spin. Here's the "Raw Data."

In the U.S. Senate, there are 33 races in play. To win control, Democrats need a nets gain of six seats. In the House, everyone's up, 435 races. Democrats need a net gain there of 15 seats to take control.

Now, politicians always want control, but, first, they have to take control. Sometimes, that means dealing with scandals. And some fare much better than others. We will tell you why.

Then, later: deliberate and deadly, California's massive wildfire. We're live at the scene to bring you the latest. Also -- and you won't want to miss this -- the anatomy of arson, sifting through ash, how a rookie investigator made an arrest, after another big wildfire -- that when 360 continues.


KING: Watergate. Plane-gate. Maybe you remember an intern named Monica. Where there's power, there's scandal. We have already seen more than a few this year. They can be career-ending, but they can also, in some cases, lead to victory. It all depends how the crisis is handled.


KING (voice-over): James Webb is hardly the first candidate to have his own words turned against him at an inopportune moment.

Flash back to 1987 -- Senator Gary Hart of Colorado was the early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.


GARY HART, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All of us must try to hold ourselves to the very highest possible standards.


KING: Plagued by rumors of marital infidelity, Hart all but dared reporters to follow him. They did.


HART: And I know I could have been a very good president, particularly for these times. But, apparently, now, we will never know.


KING: Fast-forward, 1992. Bill Clinton was the front-runner. And it looked like campaign deja vu.


GENNIFER FLOWERS, CLAIMS AFFAIR WITH BILL CLINTON: I will start by explaining why I came forward to tell my story about my affair with Governor Bill Clinton.


KING: Gennifer Flowers went public just before the crucial New Hampshire primary. And then Governor Clinton's big lead evaporated.

Fighting back including a groundbreaking a "60 Minutes" interview, his wife, Hillary, by his side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES," 1992) WILLIAM J. CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have acknowledged wrongdoing. I have acknowledged causing pain in my marriage.


KING: The strategy worked. He finished second on the primary, and, of course, went on to win the race.


CLINTON: New Hampshire, tonight, has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid.



LANNY DAVIS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: He was able to show that: That's one part of me that you have to judge, but the more important part of me is where I stand on the issues.

KING: Arnold Schwarzenegger took a page from the Clinton damage- control playbook when he ran for governor in 2003. In the final days of that campaign, the actor-turned-candidate was confronted with allegations he had groped women on movie sets. Schwarzenegger voiced his remorse.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I always say that, wherever there's smoke, there's fire. That is true. And, so, what I want to say to you is that is, yes, that I have behaved badly sometimes.


KING: What was key, though, was that his wife, Maria Shriver, like Mrs. Clinton a decade earlier, offered unflinching public support.


MARIA SHRIVER, WIFE OF ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I have known this man for 26 years, married to him for 17. He's an extraordinary father and remarkable husband, a terrific human being.


KING: In Webb's case, the issue is not sexual conduct, but sexually explicit passages in novels that some might find offensive.

Webb was warned more than a year ago, his books could be used against him. Letting his opponent use them in an attack so close to Election Day violates what former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis calls the golden rule of damage control. DAVIS: Nowadays, I would anticipate the worst, because there appears to be no bottom. And I would put the information out first myself, explain it, and move on.


KING: Now, as we just showed you, scandal doesn't always mean the end of a political career -- coming up, one strategist tells us how candidates can survive controversy, maybe even use it to their advantage.

Stay right here. This is 360.


KING: The 11th-hour scandal, the ones just before Election Day, does the strategy help or hurt the candidates?

360 next.


KING: Before the break, we showed you how scandals have hurt or, in some cases, helped politicians. the outcome, of course, all depends on the strategy.

Tonight, one of the war room insiders is speaking out on the secrets to his success. Mike Murphy is a longtime Republican media strategist. He's paid to help people in power prevail, no matter what turns up. He stopped by a bit earlier.


KING: Republican media strategist Mike Murphy, thanks for joining us on 360.


KING: I want to start with the story in the news today, these revelations about books written by the Democratic candidate for Senate James Webb in Virginia.

MURPHY: Right.

KING: Talked to James Carville earlier in the program. He says this could help Webb, if he gets aggressive about it, and goes out, goes on the offensive, give interview. Helpful or very damaging?

MURPHY: Damaging. I'm not sure about very damaging.

The golden rule here, be careful about the books you write in fiction if you're going to run for Senate. And don't wait until the last 10 days of a campaign to tell anybody, including your side, about them. You never want to be caught.

And it will create a cloud of controversy around his campaign. I think it will be more damaging to him than these things normally are because he has a history of other things he has said about women. And it becomes a pattern. And when -- by the time you get the third piece of evidence in a pattern, in politics, you're in big trouble.

KING: You have been -- I think I will put it this way -- on the giving end and on the receiving end...


KING: ... of things like this. You worked for...

MURPHY: That was the old Mike.

KING: You worked for John McCain...



KING: ... in his presidential primaries, when he was running against George W. Bush...


KING: ... back in 2000.

There were phone calls in South Carolina, e-mails, some direct mail, about his record on abortion, stuff about his wife, stuff about his family, highly personal nature.


KING: How do you deal with that? And it's no surprise, I guess, that it always seems to come a week or so before Election Day, doesn't it?


Normally, the more negative the charge, the later it is, on a theory that people don't have time to sort it out and figure out what is true or not.

Count Bismarck said the -- the biggest lies occur before the wedding, after the hunt, and during the election. And that rule is still true 150 years later.

And one of the problems you have now, with the new media, you got e-mails. You got taped phone calls, of course, the old media, radio and television. So, it all comes at you. And you have got to make a very tough call. Do you spend your limited in the 10 last days TV spots and resources, saying, "Wait a minute; no, that's not true," and get off your message, or do you ignore it, and it penetrates?

What you would normally have to do is counterattack, deny, and then try to get back on offense, which is tricky to do in the end of a campaign, when there's so much going on, and people are easily confused.

KING: Now, in this campaign -- there has been a lot of talk, it's the most negative, most nasty campaign ever.

MURPHY: Right.

KING: You have put some ads on the air against opponents in the past that have taken a limb off them, knocked them back on their heels a little bit.


KING: Is this the most nasty...

MURPHY: We -- we...

KING: ... negative campaign ever?

MURPHY: We call it the searchlight of truth, actually, in the campaign business.


MURPHY: The -- I would say it's a negative year because the stakes are high. And, whenever the stakes get high in a campaign, the sides want to bang it out on cutting issues. You know, elections are about differences, and you got to have a contrast.

That said, it works, because, if people voted against negative ads, you would never see any. It's a very responsive system.

I don't think this is the worst ever. We kind of hear that all the time. But it's rough. It's rough because the stakes are very high in the House and Senate races. And there's a lot of anger in -- in both kind of bases. And, so, they're banging away at each other. And negative ads, whether people like them or not, most of the time -- not always, but most of the time -- work.

KING: Does it make a difference when the issue you're dealing with late in a campaign that's troubling you deals with sexual issues? We saw this with Bill Clinton. We saw this with Gary Hart.

In the Webb-Allen case in Virginia...

MURPHY: Right.

KING: ... it's about sexually graphic, some would say offensive or repulsive, language in the book.

MURPHY: You have got to be careful.

KING: Does that make a difference?

MURPHY: Often, that stuff is overrated and doesn't work very well. I think people -- the ads that tend to work best are ads that prove lack of personal integrity -- which is pretty rare, still, in American politics, believe it or not -- and issue contrast on stuff people care about.

The -- the sensational stuff tends to play bigger in the media, sometimes, because it's interesting, than it does in the paid advertising in the campaigns. Most smart campaigns are a little squeamish about that kind of stuff.

KING: Mike Murphy, thanks for your time.

MURPHY: Thank you.


KING: A very different type of crisis management -- coming up, a deadly wildfire burning out of control in Southern California, more homes evacuated. We will have the latest in a live report -- when 360 continues.


KING: The Republicans are under fire, as we have been reporting, facing a very tough midterm election season.

Tonight, CNN looks at where President Bush and his party may have taken a wrong turn.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In order to want to fight and win the war, it requires an expenditure of money.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST (voice-over): A war in Iraq premised on a foreign policy that aimed to bring democracy to every corner of the globe...


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is an investigation going on by the Justice Department.


GREENFIELD: ... and embraced by congressional Republicans of the very behavior...

BUSH: I don't know him.

GREENFIELD: ... trading legislative favors for campaign cash and personal enrichment, that outraged conservatives when Democrats were in control.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Could we be on the brink of a major shift in power? At the top of the hour, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, "How the Right Went Wrong," part of CNN's investigation of America's "Broken Government."

First, though, the wildfire burning out of control in Southern California, it has forced the evacuation of more homes. And, then, there's the human toll. Four firefighters are dead, and a fifth is in a hospital, with burns over 90 percent of his body. Doctors say the prognosis is poor.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling this blaze. It now covers at least 24,000 acres between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, and officials say it was not -- it didn't start by accident.

With the latest on this battle, here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A fire truck destroyed by fire, caked in soot. Now a sobering memorial to firefighters who died when fast moving flames overtook them while they were in the truck.

They had just arrived at a home in the path of the fire, hoping to save it. But that home and others in this mountainous area west of Palm Springs were destroyed.

We now have pictures of three of the four men who were killed. Mark Loutzenhiser was the engine captain, 44 years old with 21 years of service. Jess McLean, 27 years old, with five children. Jason McKay was 27 years old, four years as a volunteer firefighter. And Daniel Hoover-Najera, only 20 years old. It was his second season of firefighting. He also died.

Authorities say their deaths could be homicides, because this huge 24,000-acre fire was started by arson. And a $500,000 reward is now being offered for information leading to a capture and a conviction.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We are searching for the arsonist. We will find them, and we will punish them.

TUCHMAN: A fifth firefighter is in the hospital. Doctors say his prognoses is poor.

DR. DAVID WONG, ARROWHEAD MEDICAL CENTER: His degree of burns is one of the most severe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much of his body?

WONG: Ninety percent.

ALISON STEWART, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Keep your thoughts and prayers for these folks and their families at this time. And also their colleagues on the forest. There's a lot of pain right now. TUCHMAN: The blaze is still only five percent contained. It threatens to get much bigger because of extremely high winds and extremely low humidity.

It has already spread extraordinarily rapidly since it began Thursday morning, climbing up mountain sides and igniting dry brush as the 45 miles per hour gusts help propel it along.

The fire still smolders at this house, one of at least 10 homes that have been destroyed.

Alex McKenzie actually saw his house being burned on the news after he evacuated.

ALEX MCKENZIE, RESIDENT: Paintings, statues, titles for cars, paperwork, everything but my beds and couches was in that storage trailer out there. Now it's all gone. Gone.


TUCHMAN: Hundreds of more homes are vulnerable. Thousands of people have evacuated. Life is still in danger as loss of life is mourned.


KING: Gary Tuchman joins us now from Beaumont, California.

Gary, you mentioned only about five percent contained. How concerned are the authorities about this blaze spreading even more?

TUCHMAN: John, this is a very precarious time. The forecast has no rain in the immediate future. The winds have literally been tropical storm force gusts today at times, up to 40 miles per hour.

And because you only have five percent containment and such a huge jump from a few hundred acres today to 24,000 acres today, there is a lot of concern right now for the safety of the firefighters.

Seventeen hundred fifty firefighters are out there; 171 fire trucks; dozens of helicopters and airplanes. And you just saw in the picture just now -- we showed you a picture. That was a DC-10 jumbo jet, retrofitted to drop flame retardant.

They're bringing out the big guns to try to put out this fire, because they know right now they are dealing with something that could be even more tragic than it's been already.

KING: You mentioned the tragedy. It's an enormous challenge fighting a fire like this under any circumstances, especially when the weather conditions aren't cooperating. These firefighters are not only exhausted; they're dealing with the fact that four of their comrades have died. A fifth is in very poor condition. Their spirits must be -- it must be very difficult to maintain their spirits.

TUCHMAN: That's a real good point, John. You know, we were here in the Palm Springs area about a month ago for a wildfire that started from lightning strikes. And nobody was killed. The firefighters worked hard. They were very happy. There was no loss of life, and relieved that it was an accident or Mother Nature that caused it.

But here they're dealing with people who they believe are criminals who caused this fire. So there is a lot of anger and resentment among the firefighters.

KING: Gary Tuchman tracking this extremely difficult challenge for us in Beaumont, California. Gary, thank you very much.

And as Gary just showed us in his report, fighting fires is a dangerous and a very tough job. When they're deliberately started, proving who set them is almost as difficult. Arson is not easy to prove.

Like the Colorado fire in June of 2002, where the crime scene was a massive 137,000 acres.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez reports on how this mystery began.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flames leaping 30, 40 feet into the air. This was a fast moving giant of a fire, the largest ever to consume Colorado.

SPECIAL AGENT KIM JONES, HAYMAN FIRE INVESTIGATOR: We have never seen a fire burn this hot, this fast.

GUTIERREZ: How to slow it, let alone stop it, was a massive challenge. Before it was over, 5,000 people fled for their lives. Above them, ominously dark and choked skies.

JONES: It was a mushroom cloud. What I would imagine sort of like a bomb.

GUTIERREZ: The heat was so fierce, the wall of flames so massive, exhausted firefighters could not surround this monster.

JONES: There was just no way to fight it. It was just -- it wasn't doing anything. The water, the fire retardant was evaporating before it even hit the ground.

GUTIERREZ: The catastrophic inferno raged untamed for three weeks; 133 homes burned in an area nearly 10 times the size of Manhattan. A staggering 137,000 acres transformed into a vast and charred dead zone.

Eventually suspicions would tease their way out of the ashes. As it turned out, what really happened here at the Hayman Fire was a mystery, and like any good mystery it had clues, false leads, lies and tantalizing pieces of a forensic puzzle.

And then, of course, it had an unlikely hero.

JONES: So you and yet at the same time in time this is already the biggest fire in Colorado's history.

GUTIERREZ: Special Agent Kim Jones.

JONES: I didn't even think it was a crime. I mean, when I was going there that first day, I was told it was an escaped camp fire.

GUTIERREZ: Jones was a rookie Forest Service investigator but a former police detective. So moments after she arrived, Jones was certain this was no ordinary fire, but a crime scene.


KING: So who's responsible for the crime? Could have been linked to an out of control camp fire, except the rookie investigator didn't buy that.


JONES: I don't see any evidence of camping here. They were like well, maybe it was a hot dog. Where's the trash?


KING: How she found the clues and tracked down the person responsible for the largest wildfire in Colorado history when 360 continues.


KING: As a deadly wildfire rages out of control in Southern California, firefighters there already say it's arson. Now we continue our look into the largest fire in Colorado's history and a rookie investigator's suspicion it was not started by a camp fire run amok.

When the 2002 fire in Pike National Forest southwest of Denver was finally extinguished, investigators had a huge crime scene and only the tiniest of clues.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez continues the story.


GUTIERREZ: The catastrophic inferno raged untamed for three weeks. An historic drought turned Colorado into a rugged swath of dry kindling that a mere spark could ignite.

Forest Service worker Terry Barton was on fire lookout in Pike National Forest when she says she spotted a fire. These first moments of the fire proved so critical that investigators asked Barton to re- create them on tape.

Barton first tried to smother the flames, then realized she needed backup, fast. The fire erupted and raged out of control.

When investigators arrived, they photographed the camp fire ring, then searched for clues. Their initial conclusion, a no-brainer: careless campers started the fire.

In fact, a witness did report seeing a van leaving the area. So a fire detective, rookie Kim Jones, was call in.

JONES: When I'm going there I'm thinking why am I going to a camp fire ring?

GUTIERREZ: Jones remembers thinking it was a waste of time. Trekking six hours through the smoky haze to find and question a negligent camper.

(on camera) What is it like being back at the scene of the crime?

JONES: It's a little strange to be back, because it doesn't look anything like it did then.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Now for the first time, U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Kim Jones shares her story, unveiling forensic evidence that's been sealed and never been seen publicly, all the clues that helped her solve the mystery of the notorious Hayman Fire.

JONES: It was huge. Bigger than anything I'd ever saw.

GUTIERREZ: When Jones first arrived here, the very place where the fire began, her instincts immediately took over. Remember, there was a drought and high temperatures.

JONES: It was a 90 degree day. And no one is going to build a fire.

GUTIERREZ: She talked to the first investigators.

JONES: As I'm looking at things like that, I'm thinking, I don't see any evidence of camping.

And they were like, "Well, maybe it was a hot dog that they cooked."

And I was like, "Well, where's the trash?"

GUTIERREZ: It was common sense sharpened by years of police work. In the '80s, Jones was a cop in Missouri. Then she worked environmental crimes for the EPA, but Jones was new to the U.S. Forest Service, and she'd only worked a few fires. In fact, Jones had only taken her first forensic fire investigation training a year earlier.

JONES: The fire moved directly underneath this rock and went straight out.

GUTIERREZ: Jones traced the fire to a poorly built camp fire ring.

(on camera) What was it about the formation of the rocks that made you think that something was very fishy here?

JONES: There is a large rock that had been propped up by another rock. It looks to me this fire has been staged to look like a camp fire but that it was an intentional fire.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Then Jones took a closer look at the ashes and made an important find.

JONES: It's a paper match. And I can see clearly the head of it and clearly, the stem. I wanted to get closer to it, and then I noticed there was a second match directly underneath it.

GUTIERREZ: Then a third match.

JONES: The three matches were stuck in the middle of this clump of grass.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): What if the person, you know, starts this fire and threw the match off to the side?

JONES: They just couldn't have been flung there, because I found three, all within an inch and a half of each other.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): At that moment, Jones says she knew she wasn't looking for a careless camper. Instead, she was looking for evidence to lead her to an arsonist.

(on camera) Did you start to think that maybe you were being a little bit too overzealous?

JONES: I was -- I did start to think that.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Given the magnitude of the devastation, Jones also felt she needed help, and she brought in her fire instructor, Paul Steensland, a senior special agent with the Forest Service.

JONES: We're going to need an expert witness, and he's an expert. And with it being the biggest fire in Colorado, there's just no -- my skills...

GUTIERREZ (on camera): Do you think it's going to get picked apart?

JONES: Absolutely.

PAUL STEENSLAND, U.S. FOREST SERVICE SPECIAL AGENT (RET.): Kim is a very -- she's a very seasoned investigator, but she's very inexperienced when it came to fire investigations.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Steensland has more than 35 years of experience and is known to be one of the best in the fire investigation business.

STEENSLAND: Questions from any of you guys?

GUTIERREZ: So good, he trains many of the nation's wildfire investigators.

STEENSLAND: Watch how it comes in low and goes out high. GUTIERREZ: Just hours after Jones called asking for help, Steensland flew to Colorado. At the same time the driver of that suspicious van that was spotted leaving the scene was found. But he had an alibi and was cleared.

Investigators had no other leads. So Steensland and Jones returned to the scene and began a painstaking forensic investigation. Steensland mapped the path of the flames with colored flags.

STEENSLAND: They were going to use physical marks that the fire leaves, basically the fire's footprints.

GUTIERREZ: Then he meticulously sifted through the ashes in the campfire ring. Jones had already removed the crucial evidence, the three matches. The photo showing their exact position when the fire ignited was vital.

STEENSLAND: Being able to enhance that photograph and bring that original position of those matches out was fairly critical to our theory.

And there's one. You can see the head and the stem. There's the second one, the head and the stem. And there's the third one, the head and the stem.

GUTIERREZ: They theorized an arsonist struck the matches purposely, lighting the dry grass in the camp fire. But who?

Remember the first forest worker to spot the fire, Terry Barton? Steensland thought she might remember key details and lead them to the arsonist.

STEENSLAND: We figured bring her up there as a witness and have her re-enact her actions on the day of the fire. Her story was she had smelled smoke.

JONES: She drove up on the fire and saw it and then had to park her vehicle.

STEENSLAND: And then found the camp fire burning at about 20 by 20 feet.

GUTIERREZ: If you look there among the trees, you can see Steensland and Jones, timing Barton's every step. And in their reconstruction, they stumbled across something they couldn't explain.

STEENSLAND: The story just did not make sense within the fire behavior context.

GUTIERREZ: remember, Barton said she was first drawn to the fire by its smell, but the experts on fire behavior said not possible.

JONES: We asked the fire behavior analyst, you know, well, one, could a person have smelled smoke from a 20 by 20 fire? And at first they were like no, there's just no way you could have.

GUTIERREZ: At that moment, the mystery would shift once again.

STEENSLAND: And the more we talked to her, the clearer it became to us that she moved from a witness to a person of interest.

GUTIERREZ: It changed from who whodunit to an even more perplexing question. Would a forest worker, a mother of two, set off what became the worst fire in Colorado history?


KING: After all that painstaking work, investigators finally get their answer.


TERRY BARTON, ADMITTED TO SETTING COLORADO FIRE: I put the letter down and I lit it. One match kind of lit the match down there, and I lit it and I watched it. I sat here until it burned up.



KING: You heard before the break, the investigation of the Hayman Fire had all the elements of a great mystery, including very high stakes. By the time the fire was under control, it had burned 137,000 acres of a national forest, destroyed 700 homes and other buildings, and cost the state of Colorado nearly $40 million. And it was the work of just one person.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez now reveals just how investigators finally caught their arsonist.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Fire investigator Kim Jones was on the biggest case of her career, tracking the arsonist who started Colorado's largest fire.

New revelations about the case forced her to re-examine the evidence: the matches and the ashes in the camp fire ring. Soon, Agent Jones was zeroing in on a fellow forest worker, one of their own.

Terry Barton spent nearly two decades preventing fires in Colorado's national forests. The married mother of two raised her daughters here. This was Barton's backyard. She was the one praised for trying to put the fire out.

Now, Jones was closing in on her, because her previous statements just didn't make sense. So Jones confronted her.

JONES: "We don't know what happened, Terry, but there's no way, you know, anyone else started this fire. You started the fire."

"I'm not an arsonist," you know. She's like, "I'm not an arsonist. I'm a firefighter."

GUTIERREZ: Barton began to buckle under pressure. What she was about to reveal to Agent Jones during a taped re-enactment...

STEENSLAND: Terry, you've given some previous statements to the agents...

GUTIERREZ: ... would shock her small mountain community.

STEENSLAND: Were those statements correct statements as far as your account of what happened?

BARTON: No. They weren't.

GUTIERREZ: Barton said it wasn't arson but an accident. She was in the middle of a divorce, and she says heartache drove her to light the fire.

BARTON: I was the one that started the fire. And it was fear, and the fear kept getting bigger when the fire kept getting bigger.

STEENSLAND: She then admits that, in fact, she was responsible for the Hayman Fire by taking a love letter from her about to be ex- husband in a state of emotional trauma, carrying it out to the camp fire ring and burning it.

BARTON: The matches were in my hand with the letter. I put the letter down, and I lit it. One match, kind of left the match down there, too, and I lit it. And I watched it. I sat here until it burned up.

JONES: This moment's key, because she's saying how she lit the letter, and she lit it with one match. I say, "Are you sure it was with one match?"

And she says, "No, I'm sure it was one match, and I would have just flung it."

I found three matches. And that to me was a key piece of evidence that disputes what she says is happening here.

BARTON: I just wanted to get rid of the letter. It was an emotional act, and it was a stupid act on my part. And then I tried to cover it up because of fear.

JONES: We had an admission. She was admitting to being responsible for this fire, and that was the goal.

GUTIERREZ: But Jones says the evidence never pointed to any letter.

JONES: I never found any remnants of paper, never.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): But to an untrained eye, it would seem plausible that the paper along with the matches would just simply burn in the camp fire, and that's the end of that. JONES: Well, I mean I still had the matches. And they didn't blow away.

STEENSLAND: I was pretty confident that if there had been any paper there, you know, we would have found it.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Jones and her mentor, Senior Special Agent Paul Steensland, sent this ash from the camp fire to a federal lab to screen for trace evidence of paper.

STEENSLAND: Of course they found not a shred of paper material in the coals. We don't believe that there was ever any love letter in this case and that her motivation was to start a small fire, certainly not the biggest fire in Colorado history, but start a small fire, suppress it and then be recognized as a hero.

GUTIERREZ: And so whether heartbroken Terry Barton ever burned a letter remains a mystery. The case never went to court. Barton pled guilty to charges of arson and lying to federal authorities.

(on camera) And in the end, what does it say about the evidence you had against her?

JONES: That it was strong.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Barton is serving a six-year sentence. She declined CNN's request for an interview.

Agent Jones says in a strange way, she feels sorry for Terry Barton and her daughters.

JONES: People think that they burn something and it's gone. You know, but there's evidence there. And it speaks very loudly. And it was key in this case.

GUTIERREZ: Also key, this rookie fire investigator's instincts that resurrected clues and solved a mystery out of ashes.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Lake George, Colorado.


KING: Fascinating piece.

Ahead a mystery of a different sort. Five days and still no trace of a missing U.S. soldier. What's being done to try to find him? 360 next.


KING: Coming up, "The Shot of the Day". And you won't want to miss it. Consider it a pre-Halloween treat.

First though, Erica Hill from Headline News joins us for the "360 Bulletin".

Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: John, we begin with the search for the missing American soldier in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi troops today searched several locations, including the Baghdad office of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr after receiving intelligence suggesting the soldier was being held there.

Three people found with traces of explosive residue were detained, several weapons were confiscated, but there were no signs of the missing soldier. The Iraqi-American, who worked as a translator, has been missing now since Monday.

Iran is doubling its capacity to enrich uranium, according to an Iranian news agency. The State Department says the claim has yet to be confirmed. The report comes as the U.N. Security Council works on a draft resolution that would impose limited sanctions on Iran unless it stops its nuclear program.

A last minute confession from a serial killer executed earlier this week in Florida. Shortly before Danny Rolling was put to death for killing five college students 16 years ago. He gave his spiritual advisor a handwritten note admitting to a triple murder 17 years ago in his home town of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Police say Rolling had been a prime suspect in those murders, but since his execution was expected in Florida, they saw little reason to try him in Louisiana.

And NASA considering a mission to repair the aging but popular Hubble space telescope. Top officials met today to discuss the pros and cons of sending astronauts to repair the 16-year-old telescope.

A decision, John, may be announced on Tuesday. Stay tuned.

KING: We'll stay tuned for that. And Erica, stay with us. We're going to delay your weekend just a second. It's time for our "Shot of the Day".

We're getting in the spirit of Halloween, sort of. Check out these flying pumpkins in Florida. High school students in Pinellas County created these funny looking, to say the least, contraptions -- a super sizer. Pumpkinizer? To help toss these pumpkins across a football field. The annual event...

HILL: Did you...

KING: Go ahead.

HILL: Did you say one is called the Pumpkinizer?

KING: The Pumpkinizer.

HILL: I like it.

KING: The Pumpkinizer. You see it right there. It's an annual event. It's obviously a lot of fun for the kids, but they also have to use their math and physics skills. Of course they do. The goal of the competition is to accurately predict how far their launchers will make the pumpkins soar. There you go.

HILL: And to stay out of the way of the launched pumpkins.

KING: Well, that is the kicker.

HILL: Very impressive, though.

KING: No one was hurt.

HILL: Thank goodness.

KING: Have a great weekend.

HILL: You, too. Thanks, John.

KING: That's it for 360 tonight. Have a great weekend.

Up next, where the right went wrong. CNN investigates America's "Broken Government".