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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Madame Speaker; Student Loans; Working Wages; First 100 Hours; Harry Who?; The Contenders; Wasted Billions; Unidentified Falling Object

Aired January 04, 2007 - 23:00   ET


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), INCOMING HOUSE SPEAKER: ... calling to give you the good news that this Congress is now fully sworn in and ready to work with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm ready to work with you all. I know that a tremendous moment for you personally, and I congratulate you.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The real legislative business won't get underway until early next week. That's when Democrats hope to pass what they call their 100-hours agenda, including everything from boosting the minimum wage, to enacting all of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. And all of this before the president's State of the Union address later this month.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, Capitol Hill.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And that's not all that's on the Democratic agenda. College students now leave school deeper in debt than ever before. Democrats are promising to cut their debt burden.

CNN's Randi Kaye, now on the benefits and the price tag which could run into the billions and billons of dollars.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For college graduates like Mayrose Wegmann, with the diploma comes debt and lots of it.

The credit reporting agency Experian says student loan balances rose 16 percent in the last five years, and averaged more than $14,000.

MAYROSE WEGMANN, OWES THOUSANDS IN STUDENT LOANS: It's just a huge strain financially.

KAYE: Wegmann graduated three years ago and still owes $34,000 in student loans. Her monthly payment is $400. She's had to put off graduate school and...

WEGMANN: I haven't been able to, you know, purchase a car. I haven't been able to buy a home. I haven't been able to even consider marriage or family.

KAYE: The Democrats' plan to cut interest rates on student loans in half, won't help Wegmann, only students getting new loans. But she calls the plan fantastic.

Congressman George Miller, a Democrat, and the new chairman of the Education Committee, says lowering interest rates to 3.4 percent is the only way to ease the middle-class squeeze.

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: I think over the life of the loan of a typically borrower in this program will probably save a little more than $4,000 to that borrower, maybe about $4,500. You know, a substantial amount of money.

KAYE: But conservatives see it as shifting the burden from college students to taxpayers. They estimate the price tag for the loan relief program will be $18 billion.

DAN LIPS, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Now who's going to pay the tab on that? It's the American workers, many of whom don't have college degrees.

KAYE: But Congressman Miller argues conservatives have it all wrong. He says the cuts will be offset by reductions in other subsidies.

MILLER: Well, that's why they're in the minority now and we're in the majority. The American public gets it.

KAYE: Still, some question why Democrats aren't tackling what they consider the bigger issue -- skyrocketing tuition.

LIPS: We need to remember that the real problem here is college affordability and the out-of-control college costs.

MILLER: People will have to understand that this is the beginning of a great deal of attention that the Democrats in Congress and our committee, the Education and Labor Committee, are going to be giving to the cost of college.

KAYE: Our college grad Mayrose Wegmann expects it will take 12 years to pay off her loans.

WEGMANN: Adding 12 years of debt to, you know, the 22 years of, you know, going to school, you're looking at your 30s before you can start your life.

KAYE: She hopes the Democrats succeed in giving new graduates a quicker start on their future.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, it's been nearly 10 years since people earning the federal minimum wage got a raise. Today at $5.15 an hour buys less than it did at any time in its history. Democrats want to raise it; 29 states already have.

More now from CNN's Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you work 40 hours a week at federal minimum wage, you would make about $10,700 a year, well below the poverty line for a four-person household.

BRENDA MUNIZ, ACORN: It's basically a principle, an American principle. A job should keep you out of poverty, not in poverty.

CROWLEY: In the past decade, Congressional lawmakers have raised their own pay several times, and the minimum wage not once. The newly minted Democratic majority will push to raise it from $5.15 an hour to $7.25, about a $5,000 a year increase for a full-time minimum wage worker.

Numbers differ wildly, but one group fighting for an increase estimates about 5 percent of the workforce currently earns less than $7.25. Changing that bottom line will require getting around the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

THOMAS DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, U.S. CHAMGER OF COMMERCE: The government should not be mandating a system that is going to fundamentally change the economics of 25 million small companies, because it would drive up wages all along the scale, unless they're going to provide a corresponding tax benefits and other help to these small companies.

STEVEN STINCHCOMB, GEORGIA BUSINESSMAN: It's what we call a bush pine, a scrub pine.

CROWLEY: Steven Stinchcomb owns a nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia.

STINCHCOMB: I don't think the government should be involved in the pay scale what so -- at any level. That should be between the supply and demand. The better the economy is, the more the employers are going to pay.

CROWLEY: His opposition is a matter of principle, not practice. Stinchcomb already pays employees almost twice the minimum wage, $10 an hour.

STINCHCOMB: I don't know how an employee can make it at minimum wage, and the employers need workers so much they're not going to pay minimum wage. They're going to pay more than that.

CROWLEY: In fact, the average pay per hour late last year was more than $11 higher than the federal minimum wage, and 29 states have instituted their own increases.

MUNIZ: We actually think it should be more like $9.

CROWLEY: So Congress is not only several years late on this, it may be a couple dollars short.


COOPER: More now on how all of this may be playing out. Along with Candy Crowley, CNN's John King, Former Presidential Adviser David Gergen, and "TIME" Magazine's Joe Klein, his work could be seen a little earlier. From here on out, "TIME," our corporate cousins are now publishing every Friday, getting a jump on the competition.

Candy, is there bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage? And if there is, why didn't it happen earlier?

CROWLEY (on camera): Well, because Republicans, I think you heard with the Chamber of Commerce president, Republicans think if you're going to do this, they claim this is going to hurt the small businesses, most of whom who have the minimum wage workers, and those who make just above it, who will probably be bumped up if there's an increase in minimum wage.

What they want are tax breaks for those small businesses so that it doesn't harm them and they don't have to lay off workers. That's always been the argument.

But, you know, basically this is a no-brainer. Something like 85 percent of American people think there should be an increase in the minimum wage. Everybody thinks they're going to work something out here. There may be some tax breaks for small businesses along with the minimum wage.

COOPER: David, raising the minimum wage, cutting interest rates on school loans, implementing the 9/11 Commissions -- all of them seem pretty popular with the American public. Do you see Democrats getting tripped up anywhere along the way in these first couple of weeks?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: No, I think on those three issues, although I do believe that Republicans have a strong argument that the 9/11 Commission legislation really ought to deserve -- deserves more scrutiny than just sort of shoving it on through. Because it is a Homeland Security, after all.

The issue on which Democrats may get tripped up, Anderson, is prescription drugs for Medicare. And giving the government negotiating authority for that. The president has promised a veto on that. And there are some Democrats over in the Senate side who are less enthusiastic about it than a lot of Democrats on the House side. That issue is much more controversial.

On student loans, minimum wage, those are no-brainers, as Candy says.

COOPER: Joe, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has very little room, very little bit of a majority there. How important is it for him to try to reach over and bring Republicans over?

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: Well, it's going to be absolutely crucial because -- and he will be able to do it on a number of these bills. I don't know that he'll be able to do it on the Medicare bill, but these are, you know, bills with vast majority of support.

Even something like stem cell research, he'll probably have more than 60 votes, enough to shut off any kind of filibuster, but maybe not enough to, you know, to override a presidential veto, which requires 67 votes.

COOPER: John, I know one of the images which caught your attention today, was the swearing in of Senator Clinton by Vice President Dick Cheney. You got President Bill Clinton by his wife's side. I think we have a shot of that. Quite a photo op there.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On a day of images, that was one of the more powerful and one that made you laugh and smile. You have the former president playing the role a bit of comedian and jokester too. He's clearly joking with the vice president here. His wife is enjoying the moment. This is a ceremonial swearing-in, but what has been to be going through the vice president's mind.

He's looking at here the former president of the United States who has somehow has become a buddy with his boss, George W. Bush, and the junior Senator from New York, who without a doubt is gearing up to run for president.

So, on a day like this, you have all these ceremonial photos, some of them are a glimpse back, but also a glimpse into the future. And Hillary Clinton, of course, will be one of the people we watch closest as the Democrats try to make their way in the Senate.

And she is a reminder of one of the other challenges Harry Reid has as the leader. He has to keep all those Democrats running for president in Washington because if they're out in Iowa and New Hampshire and somewhere else, he doesn't have their vote on the floor.

COOPER: Candy, how much is '08 already weighing in the minds of -- I mean, obviously, those Senators or Congressman who plan on running or at least trying to run in '08, it is weighing heavily on their minds. But how much is that weighing on this Congress?

CROWLEY: Well, look, I think they have a very short window in which to get anything major done in Congress. And that's about six or seven months. By the time you get to August, you are pretty much full boar into the presidential campaign and you're into the Congressional campaign because it's not just a presidential race in 2008.

Once-again Congress will be up. Once again a third of the Senate will be up. So politics begins to take hold in earnest come this summer. So it does weigh heavily.

And also you have to remember that, particularly in the Senate where so many of them want to run for president -- about 10 percent of the Senate wants to run for president, they're going to use this to sort of put out trial balloons. They're going to be looking at one another when it comes to these votes. So it does begin when you've got such a thin margin to play around on very close votes. You're going to look to see Senators try to differentiate themselves and try to define themselves by what they're talking about on the floor, what they're pushing on the floor, and what they vote yes and no on.

COOPER: David, everybody was talking about this as a historic day. Looking back in history, how do things, the tenor here now, how does it compare to past beginnings of Congress? Is there something different this year?

GERGEN: No. I do think because we have the first woman speaker, that's what really makes it different. But this spirit of conviviality, of bipartisanship, we saw this just after Newt Gingrich and his team won in 1994, and Newt gave a very conciliatory speech that first time.

That first time he -- on his first opening speech, he called F.D.R. the leading president of the 20th century, the best president of the 20th century. That, from a Republican conservative.

So these opening days often have this spirit, but there is so much that's lurking just around the corner with Iraq, with all the differences over healthcare and education, everything else. I think there is a sense this is a very short, as Candy says, there's a very short window on conviviality, too.

KLEIN: Right. Well, I, you know, I keep on comparing this, as David just did, to the arrival of the Gingrich Congress in 1995. And at that point the mood was real exhilaration because it had been 40 years since the Republicans controlled the Congress. And there was also real ideological confidence and strength. Here you have the Democrats being more modulated and thinking about politics a lot more, especially when it comes to the war, and especially when it comes -- I think that they feel more tentative about holding their majorities.

COOPER: Interesting.

Joe, David, John and Candy, we'll talk to you again a little bit later on the program.

A bit of Congressional trivia now. As in previous Congresses, most members of the 110th Congress hold one or more university degrees. Here's the raw data -- 399 House members and 98 Senators hold bachelor's degrees; 124 representatives and 19 Senators have master's degrees; 178 representatives and 58 Senators have law degrees; 22 representatives have Ph.D.'s; and 13 representatives and three Senators hold medical degrees.

Up next, as we said, Nancy Pelosi is making history. But what about the man at the helm of the Senate? Harry Reid, as you have never seen him before, ahead.

Plus, he's the early front-runner of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, at least in some states. John Edwards tells us why he thinks he can win this time. And the sky really is falling. Just ask the New Jersey family whose house was hit by an unidentified falling object, a UFO, from space. Yikes. Their story -- what is that? Their story is ahead on 360.


Total members of Congress: 540 African American: 43 Hispanic: 30 Asian/Pacific Islander: 9 Native American: 1

Source: Congressional Research Service




Religion and the 110th Congress

There are members from 32 different faiths and denominations including, for the first time, Buddhism and Islam.


COOPER: Well, religion took center stage on Capitol Hill today when the first Muslim to ever serve in the United States Congress was sworn in.

Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota placed his left hand on a Koran, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, while taking his unofficial oath of office. Later, Ellison offered to meet Representative Virgil Goode for coffee sometimes. Goode is the Virginia Republican, you may remember, who only weeks ago lambasted him for choosing to use the Koran in his swearing in ceremony. Ellison said Goode said he'd be interested in a chat over coffee. Koran didn't come up in conversation.

The House is getting most of the attention, but on the other end of capitol, in a much less dramatic fashion, Senator Harry Reid took the reins of the Senate today. Reid, of course, is known for being soft-spoken and tough. But it's what you may not know about the senator from Nevada that may surprise you.

With that, here's CNN's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Searchlight, Nevada, a dried up mining town, a relic of the Wild West, a truck stop 55 miles from Las Vegas. Most of the 800 residents live in trailers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Searchlight.

BASH (on camera): Thank you.

(Voice-over): The one house belongs to new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, shaped and scarred in Searchlight.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: I am a pessimist about everything in life. That way I have fewer disappointments.

BASH: In the distance of this vast property, a mine where his father worked. Pinky, young Harry's nickname, would keep dad company.

REID: It was hard to make a living in that -- the man that my dad worked for a lot of times wouldn't pay him or give him bad checks that would bounce.

BASH: The memories can hurt.

REID: My parents both drank a lot. And I was always so glad when they were broke because they couldn't afford stuff then.

BASH: Then, prostitution was Searchlight's biggest industry. Reid learned to swim at one of the 13 brothels, remembers the owners giving the kids $5 for Christmas.

REID: That's what it cost for the men to go with the girls, was five bucks.

BASH: I won't ask how you used the $5.

REID: Well, I bought things out of a catalog.

BASH: School ended in eighth grade, so Reid hitchhiked 42 miles for high school, went to college with a collection from the locals.

REID: Even though I was raised here, my mother always was able to instill in me that I was as good as anybody else. That's part of their...

BASH: A trailer has now replaced the four-room home with no running water where Reid and his three brothers grew up. To tour Searchlight, is to find scars. Like where his 58-year-old father shot himself to death.

REID: This house right here, that last room is a bedroom. That's where he killed himself.


BASH: The Senator from Nevada fights for "Sin City," but doesn't gamble or drink. A square-looking guy who listens to hip songs on his iPod.

(On camera): Cowboy Junkies?

REID: You know the Cowboy Junkies? BASH: And how does he keep up with music? Get this.

Did I read that you're a "People" magazine reader?

REID: Yes, I love "People" magazine.

BASH: Harry Reid sums himself up this way.

REID: Isn't that Kris Kristofferson, who's song, he's a walking contradiction?

BASH: Is that what you think you are?

Dana Bash, CNN, Searchlight, Nevada.


COOPER: Well, you might be wondering what all the noise is about. Congress is no longer in session and most of the Congressmen have gone home for the day. But the work here on Capitol Hill continues. There's jack hammering and there's also a security gate you might have heard banging back and forth while we've been talking. That's all that sound is, just in case you were wondering.

A former Senator has his eye on the White House. And this time he says he's going to win. Up next on 360, my conversation with John Edwards about 2008 and the new Congress.

Plus, tens of thousands of Americans are risking their lives in Iraq. Hundreds aren't coming back alive. Why so many are willing to take the risk. Their remarkable service, ahead on 360.


COOPER: John Edwards is ready to run. He's not wasting any time going after the man who could be his toughest opponent on the road to the White House.

I spoke with the former Senator earlier tonight about the 2008 presidential race and what he thinks should be the top priority of this new Congress.


COOPER: Senator Edwards, today was the opening day in Congress, and Democrats taking control. What do you think should be their top priority of this Congress?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't get to decide what their top priority is, but they've made clear some of the things that they're going to work on -- ethics reform, raising the minimum wage, health care.

If I were in charge and I were making decision alone, I think the primary responsibility of this Congress is oversight on what's happening and accountability on what's happening in Iraq. Second, doing something to deal with the health care crisis in this country.

And third, doing what we can do to move America towards energy security and addressing the issue of global warming.

COOPER: You've said rather than this surge of troops, you would want some 40,000 troops pulled out right now, a signal to the Iraqi government that, look, this withdrawal is serious, it is going to be coming.

You've said all along -- or all along in this campaign so far that there's no military solution. Just about everybody seems to agree. There has to be a political solution. Is a political solution, though, even possible at this point?

EDWARDS: Well, that's a good question, but it's not something America can determine. The Iraqis are going to have to determine it.

You know, I know that, you know, Senator McCain -- I refer to this surge of troops as the McCain doctrine. You know, I understand the politics of this for Senator McCain because it looks like he'll be running in the Republican primary for their nomination.

But I think this idea of escalating the war is an enormous mistake. The Iraqis are going to have to decide whether there's going to be a political solution, whether their government's going to actually be representative and inclusive, because without that, nothing can happen.

COOPER: You chose to start your campaign with the backdrop of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. A lot of people seem to have moved on from that. Obviously, the people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have not moved on. There are a lot of good volunteers, as you've been highlighting, have been going down there, spending their spring breaks, their summer vacations.

Why is it possible to still stand in front of a destroyed building in the Ninth Ward, as you did when you announced your run for the presidency? Why are those buildings still there? Why has the rebuilding not begun?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I want to personally thank you for all the attention you've brought to the situation in New Orleans. And I think a lot of people in New Orleans feel like they've been forgotten, nobody's paying any attention to them.

And as you just pointed out, most of the work that is being done -- just ask the people in the Ninth Ward -- is being done by volunteers, which is by the way, an indication of what's possible when Americans take responsibility, take action, and don't wait for somebody else to do something.

I think the bottom line is a lot of money's been appropriated, but it's not getting on the ground and it's been a very inefficient, ineffective effort; and ultimately, from my perspective, this is a failure of presidential leadership. It is the responsibility of the president of the United States to lead when this kind of crisis and this kind of catastrophe occurs, and he hasn't done it.

COOPER: Is it just the president? The mayor of New Orleans is Democrat, so is the governor of Louisiana?

EDWARDS: Oh, I think it's fair to say that the government throughout, from the ground all the way up to Washington, has been a mess. And I will be the first to say that. But, it's the president of the United States who can bring the greatest resources to bear and make sure those resources are effective and they have an impact on the ground.

COOPER: Let's just briefly talk about the race. You know, a lot of people will look at you, listen to you and ask themselves the question, are you ready to be president? Are you?

EDWARDS: Yes, sir. I'm ready to be president. And I've spent an awful lot of time thinking about whether I'm doing it for the right reason, first of all, which is because I want to serve. I'm satisfied in my own heart and soul that that's true.

And secondly, when I'm in the Oval Office and these difficult judgments need to be made, do I have the depth, the maturity, the experience and the vision in this constantly evolving world to move America and the world forward. And obviously, I've concluded that I do.

COOPER: Senator Edwards, good to talk to you. Thank you.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Anderson.


COOPER: Joining us to talk about the race in 2008, CNN's Candy Crowley, John King, Former Presidential Adviser David Gergen and "TIME" Magazine Columnist Joe Klein.

Joe, does Edwards have a shot?

KLEIN: Oh, yes. First of all, he's going to be the favorite of the trade unions, the labor movement.

Second of all, a lot of Democrats have some real questions about Hillary Clinton and whether she can win in the fall. She may falter. A lot of Democrats would really like to see Barack Obama do well. But he's never been in a really tough race before. If those two candidates falter, John Edwards is the guy.

COOPER: David, Senator McCain responded to Edwards calling his plan the McCain Doctrine, by saying, and I quote, "I don't know if it's a doctrine or not, but it's a principle and I'm committed to accomplishing the mission. Maybe some others did not understand that when they voted to support the war."

For McCain, how dangerous is this call for a surge of troops? GERGEN: Well, he's staking his political future on that right now. And so if it works, it will be terrific. If it doesn't work, he stands a very substantial risk that he stood behind a failed policy.

Because the president -- he -- at one point, if he had simply gone out there with the surge and the president rejected it, he could have always said, well, if you'd listen to me, you know, everything would have turned out all right.

But now the president is listening to him. May -- it looks like he's going to do it. So if it doesn't work, that's going to really (UNINTELLIGIBLE) McCain.

Let me just say one other thing about John Edwards. At the moment, Anderson, the biggest threat John Edwards poses, and it's a serious threat, is to Barack Obama.

COOPER: How so?

GERGEN: Because ultimately to win a nomination, whether you're Barack or Edwards, you've got to be the non-Hillary. You've got to be the non-Mrs. Clinton.

And the two of them are going to be essentially fighting over the same turf. They'll be drawing from much of the same well. It's a question of who the survivor is, is whether we can determine who the alternative is that Mrs. Clinton. Otherwise she divides and conquer.

COOPER: John, what about the timeline? When are we expecting to hear from Senator Clinton, from Senator Obama?

KING: Senator Clinton is moving very aggressively, Anderson, behind the scenes. And we are told to look for her to do an exploratory committee relatively soon.

I was in communication with somebody very involved in Barack Obama's decision-making, and was told today, you don't have to worry about this right now. There's nothing imminent. By nothing imminent, they mean nothing in January, and in probably the first half of February or so.

There's this little dance going on right now about when is the best time to come out. If you're Obama, and you're enjoying all this free publicity just for thinking about it, if you want to actually make it official.

And back to the Edwards things, one of the advantages he has early on, and this could get tougher as the campaign goes on, Senator McCain was certainly trying to do it by pointing out Senator Edwards' vote for the war back in the day. But Edwards now has said that was a mistake. I made a mistake.

Senator Clinton doesn't go that far, so Senator Edwards is trying to get to the anti-war left of the Democratic -- in the Democratic primary. As Joe mentioned, he also has the labor support, so his maneuvering early on is viewed by most Democratic strategists as quite smart.

KLEIN: By the way, what David said is right, about Edwards being a threat to Obama. But Obama is a huge threat to Edwards. The South Carolina primary comes up very quickly. That's the state where Edwards was born. He won it last time, but it has a majority black population in the Democratic primary, and that's -- and if Barack Obama beats John Edwards there, it'll really hurt Edwards' candidacy.

COOPER: Candy, what do you think is the biggest obstacle for Barack Obama?

CROWLEY: His inexperience. I mean, he spent -- by the time he runs for office, should he run for office, he's got, what, two years under his belt. So I think a lot of people have said, listen, we're in a post-9/11 world. If George Bush were running now with the same credentials he had when he ran in 2000, he wouldn't win.

The fact of the matter is a lot of people will be running on their experience on foreign policy. And while many of them can only claim being on committees, certainly Barack Obama has the weakest national credentials of anybody in the Senate race -- I'm sorry, in the presidential race.

COOPER: Joe, in your latest column, you write that the immediate hurdle for both Clinton and Obama is running against the former president Clinton.

KLEIN: Bill Clinton.

COOPER: What does that mean?

KLEIN: Well, in Obama's case, it's literally -- he's literally running against Bill Clinton, who has tremendous sway with the fundraising community. He's also the best strategist in the Democratic Party, and he's going to be giving his wife, Hillary, his advice. Especially when times get tough.

For Hillary, it's more metaphoric. She's running against Barack Obama, who resembles her husband more than any other Democratic politician in his ease and his ability -- his rhetorical ability. She's in effect running against her own past.

COOPER: David, do you agree with that?

GERGEN: Yes, I do up to a point. A fascinating, as always, novel view, from Joe Klein.

I also think that with Barack Obama, he represents the future. He represents a new chapter. And that's the -- I mean, he is literally born during the '60s, when Mrs. Clinton and Bill Clinton were coming of age. So it's a very different generation too. And there's a generational aspect to this which I think is quite, quite interesting. COOPER: Candy, John, David, Joe, always good to have you. Thanks very much for your expertise tonight.

U.S. troops are not the only ones risking their lives in Iraq. Up next, civilians, tempted by the promise of making big bucks. Who is looking out for their personality safety? Their stories, ahead.

Plus, shocking details about the late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. Secrets revealed about his powerful and dangerous addiction.

And was Chicken Little right? Was the sky really falling over New Jersey? A strange object crashed into a house. That's it right there. We'll show you close-up, try to figure out what it is, when 360 continues.


COOPER: And you're looking at a live picture here from Washington, D.C.

The fate of five contractors who were abducted in Iraq in November is still unknown. Yesterday a videotape of them from their captors was made public. Here at 360, we don't show hostage videos.

As for the dangers, though, the contractors will tell you the benefits seems to outweigh the risks. But many of them are finding that once then get there, they are completely on their own.

Keeping them honest tonight, here's CNN's Randi Kaye.


KAYE: Three years ago, Craig Johnson saw an opportunity to get his family out of debt and help send his three kids to college.

SHANNON JOHNSON, WIFE OF CONTRACTOR: He said, well, yes, it's over in Iraq. And I'm like, you mean you want to go drive a truck in Iraq where there's a war is going on? Are you kidding me? And he goes, I'll be all right.

KAYE: Craig was better than all right. Like most contractors working in Iraq, he was raking in more than three times what he had been getting paid in the U.S.

Robert Young Pelton, the author of this book about contractors working in the Middle East, calls it a gold rush. Average pay for a truck driver like Craig Johnson, $80,000 to $100,000 -- all of it tax- free.

ROBERT YOUNG PELTON, AUTHOR, "LICENSE TO KILL": Money. It's all about money.

KAYE: But Craig's wife, Shannon, says for her husband, it was also about patriotism and helping his country. JOHNSON: It wasn't all about the money. He wanted to do this. He had been -- he had served in the Navy years ago. So it was just something he felt compelled to do. It wasn't get rich quick scheme at all.

KAYE (on camera): Your husband was earning what the State Department calls danger pay. Do you think that he truly understood the danger he was getting himself into?

JOHNSON: Yes. He saw it on a daily basis. He saw trucks in front of him, trucks behind him get hit. He was well aware of the danger, and he just accepted that. I don't think he really thought he would be the one.

KAYE (voice-over): The Pentagon estimates there are about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, including Americans, Iraqis and other foreign nationals. Plus, an unknown number of subcontractors.

The Government Accountability Office says monitoring of civilian contractors in Iraq is so poor, there is no way to determine how many have died.

The Department of Labor says about 650 have been killed.

(On camera): Even that figure may dramatically underestimate the actual number of contractor deaths. You see, the dead are only counted if they worked for companies hired by the Pentagon and their families file for death benefits.

Contractors killed while working for firms not associated with the Department of Defense, don't register in the body count. There's simply no way to know they're even out there.

PELTON: I think of the dirty secret of this work.

KAYE (voice-over): On the morning of October 9th last year during a routine convoy run, a roadside bomb ripped through Craig Johnson's truck. Shrapnel tore into his torso and legs. His dream of providing better for his family died with him on the roadside.

JOHNSON: It was a Monday night. It was 7:30.

KAYE: Two men, strangers, knocked on her door.

JOHNSON: I stood out on the porch, and they weren't saying anything, so I said is Craig going to be OK? And they said, well, that's why we're here. And I said, are you trying to tell me that my husband is gone? And they said, yes, yes, he is.

KAYE: Craig was working for Halliburton, the largest contractor in Iraq. He was the company's 92nd fatality.

PELTON: Contractors are specifically hard because they are sort of disposable. When contractors die, typically they put your body into a casket, they put your stuff into a cardboard box and ship it home to your family and that's it. JOHNSON: Yes, FedEx came to my door one day with five huge boxes of all his belongings. That was tough. There were some shirts in there that still had his smell, so I've been wearing those.

KAYE: And Shannon wears Craig's wedding ring.

JOHNSON: I just feel like it's the last part that I can hang onto.

KAYE: When we talked, Craig had been dead just six weeks. Shannon's emotions were raw, but she says her husband knew the risks and chose to go anyway. She said he told her he'd expected to be provided a weapon for protection in Iraq. Not that it could have saved him from a roadside bomb, but he never did get one.

JOHNSON: They weren't allowed to carry any weapons of any sort. They got helmets and some kind of like safety vest. And until recently, their trucks weren't even armored.

KAYE: We made repeated requests to interview Halliburton about protection and security of its employees, but the company refused. Instead, Halliburton issued this statement to CNN, "The company's top priority is the safety and security of its employees, especially those working in such hostile and challenging environments. For security reasons, we do not detail our assessments and precautions to support our efforts." Halliburton adds, "Every potential employee ... receives very specific warnings about the dangers of working in a war zone ... during the training process, we spend most of our time giving recruits all the reasons they should NOT accept this job."

But thousands still do. And instead of returning home with a bigger paycheck, many return home in a body bag, often leaving their wives alone to figure out how to raise their children.

JOHNSON: I had actually send him an e-mail card, just telling him that I loved him and missed him, and to thank him for what he's doing and the sacrifices that he's making. He had just picked it up the morning that he was killed.

KAYE: Craig Johnson, searching for a dream too close to danger.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Sheridan, Oregon.



Just a quick programming note, don't miss a special edition of 360 tomorrow night, "Ambush at the River of Secrets." It's a look at four Marines who were killed on what remains the deadliest day in Iraq for U.S. forces, but it's really a story honoring all those Marines and servicemen and women who are serving now currently in Iraq. It's a remarkable story of heroism and courage. That's tomorrow at 11 p.m., Eastern; 8 p.m., Pacific.

Tonight, we're getting new details about the personal life of former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. Up next, his struggle with addiction that was far more serious than anyone ever thought.

Plus, what is the strange stuff coming from the skies in more than one town? That and more when 360 continues.


COOPER: It may not seem that way at times, but Washington is a city that can sometimes keep a secret. Tonight, years after the fact, newly released FBI documents are revealing the secrets of the late Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist. We're talking about a painful addiction, paranoia, and political infighting.

More from CNN's Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena.


KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a year after his death, shocking details of the life of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist are revealed.

TONY MAURO, "LEGAL TIME": To not have the American public know about this, even during a confirmation process where this kind of thing is supposed to come out, is pretty shocking.

ARENA: In 1981, it did become public that Rehnquist was addicted to a powerful and dangerous sedative, Placidyl. But the extent of that addiction was kept secret until now.

MAURO: There is testimony that's contained in the FBI files, indicating that Rehnquist was filling three months' prescriptions every month, meaning he was taking three times the dosage of this very strong sedative or painkiller. And you just have to wonder, was this impairing his functioning as a justice.

ARENA: During a 1981 hospital stay, Rehnquist suffered withdrawal symptoms. The doctor who treated him told FBI agents he imagined there was a CIA plot against him, according to the documents.

The doctor also said he had gone to the hospital lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape. Rehnquist had been taking the drug for over a decade, from 1970 to 1982.

E. Barrett Prettyman argued more than a dozen cases before Rehnquist, and he says he never questioned his competency.

E. BARRETT PRETTYMAN, HOGAN AND HARTSON: I didn't see any side effects, outrageous behavior or anything of that sort.

ARENA: But the fact that Rehnquist was using such a powerful drug for so long raises concerns.

VOICE OF MAURO: I think it really does raise the question of when a justice is impaired, or could be impaired, there's no way to find that out.

ARENA (on camera): There may be even more to this story that we'll never know. More than 200 pages of the report were not released. And the FBI says that an entire section of the report just couldn't by found.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Interesting.

Up next on 360, look out below, strange things are falling from the sky. A true story that sounds like science fiction, next.


COOPER: Unreal bright lights, spectacular fireworks display. Those are just a few of the comments from people who witnessed the light show in the skies over Colorado earlier today, a show that experts say was either a meteor shower or space junk. Look at that.

In New Jersey last night, a family got more than a show, when an unidentified flying object came crashing through their roof. What's going on?

It sounds like a job for none other than CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Weird spacecraft. Mystery chunk falls through the roof of a house. UFO sighting over Chicago's O'Hare. And now this.


MOOS: Maybe a certain chicken was ahead of its time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "CHICKEN LITTLE," FROM WALT DISNEY PICTURES: Chicken Little, what is it? What's going on?


MOOS: Must have seemed that way in Freehold Township, New Jersey. Police say this metallic lump, the weight of a can of soup, fell from the sky above this neighborhood, made a neat hole in someone's roof and ended up embedded in a wall.


MOOS: Was it a meteorite? Experts are still analyzing it, but kids in the neighborhood have their own theories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I say it's a UFO. It's part of a UFO Park.

MOOS: No, kid. That's over at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where a dozen witnesses saw a...

JON HILKEVITCH, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE" REPORTER: Metallic gray object low in the sky.

MOOS: Hovering over Concourse C, a silent frisbee.

Forget the flying saucer movie jokes. According to the "Chicago Tribune" reporter who broke the story, these witnesses are anything but witless.

HILKEVITCH: They're all United Airlines employees, ranging from pilots to supervisors who heard chatter about this on the radio and raced out and saw it in the sky.

MOOS: The thing supposedly hovered for several minutes, then shot up through thick clouds, leaving what was described as a hole in the overcast skies.

The FAA figures it was a weather phenomenon. Meanwhile, jokesters on YouTube have their own reasons to doubt aliens would come here.

Maybe this looks like an alien spaceship, but it's an actual test flight of a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle that may someday carry tourists to the edge of space.

The founder of is funding the efforts. And the look of the 35-second test flight, don't pack your bags yet. And who needs to go to space?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down, down, right there, Jim. Something's reentering the atmosphere.

MOOS: When space is coming to earth. Predawn traffic helicopter pilots over Denver were stunned to stumble on what turned out to be a Russian booster rocket breaking up upon reentry.

Space junk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen anything like that.

MOOS: Next thing you know, frogs will be falling, like in the movie "Magnolia," "Chicken Little," be a little right.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, coming up, another wild story. You think cats don't get the credit they deserve? Well, wait until you see the credit this one got. We'll explain when 360 continues.


COOPER: Oprah Winfrey is spending $40 million on a lavish new school for poor girls in South Africa. Monday, we're going to take you inside the school and the lives the girls have left behind.

The school is a world away from what they've known. And well, Oprah is getting some flack for that. Take a look.


COOPER: I guess there's been some criticism in South Africa from some school officials that this is almost too extravagant, that the school is almost too nice for these kids. But for you, that was part of the message.

OPRAH WINFREY, SCHOOL FOUNDER: You know, when I first came here and started the idea of building the school, people were saying, isn't that too much? And the criticism was, too much for African girls. I was told, they're coming from huts. Why do they need all this? And my point was, that you're -- it doesn't matter where you come from. What matters is what can be done with your life. And so I wanted to create an environment, the most beautiful environment that would inspire them.


COOPER: Well, Oprah has indeed created a new and inspiring world for 152 lucky young girls. We talked about much more. And my interview with Oprah will be part of Monday's special hour, "Oprah's Promise: Building Hope in Africa." That's Monday at 10 p.m., Eastern.

Randi Kaye joins us now with a 360 bulletin -- Randi.

KAYE: Hi there, Anderson.

Former President George H.W. Bush is recovering tonight from surgery to replace his right hip. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota says Mr. Bush, who is 82, is doing well. He now faces some physical therapy, but he knows what that will be like. He had his left hip replaced in 2000.

Security breakdowns at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico and at other federal nuclear facilities have led to the resignation of the head of America's nuclear weapons program. Linton Brooks is expected to step down this month. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman says Brooks failed to correct security problems, so it's now time for new leadership.

Off the southern tip of South America, a lost American sailor found alive. Ken Barnes was attempting to sail around the world by himself when his yacht got damaged in bad weather about a week ago. A search plane spotted him just yesterday. He's expected to be rescued by the Chilean navy tomorrow. And in the meantime, we are told he is living off Pop Tarts and some granola.

To dry land in Australia, where a bank is in a hairy situation. It has apologized for issuing a credit card to Messiah. Messiah happens to be a cat. It's owner applied for the card to test the bank's identity security system. And well, the bank failed. The feline got a credit line of $3,300 U.S. dollars. And Anderson, you know you could buy a whole lot of cat food with all that credit. But the card has been canceled.

COOPER: Quite ridiculous. Randi, thanks.

Tomorrow, on "AMERICAN MORNING," the latest on that drifting sailor you just heard Randi talk about. The twin daughters of Ken Barnes are going to talk about their struggle as rescuers try to get their father to safety. That's tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," with the O'Brien twins, beginning at 6:00 a.m., Eastern.

And a reminder, we want you to help us keep them honest. If there's a wrong that needs to be made right in your community, go online, tell us about it at

That's all from Washington.

"LARRY KING" is next, with the daughter of the late James Brown.

I'll see you tomorrow from New York.