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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Blagojevich's Act of Defiance; Obama's Mideast Challenge; Jena Six Update

Aired December 30, 2008 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight breaking news out of the Middle East: The Israeli government weighing a pause in its bombardment of Hamas targets in Gaza.
First though, here at home, a reaction and ridicule Illinois's innocent-until-proven-guilty governor picks a man to fill Barack Obama's senate seat, the seat he allegedly tried to sell.

Former state Attorney General Roland Burris, the man whose main distinction appears to be his absence from federal wiretap recordings. The appointment is being called an act of political defiance, a game of legislative chicken, a circus with a U.S. attorney as ringmaster and a governor who seems born to the big top.


GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, (D), ILLINOIS: Let me say a couple of things here. I have enjoyed the limelight I've had over the last couple of weeks. I think it's been -- I don't want to hog the limelight. This is Roland Burris's day, so I don't think it's appropriate for me to really get involved in answering any questions.


COOPER: Well, those questions really run the gamut for the governor. Senate Democrat for Barack Obama who presumably needs every senate vote he can get and for perhaps before the Supreme Court. We're going to cover it all tonight.

But first Joe Johns with a strange day and the "Raw Politics."


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If this guy was a sacrificial lamb thrown to the wolves in an ugly political scandal, he wasn't letting on about it. As far as former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris was concerned, it was a high honor getting appointed to Barack Obama's senate seat.

ROLAND BURRIS, FORMER ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: I welcome the challenge that awaits us in 11th Congress.

JOHNS: Just two weeks ago Burris was expressing his disgust with the Blagojevich affair.

BURRIS: The evidence that has been presented is pretty appalling, should that come out to be the case on what our governor was attempting to do. I find it just reprehensible.

JOHNS: But now here he was on the stage accepting the appointment from the very same guy accused of scheming to cash in on the President-elect's senate seat. Blagojevich for his part was pretending that his legal problems somehow won't mean problems for his appointee.

BLAGOJEVICH: I am absolutely confident and certain that the United States Senate is going to seat a man of Roland Burris's unquestioned integrity, extensive experience and his long history of public service.

This is about Roland Burris as the United States Senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment.

JOHNS: Pretty much on cue, people started trotting out Roland Burris's political contributions to the governor, who by the way was pushing the limits to gin up support for his guy, even calling on an African-American congressman from Illinois who then teed up race as a potential factor.

REP. BOBBY RUSH, (D), ILLINOIS: We need to have many African- Americans in the U.S. Senate. So I applaud the governor for his decision. And I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer.

JOHNS: Burris was the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois when he became comptroller in 1979. But not forgotten here is how an African-American Congressman from Illinois, Jesse Jackson Jr., could have been appointee himself, except he got slimed in the scandal with Blagojevich's own words, allegedly caught on tape and reprinted in the governor's complaint.

Still as usual it was Washington, D.C. that seemed the most disconnected from fairness and reasonableness. Fifty U.S. senators in the Democratic caucus have said they'll oppose any Blagojevich appointee, even though Burris was named by a sitting governor who at least so far hasn't been convicted of anything and says he's not guilty. Barack Obama says he agrees with the caucus because the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government free of taint.

Joe Johns, CNN, New York.


COOPER: This one is off the charts in a lot of ways. Can a Senate refuse to seat a duly appointed member no matter how sleazy the guy who appointed him may be? And was Governor Blagojevich playing a game of racial chicken, daring the Senate Democrats to snub a respected African-American?

As I say, only his hairdresser knows for sure, but our panel probably has some ideas. Let's dig deeper with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and political analyst Roland Martin.

Jeff, did you see this thing coming?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I thought this was a surreal moment in political history. I had no idea this was coming and it was like they were operating in a universe that none of us live in.

It was as if he's not out on bail, which he is. It was as if he still had support as governor, which he has none. But he is the governor and he did what he is legally entitled to do and we'll see if it sticks.

COOPER: Roland, Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush used the term lynching today. Is that fair to categorize any potential criticism of this guy, Burris as an attempted hanging or lynching?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what he was trying to do was make it very clear that he is not going to sit back and watch any attacks on the character of Roland Burris, one of the most respected politicians in Illinois, the first African-American elected statewide in the state, hugely popular as comptroller but also attorney general.

But, Anderson, to the question of Jeffrey, look, I called this three weeks ago.

COOPER: But why shouldn't this guy be open to criticism if he is stepping in to accept a seat which is in such question?

MARTIN: No, but here is the problem. The question is, are we criticizing Burris or are we criticizing the guy who made the appointment? Here is the reality, the Senate can sit here and say that we are opposing an individual.

Well, what other merits to oppose Burris? Blagojevich has put Democrats in a big box, and frankly, Anderson, the Democrats, they should be ashamed of themselves. They did not want a special election. They did not want a Republican to have the seat. They failed because the general assembly could have had a general election. They allowed this guy to do this.

TOOBIN: I disagree with Roland at several levels here. First of all, it was outrageous to talk about lynching. That means if you oppose Burris you're in favor of lynching? Barack Obama is in favor of lynching? Come on, that is an outrageous inflammatory remark.

COOPER: Roland, I mean it's clearly playing the race card, if you will.

MARTIN: Of course, and look that's what the appointment is. But here's what I'm saying, the general assembly, they could have taken this out of his hands, they chose not to. Senate Democrats did not want a special election. They also failed here.

We can sit here and dog Blagojevich all day, but there was an opportunity to remove the decision from his hands and they chose not to do it. TOOBIN: It is not up to the U.S. Senate to decide on whether there's a special election.

MARTIN: The general assembly, Jeffrey, of Illinois.

TOOBIN: Yes, I know but I'm talking about what the U.S. Senate today said, the U.S. Senate said to Democrats, we are not taking anybody appointed by Blagojevich, period, because he's indicted and he should not be governor.

I don't think that's outrageous at all. I think they deserve credit there.

MARTIN: No, I think it is outrageous because you should be judging a person who they send to the senate not the guy who picked him.

TOOBIN: I don't think you can separate the two.

MARTIN: You can separate the two.

COOPER: What's interesting though is I mean, I'm not taking sides in this, but we live in a country where anyone, especially in the public domain can be criticized and should be held up.

If this guy Burris, --

MARTIN: Of course.

COOPER: I mean, he's got a great record, but if he was giving campaign donations to the governor over the last couple of years and he is willing to fill a seat which is certainly in question, he's open to...


COOPER: ... he's open to examination and for this guy, Congressman Rush, to come out and say, if you look at him, and if you are critical of him, you are lynching him, that's seems crossing a line.

MARTIN: Of course he's crossing a line. But look, Bobby Rush is doing this for a particular purpose. He was the one that came out and say, look you have to have an African-American in the U.S. Senate even a few weeks ago.

So let's not let -- we shouldn't be sitting here shocked that Bobby Rush is pushing the fact that there are no African-American in the Senate now that Obama has been elected President.

Well, I think the point here is again, you can sit here and say, you can look at Burris and his record, look at his relationship with Blagojevich, but also if your problem is with Blagojevich, attack him.

COOPER: Jeff, final point.

TOOBIN: Well, the final thought is that legally, this is very unclear.

COOPER: What will happen now?

TOOBIN: It is very unclear. The Senate claims they have the right to reject him. Article 1 of the Constitution says the Senate can control its own membership.

But there's a famous Supreme Court case from 1969 where the House tried to keep Adam Clayton Powell out of the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court said they didn't have the right to do it.

So the question of whether the Senate can keep Burris out is very much an open one. And we could be looking at several months of litigation about it.

MARTIN: If Democrats do not want to keep an African-American out of the U.S. Senate, trust me, they do not want to go down that path.

TOOBIN: I'm not sure you're right about that Roland.

MARTIN: OK try it and we'll see what happens.

COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin and Roland Martin, thanks. We'll see and no doubt we'll talk about this tomorrow and for days to come.

Let us know what you think about the Governor's move today. Join the live chat happening now at Check out Randi Kaye's live Web cast also during the commercial breaks over the course of the hour.

Up next, new air strikes in Gaza. Breaking news from the Middle East, signs too of a possible cease fire. We'll take a look at that.

And also high drama on the high seas, our cameras aboard a boat rammed by the Israeli navy?

Also tonight, a strange and sad update to Jena Six story, the protest now over but of the young man of the center of it shot and the question is, did he actually try to end his own life?

And later, my New Year's companion, Kathy Griffin joining to -- probably joining us to make some fun of me probably tonight. There she is with Randi doing the live web thing, that all of the kids are doing this days. She's also got her take on the best viral videos of '08. That and more tonight on "360."


COOPER: Breaking news tonight out of the Middle East: talk of a possible cease fire and this newly released video from the Israeli Air Force, the air strike apparently targeting Hamas rocket launchers in Gaza.

Laser-guided weapons raining down ammunitions that are fairly primitive but also easy to conceal, smuggle, move and shoot. So even if the Israeli government weighs a temporary truce an America urges Hamas to hold its fire, the air strikes continue and so do the rocket attacks.

The latest now from Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just over two miles from Gaza, this is Israel's civilian front line from the war with Hamas. About a dozen rockets this day hitting the tiny town of Sderot.

Twenty-one-year-old Shiran Abergal tells me what happened just hours earlier. There was a huge explosion, she says. And our house blew apart.

But as we talked -- the sirens have just gone off, we're all crowding inside this house, the house was already hit this morning, but we're crowding in here trying to get some safety.

Shiran and her family cower in the hallway. Police hide there too. No one is safe when the rockets come.

The police have just given the all clear. The missile has apparently fallen harmlessly in the field. The people here are absolutely traumatized.

We need a fortification, Shiran explains. It's not good, we kill them, they kill us. We have to have peace, she adds, I don't want war.

But most here are happy the government has taken on Hamas. Over the past few years, many hundreds of Hamas rockets have terrorized this town.

Not far away Israeli tanks continue firing into Gaza. And across the fields, Israeli missile strikes send smoke above the rooftops. The bombardment far lighter than previous days, as Israel's defense minister considers a truce to allow humanitarian aid.

In this relative lull, Gaza's residents take stock of the destruction from more than 300 air strikes. Doctors struggle to catch up with the backlog of casualties, hamstrung by shortages of basic medical supplies.

DR. MAHMOUD EL KHZNDAN, SHIFA HOSPITAL: So much people killed simply because you have no test tube, no I.V. lines, no narcotic for crushing injures.

ROBERTSON: Others line up for bread. And those who've lost loved ones among the 370 Palestinians killed bury their dead. Israelis too mourn their losses. Without a cease fire, Hamas presence there will be more funerals.

ABU ODEIDA, AL QASSAM BRIGADE (through translator): If you decided to continue with this aggression for a longer period, we want you to know that you are issuing a death sentence on all residents of the south.

ROBERTSON: In Sderot many residents have already left, the streets are emptying. Sderot is a barometer of the conflict. The sentiment here, this battle has only just begun.


COOPER: Nic joins us now from near the Gaza border. Nic, what's the latest on any possible truce?

ROBERTSON: Well, you know the rain is falling quite heavily right now, that's going to have an impact on how operations continue, we do know that the Israeli Defense Forces have targeted the Hamas leader in the last few hours Ismael Haniyeh.

But the talk about the truce has come at the same time as Israel's cabinet has decided to activate another 2,500 reservists. That's in addition to the 6,500 army reservist that were ready activated and Hamas spokesman has said that there's talk of a two-day truce, there's no point in discussing it they say unless Israel stops all attacks of aggression against Palestinians and opens all the border crossings into Gaza.

So right now, there seems to be talks and as far as from the Israeli position, there is talk, but they're ready to act militarily as well, Anderson.

COOPER: And is there still talk of a possible ground invasion or is that kind of on the back burner?

ROBERTSON: You know, when we were driving down here from Jerusalem this evening, we passed several tanks on transporters heading south towards Gaza. There are already a lot of tanks around surrounding the Gaza strip; more tanks than there were yesterday.

So the elements are in place. The army is getting in place to do that. The speculation is still there, with Hamas tonight, firing those new long range missiles. You would look at it and a lot of Israelis would look at it and say look, the government doesn't have any choice, it's really got to go ahead and do what it said it will do which is stop Hamas firing the missiles.

COOPER: And the missiles keep coming. All right, Nick Robertson, appreciate it a lot from the border right now, just a little past 5:00 in Israel.

Israel today, a lot of convoy of trucks loaded with humanitarian supplies into Gaza. It did not do the same though for a vessel on the Mediterranean carrying aid activist.

And our own Karl Penhaul in fact as you'll see the journey came to a sudden and pretty terrifying halt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a mercy mission to the wounded and dying of Gaza. Tons of medical aid, doctors and peace activists from the Free Gaza Solidarity Movement, aboard a motor yacht called Dignity. As usual it would involve defying an Israeli travel ban and running a possible blockade.

ELIZA ERNSHIRE, FREE GAZA ORGANIZER: I think there's a complacency that happens in the west. It's something that we have to fight against.

PENHAUL: The last aid loaded aboard and a crewman's warning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we are boarded and are going to be arrested, you're going to talk about this on the way yourselves, I would really suggest, do not struggle against these people, they are professionals.

PENHAUL: A veteran free guard activist helps first time passenger former U.S. Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney. Around 10 hours pass amid rolling seas. Then a spotlight shines out from one of two Israeli patrol boats.

The Dignity is still in international waters. They shadow us for half an hour, and then with no prior radio warning according to the captain, one of the patrol boats rams the Dignity.

These boats have been following us now for some time. One of them has rammed this vessel. It rammed it in the front that caused the glass to splinter, part of the roof to peel back; a very dramatic moment. The captain is now saying that this boat is starting to take on water.

Later the Israeli Defense Forces said it was an accident. They say they warned the Dignity and ordered it to turn back. A statement nobody aboard the Dignity buys.

CYNTHIA MCKINNEY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: I wouldn't call it accosting, I would call it ramming. Let's just call it as it is.

PENHAUL: From dockside in southern Lebanon, the scale of the damage to the hull and wheelhouse is apparent, it was a lucky escape.

DENNIS HEALEY, DIGNITY'S CAPTAIN: It could have ended with people drowning. If they had hit us more square on, you know, we could have gone down in minutes.


PENHAUL: The Free Gaza Movement is plainly not going to be able to sail into Gaza with that aid, but they say that they're now looking at other options to be able to deliver that. They say it's sitting on their hands is not an option. And in the words of the Free Gaza Movement, moments like this, silence is equivalent to complicity -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Karl Penhaul reporting live from Beirut, Karl thanks.

Up next, where President-elect Obama stands and what protesters would like him to do about the fighting. They rallied outside his vacation home in Hawaii, and have plenty to say.


ANN WRIGHT, FORMER U.S. DIPLOMAT: We are here to say to the president, we know he's got a lot on his plate, but we expect that he will take this on very seriously and really get moving to stop the killing.


COOPER: Later, you have heard of the "Six Degrees" of Kevin Bacon, tonight it's Bacon and a whole lot less than "Six Degrees" of Bernie Madoff. His connection to the confessed Ponzi schemer ahead on "360."


COOPER: Barack Obama's mantra during his transition to power has been that America has only one president at a time. That's given him the luxury of being publicly silent on the escalating crisis in Gaza.

On January 20th however, three weeks from now, Obama wades into one of the world's bloodiest quagmires.

Ed Henry now on the crisis that is closing in on the President- elect.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: After shooting hoops with some buddies at his old high school, President-elect Barack Obama was greeted by adoring fans.

But back in his rented beach house, a handful of pro Palestinian protesters were reminding him of the challenges of his new job.

WRIGHT: Maybe we can catch him on the way out.

HENRY: Ann Wright, a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 to protest the Iraq war declared Mr. Obama should do more to halt Israel's counter attacks.

WRIGHT: We are here to say to the President, we know he's got a lot on his plate, but we expect that he will take this on very seriously and really get moving to stop the killing.

HENRY: But technically, Mr. Obama is not president yet. Which aides have used to justify why the President-elect has not spoken publicly about the crisis.

CAROLYN HADFIELD, PROTESTER: He is speaking out on every other issues, he's talking about jobs, how many jobs he's going to create. He's talking about all kinds of domestic policy and he's refusing to speak out on this and I think that silence says a lot.

HENRY: At issue is whether for all the talk of change for Mr. Obama, his MidEast policy will be a carbon copy of President Bush's approach.

During the July visit to the region, candidate Obama got unusually personal invoking his daughters to express vociferous support for Israel.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.

HENRY: Israel officials are now using those words to justify their actions this week.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): And there he said, if someone were to fire a missile on my house while my two young daughters are sleeping, I would do everything I could to stop him.

HENRY: A sticky situation for the President-elect, his unwavering support of Israel threatening to alienate some of the large anti-war vote who have put him in office.

HADFIELD: He has to be called out for being a pro war president and not an anti-war president like he has sort of pretended to be as he, you know, campaigned.

HENRY: A dispute that could complicate Mr. Obama's ability to be an honest broker in the peace process as he takes office.


COOPER: Ed, back during the campaign though, Republicans were making the opposite argument that Obama was soft in defending Israel.

HENRY: Absolutely, you remember John McCain deployed Senator Joe Lieberman, one of the most prominent Jewish Americans certainly in the U.S. Senate or in national politics. He focused in Florida at town hall meetings, in Jewish communities saying, look, Barack Obama is soft on Israel, in terms of pushing back against Iran, in terms of trying to get tough, in terms of Israeli/Palestinian negotiations and so perhaps Barack Obama was over compensating a little bit during his trip this summer in speaking out so strongly on behalf of Israel.

You have to wonder now though whether he boxed himself in a little bit as he moves ahead in the weeks and months to come once he's sworn in -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, when we come back, we're going to talk strategy on the political tightrope that Obama soon is going to walk in the Middle East. The crisis could be his administration's first big test. The question is what's left for a president to try that hasn't already been tried there and failed. Weighing with their take in all of this are our political pros Roland Martin, Ed Rollins, Ben Smith and Ed Henry as well.

Later, almost six years after a catastrophe on re-entry, what really happened inside the space shuttle Colombia in its final moments, a new report ahead on "360."


COOPER: Barack Obama hitting the links in Hawaii, looking like a guy without a care in the world. But it's just 21 days when he sworn in as the 44th President. He'll officially become responsible for handling a staggering array of crisis, including the explosive situation happening right now in the Middle East.

Let's talk strategy with our panel. Joining me again: from Chicago, Roland Martin; also Ben Smith, senior political reporter for; and Ed Rollins, CNN political analyst and Republican strategist.

Ed, it's interesting, you look at those pictures Barack Obama in the golf course. Does it send the wrong message? I mean when George Bush was on the golf course, he was roundly criticized.

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If this was Easter time and he has been president for three months, it would be the bad -- wrong signal. I mean, he's still not there. I think people give him the benefit of the doubt.

Twenty-one days, he's got a house afire on about 15 different fronts. I think people at this point in time will let him have his last vacation.

COOPER: Roland, Obama is using sort of one president at a time to explain his silence on the Gaza attacks.

He did, though, release more than one statement in response to the attacks in Mumbai in India. And he's been very vocal, as some of those protesters were saying, about economic situations. Is he just trying to avoid making a statement on this one?

MARTIN: Look, I think that there's no doubt he's trying to do that. But also the question also has to be, is there any kind of diplomacy that is going on as we speak?

I think if you look at Mumbai, certainly you have a situation there where you had federal investigators going there because Americans were also killed. But it's the question -- what is it that we don't know?

Has he had any conversation with Condoleezza Rice? With the president? What is happening behind the scenes? Are we involved in some kind of situation that we're trying to bring this thing to a close? Maybe that could be one of the reasons why he's choosing to remain silent.

We simply don't know.

COOPER: Ben, you were reporting for that the Obama transition team has met with Jewish leaders from the right and from left within the last two weeks, I think it was about two weeks ago. Does he now, by not speaking out more forcefully in support of Israel, does he risk alienating those people who he reached out to very aggressively during the campaign?

BEN SMITH, POLITICO.COM: Well, no. I think actually he reached out very aggressively basically to the right during the campaign, kind of quell these fears that he was soft on Israel. I think his silence basically is being interpreted accurately, I think as standing with where he was in the campaign. He said very explicitly during the campaign, as you showed that clip before, he spoke about these rocket attacks -- about the need to respond to these rocket attacks.

And in his silence, that's the quote that is being circulated.

COOPER: Ed, is there anything new under the sun that Barack Obama can do when he takes office on this problem?

ROLLINS: Hopefully we're not in a full scale war. Obviously if they are, that changes the whole dynamics, but if it goes on for a couple more weeks and then it kind of cools off, then you go back to the usual long-term diplomatic strategy. There's nothing short-term that he can do and there's nothing short-term that's going to resolve this issue.

MARTIN: Anderson, look, one issue that we have to address is this whole notion that we don't deal with Hamas. The reality is they were democratically elected there. So we can try to ignore Hamas all we want to, but it's a little hard to ignore the folks who are frankly in control because we view them as a terrorist organization. That is a problem and he's going to have to confront that.

COOPER: But it's a complicated problem, I mean, because you have Hamas but also Fatah in the West Bank. So when dealing with Palestinians, it's not just as if there's one party to deal with.

ROLLINS: Equally as important. You can't deal with terrorists that are attacking their neighbor. Israel is our friend, our ally; has been our long-time friend and ally. And the attacks that started were started by Hamas. It's not started by Israel throwing rockets on Palestinians. I think the reality here is they've got to do something in order to bring them to the table.

SMITH: There are people in the Democratic Party certainly who say you should deal with Hamas or at least, like encourage the Europeans to deal with Hamas. That's not really what you hear from the people advising Obama, the people around Obama.

What they're saying is they hope like the Israelis that this will weaken Hamas. That the Israelis will win and that the Fatah will take over Gaza.

COOPER: How much hope is there in the Obama campaign about Hillary Clinton and the Clinton mystique in the Middle East, the Clinton name draw?

SMITH: There's not a lot of hope in the situation right now. Anybody who's looking for a silver lining admits that it's extremely thin.

ROLLINS: And after this week, it's going to be a much longer battle. No matter what occurs here in the next several weeks, the feelings aren't going to go away and I think the animosity will be greater than it has ever been.

MARTIN: Anything happens here, Anderson, in the Middle East is really going to come from Obama's -- his interest and his focus, not necessarily Hillary Clinton being secretary of state. He is going to have to be the one leading this effort, not the secretary of state.

COOPER: Ben briefly, I mean, the Bush administration did very little over the last several years in terms of negotiating any kind of or trying to help some sort of negotiation. Do you think Obama is going to be more aggressive in that?

SMITH: You know, I think he'd like to be more actively engaged. His advisers have talked particularly about trying to negotiate a peace between Syria and Israel. But those indirect talks broke down this week because of this fighting. I think this pushes everything back. But I do think they want to be more engaged.

COOPER: I want to thank you all for joining us.

We just have some breaking news I want to report on.

As we have been speaking new developments in Gaza. Let's go back right now live to Nic Robertson. Nic what's going on?

ROBERTSON: Well, Anderson, we've just had a very, very loud explosion from where we are here, it appears to have come from the northern end of the Gaza Strip. It's not clear what the target was. We heard that very big explosion with an echo after it, so it must have been quite big, quite close, and shortly after we heard an Israeli jet flying over. That's the biggest explosion we've heard while we have been standing here all night, Anderson.

COOPER: We're looking at a picture on the right-hand side of the screen live from Gaza. You talked about the explosion, Nic, and I'm sorry, someone was talking in my ear. Is that an explosion from -- do you know -- from incoming rockets, from Gaza or from outgoing artillery into Gaza?

ROBERTSON: This has to be an Israeli missile of some description because it was just too big for any of the rockets that Hamas has been firing out. Maybe it was a missile hitting an ammunition dump, something of that description given the huge explosion. But bigger than we have heard and we've been all night.

And although there have been missiles fired on different parts of Gaza, we're closest to the north end of the Gaza strip. So from what we are hearing and what we think -- where we think this was located very probably the north end of the Gaza strip, but a very, very big explosion.

COOPER: Nic, clearly in the United States, there is a perception that Israel acted now in part because this is the tail end of the Bush administration, they wanted to act before Obama took over. Is there that sense as well in Israel?

ROBERTSON: Yes, there is. I mean, people are saying one of the reasons could be that there's a sense that there's a window of opportunity that won't be there when Barack Obama comes in. So whatever business needs to be tidied up, issues dealt with between Hamas or whomever, this is the time to do it.

COOPER: All right, Nic Robertson reporting live. Nic, thanks very much.

I want to thank also Ed Rollins, Ben Smith from Politico and Roland Martin as well.

Still ahead, a Jena Six shocker: the teenager, the center of the racially charged assault case is in the hospital with a gunshot wound. But the twist is who police say actually pulled the trigger.

Plus new information about the final moments for astronauts on board the space shuttle "Colombia."

And in the countdown to 2009, Bill and Hillary Clinton will be in Times Square tomorrow night to lower the famous ball.

Kathy Griffin and I will also be there as well. She'll be here tonight with a preview of our big program.


COOPER: Angry protests, cries of injustice, the racially charged case of the Jena Six fueled civil rights marches and received national attention. You may remember a group of African-American teens accused of attacking white classmates at a Louisiana high school.

Tensions have calmed since then, but tonight the story has taken a new and a tragic turn. The latest development involves a member of the Jena Six who apparently tried to take his own life.

Sean Callebs has details in this "360 Follow."


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mychal Bell said he just wanted a second chance, to live up to his potential as a football player, and put the controversy surrounding the so-called Jena Six incident behind him.

MYCHAL BELL, JENA SIX: I feel like at one time I was going down a bad path, you know, but now, I learned from my mistakes.

CALLEBS: But mistakes haunt him. Bell is now recovering from what police call a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana. Days earlier, on Christmas Eve, this once promising student athlete was arrested for shoplifting. Authorities say the arrest was Bell's breaking point.

His mother and grandmother told Monroe police that Mychal had made comments over the past two days that because of the current media attention he had because of a shoplifting arrest, he did not feel he could live anymore.

In the hospital, he told authorities he shot himself because of all the media attention. And Bell had lots of attention from cameras.

It all began in September of 2006, racial tension flared after three white students hung nooses from a tree. Tradition had long dictated only white students sit under that tree. A black freshman dared challenge the status quo. The white students were suspended.

Again, in an April interview, bell says he realizes now trouble was just starting.

BELL: It got real hot, you know, between blacks and whites and so that nobody really wanted to come together and do nothing.

CALLEBS: In December of 2006, tension boiled over, Mychal Bell now 18 and five other black students were charged with pummeling a white classmate, Justin Barker who was briefly hospitalized. The African-Americans were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder. Eventually only Bell went to trial on the charges. But thousands came from across the country to support the students and protest the charges many thought were too harsh.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: There should not be two different laws for Mychal Bell than anyone his age of a different color.

CALLEBS: The charges were eventually reduced to battery. Bell pleaded guilty. He was the only one of the six to serve jail time. When he was released to a foster home in January, he said he was excited to start fresh. Even so, hence the pressure on him was too great for his 18-year-old shoulders.

BELL: I feel like, you know, all the people who came down and supported me and gave money to the defense fund and everything. I felt like if I was to do something now, I would let the whole country down, you know.


CALLEBS: His injury is not considered life threatening, but Bell is really hoping for something life changing in a positive way. His attorney Carol Powell Lexing tells me that he had pinned his hopes on getting a college football scholarship at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, and now fears that perhaps his last best chance, Anderson, may have slipped through fingers.

COOPER: Well, let's hope not. It's a sad chapter in this ongoing story. Sean, thanks very much. Sean Callebs reporting. Randi Kaye joins us now with a "360 Bulletin" -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a new NASA report on the 2003 "Colombia" space shuttle disaster paints the most graphic picture yet of the crew's final moments and says they never had a chance. The seven astronauts survived the initial breakup of the shuttle but were killed when their safety harnesses and helmets failed. Even if the safety gear had worked, the report says the crew would have perished.

A Washington lobbyist is suing "The New York Times" for $27 million over an article that she says gave the false impression she had an affair with Senator John McCain in 1999. The newspaper stood by the story. Vicki Iseman's defamation also names as defendants the Times executive editor, it's Washington bureau chief and four reporters.

Stocks surged as investors scooped up shares hit hard in the 2008 melt down. The end of the year bargain buying spree adding nearly 200 to the Dow; the Nasdaq and S&P 500 also saw gains.

A federal bankruptcy judge today approved the release of more than $28 million in assets belonging to Bernard Madoff, the man accused of bilking investors of as much as $50 billion. The funds will be used to cover costs related to his case, a first step toward recovering his victims' money.

Among the fleeced, actors Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon. Their publicist today confirmed the couple invested with Madoff, but did not say how much they may have lost. We are wondering if "Six Degrees of Bernie Madoff" will become the next hot parlor game, Anderson.

COOPER: Time now for our "Beat 360" winners, our daily challenge to viewers to come up with a caption for a photo we put on our blog, a caption better than the one that any of us around here can think of.

Tonight's picture, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich gesturing as he's led out of the room after announcing his choice to fill Barack Obama's senate seat in a news conference today in Chicago. Our staff winner tonight is Kira who won with this, "you want the truth? You can't handle the truth."

KAYE: That's very good. It's the second one.

COOPER: It was good.

Our viewer winner is Aaron from Columbus, Ohio. Here's his caption: "You can call me names, but no one, and I mean no one, makes fun of the hair." Aaron, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way. Congratulations.

KAYE: I love the hair.

COOPER: And this time tomorrow night, as many as a million people are expected to be crowded in Times Square, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. They're going to help lower the New Year's Eve ball. But I'm the only one lucky enough to be there with one of the world's funniest women, Kathy Griffin.

She's here tonight to talk about our show. We're going to take a look at some of our favorite viral videos from this past year.


PARIS HILTON: I'm not from the olden days and I'm not promising change like that other guy. I'm just hot.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, Happy New Year!


COOPER: A dress rehearsal for tomorrow's big show, that's the New Year's Eve ball, in reverse, going up today. The glimmering orb is covered in 2,600 Waterford Crystal. These are all the factoids that Kathy Griffin has been memorizing. We're told it's going to be illuminated by some 32,000 low energy light bulbs.

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: Is this show on or you're rehearsing?

COOPER: No, this is actually happening.

GRIFFIN: Are you sure?


GRIFFIN: People are watching then.

COOPER: We're going live. We're live right now. The Waterford crystal may be the star of the show but a couple of political superstars are going to be there. Bill and Hillary Clinton are going to push the ceremonial button that lowers the ball as the clock strikes midnight. They'll also be in Times Square.

I'll be there.

GRIFFIN: OK, in New York.

COOPER: I can't pronounce two Ts together.

GRIFFIN: What does that mean? Is that just you screaming money?

You're just throwing your money up in my face again.

Can we call a special viewer who's a big fan of yours?

COOPER: Yes, sure.

GRIFFIN: They said that you guys had to dial it. So will you dial it and put it on speaker? Does anybody work here? Cooper control? Cooper control? Mom?


K. GRIFFIN: Hi, it's Kathy.

MRS. GRIFFIN: Hi, how are you doing?

K. GRIFFIN: Do you know who we're here with?

MRS. GRIFFIN: Tell me.

K. GRIFFIN: It's Anderson Cooper.

MRS. GRIFFIN: Oh, hi, Anderson.

COOPER: Hey, Mrs. Griffin, how are you doing?

MRS. GRIFFIN: Oh, fine. How are you?

COOPER: I'm doing well. Are you having some wine right now?

MRS. GRIFFIN: You know what? I hate to admit it, I just had a glass of wine.


MRS. GRIFFIN: Only one, Anderson.

COOPER: Really? Is it from a box?

MRS. GRIFFIN: No, no. Actually I have kind of gotten to the, like, 750 millimeters or whatever they are? I'm really getting classy now.

COOPER: You're getting classy now? I like the box wine, there's nothing wrong with it.

MRS. GRIFFIN: I do too. Actually it doesn't taste that much different to me. But I have to kind of pretend it does.

K. GRIFFIN: Mom, you have to say goodbye. It's all about Andy tonight.

COOPER: No, no, no. It's so nice to talk to you.

K. GRIFFIN: Somebody was saying something about you, harsh. I love you.

COOPER: Are you going to watch us tomorrow tonight?

M. GRIFFIN: I sure am going to watch you tonight and tomorrow night.

K. GRIFFIN: You have to go, certainly. Have some cheese and crackers.

M. GRIFFIN: And I'm going to scream for you, and I know you'll both be great.

K. GRIFFIN: And you're not going to watch Ryan Seacrest, right?

M. GRIFFIN: Is he even on?

K. GRIFFIN: Who cares? Thank you.


K. GRIFFIN: You nailed it, Maggie.

M. GRIFFIN: I'm going to watch you guys.

K. GRIFFIN: All right.

COOPER: Next year, you'll have to come join us live in Times Square.

K. GRIFFIN: Just hang up. She doesn't -- just hang up.

M. GRIFFIN: All right. OK.

K. GRIFFIN: I love you.

Tell her you love her.

COOPER: I love you? OK, I love you. Great talking to you.

M. GRIFFIN: I'll see you tomorrow night, and I know you'll both be great.

K. GRIFFIN: You know what? With old people, it's never goodbye. It just -- it just trails off, and then you just have to hang up. I know it's mean.

COOPER: That's sweet that she's going to stay up late. And -- although she's on the West Coast. So it's not that late.

K. GRIFFIN: No. She'll be half in the box by then.

COOPER: Yes. Are you excited for tomorrow night?

K. GRIFFIN: I can't wait until tomorrow night. I'm nervous about the cold.

COOPER: It's going to be very cold.

K. GRIFFIN: I expect some spooning. Can I count on you? All right, you will be on the inside. Wow, you drive a hard bargain.

I'm very excited about the highlights that we're going to have.

COOPER: We're going to have highlights?

K. GRIFFIN: Yes. They told me there's highlights. We're going to talk about -- we're going to do, like, a recap. COOPER: All the videos. All the recap of the year. And also, we're going to have New Year's celebrations from all around the world. Yes, so it's not just...

K. GRIFFIN: Who cares about the rest of the world?

COOPER: No, it's nice to see...

K. GRIFFIN: It's you and me talking crap about Don Lemon. Right? That's my kind of night. I mean, really. Who does he think he is?

COOPER: He's going to be there in the crowd.

K. GRIFFIN: I don't want to see Dobbs. I'm not -- I'm in no mood for Dobbs and his crap, all over this (ph) town. Did you know that Lou Dobbs is, like -- do you know who's really good friends with him? Cher. Did you know that?


K. GRIFFIN: Cher. It's true.


K. GRIFFIN: They have a love child, Alejandro. Little Alejandro Dobbs. They're very close. I know. I know all...

COOPER: Lou Dobbs and Cher have a love child named Alejandro?

K. GRIFFIN: They don't -- all right, not technically. But they are close and they have each other's phone -- "Hey, who should we drunk dial?"

COOPER: We're going to take...

K. GRIFFIN: Gergen?

COOPER: Gergen? No, he's on vacation.

K. GRIFFIN: Do you have his phone number?

COOPER: I'm sure I could get it.

K. GRIFFIN: What about Larry King, like, one of his kids? Not Larry. That's too obvious.

COOPER: Chance or Cannon?

K. GRIFFIN: Chance or Cannon. That's not possible.



COOPER: Cannon. K. GRIFFIN: What's your middle name? Do you have a weird, uppity middle name?


K. GRIFFIN: That's so annoying. But it's so -- I can't even believe what a tool you are. That's fake. You made that up right now to sound richer.

COOPER: No, really. H-A-Y-S.

Do you have a middle name?




I miss you already.

COOPER: OK. We'll be right back.


COOPER: That's an oldie but a goodie. That's the "Numa Numa" kid. You must remember him.

K. GRIFFIN: Of course. I'm up all night watching music videos. I don't read or anything.

COOPER: His Web cam techno performance. A smash Internet hit, before we even know what a viral video was. It seems like such innocent times back then.

Tonight, we want to take a look at -- Kathy and I -- I like to say that. We want to take a look at some of our top viral videos.

K. GRIFFIN: We have special moments like this.

COOPER: We spent all day looking at them. Kathy was there at the beta machine, pressing play.

K. GRIFFIN: Mimi's on line three. All right. What's our first one, Anderson?

COOPER: All right. This is like our top three favorites.


COOPER: So let's look at the first one. Over a million people watched this video on YouTube, "Scarlet takes a tumble." Take a look.



K. GRIFFIN: OK, now I'm going to be honest.


K. GRIFFIN: That's one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

COOPER: You -- you like...

K. GRIFFIN: I feel bad about it.

COOPER: You like watching people fall?

K. GRIFFIN: I have a "watching people fall" disorder. Like, I could go to Rockefeller Center and watch kids fall all day. I know that's -- she must know, because why would she stand on the edge of a table?

COOPER: I don't know.

K. GRIFFIN: And why can't she get up?

COOPER: I don't know. And she put it online, so it's not as if she doesn't want this seen.

K. GRIFFIN: So what's the deal? Like I think "I'll go in my office and maybe stand on, not just the table, but the tip of it."


K. GRIFFIN: I mean...

COOPER: It's painful to watch.

K. GRIFFIN: All right. And her pants are a little tight.

COOPER: This is our second favorite viral video. Twenty million people watched this on


HILTON: Hey, America. I'm Paris Hilton and I'm a celebrity, too. Only I'm not from the olden days, and I'm not promising change like that other guy. I'm just hot. But then that wrinkly white- haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which I guess means I'm running for president. So thanks for the endorsement, white-haired dude. And I want America to know that I'm, like, totally ready to lead.


COOPER: Now, do you know her?

K. GRIFFIN: I have met her.

COOPER: Really? K. GRIFFIN: And I was invited to her Christmas party, as a matter of fact.

COOPER: Really?


COOPER: Isn't...

K. GRIFFIN: Take it.

COOPER: What was that? And you went?

K. GRIFFIN: I did not go. I was doing one of my sold-out shows.

COOPER: I like that, that you dissed her?

K. GRIFFIN: No, I didn't diss her.

COOPER: That you were invited, but you dissed her.

K. GRIFFIN: But I -- I just, you know, I had just done a show, that sort of thing.

COOPER; You were making -- you had to make the better choice. You can...

K. GRIFFIN: Right.

COOPER: People...

K. GRIFFIN: Now, do you know her from the party scene, the Hiltons?

COOPER: I've never met her.

K. GRIFFIN: Come on.

COOPER: Never.

K. GRIFFIN: What if tonight we told the truth.

COOPER: I've met -- I've seen...

K. GRIFFIN: What if we got to the raw politics of tonight?

COOPER: I've seen her...

K. GRIFFIN: Her mom and dad.

COOPER: I've seen her dreadful parents. I have seen them.

K. GRIFFIN: And what about the dreadful grandparents?

COOPER: No, I don't know who those are. I've seen them from afar, and I understand them to be dreadful. I don't know them personally...

K. GRIFFIN: That video is -- well, I understand everyone to be dreadful. So I would take a hit for anything he says that's libelous. Bring it. I really couldn't care less. But I do think...

COOPER: Do you have, like, a squad of attorneys?

K. GRIFFIN: Oh, yes. I have the greatest attorneys.

COOPER: Really?


COOPER: And do they...

K. GRIFFIN: Well, my First Amendment attorney is the real guy that won the case --

COOPER: You actually have a First Amendment attorney?

K. GRIFFIN: Oh, yes. On call.

COOPER: Really?

K. GRIFFIN: He's the real guy that won the case of the People versus Larry Flynt.

COOPER: Really?

K. GRIFFIN: Actually, it's called Larry Flynt versus Hustler Magazine. I mean, Hustler Magazine versus Jerry Falwell.

Yes, and then Bill Sobel is my lawyer in L.A. I have a coterie.

COOPER: I know Bill Sobel.

K. GRIFFIN: He's very good.

COOPER: He's a great attorney, yes.

K. GRIFFIN: And also, my brother's an attorney.

COOPER: Oh, really?

K. GRIFFIN: And my brother works for the attorney general's office of Illinois.

COOPER: Really?

K. GRIFFIN: Yes. That's where it's all going down...

COOPER: So you're -- you've got it covered.

K. GRIFFIN: ... in the Blagojevich world.

COOPER: Have you had to, like, call on your attorneys for First Amendment issues at times?

K. GRIFFIN: Oh, yes.

COOPER: Like, people say they're going to sue for you something?

K. GRIFFIN: Well, I bring them to "LARRY KING" every time I do "LARRY KING LIVE."

COOPER: Are they going to be there tomorrow night, on New Year's Eve?

K. GRIFFIN: Yes, I don't do live TV without any First Amendment attorneys. They'll be fine. For what I pay them, they'll be warm enough.

COOPER: All right. This is our top viral video of the year, got over three million views online alone. Take a look.


TINA FEY, FORMER CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": My name is Sarah Palin. You all know me, vice president nominee of the GOP. Gonna need your vote in the next election. Can I get a "what what" from the senior section?

All the mavericks in the house, put your hands up. All the mavericks in the house put your hands up. All the plumbers in the house, pull your pants up. All the plumbers in the house, pull your pants up.

When I say "Obama," you say "Ayers."






K. GRIFFIN: You've got to laugh.


K. GRIFFIN: At the ridiculousness of the Palin. I could watch Tina Fey do Sarah Palin all night long.

COOPER: She's a grandmother now.

K. GRIFFIN: Yes. To little...

COOPER: Tripp.

K. GRIFFIN: That would be Tripp. COOPER: Yes. What do you think of it?

K. GRIFFIN: That's worse than your name. You've got a bad rich person's name.

COOPER: There's Tripp and Trig.

K. GRIFFIN: Is there a little Tripp Cooper running around somewhere?

COOPER: No. Not yet, not yet. No Tripp Coopers.

K. GRIFFIN: Tripp Hays?

COOPER: No. No. Tripp is, like, one of those, like, "I played hockey at Choate with your brother Tripp."

K. GRIFFIN: It's a bird. You did go to Choate. Where did you go?

COOPER: I went to a day school here in New York.

K. GRIFFIN: What's that mean? That sounds like it's for special students. Did you have trouble with dyslexia and what have you?

COOPER: I did, as a matter of fact.

K. GRIFFIN: Oh, you and Tom Cruise. Anything to get on television.

COOPER: Wait a minute. Me and Tom Cruise?

K. GRIFFIN: Where did I lose you? What happened?

COOPER: I don't understand.

K. GRIFFIN: Tom Cruise tried to pull that, too, where he was dyslexic, so he had to have special attention. You know what it's all about with you? It's all about "look at me." And you know what? I am, and you're special. There, Happy New Year-to-be.

COOPER: What's your biggest concern about tomorrow night? Or is there anything I need to prepare for? Do I need a First Amendment attorney?

K. GRIFFIN: Yes, call all your people. Yes, call them all. I would actually call the Supreme Court if I were you.

COOPER: Yes. I'm just going to get Jeff Toobin on the horn.

K. GRIFFIN: Would Mr. Play at fantasy football while he's part of the best political team in show business, or whatever that's called?

Also I would get someone from "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT." It's the most provocative name in entertainment. It's very provocative, and evocative, if I may. So I would get, you know...

COOPER: It's both evocative and provocative.

K. GRIFFIN: I would get one of the Hammers. One of the Hammer dynasty, A.J. or J.J. or C.J. Really, one of the...

COOPER: J.J. Hammer?

K. GRIFFIN: Yes, he's really good.

COOPER: Like early first days MTV?


COOPER: Wow. You're kicking it old school. You're going back.

K. GRIFFIN: That's how I roll.

COOPER: That's how you roll.

K. GRIFFIN: What are you worried about tomorrow night?

Did you just bring your wallet out on television?

COOPER: I keep it here because I -- if I have it in my pocket, it hurts my back.

K. GRIFFIN: Oh, that's old-school New York money. OK.

"How did you get your back injury?"

"Um, my wallet, because I have so much money, I can't even hold my own torso up."

Mom, take me back. Mom?

Oh, I'm going to hit you in the head with that wallet tonight. I'm going to count it, and I'm going to hit you in the head with it.

Yes, that's right. No lawyer in the world can stop me from loving you.

COOPER: No what?

K. GRIFFIN: Lawyer in the world can stop me from loving you. If that's illegal, take me away.

COOPER: Join me and Kathy tomorrow night -- excuse me -- live in Times Square. I'll be joined by correspondents around the world. Musical guests include My Morning Jacket, 3 Doors Down, Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga.

I like the Lady Gaga.

K. GRIFFIN: Lil Wayne is the big one. Come on.

COOPER: Yes. Sure.

K. GRIFFIN: Nobody can believe this.

COOPER: Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, others.

That does it for "360." Thanks for watching. "Larry King" starts now.

I'll see you tomorrow night at New Year's Eve.