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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Poison Plot: The Killing of a Spy; The Shot; History of Violence; Toxic Knowledge; Memo Leak; Clinical Trials Stopped

Aired December 4, 2006 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: ... polonium 210. Three agonizing weeks later, he was dead.
Tonight, a picture is coming into focus of a Russian dissident slaying to make a chilling point. To whom, we don't know. By whom we also don't know. But from the crime scene in London to Moscow and points in between, people are talking, including Litvinenko's father. You'll only see him here on 360.

First, though, late developments in the investigation from CNN's Matthew Chance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From a poisoned KGB spy in London, to the Russian capital, the radioactive trail form Alexander Litvinenko has now led British police to Moscow.

The team of nine investigators has already arrived to gather evidence under international scrutiny. Russian authorities are pledging full cooperation.

But there are signs of increasing diplomatic tensions. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is warning that continued suggestions about the Kremlin's alleged involvement in the poison plot could damage relations between the two countries.

We need to avoid the politicization of this tragedy, he says.

But much of the evidence turned up so far does point to some kind of Russian link. Experts say the radioactive polonium 210, which killed Litvinenko and sparked a public health scare in Britain may have originated in Russia.

An aircraft between Moscow and London were contaminated, perhaps, say experts, as the poison was carried into Britain.

There are also a number of key witnesses British police may want to interview in Moscow. At least two Russians who met Litvinenko in a hotel on the day he was poisoned. One of them now says he is also contaminated.

ANDREI LUGOVDI, FORMER RUSSIAN AGENT (through translator): We met with him on November 1st and agreed to meet again on November 2nd. But at 7:30 on November 2nd he called and said, you know, Andrei, I don't feel good. I have been throwing up. I don't think I can meet you.

CHANCE: British police may also seek to interview Mikhail Trepashkin. He's currently serving a jail sentence in Russia for revealing state secrets. But his lawyer says in letters, he's alleged Litvinenko was the victim of a death squad, set up to liquidate Kremlin opponents.

Back in Britain, speculation in the press is rife about the poisonous motives. Was Litvinenko trying to blackmail Russian tycoons? Was he killed for his criticism of the Russian president? It is just speculation.

Photographs have emerged showing Litvinenko next to the murdered Russian Journalist Anna Politkovskaya before his death. Litvinenko claimed he had evidence linking the Kremlin to her killing.

The third figure on the left is Amad Zachiaf (ph), an exiled Chechen leader, now the only surviving member of the trio.

As more sites are scanned for contamination, British officials say they will follow the evidence. And neither politics, nor diplomacy, they say, will obscure the truth.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, as for those allegations that Litvinenko was a blackmailer who was killed by one of his victims, CNN's David Mattingly asked Walter Litvinenko, the victim's father, for his reaction.

They spoke earlier today. It's a 360 exclusive. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I want to make sure I understand. Did your son tell you that he was selling information that he was gathering? Is that how he was making his living?

WALTER LITVINENKO, ALEXANDER'S FATHER (through translator): No. Sasha would never sell information. Now that he is dead, they will start throwing dirt at him.

MATTINGLY: How did you find out that something was wrong with your son?

LITVINENKO (through translator): This last strike on him, they did it on my birthday. All my kids call me on that day, but Sasha didn't. And I immediately felt that there was trouble. I called him. Sasha was in the hospital. He told me with a cheerful voice, dad, don't worry, I'm fine. I didn't ask him why he didn't call me. I figured if the guy was in the hospital, it was something serious. But my soul felt there was trouble.

MATTINGLY: When you went to the hospital, what happened that moment that you first saw him?

LITVINENKO (through translator): When I came to the hospital, he told me not to get near him. Then I didn't understand what he was afraid of. Was he afraid for me? Was he afraid for himself because his immune system had been compromised? But I still approached him. But we didn't exchange kisses.

I asked him, Sasha, what's wrong with you? He said, dad, I need to talk to you about something important.

MATTINGLY: Did your son believe he was safe here in London?

LITVINENKO (through translator): I think he put his guard down, especially after he got his citizenship. He was sure of the might of this country that he was protected by her majesty, the queen, and that they wouldn't touch him, but they killed him.

MATTINGLY: We know that your son believed that President Putin was behind his death. I need to ask you, who killed your son?

LITVINENKO (through translator): I have no doubts who killed my son. He was killed by the secret services on Putin's order. My son was murdered with a nuclear weapon, and the only person who could press that button was the president. Not a single spy, not a single hired assassin would have been able to kill my son if the president had not pressed a button.

Today is December 4th, this is my son's birthday. This morning we watched some home videos and we watched a press conference where he addressed the British government.

He said that there are over 30 agents in the Russian embassy in London and that the British government, they are in danger. Sasha is in danger. His friends are in danger, his family. It is almost as though he felt this was going to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, if in fact Kremlin forces -- or forces within the Kremlin were behind the killing, it wouldn't be the first time.

Whether you're talking about Leon Trovsky (ph) in Mexico with an ice pick, or Ras Putin (ph) back home by arsenic, Russia has a long and storied history of intrigue and assassination. And some argue, a more recent history as well.

With that angle, once again, Matthew Chance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (voice-over): The family had long feared this moment would come. They are grieving. And the woman they lost was an aggressive critic of the Kremlin.

Anna Politkovskaya was an independent journalist. She exposed human rights abuses, regardless of her own safety. Her son told me the years he lived in fear for his mother's life.

I warned her so many times about her investigative reports, he says. I can't say I was against them, but I always begged her to be careful.

She was not poisoned, but gunned down where she lived, left for her neighbors to find. Shortly afterwards in October, we visited the crime scene.

(On camera): Well, this is the dingy Moscow apartment building where Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. She was carrying her shopping home on Saturday afternoon into this elevator. She stepped in, but before the doors could close, a man appeared with a gun and shot her three times in the chest and once in the head. Police say he then threw his gun on the body and made his escape. You can see there is still a bullet hole in the wall of the elevator that went straight through Anna and pierced the metal.

(Voice-over): Security cameras caught glimpses of the killer, but few believe he was anything more than a hired assassin. Despite an international outcry, including a White House appeal, Russian authorities have still not made any arrests.

For years, criminals in Russia have used mafia-style contract hits to settle scores. But recently, there's been an epidemic. Officials say more than 5,000 every year. Some of the victims, high profile establishment figures like Andrei Kozlov, the deputy chairman of Russia's central bank, shot after a football match earlier this year.

In the Russian Far East, the popular mayoral candidate was also gunned down during an election runoff. Police say the assassin used an assault rifle with a silencer.

As for Anna Politkovskaya, she was a determined investigative reporter, especially critical of Russia's president Vladimir Putin. She often traveled to the rebellious Russian Public of Chechnya to document the excesses of Russian forces there.

In London, Alexander Litvinenko was convinced his friend's murder was officially sanctioned. Before he was poisoned, he (UNINTELLIGIBLE) evidence implicating the Kremlin in her death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I can directly answer you, it is Mr. Putin, the president of the Russian federation, who has killed her.

CHANCE: The Kremlin denies involvement in either the shooting or the poisoning. But the journalist, like the former secret agent, had a long history of antagonizing Moscow, and their deaths deliver a chilling message to others who might dare criticize.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, doesn't have the same notorious brand recognition as the institution that replaced the KGB, but Author David Satter believes the two have a lot in common.

David Satter's most recent book is "Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State." He joins me now from Washington.

David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID SATTER, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Thank you.

COOPER: You recently wrote an article with the headline, who killed Alexander Litvinenko, asked Putin, why do you believe that the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency, is likely behind this man's poisoning?

SATTER: Well, they had the motive and they had the means. And no one else had either. So therefore it is hard to imagine that anyone else could have been involved.

COOPER: The motive being because Litvinenko had written this book accusing the FSB, basically that they set these apartment bombings back in the late 1990s?

SATTER: Well, that was undoubtedly one of the reasons. But the fact is that Litvinenko has been a persistent critic of the FSB for many years, beginning in the late '90s when he exposed a plot to assassinate Boris Berezovsky, who was now in exile. At the time he was a leading Russian Oligarch.

So -- and beyond that, there's a tradition in the KGB that you can't leave that organization. And someone who tries to leave can very easily end up dead, because that's a good way to warn all those who remain that they shouldn't try to follow that example.

COOPER: So what do you think happened? Do you think the FSB sent current and/or former operatives to basically give him this poison?

SATTER: Well, of course, I don't know the exact mechanism, but he didn't ingest that poison by accident. And we don't have definitive proof, but all circumstantial evidence points to the FSB as the culprit in this crime.

COOPER: You have written, and Litvinenko wrote also, about those bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999; 300 people were killed. The bombings were blamed on Chechens and led really directly to the second Chechen war. How may that have played out in this case?

SATTER: Well, this is the most serious question facing Russia, because those bombings led to a war which brought Putin into power. So if the bombings were not carried out by Chechens, but on the contrary, by the FSB, then you have the greatest political provocation since the burning of the rive stock (ph). And obviously, the fact that Alexander Litvinenko wrote about this, that he was a former FSB agent, made him very much persona non grata in the eyes of the Russian intelligence. COOPER: Certainly, though, in Russia, I mean assassinations are relatively common in business. And I remember being there in the mid- 90s a lot, and people seemed to be being gunned down left and right. And still to this day, you have assassinations. Isn't it possible some rich businessman is behind it, who Litvinenko was trying to, you know, blackmail or perhaps reveal his having gotten ill-gotten gains?

SATTER: First of all, I don't believe these allegations that Litvinenko was trying to blackmail someone. Someone who stands up the way he did at such great risk to an authoritarian government like the one in Russia, is a completely different personality type than someone who is trying to blackmail oligarchs for money.

There are people who do that, but they are not crusaders. They're interested in money. And Litvinenko was simply not that type of person.

In any case, there is reason enough for the Russian authorities to have wanted to eliminate Litvinenko.

COOPER: So why? What kind of confidence do you have that the Russian authorities are actually going to cooperate with British investigators? They say they will.

SATTER: They say they will and it will be very important to see to what extent they do cooperate. I think that under the circumstances, we have to be very careful about drawing conclusions, either about the FSB or about Putin. All I have ever said is that the evidence points in the direction of the FSB and there are no other likely suspects.

COOPER: But you think there should be sort of a wake-up call to the United States and how we deal with Russia?

SATTER: Absolutely.

COOPER: How so?

SATTER: For 15 years we have ignored the criminalization of Russia. And now the situation has reached the point where it is going to begin to have negative consequences and dangerous consequences for us.

COOPER: I remember President Bush said he looked into the eyes of Vladimir Putin and, you know, read his soul that he was a good person.

SATTER: Every American president makes that mistake in dealing with Russia. I remember when Leonid Brezhnev told Jimmy Carter, God will not forgive us if we fail. And Carter gave him a big hug and kiss. And the picture went all over the world.

The American presidents oftentimes make the mistake of thinking they can charm Russian presidents into ignoring their objectives, and they can't.

COOPER: Hard to charm someone who is in the KGB, I imagine.

David, appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

SATTER: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, the murder weapon, polonium 210. How it attacks the body. 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta has the facts.

Plus, it is a tool that never seems to get old. A look at other famous poison plots.

And the presidential outcome in Mexico gets rough. Check out this brawl. The outrage over this, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Alexander Litvinenko's death was prolonged and agonizing, began with mysterious symptoms that baffled experts at one of London's top hospitals. Then, the poison was identified, but nothing could be done. Days later, the cause of death is still one of the only things we know for sure about this case.

With that, here is 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At first he just feels ill, checks into a hospital. He grows weaker. It could be the flu, an infection, even cancer. But something is different. He's in excruciating pain and he is deteriorating, dying right in front of his doctors.

DR. JOHN HENRY, LITVINENKO'S TOXICOLOGIST: I didn't go into a sort of clear cut investigative mode straight away. And he just had a clinical illness, but then as it progressed, everybody began to think more seriously about this man.

GUPTA: They scratched their heads. They think thallium, a heavy metal and rat poison and even Geiger tests, but all tests are negative. Twenty days later, a blip on a laboratory computer screen, the toxicologist finds radioactive poisoning. But he shows no rashes, no burns, none of the typical signs of severe radiation. Somehow the radioactive poison is already inside him.

HENRY: It's not the kind of tests or the kind of confirmation that you would get in a hospital laboratory. It's the kind of thing that has to be done in a very specialized laboratory.

GUPTA: In 22 days, Alexander Litvinenko went from living and breathing to dead. The now known cause, polonium 210. It's a naturally-occurring radioactive material that can be found in trace amounts virtually anywhere, in soil, in rocks, even in our own bodies.

(On camera): Polonium 210 can be devastating if inhaled or ingested. But as you can see, I'm in this laboratory wearing really no protective gear. In fact, your skin can protect you against polonium in and of itself. I'm going to put these gloves on just for an added layer of protection and take you over to this laboratory over here.

Take a look at this piece of plastic. This is a piece of plastic that has actually been irradiated. And you're not going to believe what's happened to it. I'm going to show you here in just a moment.

(Voice-over): When toxicologists realize the amount of polonium 210 in Litvinenko's body, it set off alarm bells.

DR. CHAM DALLAS, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA TOXICOLOGIST: Alexander Litvinenko died in a relatively short period of time after exposure to that polonium 210. That tells me that he got a very large dose.

GUPTA: And in a large dose is when polonium 210 becomes deadly.

DALLAS: The production of polonium is going to be in very limited number of locations.

GUPTA: Purer, larger amounts of the substance are typically generated with the use of a nuclear reactor. And it's not a substance that patients with symptoms of illness are regularly screened for, but it will show up in urine tests.

(On camera): Without a doubt, we're looking at polonium 210?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, without a doubt.

GUPTA (voice-over): But the problem in finding it is you have to know what you are looking for. But because it hasn't been used as a poison, it's not typically the first suspect when a patient presents with symptoms.

HENRY: I think everybody was shocked. They were really taken aback because nobody expected this particular substance to be what caused the poisoning and what killed him.

GUPTA: Think of that radiation blasting microscopic holes throughout your body, wreaking havoc, mutating everything, even your DNA -- instant cancer.

(On camera): Now, back to that piece of plastic. If you look at this piece of plastic, it looks absolutely solid. But again, it has been radiated. So has the piece of plastic in here at the bottom of this beaker. Look what happens when I turn on -- pour in some water here. It comes straight through. There are tons of holes in that filter just like there would be in your small intestine if it also got radiated.

Does this surprise you at all using polonium 210 as a murder weapon?

DR. BERN KAHN, ENVIRONMENTAL RADIATION: Yes. It's shocking. But I guess if you think about it, it's -- if you really want somebody to suffer terribly before dying, that's, I guess, one thing you could do. GUPTA: You can't see it, smell it, taste it. So the assassin could transport it in a vial or in a plastic bag. Handling it is that simple. But the damage inside the body is devastatingly irreversible.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Here's more raw data on the poison. Polonium was discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie and her husband Philip (ph), and named for Poland, Madam Curie's native country.

Over 25 types or isotopes of polonium are known. All are radioactive and emit alpha rays which were used to trigger the world's first atomic bomb. Polonium 201 has a longer half life than most other forms of polonium, 138 days, making it thousands of times more radioactive than the nuclear fuel used in earlier nuclear bombs.

Of course, there are many types of poisons and many ways to deliver it. From ricin-tipped umbrellas to antifreeze in Jell-o, the bad guys have been finding creative ways to kill for hundreds of years. We'll show you how, coming up.

Plus, another story we're following tonight. The memo. Raising questions about whether outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was really candid with the country in his opinions about the war in Iraq. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It is hard to look or not to look at the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko and not believe the killer meant to send a message. His grizzly, drawn out death by a lethal dose of a radioactive poison is enough to give anyone nightmares.

Murder by poison is a cold-blooded, calculated act of violence that experts say is easy to get away with, though not everyone does.

Here is CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They call him the candy man. But Ronald Clark O'Brien (ph) was anything but sweet. The Texas dad killed his 8-year-old son by poisoning him with cyanide laced pixie sticks after trick or treating. His motive, $20,000 in insurance money.

September 2004, Waltham, Massachusetts. Julie Cowan (ph) died after her husband allegedly slipped antifreeze in her Gatorade. She had a life insurance policy worth a quarter-million bucks. Her husband, charged with first-degree murder, pleaded not guilty and he is awaiting trial.

JOHN TRESTRAIL, TOXICOLOGIST: When you consider that people have to eat, they have to drink and breathe all the time, that is your entrance for this weapon into the body.

KAYE: Poison expert John Trestrail says many killers choose poison because they are usually home free by the time investigators figure out what really happened.

TRESTRAIL: Your chances of getting away with a successful poisoning are phenomenal.

KAYE: During his campaign, Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko fell victim to a yet unsolved plot to kill him with dioxin. He survived, but his face was badly disfigured.

(On camera): Poisoning has been around for centuries. It was in the 8th century an Arab chemist turned arsenic into an odorless, tasteless, undetectable powder, making it an attractive murder weapon.

And by the renaissance, people were selling poison rings, knives, letters, even poison lipstick.

(Voice-over): The U.S. saw more than 147,000 poison-related deaths from 2001 to 2004. Of these, 434 were considered homicides. Were there more? Nobody knows since poisoning deaths often resemble natural deaths.

TRESTRAIL: It is an invisible murder. There's no signs of violence on the victim, no signs of trauma.

KAYE: Trestrail says poison is considered a white man's weapon, even though women use poison, too.

Women like Georgia resident Julia Lynn Womack Turner, the black widow killer. She was convicted of murder after putting antifreeze in her husband's Jell-o in 1995.

Then, of course, there are the mass poisonings. April 2003, more than a dozen members of a church in Maine were poisoned. One man died. Investigators found arsenic in the coffee. The key suspect, a church member, committed suicide.

And don't forget the 1982 Tylenol headache. Someone put Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide on store shelves in Chicago. Seven people died. The case, like so many others, remains unsolved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So, I mean, who are these individuals who poison: Is there a profile of them?

KAYE (on camera): There's somewhat of a profile. I guess you could call it a loose profile. What we do know is that poisoners tend to be serial poisoners or serial killers. We also know that they are very self-centered. They're manipulative. They're greedy. And like most killers, Anderson, they have no regard for human life whatsoever.

So the only way really to catch them, if you work from this profile, is to really treat every death as if it's a poisoning death as long as there aren't any signs of obvious trauma. Treat it like a poisoning death from the start and hopefully they'll be able to catch these killers that way.

COOPER: So bizarre. Randi, appreciate it. Thanks.

We're following several other stories tonight. Coming up, the leaking of a classified memo from outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the war. If you haven't seen it, it is fascinating. The question is, is Rumsfeld trying to save face on the eve of confirmation hearings for his replacement? We'll look at that.

And a melee in Mexico. What led to this brawl? The inauguration of a new president. Thought politics here was tough, man. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The leak of a secret memo from outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to President Bush just days before his resignation has many wondering Rumsfeld's motives. The questions now are, is he trying to present new options for Iraq, even as he prepares to leave the Defense Department or is he simply trying to save face?

Here is CNN's Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Iraq was sliding further into chaos, just before the November election, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent one of his famous snowflakes, a terse, to-the-point memo that falls from the sky, to the White House, calling for, in his words, a major adjustment in U.S. strategy.

In fact, Rumsfeld quoted from his secret missive later that week, right after he had been asked to step down.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It is clear that in phase two of this, it has not been going well enough or fast enough.

MCINTYRE: In the memo, Rumsfeld ruminated about, but stopped short of recommending some radical ideas, which he called illustrative options, such as having U.S. troops only patrol where they are welcome and withholding aid from violent areas of Iraq, the kind of tough-love approach advocated by some of Rumsfeld's political adversaries.

In fact, one suggestion seemed like a line right out of a press release from Democrat and vocal critic John Murtha: "Begin modest withdrawals, ("taking our hand off the bicycle seat") Rumsfeld called it, "so Iraqis have to pull up their socks, step up."

On "The Today Show," Congressman Murtha told NBC's Matt Lauer he felt vindicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW") REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, that's exactly what I said a year ago. And I said, we couldn't win it militarily. And I've said, they -- they have been mischaracterizing and misstating this war for the last two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: This was not the glass-half-full Rumsfeld that people were used to seeing opening the Pentagon briefing with broadsides against what he called overly negative press coverage. And it has critics fuming that Rumsfeld was either in denial or deliberately disingenuous.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It basically says, the primary architect of the war now knows we're losing and headed for defeat unless things change radically.

MCINTYRE: But to his supporters, Rumsfeld's memo, perhaps his last snowflake, was classic Rumsfeld, always questioning and looking for fresh ideas.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I always thought the idea that Secretary Rumsfeld did not listen to others or did not welcome different people's ideas a -- a bad rap.

MCINTYRE: Advocates of a major change in Iraq strategy take heart in the idea that if Rumsfeld had an epiphany, then maybe President Bush will too. But some suggest the memo wasn't simply a belated realization, but a calculated move to protect his legacy.

MICHELE FLOURNOY, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: One possibility is that he doesn't want -- didn't want to go down in the history books as someone who never got it, someone who really didn't understand what was happening.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Will Rumsfeld's lame duck views impact the next moves in Iraq? Well, his aides are suggesting that his thinking may have influenced the Iraq Study Group, whose recommendations come out later this week. But it's also possible that Rumsfeld, seeing which way the commission members were leaning, cleverly beat them to the punch.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Robert Gates, the man tapped to replace Rumsfeld, is going to meet with President Bush tomorrow morning, shortly before his Senate confirmation hearing.

Now, a lot of people in Washington expect or at least hope that Gates will be confirmed. That is, if the past doesn't come back to haunt him.

With that, is CNN's Chief National Correspondent John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Gates is no Donald Rumsfeld. That fact alone has most Senate Democrats ready to put aside past credibility questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My inclination is to be supportive of him, as it is with all cabinet appointees.

KING: The overriding Democratic priority is to get new leadership at the Pentagon. And Gates has helped his cause by promising a far less combative approach than Secretary Rumsfeld.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER REAGAN WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: But Bob Gates is not a lightning rod. He is not a javelin thrower. He's much more a javelin catcher.

KING: But the man whose confirmation seems a cake walk has more than a little controversy in his past.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The important thing with Mr. Gates is whether or not he is independent, whether or not he is going to speak truth to power.

KING: Michigan Democrat Carl Levin was among 31 Senators who voted against Gates' confirmation as CIA director back in 1991. In part, because some colleagues suggested he manipulated intelligence with White House policy. But Levin, in line to be chairman of the committee with direct Pentagon oversight, is also inclined to back Gates this time.

LEVIN: I'm not going to vote no because I voted no 15 years ago.

KING: Gates was in even more hot water two decades ago, an early subject of the criminal investigation of the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra scandal. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North was one of 11 active or retired U.S. officials charged in a scheme to sell weapon systems to Iran and then illegally divert the profits to Nicaragua's contra-rebels.

Gates was a top CIA deputy at the time. And Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh concluded he knew about illegal activities months before he told investigators he first learned.

"Gates was aware of information that caused others to question the legality of North's activities," Walsh concluded. "Like those of many other Iran-Contra figures, the statements of Gates often seem scripted and less than candid." In the end though, Walsh found "insufficient evidence to warrant charging Gates with a crime," and Reagan White House colleagues say he was smeared by an overzealous prosecutor.

DUBERSTEIN: Larry Walsh went overboard on a whole bunch of things to justify his own existence.

KING: At the time, Senate Democrats believed Gates turned a blind eye because he believed North had the president's blessing. SEN. BILL BRADLEY (D), NEW JERSEY: You can't have it both ways. You either should have pursued it and you made a mistake, or there was only flimsy speculation and you should not have pursued it.

KING: Now though, Democrats say their overwhelming focus will be on how Gates would change administration Iraq policy.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: I'll be interested in what Mr. Gates has to say about that. I'll be more interested in that than I will controversies of a generation ago.

KING: Meaning credibility questions of 15 or 20 years ago are likely to be forgiven, even if they are far from forgotten.

John King, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, the Senate confirmation hearing is set to begin in the morning at 9:30 a.m., Eastern. You can watch that here, of course, on CNN.

In Mexico, accusations of fraud in last summer's presidential election have led to protest and violence. Up next, what the new president has to do to unite the country after a bitter election, and the fistfight and chair throwing at the inauguration.

Plus, a big drug maker pulling the plug on trials on an experimental heart medication. Dozens of people died. What it could mean for other patients and for you, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There is an old saying in politics, well, the saying is that politics ain't bean bag. And it sure ain't. Take Mexico -- allegations of corruption in last summer's presidential elections have turned the customary verbal sparring among politicians -- well, turning it into fisticuffs while the world literally watches.

Here is CNN's Rick Sanchez.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Mexico City, an inauguration interrupted by otherwise collegial lawmakers who resort to deafening cat calls, with dignitaries from around the world looking on.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives not knowing what to expect. Former President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are seen looking awe-struck. They watch as one lawmaker is dragged kicking and screaming. Punches are thrown. Across the way, more fistfights. Why? Because many here believe this man, newly elected Philippe Calderon, chosen and backed by outgoing President Vicente Fox, was not elected fairly.

(On camera): Are you convinced that it was a fraudulent election?

You're convinced that Obrador won?

(Voice-over): In fact, it's not just Congressman Camacho, but tens of thousands of Mexicans who believe this man, former Mexico City Mayor Andreas Lopez Obrador, a left-leaning populous, actually won the July presidential election, but was cheated. And since then, his supporters have been venting their anger with unprecedented protests, vowing to stop Calderon from taking office.

They take to the streets. They set up tents. They camp out at busy intersections. Pro-Calderon legislators call the protests outrageous.

(On camera): The main street, the main business corridor -- nobody could pass from one place to another?

The protests were massive. This is one of the busiest business corridors in all of Mexico City. This was blocked for two months. It's the type of protest that certainly got the nation's attention.

(Voice-over): A recount is initiated, an independent election tribunal set up to look into accusations of vote fraud, but none is found. And in August, Calderon is declared the winner.

That brings us to this. It's inauguration day, but opposition forces are determined to stop Calderon from taking the oath of office, even from entering the building. The melee goes on for hours. Finally, the new president sneaks in through a back door, makes his way to the podium, raises his right arm and shouts the oath, barely heard over the cheers of the supporters and the jeers of his opponents.

This is how it was shown on Mexican television. But on this video shot by CNN, you could see just how close the skirmishes were to the podium.

And this is how Calderon's six-year term begins, with a disputed election and a country never so divided between rich and poor. For that, some blame NAFTA, the nearly 13-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. Others blame corruption, which has been going on for even longer. Blame aside, it's now up to this former oil minister to turn down the heat and bring relief to this troubled country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Rick joins us now live in Mexico City tonight.

How can all of this affect politics north of the border, Rick, here?

SANCHEZ (on camera): Well, let me take it back a couple of steps because it's really a bit of a tumultuous effect. But most people who analyze things like this, Anderson, will tell you yes, for the multinationalists, for the people who trade both in Mexico and in the United States, these trade policies are among them included in the NAFTA policy, are good. However -- and here's the problem -- a lot of the farmers in the rural parts of Mexico are really having a tough time competing with the subsidized products north of the border. So what happens? They and the people that they hire end up without jobs because in rural Mexico, they are really having a tough time. So those people move to places like Mexico City, looking for jobs where they really are running out of jobs for them. So then what do they do? They end up going north of the border, into the United States.

So really, it ends up being a bit of a political issue, turmoil in elections here in Mexico, as we saw in my report, and also in future elections in the United States because of the immigration debate that we long have been reporting on.

There you have it, Anderson. Back to you.

COOPER: There it is. There's the link. Rick Sanchez, thanks.

A blow to heart patients nationwide. What the cancellation of a very promising drug trial could mean to you or someone you love. You will want to hear this, next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, heart disease, the leading killer of Americans, is as common as polonium poisoning is rare. Many health professionals have been eagerly awaiting a new drug that the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has been testing. It was designed to raise a patient's so called good cholesterol, the HDL. But now Pfizer has stopped all clinical trials of the experimental drug after it proved too dangerous, even deadly to dozens of patients. It's been a huge blow to Pfizer to be sure, and also really to patients and their doctors around the world.

Earlier I talked to 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Sanjay, Pfizer had invested almost $1 billion in this drug. Why was there so much excitement around it?

GUPTA: It's really quite fascinating, Anderson. They're talking specifically about a drug that actually raises your level of good cholesterol. It's sort of the holy grail in cardiac stuff. I mean, the statin medications, as everyone knows, lowers your bad cholesterol. Very, very important. But would there be a way to sort of raise the good cholesterol? That's what torcetrapib did, this drug was supposed to do. And it did. It actually raised the good cholesterol levels by 50 percent, which was very significant.

And it was phase three clinical trials, which is the phase. They had 15,000 patients. What they did was they gave half of them torcetrapib, plus a statin. They gave the other half just statins, and that's when they started to see trouble. Eighty-two patients who got both drugs died as compared to 51 patients who just received the statin drug died. Now, these are all patients who had heart disease, so they were already sick. But it was significant enough change in the number of deaths to shut down the trial. They did it within 24 hours, so very, very fast.

But you're right. I mean there was a lot of hope pinned on this idea that you could raise the good cholesterols while also lowering the bad cholesterol. It doesn't look like it's going to be the case with this particular medication.

COOPER: Sanjay, how was this drug supposed to work? What was it supposed to do?

GUPTA: Well, let me show you. It's really interesting. Take a little tour through the cardiovascular system here. This is a blood vessel. And these are actually two particles, HDL and LDL. You have an enzyme that actually transports the cholesterol from one particle to the other. What this drug was supposed to do was actually block that enzyme so you would have more cholesterol that'd be good cholesterol and less cholesterol to be bad cholesterol.

Now, the real advantage to that comes when you actually look inside the blood vessel. You have this plaque that can be a real problem. When you raise the good cholesterol, it actually shrinks some of that plaque, allowing more blood to get through the body. That was the hope, and it looked like it worked again in terms of actually raising that good cholesterol. Something went awry, though. They're not exactly sure if by doing this through chemicals through a drug that it somehow caused these deaths or what happened. They're going to be investigating that. But this doesn't look like it's going to be the right mechanism to actually get that good cholesterol higher.

COOPER: Eighty-two people dead in a clinical trial. How unusual is that?

GUPTA: Well, that's the hard part with these clinical trials. You know, you get to phase three, and by this point you're supposed to have tested the safety and the effectiveness, and now you're doing a large number of people to make sure it's as effective in large numbers of people. Unfortunately, deaths are a consequence with these sorts of clinical trials.

I guess it's worth pointing out, Anderson, as you know, these are all patients who had significant heart disease to begin with. And even in the group of patients who didn't receive this medication, 51 people died as compared to 82. So it does happen. But, you know, that's why the clinical trial exists so it doesn't get to the point where it's actually already on the market.

COOPER: And what does this mean for those of us taking statin drugs now, you know, Lipitor or other drugs like that?

GUPTA: I think it makes no difference whatsoever. And I think it's an important point to realize that these are not statin medications that we're talking about today. Torcetrapib was a different class of medications. It was actually designed on the other arm to raise your good cholesterol. So if you're taking statins, keep taking them. There's a very low side effect profile with those. Obviously, talk to your doctor. And wait for more news about these good cholesterol-raising drugs.

I think we're going to see them sometime in the future, soon -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's hope so. Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, out West, high winds and fire. Homes destroyed. Firefighters, trying to get the upper hand. We'll have an update, next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Unbelievable pictures there showing the high winds, image from a wildfire, raging in California.

Randi Kaye has more on that in the 360 news and business bulletin -- Randi.

KAYE (on camera): Hi again, Anderson.

Progress is being made in the battle against a 10,000-acre wildfire north of Los Angeles. The blaze is now 70 percent contained, but five homes and two businesses have been destroyed by the flames.

California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in Ventura County, where Santa Ana winds of up to 70 miles per hour were making it very tough for firefighters.

Houston, next, a jury has convicted a truck driver in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants. You may recall they were found packed inside his unventilated tractor trailer back in May of 2003. The jury must now decide if Tyrone Williams should get life in prison or be put to death.

Three members of a San Francisco family missing for more than a week now have been found alive. A helicopter spotted Katie Kim and her two young daughters in a remote area of Oregon. Rescuers are still looking for Mr. Kim, who took off on foot two days ago to get help. The family was headed home from a vacation when they disappeared.

On Wall Street stocks surged. The Dow gained nearly 90 points, the NASDAQ added 35, and the S&P climbed up 12 points, closing at a new six-year high of 1409. Falling oil prices and news of several mergers, including Bank of New York and Mellon Bank, helped fuel that rally.

In other money news, a stamp once thought to be a rare find, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is definitely a fake. That's according to an expert after reviewing what was believed to be an inverted Jenny stamp on a Florida absentee ballot last month. The experts said wrong colors, a bad print job, and other problems gave it away as a phony. But there was no return address on that ballot, so tracking down the culprit may not be so easy.

COOPER: I knew it was a fake Jenny all of the time.

KAYE: You knew it right away.

COOPER: Yes. Yes.

Have you seen the shot of the day?

KAYE: No, I haven't yet.

COOPER: All right. Check out the shot of the day. Here's some sweet fashion at a chocolate show in Moscow. That's right. Look at that. It's chocolate. Believe it or not, some of the -- well some garments there are kind of edible. There you go. Chocolate -- I don't know, what would one call that, a corset? Is that a chocolate corset?

KAYE: Yes, something like that. I don't know how she got into that thing.

COOPER: I don't know that's -- I guess that's allegedly edible.

KAYE: That, too?

COOPER: Apparently so. I can't believe that's edible, but.

KAYE: So these dresses don't make you look fat, they just make you fat.

COOPER: Badumpa, hey lady. All right. There you go.

Randi, thanks very much. That's of the shot today.

Tomorrow, on "AMERICAN MORNING," be prepared at the airport this holiday season.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 311 of air travel is right here. No container bigger than three ounces, one one-quart Ziploc bag, and one of these per passenger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's so annoying, those little bags. I hate it. Tips for travelers, what you need to know tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," beginning at 6 a.m., Eastern Time, with the O'Brien twins there.

"LARRY KING" is coming up next tonight. The fiancee of the man who was shot to death on his wedding day by New York City police officers joins Larry. We'll see you tomorrow night. Good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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