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Sinking Ship, Leaky Story; Dangerous Waters for Rescue Divers

Aired January 17, 2012 - 20:00   ET



Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest," with the growing questions for the Italian cruise ship captain who apparently ran for lifeboat and got off the wreck while his crew and passengers were still on board fighting for their lives.

Engineers today blew holes in this side of the Costa Concordia. They did it to create new access points for dive teams and other rescuers. Sounds like those crews today spent the day recovering bodies. Five people were found today, bringing the death toll to at least 11, with nearly two dozen people still missing.

Meantime, Concordia's captain Francesco Schettino was in court today where a judge ordered him held under house arrest. He could face manslaughter charges.

Now the captain's story, fair to say, is not holding up well. He claims that he and his crew were the last to abandon ship. He claims that his navigational map did not show the rocks that crippled the Concordia. "Keeping Him Honest," those claims do not stand up to the facts that we already know.

For instance, his passengers and crews were still scrambling down the side of the ship. And this infrared camera where you actually see them. That little trail there. Those are people scrambling down the side of the ship in the middle of the night trying to board lifeboats.

Captain Schettino, we know at this point, he was already safely away, on the phone. He was on the phone with a Coast Guard commander at that time. In tapes released today, he tells them literally, as the scene you're seeing is playing out, that he and his officers are on a lifeboat. When he mentions that he thinks there are still about 100 passengers on board, the Coast Guard commander, he's just stunned. He's flabbergasted.

First, he tells the captain to get his men back on board the ship to take care of the remaining people. Then after a number of excuses from the captain, he pretty much goes ballistic, listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language) I understand. Listen. There are people who are coming down the stem ladder. You must that ladder in the opposite direction. Get on board the ship and you tell me how many people are on board, and what do they have. Clear? You tell me if there are children, women, people with special needs. And you tell me how many there are in each category. Is that clear?

Look, Schettino, you might have been saved from the sea, but I will make sure you go through a very rough time. I will make sure you go through a lot of trouble. Get on board. Damn it.


COOPER: Clearly, Captain Schettino was not on the last lifeboat. His own taped conversation shows that. It confirms in fact that he left passengers and crew behind and knew he left them behind.

As for his claim about the rocks, well, for starters, he should never have been anywhere near them. Take a look. This is where the Concordia was on Friday night. The yellow line is the course it should have taken. The orange line takes it right up to the east coast of this island, Giglio, which is also known for its rocky seaport.

So remember, Captain Schettino claims that the fateful rock was not indicated on his chart and we don't know precisely which rock he hit but if you take a look at the standard navigational map of the area, the one all mariners use, you can see there are many rocks in the area. They're the little dots surrounding that little island Giglio. And the numbers? They indicate extremely shallow water, no place for a cruise ship that size.

So why was it there? Well, for starters, it had been close to there before. This is video from ABC News of an earlier visit from the Concordia. This time they reports that Captain Schettino took his ship past Giglio so that his chief steward who's from that island could wave to his family. Instead islanders witnessed the tragedy and as this view that only gets worse with the time.

Now in a moment we're going to take you under water to show you up close what the Italian rescue divers are going through, what they are facing. It is extremely dangerous and difficult work they're doing right now.

We'll also join shortly by a survivor who describes the panic rush for lifeboat, a helpful crew but no ship's officers or the captain anywhere to be seen.

First, Dan Rivers with a closer look at contradictions in the captain's own story.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The call comes at 1:46 a.m., hours after the evacuation of the Concordia has begun. From the start, Captain Gregorio De Falco of the Italian Coast Guard is dismayed by what he's hearing from Captain Francesco Schettino.


CAPT. FRANCESCO SCHETTINO, COSTA CONCORDIA: Commandant, I've also alerted the company. I'm being told that there are still passengers on board. Apparently they are about 100, I repeat.

DE FALCO: Captain, you are not able to tell me an exact figure? About a hundred people. It seems?

RIVERS: One hundred people still on board according to the captain himself. But listen to what Schettino told Italian television after he was safely ashore.

SCHETTINO: (Speaking in foreign language) We were the last to leave the ship.

RIVERS: But the phone call to De Falco tells a different story. Captain Schettino is ordered at least 10 times to go back on board and oversee the evacuation. He resists.

DE FALCO: Then why don't they get back on board? To monitor the operation and then they can tell us. Thank you.

SCHETTINO: No, it is not possible.

DE FALCO: Send them on board. Send one person on board to coordinate.

SCHETTINO: But I am doing the coordination.

DE FALCO: I'm giving you an order, Captain. You need to send someone on board.

SCHETTINO: We are going on board to coordinate.

DE FALCO: Exactly. You need to get on board to coordinate the evacuation. Is that clear?

SCHETTINO: But we can't get on board now, the ship is now --

DE FALCO: Why did you tell them to get down?

SCHETTINO: What do you mean get down? We abandoned the ship. The ship turned.

DE FALCO: And with 100 people on board you abandon the ship?

RIVERS: Schettino seems to contradict himself again by then saying he did not abandon the ship.

SCHETTINO: I did not abandon any ship with 100 people. The ship skidded. We were catapulted into water.

DE FALCO: We'll see later what happened, OK? Now tell me everything that takes place. Everything. Get on the lifeboat, don't move. Clear?

SCHETTINO: I am going because now there is the other motorboat that has stopped now.

DE FALCO: You go on board. It is an order. You cannot make any other evaluations. You have declared abandoning ship. Now I'm in charge. You get on board. Is it clear?

RIVERS: What's clear is that Schettino had lost control of the situation and was unaware of what was happening on board his own ship.

SCHETTINO: Commandant.

DE FALCO: Are you not listening to me?

SCHETTINO: I'm going.

DE FALCO: Call me immediately when you get on board. Our rescue officer is there.

SCHETTINO: Where is your rescue officer?

DE FALCO: My rescue officer is at the stem. Go.


DE FALCO: There are already bodies, Schettino. Go.

SCHETTINO: How many dead bodies are there?

DE FALCO: I don't know. I know of one. I've heard of one. You are the one to tell me how many there are. Christ.

RIVERS: That one has now grown to more than 10 dead and there are still nearly two dozen missing.

Schettino has never been involved in an accident before and his lawyer says his actions after the crash saved the lives of many of the passengers and crew members. So all eyes are now on the recovery of the ship's data recorders, to see if they might prove Schettino was indeed a hero or a captain who abandoned its ship and its thousands of passengers.


COOPER: Dan, the Italian Coast Guard says they've located a second black box. Do we know when they're going to be able to actually retrieve that and when we actually may get some answers on what happened the night of the crash exactly?

RIVERS: Well, at the moment, they're still saying, Anderson, that they're concentrating on the hunt for the missing and the unaccounted for. But I would guess in the next day also they may be able to get this second black box which they've located. And if they can, then that may give them more information, possibly on board cameras and photos and videos, during the incident to back up some of those radio communications that we've been listening to, to give us a fuller picture of exactly what happened. Because Schettino's lawyer is trying to put this in a very different light, saying, actually, he's a hero. You know after they hit the rock, he deliberately put it onto the shore to give the passengers a better chance of getting out. And he got off the ship and got into a lifeboat because that was the best place to coordinate from.

So there are two conflicting accounts of what happened. One is that a captain, as you say, who completely lost a grip on the situation, another, according to his lawyer, is of the captain, who while he drove the boat on to rocks, then reacted in the right way to get -- to get people off safely.

COOPER: Well, the notion that he could organize better from a lifeboat, that's an interesting concept that his lawyer is floating there. We'll see some other experts have to say.

Dan, appreciate the reporting.

I want to get deeper into what a ship's captain is supposed to do in the event of something like this and what he's supposed to do with the tools on the bridge to stay off the rocks in the first place.

Joining us now is Captain James Staples, who's decades -- who has decades of experience piloting large cargo vessels. Also on the phone is Alex Beach. She was on the Concordia with her husband Arthur Friday night.

Alex, thank you for talking with us. I can only imagine what the last several days have been like for you. How do you view the captain of the cruise ship and his actions as you know them right now?

Alex, can you hear me?

We're having trouble getting in with Alex. Let's go to Captain Staples.

Captain, as you hear that recording between the ship's captain and the Coast Guard, what do you make of what we know of what the captain did so far?

CAPT. JAMES STAPLES, CARGO SHIP CAPTAIN: Well, from what I've seen and heard, I was totally amazed at his actions. It just baffled me how this man could abandon that ship with people on board, not the typical type of thing you would expect from somebody that takes responsibility of preserving life when you're at sea.

COOPER: The argument that his lawyer appears to be making, that he could better organize things from a lifeboat, does that make any sense to you?

STAPLES: No. That makes absolutely no sense to me. It was dark and you have very poor visibility in a lifeboat, you're closer to water. You have no idea of how many people are on board the ship. He should have stayed on board that ship and coordinated the rescue attempts from the vessel. COOPER: The captain has said that he wasn't aware of the rock that he hit. Does it make sense? I mean the whole notion of how far they were off course, does that surprise you? Is there any reason, other than some sort of personal reason, of wanting to wave to people on shore that they would have made that course?

STAPLES: No. That -- I was very surprised that he would do something like that, to deviate from his original voyage plan. It makes absolutely no sense to risk the vessel bringing her into shallow waters and a rocky coast. It just makes no sense at all to do something like that and I that's the part that I have -- I find hard to understand, why somebody would take that risk, especially at night time when visibility is very poor anyways. You can't see what's out there.

And to bring her in that close, he even said he was 300 meters off the beach, and that's not even the turning diameter of that vessel so, you know, he leaves himself no outs for any type of emergency which we saw, and very, very poor judgmental error.

COOPER: Alex Beach is now joining us from the phone, surviving the wreck.

Alex, I -- again, I just can't imagine what the last couple of days have been like for you. When you hear that recording between the ship captain and the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard telling the captain, get back on the ship, what do you right now think of that captain?

ALEX BEACH, SURVIVOR OF CRUISE SHIP DISASTER (via phone): Anderson, I -- hearing this news feed, I am absolutely shocked. Shocked at his behavior. I've heard other reports that he had abandoned ship and all, but this sounds like they had a lot of proof of where he was and what his mindset was.

And it is shocking. As a passenger that was relying on him and the rest of his upper officers to steer this ship, it's quite alarming.

COOPER: You saw a lot of -- and you made a point of mentioning lower level crew members you saw trying to help people as best they could, correct?

BEACH: I certainly did. And I'm talking about our -- the cabin stewards, the people that were -- had been booking excursions, the wait staff, they came to our aid. And they were doing the very best they could.

There was no upper level direction. We had not had a muster station check. My husband and I got in from Barcelona. We had been on the ship five days and had never had a drill where we put on our life vest and went to our muster station. So that being said, when the alarm went off to abandon ship, people just ran for the deck and were trying to jump on any lifeboat they could.

COOPER: Did you know where to go? I mean did you know what to do? You said you hadn't had a practice.

BEACH: No. The announcement that was made told us to go to deck four. We were on deck 10. So we went down in the dark, six flights of stairs, because the electricity was out and when we got to the deck four, I mean, there were hundreds of people there. And there was a crew member there that looked at my vest and my vest had an A on it, and so he said that meant -- he pointed to the A side of the boat. If your vest had a B, you went to the B side of the boat.

We were fortunate because the A side of the boat was the one going into the water and you could still get on lifeboats. Those on the B side of the boat, the boat was so high on that side, that the lifeboats, you couldn't get in them and there was no way they could be dropped down to the water. So --

COOPER: Were people calm? Were people -- I mean we've seen video of people, you know, moaning and some pushing. I've heard details of some people taking other people's life jackets. What did you see?

BEACH: Well, we -- I certainly saw chaos and there was a lot of screaming and pushing and yelling, and it became a situation of every man for themself. And everyone was trying to get in lifeboats and there was just not enough for the passengers that were on the boat.

I -- my husband and I were so fortunate we did, after five tries, get in a lifeboat. We got two of the last nine seats. But I talked to other passengers, once we were on the pier, that had had to jump in and swim. And it wasn't a long distance, but it was night and the water was cold and it was frightening.

COOPER: Well, I mean terrifying to have to jump off a boat into darkness in the water. I mean, it's terrifying.

Captain, if a boat has turned over like this and only one side has lifeboats that can get in the water, what are all the other people who are supposed to get in lifeboats on the other side, they can't launch those boats, right, because they can't get them over the side now?

STAPLES: That's correct. Usually, when a ship heels or lists about 15 to 20 degrees, the gravity davits would are unreleasable, you can't release them, and that's why they would have to go to life rafts where you can probably just throw the life raft off the ship and launch the life raft that way. And that would be --

COOPER: Alex, did they have life rafts?

STAPLES: Yes, they do have life rafts on board, yes. And you can see them in some of the pictures. You can actually see the life rafts hanging on the portside, the side that's exposed. You can see the life rafts are hung up. They tried to launch them on the high side where they probably should have tried to launch them on the low side. But they could have gone to a life raft.

COOPER: So they actually tried to lower the life rafts off the high side of the boat, the part that is sticking out?

STAPLES: That's what it appears to look like, yes. Some of them are hung up and I think a few of them might even have caught up in the hull.


STAPLES: So -- but these life rafts are generally made that you can just pick them up and throw them over the side and they have a cord, that when the line extends, it just bursts open and the life raft inflates.

COOPER: Captain Staples, I appreciate it.

Alex, what's your advice for somebody caught in a situation like this? I mean this is everybody's worst nightmare. What's your advice?

BEACH: Well, it certainly is everyone's worst nightmare. I, in the future, would look at the cruise line you were taking and look at their safety record. We have found out since that this was not the first accident that Costa Cruise Line had had, and we were certainly unaware of that.

COOPER: Right.

BEACH: So I think that would be the first step. And then the second is, know that in the first hour you get on the ship, you should have your muster drill and pay very close attention.

COOPER: It's good advice.

BEACH: Too often, we just dismiss that and say, well, that will never happen.

COOPER: Right.

BEACH: But when it happens, you know you needed to have paid attention.

COOPER: Yes. Alex Beach, I'm so glad you and your husband are OK. Thank you very much for talking with us.

Again, Captain Staples, thanks.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook and Google Plus. Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.

UP next, rescue veteran Butch Hendrick takes us deep under sea inside a shipwreck just to show us right now what the Italian divers are dealing with in their search for survivors and for victims.

And later, fireworks at the Republican debate last night. Mitt Romney making a new claim about his record on job creation. We'll put it to the test. "Keeping Him Honest" ahead. Let's also check with Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, we both fly a lot. So imagine this. You're on board a jumbo jet high above the Atlantic when a voice comes over the PA system telling you that everyone on board might only have a few minutes left to live.

No need to actually imagine that, it actually happened. The panic that surged on the British Airways jet and the anger it sparked when 360 continues.


COOPER: A glimmer of hope. That's all an Italian official says he can offer to families of people still missing in the wreck of the Concordia. Divers are doing what they can in a really hostile environment. They're making their way through the equivalent of a topple skyscraper in shifting dark and deadly waters. Imagine that. Just visualize that.

Last night we talked to Butch Hendrick of Life Guard Systems, told us that the process, the rescue then recovery, could take weeks. Tonight, he's going to show us why.


BUTCH HENDRICK, LIFE GUARD SYSTEMS: We start tying a line off on the outside of the vessel. Then that will be run, with me, attached to me, into the first compartment we're going to enter. And every time I make a turn, I'm going to do a tie off, so what ends up happening is at no point do I have compromised my safety line that's going to take me back out.

Right now what we've done, if you will, is that I came in straight into from the tie-off point outside. I'm not going to make a complete 90-degree left turn to into -- further up into the wreck. To do that, I can't just let my line, my tracer, I can't allow it to make turns around pillars where it could get caught.

So what we've done is we've gone directly interior, straight, tied off, and now I make a perfect right -- sorry, left angle turn, at 90, to go straight into the next -- the next compartment. Looking at the most recent pictures from CNN on TV, the visibility right now inside the ship in Italy is really quite nice.

We've got good visibility until they really get deeper in where they lose all their light. I'm sure they're getting ready -- as the real commercial crews get in there, they'll start setting this. Anybody who's going into a compartment or down companion ways that they cannot see outside the ship, we've silted this out on purpose to see -- give you an opportunity to see how fast. One second everything is clear, and in a matter of seconds, with a physical motion, the whole place is silting out.

In the depth the cruise ship is in, some of that is probably going to be done in 15, 20 feet of water. So if they take their time and relax, they could easily be in there for an hour or so. And if you're on surface supply, they could be in there for two or three hours in those depths. And it might be -- I've got to go into a -- the bathroom sections, I've got to into the bedroom section. They might have had a sitting room section.

So usually you think about coming in right, working right, coming out.


COOPER: Those are Butch Hendrick and crew at a wreck site off the Atlantic coast of Florida. He joins us now.

It's fascinating to see just how, you know, labor-intensive this is. You can't just, you know, go through room to room. You've seen the latest pictures of the divers going through the wreckage. What really jumps out at you from it?

HENDRICK: I'm sorry?

COOPER: What really jumps out of you? What sticks out as you see those pictures? What do you think the toughest thing for them is right now?

HENDRICK: Well, I think the toughest thing is going to be, one, is getting yourself to separate from the tragedy. They have to realize it's time go to work and next is the debris and things that are going to be front of them that's very difficult to pre-plan. There's going to be all kinds of debris around them.

COOPER: I hadn't actually thought of that. Of course, in all the rooms all the stuff is just going to be floating around and obscuring their vision. What -- how long do you think this could take? Because you were saying if they use surface air, they can stay under the water longer. But divers are still limited in the amount of time they can spend under water each day, aren't they?

HENDRICK: They're going to be limited but they're not diving deep at the moment so because of the depth, they can spend hours under there working. It's really going to be how long can they keep them warm and how much debris do they have to move out of the way to keep the process going forward.

COOPER: You were diving in a wreck that was basically standing up. The Costa Concordia is this massive cruise ship that's on its side. For me, the idea of it being -- you know, visualizing it as a skyscraper, you know, half submerged in water it kind of helps me understand just how complex this is. Because it's a warrant of rooms and floors that they've got to go through room to room.

HENDRICK: That's correct, Anderson. And what's going to happen, they're going to have to constantly reorient their brain to the position of the walls now are floors and so forth. Otherwise, they start to get a little complacent, because you start working and all of a sudden you forget that the door is no longer in a position it needs to be on a normal day. They realize that the way the debris is set up, how you're going to move it.

And some of these items like tables, beds, they're bolted down. So what's going to happen there is they're going to be sticking out from the side. They're not just going to be sitting in a normal position.

COOPER: Ultimately, do you know what they'll do with a ship like this? I mean I know this is not your area of expertise. But what do you do with a ship this size once it's been cleared?

HENDRICK: You've got Schmidt, the company from Rotterdam that's coming in and they are probably the best in the world. They're going to figure out how to patch it in certain portions and they'll start pumping the water out faster than it can get in and they will remove it.

COOPER: And realistically at this point, is -- I mean is there a chance people are still alive?

HENDRICK: I'm sorry to say this, but I don't -- I don't believe there are. I'm sorry, Anderson.

COOPER: Just given the amount of time, the temperature of the water, the difficulty.

HENDRICK: I think you have to look at several issues. One of is just the hypothermia. If a compartment is flooded, even if there was air, at this point, most of them would have succumbed to the hypothermic problem of the water temperature. And second, what is the air supply in a closed area if you can't continue to get some sort of refreshed air. They're going to be running out of oxygen and refreshing it with their own CO2.

COOPER: Nearly two dozen people still missing at this point, unaccounted for.

Butch Hendrick, again, I appreciate calling on your expertise. Thank you, Butch of Life Guard Systems. Thanks.

Another major challenge as Butch mentioned is cleaning up the wreckage of the cruise ship. The ship had more than 2,000 tons of fuel on board at the time of the wreck. So far, Costa Cruises says there's no evidence that is leaking into the sea, that's another possible disaster waiting to happen. We'll continue to follow that.

Also tonight, the Republican candidates facing off in a debate in South Carolina with jobs taking center stage, with some fuzzy math. Here comes the facts. We're "Keeping Them Honest."


COOPER: It could be days or weeks before divers locate the last of the victims aboard the "Costa Concordia." In the meantime, it's sitting perhaps teetering on a ledge under sea.

There are thousands and tons of diesel fuel in the hull, water damage, impact damage and maybe, a total loss. By now, you probably have seen pictures of places on the coast of Indian Bangladesh where vessels are taken to be broken down.

As remarkable as this looks, we're nowhere close to that with Concordia. Nowhere close to knowing whether to total loss or can even be safely refloated as you just heard both mentioning.

Tom Foreman has been looking into the possibilities and the dangers. He joins me now -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, first, of course, you have to get past the human tragedy. But once that happens, the first thing that will happen with naval architects, engineers, divers, the whole salvage team, they will come in here and want to see how much damage was done.

And if this ship is seaworthy, they must assess the danger of working this close to shore and potentially heavy surf. They decide if they can tow it out of these shallow waters and if they can get it afloat again.

And then importantly, is it worth it? This is something you have to consider. Because remember this is a ship that has some enormous fancy rooms on it, with casino, and it's got restaurants.

It's got fancy staterooms, all of these going on, on board the ship. All of which makes it a question as to whether or not they would want to salvage the ship afterwards because it would be hugely expensive -- Anderson.

COOPER: And they have to do all this while operating in what's potentially a crime scene.

FOREMAN: Yes, I mean, that's really what makes it complex. They have to be mindful of that and of environmental concerns too so that's their second task, danger removal.

Work boats are going to have to pump out thousands of gallons of fuel on board as you mentioned a minute ago. I wanted to show you this. This is a picture from earlier today where they put actual oil booms to protect the town and coast in case there is a leak there. This is a big, big job and while they are doing this, I want to point out.

They also have to look out for the stabilization of the ship itself. When you take that fuel out, it's going to become -- shifting its weight. Things are going to change. That could make the whole thing roll again a different way.

And if they're going to refloat it, of course, they are going to have to repair those gigantic holes in the side of it -- Anderson.

COOPER: These sound like huge jobs especially with a ship that's more than twice as big as the "Titanic." Do we know how long it could take? FOREMAN: Yes, the first two steps, once we get past the investigation part, the first two steps alone could take a month or maybe two, depending on the weather, but then comes the really, really difficult third part of all of this.

They are going to have to reclaim all these flotation chambers down underneath the ship, pumping out all of the sea water that's in here as Butch mentioned a minute ago and replacing it with air. They will probably do it one at a time.

Working toward this dangerous moment when this whole massive tonnage, if it works, will lift up and float free again. In all likelihood, this step will involve doing this, bringing in some great big powerful barges out here.

And attaching cables to the top of the ship to pull away from the shore and making sure it rights itself instead of having all that air turn it even more the other way. This is a huge, huge dangerous job.

If they can get it done, then it can be towed to a port for repair or even cut up depending on what they want it to do if it can't really go back into service. But I mention, however, that if they can do none of that, if you simply cannot get this thing to move from this position.

It's too dangerous. It's too close to shore, all of this then what the salvage experts I talked at Global Diving and Salvage and the American Salvage Association said everything above the water would be cutaway and then they would use immense wire saws to cut down the hull like a loaf of bread and each slice would be hauled away. That could take a year, maybe more -- Anderson.

COOPER: It's fascinating. Tom, appreciate it. Let's get the latest now on some other stories we're following. Isha is back with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, an opposition group in Syria says 28 more people were killed across the country today including four defecting soldiers. Meanwhile, a defective from the Syrian parliament warns that President Bashar Al-Assad will stop at nothing to crush efforts to get him to step down.

The man accused of shooting a rifle outside the White House has been indicted on 17 charges. Oscar Ramiro Ortega Hernandez has been in jail since November when he allegedly fired at the White House. No one was injured and the president was out of town.

Lindsay Lohan has received another good progress report on her probation. The judge said her community service work at the L.A. County morgue and visits to a psychologist are right on track. No could be off probation by the end of March.

And celebrity chef, Paula Deen, has confirmed she has type 2 diabetes. On the "Today" show, Deen said she was diagnosed three years ago, but wanted to keep it private for a while.

Deen is now working as a paid spokesperson for a pharmaceutical company that makes a drug to treat diabetes. She says she will continue working doing her show, but will feature diabetes and living with it now.

COOPER: We wish her the best. Just ahead, Isha, the claims and counterclaims are flying at last night's Republican debate, how did they actual hold onto the facts? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also ahead, the stunning admission on the murder of a 7-year-old girl in Georgia. Details ahead.


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight. At last night's Republican debate in South Carolina, just five candidates faced off after Jon Huntsman dropped out of the race. Hours earlier, endorsed Mitt Romney.

The field may have been smaller, but a lot of the claims made last night were as big as ever and keeping them honest, some fell short of the facts. The economy was front and center last night.

Here's what frontrunner Mitt Romney said about President Obama's record on jobs.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got a president in office three years and he does not have a jobs plan yet.


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest," that's not true. Like them or not, President Obama has in fact proposed plans to create jobs. The stimulus package included direct funding for new jobs. More recently in September he introduced the latest jobs plan in a speech to a joint session of Congress.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It's called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation.


COOPER: None of that plan, almost none of that plan has been passed into law. President Obama stumped extensively to build support for. Again, you can like what it's in it or not, but you can't deny that his plan at least exists.

In the meantime, Romney supersized a claim he's made before about his own record as a jobs creator. Here's what he said about his time as a corporate buyout specialist at Bain Capital, a venture capital firm that he founded.


ROMNEY: I got a chance to start a business of my own and four of the companies that we invested in. They weren't businesses I ran, but we invested in ended up today having some 120,000 jobs.


COOPER: Romney went on to say that number, 120,000 wasn't a net number. He said that some businesses his firm invested in failed and jobs were lost as a result.

He also said the record of all the jobs gained and lost from those investments is available for anyone to look at. "Keeping Them Honest" as we noted many times, there's no hard evidence to back up his claim.

A lot of people have been crunching numbers on this including us and we still haven't seen hard proof. It may not be possible to figure out the actual number. Romney himself has been all over the map on this. Here's what he said six days ago.


ROMNEY: People here in the state know that in the work that I had we started a number of businesses, invested in many others and that overall, created tens of thousands of jobs so I'm pretty proud of that record.


COOPER: Tens of thousands, then, a week earlier, his claim was much bigger. Take a look.


ROMNEY: I'm very happy that in my former life, we helped create over 100,000 new jobs.


COOPER: That was on January 3rd, over 100,000. In a new ad that Romney's campaign released last Friday, that claim got scaled back. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney helped create and ran a company that invested in struggling business, grew new ones and rebuilt old ones, creating thousands of jobs. Those are the facts.


COOPER: They're now saying 120,000 jobs, a new number. His biggest and most precise claim yet. No direct evidence to back it up. A lot of big claims were made last night, and not just by Mitt Romney.

Let's dig into raw politics with CNN political contributor and President George Bush's White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer and also Democratic strategist, Cornell Belcher. He's a pollster from Obama's 2012 campaign.

So, Cornell, what struck a lot of people -- a lot of people paid attention to, in exchange Newt Gingrich had with the moderator, Juan Williams. I just want to listen to part of it.


JUAN WILLIAMS, MODERATOR: I got to tell you, my e-mail account, my Twitter account has been inundated with people all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.

You saw some of this reaction during your visit to a black church in South Carolina. You saw some of this during your visit to a black church in South Carolina, where a woman asked you why you referred to President Obama as the food stamp president. It sounds as if you're seeking to belittle people.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.

Now, I know among the politically correct, you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable. So here's my point. I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness.

And if that makes liberals unhappy, I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job.


COOPER: When you saw that, Cornell, what did you think?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I thought it was dog- whistle politics at its worst. I mean, let's be clear. We know exactly what Newt Gingrich is talking about when he goes in places in the deep south and talks about food stamps and black people wanting -- should demand checks not handouts.

You know, for African-Americans to be lectured on work ethic, after Americans who spent more of their tears and blood laboring in this country for free for -- without profit than any other group in this country, for us to be getting lectured about a work ethic from Newt Gingrich is a little over the top.

COOPER: You're saying dog-whistle politics. You're saying this was code words?

BELCHER: Absolutely, it's code words. I mean, look, we like to have these polite conversations like we all don't know exactly what Newt Gingrich is -- it's the same sort of language and welfare queen, same sort of racially coded language that speaks to the racially adverse in our electorate. It's strategic and knows exactly what he's doing and trying to win an election in a very cynical way?

COOPER: Ari, was it intended? Was it dog-whistle politics? What do you make of it?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Let me try to make some points out of this and calm things down because I think this is obviously a sensitive issue, and it should be any time you're talking about how to help people who suffer and who need help the most, it's going to enter into these areas.

This is the second time I've been on the show with Cornell. Earlier, he said that Herman Cain was a racist. Now, he's saying Newt uses these terms as he put it. What I hear, Anderson, is actually the opposite.

Oversensitivity that starts to accuse Republicans who are saying the solutions to the most intractable poverty problems are found in the private sector and the government needs to do more to put people in private sector program, less reliance on federal programs that have turned out to be a trap and not a safety net.

That's a conversation America needs to have. I do think Newt could do it in a less polarizing fashion. The history of Newt Gingrich has been to polarize people although his ideas are so sound when it comes to this.

Both sides need to listen to each other, not attack the motives of one another if we're really going to help people suffering and in poverty. Questioning people's motives trying to help is only going to divide people.

I think there's too great a sensitivity about people, who just say Republicans are evil, Republicans are racist, Republicans are wrong. That's hurtful and that's just as wrong.

COOPER: Cornell.

BELCHER: Well, you know, I agree with my friend, Ari. I wish I had the confidence. By the way, I never called Herman Cain a racist.

FLEISCHER: You sure did.

BELCHER: I said his language was bigoted. I never called him actually a racist. I understand the difference.

COOPER: We'll have a tape. It's easy.

BELCHER: I never called him racist. I did say he was bigoted because I do understand the defensive between racism and bigotry. But you are right on that, Ari. However, so many of us understand the history in this country this sort of language has been used without question to divide whites from black. I hope we're at a point we can get beyond that, but some of us are suspect when we hear this language over and over again, especially in places with South Carolina with audiences that the history says we have to be suspicious of this sort of language in that context.

COOPER: Cornell, was there something about the tenor of the exchange or the words used in the exchange that particularly caught your attention?

BELCHER: Well, there's so much of it. I mean, one other thing, for Republicans to be criticizing Democrats for class warfare, what's class warfare when you start talking about a food stamp president, quite frankly?

What's class warfare when you talk about entitlement programs that help the poor and elderly? Some people pointed out how he used Juan's first name, how he exaggerated Juan's first name and played to the crowd there.

I don't know if it's true or not. I do know when you start talking about black people looking for handouts and welfare queens and food stamp presidents.

That triggers a very, very coded time old thing in politics in America, especially in the south where we have to be suspicious of. When you get this sort of reaction from that crowd there, I think we have a right to be suspicious of it.

COOPER: Ari, do you believe code words are used by politicians in this sense?

FLEISCHER: Not in the context in which it's being talked about tonight. I don't think there was anything cody about it. I think Newt Gingrich is actually making a very important point how to help people in poverty.

The way to get those people help is as Newt talked about through private sector programs and reliance on the private sector. The problem is there's such a reliance particularly on the Democratic Party the solution is more government spending and federal programs.

And that created the trap that led to intergenerational poverty and has hurt people more than lifting people up. That's a good debate to have. I think when you hear Rick Santorum talking about family breakdown is lending itself to poverty throughout all race.

It is an important debate for America to have because is the how we can get lift people up and get destructive behaviors stop, particularly when men walk out on women and have babies and make those women raise those babies in such a difficult fashion, white, black, it doesn't matter the race, makes it so much harder for them to be successful.

There's not a government program or spending program that's a solution to that. Republicans are talking about those issues and talking about them because they care about people poor and don't think the government has helped them, the government has trapped them. That's an important debate to have.

I'm proud to be on Newt's side and the Republican's side on that issue. I do think it's important to use the words that invite people in, though, to solve this, not to push people apart. I think newt has sometimes used words that push people apart. Cornell often uses words that push people apart. That's not how you solve the problem.

BELCHER: Ari, I don't know what words I've used to push people apart. Actually, I'm a little offended by that.

FLEISCHER: Saying Newt's using code words and racist.

BELCHER: I never called Herman Cain a racist. I did say he was bigoted. We'll come back and show the tape I didn't call him a racist.

If you look at what he said and history behind that, we can't ignore that history. If Newt Gingrich had simply said poor people, he didn't say poor people.

He pointed to black people and said black people. He was doing that on purpose. If he had said poor people, I had no problem with it.

FLEISCHER: I think the issue here was he referred to the president as food stamp president and that sparked the sensitivity.

BELCHER: He called black people out for wanting demanding not welfare checks but jobs, so there's a whole line of things right here we can call him into question about. I'm not the one calling names, I'm pointing out what he's saying.

FLEISCHER: Newt's remarks last night were about the poor. Has that's how Newt said it. Cornell, I don't think you heard that right.

BELCHER: Well, I think we can look back from his statements earlier about black people and work and about welfare. There's a pattern here.

COOPER: You're saying there's a history to it, not just what he said last night. Cornell, I appreciate it. Ari Fleischer as well, we'll continue the conversation.

Still ahead, British Airways apologizing for mistakenly telling passengers they were going to make an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean. They're saying sorry now. Details on that ahead.


COOPER: Let's check in with Isha again in our "360 News and Business Bulletin -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, the suspect in the kidnapping and murder of a 7-year-old Georgia girl has pleaded guilty to the charges and faces life in prison without parole. Maintenance worker, Ryan Brone, admitted he lured the victim into an empty apartment and killed her. Her mangled body was found in a trash compactor three days after she disappeared.

In Orange County, California, prosecutors will seek the death penalty in their case against this man who's accused of stabbing four homeless men to death. The district attorney called him a vicious killer. A friend of the Marine says he seemed depressed after returning from service in Iraq.

British Airways is apologizing to passengers after mistakenly playing a frightening message during a flight from Miami to London Friday night. Passengers were told they would be making an emergency landing on water, causing panic.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

Coming up, right now our "360" winners. Tonight's photos, Newt Gingrich at a town hall meeting in South Carolina. Our staff winner, Kirk has captioned, I can see Tiffany's from my house. Newt Gingrich hasn't quite mastered Tebowing yet. Your "360" t-shirt is on the way. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We ran out of time for "The Ridiculist." We will play it for you tomorrow night. See you again at 10:00 tonight Eastern Time. "PIERS MORGAN" starts now.