Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

American Prisoners of North Korea Released; Inside North Korea's Camp 14 with Shin Dong-hyuk in "60 Minutes"; Chase Merritt Charged in Murdering McStay Family; ISIS Leader Reportedly Killed in Iraq Airstrike; Winter Coming Early to U.S.; 45 Years to Sesame Street; Reorganizing Veterans Administration

Aired November 10, 2014 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good evening. Thanks for joining us tonight.

A crucial question in a battle against ISIS. Did the U.S. let airstrikes hit their biggest target, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And if they did, how big of a setback is it from terror group?

We'll look at that tonight.

Plus a "CNN exclusive". A father who lost his son, his daughter in law and two young grandsons, speaks out for the first time about the family friends now charged with their murders. The family friends who spoke to CNN.

We begin though with North Korea and the reality that the return of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller does not a raise. Over the weekend the two American were freed and reunited with their families after a secret mission by James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence. Bae and Miller were the last Americans known to be held in North Korea.

According to the State Department, Clapper's visit came after North Korea contacted the U.S. Government unexpectedly about two weeks ago. He delivered a letter addressed to Kim Jong-un, who did not knew that North Korean leader. Now U.S. officials credit China for helping secure the released in Beijing today where he is attending a summit. President Obama talked about the successful mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, I'm incredibly thankful to Jim Clapper for the efforts that he made and I couldn't be happier for the families as we enter the holidays to know that their loved ones are back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: President Obama also said the released of Bae and Miller did not signally fall in U.S. and North Korean relation, saying that could only happen if North Korea abandoned its nuclear weapon programs.

Now some analyst believe that a recent U.N. report documenting North Korea's human rights abuses may have prompted the release of the Americans. In their report, they say his trigger concerns the Kim Jong-Un could face an indictment by the International Criminal Court. Nothing though could erase North Korea's records of human rights abuses.

The people of North Korea live in appalling conditions with tens of thousands living in essentially concentration camps. The most notorious of this prison camp is a camp called Camp 14. In this report that first aired on "60 minutes," I talked with someone that did the nearly impossible. He escaped from a Camp 14, a camp he himself, was actually born in. He's the only person known to be born into this camp who has actually gotten out alive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Did anybody ever explain to you why you were in a camp?

SHIN DONG-HYUK, ESCAPED FROM CAMP 14 NORTH KOREA (through translator): No, never. Because I was born there, I just thought those people who carried guns were born to carry guns. And prisoners like me were born as prisoners.

COOPER: Did you know America existed?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Not at all.

COOPER: Did you know that the world was round?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I had no idea if it was round or square.

COOPER (voice-over): Camp 14 was all that Shin Dong-hyuk he'll says he knew for the first 23 years of his life. These satellite images are the only glimpse outsiders have ever gotten of the place. Fifteen thousand people are believed to be imprisoned here, forced to live and work in this bleak collection of houses, factory, fields and mines surrounded by an electrified fence.

Growing up, did you ever think about escaping?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): That never crossed my mind.

COOPER: That never crossed your mind?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): No, never. What I thought was that the society outside the camp would be similar to that inside the camp.

COOPER: You thought everybody lived in a prison camp like this?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Yes.

COOPER: Shin told us that this is the house where he was born. His mother and father were prisoners whose marriage, if you could call it that, was arranged by the guards as a reward for hard work.

Did they live together? Did they see each other every day? DONG-HYUK (through translator): No. You can't live together. My

mother and my father were separated. And only when they worked hard could they be together.

COOPER: Did they love each other?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I don't know. In my eyes, we were not a family. We were just prisoners.

COOPER: How do you mean?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): You wear what you are given, you eat what you are given and you only do what you're told to do. So there is nothing that the parents can do for you and there is nothing that the children can do for their parents.

COOPER: This may -- this may be a very dumb question, but did you even know what love was when you were for the first 23 years of your life?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I still don't know what that means.

COOPER: Love may have been absent, but fear was not. In this building, a school of sorts, Shin says he watched his teacher beat a girl to death for hoarding a few kernels of corn. A violation of prisons rules which he and the other students were require to learn by heart.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): If you escaped, you would be shot. If you try to escape or planned to escape, you would be shot. Even if you did not report someone who was trying to escape, you would be shot.

COOPER: The shootings took place in this field, he says. The other prisoners were required to watch. As frightening as the executions were, Shin considered them a break from the monotony of hard labor and constant hunger. The prisoners were fed the same thin gruel of cornmeal and cabbage day in and day out. They were so hungry, Shin says, they ate rats and insects to survive.

COOPER: So for 23 years, you were always hungry?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Yes, of course. We were always hungry and the guards always told us, through hunger, you will repent.

COOPER: Which Shin and his family were repenting for probably dates back to the Korean War when two of his uncles reportedly defected to the south. Shin believes that's why his father and grandfather were sent to Camp 14 and why he was supposed to live there until he died. North Korea's first dictator Kim Il-sung instituted this practice of three generations of punishment back in the 1950's.

DAVID HAWK, HUMAN RIGHT INVESTIGATOR: The idea is to eliminate this lineage, to eliminate the family on the theory that if the grandfather was a counterrevolutionary, the father and the grandsons would be opposed to the regime as well. COOPER: David Hawk is a human rights investigator, who's interviewed

dozens of former prisoners and guards from the six political prison camps operating in North Korea today.

HAWK: The largest number of people in the prison camps are those who are the children or grandchildren of people considered to be wrong- doers or wrong thinkers.

COOPER: I never heard of anything like that.

HAWK: It's unique in the 20th or 21st century. Mao didn't do it. Stalin didn't do it. Hitler of course, tried to exterminate entire families, but in the post World War II world, it's only Korea that had this practice.

COOPER: North Korea denies it has any political prisons, but refuses to allow outside observers to inspect Camp 14 and other sites.

There is no other way to verify all the details of Shin's story. Do you believe his story?

HAWK: Sure, his story is consistent with the testimony of other prisoners in every respect.

COOPER: There is also physical evidence he carries around with him to this day. The tip of his finger is missing. He says it was chopped off as punishment when he accidentally broke a machine in a prison factory. He also has serious scars on his back, stomach and ankles, which he was willing to show us, but embarrassed to show them on camera. He says he received those wounds here in an underground torture center. He was tortured because his mother and older brother were accused of trying to escape. He was just 13 years old at the time.

Did they think that you were involved in the escape?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I'm sure they did.

COOPER: How did they torture you?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): They hung me by the ankles and they tortured me with fire and from the scars that I have the wounds on my body, I think they couldn't have done more to me.

COOPER: Shin says he tried to convince his interrogators; he wasn't a part of the escape plot. He didn't know if they believe them until one day when they took him to that field used for executions.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): When I went to the public excision site, I thought that I might be killed. I was brought to the very front. That's where I saw my mother and my brother being dragged out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Seeing his mother and brother dragged out. And what happen next is beyond imagination. Part two of my interview with Shin is just ahead.

Plus, I'll talk with journalist Laura Ling, who was detained in North Korea for months, four months before she was freed. All that times, she says she lived in fear of being sent to a hard labor camp. More than four months there. We'll talk to her ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In a moment, part two of my interview with Shin Dong-hyuk, a survivor North Korea's notorious Camp 14, a prison camp, a concentration camp essentially where generations of families are born and die. They defy possible odds by actually escaping. My interview with Shin first day on "60 minutes".

Tonight, in the wake the released for Americans Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, Shin's account of life inside Camp 14 is we think an important reality check on what life is like for tens of thousands of North Koreans.

Before the break, you heard Shin describing taken to an execution site of Camp 14 where he saw his mother and his brother being brought out. Here's what happened next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONG-HYUK (through translator): When I went to the public execution site, I thought that I might be killed. I was brought to the very front. That's where I saw my mother and my brother being dragged out. And that's when I knew that it wasn't me.

COOPER: How would -- how did they kill your mother?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): They hung her and they shot my brother.

COOPER: He speaks of it still without visible emotion and admits he felt no sadness watching his mother and brother die. He thought they got what they deserved. They had, after all, broken the prison rules.

BLAINE HARDEN, WASHINGTON POST JOURNALIST: He believed the rules of the camp quite possible.

COOPER: Blaine Harden is a veteran foreign correspondent, who first reported Shin's story in the "Washington Post" and later wrote a book about his life.

COOPER: He had no compass by which to judge his behavior.

HARDEN: He had a compass. But the compass were the rules of the camp. The only compass he had. And it was only when he was 23 when he met somebody from the outside that that started to change.

COOPER: When he met Park?

HARDEN: When he met Park. COOPER: Park was a new prisoner, Shin says, he met while working in

Camp 14's textile factory. Unlike Shin, Park had seen the outside world. He lived in Pyongyang and traveled in China. And he began to tell Shin what life was like on the other side of the fence.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I paid most attention to what kind of food he ate outside the camp.

COOPER: What kind of food had he eaten?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): A lot of different things, broiled chicken, barbeque pig. The most important thing was the thought that even a prisoner like me could eat chicken and pork if I were able to escape the barbed wires.

COOPER: I've heard people define freedom in many ways. I've never heard someone define it as broiled chicken.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I still think of freedom in that way

COOPER: Really? That's what freedom means to you?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): People can eat what they want. It could be the greatest gift from God.

COOPER: You were ready to die just to get a good meal.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Yes.

COOPER: He got his chance in January, 2005, when he says he and Park were gathering firewood in this remote area near the electrified fence. As the sun began to set, they decided to make a run for it.

HARDEN: As they ran towards the fence, Shin slipped in the snow, at the snowy ridge, fell on his face. Park got to the fence first and thrust his body between the first and second strand and pulled down that bottom wire and was immediately electrocuted.

COOPER: How did you get past him?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I just crawled over his back.

COOPER: So you climbed, you literally climbed over him?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Yes.

COOPER: He was a fugitive now in rural North Korea on the run in one of the poorest most repressive countries in the world. But that's not how it seemed to him.

COOPER: What did the outside world look like?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): It was like heaven. People were laughing and talking as they wanted. They were wearing what they wanted. It was very shocking.

COOPER: How did you manage to get out of North Korea?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): I was just trying to get away from the camp and I ended up going north. And on the northern side, people talked a lot about China.

COOPER: Did you know where China was?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): No, not at all. It just happened that the way I was going was towards the border.

COOPER: With amazing luck and conning, Shin managed to steal and bribe his way across the border and quietly work his way through China, where he would have been sent back if he was caught. In Shanghai, he snuck into the South Korean consulate and was granted asylum.

In 2006, he arrived in South Korea with not a friend in the world. He was so overwhelmed by culture shock and post-traumatic stress, he had to be hospitalized.

More than seven years later, it's remarkable how far Shin's come. He's 30 now. He's made friend and built a few life for himself in Seoul, South Korea. But old demons from Camp 14 are never far behind and Shin now admits there was something he was hiding. Two years ago, he finally confessed to author Blaine Harden.

HARDEN: When he first told me about the execution of his mother and brother, he didn't say that he had turned them in.

COOPER: You reported your mother and your brother?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Yes.

COOPER: What did you hope to get out of reporting your mother and your brother?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Well, being full for the first time.

COOPER: More food.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Yes. But the biggest reason was, I was supposed to report it.

COOPER: Why was Shin tortured after rating out his mother and brother?

HARDEN: The guard who he ratted out, too, did not tell his superiors that he got the information from Shin.

COOPER: So the guard basically was trying to claim credit?

HARDEN: Yes.

COOPER: It was only after seeing what family life was like outside Camp 14 that Shin says he started to feel guilt about what he had done to his own mother and brother. DONG-HYUK (through translator): My mother and brother, if I could

meet them through a time machine, I would like to go back and apologize. By telling this story, I think I can compensate kind of repent for what I did.

COOPER: Repentance has taken Shin all over the world. He speaks at human rights rallies, meets with U.S. Congressmen. And is telling his story to us in part because he's frustrated by how much attention the press pays to North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un and his wife and how little attention gets paid to the people in the camps.

In South Korea, he and some friends started an internet talk show designed to tell the world what's really going on in the north.

As for that taste of freedom he risk his life for, he can eat all the boiled chicken he wants now. But admits it hasn't given him the satisfaction he'd hopes for.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): When I eat something good, when I laugh with my friends or you know when I make some money, I'm excited. But that's only momentary and right afterwards, I start worrying again.

COOPER: You worry about what now in.

DONG-HYUK (through translator): What I worry about now is all those people in the prison camps. Children are still being born there and somebody is probably being executed.

COOPER: And you think about that, do you think about that a lot?

DONG-HYUK (through translator): Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller are back with their families tonight and if you know better Laura Ling, for the past two days have been like for them.

In 2009, she and fellow journalist, Euna Lee were freed by North Korea. You know, Euna Lee, I'm sorry, were freed by North Korea after being held for more than four months. They were arrested while reporting from the border of North Korean and China and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. President Clinton helped secure their release. Laura's sister, Journalist Liza Ling worked tirelessly to freed both women as well.

Laura Ling joins me tonight.

So were first of all, when you heard that Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller had been released, what went through your mind?

LAURA LING, AMERICAN JOURNALIST HELD CAPTIVE IN NORTH KOREA: Oh my God, I was so happy for them and for their families. I was thinking about the anticipation that they must feel the minute they get off that plane or are able to finally embrace their families. Because I know that when I was being held, I did -- I thought there might be a possibility of never seeing my family ever again.

COOPER: And in terms of the adjustment, I mean, what is it like, knowledge to being in North Korea that amount of time, but in captivity and then suddenly be back here?

LING: Right. Well, it took some time to get adjusting to because literally, I mean, they're being held in the most isolated country in the world in isolation. And then to come out into the world is -- is an adjustment. I know that I, it was hard for me to actually speak words clearly and speak the English language because I really hadn't spoken to many people. That was hard.

I kind of went into a self imposed isolation just because I wasn't used to everything. I mean, it took me -- I just got back on Twitter, I mean you talk about little things like Twitter, but technology seemed overwhelming. I just got on five months ago, it's been five years.

So I think that they will just be taking the time to spend with their families and just appreciate the freedoms that they have.

COOPER: In terms of what you went through while you were there, I mean you and your colleague were held five months. It's probably impossible to fully describe it. But you actually connected on a certain level with some of your mugger captors. Can you explain that?

LING: I did. I mean, I -- I -- I -- there was a common sense of humanity I guess. I felt acts of compassion toward me and a sense of humanity toward me that -- that I will always be grateful for. So despite the fact that it was the most frightening time of my life, I am grateful for those glimmers of compassion.

COOPER: It's interesting, you know, when Kenneth Bae stepped off the plane, he thanked the government of North Korea. I think some people listening that, as an outsider would think, that's the last group, you know you'd have kind words for, would be the North Korean government. Did it surprise you he did that?

LING: It did not surprise me. And I thanked the government as well. Listen, I mean, regardless of why he was being held, legitimately or illegitimately, once you are held in North Korea, they hold all the cards. And standard rules do not apply. International conventions do not apply so they didn't have to release him. And I think that he understood that. And to be able to be given the second chance at life, you know I think that you can see why he would feel grateful for that.

COOPER: It's also important I think and I knew you feel it's important that people watching not lose sight of the plight of the North Korean people. That as good as that this two Americans have been released, the people of North Korea, themselves, live in appalling conditions. And I mean, you know tens of thousands, if not more than 100,000 people are in essentially concentration camps and political prisoner camps.

LING: Absolutely. I mean while we celebrate the return of these men, it is important not to lose sight of that. And that's one thing that really did help give me strength during my time in captivity was thinking about what the average North Korean people are enduring. Because I'm sure it was so much worse. And so, I hope that we don't lose sight of that. And I hope that this may be a potential opening between our two countries. I really do.

COOPER: Did you know that, you know there was -- when you were release that this was happening? Do you know much in advance? Did you know -- did you know, you know that somebody was flying from the United -- there was from United States that there were high-level meetings? Did you know the backgrounds?

LING: You know, I was pretty aware that something like a high-level meeting was going, was necessary -- going to be necessary for us to be released. But the time frame in which it happened was a total surprise to me. So it went from thinking that I was going to be there for much longer to the next day hearing that an envoy had arrived. And when not told that it was President Clinton, just it was a high- level envoy.

COOPER: What do you know normally someone who is held in North Korea but also as a journalist make of the fact that the Director of National Intelligence, of all people, it was he who went over to win their released. I mean, not a conventional diplomat, certainly not susceptive from the President Clinton.

LING: Sure, well, you know, I think that it serves, it serves propaganda value for the North Koreans, I mean to have somebody of James Clapper's statured of go to make that visit. Further legitimizes the leadership in the eyes of the people or will help to do that. But I also think that these are two, we are two countries that just do not have direct relations. Our leadership does not talk to one another and so it was an opportunity for the North Koreans to be able to speak to the U.S. directly.

COOPER: Laura Ling, it's good to have you on again. Laura thanks.

LING: Thanks Anderson.

COOPER: Well, up next.

A man once considered a family friend of McStays now charged with the family's murders. Tonight the father of Joseph McStays speaks out in an exclusive interview about the arrest.

Also ahead, Drew Griffins reporting uncovered massive problems at the V.A. Facilities, including secret wait list, cover-ups, vets dying while waiting for care. Now there's a massive overhauled to match. With the V.A. announced today, we will give you details on that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In "Crime and Punishment" tonight, an exclusive interview with the man who suffered unimaginable loss. His son, his daughter in law and two young grandchildren vanished almost five years ago. Then just last year, their bodies were found in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert. It was an enduring mystery. Who killed the McStay family and why were they killed? Now Joseph McStay's business associate Chase Merritt is charged with murdering the McStays. That's him there. He's someone who is described as a close family friend. In fact, Randi Kaye has an exclusive interview with Joseph McStay's father, speaking on camera for the first time since this latest troubling development in an unbelievably troubling story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK MCSTAY, JOSEPH MCSTAY'S FATHER: And he knew that if something happened --

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We met Patrick McStay here in his home in Houston, just days after learning of an arrest in his son's interview. This is his first television interview since San Bernardino sheriff's deputies announced they had Chase Merritt in custody.

(on camera): Did you get a sense of relief when you heard that name?

MCSTAY: A lot of people will say it's like lifting a ton off your shoulders? I said no, it was more to me, like a boulder falling on me.

KAYE (voice over): That's because Patrick's son considered Chase Merritt a friend. Joseph McStay sold custom waterfalls and Merritt was one of his welders.

(on camera): Do you think that Chase Merritt is capable of something like this?

MCSTAY: After all I've seen through the years, and the information we found, I still can't say yes, but I can definitely say I wonder.

KAYE (voice over): Patrick McStay has been waiting nearly five years to find out who killed his family. It was February 4, 2010, when Joseph McStay, his wife Summer and their two beautiful young boys Joseph and Gianni disappeared. Their remains were found a year ago buried in two shallow graves in the Mojave Desert. Investigators say they died from blunt force trauma. In our exclusive interview with Merritt earlier this year, he shared that the grave site is just 20 miles from his home.

(on camera): Would you ever have expected that this is how it would end in the desert like that?

CHASE MERRITT, SUSPECT IN MCSTAY FAMILY MURDER: In the desert I had no clue.

KAYE (voice over): We played some of our two hour interview with Merritt for Patrick McStay.

MERRITT: Very visible from the freeway.

MCSTAY: I hear him telling you and describing the area perfectly, and telling - he knows that area really well. KAYE: On that final day, Merritt told us he met Joseph McStay for

what he described as a business lunch and that they talked by phone a dozen times later that day.

(on camera): You were the last person he saw?

MERRITT: I am definitely the last person he saw.

KAYE (voice over): That night in 2010, at 8:28 p.m., Merritt says his phone rang, that it was Joseph calling from his cell phone, but Merritt didn't answer. He says because he was too tired. A statement now raising eyebrows among those who have followed the case closely.

STEPH WATTS, FREELANCE INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: The rest of Joey's existence was phone calls, text messages, so if I want to make you look like you are alive for several hours, what's the first thing I'm to do? I'm going to take your phone, I'm going to text, I'm going to call myself.

KAYE: During our interview, Merritt also revealed to us he'd taken a lie detector test soon after the McStays disappeared. He said he never got the results from authorities.

(on camera): Did detectives ask you if you killed Joseph McStay and his family?

MERRITT: I don't recall them asking me that.

KAYE: Nothing that direct. Not that directly.

MERRITT: No. I don't recall them being that direct.

KAYE (voice over): If Chase Merritt did kill the McStay family, Patrick McStay suspects it had to do with money. Joseph had landed a waterfall deal worth $9 million, so Merritt stood to make a lot of cash. But Patrick said his son told him Merritt's work had gotten sloppy and Joseph was in the market for another welder. Patrick said he last spoke with Merritt earlier this year when the two discussed the books they were writing about the case. Looking back, he says he thinks Merritt was just digging to find out what Patrick knew about the murders. Patrick hasn't seen or spoken to him since.

(on camera): What would you ask him?

MCSTAY: I wouldn't ask him anything. Only one person come out of that room.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: I mean a lot of what Chase Merritt said is obviously very suspicious now in retrospect. Could he have done it by himself, and one person against the family of four that the kids are little?

KAYE: That's a good question. I think a lot of people are asking that question, because police say that he was killed, they were killed at their home. OK, so that's Chase Merritt, if he did, indeed, do this against the four of them at the home, then he would have had to take all of them and drive them up 100 miles north of the home, to bury them in the Mojave Desert then take the car, their truck, which was found near the Mexican border 250 miles south and then somehow figure out a way to get all the way back up 250 miles north again without being seen, so he could be at home for that 8:30 p.m. call where he says that Joseph McStay called him on his cell phone at home and it did pinged off that tower. So, his phone was there. The other question, Anderson is what about Mexico? Because we know that San Diego has that surveillance video of the family - a family that looks like them crossing the border into Mexico. That's why they thought they went willingly. Meanwhile, Chase Merritt had the opportunity there to say, if he did this, that's right, that's them, that's them crossing the border into Mexico. Instead, he said, it wasn't them. And he had the opportunity there to take them off his tracks. So he said he didn't think it was them.

And the last thing is, he told us that he was the first person at the house after the family went missing. So, if he was, indeed, there, was he there to clean up the house? Because if there was blunt force trauma there would have been a lot of blood. Was he cleaning up the house or was he really there to feed the dogs as he also told us or was he feeding the dogs in that time, too? Sort of to keep them quiet so he had time to clean up the house. And then tell everybody ...

COOPER: Well, it's strange that he insists that he was the last one to see them - alive, how would he know that? I mean ...

KAYE: Exactly. Exactly. It's a lot of questions.

COOPER: Fascinating interview, Randi, thanks very much. Randi's special report, "Buried Secrets: Who Murdered the McStay Family" airs tomorrow at 9 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. As always you can find out a whole lot more on this story and others, at CNN.com.

Coming up, Iraqi officials say the leader of ISIS was injured in an airstrike. There is a lot of conflicting information. U.S. officials are not sure what really happened. We will take a look at the details as we know them, next.

Also ahead, a big chill is on the way for more than 200 million people in the United States. We have a live update from the weather center where it's going to hit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It will be a huge victory in the fight against ISIS and attack that wounded or killed its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The trouble in the United States, it's still not completely sure it actually happened. Iraq's interior minister said al-Baghdadi was wounded in airstrike Saturday in the Iraqi town of al-Qaim. But there is conflicting information coming from other Iraqi officials and the skepticism among analysts who track ISIS. CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me now live from Washington. So, what are your sources saying, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, both U.S. military and intelligence officials I've spoken to say they have to this point seen nothing that gives them confidence that al-Baghdadi was killed in this strike. That's always the case with these things, that they need a lot of information to be sure. But and particularly, in this case, because it was the Iraqi intelligence and the Iraqi military acting on that intelligence in this strike near al-Qaim. So that's still a judgment they have to make. And they're waiting to see something that gives them a clearer sense of what happened there.

COOPER: The fact that it was the Iraqis who conducted the airstrikes instead of coalition forces. Is there a particular significance to that?

SCIUTTO: I think there is a significance, there's a good sign in there. You have Iraqis with this strike. They also took back a town to the south of Baghdad a couple of weeks ago. They took back a key border crossing between Iraq and Syria just last week. It shows that Iraqi forces are beginning to take the offensive. And that's something that, of course, really the U.S. war plan depends on, because everybody knows that air power alone is not going to solve this problem.

That said, substantial offensive operations, U.S. military officials from Dempsey to Hagel, right up to the president say it's going to be months before the Iraqi military is capable of doing that. And that's one reason why you have more U.S. military advisers there going to Iraq to make that possible.

COOPER: Right. 1,500. There was a separate airstrike by coalition forces around Mosul. Do we know the target of that?

SCIUTTO: We do. It's a senior ISIS leader. Basically, this was a target of opportunity. You've got a lot of planes in the air flying all the time, and they saw a collection of what they believe to be ISIS vehicles or at least a collection of vehicles in an ISIS controlled area. So they dropped some bombs on it. Their judgment was that it's likely that there were some senior leaders there, they had no particular information that al-Baghdadi, himself, was there. So, that was a part of the confusion, Anderson, because there was a U.S. strike over the weekend. And these rumors came that Baghdadi was killed. We weren't sure that he was there, and as it turns out the Iraqis took their own action elsewhere. But in both cases, there is still no hard information that he was, indeed, taken down.

COOPER: And we are going to have more on this in the next hour of "360." And we are going to go into detail, the incredible lengths that this guy, Baghdadi goes to to basically stay hidden, even from other people within ISIS. Jim Sciutto, thanks. Now, a scandal, those uncovered by CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin that we have been reporting about on this program for under more than a year now, veterans waiting months for care at VA facilities, with sometimes deadly consequences. We found evidence of secret waiting lists, widespread cover-ups. Now it seems the other shoe was dropped. Today the VA Secretary Robert McDonald announced a massive overhaul at the Veterans Affairs Department. Saying there has been disciplinary action against 5600 employees and there are more firings on the way. Here's an exchange with Wolf Blitzer earlier today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm very proud, by the way, of CNN's coverage over the past few years of the scandals plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs, especially our investigative unit Andrew Griffin. They did an amazing job. And I suspect that without CNN's reporting over these past few years, you and I wouldn't be talking about this massive reorganization right now.

ROBERT MCDONALD, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Well, what I have told the every employee in the VA, is I want them to be the people to tell me if there is a problem. I then asked every employee in VA to tell us, to criticize what we do. And in this reorganization that we've talked about, my VA, we have teams of employees from every level within the department contributing their ideas to how we need to improve veteran outcomes. So I mean to me, that's really critical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The outcomes is what it's all about. Drew Griffin joins me now with more.

So, Drew, the VA restructuring, what does it actually mean?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, if you were to sum it up in a one sentence, McDonald, this, you know, private corporation guy, he wants to make the VA a customer service organization, not a bureaucracy. Part of doing that, though, is to fire the people who've been responsible for all this delayed care, hidden wait list, lying about what they did. He told Wolf Blitzer this afternoon that the number of people who need to go or be punished is in the thousands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You immediately want to fire 35 workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but another thousand you want to get rid of as well, is that right?

MCDONALD: Well, what we've said is we are taking disciplinary actions against those individuals who violated our values, our values are represented in this acronym, I care. The I is integrity, and in the case where we've had people violate the value of integrity, we are taking disciplinary action. That disciplinary action over the last year has involved about 5,600 employees. Some of those are still active. And we are in the process of following that to its conclusion. We are acting aggressively, expeditiously and consistent with the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Is that actually happening, Drew? I mean the head of the Phoenix VA, the woman Sharon Helman is supposed to be fired. But she is still getting paid I understand.

GRIFFIN: Getting paid for months now, Anderson, while on leave, waiting to be fired, and, you know, this is where the secretary is taking some heat. He says he wants to fire people. The president expected him to fire people. But as of today, just one person as far as we can tell, in senior leadership at the VA has actually been removed from service. They don't even say fired. They have been retirements, people placed on paid leave. But so far, one actual firing. McDonald says he is hampered by laws that prevent him from moving faster on federal employees. There's a lot of dispute about that. But right now, a lot of people that cause this mess, Anderson, are still there at the VA.

COOPER: And fixing what's wrong with the VA, I mean it is going to take years. I mean he was talking about hiring more than 20,000 nurses and doctors. I mean, they need a lot of people beyond just the reorganization?

GRIFFIN: Yeah. Less managers, less administrators and many, many more health professionals. 28,000 is the number that the secretary was speaking of. Doctors and nurses and health care providers, who can handle not just the backlog they have now, Anderson, but the expected amount of demand that's going to be in the years to come. It is a big huge job, but you know, as many people say, part of doing this job is to get rid of the jump that's not working. And they, you know, a lot of people in Congress and the Senate, they want him to fire these people, get him out of the way and start rebuilding the organization.

COOPER: Yeah, a lot of people are waiting. Drew Griffin, thanks very much.

As pointed out, Drew's reporting has been way out in front on this. And the whole investigative unit really have done a remarkable job.

Coming up next, an Arctic blast. Dumping snow in the upper Midwest and it's far from over. This storm is heading east. It's going to impact more than 200 million people. We get the latest from Chad Myers in the weather center. Where you should be watching.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Winter is arriving early for some 200 million Americans this week. A monstrous storm dipping out of Canada has dumped snow across the upper Midwest and brought windy conditions along with it. The system will move east later this week, where temperatures will plummet 20 degrees below normal. A meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now from the weather center. So, I mean isn't it early to be dealing with this kind of weather?

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you know, we are talking about all the computer models that said brutal winter ahead. That said nothing about earlier winter ahead. What a start. All these numbers you see, almost a foot of snow. All just north and west of Minneapolis today, of Minneapolis, between 3:00 and 6:00. A little bit more than that. But a lot of snow in big places, big cities.

Now, that snow from Minneapolis is about done. But Green Bay on up to Marquette, into Quebec and Ontario, you are about to get it. That's one side of the story. That's one story here. And here comes the snow for the rest of the night into Marquette, into the Yuppie (ph) of Michigan, into Quebec and Ontario.

That next story is how cold it's going to get. This area is driving down through Denver. It was 65 in Denver yesterday. Right now, it's 24. The wind chill is five. And on the other side, on the warm side, New York, you are above normal at 63 right now. And for tomorrow, again, another warm day. That cold air plunges. The high in Denver. The high in Denver on Wednesday will be 12 after morning lows way before that. We got a couple emails today that said we are going to open the ski resorts early. So, there are some people that are happy.

COOPER: And so, the worst place are where? I mean you are talking Denver and where else?

MYERS: Well, all the way down to Amarillo, to Dallas, we will lose 40 degrees from where they were today. And that's the thing. You're just not ready. Sure, this is - the numbers you see here in January are normal. This is not so normal for November. The pets don't have their winter coats. You probably don't even have your winter coat out of storage yet. And so, that's the thing. It's so early, people could be in danger especially up here if they're driving the car stalls, they run out of gas, they run into a snowstorm, whatever. And you are not prepared for that kind of cold already so early this year.

COOPER: I don't even think I have a winter coat. I think I've got to get one. So, there are obviously dangers that come with this early snow.

MYERS: Yes, sure, absolutely. People are ready to drive in it. For one thing, they maybe - don't have their snow tires on for- but the biggest thing I think are the temperatures. Not so much the snow. If you get stuck outside Rapid City on Wednesday, the high is 12. Wind chills 20 below. Then you are in trouble. You can get yourself in trouble quickly.

COOPER: All right, Chad, thanks very much. We will continue to watch. Let's get the latest on some of the other stories we are following. Susan Hendricks has a "360." Susan?

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Dr. Craig Spencer, an Ebola survivor free of the virus will be released from a New York City hospital on Tuesday. Spencer of Doctors without Borders volunteer, caught Ebola while treating patients in Guinea.

And New York's mayor says the city will change its policy on possession of a small amount of marijuana. Police officers will have the option of just ticketing the offender and not making an arrest. The mayor says African-Americans and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests.

And those colorful detergent pads, you know those, they pose a risk to children. A new study in the "Journal of Pediatrics" shows that more than 17,000 children under the age of six were accidentally poisoned by the packets between 2012 and 2013. That's about one child every hour. Of that about 4 percent of the children were hospitalized. The kids often mistake the pods for candy. And Big Bird and his friends are celebrating 45 years on "Sesame Street" Yes, the hit show has been on the airways that long. And Anderson, we do have to point out, we all love you parents on "Sesame Street" - a few years ago, let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: This is Anderson Cooper in for Oscar the Grouch who is on assignment at the dump. I'm here with two legendary Grouch newscasters, Dan Rathernot and Walter Cranky to discuss today's letter in the news. The letter G. Say hello, Dan Rathernot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd rather not.

COOPER: Walter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dah!

COOPER: I can see this is going to be a tough assignment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDRICKS: They didn't really say much, did they?

COOPER: No, Dan Rather not did not.

Susan, thanks very much. Up next, new questions about what General Motors knew and when they knew it about defect ignition switches that has now been linked to at least 32 deaths. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hey, welcome to our second long hour of "360." We begin with the major development in the GM ignition switch story. Tonight, the chief executive of General Motors is facing new questions about when she first knew about the defective ignition switches that have now been linked to at least, at least 32 deaths.