Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Texas Supreme Court Says Send the Children Home; Severe Storm in Nebraska; Scott McClellan Speaks Out; Obama's New Pastor Problem
Aired May 29, 2008 - 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: The fight over hundreds of kids at Warren Jeffs' polygamist ranch; the largest child custody case in history is history. The highest court in Texas says send the kids home. We're live with the impact. What authorities plan to do next and what these kids may soon be facing.
Also ahead tonight, Scott McClellan speaking out for the first time; under fire from his former colleagues in the White House. The president's former spokesman goes on offensive. He was spinning then, is he spinning now? You can judge for yourself.
And is there another pastor problem for Barack Obama or is this much ado about nothing? Another clergy member and Barack Obama supporter gets up in Obama's church and says a mouthful, this time about Hillary Clinton and race.
Obama has already responded to it. We'll tell you what he said tonight and bring you the latest from the campaign trail.
We begin though with tonight's stunning decision by the Texas Supreme Court. By a 6-3 vote, the justices agreed with a lower court ruling that State Child Protective Services in Texas overstepped their authority when they raided Warren Jeffs' polygamist compound in Eldorado and took the kids away.
This is a case pitting the most fundamental rights of parents against the expectations of society and of common decency that children be protected, not preyed upon.
CNN's David Mattingly is outside the courthouse in San Angelo with the latest -- David.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, what this case does is tell state investigators you could not take all of these children into custody just because you found evidence that some of these girls were growing up and being married off to adult men.
What it does not say is that this investigation is over. The state can go back to the drawing board and go back and continue investigating, looking for evidence of abuse, but they can only do so, they can only take kids into custody now when they prove there is specific allegations of abuse, evidence of abuse, in these individual cases.
Also, we're looking at what the court may do soon. New rules that might be applied to the children who are going home. Where they might be allowed to stay. What geographical area.
If there is any evidence of abuse in particular cases, what will happen. Will the abusers have to leave the home? Or will the child have to be kept somewhere else?
All these questions are still up in the air. Today was just the latest abrupt turn in a case that snakes all the way back to early April.
MATTINGLY: April 3rd, armed officers and caseworkers flood the Yearning for Zion Ranch, acting on a call from a woman identifying herself as Sarah Barlow. More than 450 boys and girls are removed from the polygamist compound and placed in temporary state custody.
MARLEIGH MEISNER, TEXAS CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES: This is about children who are in imminent risk of harm; children that we believe have been abused or neglected.
MATTINGLY: Authorities search for evidence. There are allegations that this white tower contains beds where adult men have sex with child brides. A member of the FLDS says they are being persecuted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've set this whole thing up to bring persecution against us. It's the worst insurrection that's happened in the United States.
MATTINGLY: Banding together, several of the mothers appear on CNN, pleading for help.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looked up in my eyes and says mother, don't let them take me.
MATTINGLY: April 17th, the custody battle begins. It is massive and chaotic.
JERRI LYNN WARD, ATTORNEY FOR FLDS MEMBER: This is just like an assembly line where these children are all being treated the same way without any regard for the particular circumstances of the family.
MATTINGLY: A day later, a judge rules that the children may be in imminent risk of danger if they are taken back to the ranch and orders them kept in state care.
Around this time, questions surfaced about the call that led to the raid. There are reports it was taken from a woman with no connections to the sect; one who may have a history of making false claims.
ROD PARKER, FLDS ATTORNEY: Sarah Barlow doesn't exist.
MATTINGLY: April 25th, officials start moving the children to foster homes across the state. May 19th, another critical court date. This time custody hearings begin in San Angelo. Three days later, a huge victory for the FLDS.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The third court of appeals has stood up for the legal rights of these families.
MATTINGLY: An appeals court says the state had no right to take custody of the children, citing no evidence of imminent risk, danger or harm to them.
And now the last-ditch effort denied. The state's petition to the Supreme Court of Texas rejected, paving way for the reunion.
COOPER: So David, what happened to the state's case? We heard all those reports early on, as you just talked about, of dozens of minors who were impregnated and then there was only five, then it's even a smaller number now. What happened?
MATTINGLY: Well, this ruling is telling the state that we're not saying you don't have the evidence, we're just saying you don't have the evidence to keep all of these children. So these allegations, these individuals that they have in custody, they can possibly still work to build cases on these.
What was blown up today was the state's assertion that they found a common practice at this ranch, at the FLDS compound, where young girls were being raised to accept relationships with adult men. And that that meant all of the girls were subject to abuse and all the boys were subject to growing up to becoming abusers.
That's what the State Supreme Court is striking down. They're going back to the drawing board with the investigation. They'll have to build individual cases now.
COOPER: That's certainly going to be hard given the lack of access to the ranch and the difficulty and the lack of communication and the willingness to communicate on the part of a lot of these folks.
David, appreciate the reporting.
Not long after the reporting, church elder Willie Jessop spoke to the media demanding the kids back ASAP. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIE JESSOP, FLDS SPOKESMAN: We're pleading for this court, put these families back. There has been a catastrophic, emotional, and physical trauma to these families; permanent damage that will be left on them for a lifetime. Two wrongs do not make a right. And this court has an ability to load these children up and return them to the families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Digging deeper, we're joined by attorney Jamie Floyd of Cable TV's "In Session," and on the phone, a unique perspective on the FLDS Carolyn Jessop, a former member of the church and author of the best-selling book "Escape."
So Jamie, the state is not saying there was no crime. So how do they go about trying to investigate -- the court is not saying there was no crime. How does the state go about trying to investigate it when they can't get access to the ranch easily? And there's not a lot of cooperation.
JAMIE FLOYD, ANCHOR, "IN SESSION": Basically, this is a strategic blunder by state authorities who I do believe had good intentions but bad legal strategy. The court is basically sending them back to the place where they should have began, a solid investigation with hard evidence as to specific families and instances of abuse. That's when you remove children and not before.
COOPER: Carolyn, you lived in one of these compounds. How tough is it going to be for state investigators to try to figure out if abuse has occurred in some of these households?
CAROLYN JESSOP, FORMER FLDS MEMBER: It's going to be next to impossible -- Anderson. I mean, this society has been very secretive for generations. That's why they've been able to get away with the level of crime that they have.
You know, now with the kids going back, it's basically we confirm to the kids that authorities cannot protect them. There's no way they're going to speak out now about what's been going on to them.
COOPER: Carolyn, what do you make of the public relations blitz that this formerly completely secretive sect has undergone?
We just heard from Willie Jessop. Previously, we heard from a lot of mothers who wouldn't talk about their families or lives but would repeat the refrain "I want my kids back," et cetera, et cetera.
C. JESSOP: Well, it's very typical of this society that if you answer hard questions, if you answer them, it's obvious there's been a crime committed. So these women are under incredible pressure to not say the wrong thing or say something that could give out evidence that could later lead to somebody being prosecuted.
It's just very difficult. The whole situation is very difficult.
COOPER: So what happens now, Jamie?
FLOYD: Well, what happens now? A lot of things but nothing that's very clear and easy to determine today.
First of all, the state does have the right to take this up to the U.S. Supreme court. I don't think they will and even if they do, I don't think the high court will take the case. This is really a state case, not a matter of federal constitutional law, not yet. But that's a possibility. That delays it. Although it will be expedited somewhat because there are children involved.
But even if they don't appeal, there are questions about what the lower court does to implement the higher court's ruling. How do we go about protecting these children and at the same time respecting what the appellate courts have said? She now has to fashion some sort of relief, return the children, but in a way that satisfies Texas state authorities as well.
COOPER: We see this in courts all the time when the state steps in, but it sure does make you think twice about what the state ever says.
The state says -- spins these stories, anonymous stories and saying, "My gosh, there are dozens and dozens of underage girls that we're finding." And then you get down to the brass tacks and it's, "Oh, well, there's five." And then actually you know what two of those actually are overage, so there's three. It makes you doubt the whole thing.
FLOYD: It's amazing that no one within the authorities, the investigator's office, the prosecutor's office, even social workers put a hold on this, took a step back and looked at constitutional requirements and constitutional law.
Just as a matter of strategy, forget concerns about the children, the mothers, the ranch, it's a big backfire I think for the state. Your point about the way which the folks at the ranch have used the media to demonstrate they've been victimized here, when traditionally they would have shunned the media, that really shows you this has been a big turn around.
COOPER: Carolyn, I want to play a little bit more of the press conference that Willie Jessop spoke at. Let's play that.
W. JESSOP: There has been many, many allegations and insinuations. The FLDS people that I am acquainted with do not allow their children to be married without at least being a legal age. We do not understand where this is coming from.
COOPER: Carolyn, he seems to be picking his words pretty carefully. Pictures were shown in court of Warren Jeffs, the guy who is in jail for aiding the abuse of a minor, the pictures of kissing two girls who appear to be certainly, in these pictures , under age.
What do you make of what Willie Jessop is saying? These pictures prove him dead wrong?
C. JESSOP: They absolutely do, Anderson. And that's one of the things that -- why I was so desperate to escape and leave this society is that they were dropping the age from 18 down to 16 and then it went from 16 to it appeared warren was resetting it at 14.
COOPER: Carolyn, do you know how old this person is in the picture? C. JESSOP: The little girl with red hair is a stepdaughter of mine and she would have been 12 years old in that photo based on the date.
COOPER: That's one of your stepdaughters?
C. JESSOP: That is a stepdaughter.
COOPER: Wow, 12 years old. Remarkable.
Carolyn Jessop, appreciate you calling in. Jamie Floyd, thanks as well. We'll continue to follow the developments as well.
You can read Jamie's post on the "360" blog. I'm also blogging throughout the hour. Conversations are already underway only. You can join in, go to cnn.com/360 let us know what you think.
Up next, more breaking news. Dangerous tornadoes reported. We're getting word on this in right now. CNN's Chad Myers is tracking the storms and the damage. We'll get the latest from him.
And up close tonight, Scott McClellan speaking out for the first time, firing back at critics of his new tell-all about the selling of the Iraq war and a White House he says put politics first even with American lives at stake in New Orleans and overseas.
Plus Barack Obama, his critics say he's not tough enough. Don't tell that to the Chicago politicians he beat to become state senator.
Drew Griffin investigates a little known part of Barack Obama's little known past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Barack Obama was a relative unknown in 1996 when he first ran for office. To win, he had to get around the five-year incumbent Alice Palmer.
After losing a bid for congress, Alice Palmer decided to try keep her senate seat. She would have been tough competition for a newcomer but Obama planned to beat her before she ever got on the ballot.
COOPER: Breaking news, reports of tornado damage in central Nebraska. A civil emergency declared in the town of Carney west of Omaha, now downed trees, power lines. Already emergency crews are standing by, waiting for the dangerous conditions to pass right now.
Tracking it all tonight, our severe weather expert, CNN's Chad Myers. Chad what does it look like?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we've had 25 separate reports of tornadoes across parts of Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas.
And right now, look at the lightning on this map. Up on the top left side of the screen, 37,000 and some lightning strikes in the past hour. That's ten lightning strikes per second on that map right there. An amazing light show out there in Nebraska and parts of Kansas and Iowa as well.
What's still going on at this point? We're still seeing breaking news with tornadoes very close to the ground or on the ground near Randall, Kansas. That storm right there just missed or very close to Beloit, Kansas and Jamestown, Kansas.
And one more storm that we know was on the ground for a while, on up toward and just south of Carol, Iowa, and that is moving up toward the Ft. Dodge area.
We will keep you advised of this, though. It is going to be a rough night and obviously "American Morning" will have more on this. And obviously as the video comes in; these are fairly remote areas, so we can't just get video like we do from big cities, Anderson.
So it's going to take some time to obviously get as many pictures on the ground from what we have as we can.
COOPER: We're going to continue to check in with you throughout the hour to warn us. Chad thanks.
Up next, everyone is talking about his bombshell book and now for the first time, Scott McClellan is speaking out. An up close look at him on the offensive coming up.
Also ahead, a possible new pastor problem for Barack Obama. This time it's a white priest talking about race from Obama's church. Is it much ado about nothing? Hear it for yourself. You can decide when "360" continues.
COOPER: When Scott McClellan was White House Press secretary, he was known as the consummate loyal team player. No longer. His scathing new book about the inner workings of the Bush White House has some White House insiders calling him a traitor.
McClellan is now feeling the same kind of heat from the White House that he used to help dish out. But he's not backing down; in fact he's speaking out. Scott McClellan up close tonight.
COOPER: On camera, under fire, and standing by every word.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I have a higher loyalty than my loyalty necessarily to my past work. That's a loyalty to the truth.
COOPER: For the first time, the former White House Press secretary is publicly defending the stunning charges he's making against the president and his inner circle, accusing the administration of deception, dirty tricks and propaganda. As for the build-up to the war in Iraq, McClellan told the "Today Show" he said his allegiance to his boss clouded growing doubts.
MCCLELLAN: I felt like we were rushing into this. But because of my position and my affection for the president and my belief and trust in he and his advisers, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. And looking back on it, reflecting on it now, I don't think I should have.
COOPER: He's also not backing down from accusing top advisers Karl Rove and Lewis Libby of leaking CIA officer Valerie Plame's name and lying about it to his face.
MCCLELLAN: I asked them point-blank, "Were you involved in this in any way?" Both assured me in unequivocal terms, no.
COOPER: Past and current members of the Bush administration continue to launch blistering attacks against McClellan. The president describing the book as sad. Former White House council Dan Bartlett labeled it 'total crap' and Karl Rove mocked his writings as sounding like a left-wing blogger.
Rove and others also say McClellan was out of the loop, a minor player, who never attended critical meetings. This was McClellan's response.
MCCLELLAN: I was not involved directly in the overall strategy for the marketing or selling of the war that I talk about in the book. But at times I was filling in for my predecessor and I did participate in the White House-Iraq group meetings.
COOPER: Today, Condoleezza Rice joined the chorus of critics, the Secretary of State disputing McClellan's notion of a misguided war.
CONDOLEEZA RICE, SECRETARY OF UNITED STATES STATE DEPARTMENT: The concerns about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were the fundamental reason for dozens of resolutions within the Security Council from the time that Saddam Hussein was expelled from Kuwait in 1991 up until 2003.
COOPER: For his part, the man in the hot seat isn't backing down.
MCCLELLAN: This is my honest perspective on how things went off track. And that's all I can do is honestly and forthrightly express my views and let the chips fall where they may.
COOPER: Well, tomorrow on "360" I'll talk to Scott McClellan face to face about his accusations and the fallout from the book. There's a lot of debate over his motives for writing it. Is he disgruntled, that's what the White House is saying or one of the things they're saying. Is he simply writing the truth as he sees it or is he trying to cash in?
Tomorrow I'll ask the questions. You can make up your own mind.
Here's another question, did Scott McClellan do the right thing by writing his tell-all book? We're going to talk about that just ahead with the ethics guy, Bruce Weinstein, and CNN's David Gergen.
And here's tonight's "Beat 360" photo. It's actually a three in one combo, a montage, if you will showing President Bush and graduate Theodore Shevelly bumping chests at the United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony.
Here's the caption from our staff winner, digital producer David Reisner: "When McCain asked the president for help 'bumping up his war chest', I'm not sure this is what he had in mind."
If you think you can do better, and I think you can, go to cnn.com/360. Send us your entry, although I couldn't, and we'll announce the winner at the end of the program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCLELLAN: My hands were tied. The White House counsel's office said you cannot discuss this when those revelations became known that they had been involved in the leak. And I said at the time, some day I look forward to talking about what I know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Scott McClellan defending himself on the "Today Show" this morning. McClellan himself is the only one who knows why he did what he did.
As for whether he did the right thing about writing the book, let's talk about that. CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen is here and Bruce Weinstein, ethics columnist for businessweek.com.
Bruce, in your blog for us today, you said that he had an ethical obligation to write this book.
BRUCE WEINSTEIN, ETHICS COLUMNIST, BUSINESSWEEK.COM: That's right.
Because there's no statute of limitations on telling the truth. And yes, it's important to be loyal but it's more important to be truthful, especially when there are lives at stake, as they are in this case.
COOPER: You're assuming that what he's saying is all truthful?
WEINSTEIN: Yes. And in fact, there was a CNN quick poll done this morning. 95 percent of the people surveyed this morning on "American Morning" said that they believe McClellan is more credible than the White House. Not a scientific survey but it does says something about his credibility.
COOPER: David, are you surprised by the reaction of the White House and its various emissaries paid and unpaid who have fanned out on television like military advisers it seems to basically attack Scott McClellan? Is it kind of predictable or is this surprising?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's unusually intense, Anderson, and it does raise the question of why. Because you know, often when you're in the White House in this situation and what you do, if you don't say anything at all, you just sort of hope it goes away.
But if you attack, as they've been doing, then it gives the story legs as we say, and it goes on for a couple of days, as this story has. It does raise the question of why.
My speculation, there has been talk, Anderson, that the Senate Intelligence Committee led by Senator Jay Rockefeller is about to issue a report on what they found about the run-up to the war. If I were sitting in the White House worrying about what Jay Rockefeller may say and Scott McClellan came out with this book on the edge of that, I might want to carpet bomb Scott McClellan to drown him out and make it appear so unimaginable that all of this happened, that that is a carryover effect in case Rockefeller comes after you.
COOPER: I'm not going to ask you about the ethics of carpet bombing Scott McClellan. I sense it is not ethical.
WEINSTEIN: What's fascinating about the hue and cry over the last several days is that there's been so much focus on the motivation for McClellan writing this. Was he disgruntled, was he doing it to cash in, does he feel guilty?
COOPER: As opposed to what he's actually saying.
WEINSTEIN: That's right. But there's very little criticism about the truth content. And if you had to weigh which question is more important, the psychological or the ethical, isn't the ethical issue really more important in this case?
GERGEN: I just have this question, Bruce. It does seem to me that there are ethical obligations to get the truth out. And over time you do want a historical record about an administration to be right.
But there are also, as you well know, a number of relationships that we say, in that relationship it is important to maintain privacy: a doctor-patient; a therapist-client; a lawyer-client. In many relationships we say whatever the truth is that is going on in there that the society has a larger interest in maintaining the confidentiality.
COOPER: Is he violating that by writing this book?
GERGEN: I think that, you know, for the effective functioning of a White House, it's important that the president and people around him not feel that -- that not only is it kiss and tell; it's kiss and run to the publisher and get your money.
(CROSSTALK) COOPER: But in the same way that a source gives up protection if that source lies to a reporter, if a politician lies to a -- one of their advisers, do they give up that...
GERGEN: That's an interesting question.
WEINSTEIN: Well, no, the thing is, in a democracy, the Press secretary is supposed to be a beacon of truth. There should -- the Press secretary is not a shield for the administration, or shouldn't be a smokescreen. And, in a democracy...
COOPER: Where have you been?
WEINSTEIN: I know.
COOPER: Have you watched television in the last, say, 20 years?
WEINSTEIN: Actually, there's some interesting take-home messages here, because the next Press secretary will be very careful about going against his or her conscience, because we are looking to the Press secretary for the truth, not for the party line.
This is a nonpartisan issue. Ethics is the ultimate nonpartisan issue.
GERGEN: Bruce, my concern with that, look, I think you're right about basic ethics.
But my concern with this, in terms of working, the next president, with a press secretary, the next president is not going to want to have the press secretary in the room to have...
WEINSTEIN: Not if he or she is honest.
COOPER: The same could be said about any member -- I mean, anybody can write one of these books.
GERGEN: That's right.
COOPER: Right. So, I mean, it's not just the press secretary who doesn't want -- they don't want the press secretary...
WEINSTEIN: But, if you're honest, you have nothing to be afraid about.
GERGEN: No, no, no.
GERGEN: No, no, no, that's not -- in every administration, there are going to be...
WEINSTEIN: Why is it too much to ask for the truth?
You know that Warren Beatty did this comedy a few years ago that was a satire...
COOPER: Right, "Bulworth." WEINSTEIN: ... because it was premised on the audacious idea that a politician would speak the truth.
COOPER: I do want to just...
WEINSTEIN: Why should that be a comedy?
COOPER: I want to read something that -- that Scott McClellan said about Richard Clarke, a former Bush official who wrote a book.
And this is what Scott McClellan said at the time that he wrote that -- that Richard Clarke came out with this book.
Scott McClellan said: "Why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these -- them sooner? This is one- and-a-half years after he left the administration. Now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had."
WEINSTEIN: Yes, he should have spoken up earlier, but you know what? It's never too late to right a wrong. Yes, he should have come out earlier. But does that mean, because he didn't come out earlier, he should never speak the truth to power? Absolutely not.
GERGEN: Wait a minute. What we -- among other things, as you well know, there are many versions of truth.
WEINSTEIN: Oh, no.
GERGEN: And this is his version of the truth.
WEINSTEIN: No, no, no, there is a truth.
COOPER: In the book, he says, this is his truth.
GERGEN: This is his take.
And it's a limited view of what the truth is. But there is -- look, I think if there is outright lying, and if the country was led into war by outright lying, then, somebody has an obligation to blow the whistle on that. I absolutely agree with that.
But, as a general proposition, working around a president, I think a president, like most CEOs, like most people in organizations, has a right to express -- expect a certain amount of privacy, and also not have somebody going out and talking about all their flaws.
No man is a hero to his valet, as the saying goes.
COOPER: We have got to leave it -- we're going to have to leave it there.
GERGEN: We're going to leave it.
COOPER: Bruce Weinstein, good to have you. David Gergen, always good to have you as well.
A lot on our blog about this; both men blogged. So, check that out, the 360 blog.
Up next: another clergymen with ties to Senator Obama making controversial comments and making the rounds of YouTube. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. MICHAEL PFLEGER, CHICAGO ACTIVIST: I'm white. I'm entitled. There's a black man stealing my show!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: More of the priest's fiery comments about Hillary Clinton and race, and Obama's response. And does any of this really matter?
COOPER: Well, with the final three Democratic primaries just days away, tonight the Obama campaign may have a new preacher problem on its hands.
This time a priest is in the hot-seat. In a sermon this past Sunday, Father Michael Pfleger, an outspoken Catholic priest from Chicago, mocked Senator Hillary Clinton in a sermon that's landed on YouTube. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FATHER PFLEGER: When Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on. I really don't believe it was put on. I really believe that she just always thought, "This is mine. I'm Bill's wife. I'm white, and this is mine. I've just got to get up and step into the plate." And then, out of nowhere came, "Hey, I'm Barack Obama."
And she said, "Oh, damn, where did you come from? I'm white. I'm entitled. There's a black man stealing my show. Waah!"
She wasn't the only one crying. There was a whole lot of white people crying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: In a statement released today, Senator Obama said, "I'm deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn't reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause."
A short time later, Father Pfleger issued an apology saying, "I regret the words I chose on Sunday. These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them."
Not exactly the kind of drama the Obama campaign was looking for. CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, joins us now along with Mary Frances Berry, former chairperson of the Civil Rights Commission.
Candy, this is not Barack Obama's pastor. This is a man Senator Obama has worked with, I guess, on the South Side of Chicago for a couple of years. Does this matter?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me say this. It certainly is different from Jeremiah Wright. I mean, obviously, this is -- what resonates now, is "Oh, here's another Jeremiah Wright."
Yes, this man did speak at Trinity Church, which is where Barack Obama is a member. He wasn't there. I think there is some question as to whether he can be held accountable for all things that are said in that church.
And more importantly, boy, they came right out and said, "This is not right. This is not what I see in America. This is not my America."
And the Reverend apologized. If you remember with Jeremiah Wright, he did not apologize. He came out and said the same things and then sort of said, "Well, Barack is saying what he's saying because it's political."
So they took care of this very quickly. And there is also a more distant relationship between the two of them than with Reverend Wright and Barack Obama.
COOPER: Mary Frances Berry, let me ask you the same question. This has been run repeatedly on some other networks kind of all day long. Do you think this matters?
MARY FRANCES BERRY, FORMER CHAIRPERSON, CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION: Yes, it matters because, if it were John McCain, it would matter. If it were Hillary Clinton, it would matter. The press would say it mattered. So it has to matter if it's Obama. Whoever it is, it matters.
Also, the case is that it's not just someone that Obama doesn't know or somebody in his campaign does, because the guy was on his Web site as one of his endorsers until they took him down off the Web site.
COOPER: And I think they flew him over for some interfaith service at one time.
BERRY: So it's not just some guy who walked in off the street and started preaching at Trinity.
I was more disturbed by all the people applauding and jumping up and down and clapping, as if that was something that ought to be done.
The problem here is that there's a lot about Mr. Obama, who I think is a wonderful guy and a wonderful candidate that the public doesn't know. The press hasn't done its job. Somebody go -- should go look at all the videos of all the sermons at Trinity and who was there and what did it, instead of having things dribble out and then be on YouTube and then go on all day.
But they learned in the campaign to apologize quickly, to make a statement quickly, to try to get it out of the way. They're just getting smarter about it as they go along.
COOPER: Candy, the Clinton campaign weighed in on this also tonight. Spokesman Howard Wolfson said, and I quote, "Divisive and hateful language like that is totally counterproductive in our efforts to bring our party together and have no place at the pulpit or in our politics. We're disappointed that Senator Obama didn't specifically reject Father Pfleger's despicable comments about Senator Clinton, and assume he will do so."
Do you expect the Clinton campaign, A, to continue talking about this, and do you expect the Obama campaign to say anything more about it?
CROWLEY: Well, again, we're going to have to see, you know, how much leg this has, how far it goes along, who picks it up, and what people are saying. Certainly, the blogosphere has a lot to say about how these things play out.
I will say that, obviously with the Clinton campaign, all of that is code for "keep this going," because this plays into what Hillary Clinton's message has been all along, which is, "You don't really know this man, but you know me. We don't know what else would come up. You need to put me in there, because I'm more electable, because all these things may come back and haunt the Democrats in the fall."
So obviously, this is something they would like to use as that. Whether it will be used and continues to play day after day, I think that's something we don't know.
BERRY: Well, I think that whether or not they use it, and that's all in their calculations, they didn't create it. I mean, they didn't create this reverend, and they didn't create what he said. It happened. It's a fact. It's on the public record.
So however it's dealt with and whether the media continues to show it or talk about it or whatever, all of that will tell us whether it has any legs. I doubt seriously that it will. Something else will happen that will overtake it. Something else always happens.
COOPER: Well, we certainly have a lot to talk about this weekend. We have a primary in Puerto Rico. We have the meeting on the rules committee for the Democratic Party. So we'll see what happens.
Candy Crowley, Mary Frances Berry, thank you for your perspectives.
Up next, is Barack Obama ready for bare-knuckle Washington politics? His critics say no, but wait till you hear what CNN's Drew Griffin discovered about Barack Obama's first run for office.
Also ahead, talk about raw; the former first lady of New Jersey on the stand in a nasty divorce trial that's making national headlines.
COOPER: For Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, all eyes are on this Saturday. That's when a party committee will take up the Michigan and Florida primaries. It's a rough and tumble political battle.
Critics of Senator Obama have at times questioned his toughness, his readiness to deal with politics as it's played in Washington. So CNN's Drew Griffin from the Special Investigation Unit decided to look back at Barack Obama's political career in Chicago. In particular, his first political race, a race in which the untested candidate managed to outmaneuver far more experienced candidates. Take a look.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's running on change. No more politics as usual.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But we know in our hearts we are ready for change.
GRIFFIN: But here on Chicago's South Side, in his first race for office, Barack Obama relied on old, bare-knuckle political tactics to eliminate a popular incumbent and launch his political career in the Illinois state senate.
"Chicago Tribune" columnist John Kass says it may not sound like the Obama way, but it is the Chicago way. And back in 1996, Obama used it to full advantage.
JOHN KASS, COLUMNIST, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": You use lawyers. You knock out the -- you know, this is not the -- the message of Barack Obama. Let everyone join in democracy and our ideas -- the better ideas shall triumph, right? No, that was Chicago politics: knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy, right?
GRIFFIN: Obama had been a grassroots organizer in this gritty neighborhood, registering thousands to vote before going off to Harvard Law School.
He came back to Chicago to work as a lawyer and saw a chance to run for state senate. But in his first race for office, he made sure Democratic voters had just one choice: him.
GHA-IS ASKIA, FORMER CANDIDATE: It wasn't honorable. Right. That's what I'm saying. I wouldn't have done it.
GRIFFIN: Gha-Is Askia is no longer in politics. The race against Obama was his last. He and two other Democrats were kicked off that ballot before a single vote was cast. How? Obama sent a team of lawyers and volunteers to the Chicago Board of Elections and challenged the petitions of his opponents. You needed 757 signatures of registered voters to become a candidate. Askia said he gathered 1,899.
But when the Obama team was through challenging his signatures, addresses and voter registrations, Askia came up 69 signatures short.
ASKIA: I fought for every signature. They was going on technicalities.
GRIFFIN: If names were printed instead of written in cursive, they were kicked off, campaign workers told CNN. If signatures were good but the person collecting the petitions wasn't properly registered, all of those signatures were kicked off.
ASKIA: Yes. So it was technicalities.
GRIFFIN: Jay Stewart with Chicago's Better Government Association says there is nothing illegal about what Obama did. In fact, it's the way politics are played in Chicago.
JAY STEWART, BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION OF CHICAGO: Politics isn't being bad, as they say in Chicago. You play with your elbows up, and you're pretty tough and ruthless when you have to be.
Senator Obama felt that's what was necessary at the time, and that's what he did. You know, does it fit in with the rhetoric now? Perhaps not.
GRIFFIN: But Askia wasn't the incumbent. When we come back, how Barack Obama also wiped out the rest of the competition.
COOPER: We'll have more of Drew's report next.
Also later, a tribute to Harvey Korman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARVEY KORMAN, ACTOR: I think I'll grab a little shut eye.
TIM CONWAY, ACTOR: Ah!
KORMAN: On second thought, I think maybe I'll have a drink.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Barack Obama has a message for John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Today he said the general election begins next week, after the last two state primaries wrap up. He's confident he'll be the next president of the United States, as are his challengers. As we told you before the break, Obama's road to the White House began a dozen years ago, running for public office for the first time. And while his critics have said he's not tough enough politically, don't tell that to the politicians he beat back in Chicago.
Here again is Special Investigations Unit correspondent Drew Griffin.
GRIFFIN: Barack Obama was a relative unknown in 1996 when he first ran for office. To win, he had to get around the five-year incumbent, Alice Palmer.
After losing a bid for Congress, Alice Palmer decided to try to keep her senate seat. She would have been tough competition for a newcomer. But Obama planned to beat her before she ever got on the ballot.
Will Burns was one of the volunteers assigned to challenge Alice Palmer's signatures.
WILL BURNS, OBAMA VOLUNTEER: One of the first things you do in every year-end and in the middle of a primary race or any race, especially in primaries in Chicago, you look at the signatures because if you don't have the signatures to get on the ballot, you save yourself a lot of time and effort from having to raise money and have a full-blown campaign effort against.
GRIFFIN: And you guys successfully kept her from running. You also did your job on everybody else on that ballot (ph).
BURNS: The rules are there for a reason.
GRIFFIN: We have had multiple conversations with the Obama campaign about this story. In one of them, the campaign called this report a rehash. In another, they said it was a hit job. The campaign refused to give us an interview about this story but did refer us to an Illinois state representative.
Well, we called her, but she told us she didn't know much about why, when or how Barack Obama challenged all those petitions.
Then the campaign also directed us to a quote the senator gave the "Chicago Tribune" last year.
"To my mind, we were just abiding by the rules that had been set up," Obama told the "Tribune." "My conclusion was that if you couldn't run a successful petition drive, then that raised questions in terms of how effective a representative you were going to be."
In that same "Tribune" article, Obama had this appraisal of that incumbent, Alice Palmer: "I thought she was a good public servant."
Alice Palmer, who is now campaigning for Hillary Clinton, told CNN she doesn't want to talk about her elimination from the ballot by Obama.
BURNS: I don't think he enjoyed it. It was not something that he particularly relished. It was not something that I thought he was happy about doing.
GRIFFIN: But in 1996, Alice Palmer, who along with her husband Buzz, two legendary South Side activists, learned you didn't have to be a Chicago native to play like one. Alice Palmer never ran for public office again.
COOPER: Drew, is this really a big deal? I mean, you know, to those -- some people would see this and say, "Look, this shows that, you know, he was playing by the rules and willing to play hardball."
GRIFFIN: Well, it must be a big deal to the campaign, Anderson, based on the reaction to this story. But I think it was a big deal to the candidates at the time who couldn't even get on that ballot with Barack Obama.
It seems to be a big deal to Senator Clinton's supporters, who are now looking at rules possibly eliminating them from the competition this weekend.
But in a bigger sense, you know, you had Mary Frances Berry on earlier in the program, saying, you know, "We really don't know a lot about Barack Obama;" where he came from politically.
And Chicago is his political roots. He still has big ties there, and he plays and has played by Chicago rules. And that's how this meteoric rise took place.
So more -- this is part of history, his history. The '96 election, his very first, he learned to play the Chicago way, as they say, very quickly and tough.
COOPER: We'll let viewers make up their mind. Drew, thanks.
Erica Hill joins us now with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, the estranged wife of New Jersey's former governor, James McGreevey, testified today that she agreed to live in the governor's mansion to please her husband, even though their condo was an hour closer to her job.
It was Dina Matos McGreevey's second day on the stand in their bitter divorce trial. Yesterday, she described footing the bill for the McGreeveys' $30,000 wedding and agreeing to add dozens of her husband's political cronies to the guest list.
James McGreevey resigned in 2004 amid a gay sex scandal.
Seeking answers to yesterday's deadly trolley collision in -- near Boston, federal investigators say they're going to look into reports from passengers that the trolley operator, who was killed, may have been talking on his cell phone just moments before that crash.
And some sad news to report. Award-winning comedian Harvey Korman has died. Korman won four Emmys for his contributions to "The Carol Burnett Show" and kudos for his roles in "Blazing Saddles" and "High Anxiety." Harvey Korman was 81, Anderson.
COOPER: He was so incredibly talented.
HILL: He really was.
COOPER: I mean, he was such -- he -- earlier today, director Mel Brooks told the AP "A world without Harvey Korman, it's a more serious world." Here's a quick reminder of why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KORMAN: I think I'll grab a little shut eye.
KORMAN: On second thought, maybe I'll have a drink.
CAROL BURNETT, COMEDIENNE: What are you doing up here?
CONWAY: I'm sorry.
BURNETT: You just stay there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Wow. Harvey Korman, so sad; so many great memories. We should all go out and rent "Blazing Saddles," or one of his old movies, just to pay tribute.
HILL: It never gets old.
COOPER: Yes, really great stuff.
Erica, time for our "Beat 360" winners. Every day, we post a picture on our blog, give viewers a chance to outwit our staff by coming up with a better caption. We play the cheesy music.
Tonight's "Beat 360" photo, it's a three-in-one deal, a series of pictures showing President Bush and a graduate at the United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony bumping chests there.
Here's the caption from our staff winner, digital producer David Riesner (ph): "When McCain asked the president for help 'bumping up his war chest,' I'm not sure this is what he had in mind."
Tonight's viewer winner is Bill from Asbury Park. Here's his caption: "Heck, and I thought McClellan knocked the wind out of me."
Hey. You can check out the captions, you can try the video (ph) that didn't quite make the cut on our blog at CNN.com/360. Also, I just -- I misspoke in the previous segment. I said about Barack Obama, I said he's confident he'll be the next president of the United States, as are his challengers. I meant to say, just as his challengers are confident they will be the next president, as well.
Up next: back to the bombshell book; Scott McClellan firing back, speaking out for the first time. What was his motivation for writing the tell all? That's what's on the radar when "360" continues.
COOPER: On the radar tonight, Scott McClellan's bombshell book about his time in the Bush White House. There's mixed reaction on the 360 blog. Here are some of your comments.
Bev in New York writes: It's too bad that he didn't have a conscience when he worked for Bush. Remember in the "old" days when people resigned rather than do something immoral or illegal for their boss in the White House?"
Kent in Illinois has a different take. He says: I don't believe it is about money. He's freeing himself from the guilt he has over his own part he played in this whole charade. And, he is trying to make everyone understand what goes on in Washington and how it clouds everyone's judgment and how wrong it is. Good for you McClellan."
Cindy says: He's in it for nothing more than the almighty dollar and to trash Bush. Whoever can't see that is blind.
To weigh in or read over the other comments, go to cnn.com/360 and link to the blog.
That does it for this edition of "360." For international viewers, "CNN Today" is next. Here in America, "Larry King" is coming up.
Thanks for watching. I'll see you later tonight.
MYERS: Hi everyone. Larry King is next, but first, a look at some severe weather still going on in the plains from South Dakota through Iowa and Nebraska and through Kansas. I'm meteorologist Chad Myers here in the Weather Center.
A storm still spinning. A tornado still on the ground to the north and west of Fairbury, Nebraska. That storm though did miss the town of Fairbury; it missed Reynolds and it's still missing towns there in the plains in the southeast of Nebraska.
I think it will also miss Beatrice. It may not miss (inaudible), Plymouth (ph) also Dewitt (ph). You have to watch that, not probably as far west as western in Nebraska, the town of western Nebraska.
Also more storms to the west of there, still developing, still spinning although no confirmed tornadoes on the ground there.
One more storm just coming over the wire here. Northern Dallas County in central Iowa, you have a tornado warning for Minburn and Dallas center. It could be there by about 11:15 Central Daylight Time.
Pay attention tonight. It's an ugly night for severe weather. Keep tuned to your local radio or keep your NOAA weather radio on.