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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Attorney General Under Fire Over Prosecutor Purge; America's Top General Speaks Out on Gays in the Military; Obama vs. Sharpton?

Aired March 13, 2007 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have been getting enormous feedback about last night's hour on anchor Thomas Roberts. He lived for years with a terrible secret, molestation by the family priest. The e-mails haven't stopped. A lot of you wanted to know more.
So, a little bit later tonight, Thomas is going to join us live. He has got a lot to say, especially about all the other people going through what he did.

We begin tonight, however, with a story that is rocking Washington, a story that almost certainly would not be happening had Republicans held on to Congress: a showdown between lawmakers and the White House over who enforces the law, with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the hot seat.

It centers on the firing last year of eight U.S. attorneys and allegations that they were canned for refusing to play politics with the law.

Today, Attorney General Gonzales said mistakes were made. And even some Republicans agreed. Also today, new evidence in the form of e-mails about seven of the eight fired prosecutors.

CNN's John Roberts has been investigating.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the smoking gun in the latest scandal to rock Washington, 144 pages of e-mails and memos showing extensive contact between the White House and the Department of Justice over the firing of the U.S. attorneys.

It's so important, because members of Congress, suspicious that politics was behind the dismissals, had previously been told the White House wasn't involved.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I guess what really incenses me somewhat is the fact that the attorney general called me and said, you know, I really didn't have my facts right, that none of this was correct.

J. ROBERTS: In fact, two years ago, then White House counsel Harriet Miers said she wanted to fire every U.S. attorney, 93 of them, a clean slate for the second term.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: That was immediately rejected by me. I felt that that was a bad idea and it was disruptive.

J. ROBERTS: Instead, the attorney general's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, suggested cherry-picking a much smaller group, based on a list of criteria, including loyalty to the president and attorney general.

The process took almost two years, a huge paper trail between Sampson, Miers and other White House officials. Sampson, who didn't disclose that communication to members of Congress, was forced to resign.

Alberto Gonzales pledged a full investigation, but swore he had nothing to do with it.

GONZALES: Was not involved in -- in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

J. ROBERTS: But Sampson wasn't a big enough fish for Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Charles Schumer. They all want Gonzales to take the fall.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Today's staff resignation does not take heat off the attorney general. In fact, it raises the temperature. Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy.

J. ROBERTS: Republican John Cornyn said he would prefer a trial before a hanging, but admits it just doesn't look good.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Appearances is -- are troubling. I think the executive branch owes it to Congress to be forthcoming when Congress asks for information. And this has not been handled well.

J. ROBERTS: The White House insists the attorneys were terminated for performance reasons. Was it that or politics?

One e-mail from Sampson asks if California prosecutor Carol Lam has ever been "woodshedded" on immigration enforcement. Another to Sampson complains, Arizona's Paul Charlton and Dan Bogden of Nevada "are unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them," at odds with Gonzales' pledge to kick butt and take names. All of them were fired.

Senator John Ensign knows Bogden, and is outraged he was let go.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: I think he did an outstanding job. I would not hesitate at all to recommend him to be reappointed.

J. ROBERTS: And, while the Justice Department says Karl Rove played no role in the appointment of his former aide, Tim Griffin, to replace the fired U.S. attorney from Arkansas, take a look at this e- mail.

Sampson writes: "Getting him," Griffin, "appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, et cetera."

Democrats vow, Rove will have a chance to explain himself under oath.

SCHUMER: Karl Rove should not wait for a subpoena.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: What authority does the president have, John?

J. ROBERTS: He does have the authority, Anderson, to -- to hire and fire these U.S. attorneys. They serve at the pleasure of the president. And it's not the first time that it's been controversial either.

Back in 1993, President Clinton cleaned house with the U.S. attorneys ranks, including one prosecutor who said he was just 30 days away from making a significant decision on the case in the investigation of Dan Rostenkowski, who was the congressman who was eventually found guilty of crimes in -- in Congress, and as well was a very, very close ally and friend of President Clinton.

COOPER: A powerful Democratic congressman.

John Roberts, thanks for that.

Some perspective now from CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor himself Jeffrey Toobin.

Was this illegal?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Certainly not. He has absolute -- the president has absolute authority to fire people. He could decide to fire all the Catholic U.S. attorneys tomorrow. I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So, why does it matter?

TOOBIN: Well, it's a political issue, because U.S. attorneys have traditionally been very much insulated from politics.

The idea is that, yes, they are presidential appointees. But so are generals in the military. And they're considered fairly insulated from politics, too.

And the -- and -- and there's a lot of circumstantial evidence here that suggests that they -- that some of these people, at least, were fired for not prosecuting Democratic politicians and not prosecuting Democratic voters for vote fraud. That's a political problem. It's not a legal problem.

COOPER: You know, it's not my job to take sides on this, so let me just ask the obvious question, which I guess Republicans would ask, in particular, is, why was it OK for President Clinton to fire all of these attorneys, and for this Republican president to get in trouble for just firing selectively?

TOOBIN: Because U.S. attorneys are traditionally replaced by a new president.

What Clinton did was, he replaced them all immediately. U.S. attorneys are always replaced by a new administration. They usually just let each person's term end, and then replace it.

COOPER: So, if -- as I guess was discussed, if, at the beginning of President Bush's second term, he just decided to fire them all, that would have been OK?

TOOBIN: I think that certainly wouldn't have created the political problem that they had here now. I mean, it would have been very disruptive to the judicial system. It's never been done in the middle of a president's term.

The issue here is not that he fired people. It's why he fired people. You know, to get Karl Rove's assistant to be the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, that's not the same reason -- that's -- that's not a very good reason. If he thinks a president -- a U.S. attorney is not enforcing immigration laws correctly, that seems like a legitimate reason...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And, clearly, part of the outrage that we heard a lot of today, and the reason Alberto Gonzales is now particularly in the hot seat, is because the Justice Department was saying one thing to lawmakers, but, in truth, they weren't giving them the full story.

TOOBIN: Right.

The initial explanation was, this was just an internal Justice Department matter.

And, here, it's clear that this whole thing was orchestrated by Harriet Miers and Karl Rove and people at the White House. That's -- so, not telling a straight story is -- is obviously a big part of the problem.

COOPER: Kyle Sampson, who is the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- and Gonzales said he knew none of this -- he basically has put it all on his chief of staff, who has now stepped down -- sent an e-mail to then White House counsel Harriet Miers.

And I want to read some of it. This was about the firing. He wrote: "I'm concerned that, to execute this plan properly, we must all be on the same page and be steeled to withstand any political upheaval that might result. If we start caving to complaining U.S. attorneys or senators, then we shouldn't do it. It will be more trouble than it's worth."

TOOBIN: Well, he was a prophet.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: I mean, he knew. He understood. The problem is that, you know, U.S. attorneys are not like usual -- you know, the president gets to replace his secretary of state any time he wants, just because he doesn't like the policies he's following. U.S. attorneys are different.

That's why Sampson knew there would be a firestorm. There has been a firestorm. But they don't seem to have a very good explanation. And they are not really acknowledging what seems apparent, which is that some of these people were fired for very political reasons, not just because they weren't doing a good job.

COOPER: So, what happens now?

TOOBIN: Certainly, as a legal matter, nothing happens. I mean, these U.S. attorneys, the new ones, will be -- the president has the power to appoint them. Not all of them, under a change in the law, have to be confirmed by the Senate.

But the question is, can Gonzales take the heat and remain as attorney general while this is going on?

COOPER: He may -- he may not be able to?

TOOBIN: He may not be able to.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: And I think the next few days, and if any more disclosures come out, and if any Republicans turn on him, then he's in big problem.

COOPER: All right.

TOOBIN: But Democrats are not so much of a problem.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, thanks. Appreciate it.

Now the other story causing a stir, especially out of Washington. For more than a dozen years, homosexuals in the military have been serving under simple law: Don't ask, don't tell. They don't announce their sexuality, and the military doesn't ask.

Thousands of gay service members are still being discharged. But, under the policy, the military is not even supposed to care about the right or wrong of homosexuality.

Well, General Colin Powell said so back when the policy was debated. But, tonight, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs is in hot water for saying otherwise.

Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral, and that we should not condone immoral acts.

I do not believe that the armed forces of the United States are well served by saying, through our policies, that it's OK to be immoral in any -- in any way, not -- not just with regards to homosexual acts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that set off an uproar. Gay advocacy groups demanded an apology. Democrats called for hearings. Defense Secretary Gates has weighed in, saying that personal opinion had no place at the Pentagon.

But, today, General Pace put out a statement, saying in part -- and I quote -- "In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views."

Earlier tonight, I talked about that controversy with Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the first American wounded in the Iraq war, and who is gay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Eric, were you surprised when Peter -- General Pace came out with these comments, not so much that he's against don't ask/don't tell, but that he would speak about his personal beliefs?

STAFF SERGEANT ERIC ALVA (RET.), U.S. MARINE: I -- I was very surprised. I was actually shocked. And, then, it hits you -- when it hits you, it -- I was appalled at his remarks.

COOPER: Why? I mean, what -- what surprised you?

ALVA: I think -- I think his -- his personal beliefs, his values, his own opinions were -- were very insensitive and disrespectful to the thousands of men and women who -- who actually serve in the military under the policy of don't ask/don't tell. And -- and it was offensive to quite a bit of people. You're talking thousands.

COOPER: The -- the -- the argument made in support of don't ask/don't tell is always about unit cohesion, that having openly gay service members would -- would make it -- a lot of other people uncomfortable in a unit, and -- and break down the -- the cohesion.

Do you buy that?

ALVA: No, I don't.

I mean, that's an argument that has -- has been, you know, discussed year after year. And it was discussed even in the mid-'90s, when people thought women wanting to serve in combat zones, and people said, right, the same argument, that it would disrupt the morale -- the morale, the cohesion, and -- and, you know, military structure. And, you know, Anderson, there's women serving in Iraq right now on the front lines. The unit cohesion and military structure has just gone on as normal. I mean, it's -- it's -- you know, people are sticking together and people are defending this country as a whole.

COOPER: There are those who support this policy who say, look, this is not about social engineering. This is -- the Army, the -- the Marine Corps is not about, you know, trying to change society or push an agenda.

It's about, you know, killing bad guys. And if -- if any -- you don't want anything that gets in the way of that. And, if -- if it makes Marines or -- or soldiers think twice, isn't that a negative?

ALVA: I have to state that, you know, as a gay member of the armed forces for 13 years, you know, I never really discussed my orientation.

One -- for one, I wasn't allowed to. But, you know, even if I had that liberty of being open, you know, I don't know if I would really want to. Looking up to General Pace today, someone in a high- ranking position, he is able to say what he wants openly and freely. And, here you are, men and women who are abiding by the -- the policy of don't ask/don't tell, but it's almost like telling them to keep their mouth shut.

I mean, how backwards is that in a -- in a country that supposedly has full equality for people?

COOPER: The former chief of staff Shalikashvili has reversed his position, now wants don't ask/don't tell repealed.

And I -- I want to read you something that he wrote in an op-ed. He said: "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

Would the Marines in your unit have followed you, would they have been supportive of you, would they have been able to work with you if they had known you were gay?

ALVA: Absolutely. I really believe that the Marines would have followed me wholeheartedly, with no -- no second guesses or any doubts. I mean, I was an outstanding Marine, as well as like all the other men and women who serve in our armed forces, whether they're gay or straight. So, the Marines would have followed me, no doubt about it.

COOPER: And it's important for you to come forward, it's important for -- in your opinion, for Americans to know that there are gay men and women serving, and have served, and have -- and have lost limbs, in your case, and lost their lives, because why? I mean, why is that so important, to -- to have people acknowledge that?

ALVA: It's important to -- to -- to show people what the true American nature of this country is. Men and women who even are gay and even don't reap in the same benefits of everyone when they come home are willing to put their lives on the line for the -- for the privileges and freedoms of everyone else. We need to end discrimination as a whole and treat people fairly.

COOPER: Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, appreciate you talking. Thank you.

ALVA: Thank you, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The Pentagon's don't-ask/don't-tell policy differs sharply with that of other nations. Here's the "Raw Data."

At least 24 of our allies let openly gay men and women serve in the military. Britain, Italy, Canada, France, Italy, and Australia are just a few from that list. Along with the U.S., though, 12 countries ban professed homosexuals from military service, including Russia, Turkey, Argentina, and Brazil.

Don't ask/don't tell and the U.S. attorney flap aren't the only stories that Washington is buzzing about today. The country is talking about them as well. There's a war of words going on in the race for the White House.

John Roberts has the raw words in tonight's "Raw Politics" -- John.

J. ROBERTS: Hey, Anderson.

In "Raw Politics" tonight, is there a fight brewing between Barack Obama and the Reverend Al Sharpton? "The New York Post" reported that Sharpton was trying to tear down Obama because of jealousy. Sharpton, you will remember, ran for president back in 2004. He got a lot of attention and huge support from African- Americans. But he wasn't afforded the same sort of status that the Barack star has been given.

Sharpton has said that Obama still has a lot of work to win over support in the black community, even suggested that some people might be suspicious of him because of his huge popularity among white voters.

But, as for any feud, Sharpton told our Mary Snow, that's just crazy, that, at the recent march in Selma, Alabama, they began to get to know each other.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: In Selma, we started warming up. That's why, out of nowhere, this kind of article, and no denunciation of it from them? It -- it mystifies me.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When -- when you talk to him, what did you want to say?

SHARPTON: I wanted to say to him...

SNOW: What do you think you're going to say?

SHARPTON: ... that I think that it is important. He's a very impressive candidate. I think he has a lot to offer. But I think that he must answer substantive questions in his own African-American community, as he does in other communities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

J. ROBERTS: Sharpton hasn't endorsed any candidate, and, in fact, may still take another run at the nomination himself.

We keep hearing that faith is important in politics. Well, what about no faith? Democrat Pete Stark is getting big props for saying today that he doesn't believe in God. Who is applauding? Secular groups, who say that he is the highest ranking elected official and the first member of Congress to publicly acknowledge their atheism.

It's one thing for a congressman to say, "I'm an atheist," quite another for a presidential candidate. Take a look at this recent Gallup poll. It asked Americans: Would you vote for a well-qualified candidate who is? African-American came in first, with 94 percent, a woman third, at 88 percent, married for the third time -- Who could they be talking about there? -- sixth, with 67 percent, and an atheist, dead last, at 45 percent.

Stark, who is from California, says he looks forward to stopping the promotion of religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military, and social services.

And remember that vast right-wing conspiracy? It's back. Hillary Clinton told a gathering of Democratic municipal officials it's alive and well and living in New Hampshire. Clinton was referring to three GOP operatives guilty of jamming phone lines on Election Day 2002. The operation targeted the Democrats' get-out-the- vote campaign in New Hampshire.

She also complained that Republicans made intimidating phone calls during the last election. Clinton first talked about the vast right-wing conspiracy during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And we all remember how that came out.

She was trying to turn it to her advantage today, but some Democratic strategists wonder why she would ever again utter words that came back to bite her so hard.

And that's "Raw Politics" tonight -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, John, thanks for that, raw politics, indeed.

Is there a fight brewing between Barack Obama and Reverend Al Sharpton? "The New York Post" reported that Sharpton was trying to tear down Obama because of jealous. Sharpton said that Obama still has a lot of work to do to win over support in the black community. We will have that story and a lot more coming up. Stay tuned. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): His trust was betrayed, his body violated, his soul broken.

THOMAS ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: I will kill myself. And, then, no one will have to know. I will never have to tell. And I won't have to live like this.

COOPER: But he lived, and he told. Now see how he's fighting to change a system that he says victimizes the victims, instead of punishing the guilty.

Also, your tax dollars, those bridges to nowhere, so wasteful, so embarrassing -- Congress said the project was dead. But guess what?

ED FRANK, VICE PRESIDENT OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: It's like a horror movie where the villain just doesn't die. You think it's killed. You think it's killed. And then it just keeps coming back from the dead.

COOPER: Yes, still alive, costing hundreds of millions of dollars -- we're "Keeping Them Honest" ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Ah, remember the bridges to nowhere? The projects became so pricey and so controversial that Congress killed them last year, right? Well, now they're back. And your tax dollars are paying for them. How could this happen?

Well, we asked CNN's Joe Johns to investigate. And, tonight, he's "Keeping Them Honest" on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Building a bridge connecting a mainly uninhabited island to Ketchikan in Alaska became a metaphor for raiding taxpayers in the last year. You will remember the project became infamously known as one of the bridges to nowhere.

In the face of growing opposition, Congress boldly said, the so- called earmark for funding was just too much.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: That was an authorized earmark that doesn't pass the smell test.

JOHNS: But guess what? The project never did die. In fact, Congress still gave Alaska your tax money to pay for it.

ED FRANK, VICE PRESIDENT OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY FOUNDATION: It's like a horror movie where the villain just doesn't die. You think it's killed. You think it's killed. And then it just keeps coming back from the dead. JOHNS: So, how did we get here? The Alaskan bridges became the ultimate symbol of what's wrong with the practice of earmarking. That's when Congress approves money for lawmakers' pet projects back in their home states.

You will recall two Capitol Hill heavyweights, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young, were pushing the bridges in their home state. And they have a lot of sway. It all built up to a huge congressional showdown. The Congress took on the two powerful Alaskans and said absolutely no to the earmarks for the bridges, but said Alaska could keep the money, $450 million, for anything it wants.

And, in Alaska, the governor decided to use the money for, guess what, the bridges to nowhere.

TIM PHILLIPS, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY FOUNDATION: We have got to start protecting the taxpayers.

JOHNS: The watchdog group Americans for Prosperity devote a lot of their time trying to kill congressional pet projects. They toured 30 states, trying to bring a megaphone to call out what they see as the biggest examples of wasteful spending. And that took them to Alaska.

PHILLIPS: And they want to spend $223 million of our tax money to connect this uninhabited island to that island in the middle that has about 50 people on it.

JOHNS: And, when you look at it that way, it's, well, a pretty good deal for a few people. But, if you don't live in this part of Alaska, you're wondering: What am I getting out of this?

But what about the other bridge? It's supposed to connect a remote wilderness area to Anchorage. It's not dead either. And, if it goes up, real estate developers are hoping this area will be wilderness no longer. Basically, if they build it, people will come.

DARCIE SALMON, BRIDGE BOOSTER: Over here, we can offer half- acre, acre lots, private well, private septic, recreational, lakes, rivers, streams, snow machine. They are going to want to come here.

JOHNS: So, what we learned when we were there is that a lot of people who live in Alaska aren't completely sold on the idea of the bridges, and don't like this kind of attention. There is opposition, especially to the bridge in Anchorage. So, the fight goes on. But the bridges are not dead yet.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: That's your money.

Up next, "Sins of the Father," a story of abuse against a teenage boy by a trusted Catholic priest -- it was a story difficult to tell. And it happened to one of our own colleagues, anchor Thomas Roberts. He joins us next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Last night, we brought you a rare firsthand account of methodical abuse suffered at the hands of someone you would least expect. We called the special hour "Sins of the Father."

And it was a raw and sometimes graphic look at what happened to one of our own, Headline News anchor Thomas Roberts. Thomas is here with us tonight. We are going to talk to him in a minute about why he decided to break his silence, and what some of you think about what you heard last night.

But, first, here's a quick look at his story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): At 14 years old, Thomas Roberts was trapped by the one person he was told to trust.

T. ROBERTS: It's probably the worst place you can be in your life, because there's so much shame that goes along with this. There's secrecy. There's shame. There's self-hatred, self-doubt, every mixed-up emotion you can have that you don't feel that you can talk to anybody about. It was a prison.

COOPER: The man he looked up to would not relent. Father Jeff Toohey, his counselor, his priest, continued to molest Thomas.

T. ROBERTS: One evening of Father Jeff, you know, kissing my ear -- the next instances of abuse, and how they would graduate, would be Father Jeff licking the palm of his hand, to then, you know, touch me, and using -- using his hand to then masturbate me.

Instances after that would then graduate to kissing, where he would rub his tongue across my teeth, clenched -- mine would be clenched, until, time after time, I relented.

This is -- I don't want to -- this is really too painful.

COOPER: Father Jeff became more aggressive, leaving Thomas thinking he had only one way out.

T. ROBERTS: I will kill myself, and I will get out of it that way. I will get out of it that way. And, then, no one will have to know. I will never have to tell. And I won't have to live like this.

COOPER: But his attempt was thwarted by his sister, Patsy (ph).

And, surrounded by his family, Thomas sought medical attention. He still refused to speak, however, of the abuse, and continued to go to counseling with Father Jeff at his home on Cottage Lane, until finally Thomas fled to college, thinking he had escaped his past and Father Jeff. But the past kept coming back. Thomas found out he was not the only victim of Father Jeff's. Even then, Thomas could not come forward with the truth.

ROBERTS: That was not my life, and there was no way, no way I was going to go back and walk through that ring of fire again and admit to everybody, "Hey, that was me. You know, I share part of this boy's story. I was abused, too."

COOPER: It was nearly 20 years until Thomas found the courage to share his secret with his family and that other victim of Father Jeff's.

MICHAEL GOLES, ABUSED BY PRIEST: I picked up the phone, and the voice on the other end said, "Is this is Michael Goles?" And I said that it was, and then he just started in about that he had been abused by Jeff.

ROBERTS: After it was reported to the archdiocese, I asked to get in touch with him because I felt that I owed him, that I owed him an apology. That I needed to tell him that he wasn't alone. And that, if nobody in this world believed him, that I did. That I did.

COOPER: Together, Thomas and Michael sought justice against their abuser, and in February of 2006, after having pled guilty, Father Jeff Toohey received a five-year sentence, with all but 18 months suspended, meaning he only had to serve 18 months at this Baltimore County detention center.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Thomas Roberts joins us now.

It's hard for you to look at even now.

ROBERTS: It is hard. Yes, it is hard. It's very painful to watch some of that, because it shows how vulnerable I feel about this whole incident. And...

COOPER: Even now, all these years later?

ROBERTS: Even now, all these years later. And especially now that so much -- so much has been discussed about this. And there's been a lot of attention, obviously.

But the attention that has come from this actually gives me more courage to move forward. So I have to say thank you for what you did last night.

COOPER: I think a lot of people are stunned to find out that Father Jeff, who got a five-year sentence, didn't even serve 18 months.

ROBERTS: He didn't serve 18 months. He served 10 months, just shy of 10 months, and his lawyer said the jail was too...

COOPER: How did that come about?

ROBERTS: the jail was too tough. Jail was too tough. He was in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and only had an hour out.

COOPER: And he was in solitary confinement for his own protection?

ROBERTS: Correct. In solitary confinement.

COOPER: So now he's where?

ROBERTS: He got to go home. And they did the remainder of the sentence on home detention.

COOPER: An anklet?

ROBERTS: Living at home, wears an anklet. And there's a lot of checkouts, you know, for doctor's appointments and you have a job, church, lawyers.

COOPER: And he's still a priest?

ROBERTS: As far as I know, technically, he still is. I don't think the archdiocese of Baltimore has followed through with the defrocking process. One of the last conversations I had with them, they were in the process of forwarding that paperwork on to Rome.

COOPER: We had been told that it had been forwarded to the Vatican, but no action as of yet has been taken.

ROBERTS: They're not really in touch with me much.

COOPER: You've been fighting hard to get Maryland's laws changed. What is the law now and what do you think it should change?

ROBERTS: There's currently a bill under consideration for the Maryland legislature that would actually open up a window of time for sexual abuse survivors to come back. Now, this isn't targeted strictly at the church. I mean, this is for organizations.

Now, mind you that the church would bear a lot of responsibility. It would be, I guess, facing a lot under the fact that this window would open up for people to come forward. But that's...

COOPER: Because right now, there's a statute of limitations?

ROBERTS: There's a statute of limitations. Right. I believe it's up to 25 years old. People would need to come forward by the time they're 25 to take care of this.

Now I can tell you, I'm 34, and at 25 could I have thought about doing this? No way. When I was a young man, you know, in my 20s, the statute of limitations at that time was 21. So Maryland did revise it a few years back. They pushed it up to 25.

But Anderson, when people are dealing with sexual abuse and instances that are so pushed down and so hard for them to deal with, even to speak it, to think about going through a legal process is very difficult, and you're only 20 something years old.

I mean, I did this in my 30s and I had to cry this whole thing out and go through this. And Michael Goles, the other boy that came forward first, who was very brave in 1993, he faced all kinds of ridicule.

And they tore the boy down to the point where it wasn't worth it, and he had to leave the state and his family was ridiculed, and no one believed him. So for somebody to come forward in their early 20s and have to deal with this, it's just not possible, and it's not fair to do to somebody. Because for me, it never would have happened, never happened.

COOPER: We're going to talk more with Thomas coming up.

Also, a lot of you sent e-mails. And we received hundreds of e- mails last night. We'll read some of them and have Thomas answer some of the questions you wanted answers to.

Also tonight, another story. A tragedy here in New York that got national attention. Eight children, two adults died in a fire. Their deaths shed light on a family, a lifestyle and a culture that many Americans don't know much about. The culture that includes polygamy, actually. A look inside their world ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We've been talking about Thomas Roberts, about the abuse that he suffered as a teenager at the hands of a Catholic priest. We told you his story last night in a 360 special, "The Sins of the Father".

As we mentioned, there's been a huge response to this story. Thomas is back tonight to talk more about his ordeal and to answer a lot of the questions that you e-mailed us. I want to get to these e- mails. Literally, hundreds of people have been e-mailing in.

This -- this is an e-mail from -- from Norah in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She writes, "What has (Thomas) Roberts learned that might be useful to others -- parents of potential victims, other adult survivors, et cetera, about warning signs someone is being abused and also how to cope with being a survivor? What and who has helped him come to terms and cope? How does it still affect him?"

ROBERTS: That's a great question. It's really hard to talk about how to tell signs, because kids, and I was famous for this, can really make people believe everything is going along just fine. And you actually overcompensate.

For me now, in later life, my family, my mom, my dad, my Aunt Pat, my Uncle Allen (ph), my sister, Patsy, you know, Patrick, everybody has come forward for me to rally around me and take care of me, which has been fantastic. Because that's the support that I always believed that I wouldn't have as a kid, that I wouldn't be believed, that these people wouldn't take care of me. And that's where I was wrong, because they have been there from the get-go, from the minute that I was able to impart the -- my Aunt Pat was the first person in the family that I told. And from that minute forward, I knew that I would have their support, and there would never be a problem from it.

COOPER: This e-mail from Suzanne from Boston. She writes, "I believe it's imperative for all Catholics to come forward and seek positive change within the church. That change has not been forthcoming. As such, I also believe it's imperative for Catholics to support legislation, to extend the statute of legislation for civil and criminal penalties to those who perpetrate crimes of sexual abuse against kids. Thomas, will you continue the worthy and just fight to create stronger laws?"

I mean, you're actively trying to change some of these laws. Will that continue?

ROBERTS: I'd like to. I mean, last year when I testified, it was pretty taxing. And so this year I wasn't able to go, just for some personal reasons.

It takes a lot out of you to step up to do that. And I commend all the people that were there this year and that are fighting again to see this go through in the state of Maryland and for other states that are out there.

And really, what this does is that it holds organizations responsible so that some places that would have records, like the Catholic Church, in Maryland they'd have to open up their records. People would have access to find out what did the church really know about different offending priests.

And that's what anybody in this situation wants is justice. Because people, Anderson, call me the lucky one. I'm the lucky one, because I got to see my offender go to jail and go to jail for ten months.

Most people don't get that opportunity. They don't get the chance to take their perpetrator to court, to hear their perpetrator say, "Guilty," as mine did. There was no trial. He took a plea and confessed to his own guilt. And so many survivors, they don't get that.

COOPER: A lot of people were stunned, though, by what they felt was a light sentence, 10 months only. This is from Don in St. Louis, Missouri. He said, "Ten months for 10 counts of sexual abuse. Does Mr. Roberts feel the criminal justice system has failed him? I do."

ROBERTS: The consequence was never going to be up to me about this. Consequence was going to be up to the judicial system.

For me, the big deal was hearing Father Jeff say guilty. And that was his own admission in this situation. The judge is the one that was responsible for the consequence.

COOPER: There was a guy, as you pointed out in the piece last night, who received -- who had overdue library looks.

ROBERTS: Right. It offended the library system in the state of Maryland. That same day in a different courtroom, got a three-year sentence.

COOPER: So three years for overdue library books.

ROBERTS: Library books.

COOPER: And 10 months for Father Jeff.

ROBERTS: Well, Father Jeff got the five year sentence, all but 18 months suspended, served shy of ten and then was released. And I think -- I really think, Anderson, if Michael and I hadn't shown up that day in court the day that they had this hearing, that he would have been released free and clear, without having to go on home detention to serve the remainder.

COOPER: I want to get two other e-mails in. Betty Ann of Nacogdoches, Texas, writes, "Is Thomas Roberts still a Catholic?"

ROBERTS: Technically, I would still be considered a Catholic. But I -- there are things that I still have to grapple with, things that I -- I still have faith, though.

COOPER: Does it alter your faith? Does it change your faith?

ROBERTS: It definitely has an impact on faith, but I'm not going to allow it to rob me of my faith, because it's already taken so many years and so many other things from me. That would be too much power to give to this ultimately.

COOPER: We also received an e-mail from Suzanne in Nyack, New York, who says that she actually knows Father Jeff. She spoke well of Father Jeff in an e-mail. And she says, "As a childhood sexual abuse survivor who has done all her work around it, through years of in- depth therapy, fully understanding the confusion that comes with destroyed trust and boundaries in such a situation, I still have to ask this troubling question, why Thomas kept going back to Jeff's house voluntarily, especially staying overnight in Jeff's room for three years. Was his concern for being kicked out of elite Calvert Hall worth three years of the 'awful' experiences he describes enduring?"

How do you respond?

ROBERTS: I would say to Suzanne that the only thing that she needs to know in this situation is that Father Jeff pled guilty.

I was 14, and for Suzanne to say she's a sexual abuse survivor, you know, my heart and compassion goes out to her. And I don't understand why she wouldn't impart the same compassion to me and instead wants to stand up behind someone who admits to sexually abusing myself and Michael Goles. So I don't understand why she would want to question me on this.

But the Suzannes of the world are the exact reason why in 1987 I didn't come forward. And in 1993, the Suzannes of the world are the 300 plus people that showed up to rally against Michael Goles and pray against him.

And the Suzannes of the world today, in 2007, are the reason why there are kids out there right now that may see this and fear coming forward, because they're going to have deal with something like that.

COOPER: They're going to ask that question, why'd you go back?

ROBERTS: They're going to -- they're going to be asked that question and it's -- as if it's their fault, and it's not their fault. And if anybody gets that out there, if there's a kid out there, don't think it's your fault.

And if you can reach out, wherever you are, and get the help that you need right now, do it. Because it's tough. It's a long road. Life is -- everybody says life is short. Life is long, and when you're unhappy, life is even longer.

So for anybody out there that's suffering through this, I would say reach out and try and get some help for yourself. Because there is help. There is support out there, and the Suzannes of the world, they're not the monopoly.

COOPER: All right. It takes extraordinary courage to not only come forward when you did but also to talk about this in such a public setting. So I appreciate you doing that, and I appreciate you trusting us enough to tell you your story.

ROBERTS: Thank you. And from my family, I thank you very much. It was tough for me to watch and tough for me to live through. But, you know, if it helps one person out there, then this is all for the better.

COOPER: We certainly got a lot of e-mails from people who said they were helped by it. So thank you, Thomas.

If you want to hear more of Thomas' story, you can weigh in on it or read other viewer's comments. Go to our blog, CNN.com/360blog. We welcome your feedback.

Still to come tonight, a tragedy that revealed a mystery. A way of life hiding in plain sight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): The fire took half his family. But there's more to this story than you can ever imagine. Coming up next on 360.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: The mourning continues here in New York for the victims of last week's house fire. In all, 10 people were killed, nine of them children, the youngest just 6 months old. Five of the children were buried in New Jersey just yesterday. The other bodies will be flown to their native country, Mali, for burial.

The tragedy is bringing attention to a little known immigrant community here in New York. In many ways they blend right in with the rest of the city's diverse population. They also bring a very unique culture and customs to their new homeland. Some of them even practice polygamy.

With that story, here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was emotionally difficult to watch this man as he prayed in a mosque after losing five of his 11 children in a Bronx, New York, house fire.

Moussa Magassa is still in a state of disbelief, which made his kindness and graciousness so noteworthy when we talked with him about New Yorkers.

MOUSSA MAGASSA, LOST CHILDREN IN FIRE: And I appreciate what they have done for me, from the governor, the mayor, everybody. I thank everybody in New York City.

TUCHMAN: Magassa, who went through his destroyed home today, is from Maui, among tens of thousands of West Africans who have immigrated to the United States, mostly in the New York City area.

This tragedy has opened a window on a way of life not always understood in the west.

(on camera) How are your wives doing?

MAGASSA: She's doing fine. She's doing fine.

TUCHMAN: You have two, right?

MAGASSA: Yes.

TUCHMAN: And they're both doing fine?

MAGASSA: They're doing fine. They're doing fine.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Like many Muslims, Magassa has more than one wife. Both women survived the fire. Five of his wife Masia's (ph) seven children died. Four children of his wife, Aisse, survived.

There was a huge outpouring of support at the funeral, including some of the city's top politicians.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: I just pray that this never happens again. TUCHMAN: Polygamy is illegal in the United States, which has made many worry these grieving family members would find themselves in legal turmoil.

But polygamists have not been prosecuted in this country for decades unless the marriages involve underage girls, like those allegedly arranged by fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs.

Columbia University's Gregory Mann is an expert on West Africa.

GREGORY MANN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Malians have always had polygamist households, as far back in history as we can tell. And of course, Islamic law allows for polygamy, as well.

TUCHMAN (on camera): In your country, you're allowed to have two wives, but not in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have four.

TUCHMAN: You have four wives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Really?

(voice-over) Abdou (ph) is from Gambia. He has lived in this Bronx neighborhood for 19 years.

(on camera) Is it complicated, is it hard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not hard. If I don't know how to take care of them, I don't know. But I know how to take care of them.

TUCHMAN: I think it's very hard. I don't think I could take care of four wives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God helps me.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): West Africans are often described as hard- working, gregarious, generous and grateful.

SHEIKH MOUSSA DRAMMEH, GAMBIAN IMMIGRANT: America, it's probably the best place to practice your religion. The Constitution gives everybody the right to practice what you believe. Even a Muslim country, you may not have as much freedom to practice Islam as you have here in America.

TUCHMAN: In this country, this family's lifestyle and culture are not very well understood, but their grief sure is. West African or not, this is an American tragedy.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A tragedy indeed. Up next, rough and deadly seas. A whale that targets fisherman trying to help it. We'll show you the incredible video. It's our "Shot of the Day", next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our "Shot of the Day" is coming up. It all looks calm right now, but these fishermen are in for a deadly surprise. But first, Erica Hill from Headline News joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS: Anderson, another day of deadly violence in Iraq as ten people are killed in attacks throughout Baghdad.

The deadliest shooting at a Sunni mosque left four people dead. And two people were killed and six others wounded when a roadside bomb hit a minibus in one neighborhood. Seventeen people in total wounded in today's attacks.

In Florida, prosecutors are asking for the death penalty for the convicted sex offender who raped and killed 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Last week, the same jury convicted John Couey of kidnapping, raping and killing little Jessica.

The defense attorneys say Couey should be sentenced to life in prison because of his low I.Q. and history of chronic substance abuse.

A brutal day on Wall Street, the Dow tumbling more than 242 points. It's the second worst sell-off for blue chips this year. The NASDAQ lost 51. The S&P dropped nearly 29 points.

And media giant Viacom is suing Google and its popular Internet web site, YouTube, for alleged copyright infringement. Last night, Viacom demanded YouTube remove more than 100,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom programs. Viacom is suing for a billion dollars.

In a statement, Google said it believes the courts will agree, quote, "that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders."

Anderson, back over to you.

COOPER: A billion dollars?

HILL: A billion dollars.

COOPER: Yikes.

HILL: Not to be confused with a billion dollars.

COOPER: Time for "The Shot of the Day". Really dramatic video of an attempted whale rescue gone terribly wrong in Japan. Take a look at this, Erica.

Three fishermen tried to rescue a sperm whale that strayed into a bay. The whale panicked, struck the fishing boat, literally flipping the boat over. The fisherman drowned.

HILL: Drowned.

COOPER: Yes, the fisherman drowned. We're going to have much more on this story. We'll talk to wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin a little bit later in our next hour. Unbelievable what happened there.

HILL: So sad, too. Just trying to help the whale get back out, because it was trapped, from what I understand.

COOPER: Yes. They were trying to do good. Erica, thanks.

And also, we wanted you at home to give "The Shot" a shot. If you see some amazing video, tell us about it: CNN.com/360. We'll put some of your best clips on the air.

Coming up, we'll head to Mexico for a live report on President Bush's visit.

And later, fresh evidence that raises serious doubts about the claims of a new film on the tomb of Jesus.

You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Remember that tomb of Jesus? Well, fresh evidence tonight about the tomb that a new documentary claims contain the bones of Jesus and his family. How the facts square with the film that some are calling a revelation.

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

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