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Democratic Showdown in Philadelphia; Planet in Peril - Rising Food Prices; Up Close with John McCain

Aired April 16, 2008 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, breaking news: the final debate before the crucial primary. Barely six days to go until Pennsylvanians go to the polls, Barack Obama ahead nationally and looking to seal the deal; Hillary Clinton ahead in Pennsylvania and counting on it to break his momentum.
She, of course, plagued by new polling that shows a majority of people do not trust her. He's been dogged by doubts about his pastor and remarks he made calling small-town Pennsylvanians bitter.

Some say debates should focus more on what the candidates would do when they're president, but for the first 45 minutes of this one tonight in Philadelphia, the questions and answers were about all that other stuff.

It aired tonight on ABC. Now, this is the first time the two candidates have debated since the bitter -- so-called "bitter" controversy broke out.

The questioning began with ABC News' Charlie Gibson asking Senator Obama about it.


CHARLES GIBSON, MODERATOR: Talking to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco 10 days ago, you got talking in California about small town Pennsylvanians who have had tough economic times in recent years. And you said they get bitter and they cling to guns or they cling to their religion or they cling to antipathy toward people who are not like them.

You said you misspoke. You said you mangled what it was you wanted to say. But we have talked to a lot of voters. Do you understand that some people in this state find that patronizing and think that you said actually what you meant?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well I think there's no doubt that I can see how people were offended. It's not the first time that I have made a statement that was mangled up. It's not going to be the last.

But let me be very clear about what I meant because it's something that I have said in public. It's something that I have said on television, which is that people are going through very difficult times right now. And we are seeing it all across the country. And that was true even before the current economic hardships that are stemming from the housing crisis.

This is the first economic expansion that we just completed in which ordinary people's incomes actually went down when adjusted for inflation. At the same time as the costs of everything from health care to gas at the pump has skyrocketed.

And so the point I was making was that when people feel like Washington's not listening to them, when they're promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change and it doesn't, then, politically, they end up focusing on those things that are constant like religion.

They end up feeling this is a place where I can find some refuge. This is something that I can count on. They end up being much more concerned about votes around things like guns, where traditions have been passed on from generation to generation. And those are incredibly important to them. And, yes, what is also true is that wedge issues, hot-button issues, end up taking prominence in our politics.

And part of the problem is that when those issues are exploited, we never get to solve the issues that people really have to get some relief on.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am the granddaughter of a factory worker from Scranton who went to work in the Scranton lace mills when he was 11 years old; worked his entire life there, mostly six-day weeks. He was also very active in the Court Street Methodist Church. And he raised three sons and was very proud that he sent all of them to college.

I don't believe that my grandfather or my father or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years cling to religion when Washington is not listening to them.

I think that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad.

And I similarly don't think that people cling to their traditions, like hunting and guns, either, when they are frustrated with the government.


COOPER: Well, with us now at the debate site in Philadelphia, CNN's Candy Crowley and "TIME" magazine's Mark Halperin, who writes "The Page" at, and in Boston, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

Candy, how well do you think Obama explained these so-called "bitter" comments? And what about Clinton's response?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting. I think you saw exactly what happened tonight. Whether the subject was the "bitter" remarks or whether it was Reverend Jeremiah Wright or whether it was his relationship with a former Weather Underground person, he would say, listen, this is not what people are interested in. They are interested in gasoline prices. They are interested in educating their children. They are interested in health care.

She would come back and say, well, I think this shows really a fundamental misunderstanding, as you heard her talking about his remarks about small towns.

When it came to Reverend Wright, she said, well, I think what this shows is, I would have walked away from that.

So, she kept bringing it back to kind of matters of judgment, matters of connection. And he kept saying voters don't care about this. So, that was kind of the basic battle when it came to issues like this.

COOPER: David, as Candy mentioned, Obama's pastor, Reverend Wright, was also a topic tonight. It was the first time really the candidates addressed that issue face-to-face since the whole controversy broke out.

I want to play part of the question directed at Senator Obama and the candidate's response.

Let's listen.


GIBSON: What did you know about his statements that caused you to rescind that invitation? And if you knew he got rough in sermons, why did it take you more than a year to publicly disassociate yourself from his remarks?

OBAMA: Well, understand that I hadn't seen the remarks that ended up playing on YouTube repeatedly. This was a set of remarks that had been quoted in Rolling Stone magazine and we looked at them. And I thought that they would be a distraction, since he had just put them forward.

But, Charlie, I have discussed this extensively. Reverend Wright is somebody who made controversial statements, but they were not of the sort that we saw that offended so many Americans. And that's why I specifically said that these comments were objectionable. They're not comments that I believe in. And I disassociated myself with them.

CLINTON: Obviously, one's choice of church and pastor is rooted in what one believes is what you're seeking in church and what kind of, you know, fellowship you find in church.

But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been just intolerable for me.


COOPER: It's interesting, David, because Obama seemed at one point frustrated that he was asked again to explain his relationship.

But, clearly, this is a topic that's going to be brought up over and over in the general election. How does he deal with it now?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it seemed tonight to be well-trodden ground. I was surprised that the questions went down that track, and the candidates just simply plowed down the field the way they had before.

I don't think we got much new out of this about Reverend Wright. And what we have seen so far is that the bottom has not dropped out of his support -- Barack Obama's support -- and, if anything, the polls seemed to have strengthened some for him, even with this other controversy.

I thought, overall, that what you saw tonight was just what Candy said. And that was that every time one of these potential criticisms came up, Hillary Clinton wanted to dig it in, and he wanted to get away from these kind of questions.

Even when the question finally came up about something she had done on Bosnia, you know, he said, I don't want to go there, basically. And...

COOPER: Do you think she damages herself by, to use your term, trying to dig it in?

GERGEN: Well...

GERGEN: ... she must feel that it's working, because she's been so relentless at it. The polls suggest it's not working. And it's...

COOPER: She's running commercials on the "bitter" statement, I believe.

GERGEN: Well, she is, indeed, in Pennsylvania.

But there was a striking survey that came out in "The Washington Post"/ABC poll this morning that showed that her negatives have gone -- have soared since the early part of the year, that these attacks are -- I think, have not changed the dynamics of the race, and, if anything, seemed to have built up more resentment.

More than half the people in the country now have a negative view of her, and more than half think they can't trust her. And I -- so, I thought, tonight, she might change course some. I thought, frankly, she would move to a lighter place and try to talk more positively about the future.

I was surprised that she continued to go negative on him, because I don't see the evidence. They must have internal polls, the only thing I can conceive of.


Mark, some of the other old ground that was gone over again tonight was her -- I don't know if you call it a misstatement, if you call it a fabrication, whatever you want to call it, about taking sniper fire in Bosnia back in 1996, when, in fact, there wasn't any.

I want to listen to her explanation here.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, MODERATOR: About six in 10 voters that we talk to say they don't believe you're honest and trustworthy. And we asked a lot of Pennsylvania voters for questions they had. A lot them raised this honesty issue and your comments about being under sniper fire in Bosnia.

CLINTON: I may be a lot of things, but I'm not dumb. And I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it all out there.

And you're right. On a couple of occasions in the last weeks, I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book.

And, you know, I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I have said it was a mistake. And it is, I hope, something that you can look over.


COOPER: As David mentioned, Mark, Obama passed on attacking her for the misstatement.

It's got to be pretty devastating or pretty alarming, though, to her campaign to have this poll out there that a majority of people don't trust her.

MARK HALPERIN, THE PAGE, TIME.COM: Well, there's no question that that poll number is a danger to her. And I think it partly reflects the Bosnia flap. It also reflects the fact that she has been forced, she believes, to go after Obama. I thought that was probably her best pushback, her best sort of overall answer on dealing with the Bosnia thing.

But I think, in general, she -- she was in a box tonight. She has had -- she was forced to say, by the questioning, that she believes Obama is electable in a general election.

And her problem is, her main argument, that she's making privately, and the only way she can stop the superdelegates and the delegates from going to Obama is to argue that he's not electable on -- based on some of these things that came up this evening.

That contradiction, acknowledging he's electable, but trying to make an implicit argument that he's not electable, is impossible to do, I think, and, again, made more difficult by the fact that she's got her own problems to deal with.

COOPER: Well, David, does that bring up the sort of the mistrust thing? If, publicly, she's saying, yes, he's electable, and, privately, I mean, according to the people who have said this, she's saying on the phone to superdelegates -- or her people are saying on the phone he's not electable -- there's a disconnect.

GERGEN: You're sure right about that. Mark was wise to point that out.

I do think that was one of the most significant statements in the debate, when she was asked, point-blank, is he electable, and she said yes, yes, yes. That's going to come back.

I think the big question now is Anderson, does she tell anybody else in the future he's not electable? That is when it's going to come back to bite her. She starts putting -- making that argument privately, Harold Ickes is out making that argument privately, then there are going to be all sorts of questions about hypocrisy and one thing and another. So, I did -- I thought that was a very significant statement tonight.

COOPER: We're going to have more from Candy and David and Mark.

Stay right there.

We have more of tonight's crucial debate coming up. More from our panel and what was said and where the race stands, barely six days to go until the Pennsylvania primary.

Also in this hour, we're profiling all three candidates in depth this week. Tonight, John McCain up close. How the worst moments in his life prepared him for the best.


COOPER: We're back on a night that saw both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton peppered with tough questions on stage in Philadelphia.

Each admitted to making mistakes and to carrying baggage that might pose trouble in the general election. Now, both showed the strains of months on the campaign trail and the growing pressure to end it, to win it, to stop hammering each other, you name it.

The first half of the ABC News debate focused on some of the controversies. Part -- part two dealt more with the issues.

With us tonight, CNN's Candy Crowley, "TIME" magazine's Mark Halperin, and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, both these candidates were asked about their plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, even if the generals on the ground said that such a strategic move would destabilize Iraq, if -- even if the generals said it wasn't a good idea.

Let's listen to their responses.


GIBSON: So, if the military commanders in Iraq came to you on day one, and said, this kind of withdrawal would destabilize Iraq, it would set back all of the gains that we have made. No matter what, you're going to order those troops to come home?

CLINTON: Yes, I am, Charlie. And here's why. Thankfully, we have a system in our country of civilian control of the military. And our professional military are the best in the world. They give their best advice. And then they execute the policies of the president.

I have watched this president as he has continued to change the rationale and move the goalposts when it comes to Iraq. And I am convinced that it is in America's best interests, it is in the best interests of our military, and I even believe it is in the best interests of Iraq that upon taking office I will ask the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and my security advisers to immediately put together for me a plan so that I can begin to withdraw within 60 days.

GIBSON: So you would give the same rock-hard pledge, that no matter what the military commanders said, you would give the order to bring them home?

OBAMA: Because the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie. That's not the role of the generals.

And one of the things that's been interesting about the president's approach lately has been to say, "Well, I'm just taking cues from General Petraeus."

Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly. But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer.


COOPER: I mean, both the candidates basically said they would overrule the generals, if necessary. How do you think voters are going to -- are going to read that? Because it also seems to contradict some of what we have heard from both these candidates before about, you know, their plans are contingent on consultations with commanders on the ground.

GERGEN: Anderson, I have to tell you, I thought both candidates were pandering on both Iraq and on taxes.

And if you care about public policy, what you know is that commanders in chief and presidents try not to box themselves in, try not to put themselves in a corner, where they don't have much wiggle room. And, on Iraq, both of themselves locked themselves in, Hillary Clinton, especially, about withdrawal, regardless of the facts on the ground.

And things can change a lot in Iraq, as we discovered here, to our woe here in the last few months. But it's not only that. On taxes, both of them pledged not to raise taxes -- it's a Republican- type pledge -- on anybody making less than $250,000.

They will -- that will handcuff the next president of the United States. If you really care about reforming Social Security, reforming Medicare, reforming energy and environmental policies, and putting a price on carbon, you cannot get there from here.

You can't get to the policy solutions if you say, no new taxes, period, end of sentence, for anybody making under $250,000. So, I think, from a public policy standpoint tonight, this was a distressing debate, in which people locked themselves in unnecessarily.

COOPER: Candy, I want to play just the sound bites that David was talking about -- specifically about raising taxes.

Let's play that.


CLINTON: I am absolutely committed to not raising a single tax on middle-class Americans, people making less than $250,000 a year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: An absolute commitment, no middle-class tax increases of any kind?

CLINTON: No. That's right. That is my commitment.

GIBSON: Senator Obama?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you take the same pledge?

OBAMA: Well, I not only have pledged not to raise their taxes, I have been the first candidate in this race to specifically say I would cut their taxes.


COOPER: I mean, they did then go on, Candy, to talk about the possibility of raising capital gains taxes. And plenty of people own stocks in this country, and so maybe those would be taxes on people under that $250,000 mark.

How do you think all this plays?

CROWLEY: I think it plays very well in the primary. I think their problem is going to be when they get to a general election, whichever one gets there.

You will see the Republicans and John McCain going after it, particularly, I think, on Iraq. He will talk again about the calamity that would happen if you pull troops out. I think they will talk about the idea of no new taxes. Now, as far as we know, John McCain, being a Republican, is also for no new taxes.

I think one way around this for Clinton and Obama may be the definition of middle class. But I agree with David that they really boxed themselves in. All I could think of while listening to this was George Bush 41 and that "no new taxes," you know, "read my lips" statement, which pretty much cost him the reelection.

COOPER: Mark, was this the first time they have made this pledge, or is this the kind of stuff they have been saying on the stump for the last couple days?

HALPERIN: Well, in the case of the taxes, I don't believe that they have ever both -- either of them has been as explicit as they were asked to be tonight.

And, on Iraq, they -- their spokespeople had gone further than they have, in both cases, for being very emphatic about withdrawal from Iraq. I agree with both Candy and David that, in the case of the general election, I think their Iraq statements could be a real problem.

And if either of them is elected president, in the Oval Office, they're going to face some potentially excruciating choices on those two big issues if circumstances are changed, when they have got to go back on a very clear pledge on -- on Iraq, and then again on the question of whether taxes would be raised on people making less than $250,000 a year.

COOPER: And, David, once you have said this about Iraq, as they both have tonight, you're kind of stuck with that. You can't really go back on that in the general election.

GERGEN: You can't.

I must say, I -- once again, I think Senator Clinton was more rigid on that question, absolutely. In fact, almost any time any public policy came up tonight, she said, this is what I will do, period, end of sentence. She left herself no wiggle room.

Barack Obama at least said, listen, this is the mission. I'm going to change the mission, but, of course, I'm going to listen to the commanders on the ground about tactics. That gives him some flexibility about sort of what the -- how it would actually be done over what period of time.

It may well be he will have a different general on the ground. There's a very good chance that General Petraeus will serve out through the end of George W. Bush's term, but, after the election, there's a very good chance that General Petraeus will be reassigned.

COOPER: I also wonder, David, if they end up looking sort of anti-military by basically kind of casting aside what generals on the ground are talking about. GERGEN: I think that's a very good point, because the head of the Joint Chiefs and others, you -- it's very, very important that a president be in a dialogue with his military commanders. Of course, the president is the commander-in-chief, but they are the experts. They do understand and have a very good understanding on the ground of what might happen.

And I just cannot imagine, if you're president, and you think the whole thing is going to cave in on you if you made that decision, you wouldn't find some way to see if you couldn't lengthen it out a little bit. That's not to say they're going to be another extension of George W. Bush.

Bush is for an open-ended commitment. Both of these people want to shut this thing down. That is a change of direction. But to shut -- but to lock themselves in on policy this way...


GERGEN: ... I find to be very surprising, just as Candy and we have all said here tonight.

COOPER: It's getting to be the silly season, I guess, as people say at this time in the campaign.

Up next, our "Planet in Peril," anger and chaos on the streets of many cities around the world over rising food prices; a global crisis even here in America. Chances are, you're seeing higher grocery bills. The question is why. We'll investigate next.


COOPER: Gunfire and rioting in Haiti in recent days over rising food prices. Hungry people taking to the streets all over the world. Here's the shock and reality.

World food prices have jumped as much as 100 percent in just this past year. Even here in America, you may have noticed that prices are up. According to a recent survey, the price of flour, for instance, here at home is up 69 cents to $2.39 for a five-pound bag. Cheddar cheese is up 61 cents. A dozen large eggs is up 55 cents to $2.16. A loaf of white bread is up 16 cents.

It adds up to hardship here and anger overseas. But the question, why is it happening? You might be surprised by the answer.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd with tonight's "Planet in Peril" report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Haiti, deadly riots over food prices. Several killed in recent days and the prime minister is tossed out of office. The U.N. Secretary General says global food inflation has reached emergency proportions. He says it could wipe out seven years of gains in fighting poverty, a sentiment echoed by the head of the World Bank. ROBERT ZOELLICK, PRESIDENT, WORLD BANK: We can't afford to wait. We have to put our money where our mouth is, now, so that we can put food into hungry mouths. It's as stark as that.

TODD: From the White House, a promise to try to help.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are in a process right now of looking at ways to meet some of the ongoing food needs of certain countries beyond what has already been provided.

TODD: It's hitting everywhere. From plentiful supermarkets in the U.S. to rice markets in Bangladesh, where, according to the president of the World Bank, enough rice for a family of six for one day can take up half its daily income.

Why is it happening? Experts say it's partly bad weather, but also high oil prices increasing the transportation costs. More demand in China and India as people can afford better food. And some say competition with ethanol fuel, as more corn grown by farmers is used to make that fuel instead of being sold for food. Good for energy independence, but a big trade-off.

JEFFREY SACHS, EARTH INSTITUTE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: We're taking this valuable food, we're putting it in the gas tank with a big subsidy. That's also driving up world food prices.

TODD: Aid officials say it's more than just a humanitarian problem. Recent protests over high food prices in Egypt, Ivory Coast, and half a dozen other countries suggest it could become a global security problem as well.

ANDREW THORNE-LYMAN, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: The people that are being hit hardest are the urban poor. That's why you're seeing instability that you're seeing in places like Haiti, in urban areas.

TODD: To address the crisis, the WORLD BANK has asked for $0.5 billion from donor countries by May 1st. So far, it's reported receiving pledges for about half that amount.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: You can buy our award-winning documentary "Planet in Peril," it's in stores now.

Just ahead - up close with John McCain. Erica Hill profiles a candidate and three life-changing moments.


ERICA HILL, HEADLINES NEWS CORRESPONDENT: He was shot down. Taken prisoner in Vietnam. The ordeal gave the young man a purpose.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They tried to teach me at the Naval Academy. When they found me in prison, I was dependent on others. I was dependent on tapping on the wall to my fellow prisoners and helped to sustain them, but more importantly, they sustained me. And we then became part of a cause.


We are taking an up close look at the three presidential candidates this week. We've already profiled Barack Obama last night. We're going to bring you Hillary Clinton tomorrow.

Tonight, John McCain. If you think you know his story, you're in for a few surprises. We have some new details on the three defining moments in his life; moments that turned a navy pilot into a presidential candidate.

We begin with the day in 1967 when his plane was shot down over North Vietnam. 360's Erica Hill reports.


HILL: In the darkest hour of John McCain's time as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, he became his own tormenter, not his captor. In that personal hell, McCain tried to hang himself.

ORSON SWINDLE, FELLOW POW: We all contemplated taking our lives rather than having to go through this pain again or this humiliation again or this betrayal, as we saw it, again. You know because of what you just went through you can fail again. And how do you get out of that? The only way out is die.

HILL: He had broken, confessed to war crimes he didn't commit, after months of endless torture. McCain felt he betrayed his country and concluded only death would set him free.

MCCAIN: I viewed it as a failure because I think that I should have done better. I should have done as well as some of my friends did who were stronger and better men than me. Most of all, although he never, ever said a word, except "I'm proud of you," it may have embarrassed my father.

HILL: At the time, his father, a four-star admiral, Jack McCain was commander of all U.S. forces in the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your rank in the army?

MCCAIN: Lieutenant commander in the navy.

HILL: Meaning this French TV news film of John became a perfect piece of propaganda for the enemy. For McCain, it was the ultimate humiliation.

FRANK GAMBOA, MCCAIN'S ANNAPOLIS ROOMMATE: That was a heavy family legacy, to have his father and grandfather, both graduates of the naval academy and prominent naval officers. I think that weighed heavily on him.

HILL: He never rejected the family military tradition, but he would follow it on his own terms.

GAMBOA: The sense of independence and his feeling that he had no choice but to be there, I think, caused him to rebel a little bit.

MCCAIN: My company officer would have predicted that I would be on probation rather than in the United States Senate.

HILL: At the Naval Academy at Annapolis, McCain was easily distracted.

GAMBOA: We liked to hang around with him because he was popular, he knew a lot of pretty girls, and he was a lot of fun to party with.

HILL: Those distractions nearly torpedoed McCain's naval career. During his junior year, McCain flunked an exam and had just one chance left to stay at Annapolis. But instead of studying, he went to another party.

GAMBOA: We got back to the naval academy about 6:00 in the morning. He hadn't slept, of course, so we showered and shaved and got into his uniform, went over to the academic board. When it was his turn to go before the board, the commander came out to get him and he was sound asleep.

HILL: Somehow, McCain convinced them he should stay. Then, nearly a decade later -- he was shot down, taken prisoner in Vietnam. The ordeal gave the young man a purpose.

MCCAIN: They tried to teach me at the naval academy. When they found me in prison, I was dependent on others. I was dependent on tapping on the wall to my fellow prisoners and helped to sustain them, but more importantly, they sustained me. And we then became part of a cause.

HILL: To keep up spirits, McCain told jokes, even recited full movies. At one point, he taught literature classes from memory.

SWINDLE: Our grandest performance was a reasonable facsimile of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and McCain played Scrooge, naturally. We had no materials, but we stole cotton from the medic and made John some little lamb chop sideburns and everything. It was a great morale boost.

HILL: Just after returning from Vietnam, McCain wrote about his time as a P.O.W. "I had a lot of time to think over there," he said, "and came to the conclusion that one of the most important things in life, along with a man's family, is to make some contribution to his country." But that contribution --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this hearing will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?


HILL: -- would put John McCain he says was even worse than 5 1/2 years of hell as a P.O.W. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: From prisoner of war to the scandal that nearly ended McCain's career -- that's next on 360.


HILL: Connected to the big money and backroom politics many voters despised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were extraordinarily nervous because five U.S. Senators, 1/20th of the U.S. Senate were meeting with us personally to put pressure on us.

HILL: Those meetings led to the suspicions of corruption and humiliating hearings before the senate ethics committee.



COOPER: This week we're profiling all the presidential candidates to see how their personal lives have shaped their political ambitions. Tonight, up close with John McCain. There are three defining chapters, really, in his life, and incredibly, his darkest days were not as a P.O.W.

Once again, here's Erica Hill.


HILL: Incredibly, after 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war, the beatings, the terrible conditions, the awful uncertainties, would he ever see his family again? John McCain said he suffered through worse, much worse.


HILL: It was in 1989, when he was at the center of a massive political scandal.

WILLIAM COHEN, MCCAIN FRIEND AND FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: He felt that his honor really was at stake, that the Vietnamese didn't hurt him as much as people acting not out of principle, but out of politics.

HILL: McCain and four other senators became infamously known as the Keating Five for their connection to this man, Charles Keating, a developer and a major political donor. He was under federal investigation for his role in the savings and loan collapse and McCain and the other senators face accusations of corruption for trying to influence the investigation by meeting with regulators, including William Black.

WILLIAM BLACK, FORMER FEDERAL REGULATOR: No U.S. Senator with the financial pressures they're under to raise massive amounts of contributions is going to lightly turn their back on their largest political contributor.

HILL: Largest, and one of his first and most loyal backers; Keating was there for McCain since his first campaign.

McCain won, but, of course, he wasn't new to Washington. He'd spent time there as a child, and in 1977, was appointed naval liaison to the senate.

In 1986, McCain made the move from the house to the senate and began a quick rise in Washington and within the party. He was even rumored to be on the short list of V.P. candidates for George H. Bush's 1988 White House bid. But as quickly as McCain's star rose, it crashed when he became one of the Keating Five. Suddenly, he was connected to the big money and backroom politics many voters despised.

BLACK: We were extraordinarily nervous because five U.S. Senators, 1/20th of the U.S. Senate were meeting with us personally to put pressure on us.

HILL: Those meetings led to the suspicions of corruption and humiliating hearings before the senate ethics committee.

ROBERT TIMBERG, AUTHOR, "JOHN MCCAIN: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY": He said, this is the worst thing that ever had happened to me. And I thought, well, obviously not a really good thing, but it doesn't seem to me quite matches up with 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison. And he said, no, this is worse.

HILL: It wasn't just substantial campaign contribution binding McCain to Keating. It was also personal. Their families vacationed together; sometimes flying on Keating's own jet.

McCain's wife and father-in-law even invested in one of Keating's shopping developments. Cindy McCain has said her addiction to prescription drugs made public in the early '90s was partially due to the stress of the Keating Five affair. As for that affair, McCain maintained any appearance of wrongdoing was deceiving.

MCCAIN: I'm fully satisfied that my conduct at all times was conducted in keeping with the standards of my office.

HILL: Finally, the ethics committee found McCain used "poor judgment."

COHEN: John came close to absolutely walking away from the Senate.

HILL: Instead, McCain became a crusader for campaign finance reform and more transparency. Not everyone agrees his intentions were pure.

MATT WELCH, AUTHOR, "MCCAIN: THE MYTH OF A MAVERICK": The charitable explanation is that his idea about campaign finance was this -- he felt chaste and he felt his own honor questioned. This whole exercise was a way to address that honor in question.

HILL: In any event, his new role as a reformer would inevitably set him up for his next battle.

MCCAIN: Please --

Let me finish.

HILL: John McCain at odds with his own party.


COOPER: Next, candidate McCain enters the 2000 presidential race and steps into a minefield.

MCCAIN: I will always tell you the truth, no matter what.

HILL: The blunt approach helped him take New Hampshire, but the momentum barely lasted three weeks. By the time the republicans hit South Carolina, the race had become one of the nastiest in history.


COOPER: So how did John McCain go from a maverick fighting his own party to the GOP's choice for president? The answer can be found in our up close look at the candidate tonight. We've already showed you what brought him to Washington.

Now let's see what he hopes will take him to the White House. Once again, here's Erica Hill.


HILL: John McCain was the surprise start to the 2000 primary; Easily taking New Hampshire, with a lead of nearly 20 percent over George W. Bush. But how did the senator manage to rise so high after the Keating Five scandal, a time he calls the lowest point in his life.

McCain may have history to thank.

"I was relieved when Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in august of that year gave reporters some other reason to talk to me," he writes in his memoir, "and something else to report."

MCCAIN: As far as U.S. ground troops being involved --

HILL: suddenly, the former P.O.W. was the go-to man for national security. By now, McCain was regularly reaching across the aisle to collaborate on everything from environmental regulations to gun control. He was also still pushing for campaign finance reform, having partnered with Senator Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

While the campaign finance reform efforts scored big with voters, McCain's own party cried foul.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY: It's a horrible piece of legislation that richly deserves to be defeated. HILL: But McCain held tight. Campaign finance became the focus of his 2000 bid for the White House and fueled his straight-talk express.

MCCAIN: I will always tell you the truth, no matter what.

HILL: The blunt approach helped him take New Hampshire, but the momentum barely lasted three weeks. By the time the Republicans hit South Carolina, the race had become one of the nastiest in history.

There were rumors McCain had fathered his daughter, Bridget, with a black prostitute, in fact, she was adopted from Bangladesh. And a whisper campaign his wife had never really kicked the prescription drug habit she had made public in the early '90s.

SWINDLE: He was appalled with some of the stuff they said in South Carolina.

MCCAIN: This is some of the most disgusting politicking I have ever seen in my life.

HILL: There was also run-ins with some of the GOP's most-needed backers, the religious right.

PAT ROBERTSON, FOUNDER, THE CHRISTIAN COALITION: This man is regarded as a maverick. He doesn't work well with his colleagues and so we're looking at a situation that could be devastating to the Republican Party.

HILL: McCain, famously shot back.

MCCAIN: Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Lewis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

HILL: Straight talk that would come to haunt McCain, though he'd face another battle first, skin cancer. In August of 2000, McCain was diagnosed for a second time with a severe form of the disease and had surgery to remove it. As for his relationship with the religious right --

MCCAIN: Today it might seem as if the world --

HILL: In 2006, McCain changed his tune, giving the commencement address at Reverend Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS: McCain's critic immediately called him a hypocrite and there was an element of hypocrisy involved. Of course, hypocrisy is the life blood of politics.

MCCAIN: First thing we need to do is make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

HILL: One of only two Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts, McCain now says they need to stay. In 2000, McCain was against overturning roe v. Wade. Now he says the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds.

SABATO: He's trying to keep the conservative base happy when they don't like him anyway, and at the same time continue to attract independents and moderates.

HILL: Is he sacrificing some things to win?

SWINDLE: I don't think he's sacrificing to win, but he knows to get elected and to run this country, you have to have all the people, no matter what their political philosophies are come together and say, yes, I'll buy into this.

HILL: But it's how McCain gets those voters to buy into his philosophy that may determine his legacy. Straight talk from a former P.O.W. fulfilling his cause grader, honoring his family name, or simply the rhetoric of a politician fighting for his final glory?


COOPER: One thing some folks have e-mailed us about are his medical records. Are we any closer to getting a full disclosure on that?

HILL: Yes, and it really -- a lot of people would have liked us to get up close on. We still don't have those records. Initially we were told they would be released in mid-April, a lot of people were expecting it around tax day. But the most recent word from the McCain camp now is that it won't be until sometime next month, perhaps as late as the 23rd.

In the interim, he did come out, of course, in March after a physical and said, look everything's fine, I'm just going to my routine doctor's appointment. I'm still cancer-free, but again, a lot of questions and mainly because of his age.

COOPER: Yes. Well, it's great that he is cancer-free. Erica thanks.

Tomorrow night - popular, polarizing, and now a presidential candidate. Up close with Hillary Clinton. Here's a preview.


BETSY EBELING, HILLARY CLINTON'S FRIEND: She always wanted to be a doctor, but discovered she couldn't stand the sight of blood, so I guess being a lawyer was the next best thing.

COOPER: At Yale she focused on issues concerning children's rights. In 1971 found another interest, fellow Yale law student, Bill Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was great. He fit right in. He was lots of fun. My mother said to Hillary, don't let this one get away, he makes you laugh. COOPER: after graduating in 1973, Bill asked for Hillary's hand in marriage, but she declined.


COOPER: That's tomorrow night, up close with Hillary Clinton.

Up next, the Pope's historic visit and historic words about the priest sex abuse scandal.

And later, a surprise visit on an alleged felon's car, a real- life alligator. We'll tell you the remarkable story that goes with this bizarre video, ahead on 360.


COOPER: You never know what you're going to run into when you're a police officer. Coming up, the cop, the crook, the car and the alligator.

First though, Erica Hill joins us again with the 360 news and business -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, Pope Benedict today said the Catholic Church handled the priest sex abuse scandal very poorly at times. His words when he was speaking in Washington. The Pontiff told Catholic leaders they must heal the suffering caused by the abuse, saying he would fight to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.

The Supreme Court today upheld Kentucky's method of lethal injection, paving the way for it and other states to resume executions. Virginia immediately lifted its moratorium. Oklahoma and Mississippi say they will be seeking new execution dates for condemned killers while other states are said to quickly follow.

Beginning next month, if you get bumped from a flight, you can get some more cash. New rules from the government would cover more flights to require airlines to pay you if you get bounced from oversold flights double what the airlines pay now. That could be anywhere from $400 to $800 per flight. Some restrictions may apply.

And Wall Street rallying on better-than-expected corporate earnings news. The Dow has resurged 256 points. The Nasdaq, up 64. The S&P gained 30.

COOPER: That is really good news there.

HILL: Gummi bears going strong. How about that?

COOPER: Is that what it is?

HILL: Yes, I think that's what it is.

COOPER: Yes, we'll see.

A lot coming up on the program. Still ahead, how the alligator got into the car, what the cop said about it, and the mess that followed.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: And now for tonight's shot. We wouldn't believe this story if it were not for these pictures. Take a look, Erica. That's a -- where is it -- there we go -- 6-foot alligator in the back of a Buick Regal.

HILL: See, that's how I ride.


HILL: With an alligator.

COOPER: A Texas state trooper spotted the gator -- that's how I ride -- how could you miss it, after pulling over the Buick's driver for making suspicious u-turns wit with, the driver found the gator was found on the side of the road. He apparently has an interest in reptiles, picked it up, put it in his car.

Turns out he's also a burglary suspect. After picking up the gator, he broke into -- allegedly broke into a mobile home. Police say he stole a television allegedly and even tried to get a neighbor allegedly to help him carry it.

HILL: Allegedly?

COOPER: The neighbor bailed allegedly, when he saw the gator in the Buick's backseat. The driver's now in jail, actually, and the gator is at a preserve, allegedly.

HILL: Good stuff.

COOPER: I've got my bases covered.

If you see some amazing or just plain bizarre video, tell us about it at

That does it for this two-hour edition of 360. For our international viewers, "CNN Today" is next. Here in America, Larry King is coming up.

Thanks for watching. We'll see you tomorrow night.