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Polygamist Custody Battle Under Way; Abuse Victims Meet With Pope Benedict XVI

Aired April 17, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We continue with the breaking news, and we have the latest on the polygamist sect fighting for its children.
The largest child custody case in American history got under way today, and just wrapped up. Chaos in the courtroom is the word we heard a lot today, inside that courtroom, mothers and lawyers and the state of Texas battling over some 416 children of Warren Jeffs' polygamist sect.

David Mattingly is just outside the courthouse, as it has just ended for the day.

David, what is the latest?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a very compelling story today from one of the state's lead witnesses, the supervising investigator for Child Protective Services. She was talking about how the state had no idea what they were getting into when they went into that compound two weeks ago.

They originally thought there was only 100 to 150 people there. They were very wrong about that. And they were also looking for one 16-year-old pregnant girl who claims she had been abused. But, when they went in there, they didn't find that 16-year-old girl. Instead, she said they found many more.

That number of many more turned out to be five. And then the attorneys for the families came back and said, well, if you have been able to confirm that there were five teenage girls who got pregnant and married here, why not just take them into custody and give the rest of the children back to their parents? That's when the state started explaining its rationalization about this.

First of all, they said these girls were telling them that, whenever the prophet tells them to marry, they will marry. They believe you're never too young to marry and that the greatest thing that they can presidency do, the greatest blessing in their lives, is to have children.

They said, for that reason, because of that belief system that is built into these children, they feel like they cannot send any of them back there, because, then, every child would grow up and be a potential victim of that abuse, as they're describing it. They cannot send back the young men, they say, because those men would grow up to participate -- Anderson. COOPER: So, David, essentially, what the state is saying, no matter what, even if we only have these five 16-year-old girls -- or girls who got pregnant or married at the age of 16, which is illegal -- no matter what happens, we can't send any of these kids back, ever?

MATTINGLY: They're not saying ever.

Typically, in state law in the state of Texas, it's always the default thinking that you try and find a way to put the kids back with their parents. That means you have to remove the source of abuse, remove that thinking. How the state might do that, nobody has any idea.

We're at the very beginning of these cases. This is just another. This is just a 14-day hearing on what is one of many steps for these children. But taking them away from their parents is the last option. It's this -- the option that no one really wants to do on a permanent basis.

COOPER: At this point, David, do we have a full understanding of what the state's case is? I mean, you talked about the state saying they found five underage girls who -- and was it that they were pregnant or that they had married?

MATTINGLY: These girls were married, and they had been pregnant. Some of them had already had their children. But that's what they found, these five girls.

And they're telling us exactly what we saw in these court documents about a week ago. They were complaining of what they described as a prominent practice, in which these young girls were groomed at a young age to accept to be married to older men.

And there was one document that was presented that investigators found inside a safe. On that list, they say they had to list the names of 10 girls who were 17 and under who were married and had children. Some of them would have been pregnant at the age of 16. And some of these girls were married to men almost three times their age.

So, those were the very big pieces of evidence that the state was showing. That big question, though, why did you take all the kids, it goes back to the practice that the state says is leading to this abuse.

COOPER: And we have got our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, also standing by, as well as Carolyn Jessop.

But, David, I want to continue with you just for a moment.

What was it like, the scene inside the courtroom? I mean, you got 416 kids. You have more than 300 attorneys representing those kids. You have attorneys representing the FLDS. We saw some of the artist's rendering inside the courtroom. It looks like a pretty small space. How are they trying all these cases at once? How does this work? MATTINGLY: Well, that's actually a large courtroom by some standards that I have seen. But it is just so full of people.

I was lucky enough to have one of the few media passes. And I'm sitting in the back of the room. On one side, you see about 50 members of the FLDS. The women are outnumbering the men about 2-1. They have about 20 attorneys with them.

On the other side, there are scores of attorneys representing each of these 400 children. Now, all of those attorneys have the right to ask questions. They have the right to object. They have the right to approach the bench and talk to the judge.

And, believe me, a lot of them have been doing that. So, we're not moving very quickly. That might sound very chaotic, but, surprisingly, the judge is keeping things moving. And she seems to be making the rules as she goes along just to deal with this new territory that we're going into. No one has ever had to deal with this kind of situation in a courtroom. And she's sort of managing it as she goes.

COOPER: David Mattingly, stand by outside the courtroom.

We're here with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, as well, as I said, Carolyn Jessop, who is the author of the book "Escape," her memoir about life inside the polygamist sect.

Jeffrey, what do you make of what happening today?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, it's a start of the government's case, but it sounds like they have a long way to go, because all you have so far is an agent testifying about what she saw, what she heard. And it seems fairly vague at this point.

This is not direct evidence of child abuse. This is evidence that she appears to have gotten from other people inside the sect when she was there. This document, which purports to show marriages involving underage people, there will certainly be a big argument whether that's even admissible evidence at all. I'm sure the...

COOPER: Why would it not be admissible?

TOOBIN: Because it would be hearsay evidence. It would not be evidence that it actually took place.


COOPER: But if this is a sect that has a proven track record of following a certain ideology, isn't that proof?

TOOBIN: Well, not -- it's not specific proof.

I mean, the proof would be, is this what the law calls a business record? Is it kept in the regular course of business? Then a judge might actually honor and pay attention to what the record shows. I think most judges will require not just an investigator to testify, but one of the underage women to testify, girls to testify, because that's direct evidence of abuse here. I think there is some distance between the actual crime of underage sex and the testimony that came out in court today.

COOPER: Carolyn Jessop, from your experience, from your years in this compound or in the FLDS community, not this specific compound, can you say categorically there is abuse taking place?

CAROLYN JESSOP, FORMER POLYGAMIST WIFE: There was abuse in Merril's (ph) family. It was rampant. And there was in the community.


COOPER: Merril is the man who now runs the FLDS?

JESSOP: Yes. Yes. Abuse when I was even a child was just a fundamental, normal way of life. It was as common as the sun coming up in the morning.

COOPER: What sort of abuse?

JESSOP: A lot of violence towards children, I mean, children being whipped.

I remember, on the school bus, seeing a girl sitting next to me, and her arm had been burnt by her father with a lightbulb. I mean, it was just -- it was just common. And it was just -- it was just a normal thing. And nobody really saw it as abuse. It was considered good discipline. It was a way to control your family.

COOPER: So, you're saying the abuse is not just the forced marriage or these so-called spiritual marriages of underage girls, who then get pregnant; you say the abuse is actual physical?

JESSOP: Well, it was very physical when I was a child. And it was physical for women, too. I remember a common thing going into the grocery store seeing women with black eyes and bruises from their husbands beating them.

And if I asked my mother about it, it was just something she didn't like to talk about. But it was just a way of life. I mean, it wasn't really seen as abuse. And I didn't understand domestic violence until I was 30, in my early 30s. I didn't even know it existed.

COOPER: What do you think should happen here? The state kind of saying today, well, look, we can't return these kids to this community because there is this pattern here.

JESSOP: Well, you know, Anderson, I think they need to look at mental health.

It's well known that cult dynamics and cult mentality and mind control is actually a form of mental illness. I think that they need to do a full psychological mental health test on the mothers to see if they're actually in a place where they could protect their child.

COOPER: Does it surprise you -- you know, we have heard from these mothers the last several nights. For the first time ever, they're coming forward. It's obviously a systematic effort on their part to get their side of the story across.

And it's understandable that they would want to do that. When you see the mothers giving a tour of the compound, when you see the mothers crying and saying, "We want our kids back," and -- but not answering other questions about how old their kids were when they got married or had babies, what do you think?

JESSOP: Well, it's just -- it's appalling to me.

I feel like that my ex-husband, Merril, has put these women as human shields up to hide his crimes behind. And I feel like that they are desperate having their children taken from them, and they believe, if they do what he tells them to do, that they will get them back.

In many ways, I don't see what they're demonstrating that they really believe they're going to lose their children. I think they believe, if they're perfectly obedient, God will give them back to them. And it -- to me, it feels like a P.R. campaign. They're -- they're scripted. And they're evasive. When you ask them questions they have not been scripted on, they don't understand how to answer. That's when I see terror in their eyes, because if they answer that in a way where they give out information they should not be giving out, they could be in trouble. They could be in a lot of trouble.

COOPER: David Mattingly, court resumes tomorrow, does it?

MATTINGLY: That's right. It does, Anderson.

And following up with that thought, I have been able to talk to some of the FLDS family members there in court. During all of the breaks, I go up and approach them. They're slowly warming up to me.

They're telling me now that it -- several of them are saying -- even the fathers are saying that, yes, 16-year-old girls do get married there, but it does not happen very often. And now their argument is that you do not have to take all of the children because a few 16-year-old girls get married to adult men.

So, they are saying to me privately: Yes, this is going on, but it is not prevalent. We believe that our children should come back to us. It's not happening in my house, and it's not happening in my family.

TOOBIN: Well, I just think that's a very important point to emphasize, that you're talking about hundreds of children here. And the law regards removing children from their parents as a very extreme step.

So, some of these mothers may well be saying to David and will certainly be saying in the court, wait a second. All right, maybe some 15-year-olds got married, but I didn't get married. This is my child. Don't take my child away based on what happened to some kid that I might not even know.

So, I think the judge has an incredibly difficult assignment.

COOPER: No doubt about it. With 416 kids and more than 300 attorneys, I can't even imagine.

Jeff Toobin, thank you.

Carolyn Jessop, thank you as well, and David Mattingly as well.

We will continue to follow this throughout the hour. If there are any new developments, we will bring them to you live.

It's not the only late-breaking story we're dealing with tonight.

Up next: a secret meeting. Survivors of sex abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church came face to face today, heart to heart, for the first time ever with the pope. Did they hear what they expected, what they needed to hear? Do you think they -- do you think the pope really heard them? They are speaking out tonight. And, in a CNN exclusive, you will hear from them what they heard from the pope.

Also, new fallout from last night's Democratic debate. Barack Obama took a beating, but was the real loser the media, and was the real winner John McCain? We will look at the uproar over the questions and the impact ahead in Pennsylvania -- when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, now a CNN exclusive: hope tonight for people who say they haven't had any since being molested by priests, their hope stolen, a sacred trust betrayed.

For decades in this country, members of the Roman Catholic clergy abused possibly thousands of children, most of them young boys. That is the betrayal. The theft of hope for justice and healing came when complaints were unanswered and predators simply shuffled off to another parish to abuse yet again.

Since the scandal broke in 2002, the Roman Catholic Church in America has paid out more than $2 billion in damages. But, until this week, the head of the church, the pope, has never said simply and directly, "We're sorry."

Until this afternoon, no pope has ever sat down with any of the survivors. Today, in Washington, Pope Benedict did just that with a group of survivors from the Boston area. There were no cameras in the room, but we have three abuse survivors who were, Faith Johnston, Olan Horne, and Bernie McDaid.


COOPER: Bernie, this is a meeting you have been waiting years for, that you have been asking for, frankly, for years. When you finally came face to face with the pope, what did you say?

BERNIE MCDAID, SEX ABUSE SURVIVOR: I shook his hand and told him, when I was an altar boy, in the sacristy, I was abused, sexually abused -- 12-year-old boy, at a sacred moment, praying with his heart and soul, and that this wasn't just sexual abuse; this was spiritual abuse. And I wanted him to know that.

He nodded his head.

And then I said to him, Holy Father, you have a cancer growing in your flock, and you need to do something about that, and I hope you understand me and hear me.

And I touched his heart, and he nodded again. He looked down at the floor and looked back up, and nodded.

COOPER: Do you think he heard you?

MCDAID: Oh, he absolutely heard it.

I felt our eye contact. Everything about him, when he entered the room, he had an apology right away. The whole tone -- the mass was terrific prior. I brought my mother to the mass. And, when he talked about the sexual abuse at the mass -- and I don't go to mass -- it totally -- I had tears in my eyes. And I didn't expect it.

I was emotional, maybe because I had been waiting so long for this. But I really feel there's a hope here that wasn't there before today.

COOPER: A hope in you, or hope that -- that real change is going to happen in the church? I mean, do you believe something has changed with the church?


I -- the hope -- the hope I need has to come from their change, OK? I need this, as well as a lot of people want change for this issue. It's just totally unacceptable, child molestation.

COOPER: Bernie, the -- the man who molested you repeatedly, this Reverend Joseph Birmingham, who has now since passed away, I think, at the age of 55, I mean, it wasn't just you. It was multiple people in your neighborhood. When his car drove down the street, I read, the kids, you and the other kids, used to run from him.


Anderson, he was very manipulative, well-liked, given the free green light, if you will, by the parents. Priests in them days were looked at as God. I'm Irish-Catholic. My parents are immigrants. He would come into the -- come into the neighborhood, take us for rides. And the last one out of the car had to fend for himself. I was an altar boy. At the end of a mass, he would grab you in the sacristy.

And then he even came into the classroom, during class, and called boys out single-handedly into the coatroom, which he called the guidance room, you know, at an age of puberty, and went up and down you with all kinds of questions. And you wanted to run back into the class, but you couldn't. You couldn't go back in the class, because then you would have to tell them what was going on. And this went -- this went on with multiple boys for over two years.

COOPER: And when your father finally -- when you and your friends finally told, I believe it was your father, and he went to the church, the church actually just moved this priest to another parish.

And, Olan, that's where you come in. You had the unfortunate circumstances of being in the next parish that this priest, Reverend Birmingham, came to; Is that correct?


I mean, this gentleman had lax supervision, and he was moved continuously. I mean, from his first assignment in Sudbury, Massachusetts, he is moved each and every time due to these accusations, which he agreed to. There's no doubt about it, Anderson, that there was lax supervision involved. And there was absolutely in place -- this man had a great career as a pedophile, due to that lax supervision.

COOPER: And, Olan, when you came face to face with the pope, what -- what did you say?

HORNE: You know, this is such a personal moment, but -- and it is so much different for each one of us that went there.

But there's a sincerity in what I -- what I heard from him. You know, I have met with a lot of bishops. I have had a lot of face time with a lot of bishops. I've had a lot of face time with Cardinal Law. And we have a pretty good meter.

And when you meet somebody, and you know that you don't have to convince them that there's a problem, and they intrinsically understand their -- their role in it, you know it. And we could see that. We could see it in the eyes. We could see it in the sincerity. And there's a phenomenal hope that I came out of that meeting with.

I mean, we were just -- we were just granted unfiltered access to the pope. It's just unheard of. I mean, this a historical moment. And, as far as I'm concerned, there has been a long sour note that has been out there resonating for a long time. And I really believe we rang a new bell this evening. I really think that for myself. And I -- I too am in juxtaposition with my -- my religion. But I have held onto hope.

And I broke down today myself. I had gone to the mass -- I haven't been to mass in 40-something years -- to celebrate.

I gave him pictures of me as a child, the innocent child, and said: I want you to leave these on your desk. When you come to a point or a decision that you have to make, don't protect me. Protect the 9-year-old child in that photo. And it was obvious that, if you were looking at your grandmother or your grandfather, the sincerity in his eyes. And it was there, and it wasn't just there between the survivors and the Holy Father. It was there between everybody in the room that witnessed it. Anybody that has been in the room and had an opportunity to hear survivors and their stories are just humbled by the experience, the honesty and the frankness. And it was a beginning.

COOPER: Today was a beginning?

HORNE: Absolutely.


COOPER: We're going to have more of our conversation next. Faith Johnston talks about the moment with Pope Benedict when the words simply wouldn't come, but the tears certainly did.

And later tonight, "Raw Politics": Barack Obama's debate performance and what he's saying about it today.


COOPER: We are talking tonight about Pope Benedict's historic decision today to sit down with survivors of sex abuse at the hands of American clergy.

He did so in a secret meeting in Washington.

Now, the wasn't announced in advance on his schedule. There were no cameras present in the room, were only abuse survivors. Bernie McDaid was there. Olan Horne was there. And so was Faith Johnston.

I spoke with them a short while ago.


COOPER: Faith, your story is more recent. You were repeatedly molested by a priest in -- it went on for several months, did it not?

FAITH JOHNSTON: SEX ABUSE SURVIVOR: Yes. Yes. I was 14, working in the parish rectory.

COOPER: And the priest is currently in jail?


COOPER: And when he gets out of jail, he's going to be deported back to Colombia, which is where he's originally from; is that correct?

JOHNSTON: As -- as far as we know, yes, that's what is going to happen.

COOPER: So, for you, obviously, this has been along journey to get to this day. And when you stepped in front of the pontiff, did you -- what did you say?

JOHNSTON: I had so much I wanted to say, and nothing came out. I just burst into tears.

But actions speak louder than words, and I think -- I think my tears spoke more than what I could have said. And I think that he was -- I think he was moved by that, and I think he understood me completely.

COOPER: Bernie, what happens now?

What needs to happen now? Because, I mean, there are a lot of survivors out there who have said, you know, it's great that the pope has said this repeatedly on this trip to America. He's talked about it some three times. It's great that he met with you today. But -- but the bishops who, you know, aided -- if not aided and abetted, at least turned a blind eye and allowed these priests to move on to other parishes and molest again and again and again, none of them have been punished.

What -- what needs to happen now?

MCDAID: That's kind of what I referred to by the cancer in the flock. And it's part of the reason why we can't fully heal, in my opinion.

My experience is, with these men still in power positions, I just can't accept it. It infuriates me. I want them to step down.

COOPER: Olan, do you believe that -- that there will be change on that -- that some of these bishops maybe will -- will in some way be punished or criticized or revealed in some way?

HORNE: I think this is a process.

And I think, within what happened today, we needed the Holy Father to be the Holy Father. And I think that we have to understand that and we have to be very cognizant of the fact that that's what this meeting was about today.

But I think that he outlined this yesterday in his speech last night. When he said, and he laid the law down to the bishops and said, "This is what I expect of you," we have never heard that strong language from the Vatican before.

And I know one thing. We're moving it in the right direction. Is it fast enough? Absolutely not. But I believe the pope addressed that yesterday. And I think he addressed it clearly, publicly. And I believe he addressed that privately with us.

COOPER: And, when you go to bed tonight, and you look back at this day, what -- what is going to be foremost in your mind, Olan?

HORNE: That I can look at my children, that I can look at my wife and my family, and tell them never to give up hope.

I broke down today, because I never wavered one moment, and I never gave up hope. And, today, it's beginning to bear fruit.

COOPER: Well, Faith Johnston, Bernie McDaid, and Olan Horne, I appreciate your strength and I appreciate you talking to us tonight.

Thank you.


HORNE: Thank you for the opportunity.


COOPER: A long journey for them.

As we said, this was the first time a pope has met face to face with abuse survivors.

Digging deeper for us tonight, we're joined now by CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen.

John, the pope admitting today that, in some cases, these allegations of abuse were not handled properly by the church. Is there any indication, as these abuse survivors clearly are hoping for, that this going to lead to somehow -- to further or charges and/or criticisms within the church of those who allowed these priests to move from one parish to the next? Is this the end, or is this just the end of the story?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I don't think it's, by any means, the end of the story, because I think what you heard from Bernie McDaid there, as powerful and moving as three -- these three individuals found this experience to be, they don't believe that you can put a period at the end of the sentence quite yet, because I think they would argue that there are some structural adjustments and some accountability measures that have to be built into the system.

But I think they would say that, if it's not the end, it is certainly a powerful beginning. I mean, I think we need to step back for a moment and realize that, when you're talking about an institution with 2,000 years of history, you don't get the chance -- you don't get the chance to use a word like unprecedented very often. But today's event really was, the first time ever that a pope has sat down and -- and listened to victims share their experiences and share their hearts with him.

And this is a moment that -- that victims have been praying for, hoping for, organizing for, for quite some time. The fact the pope had not yet done this has been a longstanding source of frustration, anger in the victims community.

COOPER: Well, let me ask you about that, though. Why is that? This -- the scandal really broke open in 2002, though -- though it had certainly been around before that, so, some six years. If this was a major corporation, the CEO would have, you know, addressed this and met with these people within the first week or two, I'm guessing, if this was a -- another kind of an institution.

Why has it taken this long?

ALLEN: Well, I guess this is chapter 14 in why the Vatican is not General Motors.

The practical reality is, the Vatican does not -- does not follow the play book of sort of corporate crisis management. And that has its positives and its negatives.

But the practical reality here is, I think part of it, to be honest, Anderson, was, when the crisis erupted in the United States in 2001, and began to gather steam in 2002, in many ways, John Paul II was already in his twilight. I think there was a sort of deliberate effort among the pope's senior handlers and his aides to, to some extent, insulate him from the very painful realities of what was happening on the ground in the United States and elsewhere, because they didn't want to add to the burden he was already carrying.

This pope, on the other hand, Benedict XVI, it's important to recall, prior to his election to the papacy, was the man in the Vatican responsible for overseeing the internal church disciplinary process when priests were accused of the sexual abuse of minors. He's actually read virtually every case file about every allegation that surfaced in the United States, which means he knows more at the level of detail about this crisis than most American bishops do.

COOPER: But some had criticized him back then because he -- of a comment in which he said -- I don't have the exact quote in front of me, but it's something to the effect of, you know, these kinds of things happen everywhere. It should be no surprise that they happen in the priesthood, or -- I mean, again, I don't want to misquote him.

You probably know the quote better than I do. But, I mean, some had criticized him for -- for not taking this seriously enough. Do you think that's fair?

ALLEN: I think it is, to some extent, Anderson.

I think the reality is that the Catholic Church generally, the Vatican specifically, and, to some extent, this pope specifically, has been on a learning curve about this crisis.

I think, to some extent, when this crisis first broke, people like John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now Benedict XVI, men who obviously take their priestly vows very seriously, simply could not believe that priests in such significant numbers could be staining those vows in such an utterly inconceivable way.

I think it's taken them some time to grasp the enormity of this. But I think what Benedict has been trying to tell the American public and the American church this week, is that maybe it's taken him some time but now he gets it.

COOPER: Right. I just want to -- I do have a quote, and I just want to read it, because I hate misquoting anybody. Quote, "The temptations of human beings are present also for the priests, so also we have to accept that." That was Cardinal Ratzinger years ago.

John Allen, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you, John.

Still to come, the debate fallout. Barack Obama taking hits and fighting back today. We've got the "Raw Politics."

But first, a 360 follow. Remember the pilot whose gun went off in the cockpit? The bullet hole's right there. Wait till you hear what happened today, when 360 continues.


COOPER: Still to come, the debate fallout. Barack Obama firing back. We've got the "Raw Politics." First Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, at least 50 people were killed at a tribal wake in Iraq today. Police say the bomber was targeting mourners gathered to pay respect to two brothers who were supporters of U.S. forces in Iraq. The two men were gunned down earlier this week.

A 360 follow. The Senate wants the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken when Alaska Congressman Don Young's staff rewrote a portion of a highway spending Bill, an earmark after it was voted on. At issue here is money for this Florida interchange -- the one you see there -- and cash that Young allegedly got from a Florida businessman. His staff, though, said he was simply fixing a mistake in the original Bill.

And the U.S. Airways pilot who says he accidentally fired his gun in flight has been fired. The shot damaged the cockpit. A group that represents pilots who are federally trained and allowed to carry firearms in flight says it plans to fight the airline's decision, Anderson.

COOPER: I still don't understand how the gun was out and able to be fired.

HILL: It accidentally went out, yes.

COOPER: Still ahead, the fallout from last night's Democratic debate. Barack Obama took most of the hits. And today, he's back on the offensive. The best political team on TV weighs in on that.

And here's tonight's "Beat 360." Let's see. A zebra gazing at a fake zebra during a police training exercise rounding up runaway animals in Tokyo. I didn't know they practiced this sort of thing. But apparently, they do.

HILL: That's the best part. That's what the picture is for.

COOPER: The police already have a fake zebra made just in case the zebra gets on the loose.

All right. Here's the caption from our staffer, Chuck, who had a little help from Joey: "Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta go undercover for Planet in Peril 2."

I thought that was...

HILL: I thought that was pretty clever.

COOPER: Yes. Think you can do better? Go to Send us your submission and we'll announce the winner at the end of the program.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you're running for the presidency, then you've got to expect it. And you know, you've just got to kind of let it [BRUSHES SHOULDER] you know, you know. That's what you got to do.


COOPER: That was Barack Obama today, trying to make light of the heat he took in last night's Democratic debate, the same kind of heat previously directed at his rival, Hillary Clinton. Obama was grilled by both moderators. No punches were pulled. No slap was given. But so far, no big change in the numbers.

CNN's latest poll of polls shows Senator Clinton's average five- point lead in Pennsylvania unchanged since yesterday. Forty-eight percent of likely Democratic voters back her; 43 percent support Obama. Nine percent are unsure.

Still, with the crucial primary just five days away, Senator Obama woke up on the defensive.

CNN's Candy Crowley has all the "Raw Politics."



CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barack Obama got roughed up last night. It's the front-runner treatment. His morning review dripped with sarcasm.

OBAMA: I will tell you, it does not get much more fun than these debates. They are -- they are inspiring events. I mean, last night I think we set a new record, because it took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that mattered to the American people. It took us 45 minutes.

CROWLEY: It was mostly already plowed ground.

CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: And you said they get bitter.

CLINTON: Cling to religion. OBAMA: She's said I'm elitist.

GIBSON: The Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

OBAMA: He loves this country.

CLINTON: Reverend Farrakhan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... who was part of the Weather Underground in 1970.

CROWLEY: His controversial Pastor, the bitter voters remark, the relationship with a '60s radical and why he doesn't always wear an American flag pin. He seemed to be irritated to be going over it.

Hillary Clinton did not ask the questions but did throw salt on the wounds.

CLINTON: It is clear that, as leaders, we have a choice who we associate with, and who we apparently give some kind of feel of approval to.

OBAMA: And I have to say, Senator Clinton, you know, she was in her element. She -- you know, she was -- she was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there.

CROWLEY: The debate bolsters the heart of his campaign, and he pressed at it every turn, answering the questions but also arguing it's the kind of small Washington politics that get in the way of solving big problems.

OBAMA: I do think it's important to recognize that it's not helping that person who's sitting at the kitchen table, who is trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month.

CROWLEY: Mother and daughter in tow, Clinton campaigned through Philly, urging her overwhelmingly female audience to help her get out the vote.

CLINTON: Just knock on the door and say, "You know, she's really nice." Or you can say it another way: "She's not as bad as you think."

CROWLEY: She didn't say much about the debate, where she ceded territory only once: the electability argument.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you think Senator Obama do that? Can he win?

CLINTON: Yes, yes, yes.

CROWLEY: It may prove a significant concession. The cornerstone of Clinton's campaign argument to super delegates, who may decide this nomination, is that Obama is not electable.

As usual, they agreed on issues. Both hardened on Iraq, promising withdrawal, no matter what. And they offered firm commitments not to hike taxes on the middle class.

They were also in sync when they were asked whether they would each promise to put the other on the ticket.

GIBSON: So I put the question to both of you, why not? Don't all speak at once.

CROWLEY: It is tense now in this long campaign. There is no love lost here.


COOPER: No love indeed. Candy will join us next, along with CNN senior political analyst David Gergen and Gloria Borger standing by. More "Raw Politics" after the break.



CLINTON: 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: Senator Hillary Clinton taking a shot at her rival, Barack Obama, during last night's debate. Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his controversial remarks are just the beginning.

As CNN's Candy Crowley reported before the break, Senator Obama was turned into kind of a pinata at times. Digging deeper, Candy joins me again, along with CNN political analyst David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

Candy, Obama said last night's debate was just more of the typical Washington politics and voters are tired of it. But even if he's right, the fact that he seemed to stumble during the debate, isn't that ammunition for his opponents, who say, "Well, you know what? General elections are full of typical Washington politics. And if you can't overcome it, you shouldn't be the nominee"?

CROWLEY: That's the Clinton argument, Anderson. It's, "Listen, I'm talking to the super delegates. Nobody knows a lot of things about Barack Obama's past. Imagine what might come out. You know my past. I've been in the public life for 16 years. You know who I am. They've been through all my baggage." So that's clearly her argument.

His argument, obviously, is you can't get anything done playing the same old Washington politics. So in essence, both of them came out of that debate furthering their argument.

COOPER: David, it's interesting. In response to Obama's complaints about the debate, Bill Clinton pushed back, suggesting that Obama was whining. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've been beating up on her for 15 months. I didn't hear her whining when he said she was untruthful in Iowa. Or called her the Senator from Punjab. And you know, they said some pretty rough things about me, too.

But you know, this is a contact sport. If you don't want to play, keep your uniform off.


COOPER: I've heard James Carville also talk about them kind of whining. What do you think of the response?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, my goodness. Well, listen, I did not think she was -- he was whining today. I did think that he was on the defensive last night. I thought he was flat last night.

But I think he's also showing us that there's -- it is possible to be on the defensive without being defensive. I thought he handled the answers fairly well.

And the most important thing, Anderson, is I think there are a whole lot of people who do not like this kind of politics, do not like all the jabs. And I think that's working in his favor. And the polls so far have shown his support steady. And if anything, he continues to gain a little bit. She's still favored in Pennsylvania, but he's doing pretty darn well.

And for a rookie out there, you know -- we've heard her whining before. If we're on about whining, you know, we've heard both sides of this say, you know -- what have we heard about the complaints about the press and how they've been -- how they've been anti-Senator Clinton. You know, we've heard a lot of this before.

I just think most people want to move on and talk about the issues. I do think one thing the press showed us last night, it is not uniformly pro-Clinton. That debate was anything but. I mean, it's not uniformly pro-Obama. That debate was anything but pro-Obama. I mean, the questions were clearly aimed to test him.

He needs to be tested, you know. I think that's fair game. But I think a lot of people felt disappointed by the debate.

COOPER: Gloria, the fact that Hillary Clinton said last night, "yes, yes, yes," to the question about whether or not he is electable. And that -- it seems to bed at odds from what -- whether it's her or Harold Ickes or her other people, telling the super delegates. Do we know? Are they still saying that stuff to the super delegates?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they are privately. And some of her staff had a conference call today. And they said, "Yes, he can win" doesn't mean that "yes, he will win." So we're parsing our words -- we're parsing our words there a little bit, because clearly they wanted to walk that back.

Look, Anderson, I think the large problem here, really, is for these two candidates right now, is that they don't disagree very much on the large issues. They're down to arguing about who is more against these trade deals, whose health care plan will insure 99 percent versus 100 percent.

So when you get down to the end of this long road we've been on, what are they doing? They're bickering now about these questions of character.

COOPER: I want to -- I want to play something that Howard Dean said on CNN earlier about the super delegates. Basically, you know, sending them a message they need to make up their minds. Let's listen to that.


HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIR: There's about 65, roughly, percent of the super delegates that voted. There's about 320-some-odd left to vote. I need them to say who they're for starting now. They really do need to do that.

We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. We've got to know who our nominee is. And there's no reason not to know after the last primary on June 3.


COOPER: So that's what he needs. Is that what he's going to get, David Gergen? I mean, is this thing going to be over by June 3?

GERGEN: I think it's wrong to call for the super delegates to decide right now, as he did. And Hillary Clinton has every night to continue this fight right through the end of the primaries and for the super delegates to hold their fire until that's over.

The big, big question looming over the campaign now is, can Barack Obama hold his support, or is the bottom going to drop out? So far, after all these controversies, the evidence is the bottom is not going to drop out, and he's going to hold. And he's very likely to win.

But I think until -- until the primaries are over, you know, she's got every right to fight on. When the primaries are over, I think the thing changes completely and then the Howard Dean argument becomes, it seems to me, highly compelling if the Democrats hope to win this. We've had fights, two campaigns.

I was reminded by one of the super delegates in K-Mart (ph) not long ago. We've had two campaigns that have gone to the convention in recent years, 1976 for the Democrats -- or for the Republicans, '80 for the Democrats. Both times the party went on to lose in the fall.

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it there. I'm sorry. We're short of time, because there's actually a press conference just on the other side of this break. David Gergen, Candy Crowley, Gloria Borger, thank you very much.

Up next, we have a new development in the polygamy showdown. A news conference just wrapping up at the courthouse. The FLDS attorneys speaking out. We have details coming up. And just when you thought they couldn't go any higher, there's news about gas prices. Erica Hill ha the details in a moment.


COOPER: Just outside the courthouse in Texas where a judge will soon determine who gets custody of the 416 children who were taken from the FLDS compound earlier this month. Soon. We're not sure.

Just moments ago, a news conference wrapped up. FLDS attorney Rod Parker, who we spoke to last night, talking to reporters. Take a look.


ROD PARKER, ATTORNEY FOR FLDS: Well, it's interesting that I think what's happening in there is that the CPS is trying to put the church on trial rather than talk about these individual cases. But in reality, what it's turning into is the CPS is on trial for its high- handed and precipitous (ph) tactics in removing these children.

At one point, the -- the CPS supervisor testified that they removed the children because they were afraid. And when asked why they were afraid, it was because there were tanks and armed men in riot gear on the property. So they created the very situation that caused the fear that caused us to remove the children.

They've also -- I think, in large part it's become very clear that there are a very, very small number of people in that arena over there who actually qualify as being even remotely within the possibility of the burden of proof that the state has to meet in this case.

So we're feeling like things are going well. I still feel that the -- that the format of this hearing is very difficult, having this many lawyers and this many parties all trying to have their cases handled at once. It's a very difficult thing.

I know the court is doing the best it can, but it's -- I think many of the family feel that their particularized, individual interests aren't being addressed just because of the format of the hearing. That's something we've been concerned about all along.


COOPER: The hearing, of course, resumes tomorrow. And Erica, what we were hearing from David Mattingly, of course, earlier tonight, at the top of the news, when this was breaking news, when the hearings had just ended, he was talking about how, for the state, this is not just about the five or the handful of young, underage girls who they have found thus far who may be pregnant or got married underage. They say there's this systematic abuse, and therefore, they can't return all these kids back to the FLDS compound.

HILL: Which I think was so interesting to everybody, to hear those words: we feel these kids cannot go back.

COOPER: Right.

HILL: When you're talking about more than 400 children.

COOPER: Which is why, I think, Rod Parker is talking about the state putting the church on trial.

HILL: Right.

COOPER: He says that's what the state is trying to do. They're actually putting the church on trial. He said it's actually now the state is on trial, you know, the words of -- he's a defense attorney for the FLDS. So you would expect him to say such. But...

HILL: Absolutely.

COOPER: We'll see what happens tomorrow when court resumes.

HILL: It definitely gets more interesting by the day.

Do want to get you caught up, two, on a couple of other headlines we're following for you. Appearing with Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, President Bush today turning up the heat on Iran over its nuclear program. The prime minister promised to step up sanctions on Tehran whenever possible. Mr. Brown also met with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama today.

And a new day, a new record. The nationwide average for a gallon of unleaded regular now stands at $3.41. It's on track to actually hit four bucks by summertime. This according to AAA.

Also on the rise, Google's profits are even more than expected. Excluding one-time charges, Google says it earned $1.54 billion in the first quarter. That's $4.84 a share. Again, that beats expectations, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Erica. Time now for the "Beat 360." Tonight, it's a special "To Tell the Truth" edition. You decide which one's real and which is the impostor.

Our picture comes from Tokyo: a zebra gazing at a fake zebra during a police training exercise for rounding up runaway animals. I'm amazed at their preparations. Our staff winner, Chuck, came up with this caption, with help from Joey: "Anderson cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta go under cover for Planet in Peril 2."


HILL: And plus, I'd never know that was a fake zebra, standing there undercover.

COOPER: This might be the last night you hear the "Wah-wah-wah." I'm throwing that out there.

HILL: Apparently, it's on the way out.


HILL: The people have spoken.

COOPER: That's right. At least one person has.

Our viewer winner tonight comes from Bill on Manhattan's Upper West Side, no less, with a shout-out to Kathleen, also from the hood: "Exhibit A in the debate over whether humans should mate with zebras."

I like that one.

HILL: I'm saying no to that question.

COOPER: I don't think so.

As always, you can play along at

Coming up at the top of the hour, more on our breaking story: the massive polygamist custody hearing that just wrapped up tonight and continues tomorrow.