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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

McCain Speaks out about Pastor Hagee's Controversial Comments; Planet in Peril - Mountaintop Mining; Polygamy - Custody Ruling

Aired May 22, 2008 - 23:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- prominent and polarizing evangelical minister. McCain's move comes after recordings surfaced of Hagee preaching about Hitler and the Jews, reportedly describing the Holocaust as God's will.
Within the past hour, in Stockton, California, McCain addressed his rejection of the Hagee -- of Hagee for the first time and talked about those Hitler comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I just think that the statement is crazy and unacceptable.

And, certainly, Reverend Hagee, Pastor Hagee is entitled to his views. But we have reached a point where that kind of statement, simply, I would not -- I would reject the endorsement and the expression of those kinds of views.

But, also, I would like to make something else clear. My church that I attend is the North Phoenix Baptist Church. My pastor and spiritual guide is Pastor Dan Yeary. I have never been to Pastor Hagee's church or Pastor Parsley's church.

I didn't attend their church for 20 years. I'm not a member of their church. I received their endorsement, which did not mean that I endorse their views. The comments made most recently by Pastor Hagee were just too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: John McCain tonight calling Hagee's comments crazy and unacceptable -- his words.

Hagee who is a strong supporter of Israel, calls the accusations against him the biggest and ugliest of lies. Previously, his comments about the Catholic Church and his description of Hurricane Katrina as God's judgment on New Orleans and gay people have also caused outrage. But not until today did John McCain reject the pastor whose endorsement he had actively sought.

We will go in depth tonight on who exactly John Hagee is, but, first, the latest on today's rift between McCain and the minister.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here with the "Raw Politics" -- Tom. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it's good to step back a little bit and see how it is that John McCain got himself into this jam.

He's been trying for months to win the confidence of those conservative Christians, who are so important to Republican power. In February, he seemed to be making progress, receiving the endorsement of this Pastor John Hagee, who is powerful and, as you mentioned, quite influential.

But, recently, this audio recording of Hagee speaking back in the '90s has been swirling around on the Internet. In it, Hagee reads from the Bible's Book of Jeremiah and he draws parallels to World War II history, suggesting that God used Hitler to drive Jews back to the promised land of Israel.

Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, CORNERSTONE CHURCH: "'Behold, I will send for many fishers and after will I send for many hunters. And they, the hunters, shall hunt them.' That would be the Jews, 'From every mountain and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.' If that doesn't describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust, you can't see that."

(END AUDIO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Now, this whole idea that the Holocaust was somehow God's will was just too much for McCain's critics, and now for McCain, too. As you just heard, he has rejected Hagee's endorsement.

For his part, Hagee says the comments are being grossly distorted by McCain's opponents, saying -- quote -- "To assert that I in any way condone the Holocaust or that monster Adolf Hitler is the biggest and ugliest of lies. I have always condemned the horrors of the Holocaust in the strongest terms."

That seems to be true. Even though his interpretation of the biblical prophecies may shock some people, Hagee has helped raise millions of dollars in aid for Israel.

Still, McCain is taking no more chances at this point, saying Hagee was not his spiritual adviser and, as you heard, reminding people that he did not attend church for him for 20 years -- that last part clearly a shot at Barack Obama, who shot right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, John McCain's having to deal with his -- Hagee, who said stuff that is mind-boggling. I don't attribute those statements to John McCain. Nobody thinks that McCain believes that stuff. And for McCain to then suggest that, you know, every single statement that was made by somebody is some how attributable -- attributable to me is just wrong. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: There is another pastor that some questions have been raised about. You heard McCain mention him, Rod Parsley -- no word on anything changing there.

But the simple truth is, McCain had a hard choice to make today between keeping Hagee's endorsement and maybe keeping some conservative votes or dumping Hagee and running the risk of making people angry over that. It was a difficult choice, but John McCain wound up there, in part because he was seeking the support of these folks early on.

COOPER: We just got word while you were talking, literally, that on the AP wire, there's a story that he's now repudiating the remarks of -- of Pastor Rod Parsley...

FOREMAN: Well, there you go.

COOPER: ... which would be the first time we have heard that. We have not independently confirmed that, but we're going to try to check on that in this hour, as we extensively cover this in the beginning of the program tonight.

But it has -- this has been going on, it's been bubbling up for a while. I mean, at first, he made these statements about Hurricane Katrina being God's judgment, statements which frankly, within the gay community, caused uproar, was not widely covered by mainstream media.

Then the Catholic comments, not only comments about words he used to describe the Catholic Church in a video, but also the notion that he -- he said that the Catholic Church was colluding with the Nazis to exterminate the Jews.

FOREMAN: Right.

There's been a lot of apologizing and correcting and shading of meaning on all of this. But the simple truth is, you're right. This has been bubbling around for several weeks now.

It's different than Obama's situation because of the amount of time and the relationship. But, nonetheless, it is a problem for McCain and a problem that seems to be coming to a head this very week.

COOPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks for the "Raw Politics."

John Hagee is the founder of the Cornerstone Church, preaching something called Christian Zionism. We thought it worth taking a few minutes to look into what that is and just who John Hagee is.

As you will see, this is not the first time his words have fueled a firestorm, as Tom was talking about.

Up close tonight, here's CNN's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PASTOR HAGEE: ... Senator John McCain.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are two sides to John Hagee. One side explains why John McCain courted the pastor for his endorsement.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Pastor Hagee. You and Diana are two of the most wonderful people I know.

JOHNS: He has a congregation of around 20,000 people. His TV show reaches millions. He could help John McCain make inroads with two powerful voting blocs, the religious right and supporters of Israel.

But the other side of John Hagee is something different. It's a side grounded in faith and controversy.

When I interviewed Pastor Hagee in Dallas in late 2006, he sort of summed up his beliefs.

What is a Christian Zionist?

PASTOR HAGEE: A Christian Zionist is someone who believes that Israel has the right to exist. Israel is the only nation on the face of the earth created by a sovereign act of God.

JOHNS: Make no mistake. John Hagee has always posited himself as a friend of Israel. He has raised millions for Israeli charities.

PASTOR HAGEE: We support Israel because Genesis 12:3, God says, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." That's God's foreign policy toward Israel and the Jewish people.

JOHNS: His defense of Israel has been controversial. At one point, as seen in this YouTube video, he seemed to predict that God will bring judgment in the form of terrorism on the U.S. for supporting a Palestinian state.

PASTOR HAGEE: And this nation is going to go through a bloodbath that you have permitted because of what you have done. You have disobeyed the law of God.

JOHNS: In the end, though, the political problem was not necessarily Hagee's beliefs, but the way he expressed them, for example, suggesting Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment against gays.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PASTOR HAGEE: I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God. And they are -- were recipients of the judgment of God for that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

JOHNS: Hagee says, he's not anti-gay, though he sees homosexuality as a sin. He also came under fire for linking the Catholic Church to the Nazis in this telecast that has been widely seen on YouTube.

PASTOR HAGEE: When Adolf Hitler came to power, he said, "I'm not going to do anything in my lifetime that hasn't been done by the Roman Church for the past 800 years. I'm only going to do it on a greater scale."

JOHNS: Hagee says, he was only criticizing anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church.

The tipping point came with his comments about Hitler being part of God's plan to bring the Jews homes to Israel, severing the ties between a politician looking for love from a religious leader on the right and a pastor whose words kept coming back to haunt him.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, as we told you about just moments ago, more breaking news -- the Associated Press is now reporting this statement by John McCain referring to remarks by Ohio preacher Rod Parsley calling Islam an inherently violent religion.

"I believe there's no place for that kind of dialogue in America," said McCain. "And I believe that, even though he endorsed me, and I didn't endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement," McCain told the Associated Press.

McCain renounced Hagee's endorsement today, who, in turn, withdrew his support of McCain. McCain is hoping to end the controversy right now. The question is, did he do that today, or will his connection to the pastor -- pastors now -- follow him into the general election?

We're digging deeper with our guests, CNN's Candy Crowley, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and author of the new book "Personal Faith, Public Policy."

So, what about this, Candy, rejections now breaking out all over, Rod Parsley and John Hagee? Is this all just about politics?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I love it because we always do these stories about how endorsements don't matter.

But, boy, the un-endorsements are like great, aren't they? I mean, we're constantly sort of talking about them.

Look, he gets that out of the way. It's done. You know, will it come up? I mean, honestly, if he runs against Obama or Clinton, if they think it's helpful to come up in some way this fall, they will bring it up. But it just doesn't...

COOPER: Although Obama seemed, in a statement today, to kind of be putting the kibosh on that notion.

CROWLEY: Well, sort of, except for he kind of McCain and saying, I wouldn't say that McCain was -- you know, held those views, but he seems to be saying that I do.

But there's this is back and forth. But I think, after a while, the public sort of tunes out, because it gets sort of silly after a while. He did the right thing. He got it off its plate. I think it moves on maybe, though.

COOPER: Peter, do you see this as equivalent to -- I mean, McCain has, in every statement, said: Look, I didn't go to this guy's church for 20 years. He wasn't my pastor.

Do you think there is a similarity between the Wright issue?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, obviously, there's somewhat of a similarity, because you're -- you're having to reject the views of these pastors. But he spent 395 days trying to get the endorsement of Reverend Hagee.

COOPER: He does always say, "I received the endorsement." He doesn't actually say, "I went out and actively..."

FENN: He started with a breakfast with him. And on the blog from Reverend Hagee, he was ecstatic about his meeting.

And then it took a while. They got the endorsement. It was well-orchestrated. You would have thought that they might have been able to do a little vetting on this.

But, you know, the more interesting point here -- and I won't take it too long -- but, you know, in 2000, he gave that speech in Virginia Beach against Jerry Falwell and against...

COOPER: Pat Robertson.

FENN: ... Pat Robertson, calling them the agents of intolerance.

And then, six years later, he was marching with Jerry Falwell and giving the commencement address, but also, the night before, having dinner with 150 pastors from around the country. So, this was a concerted effort on his part.

COOPER: Tony Perkins, before he endorsed McCain, Hagee had outraged the Catholic Church with other controversial statements.

I just want to play this for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAGEE: This is the great whore of Revelation 17. This is the Antichrist system. This is the apostate church.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: This outraged the Catholic League. He later apologized after meeting with a member of the Catholic League.

You say, though, despite these comments, McCain made a big mistake by rejecting his support. How so?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, Anderson, I think this is the risk of the endorsement game.

I think that Ronald Reagan had it best when he said, "You can't endorse me" to a group of Southern Baptists -- or a group of religious leaders, but I can endorse you and your values.

And I think that -- I think John McCain may have interpreted one of Jesus' lessons in the New Testament the wrong way, misinterpreted, when Jesus said -- or John McCain apparently thinks he without controversy should cast the first vote of endorsement.

Clearly, when you start looking at the theology and the doctrines of the various Protestant denominations, that's why you have so many different denominations. They don't all agree. But I would say, there's a clear difference between this and Barack Obama and Reverend Wright.

The endorsement that he had from John Hagee is nothing like the relationship that Barack Obama had with the Reverend Wright.

COOPER: Well, let me ask you about that, Tony, because there are some who argued have the counter, which is that Barack Obama had a pastoral relationship with Reverend Wright, and though he may have disagreed with him on some issues, there was an actual bond and relationship and a religious basis to the relationship. Whereas, John McCain, it was purely political, seeking out these folks. And, so, in some people's minds, that makes it even -- even worse, in a way.

PERKINS: Well, Anderson, I think that's accurate, to a degree, that, yes, he was actively seeking the endorsement of John Hagee and other religious leaders.

Now, I don't think he's got to worry about it now. I think they're going to be all very gun-shy, because they don't want to be rejected in that endorsement. But the difference here is that he was not influenced by the teachings of John Hagee, where you have Barack Obama saying that Reverend Wright was his spiritual mentor. So, there's a key difference there.

COOPER: Barack Obama would argue he was influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ, which he got through Reverend Wright. But that's obviously a point that viewers have to decide for themselves.

PERKINS: Sure.

COOPER: Where does -- politically, I mean, do you think the Reverend Wright issue continues to come up? Will this issue come up on the campaign trail?

Or is this -- or -- Candy, or do you think this is just...

CROWLEY: I think this may come up silently. And Tony kind of, you know, hinted at this. I think it's possible that -- I mean, look, Hagee does have followers. I think it is possible it will turn them off.

I mean, he may use -- lose the spigot that he might otherwise have -- McCain might lose the spigot he might otherwise have of cash inflow and of people coming out to vote for him. So, I think it may -- you know, as he reaches out to the middle, which, clearly, this is what this is about, he may lose the very supporters he wanted to gain by getting that endorsement.

Does that make sense?

COOPER: Tony, does he lose them in terms of not coming out to vote, or is it -- or will they still come out to vote for him? I mean, does he -- does he risk -- I mean, he's had a problem with evangelicals, with conservative Christians for a long time now. Does that get worse?

PERKINS: Anderson, this doesn't help.

But I think what Candy said, it's -- I have never been a big fan of endorsements, but I think non-endorsements, or rejecting an endorsement is more important than receiving an endorsement.

I think this is going to send a pretty strong message to a lot of evangelical leaders, who they -- they need the support of. And I think they would be hesitant to make an endorsement, thinking that everything they have taught on, everything they have said would be scrutinized, and John McCain would run from it.

So, I think this -- this could be very problematic for the campaign, in my opinion.

FENN: I will tell you, the alternative for those voters, Anderson, is to go to Bob Barr, who is going to be on the ballot in over 40 states. So, there is another lever for folks to push -- to pull on this.

PERKINS: Well, I don't necessarily see them taking that -- what it is, is, there's an issue -- and the Republicans understand it -- it's an intensity issue in this campaign, that there's no intensity within the base. This does not pour gasoline on the fire. This pours water on the fire.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there.

Tony Perkins, good to have you on.

And Candy Crowley, Peter Fenn, nice to have you on the program. Thank you.

McCain's relationship to Hagee is getting a lot of buzz on our blog. You can join the conversation. Go to cnn.com/360. I'm about to try to log on right now.

Next on the program, on 360, does Barack Obama have a problem with Jewish voters? Obama campaigning in the critical state of Florida, reaching out to some Jewish voters who remain uneasy about the candidate. We will take you on the trail.

Also tonight, no right to remove the kids -- the stunning ruling today on the polygamist custody battle. So, what happens now to those 460 kids in foster care?

And, later, a terrifying touchdown -- this enormous tornado strikes a direct hit near Denver -- incredible video ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: On the trail, Senator Barack Obama today in South Florida, where he talked with Jewish voters at a synagogue in West Palm Beach.

Florida obviously a crucial swing state -- Obama spending three days there, trying to win over key voters, many of them elderly and Jewish, many who prefer Hillary Clinton right now.

Now, Senator Obama is now considered the Democratic front-runner, of course. He hasn't spent much time in Florida until now. And he has his work cut out for him.

On the trail, here's Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Barack Obama's problems with Jewish voters may have begun with two words in a debate last year.

OBAMA: I would.

CROWLEY: He would, as president, without precondition, meet with hostile nations, like Iran and Syria, both dedicated to Israel's destruction.

OBAMA: One of the first things that I would do, in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward, is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria.

CROWLEY: Fast-forward to a synagogue in Florida this afternoon, an effort to ease concerns that Obama is not a staunch supporter of Israel.

OBAMA: When I am in the White House, I will bring with me an unshakable commitment to maintaining that bond between the United States of America and an unshakable commitment to Israel's security.

CROWLEY: The Jewish vote is a small percentage of the electorate, but it's the most reliably Democratic.

Of the top 10 places with the highest Jewish population, six states and the District of Colombia are reliably Democratic anyway. But three, Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, are key swing states, where even a small voting bloc could make the difference between win and lose.

So, in that synagogue, Obama took it all on, the accumulation of concerns, big and small.

OBAMA: People say, you know, he's got sort of a Muslim-sounding name, and we don't know what's going on here. So, let me just clear up anything that's going on.

My father was from Kenya. And Barack actually, interestingly enough, means the same as Baruch. It means one who is blessed.

CROWLEY: And his associations with harsh critics of Israel, an endorsement from controversial Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, the words of Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

OBAMA: I have spoken out vigorously against anti-Semitism, even in my own community, when it's not convenient. But that doesn't mean that I'm not listening to different perspectives on a whole host of issues.

CROWLEY: And a simmering tension between Jews and African- Americans.

OBAMA: And I know that I might not be standing here were it not for the historical bond between the Jewish community and the African- American community here in this country, in pursuit of justice during the civil rights movement.

CROWLEY: The issues are real enough that a Florida Republican Committee ad is questioning several Obama statements. And John McCain is exploiting positive words about Obama from Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the U.S.

"So," McCain said, "if Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly."

Yes, Obama's problem is real, so he will continue to reach out to Jewish voters, but it's also relative. A recent Gallup poll showed, Jewish voters prefer Obama over John McCain 61 percent to 32 percent -- not a bad place from which to move forward.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Up next: Our Planet in Peril a mountain-top battle over coal, environmentalists, home owners and others fighting coal owners. Both sides of the debate when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, when you turn of your lights and go to bed, keep this in mind. Coal provides more than 50 percent of the power for electricity in America. And with the rising price of oil, more people are looking at coal as a viable energy source.

But there are problems. Researchers are still trying to find ways to burn coal cleaner and then there's the issue of how we get it from the ground. With tonight's "Planet in Peril" report, here's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: It is loud, destructive, and highly controversial. The mountain top mining operations of West Virginia. Chuck Nelson was born and raised in Sylvester, West Virginia, he comes from a long line of coal miners and mined for 30 years himself.

CHUCK NELSON, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: My father spent 47 years underground, my bother spent 20 years underground before he got right out.

JOHNS: But for Nelson and many others here, there is one thing more important than coal.

NELSON: There's so much that the mountain has to offer to people. It's a big part of our life. It is our life.

JOHNS: He says mountain top mining is hurting the health of his family and others who live near these mines and destroying their culture. The only way to really get a perspective of how large these operations are is from the air.

SUSAN LAPIS, PILOT, SOUTHWINGS: They'll dynamite very carefully down to the coal, harvest the coal and then they'll start the dynamite process over again.

JOHNS: Our pilot has been flying over these mountains for a decade as a volunteer for South Wings, an environmental group opposed to the practice of mountain top mining that arranged this aerial tour.

LAPIS: I've been watching this one go down since I've been flying up here. It is a very dramatic change. It was high and impressive and now it's low and flat.

JOHNS: In West Virginia, almost one-third of the 158 million tons of coal removed from these mountains in 2006 came from mountain top mining. Critics want it stopped. Studies show the practice pollutes the surrounding water and the dust presents health hazards to nearby communities.

MARY ANNE HITT, APPALACHIAN VOICES: When you think about not only all of the communities that are around here the people that are impacted by the polluted water, the blasting, the flooding. But that these are some of the oldest mountains on earth.

JOHNS: this is what it looks like on ground when a mountain-top mining site is reclaimed. The company stopped mining here about a year and a half ago. There's rocks and grass but critics of the process argue it could make land like this almost useless. But the industry says mountain top mining is actually the only way to access coal close to the surface. Plus, they say, what's left is a bonus for the economy.

CAROL RAULSTON, NATIONAL MINING ASSOCIATION: The people in the state have really said there's a better way to do reclamation than just trying to make it look the way it did before. There are other things we want here. We may want some recreational opportunities. We may need areas that are safe from flooding to build schools and hospitals and airports and housing developments. And these sites provide that kind of opportunity.

JOHNS: But for many residents of the Mountain State like Chuck Nelson, losing their mountains is not a sacrifice they want to make.

Joe johns, CNN, Charleston, West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The battle goes on.

Up next, a major victory for dozens of polygamist moms whose kids were taken away during the raid on their compound in Texas -- a judge ruled the kids were not in urgent danger. But the question is now will those kids get to go home?

Also ahead, a young mother taken in the raid. The state says, she's a minor. She says she's 18 and can prove it. Who's telling the truth? We're "Keeping Them Honest" -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A quick recap now of our breaking news.

A short time just before we went on air, Senator John McCain spoke out for the first time about incendiary remarks made by Pastor John Hagee, a prominent and polarizing evangelical minister, a man who, John McCain -- whose endorsement he had sought out.

Earlier today, after weeks of questions and controversy, McCain, in a very public way, rejected Hagee's endorsement. That move came after recordings surfaced of Hagee preaching about Hitler and the Jews, reportedly describing the Holocaust as God's will.

Here's what McCain said about his rejection of Hagee's endorsement for the first and talked about those Hitler comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Well, I just think that the statement is crazy and unacceptable.

And, certainly, Reverend Hagee, Pastor Hagee is entitled to his views. But we have reached a point where that kind of statement, simply, I would not -- I would reject the endorsement and the expression of those kinds of views. But, also, I would like to make something else clear. My church that I attend is the North Phoenix Baptist Church. My pastor and spiritual guide is Pastor Dan Yeary. I have never been to Pastor Hagee's church, or Pastor Parsley's church.

I didn't attend their church for 20 years. I'm not a member of their church. I received their endorsement, which did not mean that I endorse their views. The comments made most recently by Pastor Hagee were just too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: John McCain tonight calling Hagee's comments crazy and unacceptable.

Hagee, who is a strong supporter of Israel, calls the accusations against him the biggest and ugliest of lies. Previously, his comments about the Catholic Church and his description of Hurricane Katrina as God's judgment on New Orleans and gay people have also caused outrage.

But not until today did John McCain reject the pastor whose endorsement he had actively sought, as we said. We also just learned Senator McCain rejected Pastor Rod Parsley's endorsement, whom he'd mentioned in that speech, another McCain supporter who has made controversial remarks about Islam.

Another major story we are following tonight is the polygamist custody battle in Texas. And today, the followers of Warren Jeffs are overjoyed that, after a huge court decision that could send hundreds of kids taken from the compound back to their families.

The ruling is exactly what the members of the FLDS ranch were hoping for since this whole raid began. They said the kids were in no danger. Today, a court in these cases agreed.

We have the latest developments to tell you about tonight. CNN's Ed Lavandera has tonight's "Crime & Punishment" report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a scathing opinion issued by the Texas Court of Appeals. The nine-page decision blasts fellow judges and the Department of Family and Protective Services, ruling there was no evidence children would be subjected to sexual or physical abuse, that there was no evidence they were in urgent danger, and no evidence that required their immediate removal from the compound.

The appeal was brought by 38 mothers whose children were removed from the Yearning for Zion compound. The ruling only affects their children, but outside the courthouse, a lawyer representing the mothers said the reasoning would apply to all of the children.

JULIE BALOVICH, TEXAS RIO GRANDE LEGAL AID: The 3rd Court of Appeals has stood up for the legal rights of these families and given the mothers hope that their families will be brought back together very soon.

LAVANDERA: The opinion also throws out the earlier order granting temporary custody to the state.

This historic custody battle began in early April. Acting on phone calls, whose authenticity is now being doubted by the court, authorities raided the ranch and removed more than 460 children.

The FLDS denies allegations of sexual or physical abuse and says that they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Responding to the appellate court's opinion, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services released a statement saying, "We just received this information from the Court of Appeals, and it is being reviewed. We are trying to assess the impact this may have on our case and what our next steps will be."

Tonight, the kids are living in shelters across the state and will remain there for at least the next ten days. That's how long the state has to appeal this court ruling or return the children to their mothers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So attorneys for the kids are saying the state's case has fallen apart. What allegations do they make?

LAVANDERA: Well, they point to two things in particular. Throughout the custody hearings that have been going on in San Angelo this week, caseworker after caseworker has gotten up there and said that each of them have not found any evidence of abuse in the cases that have been talked about so far.

Secondly, they also point to what the state initially said, that there were 31 women, underage mothers who were already pregnant. That number has gone from 31 down to 25. And remember, early on, they said that there was widespread abuse and allegations of abuse inside this compound and they say slowly this is all being dismantled.

COOPER: So do we know, Ed -- I mean, how did the state go from saying there were 31 underage mothers there to now saying, "Well, actually there's just five?" Did they -- I mean, how do you make that mistake?

LAVANDERA: Well, I think they haven't really answered specifically a lot of those questions. But what they do say, in general terms, it has been very confusing to figure out just who is who, who is related to who, who is the mother of which child or the father of which child.

So they will point, early on in this, that there was a lot of confusion as to they're just trying to figure out these family structures and that that's probably what led to a lot of this confusion and a lot of these mistakes now.

COOPER: All right. Ed Lavandera, thanks for the reporting. Does the ruling mean that these hundreds of kids taken from the compound, 460 of them, will soon be returned to the sect? We're going to ask Rod Parker, attorney for the FLDS, and CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Also ahead tonight, our exclusive interview with a young mother who was placed in foster care even though she says her birth certificate proves she's 18. Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Rod Parker is an attorney representing the FLDS. He joins me along with CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, to discuss today's ruling.

So Jeffrey, what happened? I mean, the court found there was not enough evidence to show the kids were in immediate danger and that you can't remove kids just because the sect's belief system allows for minors to be married. Is the court saying that no crimes were committed at all?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They're not saying that no crimes were committed, but they were saying removing a child from his or her mother is a very big deal in our legal system. And you need a lot of proof to take such a major step, for one kid, much less 468.

And they said simply the Texas state investigators had not produced anywhere nearly enough evidence. So, based on this ruling, I think it's clear that, if it stands, all these kids are going back with their mothers.

COOPER: And Rod, you're an attorney for the FLDS. The court also said that the state made a mistake by treating the sect as if it was one family, one house as opposed to individual houses and by -- by not doing enough to try to find out alternatives to taking all the kids. Is that correct?

ROD PARKER, FLDS ATTORNEY: That is correct. The court -- the state had taken the position all along that the ranch behind me was -- was a single household and that they could take every child from the household on the basis of an allegation against one or two people.

But the Court of Appeals determined that that was simply incorrect, that you have to consider each house as -- as an individual unit.

I've been out on the ranch today and several times before, and it is a little bit -- it's hard to appreciate how big it is unless you're out there. So to construe this ranch as a single household when it's as big as it really is, is really unreasonable.

COOPER: So Rod, all along the FLDS leaders have said, "Look, no abuse has taken place." If that's true, how come the state did find five minors who became pregnant while 15 or 16 years old?

PARKER: Well, actually I think what they had was -- was, if I'm not mistaken as to the numbers, they had two. And one was 16, and that was a problem. And one was 17. And under Texas law, that one is not a problem. So they had one out of 464.

What the Court of Appeals is saying today is that you can't take that one example and then apply it to everybody in the community. You have to look at each person individually.

The court is also saying that the state's theory, which was that there was a threat of somebody growing up in the future and to become a perpetrator in maybe 20 or 30 or 40 years was a clearly inadequate basis of going in there and taking away children from their mothers and fathers.

COOPER: So Jeff, that whole notion that the belief system of the sect allows for underage, for minors to enter into marriages, spiritual marriages as they call them, multiple women marrying one man, they say just because they have that belief doesn't guarantee that kids are going to be abused?

TOOBIN: That's right. You know, one of the real themes of this opinion is that, you know, you can't punish this group of people for what they thought, only for what they did.

And the clear accusation in the court's thinking is that the investigators sort of conjured up a system of -- that they thought that the way this -- the place operated was simply so outrageous that you had to take all these kids away.

And the court said, "No, you can't object to the system. You have to prove each case individually."

COOPER: So -- but Jeff, you think the kids go back, but the investigations continue somehow?

TOOBIN: I do. I think clearly the kids go back. I mean, if this ruling stands, certainly, the 38 mothers involved here will get their kids back. And I can't see why it wouldn't apply to all the families here.

The Texas investigators will continue to investigate, and they should continue to investigate, if there was underage sex involving a specific perpetrator and a specific victim. But it's got to be individualized. It can't be applying to everyone.

So I think that's what's got to be -- that's what they're going to pursue.

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it there. Rod Parker, appreciate your time tonight. Jeff Toobin, as well.

Just ahead, an exclusive interview with a young mother removed during the FLDS raid who gave birth weeks later. She says she's 18, has the birth certificate to prove it. So why was she placed in foster care to begin with? We're "Keeping Them Honest," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: After the raid of the FLDS ranch in West Texas, state officials released some shocking numbers. They said 31 girls younger than 18, minors, were pregnant, already mothers or both.

But according to today's ruling, they now say the actual number is five. You heard the attorney earlier saying it's actually just one, but the state says it is five.

You're about to hear from a young woman who was weeks from giving birth when the states raided the sect. She says she tried to tell them she was 18 years old. She said they didn't listen.

In an exclusive interview with her, we set out to find the facts. CNN's David Mattingly is "Keeping Them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA JESSOP, MEMBER OF YFZ RANCH: I think it's been good.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anyone can see Pamela Jessop is young, and when Texas investigators raided the FLDS compound in April, she says they immediately asked her questions.

JESSOP: I was honest. I showed them my birth certificate, and they acknowledged it, that I was 18.

MATTINGLY: A caseworker signed a statement saying Jessop provided her age as 18. Her birth certificate says so. So does the bishop's list, the sect's own records, collected as evidence.

But the adult on paper became a child in the eyes of state investigators and was sent to foster care. Jessop says she thinks she knows why.

JESSOP: They kept me all this time just to get my little baby.

MATTINGLY: There was no doubt that Jessop was pregnant. She first became a mom when she was 16. Her husband was 20. And at the raid, she was just weeks from having her second baby.

JESSOP: It was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life.

MATTINGLY: And what kind of day did it turn out to be?

JESSOP: One of the worst. One of the most stressful. Cops are all around me trying to snatch my baby the minute I shut my eyes or lay him down.

MATTINGLY: Jessop was kept in foster care. Her age was disputed until she delivered a baby boy. Jessop says foster care workers were in the delivery room with her. Shortly after, the baby was legally placed in state custody but under Jessop's care.

JESSOP: They're dealing with our lives and they've treated us like animals. I can't trust a single person now. MATTINGLY: Pamela Jessop's attorney say they see a pattern among their FLDS clients.

ANDREA SLOAN, ATTORNEY: They put them on that list so that they could continue to have them in custody so that they could continue to either question them in connection with their investigation, without their attorneys present, or in the cases of the young women who are going to deliver their babies while in state custody, so that they can get the babies.

MATTINGLY: "Keeping Them Honest," we contacted Texas Child Protective Services and heard a very different story about Pamela Jessop.

"We were told that Jessop never showed investigators her birth certificate, proving that she was 18. We were also told that she was actually happy to go into foster care so that she could be close to her 1-year-old son and at no time did she ever request to leave."

How many times did you ask them, "Why are you keeping me?"

JESSOP: A hundred times.

MATTINGLY: Is this something -- is this something you asked every day?

JESSOP: Oh, yes.

MATTINGLY: The state says any disputed minor who proves they are an adult is released. But Pamela Jessop stands by her story. Her attorneys say they may file a federal lawsuit claiming a violation of Jessop's civil rights.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: David, how many FLDS women say they're having the same problem as this woman, Pamela Jessop?

JESSOP: Well, there are 15 cases that we know of for sure. These are 15 adult mothers who have gone before a judge and said, "Hey, I'm an adult. I should not be in foster care."

And in each one of these cases, the judge says, "You're right. You're free to go." Well, these women are all ages 18, 19, 20 for the most part, but in that group, there was one woman who was 27 years old; twenty-seven, Anderson. And this was a woman who clearly was not a juvenile.

COOPER: All right. David Mattingly. As always, great reporting. Thanks, David.

Up next, we'll get reaction from a former FLDS member who knows first-hand what these young people are going through.

Also ahead, a subpoena for the man known as Bush's brain. Why the House Judiciary Committee wants to talk to Karl Rove. And what's his reaction to that? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, the raid last month on Warren Jeffs' Texas ranch wasn't the first time a state has targeted the polygamist sect. Back in 1953, Arizona state police and the U.S. National Guard raided an FLDS colony at Short Creek, now known as Colorado City. More than 236 kids were taken into custody, and many of them were never returned to their families.

During that raid, Mary Mackert, our next guest, was then a child. She wasn't removed from the sect, but decades later she left on her own. It's an ordeal she describes in her book "The Sixth of Seven Wives: Escape from Modern-Day Polygamy." She joins me now.

Mary, as you hear these representatives of the FLDS, and as you hear the polygamists themselves talking about that there's no abuse going on, what do you think? What do you think is really going on?

MARK MACKERT, FORMER FLDS MEMBER: Well, when I was a child, we were taught to lie to the gentiles. That we, any wife who...

COOPER: Who are the gentiles? You mean anyone not of the FLDS?

MACKERT: Anyone outside of the religious -- yes, anyone outside of our religious circle was a gentile. They were wicked, and they were evil. And we were to lie to them to protect the prophets. We rehearsed the lies. We lied to keep Daddy from going to jail. And there are lies on my birth certificate...

COOPER: They would actually rehearse the lies with -- with kids?

MACKERT: Oh, yes, yes. I was told to tell the neighbors, when they wondered why my dad wasn't home every night, that he was a traveling salesman. And my dad is actually an accountant.

COOPER: Today's ruling, though, basically says, look, that the FLDS belief system, in and of itself, doesn't constitute abuse. Even though they may support the notion that minor girls can get married, can have babies, they say just because they have that belief, that doesn't equal abuse.

From your experience, is abuse widespread?

MACKERT: Oh, yes. I was molested as a child, and I married a man that was 50 years old when I was 17 in an arranged marriage to get to heaven. I prostituted myself to get to heaven.

COOPER: It was interesting, when Larry King was interviewing some women who are currently in the FLDS sect and asked them, "Why do you -- you know, why do you believe in polygamist marriages?"

They say, "Well, there's not enough good men around."

But it seems like there's plenty of men in these compounds. In fact, the younger men are sometimes kicked out. And there's this whole group they call the Lost Boys who are former members of the FLDS Church who have been kicked out for one reason or the other so that older men can marry these younger women.

MACKERT: And that's true. That's true. My youngest brother was told that he'd have to go find him a wife out in the world and convert her and bring her back, because there weren't enough women to go around.

COOPER: You compared women in FLDS with women living under the Taliban. What -- what was life like?

MACKERT: You are taught to blindly obey, to never question authority. And if your priest of authority tells you to do something that's wrong, God will hold him accountable and not you.

And you -- you grow up not knowing how to make decisions or how to be responsible about the decisions you make.

COOPER: Mary Mackert, I appreciate your perspective tonight. Thanks for being with us.

MACKERT: You're welcome.

COOPER: Erica Hill joins us again with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, a new round in the political grudge match between congressional Democrats and President Bush's former political guru, Karl Rove. The House Judiciary Committee today slapping Rove with a subpoena forcing him to testify in a probe into whether the Justice Department was more interested in politics than justice. That hearing set for July 10.

Crude oil prices actually down a little bit today. But you probably didn't notice, because just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, a new record at the pump. The national average now just over $3.83 a gallon.

John McCain's day wasn't all about Pastor John Hagee. Earlier, he appeared on Ellen DeGeneres's talk show. The two had an interesting exchange about same-sex marriage. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I think that people should be able to enter into legal agreements, and I think that that is something that we should encourage. I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: There's this old way of thinking that we are not all the same. We are all the same people, all of us. You're no different than I am. Our love is the same.

MCCAIN: We just have a disagreement and I, along with many, many others who wish you every happiness.

DEGENERES: Thank you. So you'll walk me down the aisle? Is that what you're saying?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: She always knows how to end it perfectly, doesn't she?

COOPER: She does. He didn't answer the question, whether he'd walk her down the aisle.

HILL: No, he did not.

COOPER: But maybe, you know -- maybe he'll make a statement about that tomorrow. We'll see.

For our international viewers, "CNN Today" is next. Here in America, Larry King is coming up.

Thanks for watching. Hope you have a great night. I'll see you tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAREN MCINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hello, everyone, I'm cnn meteorologist Karen McInnis. We are continuing to follow the outbreak of severe weather for the overnight hours. It seems to be centered now across a portion of Nebraska, much of central Kansas, also into OKLAHOMA. This is where we have our tornado watch that goes until 5:00 a.m.