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Is Hillary Clinton Bowing Out?; FLDS Children Reunited With Their Families; Obama's Break with His Church - Too Little Too Late?; Bill Clinton Fires Back at Vanity Fair Reporter

Aired June 2, 2008 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The words perhaps the toughest we have ever heard from the former president. He attacks the national media saying they have been attempting to "... nail Hillary for Obama." It's the most biased press coverage in history."
Clinton had been asked about an unflattering portrayal of himself in the latest issue of "Vanity Fair" magazine. Clinton called the reporter Todd Purdum "a scum bag" and went on to say "[He's] sleazy. He's a really dishonest reporter. There's just five or six blatant lies in there. But he's a really slimy guy."

The former president charged the reporter did not use a single name or cite a single source for the accusations he makes in the article. Here is some of what set President Clinton off.

Purdum writes on "Vanity Fair" among other things that "... four former Clinton aides told me that, about 18 months ago, one of the president's former assistants, who still advises him an political matters, had heard so many complaints about such reports from Clinton supporters around the country that he felt compelled to try to conduct what one of these aides called an 'intervention,' because, the aide believed, 'Clinton was apparently seeing a lot of women on the road.'"

Clinton didn't just target Purdum in his comments or the National Media, he also went after Barack Obama. For his response to recent comments made by Reverend Pfleger mocking Hillary Clinton.

This is what former President Clinton said: "They had all these people standing up in this church cheering, calling Hillary a white racist, and he didn't do anything about it. The first day he said 'Ah, ah, ah well.' Because that's what they do -- he gets other people to slime her. So then they saw the movie they thought this is a great ad for John McCain -- maybe I better quit the church. It's all politics."

For the record, a spokesman for Bill Clinton later said, and I quote "President Clinton was understandably upset about an outrageously unfair article, but the language today was inappropriate and he wishes he had not used it."

He did however use it so let's dig deeper with our panel: CNN's Candy Crowley, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser, David Gergen, and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

David, as we just heard, some pretty tough words. What are your thoughts?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it has been very unusual in this campaign. Bill Clinton has often -- you know, he has a temper and he goes off like Mt. Vesuvius. He just explodes.

But he typically in the past has done it in private. And I think this is in this campaign, for the first time, we have seen him do it in public on two or three occasions. I am sure he does not really feel that way about Todd Purdum of the "New York Times" after all. Todd Purdum who is married to his first press secretary Didith Myers.

I think he is angry about the piece but I think Bill Clinton in his quieter moments would not want to say those kind of things. I do think it raises complications for the larger looming question of whether there might be a dream ticket of Obama and Hillary Clinton.

COOPER: How so?

GERGEN: Because the question about the dream ticket partly revolves around how about Bill? How does he fit into the picture? If you are Barack Obama sitting in the oval office, is Bill Clinton going to go off like Vesuvius at some point?

So in that sense, I personally, as I thought about this and talked to about people, I begun to think this dream ticket makes more sense than I originally thought it did, but comments like this really do not help.

COOPER: Candy, what do you think is the kind of impact this could have?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am sorry, Anderson, one more time.

COOPER: What kind of an impact do you think this could have?

CROWLEY: Well, I think David is absolutely right because now we are looking at superdelegates. So what do they think about this? I think it does kind of -- look this has been a complicated relationship between Obama and the Clintons, honestly. Since then they went down south and we had all those problems in South Carolina when they really started to go after each other.

I think what you are seeing is a Bill Clinton who is extremely frustrated. You know, I also know Todd Purdum and he is a great reporter. I think Bill Clinton at this point, you are seeing both the frustration and frankly, really early on in the campaign when he began to have some of these times when he really went off.

I talked to one of his closest friends and he said you know what? It is different when your wife is running. It is like he is kind of lost his political air because he so badly wants her to win, for her, for his own legacy and for a lot of reasons. So we are at the end of a very long road and you saw a man lashing out in frustration.

COOPER: Gloria, the article, I mean does have some pretty nasty suggestions in it, un-sourced, no names on them.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right they are un- sourced but they are anonymous sources.

COOPER: Is it fair game to criticize?

BORGER: Well, I think if you are Bill Clinton, sure, it is fair game if somebody is going to make some charges; you would probably like to see them on the record. But I agree with everyone here. That Todd Purdum is a very serious journalist. But I do think it raises the question, as we first heard Bill Clinton famously say for himself, two for the price of one.

And when you think about the vice presidential possibility for Hillary Clinton, the question that I have talked to Obama people about is you sort of ruminate, and again it is all ruminations because nobody knows, is what would Bill Clinton's role be if she were vice president? How much influence would he want or would he just say well, that is too small for me, I will just move on and continue doing my foundation and everything else.

But this just sort of peels the onion a little bit and gives you a sense of also the kinds of things that Republicans could use against a Clinton in a campaign.

GERGEN: Let me just say one other thing, Anderson, and that is the article -- I do think the Clinton people and Bill Clinton's people have a fair point that the article does not give enough weight to what he has done in the non-profit sector.

The Clinton global initiative is actually an extraordinarily important initiative. Very similar to what Jimmy Carter has done in a different way, in his own way. I think it has provided enormous help in places in Africa. I think he has thrown himself into this.

And what we have seen of Bill Clinton on the trail is only a piece of who Bill Clinton has become. The pieces we have seen of him campaigning for Hillary, and I think he has thrown himself into this race for Hillary. But he has had this other portfolio.

COOPER: Todd Purdum said earlier to Wolf Blitzer, "Well, look plenty of people have written articles about all of that stuff in the Clinton initiative and I am sure there is plenty of good work, but that is not what this article is about."

GERGEN: Well, but if you are going to assess Bill Clinton's post presidency, it does seems to me that that portion of his life, with 55, 60 percent or 70 percent probably of his time in the last six/seven years.

BORGER: But this is a different Bill Clinton we have seen. Whether he is rusty or whether he is defending his wife, as Candy says. And that is a little different. When you are the husband, you are not the candidate. It is a difficult world, particularly as an ex-president. And there has been a lot of controversy over whether he has done it well. GERGEN: I will bet you there are people around Barack Obama who is saying we might want to think about this vice presidency but can we really afford to have an explosion like this on our watch?

COOPER: We are anticipating audio comments the comments made by President Clinton were recorded. We will get those audio -- to all the audio comments to you as soon as they are released. Right now they have not been released.

Now shortly before this tirade, Clinton signaled that his wife's run for the White House may be over. There are some other signs as well, members of Hillary Clinton's advanced staff have been summoned to New York tomorrow night and reportedly, were told their roles on the campaign trail are ending.

And that said, Senator Clinton herself, has not conceded anything yet. As we showed you tonight, she's hard at work on the trail in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, stumping for votes on the eve of the final Democratic primaries while her rival has his eyes on November.

Here again CNN's Candy Crowley with the "Raw Politics."


CROWLEY: The primary is disappearing in his rear-view mirror. Barack Obama will celebrate the season's last election night in the St. Paul arena where John McCain will be nominated. And he talks party unity in a way that gets people rehashing the dream-team scenario.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She is an outstanding public servant and she and I will be working together in November.

CROWLEY: He expects to be the nominee but he cannot get there with the delegates he may win tomorrow night. The Obama campaign has been pressing undeclared superdelegates to step up to the plate including 17 senators, most of whom are expected to eventually back him.

But the timing is unclear. Many are reluctant to push her out. They want Hillary Clinton to withdraw on her own.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tomorrow is the last day of the primaries and the beginning of a new phase in the campaign.

CROWLEY: On the eve of the end, Hillary Clinton was working South Dakota, trademark tough.

H. CLINTON: What South Dakota decides tomorrow will have a big influence on what people think going forward. Because our main job at the end of this historic, closely contested primary season is to nominate the next president who must be a Democrat. That is our goal.

CROWLEY: She is like the boy with his finger in the dike, plugging the holes to prevent the flood. Her field team has been told to go home. Others have been asked to turn in expense chits by the end of the week. Staffers are talking about vacations, checking in on their old jobs.

In Yankton, South Dakota, Hillary Clinton called the mayor by the wrong name, wrestled with a sound system that distorted her voice and had a coughing fit bad enough that Chelsea had to take over. And across the state, her husband all but gave it up.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That this may be the last day I am ever involved in a campaign of this kind. I thought I was out of politics until Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.

CROWLEY: Friendly fire has begun. Former Iowa governor and Clinton supporter, Tom Vilsack told the Associated Press, "After Tuesday's contest, she needs to acknowledge that he's going to be the nominee and quickly get behind him."

It has been 17 months now and the campaign has turned upside down. The all but certain nominee is the longest of shots and the unlikely has become the probable. But she is so much the same; smart, intrepid, unreadable.


COOPER: Well, we will try to read her with our panel coming up including Candy Crowley.

As always, I will be blogging throughout this hour. You can join the conversation, go to

Just ahead, today's secret meeting of uncommitted Democratic senators. How that might shape the endgame for Hillary Clinton. She is still speaking live tonight under growing pressure to bow out. We will look at how soon that decision might come. We will bring you some of her comments alive.

Also, the latest fallout from Barack Obama's decision to cut ties with his former church. Bill Clinton said it was all about politics today. Will it finally allow Obama to put Reverend Wright and Reverend Pfleger behind him?

Plus hundreds of children from a polygamist sect reunited with their parents but there are strings. The latest from the custody battle that fell apart last week. All that and more on "360."



H. CLINTON: We need a president who understands the full depth and breadth of the decisions that await. Because you know, when the lights are down and the cameras are gone, and you are there and you have to make these decisions, that is really when we find out who is ready to be president.


COOPER: Hillary Clinton speaking tonight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. South Dakota, Montana hold, of course, primaries tomorrow.

Today, on the trail Bill Clinton seemed to signal that his wife's hard fought battle for the nomination may be over. Here is what he said. Take a look.


B. CLINTON: This may be the last day I am ever involved in a campaign of this kind. I thought I was out of politics until Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.


COOPER: So will Senator Clinton concede the nomination? We are being told an answer may come as early as tomorrow. She is under intense pressure, even from her own supporters. And then today a secret meeting among uncommitted Democratic senators talking about what to do when the primaries are over.

So let us get back to our panel. Digging deeper, joining us again, CNN's Candy Crowley, David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

Candy, Obama said, that he looked forward to working with Hillary Clinton in November. A lot of folks are reading an awful a lot into that. What do you think he meant?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I think we are in the moment of the double entendre. Everything we look at, we read something into it. I think obviously into that was that oh, well, November and then mentioned November, working with Hillary Clinton and it is a ticket. They are so far away from that at this point.

I don't think you can read it as anything other than a call to unity, because that is Barack Obama's first and foremost task is whenever this is over, whenever she gets out, if she gets out, she needs to get her supporters back onboard.

And I have to tell you that inside the Clinton campaign, they are saying that the anger level is pretty high and one of the reasons it is, is that they felt as though Barack Obama could have been generous and sort of given back the four delegates they gave him out of Michigan where he was not even on the ballot.

They are furious about that. It seems like a little thing, but they were already sort of simmering. So now they have to look at his supporters -- I am sorry, they have to look at her supporters. They have to look at her. And they need to kind of tread gently. So this is about unity right now, because that is the number one mission for Barack Obama.

COOPER: David, should she be vice president? Is it really a dream ticket?

GERGEN: I do not think it is a dream ticket. But I must tell you that I have evolved on this issue. I thought in the beginning it was unworkable, and that he really needed to have a clean hand. But the way this has evolved, she has done so well in these last primaries.

I mean since March 5th, she has won 6.8 million votes; he has only won 6.2 million votes. She has finished much stronger than he has. And there are a lot of women, frankly, who feel not only disappointed but feel somewhat robbed in this process.

And I think that the -- I think he now needs to engage in serious conversation within his own team and with her about whether this is a workable idea or not. I think he needs her a lot more now than he did six weeks ago.

COOPER: He talked about engaging her in conversation. I want the play that for our viewers.


OBAMA: I emphasized to her what an extraordinary race that she has run and said that there are not too many people who understand exactly how hard she has been working.

I am one of them, because she and I have been on this same journey together. And told her that once the dust settled I was looking forward to meeting with her at a time and place of her choosing. And so, we still got two more contests to go and I am sure there will be further conversations after Tuesday.


COOPER: How would you like to be a fly on that wall?

BORGER: I would love it. Are you kidding me? We have already got them wired, do not worry about it.

I think that there is going to be this serious conversation. And I think that the two candidates have to discuss this away from their staff. There is a lot of vitriol between the staff and the candidates have been angry at each other, I am sure. And I think Obama has to decide what is the best way to win.

That is what picking a vice president is about, it is about winning and whether she can help him win or somebody else can help him win. And by the way the vice president is not the only job that you could give a Hillary Clinton or that you could promise to a Hillary Clinton.

There are so many important jobs, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, whatever she wanted, a Supreme Court nomination. So I think that there is a lot of discussion, and this is just -- we are not even there yet; we are at the beginning. GERGEN: But I agree. And Gloria Borger I think you also have to discuss what would it be like in governing? Because it is one thing to have four months of glory and four years of hell.

And so you have to think through, would this work? Who would do what? How would we divide responsibilities? What sort of responsibilities? Would she have a Dick Cheney-like role or would she have a more traditional vice-presidential role?

And then there is this wild card question of Bill Clinton. So there is some difficult issues to talk through. But given the divisions in the party and given how intense the feelings are at this point, especially among a lot of Hillary supporters who feel that the media did her in, as well as the process, and that once again a woman has fallen short.

I think you have to seriously look at this and I don't think finding any other woman solves the problem. I think they really have to look at can we make it work with Hillary Clinton?

COOPER: Very briefly, Candy Crowley, if you are still there, do we know what happens over the next 48 hours? I mean Hillary Clinton - do we know what she is going to say tomorrow night?

CROWLEY: Well, listen, we do know that she is still on and has been for the last several campaign nights, has talked about unity. She has stayed away from him. She says listen, no matter which one of us is on the top of the ticket, we will help the other. I will, as she says, work my heart out for this ticket.

And there are ways she can do this without being on the ticket. If Hillary Clinton went out there and does what she has promised to do, she could bring those women back. So I don't think it has to be on the ticket, but she has promised and will promise again that she will be ready to do whatever she can for the Democratic Party.

I will tell you in fact that everyone around her says when I say, is she going to take this to the convention, they will tell me no. This is inside the campaign and outside the campaign they say she understands her role in the party. She won't ruin it, Anderson.

COOPER: Candy Crowley, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, thanks.

Still ahead, more on our breaking news. Bill Clinton's choice words for a "Vanity Fair" reporter. Gary Tuchman is on the trail with the former president and takes a look at what President Clinton has been saying on the trail lately.

We are also live at the Yearning for Zion ranch where more than 400 polygamist kids could be returning at any moment. That story coming up tonight.


COOPER: Still to come, more on our breaking news. Bill Clinton firing back, taking aim at a "Vanity Fair" reporter, and the National Media and Barack Obama.

We are expecting audio of the former president's tirade. Any minute we are going to bring that to you live when we get this "Breaking News."

But first Erica Hill joins us with a "360" bulletin on the others stories making headlines -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, hundreds of FLDS children began returning home today to the Yearning for Zion compound in El Dorado, Texas. More than 440 children are being released from foster care after they were seized from the ranch two months ago in a move the courts now call unwarranted. But their return today with not without conditions.

CNN's David Mattingly is at the compound for us now live with the latest. Hi, David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica. Some very serious conditions in fact; the FLDS not very happy with some of them. These children are going back to their parents but they have to stay in the state of Texas. They are not allowed to travel more than 60 miles away from home without telling the state when and where they are going in advance.

And when these children come back home here to the YFZ ranch, Child Protective Service workers will be allowed to go inside the ranch at any time from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. That is any day, unannounced, as they can go in and continue their investigation, going into any home. They also have the right to take children away from the ranch for questioning.

So some very serious allegations started this, and this investigation into those serious allegations is still going on, Erica.

HILL: And again, David, not everyone is going home. Not all of these children. In particular, one 16-year-old girl is not. Why?

MATTINGLY: One 16-year-old girl, her court-appointed attorney went to the judge today and said we cannot send her back. She is described as a victim of sexual abuse and it was believed that if she was sent back without more conditions, more restrictions on how she could be protected here, that she might be open to future abuse.

So the court agreed and said they have 72 hours to work that out.

HILL: Obviously some very serious matters.

All right David Mattingly thanks.

COOPER: Well, coming up next, just days after a visiting priest went on a rant about Hillary Clinton and race, Senator Obama cut ties with his church this weekend. The question is, it all about politics and is it too little too late? We will take you up close and inside his decision. Here's tonight's "Beat 360" photo; Senator Obama looking for a kaleidoscope while shopping in Rapids City, South Dakota. Here is the caption from our staff winner, Joey.

"I see light at the end of the tunnel. Either it's me finally locking up the nomination or another crazy pastor driving a freight train."

Think you can do better? Go to and send us your entry. We will announce the winner at the end of the program tonight.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will not come home. We will vote for McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am upset because I came here all the way from St. Louis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They wouldn't listen to us in there! We tried to be heard. The police grabbed us, tried to throw us out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am talking about putting Hillary Clinton on a train track, tying her to the train track and "Time" magazine, where is the outrage for that?


COOPER: "Raw Politics," raw emotions met head on this weekend over seating the democratic delegates from Michigan and Florida. Now, party officials were able to strike a deal, giving the delegates half- a-vote each.

Reaction as you saw there was instant. It was heated and in some cases with some Clinton supporters screaming and adviser Harold Ickes threatening to appeal. Listen.


HAROLD ICKES, SENIOR ADVISER, CLINTON CAMPAIGN: There has been a lot of talk about party unity. Let us all come together, wrap our arms around each other, hijacking four delegates. Notwithstanding the flawed aspect of this is not a good way to start down the path of party unity.


COOPER: Tonight, Obama has 2,076 pledged delegates and superdelegates. Clinton has 1,917. 2,118 are needed to win the nomination. So for the numbers of the nomination, we have a lot to talk about tonight on tonight's strategy session.

Joining us are Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee man and a superdelegate who supports Hillary Clinton. He is also a CNN political contributor. Tonya Acker, a Democratic strategist and an Obama supporter, and Republican strategist Bay Buchanan.

Robert, we heard though pretty tough words from Senator Hillary Clinton's supporters who where at that meeting. Can those wounds be healed?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: They can be. It is going to take time. It is important to understand and I really feel for them, because it is scandalous that there were not re-votes in Florida and in Michigan.

But the reality is, because of that, there had to be decisions. A decision has been made by the democratic rules and bylaws committee or wait for a convention floor fight. Clearly for party unity it was better to be resolved the way it was.

And I think Harold Ickes' threat certainly he did nothing to help either move the process forward or unite the party. I think it was a distraction from Clinton's candidacy.

COOPER: Does anything that was short of giving Hillary Clinton a vice-presidential seat or his offering it to her satisfy her supporters?

ZIMMERMAN: At the end of the day, I am not sure that she wants it. I don't know that she will consider it. But I think the more important point is, Hillary Clinton supporters are going to come onboard based upon how Barack Obama reaches out to them.

No one votes for vice president. You end up voting for president. And there were two segments that we are talking about. One is the political community and they are going to unite behind Barack Obama, with pride, as the nominee if he is the nominee. And likewise his people would unite behind Hillary Clinton.

The bigger issue is the constituency. There are 17 million who voted for Hillary Clinton. It will take a lot of work for Barack Obama to reach out to them.

COOPER: Tanya, how does Barack Obama start to reach out to them?

TANYA ACKER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think that one of the things that we have seen in this campaign is that both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have consistently emphasized that there are core concerns that they share and that they want to move the country forward in a certain way.

I think that when it comes to matters of policy, when it comes to the direction in which they want to lead the country, there is a lot of commonality there; there is a lot of similarity there. And I think that Senator Obama should very -- should not have too difficult a time reaching Clinton supporters on those core issues.

I think that, right now, it's an emotionally highly-charged time. But I do think he's going to be able to make significant inroads there.

COOPER: Bay, from a Republican standpoint, is an Obama-Clinton ticket a dream ticket?



COOPER: Well, for the Republicans in terms of criticizing them?

BUCHANAN: If Hillary was without baggage -- that would include that husband of hers and all the baggage she brings to the table -- she would be a natural for the vice president, and it would be an incredibly powerful ticket. It would unite that party overnight. There would be all kinds of excitement going into the general election.

But she has baggage. And, so, I think, with that, the Obama campaign has to be very hesitant. The way they will unite that party is because Hillary, I believe, is the kind of person that will be out there campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio and places that she really was successful. And she will be very sincere about her effort. And that, I think, will help the Obama ticket.

COOPER: Well, still ahead, breaking news -- we will have more from our panel -- Bill Clinton lashing out at the media, calling one reporter a scumbag, among other things, the rest of us biased.

Gary Tuchman is on the trail with the -- the latest from the former president.

And Senator Obama cut his ties with his controversial church this weekend. His opponents may not let it go so easy. You can bet that. President Clinton today called it all about politics. We'll talk to our panel about that, next.


REV. MICHAEL PFLEGER, VISITING PRIEST, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: And then out of nowhere came, "Hey, I'm Barack Obama."

And she said, "Oh, damn! Where did you come from? I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show!"


COOPER: Those incendiary remarks from Reverend Michael Pfleger were too much for Barack Obama who decided over the weekend he's calling it quits with Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

Today, former president, Bill Clinton, wrote off Obama's decision to leave Trinity as mere politics. He also accused Senator Obama of getting other people to, quote, "slime" his wife.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, have worshipped at the 8,500-member church for about 20 years. Up close tonight, the latest on the candidate, the church and the controversy. Here's CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The resignation may be enough to tamp down criticism within Barack Obama's own party, but Republicans say the issue is far from over.

MICHAEL REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Barack Obama may be known by his friends and remember, both these Pastors are his friends along with Ayers. And so he's going to be looked at a lot between now and November.

MALVEAUX: And expect to see these sound bites again before November.

PFLEGER: I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show!

MALVEAUX: Visiting priest Michael Pfleger's remarks quickly went viral, an immediate target for pundits and bloggers. And this time Obama had had enough.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We also don't want a church subjected to the scrutiny that a presidential campaign legitimately undergoes.

MALVEAUX: Pfleger gave a mea culpa Sunday.

PFLEGER: I am deeply sorry, and I pray that my apology will be accepted even by those who have told me they won't accept it.

MALVEAUX: But it was too late for Obama.

OBAMA: -- Father Pfleger, who is somebody who I've known, who I consider a friend, who has done tremendous work in Chicago. But made offensive statements that have no place in our politics and in the pulpit.

MALVEAUX: Still, the decision to leave was difficult for Obama. Trinity was a place where he married his wife and where his children were baptized.

OBAMA: I want to be able to take Michelle and my girls, sit in a pew quietly, hopefully get some nice music, some good reflection, praise God, thank Him for all the blessings that he has given our family, put some money in the collection plate.

MALVEAUX: Parishioners at the church say the story was blown out of proportion.

DR. MANFORD BYRD, CHARTER MEMBER OF TRINITY: Everything that happens at our church is just magnified. So he would have to be defending something every day for the remainder of this campaign. So I can understand his reaction. But Trinity is a great church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politics and church should be something totally separate. If someone is preaching and then delivering the word, however they feel to deliver that word, that should be them. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not going to take the church down by any stretch of the imagination.

MALVEAUX: But it remains to be seen if Obama can distance himself enough to quell voters' concern over his judgment come November.

OBAMA: I have no idea how it will impact my presidential campaign, but I know it's the right thing to do for the church and for our family.

MALVEAUX: Tomorrow, Obama will be in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he will go into general election mode to start to define and sometimes even redefine his candidacy -- Anderson.


COOPER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Obama may have quit Trinity Church, but not many think that it's going to go gently into that good political night. Just how much damage can it still incite for Obama in a race against John McCain if he becomes the nominee?

"Digging Deeper," with our panel: Robert Zimmerman, CNN political contributor and superdelegate who supports Hillary Clinton; Tanya Acker, a Democratic strategist backing Barack Obama; and here from the Republican camp tonight is Bay Buchanan.

Robert, Obama says this is not a political decision. Clearly, this is a political decision.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's no question it's a political decision. It's unfortunate that it came now. It should have...

COOPER: Is it too late?

ZIMMERMAN: Exactly. It came -- should have been months ago. And I think this is not about religion. This is not about faith. This is about two religious leaders, Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger, who engaged in ugly and hateful, divisive rhetoric. And I think Barack Obama missed an opportunity when he resigned from that church to really communicate with the parishioners about values and expression of his values.

And I would just warn my dear friend, Bay Buchanan, not to get too enthusiastic.

COOPER: I saw her looking pretty enthusiastic at some of those videos.

ZIMMERMAN: We have to wonder why John McCain pursued Reverend Hagee's endorsement, called him -- thanked him for his spiritual guidance, despite Reverend Hagee's hateful rhetoric that John McCain knew about and his vicious anti-Catholic statements and his anti- homosexual statements.

COOPER: Well, Bay Buchanan, let me go to you on that, then. Is it equal? Is Reverend Hagee, you know, the equivalent of Pastor Wright for...?

BUCHANAN: Not even close. The problem here is John McCain is extraordinarily well defined over the last 20 years. America knows who he is.

And what we have here, as Robert said, it's a few months. He should have gotten and quit the church a few months. No -- a few years ago is when he should have quit this church. Because this church, after 20 years, clearly it defines a good portion of who he is, what he's about, what his beliefs are.

And what we're seeing here is something that's extraordinarily alarming to millions and millions of Americans.

COOPER: But is what we're seeing -- but if that is true by your own -- is what we're seeing an accurate reflection of the works oh of that church, the social program of that church?

BUCHANAN: When you have a minister up there, week after week after week and he spews the kind of hatred we've seen that's coming out of that pulpit, you wonder how this man could have sat there. The key here is -- it's un-American. You do not let people in your midst trash your country.

COOPER: Haven't white preachers trashed the United States, trashed citizens of the United States by saying that it was abortionists and homosexuals who were responsible for 9/11? I mean, isn't that trashing American citizens when it comes from -- to Jerry Falwell?

BUCHANAN: Yes and you tell me, who's running for president that sat in those pews?

ZIMMERMAN: It was John McCain who sought these people out for their endorsement.

ACKER: It was George Bush, and it was George Bush's White House that asked Jerry Falwell for advice on Supreme Court nominees after Falwell said that about 9/11. Absolutely.

COOPER: But Tanya, to argue the counter though, Barack Obama says, and he says it very eloquently, clearly, you know, for the church it's the best decision. For his family it's the best decision. But come on, for his political campaign it's the best decision.

ACKER: There's no question. Trinity has become a distraction. But I will take issue with the fact that we can reduce everything that that congregation was about to the sound bites we have heard.

They're awful. They are terrible. And most people don't agree with them. Senator Obama doesn't agree with them, but I think it's not accurate to suggest that for 20 years all they were talking about were...

COOPER: Does this completely inoculate himself from whatever happens now in this church, from some other guest pastor with problems or someone else who makes -- is he inoculated now?

ACKER: Probably not. Probably not. I mean, given the long association there. But, again, I just have to point back...

ZIMMERMAN: The point is Tanya, is that every aspect of Barack Obama's life and writings show that he does not reflect in any way what Father Pfleger said or Reverend Wright.

And I think the bigger issue here, Bay, is that, looking at the situation, we know who John McCain was in 2000. He was a man who called these hate-mongers, preachers of oppression. Now he's seeking their endorsement and support. And the same way he's flipped on the tax cuts and the Bush (ph) president.

BUCHANAN: You can say what you want. The issue in the general election is going to come down is Obama versus Obama. And this guy, upbeat, positive, articulate, brings enormous energy to the campaign, versus a fellow that Americans question. They question his patriotism. They question why he doesn't put his hand -- because he chose to take it off the flag off because he doesn't want to put his hand over his heart.

COOPER: Do you see that as something that -- clearly they are going to try to -- Obama is going to try to redefine himself or reintroduce himself to the American people over the next couple of months. Do you think he can?

BUCHANAN: Well, I think he will lose if he does not successfully convince the American people that his love for this country is as great as all of ours. They will not vote for somebody they do not feel loves their country.

ZIMMERMAN: Let me put your mind at ease. With 81 percent of America saying they're going in the wrong direction and with George Bush's -- George Bush's approval rating at 28 percent, I think the country is ready for a change.

They know who John McCain is. He's the third term of the Bush administration. Barack Obama when he reintroduces himself will represent change.

BUCHANAN: But national security, what are the polls saying? They're saying that they do not trust Barack Obama if national security is the issue.

ZIMMERMAN: John McCain and George Bush are not making America safer.

COOPER: No doubt the conversation will continue when the commercial break continues. It continues online. You can go to our Web site and join in.

Tanya Acker, Robert Zimmerman, thanks very much. Bay Buchanan, as well.

Up next, the breaking news -- Bill Clinton lashing out, saying the media coverage of the campaign is the most biased in history. That's not all. We're going to have more of the former president's comments and reaction from the trail. We're still waiting for the audio recording. We'll see if we can get that in time.

Also ahead, Senator Kennedy says he feels like a million bucks; his words after brain surgery. We'll have the latest on his condition, coming up.


COOPER: More on our breaking news today. On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton went on a blistering attack against the national media. He said they are trying to, and I quote, "nail Hillary for Obama. It's the most biased press coverage in history."

What sent him off is an unflattering article about himself in "Vanity Fair" written by Todd Purdum (ph). Clinton called the reporter a scumbag and went on to say, quote, "He's sleazy. He's a really dishonest reporter. There's just five or six blatant lies in there. But he's a really slimy guy."

CNN's Gary Tuchman spent the past 24 hours covering former President Clinton on the campaign trail, and he joins us now from Sisseton, South Dakota, with more -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this was an extraordinary, bizarre day to be with Bill Clinton. We saw him angry. We saw him reflective. We saw him business-like. And we saw him utter a feeling that might have slipped out.


TUCHMAN: In the tiny South Dakota town of Milbank, on the day before the nation's final primaries, Bill Clinton, for the first time, sounds like his wife waving a white flag could be in the offing.

B. CLINTON: I want to say also that this may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind. I thought I was out of politics until Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.

TUCHMAN: Quite a comment.

B. CLINTON: Aren't you glad that South Dakota gets to close out this primary season?

TUCHMAN: But on this last 24 hours of primary campaigning, he didn't say it again, to voters.

B. CLINTON: All the evidence shows that she is, by far, more likely to win in November.

TUCHMAN: Nor to me.

Mr. President, is this still winnable?


TUCHMAN: He blitzed through six South Dakota stops on Monday. From an elementary school in Watertown to a high school in Sissateague (ph), all tiny towns that heard in many cases a defiant former president, criticizing his party's rules committee.

B. CLINTON: In Michigan, I don't know what they did. It didn't make a lick of sense to me. They said, "We're not only going to give Senator Obama the delegate's equivalent to 100 percent of the uncommitted delegates, even though some of those votes were for John Edwards and others. We're going to give him some more, just to shut everybody up."

TUCHMAN: The former president may be finding himself in an unexpected situation.

The Clintons are simply not used to losing. Between Bill and Hillary Clinton they have won eight consecutive presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial races.

The last defeat, 1980, when Bill Clinton lost the Arkansas governor race. It was so long ago that Barack Obama was a teenager when it happened.

Now another moment of truth may be arriving.

B. CLINTON: She's the best I've ever seen, and I hope South Dakota will say yes to her tomorrow. Thank you and God bless you.

TUCHMAN: But Hillary Clinton's surrogate in chief is giving it his all to the very end.


COOPER: Gary, these remarks which have caused so much attention that Bill Clinton made on the trail today in South Dakota, what were the circumstances of him saying it? I mean, he blasts Obama. He blasts the national media; in particular this reporter from "Vanity Fair."

TUCHMAN: It's a bizarre situation, Anderson, because Bill Clinton's aides do not let him get close to reporters. They tell us you can't walk up to the rope line where he shakes people's hands.

And I've spent several days with Bill Clinton now, and they watch me. If I walk towards the rope line, they sometimes grab my shoulder and tell me to move back. They don't want us anywhere close. So as a result some people are trying to sneak, if I can use that word, because we're not exactly sure what happened in this case.

But this reporter got mixed in with the public and then asked him that question. We're not even 100 percent sure if Bill Clinton knew he was being recorded with a recorder. But the fact is, if I can offer my humble opinion here, it doesn't serve any candidate or any surrogate for a candidate well to keep the news media.

They are big people. This was the commander in chief, the leader of the free world. He can handle reporters. He saw cameras. He may have been more careful with what he saw. They just saw lots of people in the public and the lady may or may not have had a recorder. He may have said something he didn't mean to say.

COOPER: Gary Tuchman, on the trail. Thanks, Gary.

Next on 360, the latest on Ted Kennedy. The senator underwent brain surgery today. The outcome and what it means in his cancer battle ahead.

Also tonight, wouldn't be rock 'n' roll without him. A look back at Bo Diddley and his music when 360 returns.


COOPER: In a moment our "Shot of the Day." We'll take you to the NATIONAL SPELLING BEE, final rounds, where a contestant went head to head with a word most of us have never heard of, numnah. Is that -- I don't even know if I said it right. Does anyone know? Numnah?


COOPER: Anyway, we'll see. I'll learn.

First, Erica Hill joins us again with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: Sounds like something my son would say, not a real word.

COOPER: I know.

HILL: Anderson, good news tonight. Senator Ted Kennedy saying he felt like a million bucks after what his doctors are calling a successful brain surgery today at the Duke University Medical Center. Kennedy was awake during the operation. His doctors say the Senator should not suffer any neurological damage. Kennedy will return to Massachusetts for chemo and radiation treatment.

President Bush says his tax cuts should be made permanent to help boost the economy. He made that argument today at a White House meeting with top economic advisers, but the Democratic-led Congress is unlikely to support those cuts.

And incredible pictures now being made available. This surveillance video shows last week's deadly tornado ripping through the First State Bank in Parkersburg, Iowa. Seven people were killed by that twister.

And a sad passing to report. Bo Diddley died in Archer, Florida, from heart failure today. He was 79. The guitar legend and music pioneer influenced and inspired countless musicians with his mix of R&B and rock and his Bo Diddley beat. Take a listen.

COOPER: Remarkable.

Erica, time now for the moment I know you've been waiting for, tonight's winner of the "Beat 360" contest.

HILL: Finally.

COOPER: Yes. Earlier we put a photo on our 360 blog. We asked you, the viewers, to come up with a caption that would "Beat 360." Here's the photo, Senator Obama looking through a kaleidoscope while shopping in Rapid City, South Dakota. Is that a kaleidoscope? I guess so.

The staff winner is Joey: "I see light at the end of the tunnel. Either it's me finally locking up the nomination or another crazy pastor driving a freight train."

Tonight's viewer winner is Marina: "Just trying to see if I can find another church."

Check out the other entries and feel free to play along tomorrow,

Just ahead, a tense moment in one of the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee. An eighth grader has to think fast when the word he's asked to spell is almost lost in translation. If you don't know it, a numnah from a numbnut, you soon will.


COOPER: Time for "The Shot." In case you missed it, there was a hilarious moment from the National Spelling Bee finals. At the microphone, 13-year-old Sameer Mishra. Watch what happens. Take a look.




COOPER: Numbnuts? What?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. Numnah is a felt or sheep skin pad placed between a horse's back and the saddle to prevent chafing. Can I say it and then you say it?



MISHRA: Oh, numnah. Numnah, n-u-m-n-a-h. Numnah.


COOPER: Funny and correct. He went on to win this year's spelling bee, so congratulations to Sameer. He's in eighth grade. He wants to be a neurosurgeon. Maybe he can do some standup on the side.

HILL: Perhaps. You know what, I love the spelling bee. It's been the greatest video all year.

COOPER: I also just watched the National Geographic bee, which I didn't know they had but I happened to catch. I think like a couple weeks ago, Alex Trebec did it. It was these kids knowing -- it's all geographical areas.

HILL: Right.

COOPER: It was incredible what these kids knew, rivers in obscure places I've never even heard of.

HILL: Wow.

COOPER: Yes. Very cool.

HILL: Something new to look for.

COOPER: Sure. These kids today.

HILL: They're crazy. I'll tell you.

COOPER: ... with the Internet. You can check all the most recent shots on our Web site, You can also see other segments from the program, as a matter of fact. You can read the blog, and you can check out the "Beat 360" picture.

HILL: Look up a river.

COOPER: You can look up a river. You can cry me a river. The address again,

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

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