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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Obama Flips on Super PACs; Bloodshed in Syria

Aired February 8, 2012 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 here on the East Coast. Good evening, everyone.

And we being tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with a story that you may have missed. President Obama's campaign is now encouraging big donors to write big checks to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting his reelection. Super PACs doling out huge dollars isn't much of a story. The Republican primary is swimming in super PAC money, as we've been reporting on.

What is a big story, though, tonight is the fact that the president is doing this at all, because it represents a 180-degree shift, a total reversal in his prior position on super PAC money.

Listen to what he said back in October 2010.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to a gigantic loophole, these special interests can spend unlimited amounts without even disclosing where the money is coming from. We don't know where it's coming from. We don't know if it's from the oil industry, we don't know if it's from banks. We don't know if it's insurance companies. Could be coming overseas. We don't know. They won't tell you. They don't want you to know. They don't want you to know. They won't stand behind what they do.

This isn't just a threat to Democrats. This is a threat to our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: President Obama, that was in October 2010. Here he is a few weeks earlier identifying some of the groups that he considered culprits and talking about how Democrats might oppose their influence without becoming just like them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Every one of these groups is run by Republican operatives. Every single one of them. Even though they are posing as nonprofit groups with names like Americans for Prosperity, the Committee for Truth in Politics, or Americans for Apple Pie.

I mean, you know I made that last one up but -- but this is why -- look, this is why we've got to work even harder in this election. This is why we've got to fight their millions of dollars with millions of our voices. Voices who are ready to finish what we started in 2008.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So last fall the president's answer to growing money power was growing people power. The Republican primary, however, shows just how much a difference a few big donors like Gingrich supporter, the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, can make. They're writing multimillion dollar checks to super PACs and GOP super PACs have been massively out-raising Democratic ones.

We crunched the numbers from the Federal Election Commission. The big Republican leaning super PACs raised about four times with the large Democratic leaning super PACs have raised. And that's how the Obama campaign is justifying its 180-degree change on what sounded until this week like a bedrock principle.

Campaign manager Jim Messina saying in a statement -- quote -- "Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands." He goes on to say, "With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm."

The Republicans call it a flip-flop. Here's the picture the Republican National Committee sent out. A pair of flip-flops and President Obama's quote about how super PACs pose a threat to democracy written on the sides of the soles followed by the words, "Just kidding."

Joining us now, Bill Burton. He's the former deputy White House press secretary for President Obama, co-founder of Priorities USA Action. Also CNN political contributor and former Bush press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

So, Bill, regardless of whether or not it was driven by necessity, where it's the right thing to do or not for Democrats, is there really any other way to paint this than a pretty big flip-flop on the part of the president's campaign?

BILL BURTON, CO-FOUNDER, PRIORITIES USA ACTION: I think it was a recognition that the rules aren't exactly as he wants them to be, but he's going to play by the rules as they exist to make sure that the hundreds of millions of dollars that Karl Rove, the Coke brothers, the oil companies, the private equity guys have pledged doesn't wash over this campaign and the things that are important to us in this election. COOPER: But what's the difference between, you know, playing by the rules and a change of position and a flip-flop? Isn't that the same thing?

BURTON: I mean, the campaign said that this was -- this was a recognition that there's a set of rules that the Republicans are going to live by and the president and his campaign are going to live by them, too. Look, the president hasn't changed his position on whether or not he thinks that this is a bad set of rules. That the campaign finance system is broken. What he's saying is, this is our reality. And if we want to compete in this reality, we better -- we better make sure that we're prepared.

COOPER: Ari, what about that? What's wrong with the president saying, look, these are the set of rules, this is the reality we're facing, we got to play by these new rules?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I don't think there's nothing wrong with super PACs. That's called free speech. And everybody is entitled to it. Here's the problem, though, with what Barack Obama has done. This is part of a pattern of behavior with Barack Obama that goes back to 2008.

If you recall back then he said he would accept public financing for the campaign just as John McCain did and as soon as he figured out he could actually raise more money than public financing would get him, he flip-flopped on that issue. He took unlimited money to fund his campaign.

He also, because he wants to act as if he's changing Washington as a reformer, said he wouldn't allow any lobbyists at the White House and he gave waivers for lobbyists. He said his staff wouldn't be allowed to meet with lobbyists at the White House so what did they do? They walked out the front door of the White House across the park into this terrible coffee house where they met with lobbyists.

And now this flip-flop on the super PAC idea itself. This is a super flip-flop. But worse than that, it's a president who has to act as if he is smarter, better, more moralistic than all his opponents and everybody else while his pattern of behavior is to have words that are wind but his actions are just like everybody else's in Washington. There's nothing reformist. Nothing change orientated about Barack Obama when you get to the heart of it.

COOPER: Bill?

BURTON: Well, I mean, you know, it's hard to take seriously criticism of reform from an administration that really didn't do anything to reform Washington at all. Now the president actually did take steps to really reform the way things are done to reform the information that people had about the administration, about the people who were coming to visit it, about keeping lobbyists influence out.

And he has pushed campaign finance reform during this presidency, not just on the campaign trail, but from the White House, working with Senate Democrats and Democrats in the House but since it was blocked by Senate -- by an obstinate Senate Republicans, it wasn't able to make its way through.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But it is --

BURTON: But the president is going to continue to push for reform.

COOPER: To Ari's point, he did change his position on that when he realized he could raise more money without it.

BURTON: The president has not -- the president has not changed his position. People who support reform have not changed their position. they have realized that the rules exist the way that they exist. But the president is continuing to push for reform, he will continue to push for reform in a second term. It's Republicans who are stopping it. And while the president wishes that he could (INAUDIBLE) change the rules, he can't. As Ari knows, the -- you know, the president has got to work with the United States Senate in order to change the laws of the land and he'll continue to try to do that but as long as Senate Republicans are blocking that, he can't change the rules.

COOPER: Ari, it does seem like no side, whether the Republican or Democrat, wants to admit that their candidate has flip flopped. It's always the other candidate, the other side that's done a flip- flop for everybody else. When it's your candidate, it's an understandable change or facing new reality.

FLEISCHER: No -- Anderson, I have said this before. I think one of the reasons Mitt Romney is in trouble is because he changes position on abortion and on gay rights, and it doesn't come across as authentic. Barack Obama has a similar flip-flop problem. It's not only on those issues when he was a senator he said that we shouldn't raise the debt limit and then of course he voted against it. And then when he became president he said we have to raise the debt limit.

It's a regular pattern with Barack Obama. And here's what gets even worse when you look at the president and what he -- the standard that he sets for himself. He said in 2007 about John Edwards' super PAC, you can't just talk the talk, Obama told an audience during a campaign event. The easiest thing in the world is to talk about change during election time. Everybody talks about change at election time. You've got to look at how they do and how they act when it's not convenient, when it's harder.

That's the standard he set. And that's my problem with Barack Obama. He constantly tries to act as if he is somehow somebody special and different when he really isn't. And then to make it connect to policy. This is also why there's such a sense of frustration in dealing with Barack Obama on the most important issues of the day. How to reform debt and spending and reduce the debt.

Barack Obama keeps -- again, words are wind. Making promises, saying things, and his actions go 180 degrees against that.

COOPER: Bill --

FLEISCHER: Because his entire presidency, it seems, is about maneuvering and tactical positioning to protect and preserve his brand.

COOPER: Bill, Bill -- FLEISCHER: Not to follow through on reform.

COOPER: Bill, very briefly, do you think now that the president, though, is, you know, going to send out people to speak at these super PAC events and the like that that is going to make a huge difference in terms of the fund-raising?

BURTON: Well, I think it's -- I think it remains to be seen how big an impact it will have. But just for starters, Ari, that's President Obama. I know I'm sure you would appreciate that when President Bush was in the White House. People calling him president. But as for the practical -- as for the practical implications.

FLEISCHER: President Obama.

BURTON: As for the practical results of what this will mean I think it will -- it will take a little time to see. I don't think that in the next couple of days we'll see a huge spike but I think that over the medium and the long term we'll see just how much folks -- how much folks are really willing to get involved in progressive donors and folks in the community decide that this is an important part of making sure that the president is reelected.

COOPER: Bill Burton, appreciate your time, Ari Fleischer as well.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+ Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Up next: Syria's broken promise just one-day-old to stop the violence. How many promises have they already broken? We have a number of reports including from the streets of Homs and a makeshift hospital, the shelling so bad people have to wait until nightfall to bury their dead in secret. A Western reporter who just snuck in and out of Syria joins us with his chilling accounts. So does a man who just saw his friend standing right next him shot dead in the head by sniper fire.

Also tonight, a 360 exclusive: James Clementi speaking out about the tragic death, the suicide of his brother Tyler Clementi after Tyler's college roommate allegedly was spying on him when he had a sexual encounter.

First, let's check in with Isha Sesay -- Isha. .

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, another development in the Powell tragedy, Josh Powell setting fire to his home, killing himself and his two young sons.

We've now got a woman's 911 call, the social worker Powell had just locked out of the home, what she said to the authorities -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Late word tonight on the slaughter that Bashar al-Assad and his security forces have been unleashed in Syria. U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon calling the regime's assault on Homs a sign of worst to come.

After four straight days of bombing and shelling, it's frankly hard to see how things could get worse, worse than this.

Incoming artillery rocket fire in several city neighborhoods especially Baba Amr where this video was taken today. More than five dozen people killed. Reports that field hospitals and medical professionals are being targeted along with the wounded.

Now the killing, the atrocity is unfolding despite al-Assad's commitment or stated committed to ending the violence. He made that promise to Russia's visiting foreign minister only yesterday. He's made that promise before, of course, and that promise has always been broken. By this morning his sincerity could be measured in dead men, dead women and dead children.

The activist and opposition member known as Danny has been risking his life daily bearing witness to all this, posting videos on YouTube. He filed this dispatch just after today's shelling began.

Now before we show it to you, I want to warn you it's not especially graphic. It certainly is horrible. It's also the sad and simple reality in Homs right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANNY, SYRIAN ACTIVIST IN HOMS: This is a little child. He's about 2 years old. He got hit with this (INAUDIBLE) in his house. Is this what the U.N. is waiting for? Is this what the U.N. is waiting for? Until there's not any children left. Until they kill all the children and all of the women? This child lost his brains. A bomb landed in his house. He lost his whole brains. What is the U.N. waiting for?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, we've been trying all day with no success to reconnect with Danny. We thought we had him several times. Communications are extremely difficult. The streets are deadly.

Just before airtime we managed to get in touch with another activist named Abu Abdo who had just witnessed a friend die.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I understand you lost a friend today.

ABU ABDO, SYRIAN ACTIVIST, REVOLUTIONARY COUNCIL OF HOMS: Yes, because we are here with four activists. Some of us stay with the media. Some of us go out to help the wounded, but he went and he got shot in the head by a sniper.

COOPER: What keeps you going?

ABDO: We have no choice, no other choice. We are dying slight and we try to save each other at least -- I mean, to keep somebody alive. I mean, because -- I mean, we believe that we all are going to die here. The city is isolated, it's being under shelling and bombing and everything. And there's nothing to do.

COOPER: You really believe you're all going to die?

ABDO: We do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Another Syrian bearing witness. The regime calling such accounts a lie. And it isn't letting outside reporters in presumably because they'd simply confirm what people like he just said and what we've now been seeing almost daily out of Syria for months.

BBC's Paul Wood did manage to sneak in. He just got out with this. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL WOOD, BBC CORRESPONDENT: The shelling is constant now. We're hearing impact every few seconds. And in reply you can also hear a little bit of Kalashnikov fire. It's a pretty futile gesture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's just a portion of Paul Wood's reporting. He joins us now tonight live from Beirut.

What did you see in Homs? I mean, it's been described as constant, relentless attack by the regime. You just left. What -- I mean, tell us firsthand what did you see?

WOOD: Well, first of all, I think there are hundreds of mortar and shell impacts every day. We simply lost count. And people spend most of the time hiding in the middle rims of their houses or hiding in stairwells. The hospital that Danny, one of the activists who spoke with us, is somewhere where we spent a lot of time. And it's clear if you spend a couple of hours there that civilians are bearing the brunt of this.

We saw every couple of hours, 20 or 30 people come in. I would think that one of those was a fighter. Some of those were elderly people and a good number of them were children. We saw a 7-year-old girl come in. She'd been killed. She was sent off for burial. And as you were saying in your introduction, those burials are taking place at night because it's so dangerous. In fact, in that particular part of Homs, Baba Amr, those burials have been taking place at night for a long time but 17 people were killed just in the few blocks surrounding the house that we were staying in.

And those 17 people had to be buried at once in a mass grave hurriedly at night because they couldn't afford to give those people individual funerals. There were no relatives, no prayers. Very little dignity because of the fear of attack.

COOPER: I want to play some of video from one of the stories that you were just talking about. The video lengths people have to go through just to bury their loved ones.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOOD: Like all dead here she must be buried in darkness. Daytime is too dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You describe Homs as bleeding and terrified. Does it seem like there's any rationale to where the mortars are landing? I mean, is it just like -- is it just like it was in Sarajevo, in Bosnia in the mid '90s, they're just random shelling, indiscriminate firing?

WOOD: Well, I don't know what the Syrian army is aiming at, but it certainly feels indiscriminate and like collective punishment when you are there. And bear in mind that these are the worst days that Homs has had. In places like Baba Amr, it's been going on for a long time. And I think more or less every single family there had some kind of loss or has somebody close to them who's had some kind of loss.

There was a man in the hospital who would be shrouded in a (INAUDIBLE) in Arabic whose job is just to wrap bodies and he's wrapped hundreds of them so far. And I asked him whether he'd had to wrap any of his relatives. And he just gave me a long list. He had prepared his son for burial, his cousin for burial. His brother-in- law for burial. A second cousin for burial.

Those are very typical stories you hear in Homs. The number of dead if you believe the activists is 100 today and some 300 if you take everything since the weekend but it has been going on for much longer than that.

COOPER: What kind of capabilities do the so-called Free Syrian Army have? I mean, are they able to mount any real resistance to incoming mortars, to rocket fire?

WOOD: Well, they try but they have only got have rocket propelled grenades and we've been on several actions with them and they always end up essentially having to retreat because when tanks are brought up and armored vehicles are brought up and we have Kalashnikovs, that is your only real choice.

I did speak to a senior officer, a member of the military council in Baba Amr, who had only a week ago been a serving full colonel in the Syrian army. He defected just a week ago. He said -- this is his account, that moral had collapsed within the Syrian army. That people knew they were killing civilians and that they wanted the blood bath to stop.

This, if you like, is the rather slim hope that the Free Army is putting on things in Baba Amr and in Homs that moral will simply collapse and the attacking forces will stop. We are hearing reports that special troops have been brought up by the regime presumably because if they have to go into Homs they will need people who are motivated and who are willing to do it.

Having slipped out of that place within the past 24 hours, I would think the one word which sums up what is happening there is despair. People look to the U.N. at the weekend to help them. The U.N. resolution was vetoed and now they think there is absolutely nobody going to help them.

COOPER: Paul, is there a moment or an image or a person that, you know, when you close your eyes tonight and try to go to sleep you're going to remember and you're going to remember for a long time to come?

WOOD: The one thing that comes back to me all the time is an 11- year-old boy who was brought into the hospital on the first day. There were mortars falling either side. He had been hit in the face with a mortar blast and it ripped off essentially his whole face. Everything below the nose was gone.

I got a glimpse of his eyes. He was just silent and in shock. There was just a bloody mass of his face. They managed to stabilize him. And we were going to try and raise money to get him out and get his face reconstructed but he died this morning. So that is the one that comes back to me.

COOPER: Paul Wood, I applaud your bravery. And I appreciate you talking to us tonight. Thank you.

Up next tonight, a 360 exclusive: Tyler Clementi's brother speaks out about his brother's suicide, a life cut short after his college roommate allegedly used a Webcam to spy on his sexual encounter with another man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLEMENT, TYLER CLEMENTI'S BROTHER: Probably had so much hope and optimism for a great experience at college and found himself living through a nightmare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's an interview you won't see anywhere else tonight.

Also ahead, the 911 call from the social worker who witnessed the explosion at a Washington state home where two little boys died, killed, authorities say, at the hands of their father.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A 360 exclusive tonight: For the first time, you're going to hear from the brother of Tyler Clementi. Tyler, a Rutgers University freshman, you may recall, killed himself back in September of 2010. He jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his college roommate allegedly used a Webcam to spy on a sexual encounter he had with another man.

The roommate, whose name is Dharun Ravi, faces trial later this month on 15 counts including bias intimidation. He's refused a plea deal, insists he's innocent of the charges.

Tyler's brother James Clementi spokes with CNN's Jason Carroll today. Jason joins us now with the exclusive details.

There's been a lot of speculation on Tyler's death why he made that decision to do that. You asked his brother about that -- his brother, James, about that. I just want to play it, play what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLEMENTI: The set of circumstances was the exact worst-case scenario that could have happened. I think he was being brave by being honest with the people around him about his sexuality and I think he really tried to be a strong person and be an honest person, but it seems like he was punished for that forthrightness and made to be, you know, a joke or a laughing stock. And I think that must have taken its toll on him emotionally and mentally.

I think that was a lot. And I don't think he knew how to respond to that and obviously he responded in the wrong way. Suicide is never the right choice. It was the choice that he made and I and my family have to live with the repercussions of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There was a lot of reporting at the time that Tyler Clementi hadn't told his parents, told his family that he was gay, but his brother said that he actually had told them before he went to college.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. He was 18 years old. Told them when he was 18. And James said he basically knew even before he was 18 that he suspected his brother was gay because James is actually gay as well.

But he wanted his brother to come out on his own and in his own time. And he actually said that he had also come out to Dharun Ravi, his roommate. And of course we now know that Dharun Ravi is accused of cyber-bullying and prosecutors say it was that cyber-bullying that ultimately led to Tyler's death.

COOPER: You also asked James about his feelings towards Tyler's roommate who is now standing trial. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLEMENTI: It's very hard for me in realizing the environment that my brother found himself in and that he probably had so much hope and optimism for a great experience at college and found himself living through a nightmare.

CARROLL: Is forgiveness something that you think about?

CLEMENTI: Yes. And I think that there's a time for that. I don't know if I'm there right now. You know the trial is going to be incredibly emotional and every day is going to be harder than the last I think. And I don't know. I want to -- I just want to get through this and make sure that my family gets through that period, but I think we're just hoping for some kind of justice in the court system and putting our faith in the prosecution to do what they need to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Did he say what he thought justice would be?

CARROLL: Well, I think from the family's point of view, jail time is -- would be some form of justice.

But, ultimately, I think, even before things had gotten started, if someone had apologized maybe they could have avoided all this. To this day, they still have not received an apology from the Ravi family.

COOPER: Often in a situation like this, lawyers will tell somebody, you know, don't -- don't say anything to the family. Don't apologize.

But that's a legal maneuver, and that often adds to the pain of the family, as you said, to not hear that.

How has the family been getting through this?

CARROLL: The pain is intense. You know, they're more than a year out, but you can still tell when speaking to James. And I've spoken to Clementi's parents, as well.

And for them it's day to day. James told me that some days he has good days. And when he has bad days when he feels like crying, he allows himself -- he allows himself to do that.

He -- one of the things that struck me, Anderson, is he said, "Sometimes I wake up, and I still feel like my brother is alive." And then the reality sets in, in terms of what's really happened to him.

COOPER: Yes. And that happens for so often for a long time after a loss. You asked -- I mean, the family has really remained silent, and -- and other than an article I read in "The New Yorker" with James, this is the first time I've actually seen him on television being interviewed. You asked why he's speaking out now. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLEMENTI, TYLER CLEMENTI'S BROTHER: Words are devastating, and until you've been the target of that kind of hatred, you don't understand the pain that you're inflicting on other people. And I just think about, you know, the epidemic that suicide has really become amongst gay youth. And it breaks my heart and every child I've seen on the news since and before my brother's death, I mean, he's one of many unfortunately, and this needs to stop.

It's not the answer. There's always somewhere that you can go, and there's -- you know, at any point, no matter what, as long as you're still here, there's something worth fighting for. I mean, life is the most valuable thing.

And -- and I think about my brother. I think if he had gotten through that night and, you know, that dark hour, I think a day or a week or a year later, he would have looked back and been grateful that he didn't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You know, studies often show about suicide if somebody is able to resist that initial urge or is thwarted in some initial attempt, even just briefly, it often will not reoccur or will not happen again or they can get help.

What else did he want people to know about his brother?

CARROLL: Well, that he was the shy, quiet one. And he also felt as though he was the stronger of the two. And I think that's what...

COOPER: That Tyler was the stronger?

CARROLL: That Tyler was the stronger of the two and that he was the better of the two. And I think that's what's so heartbreaking for James. I know it's still a grieving process for him to get through. But eventually some day, he might get through that as well. But him, he just felt as though his brother was the stronger of the two.

COOPER: It was a really great interview. Thank you so much for bringing it to us. Jason Carroll.

Coming up tonight, a "360 Follow." Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs still wielding power from inside prison and accused of tearing families apart, still. We're going to have a report on that.

Let's check in now for Isha with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, the funeral services are scheduled for Saturday afternoon for the two boys who were killed when their father, Josh Powell, blew up his home in Washington state. Meanwhile, authorities have released the 911 call from the social worker who reported the explosion. Here's a portion of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The kids and the father were in the house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. He slammed the door in my face. So I kept knocking. I thought it was a mistake. I kept knocking. And then I called 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You saw him go back into the house in the flames -- right before the flames? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't ever leave the house. He just opened the door. The kids were -- the kids were one step ahead of me. They're 5 and 7. They were one step ahead of me, and he slammed the door in my face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you think he might have done this intentionally?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: A former producer of the reality TV program "Survivor" has been extradited to Mexico to face murder charges. Bruce Beresford-Redman is accused of killing his wife there in 2010.

And Anderson, take a look at this. Fishermen in Karachi, Pakistan used two cranes to reel in this nearly 40-ton whale shark that was found dead in the Arabian Sea.

COOPER: Wow.

SESAY: I know. Doesn't even look real.

COOPER: Yes. It looks like metal or something. It's so strange.

SESAY: Looks like a monster. Like -- yes, anyway.

COOPER: A whale shark.

Isha, thanks. We'll check in with you again a little bit later.

Up next, a "360 Follow," Warren Jeffs, he's behind bars for life, but that's not stopping him from calling the shots and ordering strict new rules for his polygamist sect. Those who don't follow along -- along those rules, they face the wrath of his followers. There's a report from the community.

Also tonight, the victim of a vicious beating by a gang shouting anti-gay slurs demands justice. You'll hear from him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A "360" follow, it has been six months since polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life behind bars in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls whom he claimed were his spiritual wives.

Six months later, Jeffs is still controlling his church from prison. He's imposing strict new rules on his 10,000 followers, living in Texas along the Utah/Arizona border, and in South Dakota and British Columbia. And anyone who fails to follow his rules gets booted from the church. That means no contact with their families and facing the wraths of Jeffs' faithful followers.

Gary Tuchman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): David Bistline is a devastated man. He has ten children, but their toothbrushes remain unused on the sink. Their high chairs and their swings stay empty.

DAVID BISTLINE, FORMER FLDS MEMBER: I've got lots of pictures, lots of pictures.

TUCHMAN: The 41-year-old father is the only one left in his house. His wife, Esther, and children are gone, taken away from him by the leaders of his church, the FLDS.

(on camera) Mr. Jeffs, should your followers still consider you a prophet?

(voice-over) This so-called prophet of the church, Warren Jeffs, is in prison for sexually assaulting two young girls whom he made part of his harem of 78 wives. But through phone calls and messages, he is still controlling the church. Still banishing those he and the other church elders say are unfaithful. To the people banished, that means having the church take away their families.

BISTLINE: That night after they left I was sitting there in the kitchen chair looking at that swing and it just about killed me. I just closed my eyes, and I felt like my soul was just out there floating around somewhere.

TUCHMAN: Bistline has been in the FLDS his whole life. He believed Warren Jeffs and the men before him were all prophets, direct mouthpieces of God. Bistline said he was told by Warren Jeffs' brother, Lyle, that he violated one of Warren Jeffs' commandments, a commandment that members not have sex without trying to have a baby, and therefore, he was kicked out.

How is this allowed to happen? Well, Colorado City, Arizona, and Hilldale, Utah, the neighboring towns where most of the thousands of FLDS members live, are very unusual places.

SAM BROWER, AUTHOR, "PROPHETS PREY": This is the most lawless community in the country. It's run by a madman that's sitting in a Texas prison. And he has complete, total power over the people here. They will do literally anything he says. I mean anything he says.

TUCHMAN: Sam Brower, a P.I. who investigates the church, is concerned that if Jeffs realizes he may never get out of prison, he may get violent with his revelations.

BROWER: Yes, I absolutely do think these people will do whatever Warren Jeffs tells them, including kill themselves.

TUCHMAN: Recently, the FLDS paid tens of thousands of dollars to put ads in newspapers, including "The New York Times," in which Jeffs claims revelations that it was time to repent and be prepared for full judgment. He's sent similar apocalyptic warnings to politicians, including President Obama.

(on camera) How come Warren Jeffs isn't on the wall any more?

BISTLINE: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): David Bistline had three mothers.

(on camera) Totally, how many brothers and sisters do you have?

BISTLINE: Forty-three.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): He still believes in his faith and the principle of polygamy, as long as it involves willing women of age. But he doesn't believe in Warren Jeffs. His neighbors now say he's bad in the eyes of God, and they got angry at him and us while we were taking video.

(on camera) So we're just getting pictures of the community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?

TUCHMAN: Because we're allowed to, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warren Jeffs is a false prophet. He's damnable. He's killing this community. You asked me and now you got it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are full of the devil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, Warren Jeffs is a devil. Warren Jeffs is a devil.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are Satan.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): We wanted to find Warren Jeffs' brother, Lyle, and ask him about David Bistline's situation.

(on camera) Anybody here? Anybody home?

(voice-over) No answer at the fortress-like home where Warren Jeffs used to live and Lyle Jeffs is believe to be now. A security car was parked outside the home.

(on camera) There's somebody in this vehicle, but he's just ignoring me. He won't even look at me. Sir? Sir?

Just ignoring me.

(voice-over) David Bistline told is his wife and children are now living with other relatives. We went to that house.

(on camera) Hello. Can I ask you a question, please?

(voice-over) Behind the home we did see a woman who looked like David's wife, Esther, and some of the children. But we were warned to stay off the private property. Bistline says just before Esther left him, she wrote this note to Warren Jeffs that was never mailed.

(on camera) Esther starts off the letter by saying, "Our dear prophet, Uncle Warren." She says she loves him, loves his teachings, and adds, "I yearn with my heart to be worthy of your presence when the heavenly father delivers you from prison."

But it's also clear she loves her husband, because she says, "I want to be an honor to my dear husband."

(voice-over) But David Bistline is now on his own, his wife instead choosing to pay honor to a man in prison who calls himself a prophet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Gary, as long as you've been and we've been airing these reports and we've been doing now for years, it still amazes me that this is happening in the United States of America in this day in age and that this guy in prison has the power to divide families.

How did Jeffs and/or the church elders know that husbands and wives are having sex for pleasure and not to procreate? I mean, who's -- who's ratting them out?

TUCHMAN: Well, they're ratting themselves out. David Bistline and two other men who did not want to go on camera, Anderson, told me they're required to be honest. So when they were asked if they were having sex with their wives, they said yes, even though they knew they might lose their families.

COOPER: It's just incredible. Gary will continue to follow it. Appreciate the reporting.

The legal battle over former Mississippi Governor's Haley Barbour's last-minute pardons heads to the state supreme court tomorrow. Could some of those pardoned actually go back to prison? We'll talk to Ed Lavandera, who's been doing a lot of reporting on this.

Also, a family vacation gone horribly wrong. Details ahead on the condition of the little boy who was attacked by a mountain lion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Crime & Punishment" now. The fate of about 2,000 pardons by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour during his final days in office is going to be in the hands of the state supreme court tomorrow.

That includes the four convicted murderers, who worked at the governor's mansion. All four out of prison. The state attorney general wants to change that. Attorney General James Woods (ph) says the inmates in question did not file legal notices in newspapers where their crimes were committed as required by law, by the state constitution.

For weeks, we've tried to get Governor Haley Barbour to come on the program and explain the pardons. He's refused. On CNN's "JOHN KING USA" program, here's what Barbour had to say about the pardons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER GOVERNOR: The power of pardon in the state is to give people a second chance who have repented and rehabilitated and redeemed themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Cooper: Repented, rehabilitated, redeemed. Police say that wasn't the case with inmate Harry Bostick, who was arrested for driving under the influence last fall. It wasn't his first offense, by the way, or his second or third. It was his fourth DUI.

Investigators say he was drunk when his truck slammed into Charity Smith's car. Charity Smith got killed in that crash at just 18 years old. Still being investigated, but he was drunk.

Bostick was sitting in jail after the deadly accident when the governor signed his pardon on a previous DUI.

We talked to Charity's mom Linda last week. She said she never heard from governor Barbour after her daughter died, never got an apology from anyone in his office. Again, an open invitation stands for Governor Barbour to come on this program, just as we've been offering for the last couple weeks.

Ed Lavandera, though, joins us right now. Ed, you were able to get a glimpse into how the case is going to be argued tomorrow. How does Governor Barbour's side plan to defend its decisions?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's kind of two main points that stick out from the brief that was filed in the supreme court hearing in Mississippi today. One of them -- and they're arguing quite plainly that they don't believe that this court or any court here in Mississippi has any jurisdiction, any way of overturning these pardons. They say that the pardon issued by the governor is his sole power, that nobody can take that away from him, no one can contest that in any way.

So that's the overall theme that they'll be arguing. They've pointed out that they feel in their words that if, indeed, they do feel like something -- this wasn't done properly, that these notifications of the pardons hadn't been passed out properly, that in the end, this is a harmless problem, in the words of those documents that we read today that in the case of many of the people who might have posted these notices for 28 out of 30 days, that those missing two days were essentially harmless, and because of that, shouldn't be overturned, as well.

But what was also interesting from these documents that were filed here in Mississippi today, Anderson, is the dig that Governor Haley Barbour's people take at the attorney general here in Mississippi, saying that essentially, he's going after these cases, pushing all of this for his own personal gain and his own publicity to try to make himself look good. So definitely a clear political shot across the bow as they get ready to head into court tomorrow.

COOPER: Well, there might be politics involved in what the attorney general is doing. He is a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican state, and the governor is a Republican.

But the law very clearly states that you have to publish in the newspapers 30 days in advance, and that frankly, was not done. So the governor is basically, saying, "Well, that law doesn't matter and that violating was just harmless."

LAVANDERA: It said harmless was the clear word that was in this document. It seems like they're prepared to argue before these judges tomorrow that the full intention was there.

In the vast majority of these we're talking about 180 or so of the 203 people that were pardoned because there's almost two dozen that were properly published. But they're saying this was a harmless mistake and they should be allowed to stand.

COOPER: All right. We'll see what happens. Ed, thanks.

Just ahead tonight, a change of pace. "The RidicuList." Our old friend, Courtney Stodden back on "The RidicuList." We'll explain why.

Let's check in with Isha, though, first with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

SESAY: Anderson, word tonight of a $25 billion deal between the government and five of the country's biggest banks that helps some foreclosed homeowner. Details are still being worked out, but an announcement could come as early as tomorrow. State attorneys general and the federal government and the banks have been negotiating settlements for more than a year.

A 20-year-old man in Atlanta who is openly gay is demanding justice after he was attacked by three men who yelled anti-gay slurs. Surveillance cameras show Brandon White being severely beaten outside a deli Saturday. No word yet on any arrests.

A 6-year-old Texas boy was attacked by a mountain lion while with his family in Big Ben National Park. The animal clamped its jaw onto the boy's face. The dad stabbed the lion with a knife to get it off his child.

And the late Marilyn Monroe now has a Twitter account. The firm that owns her estate created the account @MarilynMonroe -- Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

Senator John McCain, Senator Jim DeMint, and Representative Paul Ryan discuss the state of the GOP race and the economy. Soledad anchors from the conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., tomorrow. And "STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN," 7 to 9 a.m. Eastern.

Coming up, she's back, America's sweetheart and our favorite young woman, Courtney Stodden, has a new job. Take that, doubters. The "RidicuList" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, once again, we've got to add Courtney's doubters. Around here, we just call her Courtney now. She's that dear to us. It's like that now.

She's Courtney Stodden, of course, teen bride of 50-something character actor Doug Hutchinson. Aspiring singer, reality show seeker, and most importantly, national treasure.

Courtney has a lot of doubters out there. That's true. People wonder why we even know her name, doubting she'll ever make it as a superstar. But you know what? Guess what? Courtney got an acting job. It's an online commercial for FreeCreditScore.com. Yes, that's right. Courtney is getting into high finance, educating people about stuff like interest rates and consumer responsibility. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUZE ORMAN, FINANCIAL GURU: For $3 a month now, you get unlimited credit scores, reports. You get free identity theft protection. You get everything for free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. Sorry. That was not Courtney. That was financial guru Suze Orman. Courtney's commercial does have a similar gravitas. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ORMAN: OMG. I'm so...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I'm going to have to stop her right there. The next word she says makes it just a little too -- I don't know, shall we say, lascivious for prime time.

The point is, Courtney scored a great acting role, and we are very proud of her here on the show. Her very first online commercial. She killed it. She killed it. You can just see the emotion and the commitment to the moment. Wow. Yes. Not since Daryl Hannah in "Splash" has an actor brought such depth and sincerity to the role of a mermaid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name?

DARYL HANNAH, ACTRESS: It's hard to say in English. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, just say it in your language.

HANNAH: I'll try. My name is (SQUEALING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I have an idea for a movie. A mermaid shows up in New York City, learns to talk by watching TV, and Tom Hanks falls in love with her. I love the '80s.

So you may be asking what does a mermaid have to do with getting your credit score? I'm thinking the credit score people just went with Courtney's natural affinity for marine life. She likes to hang out at the beach, as you see there. And we know that being near the water really inspires her creativity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STODDEN (SINGING): Don't put it on me, girl. Don't put it on me girl, no. Don't put it on me, girl. D-d-d-d-d-don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: D-d-d-d. I think Courtney also may have been referring to her commercial when she wrote this on Twitter a few days ago. And I quote, "Feeling like a midnight mermaid as I immerse my mere mysteriousness into a misty moon-kissed mouth." Meow.

If you haven't been to Courtney Stodden's Twitter page, check it out. Especially if you like alliteration and unabashed debauchery, Bible verses, and pets for adoption. It's got it all. There's truly something for everyone.

Ever since their blessed union, Courtney and her husband have always faced skepticism, and they've always faced it with grace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG HUTCHINSON, HUSBAND OF COURTNEY: People are welcome to their opinions. That's what the world is about. If they -- if they need to feel this way, that's theirs to hold, not ours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Courtney, congratulations on this new step toward proving all the doubters wrong. I have a feeling great things are ahead in your career. This is only the beginning.

OK. That does it for 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts next.