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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Women and Children Removed From FLDS Compound in Texas; General Petraeus Reports to Congress Tomorrow; Up Close - The Battle for Baghdad; Clinton's Campaign Shake-up
Aired April 7, 2008 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, as authorities pull hundreds of children from a compound in Texas, the secrets of their polygamous way of life begin to emerge.
There are allegations of systematic child abuse, statutory rape, forced marriages and more. We have late details you won't see anywhere else.
And later, new information about the battle for Baghdad and Iraq. General David Petraeus reports to Congress tomorrow. We have got the outlines tonight and a fresh look at the facts on the ground.
Plus, the Hillary Clinton campaign isn't in crisis. You don't can your top strategist when things are going well, but just how badly did Mark Penn really screw up? And is he really 100 percent out? We are going to try to cut through the fog with David Gergen -- some new polling numbers tonight also.
But we begin tonight with a number - 401. That's how many children have been removed from the polygamist compound in Eldorado, Texas -- 401. Incredibly, more may follow. This story continues to unfold, and, frankly, it's only getting more troubling by the day. It started with one allegation of abuse at the property created by jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. And where it ends is anyone's guess.
With the latest developments, here's CNN's David Mattingly.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As busload after busload of children emerge from the polygamist compound in West Texas, the question has been, just how many were truly in danger of physical abuse?
The state's answer: possibly, all of them.
MARLEIGH MEISNER, SPOKESWOMAN, TEXAS CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES: I can tell you that, as of this afternoon, Child Protective Services has now taken temporary legal custody of 401 children.
MATTINGLY: Four hundred and one children, deemed by the state to be at imminent risk of harm at the hands of adults at the compound. They are now in temporary protective care, and there could be more.
MEISNER: They are continuing to look for other children. At this time, I do not know how many other children may be at the ranch. We do believe that there probably are other children. And, if so, then those children will also be removed.
MATTINGLY (on camera): It is a tremendous undertaking, considering that the raid on the compound began with just a single phone call from a young girl who claimed she was married at age 15 and gave birth to the child of a 50-year-old man. But, so far, the girl has not been found. Her husband has not been questioned by Texas authorities.
(voice-over): And authorities fear they will hear more stories like that as the questioning of the children continues.
SHANNON PRICE, DIRECTOR, THE DIVERSITY FOUNDATION: How do we bridge the gap in communication and how do we begin to build some trust with the people that we're working with?
MATTINGLY: Shannon Price is an expert on the culture of polygamist groups. She has advised Texas authorities to proceed slowly, especially with the adult women, who believe their bonds with their husbands are sacred.
Price says it's not unusual for polygamist women to be evasive.
PRICE: They know that if they answer that question honestly, that they're going to get into trouble.
MATTINGLY: A police roadblock remains in place miles from the entrance to the compound. So far, 133 women have left the ranch on their own and are at the shelter with the children. Authorities say they don't know how many men remain at the compound, but searches at the 1,700-acre site continue.
BROWN: And David is in San Angelo, Texas.
And, David, what kind of specific allegations from these children are they investigating?
MATTINGLY: Well, that's the big mystery tonight because the state authorities right now aren't saying publicly. They're saying, we're going to have to wait until court documents come out. And, at that point, they say, we will have 401 reasons why they chose to do this, with individual filings, affidavits from each one of these children, ages 17 and under, that they have taken into custody of possible problems if they go back or possible problems that they have already encountered there at the compound.
So, they're going to keep them in custody for 14 days. If they need to keep them longer, which they probably will, they have to go back to a judge and petition the judge. And, at that point, they will decide whether or not they need to put them into foster care or arrange some other living arrangement for them outside of that compound, while they investigate. BROWN: All right, David, thanks very much. And, as you just saw in David's piece, many of the children taken from the compound have lived their entire lives inside this polygamist community. Few, if any, have had any contact with the outside world, until tonight.
And 360's Erica Hill is joining us now with that part of the story -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Campbell.
And, in some ways, we may know even less about these children than they do about us. But that is changing, thanks to some local church volunteers working at one of the shelters for these children.
And I spoke with one of those volunteers, Helen Pfluger, just a short time ago.
HILL: Helen, what have these women and children said to you since they have been with you? Have they talked about their husbands or their fathers at all?
HELEN PFLUGER, CHURCH VOLUNTEER: No. The only conversations that we have had have been about providing their needs. There was no conversation that you would just call a little chat.
HILL: Why is that? Is it because you didn't -- didn't want to approach them, or -- or were they scared of you in some way?
PFLUGER: They were scared of us.
As the time went on, they became a little more receptive. At first, they wouldn't even look at us. And, as time went on, they began to ask for things that they needed, and they would smile and thank us. But they weren't offering up any information about their lives.
HILL: So -- so, is there anything at all that you have learned that you can say gives you a little more insight into what life is like on this compound?
PFLUGER: Well, yes.
Watching them, observing them, they are industrious people. They wanted to do cleaning. They asked for cleaning supplies, brooms. I think that they're very good mothers. I watched them take care of their children. But they are not of our world.
HILL: What do you mean, specifically, when you say they're not of our world?
PFLUGER: Well, first of all, they eat the way everybody in the United States should eat. Everyone was thin, rosy-complected, with absolutely no makeup. They were a picture of health. They asked for raw milk, plain yogurt. They ate fruit and nuts. They would eat no processed foods, no carbonated beverages, no coffee, no tea. Their children didn't know much about toys. They didn't know what to do with Crayolas. They didn't know what they were. They just -- they just are -- they just are not a part of our normal lifestyle.
HILL: So -- so, given that, 401 children removed, how do you think they will adjust for the ones that are going to be in foster homes for perhaps some time?
PFLUGER: I think that depends on how young the child is. We had a child as young as three months old. That child will adjust a lot more easily than the 8-year-old boy we had. I think that, for the older ones, it's going to take time.
HILL: Why did you decide to speak out and -- and to share with us what you have learned and what you have observed about these women and children?
PFLUGER: Well, I care about children immensely. And it was difficult knowing that abuses were going on so close to us, and we couldn't do anything about it.
And now something's being done, and I just feel like that -- the United States needs to know that the plight of children should be of the utmost importance to all of us, and that abuse of any form should not be tolerated, and that our laws should be such that the people that are the perpetrators should be brought to justice.
HILL: Helen Pfluger, we appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
PFLUGER: Thank you.
HILL: And you can see Helen Pfluger feels very strongly about what she's doing.
Campbell, one of the other things that was interesting to me is, some of these women who are volunteering have also said they noticed these young girls as young as eight, they play with a baby like perhaps we would see a little girl play with a doll. Their dolls are real-live babies, and that's how they learn to become mothers.
BROWN: Yes. And you just -- your heart goes out to these kids, too, because the whole experience has got to be a massive shock to the system.
HILL: Yes, because they don't know what's going on.
HILL: And it's just such a foreign world to them, that -- that it's difficult for them on so many different levels. You're right.
BROWN: All right, Erica, thanks. We will see you again in just a minute.
Erica is live-blogging tonight. She's still filling me in. But head to cnn.com/360 to join the conversation also.
Coming up next: the compound from which the women and children were taken is still run by a polygamist leader. And my next guest was once married to him.
Carolyn Jessop and her children escaped her polygamist husband. And she joins me live -- coming up next.
And, then, later, a shakeup inside the Clinton campaign -- a top adviser is forced out, but he's not quite gone for good. We will explain. We have got the "Raw Politics" -- tonight on 360.
BROWN: Just a few days ago, 534 women and children called a polygamist compound in Texas home. Well, tonight, they are in shelters and the children temporary wards of the state.
What are they thinking? What are they saying about their lives up behind that gate? We don't know the answers, but my next guest might.
Carolyn Jessop was a member of Warren Jeffs's polygamist church until the night she escaped. Her ex-husband, Merrill Jessop, has been running the compound since Warren Jeffs went to prison. Carolyn Jessop is also the author of the book "Escape." And she's joining us right now.
Welcome to you.
CAROLYN JESSOP, FORMER POLYGAMIST WIFE: Thank you.
BROWN: So, what can you tell us about life in the compound? What have you heard about how children there are treated?
CAROLYN JESSOP, FORMER POLYGAMIST WIFE: Well, I actually have no experience with that compound. I can only go back to my experience being married to Merrill Jessop for 17 years.
And I imagine that, when he was able to have that level of control and power, that the abuses went to a whole another level. But, in his home, there was -- there was a lot of abuse, physical, violent, abuse towards children, a lot of emotional abuse. There was financial neglect.
The other issue is, I mean, there was also some sexual abuse among the siblings. And, I mean, it was -- it was a very difficult way to live. We lived in a home that was 17,000 square feet, and he had seven wives. He had fathered 54 children. We basically lived on top of each other in organized chaos. And it was -- it was just not a pleasant way to live.
BROWN: And, Carolyn, I understand some of your relatives live on the ranch and may have even been those taken into protective custody. Have you learned anything more about your relatives?
JESSOP: I have not. I actually flew to Texas to try to see if I could see my stepdaughters. I was allowed to talk to authorities. There's only four people as of now that have been allowed even in to talk to authorities about the problems here.
And it just went back and forth for quite a while, whether they were willing to do that or not. But, right now, the whole situation was locked down. So, as far as seeing my stepdaughters, it's not going to happen right now. It probably will happen in a few weeks, when they have done the investigations, and that's complete.
BROWN: You -- you went to Eldorado over the weekend to help educate authorities who were there interacting with these women and children. What do they need to know that they may not have known or understood already?
JESSOP: Well, they need to understand the types of crimes and why these children are not going to talk about them.
I mean, I left Merrill five -- nearly five years ago, and my children were so terrified of their father that it was three years after I left him before they were -- before they started talking about some pretty significant abuses that he did to them and the other family members did to them.
And, so, if it took them three years after they were in a safe place, I think it's -- I don't think anybody can think that these children were -- will be willing to just come out and start talking about these abuses, you know, after just a couple of days of being in a shelter.
BROWN: Right. It's going to be a long process. And authorities still have not positively identified the 16-year-old girl who made that initial call to authorities.
What kind of risk was she taking when she made this call?
JESSOP: She was taking a -- a tremendous risk.
I imagine that things had just gotten to the point that she would rather be dead than to continue living that way, because the risks to her were significant if she was caught. And I think the way that she did that call and the name that she gave was -- was quite unique. It was a clever idea.
And I don't know if it's even in her best interest to come forward at this point, until things are handled a little better.
BROWN: All right, Carolyn Jessop, we -- we really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
JESSOP: Yes, thank you.
BROWN: And, up next: A runaway school bus rolling down a hill, 27 terrified kids on board. The driver, though, is not behind the wheel. We are going to show you how it ended and who the hero was.
Then later: the battle for Baghdad up close -- on the eve of the top commander's progress report to Congress, the question tonight, is there any progress to report? Nic Robertson takes you inside the danger zone -- when 360 continues.
BROWN: Coming up: more on the raid at Warren Jeffs' compound in Texas. Tonight, 401 children are in state protective custody due to allegations of abuse or neglect. We are going to talk with Michael Watkiss of CNN affiliate KTVK and senior -- CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin as well.
But, first, some of tonight's other headlines -- Erica Hill joins us again with a 360 News and Business Bulletin.
HILL: Campbell, after a six-month inquest, a British coroner's jury ruled today Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, were killed in 1997 because of the reckless actions of their driver and the paparazzi. Fayed's father, who has reportedly -- who has repeatedly, rather, accused the British royal family of conspiring to cause the crash, is said to be disappointed by that decision.
In Cleveland, a runaway school bus crashes into the pillar of a bridge, thanks to an 11-year-old's quick thinking. He climbed behind the wheel when the bus started to roll down a hill, 27 screaming kids on board. The driver had gotten out to fill up and go to the bathroom. That's when the bus started to roll. Fifteen students suffered minor injuries.
On Wall Street, a mixed day -- the Dow up three points, to 12,612, basically flat. The Nasdaq fell more than six, while the S&P inched up two points.
And, in San Francisco, three people protesting China's human rights record arrested after scaling the Golden Gate Bridge. They hung a Tibetan flag and two banners from the landmark, part of a protest leading up to the arrival of the Olympic torch there on Wednesday -- Campbell.
BROWN: All right, Erica, thanks.
And now here's Kiran Chetry with what's coming up tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRAN CHETRY, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Thanks, Anderson.
Wake up to the most news in the morning, including the next step in the delegate drama for the Democrats, the super-duper delegate. Now this person not only can swing the primary election; he can add more superdelegates as he sees fit. Is it fair? How does it work? Well, we're going to find out tomorrow, beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern -- Anderson, back to you. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: I'm sure she meant Campbell.
Coming up next on 360, we're going to have more on the polygamist sect. We will talk with reporter Michael Watkiss, who has been covering it for years, and also look at the legal angle with CNN's Jeffrey Toobin.
Also tonight, the battle for Baghdad up close on the eve of a report on the -- on the war from the top U.S. commander. We will take you to the front lines of one firefight.
And here's our "Beat 360" photo: the world's smallest humanoid robot on display at a toy convention in Japan with a doll next to it.
Here's the caption from our staff winner, Kay: "Ken, version 2008."
Think you can do better? We will see. Well, go to cnn.com/360. Send us your submission, and we will announce the winner at the end of the show.
BROWN: A strange sight in a remote part of Texas -- a white temple dominates the horizon. It's the religious center of a polygamist compound where followers believe their leader, Warren Jeffs, is a prophet of God.
Jeffs is behind bars. And, tonight, these children from his polygamist sect are free from his grip. As we have been telling you, they are now in temporary custody of the state while authorities continue to investigate allegations of abuse.
But where do the children and the women who also left the ranch go from here? And how can a community continue to practice a banned way of life?
Lots of questions to get to, and with us tonight from Eldorado is Mike Watkiss, a reporter from KTVK in Phoenix. He's followed Warren Jeffs and his polygamist sect for years. Also with us tonight, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Welcome to both of you.
And, Mike, let me start with you.
I know you have been covering the FLDS for many years. How surprised were you when you heard about the raid?
MICHAEL WATKISS, KTVK REPORTER: Not at all surprised. I think it was a matter of time that -- before Texas officials followed suit their colleagues in Utah and Arizona.
There has been a very concerted crackdown in both Utah and Arizona during the last five years to address the very issues that prevail over in Eldorado in that compound: forced underage marriage, the practice of incest, child abuse.
In many ways, this is not new. It was a matter of time, inevitable. You could have just set your watch for this.
Texas officials were aware from what's been going on in Utah and Arizona for generations. And I think, really, the bottom line, it was only a matter of time.
BROWN: And, Jeffrey, I mean, how rare -- it sounds unheard of to me -- but how rare is it that that many children would be taken into protective custody at one time? And does this give any indication of the strength of the case that Texas authorities are -- are building against the men on the ranch?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, I don't -- there are no record books for this sort of thing. But this is certainly the biggest case I have ever seen.
And the strain on the system there must be unbelievable. New York City would have a hard time handling 400 kids. Imagine what a rural community in Texas is struggling with. It's -- it's just an enormous -- an enormous problem.
As for how the legal system is thinking about it, there's one priority in a situation like this, which is, get the kids out of harm's way first. That's the absolute top priority. And then you worry about, can you make a criminal case against the -- the men who are there? Can you pursue something down the line?
But the first thing you want to think about is getting kids out of dangerous situation. And that's apparently what they're starting to do. And now they are going to file papers saying what the basis is for their removal, and then decide about any criminal prosecutions that may take -- that might take place.
BROWN: And -- and, Mike, in that vein, you know, in the press conference this afternoon, authorities said that they weren't certain whether the girl who made that initial call to authorities was in custody. Do you have any thoughts on where this girl might be?
WATKISS: Well, she may well be among the group, and now so terrified, seeing what has happened as a result of her phone call. She may be terrified to raise her hand and say, "I'm the one who made the call."
We have seen young women get out of these communities before. Anyone who questions Warren Jeffs or bucks the system is immediately shunned and completely banished. Literally, they won't be allowed back into their parents' house. They will -- they will never be able to talk to their mother and their father or their brothers and their sisters again.
So, this girl is now facing literally being removed and -- and a wall put up between her family and the life -- the only life that this poor child has ever known. And, so, the weight -- and she has to be absolutely petrified.
I'm not convinced they found her. Officials -- she got a jump. Apparently, they were notified on that compound and in this community that they were looking for this girl some days before they actually went onto the compound. And they would have had ample time to squirrel her away to Texas -- I mean, into Canada, into Mexico, South Dakota, Colorado.
This group has compounds now all over the United States that Warren Jeffs has built over the last few years since they started cracking down on him in Utah and Arizona. He saw the writing on the wall, that they were going to come after him, and he sent his lieutenants out to compound-build.
This was going to be his personal safe haven in Texas. I believe that many of the women and girls who they will -- they will find here in Texas are probably his wives and his children; a lot of them. That would be my bet. And this was really going to be his safe haven from the law. Clearly, Texas authorities had another idea.
BROWN: All right, Jeffrey, let me go to you. What do you think -- and I know I'm asking you to speculate here -- but what could happen to the men at the ranch? We know right now access on and off the ranch is being controlled by authorities. Can we expect these men to be taken into custody?
TOOBIN: Well, we can certainly expect an investigation.
But, I mean, as we have seen with this -- with Jeffs' people, these cases are very hard to bring, because the witnesses tend to be these young women who are extremely vulnerable, very intimidated. So, even though we all sort of know, in a general sense, what's going on there, these cases are not at all easy to bring.
So, it will be a matter of the authorities investigating each of these children, seeing what they're willing to say, and trying to build a case as a result. But it's not easy. And that's why it's been so long that these -- that the sect has been investigated, and there have been so few convictions to come out of it.
BROWN: And, Mike, quickly I'm asking you to speculate now. Given what you know about these people, how do you expect this to end?
WATKISS: I have no -- well, the bottom line is, they have been practicing polygamy out there in Utah and Arizona in that remote desert for 100 years. My ancestors were practicing it. They will be practicing -- practicing the practice of polygamy 100 years from now.
Anybody who thinks this is going to go away because they put Warren Jeffs in jail -- Arizona raided those cities 55 years ago. It has flourished and grown since then. Don't -- don't make any mistake about it. People are not going to stop practicing polygamy.
BROWN: All right, Michael Watkiss, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks to you both.
Coming up: a very big day tomorrow on the subject of Iraq. General Petraeus heads to Congress. We have got a preview.
John McCain weighing in today, attacking Democrats, pointing to better security -- yet, also, today, new attacks in the Green Zone and new signs of trouble with Iraqi forces
-- Iraqi troops, some reluctant to go into battle, and some even taking a lunch break in the middle of a firefight.
A fresh look at the facts on the ground -- when 360 returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: That was Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, slamming his Democratic rivals today for pledging speedy troop withdrawals from Iraq.
The war in Iraq is center stage on the campaign trail and in Washington. Tomorrow on Capitol Hill, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, will testify before key Senators, and on Wednesday, he'll be grilled by House lawmakers. He is expected to defend his call for a pause in troop withdrawals after the last of the surge forces return home in July.
Last September, General Petraeus assured Congress that Iraqis would be able to stop the violence by Shiite militias by themselves. But it hasn't worked out as well as hoped.
Tonight, CNN's Nic Robertson gives us a look at the battle for Baghdad up close.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As gunfire erupts, American soldiers take cover.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he on the ground or is he up on the roof top?
ROBERTSON: Captain Logan Keith (ph) must find the gunman, stop the attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got one or two shooters located. They've PID'd him, positively identified where they're at. They're being signaled on the rooftops by a couple guys with flags.
ROBERTSON: For the past ten days, U.S. and Iraqi forces have been trying to take control of these neighborhoods. Neighborhoods militias have been using to fire rockets at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad's allegedly secure Green Zone.
About 800 yards, about half a mile up the road here, is the vast majority of Sadr City, where U.S. troops are only allowed to go on very rare occasions. It's become, they say, an effective safe haven for the militias, from where they're able to plan and prepare their attacks.
But there's one more problem here: U.S. troops must let Iraqi soldiers take the lead in fighting the militias. Captain Vief (ph) must convince his Iraqi counterparts to go after the gunman, and it's not going well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. He told me he has a little forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Little forces?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, little forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got as many people on the ground as I do. This is no reason that you cannot do this. We are behind you 100 percent. But you need to move forward.
ROBERTSON: The gunmen are still shooting. The Iraqi captain, reluctant to lead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are here to provide support, but we need you to action it.
ROBERTSON: Just when it's all agreed...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now is not the time. OK. It is to move out. I need you to get your -- your forces over to the mosque and to isolate it.
ROBERTSON: They discover the Iraqi troops have gone to lunch. Fortified with food, they head off around the corner to take on the gunmen. The shooting intensifies. Captain Vief (ph) follows.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, men.
ROBERTSON: Ready for backup. Racing into a store for cover, he loses contact with the Iraqi captain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hearing a lot of volume of fire. I got to figure out what's going on, if they're taking it, or if they're giving or receiving.
ROBERTSON: Ten minutes later, the Iraqi troops return. Three soldiers are injured. They say they killed one of the gunmen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm proud of your men after what they accomplished. I swear you have my...
(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: Nic is in Baghdad for us tonight.
And Nic, do you get the sense that these guys know the fighting there is far from over?
ROBERTSON: I think they do. It's urban warfare. They know that these militias can hide out among the people. Helicopters and planes are being used to target the militias when they can spot them setting these rockets or groups in government.
It's precision fire from -- from these aircraft that are taking out some of the militias. But most of them are able to blend in -- blend in with the residents of Sadr City and hide.
This is a huge area. Militias traditionally don't ever give their weapons up. People just have to persuade them there's no need to fight, and it's a long way from that right now, Campbell.
BROWN: And Nic, I got to tell you, the bit about the Iraqi security forces taking a lunch break is pretty mind blowing. I mean, what does this say about generally the readiness of the Iraqi security forces ahead of what General Petraeus's report to Congress is going to say?
ROBERTSON: You know, you can give a man a weapon. You can give him body armor, a helmet. You can train him like a soldier. But unless he believes in himself that he can win the fight, then he's not part of a functioning army. And that's where these soldiers are at right now.
Captain Vief (ph), featured in the story, says that he believes these guys can do it. And that's why he's out there trying to motivate them and get them around the corner.
But they are still a long way from being an effective fighting force. And let's not forget here, it is American air power that is making a significant difference on the ground, and the Iraqis just don't have anything like that.
BROWN: Nic Robertson from Baghdad tonight. Nic, thanks.
A quick program note. Tomorrow on 360, we'll have full coverage of General Petraeus's testimony before Congress. His state of Iraq report comes on the heels of recent heavy fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias in Southern Iraq. And you can bet he'll be questioned about why Iraqi forces didn't perform better.
Back in September, General Petraeus was optimistic about the surge working. Tomorrow, he'll be questioned by all three leading presidential candidates. We'll have all of that, plus a reality check on the surge from CNN's Michael Ware. What did it really accomplish, and can it be sustained? All that's tomorrow on 360.
Coming up next, though, Hillary Clinton's chief strategist has been removed from his post. Will this latest shakeup help or hurt the campaign? We've got the "Raw Politics." And later, could Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be gearing up for a White House run with John McCain? The rumors are swirling in Washington. We'll bring you that story and more when AC 360 continues.
BROWN: New polling tonight shows the race in Pennsylvania tightening. Barack Obama gaining ground in CNN's poll of the three most recent surveys, now trailing Hillary Clinton by just seven points. It was a double-digit lead just a week ago.
The latest headlines have not been kind to Senator Clinton. Chief campaign strategist Mark Penn, who is also a top Washington lobbyist, was revealed to be glad-handing the Colombian government, helping them win a free trade agreement that Senator Clinton opposes. That was over the weekend. Well, today, he stepped down.
But like so many things do with politics and, critics would say, with the Clintons, it isn't quite that simple. We get more now from CNN's Candy Crowley.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With more than 800,000 union voters, Pennsylvania is not the place where you want your trade credentials questioned. So Hillary Clinton has been adamant in her opposition to trade deals that don't protect U.S. workers.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got to have new trade policies before we have new trade deals. And that includes no trade deal with Colombia while violence against trade unionists continue in that country.
CROWLEY: The day before Clinton talked to the AFL-CIO about her opposition to removing trade barriers between the U.S. and Colombia, her senior strategist meet with the Colombian ambassador to talk about promoting it. This is a problem.
STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Here you have the chief strategist of the campaign sending certain messages to Colombia, when a central tenet of her narrative is against these unfair trade deals. That's pretty critical.
CROWLEY: Mark Penn said he was acting on behalf of his PR company but Governor Ed Rendell, Clinton's most prominent Pennsylvania supporter, was clearly worried when he told NBC he's not sure Penn made that clear to the Colombians.
GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Doesn't sound like he did, and that's something the campaign should take into question. But, you know, this business and Senator Obama, et cetera, look, I know that Hillary Clinton cares about the free trade issue.
CROWLEY: Some union leaders worry Penn's actions would cost her blue-collar votes in Pennsylvania, where she needs a big win to silence calls for her departure. Others feared the story sounded like campaign double-speak.
By Sunday, the candidate was all smiles but no talk, and Mark Penn was no longer her senior strategist, though he remains on the campaign as an adviser.
In truth, this was a demotion waiting to happen. Penn has been the source of friction inside the campaign, seen as dictatorial and blamed for strategy missteps that have left the once high-flying Clinton campaign struggling to catch Barack Obama.
CUTTER: I think by removing him from the central core of that campaign has allowed them to focus on what matters -- matters right now, which is Pennsylvania.
CROWLEY: As Clinton presses through Pennsylvania in search of a double-digit win, the reality is, she's behind in the money race, the delegate race and the popular vote. The Penn controversy only feeds into the image of a campaign that cannot seem to steady itself.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
BROWN: So a tough moment on trade going into the Pennsylvania primary: a virtual mirror image of Barack Obama's NAFTA trouble going into Ohio and Texas.
Digging deeper, let's turn to CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, who like Mark Penn, once advised President Clinton.
David good evening to you.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hello, Campbell.
BROWN: You wrote on the 360 blog today that Mark Penn's demotion could impact not just the Pennsylvania primary but the rest of the primaries to come. How so?
GERGEN: Well, ordinarily, the comings and goings of campaign managers don't matter much to voters, and I don't think a person -- a thousand in Pennsylvania probably will vote one way or the other on Mark Penn.
But I think there is an interesting question about what their message will be in the next couple of weeks and the weeks that follow. And that is that we -- Carl Bernstein reported on this program a few days ago that they were -- the Clintons were preparing to really throw not only the kitchen sink but the bathroom sink against Barack Obama. That they had some things, rather nasty things about him that had not gotten media coverage, try to inject them into the campaign and really go after him in a sort of last, 11th hour desperate bid to take this away from him.
Mark Penn was seen as one of the advocates of that strategy, a powerful advocate, as was Bill Clinton, by the way, from time to time. And it does seem to me that, now that -- with others taking demand and him demoted, we're much less likely to see that kind of negativity.
And frankly, I think that's, in the end, going to benefit Hillary Clinton, and it's to the benefit of the Democrats. That kind of negative final fling, I think, would have doomed both of them, or could have.
BROWN: Yes. And David, you know, this seems to fall into -- this meeting seems to fall into the "What was he Thinking?" category. I mean, how big a blunder was this meeting? I mean, with the Colombian officials over a trade agreement that she was opposed to?
GERGEN: Well, it was an active -- you know, by a man who is so brilliant, you always have to ask why do people who are so brilliant do dumb things? And this is one of those examples.
I mean, after the NAFTA flap, with an Obama adviser talking to the Canadian government, and allegedly saying that, you know, Barack Obama doesn't mean everything he's saying about his anti-NAFTA stance, you would think that nobody else would wander into that on the other side.
So -- but it underscores a couple of things, I think, Campbell. One is how complicated these campaigns are where people wear two, three, four hats. You know, he was not a full-time campaign person. He was running Burson Marsteller worldwide while he was doing this. He's advising -- he's advising the labor government, Gordon Brown, in England. And he's taking money from a lot of different sources.
Now, if this were a government, you would never allow anybody to do that. But in campaigns, you know, it's the Wild West, and things like this happen. So...
GERGEN: But I also think this -- this does send a message -- as if Hillary Clinton needed this again -- it does send a message, as Candy Crowley's piece said, that this campaign has not been as smooth as it should have been.
There have been these internal divisions. Maybe they can get it straightened out. Certainly, putting Maggie Williams in charge was a strong, good, positive move forward for the Clinton campaign a few weeks ago. But there's this discord.
And it also underscores the unhappiness in the Democratic Party with the message and with the strategy of the Clinton campaign. You're hard-pressed to find a Democrat today that says, "Oh, what a wonderful campaign this has been. We just are sort of falling short." It's not that way at all. Almost every Democrat you meet, says, "God, how can we have run such a lousy campaign?"
And increasingly, Mark Penn, even though I think the blame is shared, increasingly, Mark Penn is becoming the scapegoat. BROWN: And quickly, David. I mean, the news reports are that nobody on the campaign liked him. You know, and a lot of people blamed him for sort of the strategy or her faltering over the last couple of months. So why has he remained such a major voice in her campaign up until now?
GERGEN: Because he has -- he goes back a dozen years with the Clintons, and he really was instrumental in Bill Clinton's reelection in 1996. And Bill Clinton likes him.
And you know -- and we have sort of Bill people and Hillary people. He was mostly a Bill person in the midst of a lot of Hillary people that didn't like him. But there was this residual tie, and I think both an emotional and intellectual tie, with Bill Clinton that was important. And I think Hillary, in some ways, really liked him, as well.
BROWN: All right. David Gergen for us tonight. David, thanks.
GERGEN: Thank you.
BROWN: And as you saw in Candy Crowley's report, Senator Clinton has avoided questions so far on the Mark Penn mess. But tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING" you can see what she has to say. "AMERICAN MORNING" with Kiran Chetry and John Rockford (ph) -- Roberts. That starts at 6 a.m. Eastern Time.
And up next tonight, from Secretary of State to running mate, does Condoleezza Rice want to join John McCain on the ticket? The story is next.
BROWN: Does Condoleezza Rice want to be John McCain's choice for vice president? Well, it depends on who you ask. According to Republican strategist Dan Senor, the Secretary of State is actively campaigning for it.
In full disclosure, I must tell you that I'm married to Dan Senor.
As for Rice, her staff says the notion that she is interested in being McCain's running mate is pure fiction.
CNN's Tom Foreman has the "Raw Politics."
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid a torrent of rumors that Condi Rice wants to be John McCain's running mate, Senator Straight Talk says he won't talk about that, yet.
MCCAIN: I'm a great admirer of Secretary Rice, just like all people.
FOREMAN: Rice carries the baggage of being associated with an unpopular Iraq policy. The polls have long shown her to be one of the more respected members of the Bush administration. She is well known and experienced in national government. All potential pluses for the GOP ticket.
But when she showed up as a weekly meeting of influential conservatives here, she raised eyebrows.
Dan Senor is a Republican strategist.
DAN SENOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The first time the Secretary of State...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is interesting.
SENOR: ... has visited the Wednesday meeting.
FOREMAN: The man who organized that meeting, Grover Norquist, says Rice talked about foreign policy.
GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: But the people who walked out of the room said two things: she articulates Bush's vision and what he's trying to do better than he does. And second, you know, she would make a good president, and therefore a good vice president.
FOREMAN: Rice has said repeatedly she is not interested, and her State Department team says...
SEAN MCCORMACK, SPOKESMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: If she's actively seeking the vice presidency, then she's the last one to know about it.
FOREMAN (on camera): They all insist when Rice is finished being Secretary of State, she will likely leave government work and go into academics.
(voice-over) Still, with the Democrats set to nominate a woman or a black man, Rice raises intriguing possibilities for her party: a political pro who might also draw voters influenced by race or gender.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
BROWN: Straight ahead, our "Planet in Peril." How one of the fastest growing cities on earth is literally making the people who live there sick.
BROWN: You don't have to be Mother Teresa to care about our "Planet in Peril." There are plenty selfish reasons and that's because whatever happens to the planet eventually happens to all of us. We shape our world for better or worse. We're married to it in sickness and health. The sickness part now a problem of epidemic proportions. From CNN's Harris Whitbeck.
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Caxias, Rio de Janeiro's most notorious and dangerous slum. Tens of thousands of people live here. The neighborhood is ground zero in the dengue epidemic that's hit the region.
We visited Caxias on a day when volunteers combed the streets, looking for the stagnant water where dengue-bearing mosquitoes breed. Drug dealers and their gangs control these streets. It's rare for outsiders to enter. As we were about to find out, the reason is simple -- it's simply too dangerous.
Just to illustrate how restricted the access to this neighborhood is, I'm with the president of the neighbors association here. We've been walking down a street trying to get to a major canal where a lot of mosquitoes have been breeding. And suddenly he told us to stop. He told us to stop because there was a group of alleged drug dealers who said we cannot not go further until they say so.
Threats of violence accompany the fear of disease. It seems everyone has been sick or knowing someone who has been struck with dengue.
13-year-old Joao (ph) Raphael tells us of the fever and body aches he suffered just a couple of weeks ago. He then asks why the authorities don't come in to fumigate every day.
Just keep the camera rolling.
They don't because it can get pretty dangerous here.
Well, I don't know if you can hear, there's gunfire right now. We've basically been doing something very innocent, just walking around the neighborhood with the president of the neighbors association. And gunfire suddenly erupted and our host suggested we come into his office, which is really a shack made of painted cardboard for protection.
So this pretty much illustrates how difficult it is for people who are trying to combat this epidemic, to do their work.
The shooting stopped and we were able to move back into the street. Julio Cesar Moreida (ph), the neighbors association leader, says the lack of attention from the government is nothing new.
JULIO CESAR MOREIDA, (through translator): We've always been abandoned by the authorities. The government doesn't want this place to grow anymore, so we've basically been abandoned.
And that says the municipality's Secretary of Health is the real reason behind the dengue epidemic.
OSCAR BERRO, CAXIAS SECRETARY OF HEALTH (through translator): Dengue is not a result of bad public health. It is a result of poor urban infrastructure.
The filthy streets and canals of Caxias, vehicles for an epidemic that just arrived and witnesses to violence nearly out of control.
Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Rio de Janeiro.
BROWN: And you can buy CNN's award-winning documentary "Planet in Peril." Find it at favorite retailers on sale tomorrow.
For our international viewers, "CNN Today" is next. Here in the states, Larry King is coming up.
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