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Democratic Candidates Face Off in Philadelphia; Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out on Church Sex Abuse Scandal

Aired April 16, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, breaking news: the final debate before the crucial primary, barely six days to go until Pennsylvanians go to the polls, Barack Obama ahead nationally and looking to seal the deal, Hillary Clinton ahead in Pennsylvania and counting on it to break his momentum.
She, of course, plagued by new polling that shows a majority of people do not trust her. He's been dogged by doubts about his pastor and remarks he made calling small-town Pennsylvanians bitter. Some say debates should focus more on what the candidates would do when they're president, but for the first 45 minutes of this one tonight in Philadelphia, the questions and answers were about all that other stuff.

It aired tonight on ABC. Now, this is the first time since the two have debated since the bitter -- so-called "bitter" controversy broke out.

The questioning began with ABC News' Charlie Gibson asking Senator Obama about it.


CHARLES GIBSON, MODERATOR: Talking to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco 10 days ago, you got talking in California about small town Pennsylvanians who have had tough economic times in recent years. And you said they get bitter and they cling to guns or they cling to their religion or they cling to antipathy toward people who are not like them. You said you misspoke. You said you mangled what it was you wanted to say. But we have talked to a lot of voters. Do you understand that some people in this state find that patronizing and think that you said actually what you meant?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well I think there's no doubt that I can see how people were offended. It's not the first time that I have made a statement that was mangled up. It's not going to be the last.

But let me be very clear about what I meant because it's something that I have said in public. It's something that I have said on television, which is that people are going through very difficult times right now. And we are seeing it all across the country. And that was true even before the current economic hardships that are stemming from the housing crisis.

This is the first economic expansion that we just completed in which ordinary people's incomes actually went down when adjusted for inflation. At the same time, the costs of everything from health care to gas at the pump has skyrocketed. And so the point I was making was that when people feel like Washington's not listening to them, when they're promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change and it doesn't, then, politically, they end up focusing on those things that are constant like religion.

They end up feeling this is a place where I can find some refuge. This is something I can count on. They end up being much more concerned about votes around things like guns, where traditions have been passed on from generation to generation. And those are incredibly important to them. And, yes, what is also true is that wedge issues, hot-button issues, end up taking prominence in our politics.

And part of the problem is that when those issues are exploited, we never get to solve the issues that people really have to get some relief on.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am the granddaughter of a factory worker from Scranton who went to work in the Scranton lace mills when he was 11 years old. Worked his entire life there, mostly six to eight weeks. He was also very active in the Court Street Methodist Church. And he raised three sons and was very proud that he sent all of them to college.

I don't believe that my grandfather or my father or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years cling to religion when Washington is not listening to them.

I think that is a fundamental sort of misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad.

And I similarly don't think that people cling to their traditions, like hunting and guns, either, when they are frustrated with the government.


COOPER: Well, with us now at the debate site in Philadelphia, CNN's Candy Crowley and "TIME" magazine's Mark Halperin, who writes "The Page" at, and in Boston, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

Candy, how well do you think Obama explained these so-called "bitter" comments? And what about Clinton's response?


I think you saw exactly what happened tonight. Whether the subject was the bitter remarks or whether it was Reverend Jeremiah Wright or whether it was his relationship with a former Weather Underground person, he would say, listen, this is not what people are interested in. They are interested in gasoline prices. They are interested in educating their children. They are interested in health care.

She would come back and say, well, I think this shows really a fundamental misunderstanding, as you heard her talking about his remarks about small towns.

When it came to Reverend Wright, she said, well, I think what this shows is, I would have walked away from that.

So, she kept bringing it back to kind of matters of judgment, matters of connection. And he kept saying, voters don't care about this. So, that was kind of the basic battle when it came to issues like this.

COOPER: David, as Candy mentioned, Obama's pastor, Reverend Wright, was also a topic tonight. It was the first time really the candidates addressed that issue face-to-face since the whole controversy broke out.

I want to play part of the question directed at Senator Obama and the candidates' response.

Let's listen.


GIBSON: What did you know about his statements that caused you to rescind that invitation? And if you knew he got rough in sermons, why did it take you more than a year to publicly disassociate yourself from his remarks?

OBAMA: Well, understand that I hadn't seen the remarks that ended up playing on YouTube repeatedly. This was a set of remarks that had been quoted in Rolling Stone magazine and we looked at them. And I thought that they would be a distraction, since he had just put them forward.

But, Charlie, I have discussed this extensively. Reverend Wright is somebody who made controversial statements, but they were not of the sort that we saw that offended so many Americans. And that's why I specifically said that these comments were objectionable. They're not comments that I believe in. And I disassociated myself with them.

CLINTON: Obviously, one's choice of church and pastor is rooted in what one believes is what you're seeking in church and what kind of, you know, fellowship you find in church.

But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been just intolerable for me.


COOPER: It's interesting, David, because Obama seemed at one point frustrated that he was asked again to explain his relationship.

But, clearly, this is a topic that's going to be brought up over and over in the general election. How does he deal with it now?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it seemed tonight to be well-trodden ground. I was surprised that the questions went down that track, and the candidates just simply plowed down the field the way they had before.

I don't think we got much new out of this about Reverend Wright. And what we have seen so far is that the bottom has not dropped out of his support -- this is Barack Obama's support -- and, if anything, the polls seemed to have strengthen some for him, even with this other controversy.

I thought, overall, that what you saw tonight was just what Candy said. And that was that, every time one of these potential criticisms came up, Hillary Clinton wanted to dig it in, and he wanted to get away from these kind of questions.

Even when the question finally came up about something she had done on Bosnia, you know, he said, I don't want to go there, basically. And...

COOPER: Do you think she damages herself by, to use your term, trying to dig it in?

GERGEN: Well...


GERGEN: ... she must feel that it's working, because she's been so relentless at it. The polls suggest it's not working. And it's...

COOPER: She's running commercials on the bitter statement, I believe.

GERGEN: Well, she is, indeed, in Pennsylvania.

But there was a striking survey that came out in "The Washington Post"/ABC poll this morning that showed that her negatives have gone -- have soared since the early part of the year, that these attacks are -- I think, have not changed the dynamics of the race, and, if anything, seemed to have built up more resentment.

More than half the people in the country now have a negative view of her, and more than half think they can't trust her. And I -- I -- so, I thought, tonight, she might change course some. I thought, frankly, she would move to a lighter place and try to talk more positively about the future.

I was surprised that she continued to go negative on him, because I don't see the evidence. They must have internal polls, the only thing I can conceive of.

COOPER: Yes. Mark, some of the other old ground that was gone over again tonight was her -- I don't know if you call it a misstatement, if you call it a fabrication, whatever you want to call it, about taking sniper fire in Bosnia back in 1996, when, in fact, there wasn't any.

I want to listen to her explanation here.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, MODERATOR: About six in 10 voters that we talk to say they don't believe you're honest and trustworthy. And we asked a lot of Pennsylvania voters for questions that they had. A lot them raised this honesty issue and your comments about being under sniper fire in Bosnia.

CLINTON: I may be a lot of things, but I'm not dumb. And I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it all out there. And you're right. On a couple of occasions in the last weeks, I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book.

And, you know, I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I have said it was a mistake. And it is, I hope, something that you can look over.


COOPER: As David mentioned, Mark, Obama passed on attacking her for the misstatement.

It's got to be pretty devastating or pretty alarming, though, to her campaign to have this poll out there that a majority of people don't trust her.

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": Well, there's no question that that poll number is a danger to her. And I think it partly reflects the Bosnia flap. It also reflects the fact that she has been forced, she believes, to go after Obama.

I thought that was probably her best pushback, her best sort of overall answer on dealing with the Bosnia thing. But I think, in general, she -- she was in a box tonight. She has had -- she was forced to say, by the questioning, that she believes Obama is electable in a general election.

And her problem is, her main argument, that she's making privately, and the only way she can stop the superdelegates and the delegates from going to Obama is to argue that he's not electable on -- based on some of these things that came up this evening.

That contradiction, acknowledging he's electable, but trying to make an implicit argument that he's not electable, is impossible to do, I think, and, again, made more difficult by the fact that she's got her own problems to deal with.

COOPER: Well, David, does that bring up the -- sort of the mistrust thing? If, publicly, she's saying, yes, he's electable, and, privately, I mean, according to the people who have said this, she's saying on the phone to superdelegates -- or her people are saying on the phone he's not electable -- there's a disconnect.


GERGEN: You're sure right about that. Mark was wise to point that out.

I do think that was one of the most significant statements in the debate, when she was asked, point-blank, is he electable, and she said yes, yes, yes. That's going to come back.

I think the big question now is, Anderson, does she tell anybody else in the future he's not electable? That is when it's going to come back to bite her. She starts putting -- making that comment privately, Harold Ickes is out making that argument privately, then there are going to be all sorts of questions about hypocrisy and one thing and another. So, I did -- I thought that was a very significant statement tonight.

COOPER: We're going to have more from Candy and David and Mark.

Stay right there.

When we come back, we're going to be talking about the tough questions for the candidates on Iraq and taxes.

And later: new video you won't see anywhere else, an exclusive look inside Warren Jeffs' compound in Texas, as seen through the eyes of one of the polygamist wives who is still living there -- that and more tonight on 360.


COOPER: We're back on a night that saw both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton peppered with tough questions on stage in Philadelphia.

Each admitted to making mistakes and to carrying baggage that might pose trouble in the general election. Now, both showed the strains of months on the campaign trail and the growing pressure to end it, to win it, to stop hammering each other, you name it.

The first half of the ABC News debate focused on some of the controversies. Part -- part two dealt more with the issues.

With us tonight, CNN's Candy Crowley, "TIME" magazine's Mark Halperin, and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, both these candidates were asked about their plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, even if the generals on the ground said that such a strategic move would destabilize Iraq, if -- even if the generals said it wasn't a good idea.

Let's listen to the responses. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBSON: So, if the military commanders in Iraq came to you on day one, and said, this kind of withdrawal would destabilize Iraq, it would set back all of the gains that we have made, no matter what, you're going to order those troops to come home?

CLINTON: Yes, I am, Charlie. And here's why. Thankfully, we have a system in our country, of civilian control of the military. And our professional military are the best in the world. They give their best advice. And then they execute the policies of the president.

I have watched this president, as he has continued to change the rationale and move the goal posts when it comes to Iraq. And I am convinced that it is in America's best interests, it is in the best interests of our military, and I even believe it is in the best interests of Iraq that upon taking office I will ask the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and my security advisers to immediately put together for me a plan so that I can begin to withdraw within 60 days.

GIBSON: So you would give the same rock-hard pledge, that no matter what the military commanders said, you would give the order to bring them home?

OBAMA: Because the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie. That's not the role of the generals.

And one of the things that's been interesting about the president's approach lately has been to say, "Well, I'm just taking cues from General Petraeus."

Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly. But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer.


COOPER: I mean, both the candidates basically said they would overrule the generals, if necessary. How do you think voters are going to -- are going to read that? Because it also seems to contradict some of what we have heard from both these candidates before about, you know, their plans are contingent on consultations with commanders on the ground.

GERGEN: Anderson, I have to tell you, I thought both candidates were pandering on both Iraq and on taxes.

And if you care about public policy, what you know is that commanders in chief and presidents try not to box themselves in, try not to put themselves in a corner, where they don't have much wiggle room. And, on Iraq, both of themselves locked themselves in, Hillary Clinton, especially, about withdrawal, regardless of the facts on the ground.

And things can change a lot in Iraq, as we discovered here, to our woe here in the last few months. But it's not only on that. On taxes, both of them pledged not to raise taxes -- it's a Republican- type pledge -- on anybody making less than $250,000.

They will -- that will handcuff the next president of the United States. If you really care about reforming Social Security, reforming Medicare, reforming energy and environmental policies, and putting a price on carbon, you cannot get there from here.

You can't get to the policy solutions if you say, no new taxes, period, end of sentence, for anybody making under $250,000. So, I think, from a public policy standpoint tonight, this was a distressing debate, in which people locked themselves in, unnecessarily.

COOPER: Candy, I want to play just the sound bites that David was talking about -- specifically about raising taxes.

Let's play that.


CLINTON: I am absolutely committed to not raising a single tax on middle- class Americans, people making less than $250,000 a year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: An absolute commitment, no middle-class tax increases of any kind?

CLINTON: No. That's right. That is my commitment.

GIBSON: Senator Obama?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you take the same pledge?

OBAMA: Well, I not only have pledged not to raise their taxes, I have been the first candidate in this race to specifically say I would cut their taxes.


COOPER: I mean, they did then go on, Candy, to talk about the possibility of raising capital gains taxes. And plenty of people own stocks in this country, and so maybe those would be taxes on people under that $250,000 mark.

How do you think all this plays?

CROWLEY: I think it plays very well in the primary. I think their problem is going to be when they get to a general election, whichever one gets there.

You will see the Republicans and John McCain going after it, particularly, I think, on Iraq. He will talk again about the calamity that would happen if you pull troops out. I think they will talk about the idea of no new taxes. Now, as far as we know, John McCain, being a Republican, is also for no new taxes.

I think one way around this for Clinton and Obama may be the definition of middle class. But I agree with David that they have really boxed themselves in. All I could think of while listening to this was George Bush 41 and that "no new taxes," you know, "read my lips" statement, which pretty much cost him the reelection.

COOPER: Mark, was this the first time they have made this pledge, or is this the kind of stuff they have been saying on the stump for the last couple days?

HALPERIN: Well, in the case of the taxes, I don't believe that they have ever both -- either of them has been as explicit as they were asked to be tonight.

And, on Iraq, they -- their spokespeople had gone further than they have, in both cases, for being very emphatic about withdrawal from Iraq. I agree with both Candy and David that, in the case of the general election, I think their Iraq statements could be a real problem. And if either of them is elected president, in the Oval Office, they're going to face potentially excruciating choices on those two big issues if circumstances are changed, when they have got to go back on a very clear pledge on -- on Iraq, and then again on the question of whether taxes would be raised on people making less than $250,000 a year.

COOPER: And, David, once you have said this about Iraq, as they both have tonight, you're kind of stuck with that. You can't really go back on that in the general election.

GERGEN: You can't.

I must say, I -- once again, I think Senator Clinton was more rigid on that question, absolutely. In fact, almost any time any public policy came up tonight, she said, this is what I will do, period, end of sentence. She left herself no wiggle room.

Barack Obama at least said, listen, this is the mission. I'm going to change the mission, but, of course, I'm going to listen to the commanders on the ground about tactics. That gives him some flexibility about sort of what the -- how it would actually be done over what period of time.

It may well be he will have a different general on the ground. There's a very good chance that General Petraeus will serve out through the end of George W. Bush's term, but, after the election, there's a very good chance that General Petraeus will be reassigned.

COOPER: I also wonder, David, if they end up looking sort of anti-military by basically kind of casting aside what generals on the ground are talking about.

GERGEN: I think that's a very good point, because the head of the Joint Chiefs and others, you -- it's very, very important that a president be in a dialogue with his military commanders. Of course, the president is the commander in chief, but they are the experts. They do understand and have a very good understanding on the ground of what might happen.

And I just cannot imagine, if you're president, and you think the whole thing is going to cave in on you if you made that decision, you wouldn't find some way to see if you couldn't lengthen it out a little bit. That's not to say they're going to be another extension of George W. Bush.

Bush is for an open-ended commitment. Both of these people want to shut this thing down. That is a change of direction. But to shut -- but to lock themselves in on policy this way...


GERGEN: ... I find to be very surprising, just as Candy and we have all said here tonight.

COOPER: It's getting to be the silly season, I guess, as people say at this time in the campaign.

We're going to have more with our panel after the break. We are going to look at questions about Senator Obama's patriotism. We heard those tonight. Were they fair? And fair or not, how did he handle those questions tonight?

We will be right back.


COOPER: We're blogging tonight on this and other stories, including our next one, inside the polygamist sect. We're going to tell you about that coming up. Kind of a big media show was put on.

But we're joined again -- we're joined again by our panel, Candy Crowley, Mark Halperin, and David Gergen.

There was talk about patriotism tonight. Barack Obama was asked about the -- the American flag lapel pin. I want to play for our viewers some of that question.


OBAMA: I revere the American flag. And I would not be running for president if I did not revere this country. This is -- I would not be standing here if it wasn't for this country.


COOPER: Candy, the backstory on that is that, previously, months and months ago, he had -- he had answered about not -- why he does not wear a lapel -- a flag pin, correct?


I mean, it happened pre-Iowa. So, we are going back. But, you know, it has -- the one thing about the Internet is, this particular story, when you added it on to some remarks from Michelle Obama talking about something that seemed to imply that she had not been proud of her country until this moment, with her husband running, those two things have kind of juiced up the Internet again about Barack Obama and his patriotism.

And it's something that he answers, frankly, on the campaign trail quite a bit.

COOPER: Mark Halperin, how negative, at this point, is the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania? I mean, out of all the TV spots she's running, out of all the radio spots, are they all on this "bitter" issue?

HALPERIN: Well, according to the sources we have talked to today confirming the reporting of others, in some markets, television markets here, every ad is one of her two negative ads.

And, of course, we haven't seen very many negative ads up until now. Only Wisconsin saw negative TV ads up until now. In some markets, she's only running positive ads. But, look, the only -- it's been true for a while, Anderson, as you know -- the only way she can win this nomination is to redefine Barack Obama more along her terms than the terms he's laid down for the delegates, the voters, and for the superdelegates.

And to do that, she's got to -- she's got to put some money behind it on TV, and she has to do some of what she did tonight. But, as David said and as you know, that has come at a cost to her in terms of her own favorability and in terms of voters' perception of whether she's desperate, voters' perception of whether she's being too negative.

COOPER: David, do you think this -- this new poll about her -- a majority of voters not thinking she's trustworthy, does that relate to negative campaigning?

GERGEN: Absolutely.

I think that some of the comments she made over the last few days, you know, she was scratching away, as Mark said. She was trying to push him down on this. But I think it also struck a lot of voters that it sounded somewhat phony. It doesn't -- you know, she's talking about him being an elitist, after she just has reported $100 million in income over the last few years since leaving the White House?

And there was a quality about that that seemed like it was manufactured. She wouldn't normally say those kind of things in normal situations. But, yet, she felt she had to do it for campaign purposes, as Mark says. I think that it may work, but it can come at enormous -- these attacks, when they seem phony, often do hurt the candidate making the attacks.

And I think there's no question that they have been annoying, they have been deeply annoying, to a lot of people in the Obama camp. And I -- it's -- I think she's now into the -- I doubt she's going to change it between now -- and I would be interested in Candy and Mark -- I doubt she's going to change between now and Pennsylvania. I think she will win Pennsylvania, but I don't think she's going to help herself by this.

COOPER: It's also interesting, Candy. I think I read it on Andrew Sullivan's blog. He was talking about how Obama has responded to not just attacks, but, say, the bitterness issue, that, traditionally, other campaigners would probably go into a more defensive crouch, and apologize or whatever. He has sort of tried to explain it and tried to point it out as an issue which is -- is sort of one of the things that comes out of politics, as opposed to really a core issue.

He seems to have -- be playing it off differently than other candidates have in the past. Is that correct?

CROWLEY: Well, yes, because it goes to the central theme of his campaign, which is, the reason that nothing ever gets done in Washington and hasn't been done for decades on health care or on energy prices is that Washington is so caught up in the same-old, same-old politics.

So, every time she comes after him, he goes, you know what, this is just politics; that's all this is.

And it works, because it goes to his central campaign theme.

COOPER: Mark, I guess Barack Obama did wear a flag pin yesterday. Is that just politics, too?

HALPERIN: Well, he was given it by a veteran, and he put it on.

And, again, as he explained, he doesn't have a principled opposition to wearing the pin. He just thinks, for some, the pin has become sort of a crutch that doesn't represent true patriotism, that true patriotism, as he said, for him is helping veterans on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

If I could just say one thing about the point you raised before, twice tonight, he said things that I think, if Hillary Clinton said, they would get a lot of scrutiny. He said his campaign only raised the Bosnia issue because they were asked about it by reporters.

That's just not true. His campaign raises it all the time. In another instance, he said, I myself haven't raised the Bosnia issue, and he was corrected, and said, well, you haven't, but your campaign has.

So, he's still getting away, I think, to some extent, with being able to play a game that any politician would love to get away with, which is extolling the positives, saying we shouldn't be about distractions, we shouldn't be about fake issues, but his campaign has used those very effectively to help put her more on the defensive, in reaction to her trying to put him on the defensive.

COOPER: It's been a fascinating night of great discussion.

Mark Halperin, David Gergen, Candy Crowley, as always, thank you.


COOPER: Up next: a CNN exclusive. One of the mothers gives us a truer of the some of the compound, polygamist compound. See where she lives, along with hundreds of other followers.

Also, Pope Benedict in America. His harshest criticism yet for U.S. Catholic church leaders. What the pope said tonight in Washington about the sex abuse scandal.

And a survivor's story. How an American and his family got out of that burning wreckage of an airliner in Africa. That's next on 360.


COOPER: Tonight we take you inside the polygamist compound in Texas. That's coming up. You're going to see how the followers live their lives from the perspective of a mother who wants her children back. It is part of, obviously, a well-orchestrated media campaign on their part. It's a CNN exclusive. You won't see this tour anywhere else.

But first, Erica Hill joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: And Anderson, we begin with the pope's visit. Tonight, Pope Benedict talking once again about the church sex abuse scandal, telling Catholic leaders it has sometimes been very badly handled.

Benedict's comments coming at a prayer service at the National Shrine in Washington tonight, with hundreds of American bishops in attendance.

In Congo, the death toll from Tuesday's fiery plane crash now stands at 36. But it is expected to rise. From that wreckage, though, there are some inspiring stories of survival.

Barry Mosier, an American missionary, was on board with his wife, 14-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. I spoke with him earlier today and asked him to describe those frantic moments.


BARRY MOSIER, PLANE CRASH SURVIVOR: And as we crashed, we didn't really realize what had happened, but we had crashed into the marketplace. All we knew from inside the plane that we had crashed and the plane had finally stopped.

But I remember the thoughts I had when I looked across the aisle and saw my wife across the aisle and then flames outside the window on the wing, which is where the fuel would have been, and knowing that if we didn't get out of that plane soon, we were going to burn.

It was certainly a horrible feeling, knowing that this thing was going to blow up soon, and we needed to get out fast. We didn't have time to become afraid. We just knew that we needed to get out, and that's what we were focused on.

We didn't get reunited with our daughter until the hospital. She thought we had all died. A man at the hospital told us that he had helped push her out of the hole first. And so we knew she was alive, but she thought we were all dead, because we got separated from each other.

HILL: I can't imagine what that was like for her. What did she say? What did you say to her when you were reunited again?

MOSIER: We just -- when I saw her coming, we just ran towards each other and hugged each other and hugged each other and crying and saying, "You're alive, you're alive." And it was hard to describe. It was very emotional.

My wife was just saying, "Nothing else matters. We're all alive." All four of us had gotten out of that plane alive.


HILL: And the Mosiers' 3-year-old son actually broke his leg as the family made its way to safety, but his father told me today he's doing much better and, Anderson, he should be fine. But talk about scary moments.

COOPER: Unbelievable. I've actually flown out of that airport a couple of times. And what's so frightening about it is that, you know, there was a big volcano years ago in the DRC, and half of the runway is covered in lava still. So it's an incredibly short runway. It's an incredibly difficult airport to take off from, and it's -- I mean, it's badly run. It's badly managed.

HILL: Yes, it's terrible.

COOPER: Yes, it's no wonder.

HILL: Sadly, it's amazing something like this hasn't happened before. That's what a lot of people were saying.

COOPER: And there have been a lot of air crashes in Congo over the last couple of years, but nothing as bad as this.

Up next, an exclusive look inside the secret world of polygamy. We're going to take you on an emotional tour inside the Texas compound with an FLDS mother who says she's desperate to get her kids back.

Here's tonight's "Beat 360," on a lighter note. An elephant standing on its hind legs as it shoots a ball during a basketball performance for tourists in northern Thailand. That's right, it's not natural for elephants to actually play basketball.

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: It's all for tourists. Here's the caption from our staff winner, Steve: "Unlike other NBA stars, Jumbo works for peanuts." Wah -- I thought it was kind of amusing.

HILL: I think it's clever. I really do.

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

HILL: Can we do appetizers, too?

COOPER: You could. Sure.

HILL: Salads, too?


COOPER: Her name is Marilyn. Like other polygamist followers who have come forward, she'll only give us her first name. She's taking us inside the polygamist compound, in fact, inside her home, and for the first time, a secret society is revealed in this exclusive new video.

And on the eve of the unprecedented custody case involving 416 kids taken from the sect that's going to occur tomorrow, a member of the church gives us a never-before-seen tour of the polygamist property. It's pretty extraordinary to look at how this isolated community lives and how the followers are living now after the kids were removed by Texas authorities.

Clearly, the women of the compound have been told to do this. They take their orders from the men, but in these days, the men are nowhere to be seen in all these videos. This is clearly a bid for sympathy, but it's also a rare look at this secretive sect.

Tomorrow, the court showdown between the children and the parents of the hundreds of children who are all, allegedly, in imminent risk of harm. We'll have new details on the hearing in just a moment. We'll also talk live to the attorney and spokesman for the church.

First, in her own words, in her own house, a polygamist mother named Marilyn speaks out.


MARILYN, FLDS CHURCH MEMBER: This room belongs to me. I take care of the little girls in here. You can see, their beds are empty.

This is where we have -- we hang our dresses.

This is another bedroom. Our -- several older girls live in this bedroom. This is their closet, where they hang their dresses, their keep their books, they have vitamins.

Come into our backyard. We're out in our backyard. We have grass. They come out and play on the grass. This shelf right here is for our shoes. It's generally full of children's shoes. This is our kitchen. The most delicious bread you will ever taste.

This is where we eat our meals. Most of the time, it's full of children's noises, happy children, eating their food. But it's quiet.

My little girl's name is Marla. She's such a lovable little girl. She loves school. She's in third grade. She comes home, "Mother, I got an A-plus today."

I grab her and hug her: "Good job, Marla, good job." She is my only child.

These are her clothes right here.

This is Marla's bed. You can see it's empty, and it's the hardest thing in the world for me to come and sleep in this room with no little girl.

This is our living room. We have pianos. We sing much of the time.

This is our sewing room. We sew all of our clothing.

This is our front door. Thank you so very much for coming. That over there is our sacred place that they have desecrated.


COOPER: That exclusive video was shot and edited by CNN photojournalist Joe Delarosa (ph). Pretty fascinating video, but is it the whole story, however?

Joining us for more on life inside the polygamist compound is CNN's David Mattingly, who's been reporting this story now for quite some time, since the story broke. He'll be covering tomorrow's massive day in court for hundreds of kids and hundreds of attorneys.

David, what are you learning about what's going to happen tomorrow?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's definitely one for the record books: 416 child custody cases, the biggest such day ever in courts in this state.

They're going to be represented by 350 volunteer attorneys. There's going to be parents here with their attorneys. It's too much for this one courthouse here behind me to handle. There's going to be multiple locations around town, hooked up by closed-circuit television, all going right to the judge in the courthouse behind me. And she's going to have some very big decisions to make regarding each of these children.

The state, we've been hearing from them for almost two weeks now: why they felt it was necessary to raid that polygamist compound and take custody of all 416 children. That was all of the children under age 18 at that compound.

Tomorrow is a banner day, because it is the first time, Anderson, that the state is going to have to present evidence and prove that they were right to do that. And that's why tomorrow is so important. We're going to find out just how strong the state's case is.

COOPER: Do we have any sense of what kind of evidence the state plans to show the judge? Because, I mean, we've heard stories about kind of mothers, you know, changing kids and switching birth certificates, and it's not even clear how many of these kids have birth certificates. Do we know what the evidence is at this point?

MATTINGLY: In the affidavits, investigators, when they went into the compound claimed that they saw girls that they believed were 16 years of age, possibly younger, who were pregnant, who were married, who had children, and that is against the law if they were married to adult men. And that's going to be the evidence that they were looking at.

We've been asking state officials for a solid week now, how many teenage mothers do you have in custody right now, and they haven't been able to tell us. Either that or they won't tell us. And possibly, when we go to court tomorrow, we're going to start finding out exactly what the state has to work with, why they believe that it was important to take all 416 boys and girls out of that compound.

COOPER: David Mattingly reporting. Thanks, David.

A moment ago you heard what one of the polygamist followers says. Next we're going to hear from the church's attorney, representing the women and their families. We'll be right back.



ESTHER, FLDS MEMBER: And had taken the girls, gotten them on the bus, pulled them away from their mothers. I just watched this from the window. And I could hear screaming and crying.


COOPER: Her name is Esther. She and other mothers from Warren Jeffs' polygamist sect spoke to Larry King earlier, pleading for the state to give them back their kids.

But -- excuse me -- what is in the best interests of those 416 kids? We're going to talk about that, coming up. That's the decision that a judge is going to have to make. The case begins tomorrow. It's a huge custody case.

Authorities say the boys and girls taken from the sect were all in danger. And we've heard many other allegations of sexual abuse, child brides and more. The followers say the accusations are absolutely false. They insist they are the real victims. Let's hear more from their side. Joining us now is Rod Parker. He's an attorney for the FLDS, and he's a spokesman for the church.

Thanks very much for being with us tonight. We appreciate your time.


COOPER: While at the ranch, investigators observed a number of young girls who appear to be pregnant. Have there been marriages or spiritual marriages between underage girls and adult males at this ranch?

PARKER: I don't know the answer to that question right now. I know what the allegations are. I think that we'll just have to see what the state is able to prove with regard to those allegations.

COOPER: So -- so to your knowledge, that you're a spokesman for the church, is it church practice for a 16-year-old girl to marry an older man?

PARKER: I'm a spokesman for the families, and I -- my understanding from them is that it is not a church practice. I've talked to many of the women in the community today, many of the men. They've said they would not consent to having their children married at a young age like that.

That doesn't mean that it's never happened out there, but it's an individual-by-individual decision, and the people that I've spoken to have not been involved in that.

COOPER: The state says when it has a suspected case of child abuse that they have to remove all the children from the environment. What's your legal argument going to be in terms of trying to get custody back to the FLDS members?

PARKER: Well, it has to do with the definition of what the environment is. When the state finds a case of child abuse in a home, they may remove the children from the home, and that's normally what would be done.

But here they find that they have an unsubstantiated allegation of abuse, totally uncorroborated, and in response to this unsubstantiated, uncorroborated allegation, they removed not just the children from one home, but every child in the community, just on the basis that they're a member of this community. That's not the same thing.

COOPER: What do you think the state should have done?

PARKER: Well, first of all, I think that the state should have corroborated its -- its -- the phone call, to see if it was real. The people on the ranch tell me there is no person named Sarah Jessop Barlow, who allegedly made the phone call.

We also know that -- that Mr. Barlow and his probation officer in Arizona have both denied that such a person exists. Mr. Barlow hasn't been in Texas since the 1970s. And so it's impossible for that person to exist.

If the state is going to take this kind of precipitous action, take away over 400 children from their parents, really rip them away with tanks and machine guns, you would think that they would attempt to corroborate the story.

And if they attempted to corroborate, they would have easily found out that the story wasn't true. If they didn't attempt to corroborate the story, I think that's even worse.

COOPER: Whose idea was it to have all these mothers appearing in front of cameras for the last couple of days? Because I mean, we've been down in FLDS towns a lot over the last year or two. We've always had doors slammed in our faces.

And why aren't we hearing from any of the men? Is that part of a strategy?

PARKER: Well, the reason that the doors of the ranch were opened is because this circumstance is an extraordinary circumstance, an extraordinary event. And these women wanted to tell their stories. They want their children back, and they're insisting on telling this story. And right now, we're telling the story of the mothers.

COOPER: But, I mean, clearly the men are the ones who made the decision, because the men run things there. So I just -- I'm getting a lot of e-mails from viewers who are curious why we're not hearing from any men.

PARKER: Well, how do you know that the women don't make their own decisions down there? That's not -- that's not true.

COOPER: Well, the F.L. -- the spiritual head of the FLDS is a man.

PARKER: Well, but you don't know that the man has to make the decision for the woman whether she speaks out. That's not true.


PARKER: That's not true.

COOPER: OK. So you're saying the mothers have just decided on their own to speak to cameras?


COOPER: OK. Well, I appreciate you...

PARKER: They want this story told.

COOPER: And are you going to be -- I mean, there's tons -- how does this work? There's going to be a lot of lawyers tomorrow. Where do you fit into all of this? Are you going to be in the courtroom as well? Are you overseeing it all? I can't imagine how you fit into all of this. It's got to be one of the most complicated case around.

PARKER: You're right. It's an absolute mess. It's just a mess. I don't know how they're going to deal with it in that courthouse tomorrow. My role has been to assist with formulating legal strategies in the background.

I'm not a member of the Texas bar, I'm not a Texas lawyer. And so I'm helping in the background formulate strategies, but I won't be making a direct appearance in court tomorrow.

COOPER: And are you a member of the church, or no, just a representative?

PARKER: I'm not a member of the church. I've never been a member of the church.

COOPER: Rod, again, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. I know it's a busy day for you.

PARKER: You're welcome.

COOPER: Just ahead, an arrest in the mysterious case of a man exposed to the deadly poison ricin at a Las Vegas hotel. He woke up from a coma last month. Now he could be facing up to 30 years in prison.

Plus, the gator, the Buick and the burglar. We'll tell you how this huge alligator ended up inside the Buick Regal and how it ended in a burglary arrest. Bizarre story.

Also ahead, did the final debate before Pennsylvania's key primary actually change the race? The best political team on television weighs in, ahead on 360.


COOPER: Some other headlines now. Erica Hill joins us with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, at Virginia Tech, a day of mourning ends with a candlelight service in memory of the 32 victims killed one year ago in a mass shooting on campus. The student gunman shot himself that day as police closed in.

A 360 follow-up for you. You may remember the man who was hospitalized earlier this year for exposure to ricin in his Las Vegas hotel room. Well, today, that 57-year-old was charged with possession of a biological toxin and illegal firearms. If convicted, he could face 30 years in prison.

Ricin was found in the man's hotel room. Chemicals to make that toxin were discovered in storage units he'd rented.

Hope you're sitting down for this one. A new high for oil today, spiking to just over $115 a barrel. Get this: it's a nearly 20- percent rise so far this year. Sorry for the bad news. COOPER: Yes. Time for our "Beat 360" winners now. It's easy to play. Every day we post a picture on our Web site. You compete against our staff to come up with the best caption. Here's tonight's picture.

It's an elephant shooting hoops. Why you ask? Well, it's part of a basketball performance for tourists at an elephant park in northern Thailand. I'm sure the elephants love it.

HILL: Absolutely. They get a share of the cut.

COOPER: The staff winner is Steve. His caption: "Unlike other NBA stars, Jumbo works for peanuts."

I like it.

HILL: I like it.

COOPER: Yes. Tonight's winner -- viewer winner is Gina. Her entry: "A bitter Republican mascot challenges Obama to a basketball game in rural Pennsylvania."

HILL: Very topical. Very topical. I like it.


You can check out all the captions we received on our Web site:

Now tonight's "Shot." We wouldn't believe this story if it were not for these pictures. Take a look. A 6-foot alligator in the back of a Buick Regal.

A Texas state trooper spotted the gator -- I'm not sure how he could miss it -- after pulling over the Buick's driver for making suspicious U-turns.

HILL: How do you drive with that thing in your car?

COOPER: Suspiciously, apparently. The driver said he found the creature on the side of the road. He apparently has an interest in reptiles. It turns out he's also a burglary suspect.

HILL: Ooh!

COOPER: He allegedly broke into a mobile home after finding the alligator. Police say he stole a television and even tried to get a neighbor to help him carry it.

HILL: I love that.

COOPER: The neighbor bailed when he saw what was in the Buick's backseat. The driver is now in jail, and the gator is at a preserve.

I love that. He picks up the gator, and that wasn't a big enough day for him. HILL: No.

COOPER: He needed to go and burglarize a mobile home, apparently.

HILL: And then what's even better is he got the neighbor to help him, allegedly, steal the TV, like, "Yes, I'll carry Bob's TV for you. No problem, buddy. He doesn't need it anyway. Oh, no, there's a gator."

COOPER: Don't mind the gator in the back. That's just my Aunt Sally.

If you see some remarkable video or gators in cars, tell us about it: Don't approach them, though.

Coming up at the top of the hour, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama facing off tonight in Philadelphia. The best moments, the most important moments from the debate, next.