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Hillary Clinton on Brink of Bowing Out?; Polygamist Parents Reunited With Children

Aired June 2, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Hillary Clinton, is she on the brink of bowing out? We're going to bring you all the latest on Senator Clinton's campaign and signs today that may indicate what Hillary Clinton is thinking.
But, first, breaking news: Bill Clinton lashing out today on the trail in South Dakota, the words perhaps the toughest we have ever heard from the former president. He attacks the national media, saying they have been attempting to -- and I quote -- "nail Hillary for Obama. It's the most biased press coverage in history."

Clinton had been asked about an unflattering portrayal of himself in the latest issue of "Vanity Fair" magazine. Clinton called the reporter, Todd Purdum -- and I quote -- "a scumbag" and went to say -- quote -- "He's sleazy. He's a really dishonest reporter. There's just five or six blatant lies in there. But he's a really slimy guy."

The former president charged, the reporter didn't use a single name or cite a single source for the accusations he makes in the articles.

Here's what some of what set President Clinton off.

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

Clinton didn't just target Purdum in his comments, or the national media. He also went after Barack Obama for his response to recent comments made my Reverend Pfleger mocking Hillary Clinton.

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

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

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

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

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

But he typically, in the past, has done it in private. And I think this -- in this campaign, for the first time, we have seen him do it in public or two or three occasions. I'm sure he really doesn't feel that way of Todd Purdum of "The New York Time," after all, Todd Purdum, who is married to his first press secretary, Dee Dee Myers.

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

COOPER: How so?

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

So, in that sense, I personally, as I thought about this and talked to more people, I began to think there makes -- this dream ticket makes more sense than I originally thought it did, but that there is...

COOPER: But comments like this do not help.

GERGEN: But comments like this really do not help.

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



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

CROWLEY: Well, I think David is absolutely right, because now we're looking at superdelegates. So, what do they think about this?

I think it does -- look, this has been a complicated relationship between Obama and the Clintons, honestly, since they went down South, and we had all those problems in South Carolina, when they really started to go after each other. I think what you're seeing is a Bill Clinton who is extremely frustrated. You know, I also know Todd Purdum. And he's a great reporter. I think Bill Clinton, at this point, you're seeing both the frustration -- and, frankly, really early on in the campaign, when he began to have some of these times when he really went off, I talked to one of his closest friends. And he said, you know what? It is different when your wife is running. It's like he's kind of lost his political ear, because he so badly wants her to win, for her, his own legacy, for a lot of reasons.

So, we are at the end of a very long road. And you saw a man lashing out in frustration.

COOPER: Gloria, the article does have some pretty nasty suggestions in it, unsourced, no names on them.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. They're sourced, but they're anonymous sources...


COOPER: Is it fair game to criticize him?

BORGER: Well, I think, if you're Bill Clinton, sure, it's fair game. If somebody is going to make some charges, you would probably like to -- to see them on the record.

But I agree with everyone here that Todd Purdum is a very -- is a very serious journalist. But I do think it raises the question, as we first heard Bill Clinton famously say for himself, two for the price of one.

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

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

GERGEN: Let me just say one other thing, Anderson, if I might.

And that is, the article, I do think -- I do think the Clinton people have -- and Bill Clinton's people have a fair point that the article does not give enough weight to what he has done in the non- profit sector.

The Clinton Global Initiative is actually an extraordinarily important initiative, very similar to what Jimmy Carter has done, in a different way, in his own way. I think it has provided enormous help in places in Africa. I think -- I think he's thrown himself into this. And what we have seen of Bill Clinton on the trail is only a piece of who Bill Clinton has become, the pieces we have seen of him campaigning for Hillary. And I think he has thrown himself into this race for Hillary. But he has had this other portfolio.

COOPER: Todd Purdum said earlier to Wolf Blitzer, well, look, plenty of people have written articles about all of that stuff in the Clinton Initiative, and, sure, there's plenty of good work. That's not what this article is about.

GERGEN: Well, but if you're going to assess Bill Clinton's post- presidency, it does seem to me that that portion of his life, which is 55...

COOPER: Needs to be a full portrayal.

GERGEN: ... 60 percent or 70 percent, probably, of his time in the last six or seven years.

BORGER: But this is a different Bill Clinton we have seen, whether he's rusty or whether he's defending his wife, as Candy says, and that's a little different. When you're the husband, you're not the candidate. It's a difficult role, particularly as an ex- president. And there's been a lot of controversy over whether he's done it well.

GERGEN: I will bet you there are people around Barack Obama saying, you know, we might want to think about this vice presidency, but can we really afford to have an explosion like this on our watch?

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

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

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

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


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

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's an outstanding public servant.


OBAMA: And she and I will be working together in November.

CROWLEY: He expects to be the nominee, but he can't get there with the delegates he may win tomorrow night. The Obama campaign has been pressing undeclared superdelegates to step up to the plate, including 17 senators, most of whom are expected to eventually back him. But the timing is unclear. Many are reluctant to push her out. They want Hillary Clinton to withdraw on her own.

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

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

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


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

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

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... that this may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind. And I thought I was out of politics until Hillary decided to run.


B. CLINTON: But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


COOPER: Hillary Clinton speaking tonight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. South Dakota, Montana hold, of course, primaries tomorrow. Today, on the trail, Bill Clinton seemed to signal that his wife's hard-fought battle for the nomination may be over.

Here's what he said. Take a look.


B. CLINTON: This may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind. And I thought I was out of politics until Hillary decided to run.


B. CLINTON: But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.


COOPER: So will Senator Clinton concede the nomination? We're being told an answer may come as early as tomorrow. She's under intense pressure, even from her own supporters.

And, then, today, a secret meeting among uncommitted Democratic senators, talking about what to do when the primaries are over.

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

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

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I think we're in the moment of the double entendre. Everything we look at, we read something into it.

I think, obviously, into that, we thought, oh, well, November. He mentioned November and working with Hillary Clinton and at the ticket.

They are so far away from that at this point. I don't think you can read it as anything other than a call to unity, because that is Barack Obama's first and foremost task, is, whenever this is over, whenever she gets out, if she gets out, he needs to get her supporters back on board.

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

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

COOPER: David, should she be vice president?


COOPER: I mean, is it really a dream ticket?

GERGEN: I don't think it's a dream ticket.

But I must tell you that have evolved on this issue. I thought, in the beginning, it was unworkable, and that he really needed to have a clean hand. But the way this has evolved, she's done so well in these last primaries. I mean, since March 5, she's won 6.8 million votes. He's only won 6.2 million votes. She's finished much stronger than he has.

And there are a lot of women, you know, frankly, who feel not only disappointed, but feel somewhat robbed in this process. And I think that the -- I think he now needs to engage in serious conversation within his own team and with her about whether this is a workable idea or not. I think he needs her a lot more now than he did six weeks ago.

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


OBAMA: I emphasized to her what an extraordinary race that she's run, and said that there aren't too many people who understand exactly how hard she's been working.

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


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

BORGER: I would love it. Are you kidding me?


BORGER: We have already got them wired. Don't worry about it.


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

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

There are so many important jobs, secretary of defense, secretary of state, whatever she wanted, a Supreme Court nomination. So, I think that there's a lot of discussion. And this is just -- we're not even there yet, at the beginning.

GERGEN: But I agree. And, Gloria, I think that you also have to discuss, what would it be like in governing? Because it's one thing to have four months of glory and four years of hell.


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

GERGEN: And then there is this wild card question of Bill Clinton.

So, there are some difficult issues to talk through. But given the divisions in the party and given how intense the feelings are at this point, especially among a lot of Hillary supporters, who feel that the media did her in, as well as the process, and that, once again, a woman has fallen short, I think you have to seriously look at this.

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

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

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

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

I will tell you, in fact, that everyone around her says, when I say, is she going to take this to the convention, they will tell me no. This is inside the campaign and outside the campaign.

COOPER: Right.

CROWLEY: They say that she understands her role in the party. She won't ruin it -- Anderson.

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

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

We're also live at the Yearning For Zion ranch, where more than 400 polygamist kids could be returning at any moment -- that story coming up tonight.


COOPER: Still to come, more on our breaking news: Bill Clinton firing back, taking aim at a "Vanity Fair" reporter, and the national media, and Barack Obama. We're expecting audio of the former president's tirade any minute. We're going to bring that to you live when we get it as breaking news.

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

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, hundreds of FLDS children began returning home today to the Yearning For Zion compound in Eldorado, Texas. More than 440 children are being released from foster care, after they were seized from the ranch two months ago in a move the courts now call unwarranted.

But their return today not without conditions.

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

Hi, David.


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

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

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

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

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

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

HILL: Obviously, some very serious matters there.

David Mattingly, thanks.

COOPER: Well, coming up next: Just days after a visiting priest went on a rant about Hillary Clinton and race, Senator Obama cut ties with his church this weekend. The question is, is it all about politics, and is it too little, too late? We will take you up close and inside his decision.

Here's tonight's "Beat 360" photo: Senator Obama looking for a kaleidoscope while shopping in Rapid City, South Dakota.

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

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




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't say, we will come home in the fall, but we're not all Democrats, baby.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm upset because I came here all the way from Saint Louis.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm talking about putting Hillary Clinton on a train track, tying her to the train track in "TIME" magazine. Where's the outrage for that?


COOPER: "Raw Politics," raw emotions met head on this weekend over seating the Democratic delegates from Michigan and Florida.

Now, party officials were able to strike a deal, giving the delegates half-a-vote each. Reaction, as you saw there, was instant. It was heated in some cases, with some Clinton supporters screaming, and adviser Harold Ickes threatening to appeal.



HAROLD ICKES, SENIOR CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER: There's been a lot of talk about party unity. Let's all come together, wrap our arms around each other.

Hijacking four delegates, notwithstanding the flawed aspect of this, is not a good way to start down the path of party unity. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, tonight, Obama has 2,076 pledged delegates and superdelegates. Clinton has 1,917 -- 2,118 are needed to win the nomination.

So, from the numbers to the nomination, we have a lot to talk about tonight in tonight's "Strategy Session."

Joining us are Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committeeman and a superdelegate who supports Hillary Clinton -- he's also a CNN political contributor -- Tanya Acker, a Democratic strategist and Obama supporter, and Republican strategist Bay Buchanan.

Robert, we have heard tough pretty words from some Hillary Clinton supporters who were at that meeting. Can those wounds be healed?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: They can be. It's going to take time.

It's important to understand -- and I really feel -- I really feel for them, because it is scandalous that there were not revotes in Florida and in Michigan. But the reality is, because of that, there had to be a decision, a decision going to be made by the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee or wait for a convention floor fight.

Clearly, for party unity, it was better to be resolved the way it was. And I think Harold Ickes' threat certainly did nothing to help either move the process forward or unite the party or help -- I think it was a distraction from Clinton's candidacy, quite frankly.

COOPER: Does anything, though, short of giving Hillary Clinton a vice presidential seat, or at least offering it to her, satisfy her supporters?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, at the end of the day, I'm not sure that she wants it. I don't know that she will consider it.

But I think the more important point is, Hillary Clinton supporters are going to come on board based upon how Barack Obama reaches out to them. No one votes for vice president. You end up voting for president. And there are two segments we're talking about.

One are the political community. And they are going to unite behind Barack Obama with pride, as the nominee, if he is the nominee. And, likewise, his people would unite behind Hillary Clinton. The bigger issue is the constituency. There's 17 million who voted for Hillary Clinton. It's going to take a lot of work for Barack Obama to reach out to them.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

MALVEAUX: Pfleger gave a mea culpa Sunday.

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

MALVEAUX: But it was too late for Obama.

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

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

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

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politics and church should be something totally separate. If someone is preaching and then delivering the word, however they feel to deliver that word, that should be them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not going to take the church down by any stretch of the imagination.

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

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

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


COOPER: Suzanne, thanks very much. Obama may have quit Trinity Church, but not many think that it's going to go gently into that good political night. Just how much damage can it still incite for Obama in a race against John McCain if he becomes the nominee? "Digging Deeper," our panel, Robert Zimmerman, CNN political contributor and super delegate who supports Hillary Clinton; Tanya Acker, a Democratic strategist backing Barack Obama. And here from the Republican camp tonight is Bay Buchanan.

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

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

COOPER: Is it too late?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what we have here, as Robert said, it's a few months. Should have gotten a few months. But now, a few years ago is when he should have quit this church. Because this church, after 20 years, clearly it defines a good portion of who he is, what he's about, what his beliefs are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ACKER: There's no question. Trinity has become a distraction. But I will take issue with the fact that we can reduce everything that congregation was about to the sound bites we have heard. They're awful. They are terrible. And most people don't agree with them. Senator Obama doesn't agree with them, but it's not accurate to suggest that for 20 years all they were talking about were...

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

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

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

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

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

COOPER: Obama is going to try to -- Obama is going to try to redefine himself or reintroduce himself to the American people over the next couple of months. Do you think he can?

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

ZIMMERMAN: Let me put your mind at ease. With 81 percent of America saying they're going in the wrong direction and with George Bush's -- George Bush's approval rating at 28 percent, I think the country is ready for a change. They know who John McCain is. He's the third term of the Bush administration. Barack Obama reintroduces himself and represents change.

BUCHANAN: National security, what are the polls saying? They're saying that hey do not trust Barack Obama with national security, is the issue. ZIMMERMAN: John McCain and George Bush are not making America safer.

COOPER: No doubt the conversation will continue and the commercial break continues. It continues online. You can go to our Web site and join in. Tanya Acker, Robert Zimmerman, thanks very much. Bay Buchanan, as well.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

TUCHMAN: Quite a comment.

CLINTON: Aren't you glad that South Dakota gets to close out this primary season? TUCHMAN: But on this last 24 hours of primary campaigning, he didn't say it again, to voters.

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

TUCHMAN: Nor to me.

(on camera) Mr. President, is this still winnable?


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

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

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

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

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

(voice-over) Now another moment of truth may be arriving.

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

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


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

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

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

But this reporter got mixed in with the public and then asked him that question. We're not 100 percent sure if Bill Clinton knew he was being recorded with a recorder. But the fact is, if I can offer my humble opinion here, it doesn't serve any candidate or any surrogate for a candidate well to keep the news media. They are big people. This was the commander in chief, the leader of the free world. He can handle reporters. He saw cameras. He may have been more careful with what he saw. They just saw lots of people in the public and the reporter may or may not have had a recorder. He may have said something he didn't mean to say.

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

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

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


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


COOPER: We'll see. I'll learn.

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

HILL: Not a real world.

COOPER: I know.

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

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

And incredible pictures now being made available, showing last week's deadly tornado ripping through the bank in Parkersburg, Iowa. Seven were killed by that twister.

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




COOPER: Remarkable.

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

HILL: Finally.

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

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

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

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

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

Plus, was today a turning point in the Clinton campaign? Why many believe the endgame was already begun. Next on 360.


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




COOPER: Numbnuts? What?



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



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


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

HILL: I love the spelling bee. The greatest video all year.

COOPER: I also watched the National Geographic bee, which I didn't know they had. I think a couple weeks ago, Alex Trebec did it. happened to catch it. It was these kids knowing it's all geographical areas. It was incredible, rivers in obscure places. Very cool.

HILL: Something new to look for.

COOPER: These kids today.

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

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

HILL: Look up a river.

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

We're still waiting for the audiotapes of Bill Clinton's outburst on the campaign trail today. You can hear them tomorrow morning on "AMERICAN MORNING" if they're released.

And just ahead on 360, after five months, 41 primaries, 14 caucuses, is the Democratic race over? The math seems to say it is, and there are plenty of other signs tonight from the Clinton campaign that maybe it's time to bow out. All the "Raw Politics" ahead.


COOPER: Tonight, Hillary Clinton, is she on the brink of bowing out? We're going to bring you all the latest on Senator Clinton's campaign, and signs today that may indicate what Hillary Clinton is thinking.

But first, breaking news. Bill Clinton lashing out today on the trail in South Dakota. The words perhaps the toughest we've ever heard from the former president. He attacks the national media saying they have been attempting to, and I quote, "nail Hillary for Obama. It's the most biased press coverage in history."