CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Manhunt for Gadhafi; Flooding in Vermont; Lessons Learned

Aired August 29, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And thanks for joining us. I'm Gloria Borger. John King has the day off.

In Vermont tonight, hundreds of people remain cut off without power or a way out. Hurricane Irene has turned picturesque brooks and steams into life-threatening torrents. We'll get an update from the state's governor in just a few minutes.

But first we begin with breaking news and the international manhunt for Moammar Gadhafi and members of his family. Several hours ago, a senior rebel commander told CNN that one of Gadhafi's sons, Khamis Gadhafi died Sunday night in a battle in northwest Libya.

Also today, Algeria revealed it had allowed Gadhafi's wife, his daughter, two of his grown sons and some of his grandchildren to enter the country for what they call humanitarian reasons. CNN senior correspondent Nic Robertson is in Tripoli now. Nic, can you update us on the latest on this humanitarian so-called giving of them refuge in Algeria?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know one of the interesting things right now is that Algeria still recognizes Moammar Gadhafi as the leader of Libya. They haven't yet recognized the National Transitional Council, the rebels, as the legitimate rulers here now. So what happened in the early hours of the day is that Moammar Gadhafi's wife, daughter, two sons, showed up at the border and crossed over into Algeria.

And Algeria says it's taking them in on humanitarian grounds. Now the Libyan leadership, the National Transitional Council say they want them back. They want them to go on trial, and if Algeria doesn't send them back they say that they will consider this a -- an aggression against the will of the Libyan people. So clearly, this government -- this new emerging leadership here takes this very, very seriously -- Gloria.

BORGER: Sure. And since the family left, I mean what does this tell us about the rebel stronghold? I mean, these people managed to get out.

ROBERTSON: You know, there's a massive part of this country that the rebels really don't control, and I don't think anyone really knows even the rebels, even Gadhafi himself really knows exactly where a front line might be drawn and exactly who sides with who. The coastline here is where most of the population is. It's almost 1,000 miles long.

That's the sliver that the rebels have, the majority of right now. They're still fighting for (INAUDIBLE), but the south of the country, maybe 100 kilometers, 100 miles south of that -- south of the coast line, for hundreds and hundreds of miles into the desert further south and that really still has a lot of Gadhafi loyalists, tribes that are loyal to him. It's sparsely populated, so really, there's a lot of area where Gadhafi could be hiding and where there are still tribes loyal to him.

So it's far from done for the rebels. And it's interesting that they say they killed one of Gadhafi's sons, Khamis (ph), over the weekend. They have offered no evidence. They've said things like this before. It hasn't proven to be true. And now we actually know that the rebel leaders have admitted that they've lied intentionally, just a week ago that they captured three of Gadhafi's sons.

They lied intentionally to try and create fear among Gadhafi's loyalists. So I think when we hear statements that they killed one of Gadhafi's sons, I think we need to take that with a pinch of salt, if you will. It might be part of that sort of psychological operation against Gadhafi loyalists.

BORGER: And Nic, very quickly, I want to follow up on your exclusive yesterday about the Lockerbie bomber. You discovered him apparently in a coma. What are the rebels saying today about the possibility of extraditing him back to Scotland?

ROBERTSON: They're saying they're not going to do it, which is very interesting because the reason that they're giving publicly is because they're saying there's no extradition treaty with these countries and therefore, that's why they won't go ahead, but there may be another dimension, political dimension.

The Magarha (ph) tribe is hugely important for this government. They need to get that tribe on their side away from Gadhafi so that he can build this interim government, so to send Gadhafi back outside of the country would just send a signal to this tribe, a negative signal. So they want to send a positive signal. Get Magarha (ph) tribe on their side, help firm up their leadership here -- Gloria.

BORGER: Local politics. Thanks so much, Nic Robertson.

Gadhafi's grown son Hannibal is among the members of his family who entered Algeria today. As CNN's Dan Rivers discovered, he left behind evidence his family behaved like animals. A quick word of caution here, some of the images you're about to see are deeply disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Schwigo Mila (ph), a 30-year-old Ethiopian nanny who describes how she was horribly tortured by Hannibal's wife Aline.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She took me to a bathroom and she tied my hands behind my back and tied my feet. She taped my mouth. And she started pouring the boiling water on my head like this.

RIVERS: Her crime, she says she refused to beat Hannibal's toddler who wouldn't stop crying.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: Dan Rivers joins us now from Tripoli. Dan, that story is absolutely heartbreaking. It's horrifying. We know that Hannibal himself may be in Algeria. Do we have any idea what's happened to the wife who this woman said did this to her?

RIVERS: The short answer is no, we don't. As you say, we understand from the Algerians that Hannibal has crossed the border into Algeria, but his wife, Aline Skaf, a former Lebanese model, we just don't know where she is. (INAUDIBLE) as far we're aware has never been charged with anything. Now though we're seeing what apparently according to this Ethiopian nanny is the result of just the most barbaric torture for no reason at all.

BORGER: So what's been the international reaction to this story? Is there any way to prosecute this woman?

RIVERS: Well, there's been a phenomenal reaction from viewers, from people going on to the CNN.com website. We have been in touch with the State Department, for example, in the U.S. I think there is an enormous amount of interest in her story. People clearly want to do something about it and we're working to try and make that happen in as effective a way as possible. The problems here on the ground are obvious. This is still a sort of hostile environment in every sense. So hospitals are difficult here in (INAUDIBLE), but we are trying to get something done to help this lady.

BORGER: Hopefully, she can get some medical treatment. And Dan, you also got an exclusive look at the compound that was used by Gadhafi's sons. I want to play a little bit of that and then talk to you at the other end about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIVERS: This is the main sitting room of a party house we think was used by Colonel Gadhafi's sons, Hannibal and Whasim (ph). You can see it's full of the evidence of drinking. There's (INAUDIBLE) Dom Perignon Rose, vodka bottles -- what have we got here -- Johnny Walker Blue Label (ph). This obviously looks like it was a big, expensive TV system. I think it was (INAUDIBLE) TV system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: So what kind of impact will these pictures have?

RIVERS: Well, I mean, we spoke to the rebel commander that is in charge now of that compound. He said he was disgusted by what he saw, shocked as well. He said Colonel Gadhafi gave the impression that he spent his whole life living a modest existence in a Bedouin tent and then suddenly to come in and see that was obviously quite hard for them to take. But it's clear from what we have seen that the money was no object to the Gadhafi sons and family. Everything was the very best that money could buy. Incredible decadence and overindulgence in these beach houses. It wasn't just one.

There's a series of villas. We were told in one that there was at one point before the rebels arrived dozens of Swiss watches. We walked into another just as the rebels were rifling through you know literally hundreds of bottles of very expensive Crystal (ph) champagne. Quite incredible scenes and scenes that will be really difficult for the Libyan people to stomach given the long 42 years of suffering under Colonel Gadhafi's regime.

BORGER: One would think. Thank you so much, Dan Rivers for being with us tonight. Thank you.

And I'd just like to add this note that the nanny who was burned has received an outpouring of concern from our viewers. CNN is working with humanitarian organizations and medical officials to get help for her. As soon as that information is finalized we'll let you know how you can help. You can also check online at CNN.com/Impact.

And with us now from New York, we have CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend who advised President Bush and now is on the External Advisory Boards of the CIA and Homeland Security Department. In May of 2010, she visited high-ranking Libyan officials at the invitation of the Libyan government. And also with us is CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. He's here with me in Washington.

Let me start with you, Fran. The family is now or so we think part of it in Algeria. What does this tell us about whether Gadhafi's days are numbered?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Gloria, it's interesting to me that we find that they're in Algeria because it was CNN that reported about a week ago that they had attempted to flee to Tunisia where Tunisian opposition who are now in control refused to accept them. Look, this I think all is part of Gadhafi's exit from the scene, if you will.

There's no question he wanted to find -- he clearly was looking to find safe haven for his family before there was some confrontation he had to deal with, with the rebels himself. And the hunt is on for him, but it becomes frankly less imperative for Gadhafi to flee now that he's got his family or a good portion of his family out of harm's way.

BORGER: So do you think he's preparing for martyrdom?

TOWNSEND: I do. I mean look he has said from the beginning, it's not what I think -- I mean he has said from the beginning his preference is to die and have his blood spill on Libyan soil. And so I absolutely think this is all part of his preparation plan before he has to confront that.

BORGER: And Peter, let me ask you, does it matter in the long run if Gadhafi is actually found, tried or killed?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure it matters, but I mean the example of Iraq is a little sobering in the sense that you know capturing him and then trying Saddam was obviously very important to a lot of the Iraqi people. But it didn't end the insurgency -- quite the opposite. In fact the insurgency gathered steam and clearly there are you know Gadhafi sympathizers. I mean I'm sure Gadhafi has planned like Saddam did for some kind of insurgency to kind of follow his fall from power. So even if Gadhafi is taken from the scene, there are still people, enough people identify with his regime that Libya is likely to have some kind of civil unrest for a long time.

BORGER: And Fran let me ask you this. Is bringing Gadhafi to justice a rebel decision or is it a NATO decision and what is justice (ph)?

TOWNSEND: Well, in the first instance, it will be a rebel decision; the National Transition Council is the governing, if you will, body for the moment. And Libya remains a sovereign country and so if he comes into their control, it will be an NTC decision. Of course if so some reason there was NATO support, you must expect that they will consult NATO and probably the United States, given the level of U.S. support.

BORGER: Well, and let me -- let me ask you this, Peter. You know given the fact that Libya is on the edge right now, does this validate the Obama/NATO strategy because it's clear that the rebels are doing quite well? They haven't gotten Gadhafi, but they're winning.

BERGEN: I think it does surely. I mean particularly from an American national security perspective not a single American soldier has died. This is similar to the Kosovo intervention. This is done without a great deal of blood and treasure on our part and I mean the results speak for itself. There were a lot of naysayers at the beginning. It seemed to take a long time.

But it, you know these things don't happen overnight. And, you know, the Bosnia intervention took at least around three months. So it was to be expected that this was not going to be something where you just overthrow the regime immediately.

BORGER: But Fran, what's your view of this? Did people get a sense early on that Gadhafi was going to go quicker and is that a problem politically for the president?

TOWNSEND: I think as long as he goes it's not a political problem for the president. I mean I think there was an expectation, Gloria that he would go quicker. And it -- but it took NATO a little while. I mean if anyone has got some sort of bruises from the engagement, it's NATO.

NATO really -- it really took NATO a while to get their sort of rhythm down. And their increased bombing campaign really helped the rebels ultimately to succeed. And so I do think that in the end, as long as Gadhafi is gone, the president's policy is a success.

BORGER: And Fran, I -- you have met him. I have to ask you what you think he's got cooking in his own mind now that his family is out. We talked about martyrdom, but is there any escape you think planned or you think he's there until the finish?

TOWNSEND: I actually take him at face value on this. I think he's planning to be there to the finish. I think his family is not at all signed on to that. I don't think -- I think the sons you have seen the sort of luxury that they have lived in themselves. They are not as sort of tough nor as crazy as Gadhafi himself. And so the real question in my mind is will the sons try to flee? You know one comment, Gloria, real quick on the nanny.

That -- the horrific injuries that she suffered, this is not an isolated incident. Remember one of Gadhafi's sons and his wife were taken into custody and charged in Switzerland, which caused a big conflagration and that again was because they had abused a nanny, so this is not new conduct. This horrific conduct is one -- part of a pattern.

BORGER: OK, thank you so much, Fran and Peter.

And there's another developing story tonight and that one is in Vermont where the state's governor is warning people to brace for more flooding and more loss of life. We'll speak with Governor Peter Shumlin up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: In Vermont tonight, three people are confirmed dead in the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. A little bit ago, the state's Emergency Management Agency warned that even though the floodwaters have receded from levels we saw yesterday, most rivers and streams remain above normal levels and are still quite dangerous.

With us on the phone is Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. Thanks so much for being with us. We know you're quite busy. First of all, Governor, can you give us an update on whether the waters are finally receding?

GOV. PETER SHUMLIN (D), VERMONT (via phone): Well, they are from the smaller tributaries, but our major rivers which they flow into are still rising, so we have our challenges ahead.

BORGER: I understand that this afternoon you spoke with the president. Can you tell us what you asked him for?

SHUMLIN: Well, I should tell you the president reached out to me. He's just been extraordinary as has his entire team. He's going to dispatch his director of FEMA up here tomorrow. Secretary Napolitano has been in constant contact with us. Craig Fugate will be here in the morning, but really what he said is Governor, I want to do whatever I can do to help Vermont dig out from this -- BORGER: But what do you need, Governor, right now, because you have people who are isolated in small communities. So what do you need from the federal government?

SHUMLIN: Well, the biggest thing we need right now is resources bigger than ourselves. We're kind of self-reliant up here in Vermont, self-sufficient, and we don't ask for much, but we're at a time where we need resources in terms of water, food, engineering help immediately so that we can get water systems and sewer systems and electric systems back up and running. We have about 11 communities who are totally isolated. You know we continue to struggle with huge challenges. We just got absolutely whacked by the flooding.

BORGER: When you say totally isolated, you mean without any communication, you don't know whether people are sick, you don't know whether they're injured?

SHUMLIN: Well no, we're in there. We have a Red Cross and FEMA is on the ground.

BORGER: Yes.

SHUMLIN: But the challenge is that in many of the smaller communities they can't get out if they need to, to hospitals or other things without helicopters. We don't have very many in Vermont.

BORGER: And there is also a missing person, I gather, in Vermont. Has that changed --

SHUMLIN: Well, you know, this is the toughest part is that as you probably know, we lost one woman on the first day of the flood in Wilmington, Vermont. Today, we found two other individuals in Rutland, who worked for the city of Rutland. I should say we found one, and we're searching for the other. We had a young -- a man die in Ludlow who drowned there. So we are at three confirmed deaths and we are searching for a fourth individual.

And these are just devastating stories that break your heart. The other challenge we have is just the amount of infrastructure that we've lost. I mean, covered bridges, we have lost cemeteries, businesses, houses. You know whole communities are struggling to stay afloat here in terms of the kind of losses that we're experiencing. So it's really been a tough, tough whack for us here in Vermont.

BORGER: Well, do you have any idea the kind of economic damages it's going to cause your state?

SHUMLIN: You know, we're still in crisis management.

BORGER: Right.

SHUMLIN: I'm trying to save lives and keep people -- get people to safety. We have evacuated our entire state hospital as an example, it's under water. Much of the functions of the state government are under water at our complex in Waterbury. We're evacuating seniors and low-income Vermonters from mobile homes and other areas. And we are just trying to get them to safety. So we'll be doing the financial assessments in the coming weeks, but right now we're still in crisis mode.

BORGER: And I have to ask you one last question Governor; did you expect it to be this bad?

SHUMLIN: You know, in fairness, we were warned that it would be this bad. We were told by the Weather Service that we were going to get the eye of the storm and we did. So we prepared for the worst and hoped for the best and frankly we got delivered the worst. But, you know, the National Weather folks told us four days out that Vermont was going to get the eye. It's just that the rest of the nation wasn't paying attention. Our Emergency Management people did an extraordinary job making preparations.

We set up obviously shelters throughout the state. We had our water teams, high water equipment distributed across the state in anticipation that we'd be whacked everywhere and you know we were right. But -- so I would say that we did expect it. We hoped it would change, but we knew it was coming.

BORGER: OK. Thanks so much, Governor, for being with us. We know it's a very difficult time for you and the state of Vermont --

SHUMLIN: Well thanks for all your sympathy. We deeply appreciate it up here in the "Green Mountain" state.

BORGER: Good luck.

And with all the attention on Hurricane Irene, it's hard to believe that today marks six years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in the Gulf Coast. Next, I'll ask James Carville and Mary Matalin, have we learned anything --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: Six years ago today Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans was not ready. Today at the White House FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was asked how the lessons learned from Katrina influenced the response to Hurricane Irene. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: We can't wait to know how bad it is before we get ready. We have to go fast. We have to base it upon the potential impacts. That's why we look at these forecasts we get from the Hurricane Center and we make the decisions based upon what the potential impact can be. If you wait until you know how bad it is, it becomes harder to change the outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: And with us now from New Orleans, Republican strategist Mary Matalin and Democratic strategist James Carville, they're both CNN contributors. Thanks to both of you for being here.

James, you heard Craig Fugate. Did we learn the lessons of Katrina do you think from looking at Irene?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well yes, I mean, Irene and Katrina are really two, both separate kind of events in their own way, but certainly we learned some lessons in terms of preparedness. But the big thing is, is our flood protection is substantially better here. We're still not where it needs to be (INAUDIBLE) get too complicated here in terms of the pumps, but we're significantly better than we were on August 29th, six years ago.

And I think in about another four years we're going to be in pretty good shape here. But you wouldn't want to have a catastrophic engineering failure again like we had in 2005. That's very hard to prepare for. But, you know, I think that, you know, I think they have learned a lot, sure it had to help.

BORGER: Mary, presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas said that the nation would be much better off without the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I want you to listen to what he said about FEMA and then we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: FEMA is not a good friend of most people in Texas because all they do is come in and tell you what to do and can't do. You can't get in your houses and they hinder the local people. And they hinder volunteers from going in. So there's no magic about FEMA and more people are starting to recognize that, because they're a great contributor to deficit financing and quite frankly they don't have a penny in the bank.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Mary, is he right about FEMA?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He makes a number of points. What he didn't make there but is a valid one is about their insurance capacity. We should not be insuring irresponsibility. Insurance is about rationalizing risks. He makes that point. He makes a larger point about the cost of FEMA, but I think most Americans would say that disaster relief, recovery and rebuilding is a function of government. You could get economies of scale.

Does it break down on the ground? Yes, it does. Is it better when the local first responders and the state responders are working in collaboration with FEMA before, after and working into the future? We're still working with FEMA six years after the fact here. So a lot depends on the local relationships, but and I'm a very small government conservative as you know, Gloria --

BORGER: Yes.

MATALIN: -- but FEMA is a -- I think is a legitimate function of the federal government in collaboration and not to be interfering with the first response to a national disaster.

BORGER: But, you know, James, Mary raises an interesting point, which is you have to figure out way to pay for disaster relief. And the number two man in the House, Eric Cantor, said, and I quote, "Those federal monies are not unlimited and what we have always said is we offset that which has already been funded."

So, he's saying you've got to go dollar for dollar here and off set it. What do you think?

CARVILLE: Again, Eric Cantor has been think we'll offset the cost of loss, but in any rate, without getting into that, disasters are a part of life. And we've always had earthquakes, we've had hurricanes, we've had tornadoes, we've had anything. We have had floods. Look at the great Mississippi River flood of 1927. Look at what the people have gone through in Vermont right now.

And you live in a big country, you have big risks that are in that. Great nations are able to deal with these things and deal with them on a fairly regular basis. I don't buy the fact that this country is unable to respond. We have a disaster. We have a huge earthquake in the Los Angeles Basin, which is a real possibility. God knows what that would entail then.

You've obviously have to do everything you can. We can't deny the fact that we live in a big country and our country is subject to risk. That's just part of the way it is. We have to deal with it. That's what great nations do.

BORGER: Mary, I want to ask you, because both of you are involved in the community there in New Orleans. You moved there after Hurricane Katrina. What advice do you have to people who are trying to recover from an event like Hurricane Irene, given what you have seen in New Orleans?

MATALIN: That -- well, the first piece of advice would be the one that governors across the East Coast were making. When they tell you to evacuate, get the hell out of there. They're not kidding about that.

The second piece of advice I think people understand since Katrina is there is an element of personal responsibility. We see these things coming. Don't rush out to the grocery store at the last minute. People should be prepared if you live in an area like this, you should have water and flashlights and everything that you need to take care -- and James' favorite, ice chest. James wrote a great piece on CNN.com about the kinds of things you can do to be prepared.

But at the end of the day, before any element, any level of government can get to you, your neighbor, you should be in a position to help your neighbor and in your neighborhood. That's the very first line of defense.

BORGER: James, what about the rebuilding process? Even psychologically when you see your possessions destroyed, maybe your business destroyed, how -- what advice would you give to people to cope?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, look at what's happened here. We still -- we obviously -- our recovery is uneven. But it's even -- there's more good than bad. Let's admit that it's uneven, there's more good than bad that's going on here.

And I think one of the things that we learned is, this is a little bit like you have a child who has a near-death experience and all you want to do is like hug that child and be close to that child. And, you know, you threat them equally, but you're going love that one even more. And I think people here it's a real sense of pride and what's been accomplished here -- is a real sense of we still have our city. We have our culture and we have our way of life. We want to relish it and enjoy and participate it in more than ever. I think you have that.

I'll just make one case in terms of preparedness. If you do anything, listen to CNN contributor, General Russel Honore. He knows more about this than anybody and he's very smart on these things. When you see something coming, tune in to CNN and listen to what General Honore has to say. That's my advice to you.

BORGER: Thanks so much to James and Mary. James will be sticking around with us for another segment in a few minutes. But thanks to both of you.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

BORGER: And we'll head back overseas in a moment. Serious pro- democracy demonstrators who have been risking their lives for months are trying a new tactic, one that worked in Libya.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: Syria's crackdown on dissent cost its leaders an important friend today, Turkey's president says his country has, quote, "lost its confidence in Syrian leader Bashar al Assad." As the chorus of international criticism grows, Syria's demonstrators are trying something new.

For the first time, they're appealing for foreign protection.

CNN's Ivan Watson is watching the developments from Istanbul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gloria, the protesters have been out in the streets in Syria for more than 5 1/2 months despite a government crackdown that has claimed more than 2,200 lives, according to the United Nations. And now, the demonstrators, some of them, have started to adopt a new strategy.

Take a look at these videos. It shows some Syrian protesters clapping and chanting that people demand international protection. And in another video, you can see them holding up signs that say we need international protection. This is a sharp change in the past. The Syrian protesters have specifically said they do not want any type of Libya-style foreign military intervention. And, in fact, one prominent Syrian opposition group has come out with the statement saying it totally opposes any type of foreign military intervention or armed resistance inside, saying this would erode the popular international support and the moral high ground that the Syrian revolution has enjoyed thus far.

Meanwhile, growing pressure from foreign governments, neighbors of the Syrian regime here in Turkey. The Turkish president coming out and saying he has lost all confidence in his former Syrian ally.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. ABDULLAH GUL, TURKEY: We have reached a point where anything would be too little too late. Frankly, I would say that we have lost our confidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Turkey is joined by the Arab League, which is also criticized the ongoing violence in Syria which claimed at least five more lives in one province according to opposition reports. But even Syria's closest allies, Iran and the Shiite Lebanese movement Hezbollah, while voicing ongoing support for the regime, they too have said it's time for Bashar al Assad to also carry out reforms and listen intently to some of the demands of the Syrian people. Signs that they too -- these close allies -- are concerned about the bloody direction this country is taking.

Back to you, Gloria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: And "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is coming up at the top of the hour.

Anderson is here with the preview.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Yes, Gloria. In 20 minutes on "360," we are on flood watch. Millions of Americans right now continuing to feel the effects from Irene.

Flooding remains a major concern in a couple of states tonight. As you know, Vermont was particularly hard hit. Look at the bridge washed over there, water pouring over. We're going to head to Vermont live for latest.

We'll also speak to a reporter who is trapped in a town in Prattsville, New York, as that small town was devastated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGAN CRUZ, YNN REPORTER/PRATTSVILLE, N.Y. (via telephone): In Prattsville earlier, when the flood first started happening yesterday, I'm telling you, the water -- it's like an established community. It wasn't even there. That's how bad it was. It was all under water.

So, when we tried to figure out how we were going to get out, everybody laughed at us. Honestly, when we here at the Red Cross shelter, they were like -- they said there's no way out. All the surrounding roads are flooded. And the power is out.

So, it's kind of too dangerous to drive through, so we decided to stay at the Red Cross shelter and come down here again this morning.

COOPER: They're staying another night. And we'll tell you what it's like for residents there right now.

Also tonight, we're following the revolution in Libya as pockets of fighting raged on. Several of Gadhafi's family members have escaped to Algeria. We'll tell who they are and how they did it. The question of course for me is where is Gadhafi? We'll talk with reporters Arwa Damon and Nic Robertson in Tripoli for the latest on the fighting.

Plus, an exclusive from Nic, he tracked down that Lockerbie bomber, now apparently on his death bed. We'll ask Nic about the conversation he had with the man's family.

Plus, new reports today about polygamist leader and convicted child rapist Warren Jeffs. He fell ill, was rushed to the hospital. We'll tell you why he's now in a coma. He looks very different. A very different looking on Warren Jeffs than we saw even just a couple of weeks ago when he was on trial. Even behind bars, his followers however remain faithful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Warren Jeffs may be in prison for the rest of his life, but in the border towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, where thousands of Jeffs' followers live, he is still the prophet.

(on camera): Do you believe the evidence they showed the jury?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe the evidence is ill-gotten and manufactured. That's what I have to go by.

TUCHMAN: So you believe that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that the government can do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Gary Tuchman's report tonight on "360" at 8:00 p.m., also at 10:00 p.m. And the "Ridiculist" returns. All that at the top of the hour, Gloria.

BORGER: All right. Thanks so much, Anderson. We'll be watching. And a new CNN poll confirms a new front runner in the Republican presidential race. We'll tell you who that is in just a minute. And I'm going to ask James Carville if it's bad news for the Democrats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: Rick Perry is on top in a new CNN/ORC poll. Republicans and independents lean to the GOP. The previous front-runner, Mitt Romney, is a distant second.

Here to go over the numbers, CNN contributors Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative political blog, redstate.com. And Democratic strategist James Carville is with us again.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

Let's take a look at this poll, because it's kind of interesting. We have -- we polled Republicans choice for a nominee in 2012, without Giuliani and Sarah Palin in the race. And you see here, Perry 32 percent, Romney way behind, 18 percent, Bachmann 12 percent, Gingrich 7 percent, Paul, 6 percent -- and on down the line.

So, let me start with you, Erick. Is there a new front-runner here and is his name Rick Perry?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Gloria, it's shaping up for that way. I'm still not convinced yet. I think we need to see a few more weeks of polling. This is a big bounce coming out of his announcement in Charleston and then through New Hampshire and Iowa.

But he hasn't been in any debates yet. I would like to see his performance in the debates that's where things got held up with Fred Thompson and Wes Clark when they came out with big bounces and then sort of fizzle. I think we've already seen he's got more staying power than Wes Clark in this and more energy than Fred Thompson. But I'd like in three debates coming up, a CNN debate, a FOX debate, and NBC debate.

If he can weather those storms and stay on top, then, yes, he's definitely the front-runner and it's not a bounce.

BORGER: Well, James, I mean, clearly, this is a very unsettled Republican field. But is Rick Perry conceivably the guy that you as a Democrat might want to run against?

CARVILLE: Well, the Republicans are not really asking me. But yes, I think he would be fine. I mean, he's in Iowa saying that Social Security is unconstitutional and John Thune was in South Dakota saying the biggest question he gets is please don't cut my Social Security and Medicare. So, yes, I agree for that. I don't have a lot of say, I think Eric's analysis is right on. It is a pretty impressive bounce, there's three debates are up.

I think come early October, we're going to have a pretty good sense of just how strong that Rick Perry is. But I also think Eric would agree on this, I'm surprised that Romney is as weak as he is. I would have expected the race to be more tied right now.

And, by the way, our poll was just confirming. I have seen other polls that show the roughly same thing that we show. It's not just an outlier.

BORGER: Let me raise that to Eric about Mitt Romney. I was surprised also to see him being so weak. And this poll also shows that Perry has 37 percent of the Tea Party support. So, is that Romney's problem or is that evangelicals?

ERICKSON: You know, I think Romney's problem is across the board. I hear a lot of reporters say that Romney is going to hold on to his natural constituency, but I still don't know what his natural constituency is. His basic claim to fame right now is that he was a jobs guy and Perry was a career politician. But he got elected in 1994, he'd be the career politician.

BORGER: Isn't he establishment? Isn't he just the establishment?

ERICKSON: Well, yes, he is the establishment guy to a degree, but he's the establishment guy by default because Republicans typically elect the guy who they perceive as the front-runner. The big exception to that was 1980 when the establishment guy was George H.W. Bush and he fell to Reagan.

I just -- you know, I'm not surprised because if you look at all the polling consistently, Romney has been capped out at a third of Republican voters and he's benefited by so many people being in the race. But as it starts to consolidate, I think it works against him.

BORGER: Well, I want you guys to take a look at this poll we did and we looked at evangelical or born-again Republicans and their preference by candidate. Again, you can see Perry very much in the lead there with 39 percent. Romney 15 percent. And if you ask me, that's a lot among evangelicals for Mitt Romney.

But the surprise here is Bachman behind there at 11 percent.

James, what does that say about her staying power with the evangelical community? Is she losing those people?

CARVILLE: They don't think she can win. And they think Perry can win. They're pretty savvy politically. You give them a choice between two people.

And Perry plays to them. I mean, they had his prayer rally. And you he says he's got problems with evolution and all of the stuff that's music to their ears and he's out there with them, with Hagee and all of these people. So, it's kind of paying dividends and they concluded he's a better candidate for the general election than Bachmann is. Be my guest.

BORGER: But, Eric, you know, history tells us while evangelicals are important in early primaries like Iowa and South Carolina, they don't generally get their candidates nominated. Could that be different this time?

ERICKSON: Well, yes. You know, Gloria, I think if we look after Labor Day, I think it is that whoever is the front runner for the Republicans after Labor Day has been the nominee for every election since 1964 other than in 2008 when it was Giuliani with McCain at his heels by a couple of percentage points. Let's see after Labor Day. It may very well be Perry.

But I think a lot of the polling of evangelicals and people who consider themselves born again to a degree just misplaced or displaced by the fact that a lot of these people, they really, they care about fiscal issues, too. And they are looking at a guy like Romney and Romneycare in Massachusetts and other things and they are thinking he's not our guy. And they look at Michele Bachmann and they wonder -- can she beat Obama? And right now, I think the question is, they're asking themselves not who's the most evangelical of these candidates, but who do I think can beat Barack and Obama and a lot of these people identify with Rick Perry in that way.

BORGER: James, you've run campaigns and forget about Perry on the issues. But just as his performance as a candidate, what do you -- I know it's hard to do that -- but just his performance as a candidate, how do you think he's been so far in this first couple of weeks?

CARVILLE: Well, I think he's been a good candidate for the evangelicals. I think he's been a good candidate for Iowa and South Carolina voters. I don't think he's been that good for independents or potentially a few Democrats that Republicans generally like to do. And so, right now, he's doing pretty good on his side of the fence and Romney is in a little bit of a jam here because he's got to figure out a way to attack him and it's going to be hard to do it.

And I think the Democrats are not going to attack Perry until this thing is over. I think that most Democrats I talked to are perfectly happy to let him have the bit in his mouth and run.

BORGER: OK. Both of you fellows stay with us because up next, we're going to talk about Michele Bachmann and how she's brought God into the presidential race. Her campaign said it was just a joke, but there are lightning bolts coming from the political left.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: Politicians attempts at humor, whether sharp or lame, can have some serious implications. Here's the latest example: Michele Bachmann's joke during a town hall in Florida. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Washington, D.C., you'd think by now they get the message. An earthquake, a hurricane --

(LAUGHTER) BACHMANN: Are you listening? The American people have done everything they possibly can. Now, it's time for an act of God and we're getting it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: And we're back with James Carville and Erick Erickson.

So, James, was that a joke? I mean, the left is going crazy over this.

CARVILLE: The left are making fools of themselves. Of course, it's a joke. And she says enough stupid things and does enough stupid things that we'd have to make things up.

You know, if we start taking jokes out of context, then we're just going to end up with sanitized, boring -- Mitt Romney is going to run for everything in the whole world. I just think that and I looked and said, oh, wow. Look at this. That's my girl, Michele, making a fool of herself again. What is this?

And then I called a couple of my friends who are not inclined to agree with Michele Bachmann by any stretch and they said the exact same feeling I had. And we got to stop this. You know, make fun of all you want at something as she says that's legitimately wacky like Concord or Lexington in New Hampshire.

But this woman was obviously joking. The crowd knew she was joking. You know, you get on the campaign trail and these people get tired. They want to a little levitate. They'd like a get a little laugh every now and then. She's entitled to that.

BORGER: You know --

CARVILLE: And left wing barbs or left-leaning barbs don't need to make things up this. Plenty of real stuff out there.

BORGER: You know, it's low hanging fruit. It's an anti- Washington joke.

ERICKSON: It is a joke, but you know, there's a larger point here. I really wish a lot of folks in the media would actually forget about the politicians and the media need to stop talking about religion. It's one of the things that has incited this issue on Michele Bachmann. This Ryan Lizza column from "The New Yorker" about Michele Bachmann's faith which in turn Bill Keller said influenced his opinion on the Republican presidential field.

I read Lizza's column that a lot of these left wing blogs were linking to comments about Michele Bachmann and he got very basic facts about Christian theology wrong, very basic terminology wrong, mischaracterizing what a lot of Christian mainstream, Christian theologians have said. This is going to go on for the next year and we've got a nation that I think 70 percent of people according to Barna say they are Christian and you got a media talking about Christians and getting the basic facts and the theology wrong. And it's causing things to whip up into frenzies where there shouldn't be ones like this.

BORGER: Well, James, you know, in the long-term, can this backfire for the Democratic Party? Which after all doesn't just want to be a secular party and also wants to have a bit of sense of humor. Quickly.

CARVILLE: You know, I read one of these things. I'm sorry, I think the theology (INAUDIBLE) is weird and all that's done, and whatever his name is. I think it's weird.

ERICKSON: It may be but he got the theology wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: It didn't fit in anything that I believe. It certainly didn't fit anything that the Catholic Church believes. And I think the Lutheran Church that she belonged to until the time she decided to run for president decidedly anti-Catholic theology in it. But having said, I think that she was I'm not a Michele Bachmann fan.

BORGER: I know that.

CARVILLE: I think she was joking. I think she was entitled to crack a joke.

BORGER: OK, James, that's going to have to be --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: -- are wrong.

BORGER: OK, Erick, that's going to have to be the last word, I guess you got it.

And that's all from us tonight here at J.K, USA.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.