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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
New Search for Etan Patz; Trayvon Martin Murder Case; Overzealous Prosecution?; Developments in Prostitution Scandal
Aired April 19, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight with breaking news.
A cold case, a very cold case suddenly heating up in a very big way. The growing possibility that after 33 years Julie and Sydney Patz will finally know what happened to their son, Etan. He was the first taken child to become a household name, a household face. People at breakfast tables around the country saw a picture of him, the first of its kind, on their morning milk carton.
Etan was 6 years old when he vanished back in 1979. In 2001, he was declared legally dead. His remains never found. Tonight, though, just blocks away from his home in Manhattan's Sojo district, police and FBI agents believe they're on to something.
Susan Candiotti is there for us. She's got the latest breaking developments.
Susan, I understand, you have some new information tonight about what led investigators to that building. What do you know?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I do. Law enforcement sources tell me that they came here based on new and old information that led them to a man, a man who is now in his mid-70s. But at the time he was a carpenter and part-time handyman.
And I'm told that he had contact with this little boy in his basement, had befriended him and had given the little boy a dollar. Now we don't know the circumstances about how this came about, but in fact this information led authorities to bring in a cadaver dog into that basement which picked up a human scent. That in turn brought -- made them bring in a team of investigators and they have been searching this basement all day long.
COOPER: So they're basically at this point tearing that basement apart, I imagine?
CANDIOTTI: They are. And in fact they also don't have this man in custody, but they know who he is and where he is and they are in contact with him. They are using jackhammers. They have set up the basement into grids, cement floor. They've already taken out part of the back wall and they plan on being here for five straight days.
Any evidence they collect, including the dirt on the floor, all that forensic evidence is being sent to the FBI lab at Quantico, Virginia.
COOPER: And just explain how close this is to where Etan lived and where -- he was going to the bus stop for the first time to take the bus by himself. Where is this basement in proximity to all of that?
CANDIOTTI: That's a very important point because he and his parents live just half a block down the street in this direction and it's also about a half a block in the other direction, the bus stop where he disappeared. So this red brick building that you see over my shoulder is right smack in the middle.
COOPER: And is it known -- I mean did authorities search that basement 33 years ago when he disappeared? Because I mean this was a huge story. I remember, I grew up in New York City, I was a little kid. I mean this changed everything for so many little kids growing up. Did they not search that basement back then?
CANDIOTTI: Boy, that's a great question. I've been trying to get the answer to that. All I'm told is that it did figure in to the investigation. Now this is an area in that basement where I'm told there were a lot of sexual liaisons that would go on. This was very popular with artists at the time, nothing like it as now, upscale area of Sojo, with designer shops and restaurants. It wasn't anything like that back then.
But -- so they're not telling us exactly whether they looked down in the basement, only that they were aware of the building and had looked at it.
COOPER: And has there been any statement from Etan's parents?
CANDIOTTI: We've reached out to them, Anderson, but they're saying that they don't want to talk about things right now. However, we did speak with an author of a book, Lisa Cohen, had written extensively on the subject and had talked to the parents today. And she said that they told her that they're just watching and waiting. They have been through this for more than 30 years and they're just waiting to see what's going to happen next.
And you know, Anderson, we also pulled up this original wanted poster that shows the little boy way back when. And you know what, when you look at him now, you have to stop and remember that if he had lived, he would have been close to 40 years old today.
COOPER: Yes. It's just remarkable. Let's hope his parents get the privacy they want until the results come in.
Susan, appreciate it.
If Etan Patz' remains are recovered, if any human remains are recovered, if they Etan's, nobody is pretending it won't be anything but a horrible ending to the worst story that any parent can ever imagine. At least, though, after so many years the Patzs will know exactly what became of their child and police may soon have new evidence. In a moment you're going to hear from two parents whose children were abducted, Ed Smart and Erin Runnion.
First, though, Tom Foreman with how we got here.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The baffling disappearance of the 6-year-old boy electrified the whole country in 1979. Etan was walking alone to his bus stop for the first time that day. He was eager for school. The distance was only two blocks. And suddenly he was gone. With few clues or witnesses to shed light on what had happened.
His face was one of the first of a missing child to ever appear on a milk carton, a national manhunt ensued, and yet even as the leads led nowhere, public awareness grew about the whole problem of missing kids. Five years later, President Reagan signed legislation which led to the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
ERNIE ALLEN, CEO, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN: Etan was the face of the movement. In many ways he was the first missing child. He was America's missing child.
FOREMAN: Ernie Allen is president and CEO and has followed the Patz' case for years.
(On camera): Did it make things better or worse for missing children?
ALLEN: It's bad in that it created in many ways too much fear. I think it was good in that it awakened the nation and it made parents think that we couldn't anymore engage in benign neglect and assume that the world was a better place.
FOREMAN: Etan was officially declared dead back in 2001 as part of a civil lawsuit filed by his family against a drifter, Jose Ramos, who was long suspected in the boy's disappearance. A judge found Ramos responsible for the death and ordered him to pay the family $2 million.
STANLEY PATZ, FATHER OF ETAN PATZ: This man stole Etan's future and he should pay.
FOREMAN (voice-over): The parents made it clear their lawsuit was never about the money, but justice.
PATZ: Not at all. Not at all. And that's why we're standing here.
FOREMAN: Still Ramos has never paid the money or been criminally charged in the Patz case. He is currently finishing up a 20-year sentence in a Pennsylvania prison for molesting another boy and is set to be released later this year. Whether the family will know anything more about Etan's disappearance by then depends, as it has for 30 years, on the slow, steady work of investigators following a long, cold trail.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: It bears repeating, whatever happens next won't bring any good news. Won't even bring what some call closure, although there really is never such a thing, not even in the best of cases when a child comes home, as in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart, a parent never forgets the anguish, the anger, the waiting, the days, the weeks that turn into months and years of not knowing.
I spoke with Elizabeth Smart's father, Ed Smart, tonight. Also by phone with Erin Runnion whose daughter Samantha was kidnapped and killed almost 10 years ago.
COOPER: Ed, I grew up in New York City. I well remember when Etan Patz disappeared 33 years ago. Do you think this was really the first major case that really kind of awoke the public to the danger of kids being taken and abducted?
ED SMART, FATHER OF RESCUED ABDUCTEE ELIZABETH SMART: You know, I think it probably completely changed the culture. You know, in the past it seemed like children were never brought up as being important enough to, you know, really highly publicize and make aware. And I'm sure it had a huge impact, especially being the first one to have his face out there on the milk cartons.
And really what has progressed to now the Amber alert. They realized that the public really is the greatest asset in finding children, the greatest resource, and, you know, I'm sure his life has had a huge impact on so many other children.
COOPER: Erin, Etan was walking to the bus stop for the first time when he was abducted. Your daughter was kidnapped while playing in your front yard.
In terms of -- I mean to be taken so close to home, for you, for Etan's parents, it must just add to the horror of it to know that it happened right in your home, right nearby.
ERIN RUNNION, MOTHER OF MURDERED GIRL, SAMANTHA RUNNION: Well, I think that's what's so terrifying to parents everywhere and that's why it's so important that we empower children to -- with safety skills to recognize and avoid and if necessary escape from those scenarios.
Yes, it -- I don't know if you can increase the trauma that is -- however, whatever the scenario was of a child being abducted. But for me personally, I know that I cannot fathom not knowing for 30 years where my baby was.
COOPER: Ed, your daughter, Elizabeth, was found only 18 miles from your home. I feel like in case after case we -- you know, of kids who have been taken, they're found really close by to where they were originally taken from. Are you surprised to hear that police are searching, I mean, in this neighborhood where Etan disappeared?
SMART: I'm not surprised at all. I think that so often it's really within a five-mile parameter. And you know, in Elizabeth's case, here she was within three miles of our house for several months and we couldn't find her. And I think this happens time and time again. I'm anxious to hear what brought the police to check out this lead and to do the work that they're doing, but I just -- I pray and hope that they find this -- the remains of this young man because the not knowing is worse than anything.
It's so painful. And, you know, we just pray that the family has some understanding or some knowledge of what has happened to their son and they are able to, you know, properly bury him and bring some kind of an end to the not knowing.
COOPER: Yes. Erin, what's your advice for parents out there, just to -- that they can do to protect their kids? I mean we feel like we know all the answers already, but this keeps happening and clearly the information hasn't gotten out to as many people as it should.
RUNNION: Well, I think the answer is that it's not enough to just tell -- tell your children what to do. You actually have to teach them how to do it. So, you know, practice drills, practice what you preach if you will and do role-playing exercises. Check out RadKIDS and look up RadKIDS.org and see if there's a program near you. If not, bring one to your community. Because nothing short of training children with real options is enough. I think every child deserves to be given realistic options to be safe.
COOPER: And Ed, do you agree with that?
SMART: Absolutely. Erin and I have been working to bring the RadKIDS program across the country. It's an eight to 10-hour curriculum that really teaches a child. You don't get any type of professional out there without them being trained and understanding. Talking is a starting point. But it's not enough. And when kids are trained and they know what their choices and their options are, they can formulate their own plan.
You know, previously we've had people say, well, that's a lot of responsibility to put on a child. And, no, it's not. It's a matter of giving them opportunity, knowing and empowering them, because those first few minutes when a child is facing crisis is when they need to know without question what they can move forward on. And once they're trained, they can instinctively respond to what they feel is going to help them the most and that can make all the difference in their lives.
COOPER: Ed Smart, appreciate you being with us. Erin Runnion as well. Thank you so much.
RUNNION: Thank you.
SMART: Thank you. COOPER: Let us know what you think about this. We're on Facebook, Google Plus, follow me on Twitter, at Andersoncooper. I'm tweeting tonight already about this. A lot more happening tonight.
New revelations in the Secret Service sex scandal that's overshadowed President Obama's trip to Colombia. That's next.
COOPER: Some breaking news tonight in the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman, who's charged with second-degree murder as you know in the teen's death, requested a private meeting with Trayvon Martin's family. That request was denied. The Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, joins us now live on the phone.
Mr. Crump, what can you tell us about how George Zimmerman reached out to Trayvon's family? He requested a meeting?
BENJAMIN CRUMP, TRAYVON MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: Yes, his attorney called, they requested a private meeting.
And, Anderson, it was a situation that we feel it may happen but not right now and that's because Sybrina is a Christian woman, and they're good people but we think Zimmerman's request at the time is very self-serving. It's 50 days later, with him having a bond hearing tomorrow, it seems to be very self-serving at this time. He never apologized in 50 days. He could have did it on his Web site.
He said a lot but didn't say I'm sorry. He never said it in the voice messages he left with his friends. And none of the three police or four police interviews did he ever say I was sorry. So at this time we just -- we question his motives.
COOPER: So you're saying it's self-serving. You think, what, he has an ulterior motive to somehow influence the court case?
CRUMP: Exactly. He's going up for bond tomorrow and we think that the timing of this is very questionable.
COOPER: Would -- if Sybrina and Trayvon -- and the rest of Trayvon -- Trayvon's father and the rest of the family agreed to meet with him, would -- do you think that would have any influence on the court case itself, on their desire, on Trayvon family's desire to see this through in the court system?
CRUMP: Well, I think right now the family is certainly focused on letting the wheels of justice turn, Anderson, and it's a situation where he comes now 50 days after killing their child and wants to say I'm sorry. He had so many opportunities to do that, but they are praying about it and it's one of those things that if it happens, it will be because Sybrina and Tracy are good people.
They really think it's self-serving at this time. And that is their belief, especially with him trying to get out of jail tomorrow.
COOPER: I think I know the answer to this next question, but as you said the bond hearing is tomorrow. Do you -- do Trayvon' family think that George Zimmerman should be released on bond?
CRUMP: Well, no, they don't to answer it simply. It's America. He has a right to a bond hearing. The judge after listening to both sides will make a decision. This is a nonbondable offense. However, the judge has discretion. But it's a serious charge, Anderson. It's a situation where on moral grounds, public safety grounds, and legal grounds we think it is best that he'd be kept without bond until these matters have concluded.
With that being said, the family respects the rule of law, whatever decision the judge makes. They also know very clearly, Anderson, that, you know, if it was reversed, would Zimmerman's family want to see Trayvon get out on bail while the criminal proceedings proceeded.
COOPER: There was a -- will Trayvon Martin's parents be in the courtroom tomorrow?
CRUMP: Yes, they will, Anderson. Special prosecutor Angela Corey and her staff, (INAUDIBLE) and others have requested and it is customary in these type matters when you have these serious charges to have the victims present in the courtroom. And because they requested it, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon's parents, will be present in the courtroom.
COOPER: The -- has the prosecutor -- has the state's attorney, have they shared with you, have they shared with Trayvon Martin's family the evidence that they have gathered thus far, the forensic evidence, you know, information about ballistics report, the trajectory of where the gun was, where Trayvon was, where George Zimmerman was, things that have been learned from the autopsy, things that ultimately they're going to give to the defense through discovery?
CRUMP: Well, what they did say, Anderson, is Miss Corey and Bernie both said that if they didn't think they could prove second- degree murder, they would not have charged him with second-degree murder. And so I've talked to them about different technical legal matters, but on the most part with the family that is what they've told them. They feel very confident in their case that they would be able to show that George Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder, of killing Trayvon Benjamin Martin.
COOPER: Benjamin Crump, I appreciate you calling with us tonight. Thank you very much.
CRUMP: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, people think George Zimmerman should get out on bond tomorrow and even some who don't have concerns about the second- degree murder charge against him. So far, and it's important to say so far, we have yet to see the evidence. The public has yet to see the evidence that Angela Corey believes will support a second-degree murder conviction. Forensic evidence, for instance. The allegation against her -- the complaints against her is that maybe she's overcharging in this case. There's some people who believe that. As Gary Tuchman found out, it's not the first time that she's faced such criticism.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This 12-year-old in the oversized inmate uniform is not a boy in the eyes of State Attorney Angela Corey. She declared that Christian Fernandez should be tried as an adult on a first-degree murder charge which carries the mandatory penalty upon conviction of life in prison without parole. He sits with adult inmates in court, is addressed as an adult by the judge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Fernandez, you have discussed with your attorneys your right to a speedy trial?
TUCHMAN: And for the first few weeks of his imprisonment, he sat in this adult jail in solitary confinement. The youngest person in Florida to be charged as an adult for murder. A judge did ultimately rule he could be held in a juvenile facility while still being tried as an adult. This is what Angela Corey said last year when he was arrested.
ANGELA COREY, SPECIAL ATTORNEY, FLORIDA'S 4TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT: And it will be a very dramatic, to say the least, sight to see a 12- year-old who looks like a 12-year-old up here in adult court. But we want the public to understand at this point we have no choice.
TUCHMAN: No choice? Many people vehemently disagree. Such as the man who had the state attorney job before her and decided not to run for re-election. Harry Shorstein was Angela Corey's boss.
HARRY SHORSTEIN, FORMER STATE ATTORNEY: No, I clearly think the decision was a travesty.
TUCHMAN: And then there's this man, the former president of the American Bar Association, the former president of Florida State University, and a current professor in the university's law school.
PROF. SANDY D'ALEMBERTE, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: This is off the charts in terms of overcharging in my judgment.
TUCHMAN: Christian Fernandez is accused of killing his 2-year- old brother, David, by pushing him twice into a bookshelf. He also broke his leg one time before. But all acknowledge that Christian had been abused for much of his life, particularly by his stepfather, who ended up committing suicide when he found out he was going to be arrested for that abuse.
And then there's the story of Christian's mother. She gave birth to Christian when she too was 12 years old. She was away when Christian assaulted his brother. When she came home and saw her 2- year-old was seriously hurt, she waited eight hours before getting medical attention. For doing that, she too is implicated in this case. She pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter, but her 12-year- old son got the far more serious charge. Listen to what Angela Corey said last year about why she charged the 12-year-old with no previous arrest record as an adult.
COREY: At what point do you step in and just come down hard so that you prevent a future murder. And that's how we felt in this case. If we don't intervene now and do the right thing and do the tough thing, whether people think, you know, it's the just thing to do because of his age, we have to protect the public from this young man.
TUCHMAN: Preventing a future murder. Angela Corey would not talk to us on camera, but a prosecutor who will try the case in court would, so I asked him about that comment.
(On camera): Was that an unfortunate choice of words?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't necessarily believe it was an unfortunate choice of words. I believe our consideration --
TUCHMAN: But does she have a crystal ball? How would you know you're preventing a future murder?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, some of the background and information in this case we cannot discuss.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): What about Angela Corey saying she is doing the tough thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our role as constitutional officers is not to be tough, it's to do what's right.
TUCHMAN (on camera): I know, but she said here we need to intervene now and do the right thing and the tough thing, whether people think it's the just thing to do because of his age, we have to protect the public. She's saying the opposite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No --
TUCHMAN: Are you saying I'm misinterpreting that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you're misinterpreting it. The tough thing that she's saying right there is the difficult decision that she had to make.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Angela Corey says she'd like to reach a plea bargain so Christian Fernandez doesn't spend his entire life in prison. But if there is no plea bargain, that could indeed happen.
SHORSTEIN: I think she wants to be our equivalent to the sheriff in Phoenix who keeps the people in tents in 110 degrees.
D'ALEMBERTE: I don't know of a single 12-year-old that's capable of forming the kind of intent that would be necessary to sustain a first-degree murder conviction.
TUCHMAN: Christian Fernandez's defense attorneys are working for free, and not wanting to anger the prosecution team, have decided not to comment for the story.
(On camera): When you sleep at night, are you comfortable with this decision?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I can go home, I can look my family, my 12-year-old in the face and feel comfortable that what we are doing in the prosecution of Christian Fernandez is the right thing.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, Jacksonville, Florida.
COOPER: Let us know what you think, we're on Twitter right now, @Andersoncooper.
Up next, new developments in the Secret service sex scandal, including what the cabbie saw.
COOPER: New developments tonight in the Secret Service prostitution scandal. Three service members have already lost their jobs over the alleged encounter on the president's trip to Colombia. More departures are expected by week's end.
Two revelations tonight from a taxi driver who allegedly drove the women in question around. Jose Pena telling our local affiliate they were not from Bordelos. He called them prepaid women, high-end call girls. He says the sex was not arranged in advance, saying they met the men by chance at a bar.
Joining us now is former CIA officer, TIME.com intelligence columnist, Robert Baer, also national security analyst and former Bush administration homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend.
You've been talking to one of your sources. Some of the agents didn't think the women were actually prostitutes.
FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: They didn't know, Anderson, that they -- that they had this encounter with these women at a bar. And --
COOPER: That's story they're telling.
TOWNSEND: Right. That's exactly right. The story that some of these agents have said is that they didn't know. Now, you could rightly question whether or not these trained investigators, if they -- but lots of drinking going on, and we just don't know if some of them not realized what the encounter was and is that what caused this dispute about the payment?
COOPER: Bob, there's been a lot of talk about prostitutes being in close proximity to sensitive information, security information inside the hotel. You say that's a real concern that should not be taken lightly. BAER: No, it shouldn't because you know, among other things they have got their identification pins, which allows them to pass through security, allows them to carry guns around the president.
Where were those pins? They have gotten encrypted Motorola radios. They have got identification that's easily stolen. You know, any of these visits, the White House is warned no fraternization with the locals.
It's a no-no. The embassy in Bogota is also warned about going to these clubs. They're sort of off limits. These guys arrived the same day, go out. This is prearranged. They go on a hotel bus.
This is not the Secret Service I know. I mean, these guys are really, really tough and good. And, you know, I hope it hasn't spread to the rest of the Secret Service, but this is clearly a transgression.
COOPER: Also, Fran, in a country with a lot of great things that happen in Colombia the last couple of years, the security situation is vastly improved.
But in Colombia, a country with major drug issues and a long history of this, for people who have access to sensitive information to be exposing themselves to women who may have connections to, you know, criminal networks, it raises all sorts of potential blackmail questions.
I mean, if this was an organized effort to -- which it doesn't seem to have been, but it could have -- you know, if it have been an organized effort by drug cartels to get connections in with the Secret Service.
TOWNSEND: And even if you put aside sort of the long-term potential consequences, if this had been an organized effort, as you say, to gather information, to understand how they -- how the Secret Service operates, it was at a minimum putting themselves at risk.
These guys were drunk, in possession of the sorts of materials that bob has outlined to you, and they had themselves in danger. Suppose one of these drug networks decided to use one of these girls to kidnap an agent.
We've seen that. That happened in Mexico with a DEA agent. So there are all sorts of potential dangerous consequences to the fraternization not to mention the drinking.
COOPER: And also Bob, we had the reporter on for the "New York Times." He talked to one of the women who got into the argument over the payment.
I mean, it just seemed monumentally stupid for this Secret Service agent to be arguing for a long period of time with this woman about payment. I mean, had he just paid her, I assume this thing would not have blown up as big as it has. BAER: Anderson, I think it's going to get worse than that. I understand that they had an argument with the hotel because the hotel at 6:30 in the morning, if you have an occupant then charges for two people in the room and how would they explain that on their TDY accounting.
But I'd like to go back to what Fran was saying. The prostitution rings are down there are run by the cartels. Remember, these are the same cartels we went to work with in the '90s, we killed Pablo Escobar. They don't like us.
They would like to kill the president of the United States. I think we're just very lucky that this wasn't an organized effort or it could have turned into a tragic story.
COOPER: Fran, from what you're hearing, are the agents cooperating with the investigation? Are they talking about what they did? Are they talking about what they know fellow agents did?
TOWNSEND: It's interesting, Anderson. I asked a source in the investigation that very question and he said, look, the agents, for example, the supervisor, one who's retired, one who's been fired, there was no history -- no background of theirs that would have suggested this kind of behavior.
Those individuals who have now been removed from the service by retirement or resigning have admitted their own conduct, but not yet have any of the agents begun to talk about the activities of their fellow agents, which is typically what you look for in an investigation.
Can you trip them up by matching their stories -- pitting their stories against one another? That's not happening yet.
COOPER: And it does seem like they would have -- because at one point according to "The New York Times" reporter based on what he talked to this woman about, multiple agents got involved in this argument and I guess pooled money to pay her some money.
TOWNSEND: That's right. Look, when the argument spills into the hallway of the hotel with hotel workers there.
COOPER: Hotel security and the local police officers, I mean, it's incredible that this thing escalated like it did. Fran, appreciate all your -- working your sources. Bob Baer as well. Thank you.
We're following other stories tonight. Isha is here with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, late word out of Afghanistan that a Blackhawk helicopter crashed today in the southern part of the country. The four crew members aboard, all Americans, were killed. The weather was bad, but officials say that enemy fire cannot be ruled out at this time. Secretary of State Clinton wants the United Nations to tighten sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad imposing an arms sanction, travel and financial sanctions. During the so-called ceasefire at least 25 people were reportedly killed today in ongoing violence.
A small plane that took off from Louisiana today circled above the Gulf of Mexico as this animation shows, the pilot, unresponsive. The plane crashed into the gulf and bobbed for some time before sinking. Tonight, there is no sign of the pilot.
And, Anderson, 10 people, including a 3-month-old baby, were injured when an elderly woman as you see here drove her car into a grocery store. One man was pinned underneath the car. The 76-year- old driver has been charged with careless driving.
COOPER: Unbelievable images there.
COOPER: Isha, thanks. Also tonight, comments from rocker, Ted Nugent about President Obama. Comments strong enough to get him a visit from the Secret Service. I'll talk to Mary Matalin and Cornell Belcher about the latest in the world of politics.
COOPER: Raw Politics tonight, new national polling showing Mitt Romney trailing behind President Obama. The latest CNN poll just out shows a tight race at least for the moment, 47 percent of registered voters favoring President Obama. Three points ahead of Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile today, the White House is pushing back against the perception that the president was taking a jab with Romney with a comment that he made in his speech in Ohio. Here's what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Somebody gave me an education. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Michelle wasn't, but somebody gave us a chance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The White House says that comment was not directed at Romney. The president used that phrase to describe his background many times before.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says anyone who thinks otherwise might be, quote, "a little oversensitive." Romney was asked about the president's comment today. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm certainly not going to apologize for my dad and his success in life. He was born poor. He worked his way to become very successful, despite the fact that he didn't have a college degree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Meantime, some other late polling tonight from NBC shows a 49-43 Obama lead, but also some good news for Romney. His favorability has begun to recover a bit after the bruising primary season.
A lot to talk about, I'm joined by CNN political contributors and Republican strategist, Mary Matalin and Democrat strategist and Obama 2012 pollster, Cornell Belcher.
So Cornell, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll out tonight is the latest to show Romney's favorability numbers rebounding, on top of, which his supporters say he has the edge on the most important issue this year, the economy. Obviously it's a long way away from the election, but how serious are these poll numbers?
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the poll numbers this far out are historically really bad indicators. Another thing is there's been a lot of back and forth, a lot of swinging in the polls. Your own CNN a whole two days ago had the president up by ten.
But in any case you're going to see these polls move back and forth. There are mythological questions that I think with some of these polls' movement back and forth. But that aside, I think you'll see the Republicans now rallying around Mitt Romney and I think sort of the strength in his numbers you see with the primary over, Republicans rally around him.
But if you look at some of the internals of the polling, there are still a lot of problems for Mitt Romney there. I mean, when you look at who's more on the side of middle class families. You know, in your own polling, President Obama is up by better than ten points.
You know, whose -- who do you agree with most on the issues most important to you. On your own polling, I think the president is up by 12 points. And in the end, we are going to make this a race that's sort of a contrast and put our vision of the economy out there versus Mitt Romney's version of the economy. Americans will have to decide.
COOPER: Mary, as we saw earlier, Romney reacted pretty strongly to the president's silver spoon comments. Comments he's used before basically in the past. Does this resonate with voters, do you think? I mean, this argument that Romney is out of touch, an elitist, the silver spoon idea?
MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it was quite petty and it came out quite cynically for Barack Obama to say that. His children will be born with a silver spoon in their mouths, so that's the promise, the generational promise of America.
This is the first generation that doesn't feel like they'll be leaving the country better for their children as all previous generations have and they leave that at the feet and the economic policies of Barack Obama.
So Cornell is right, these numbers are not predictive in the spring. At this time, Jimmy Carter and Bush 43 were ahead. But it's pretty amazing to me actually that after only a week, barely a week being the official, unofficial nominee, Romney is doing so much of what he needs to do in this middle phase from the post primary to the convention, which is unify the base, which he was having trouble with throughout the primary.
He's closing the gap on women, he's getting married women. He's picking up important cohorts like less educated, lower income voters, so he's made a lot of great strides in a little amount of time and so the race begins.
He's raising money and doing everything he needs to do. I think he's in better shape than people thought he would be and Obama has some really resilient negatives, including and most importantly, people's affection for him is sustained.
But their objection to his policies, particularly on the economy, jobs and gas, they're giving those numbers in higher ratings to Romney. So it's a race already, Anderson.
COOPER: Cornell, is that how you read the numbers?
BELCHER: Two things, one on the silver spoon thing. I've got to push back a little. I'm from the south and we have a saying the truth don't care who tell it. The truth of the matter is the president and the first lady weren't born with silver spoons in their mouth.
They had to work very hard for everything they got and they were able to achieve things because of opportunities that they were given. This ideal that the very American value ideal that we invest in our people, in our kids, in the future.
We build an economy to last. When you look at sort of where the president is versus where Mitt Romney is, the ideal that we'll cut our way to prosperity and cut our way to a better America.
You know, I think that's just -- it flies in the face of American values that built -- that we built this country on, sort of investing in our people, growing opportunity.
MATALIN: Let me be more clear with my friend, Cornell, now that I live in the south. I love all those sayings. This is the truth. Mitt Romney's father was the one that provided the silver spoon for Mitt Romney.
Barack Obama is the one who's providing the silver spoon for his children. This is the generational promise of America and this is the first generation, because of these policies who are feeling less hopeful about the future for their children.
If people had confidence in these policies and the economy going forward, Barack Obama would have -- would be in much stronger standing and would not have a strategy that depends wholly on dragging down Mitt Romney. He would be running on his economic record, which he can't.
COOPER: Mary Matalin, appreciate it. Cornell Belcher, thanks.
Sad news tonight, Levon Helm, the drummer and singer has died. A look back at his life and music next.
COOPER: Legendary drummer, singer, one of the most distinctive influential voices of the '60s has died. Levon Helm, co-founder of the "Band" died this afternoon after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 71 years old. Tonight, a quick look back at his life and his music.
Levon helm called the drummer's stool the best seat in the house, where he could see his fellow musicians and the audience at the same time. The rock 'n' roll hall of fame calls him the backbone of "The Band," one of the most influential groups of the '60s and '70s.
A drummer, multi instrumentalist and singer, his talent was immortalized in "The Last Waltz." Helm was born in Arkansas, toured as Bob Dylan's drummer in the mid-'60s and settled in Woodstock, New York, with the musicians who became known as "The Band."
Their first album named after the house they lived in together was an instant classic. Together, "The Band" made seven albums, all filled with stories of Levon Helm's beloved south.
Helm continued as a solo artist after the breakup of the band and also started acting with roles in movie, including "The Right Stuff" and "Coal Miner's Daughter." He kept performing after his cancer diagnosis hosting sessions at his Woodstock studios. Here he is in 2010.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEVON HELM: I love to play music. If I had my way about it, we'd probably be doing it every night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: In a message thanking fans for their love and support in his final days, Helm's wife, Sandy and daughter, Amy said, quote, "he's loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat and make the people dance." The end of a legend.
We'll check back with Isha. She has the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
SESAY: Anderson, the Secret Service has interviewed rocker, Ted Nugent and said any questions about him have been resolved.
This weekend at the meeting of the National Rifle Association, Nugent said that he would be, quote, "dead or in jail if president Obama was re-elected." Some interpreted those remarks as a threat against the president.
Stocks fell amid disappointing unemployment numbers and a dip in existing home sales. Despite some positive earnings reports the Dow Jones dropped 69, the S&P 500 dropped 8. The Nasdaq was one bright spot inching up 0.9 percent.
Anderson, listen up, Starbucks lovers won't be drinking bugs anymore. The company's president says the franchise will phase out the use of insects as food coloring in some of its beverages. Customer complaints promoted the change.
COOPER: What? I didn't know about this.
SESAY: Where have you been?
COOPER: I don't really drink coffee.
SESAY: I know, I know.
COOPER: All right, coming up, a great day for political discourse if you like hearing about dog meat and canine -- well, we'll explain on "The Ridiculist" next.
COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding dueling dog tales in the presidential campaign. It's a question historians will no doubt ponder for years to come.
What's more politically relevant? The dog on the roof of a station wagon or a dog in a child's digestive tract? Allow me to explain please. You may have heard the story about Mitt Romney's dog, Seamus.
Nearly 30 years ago, the Romneys went on a road trip and strapped him in a dog carrier on the roof of the car. There's been somewhat of a hubbub over that and Diane Sawyer recently the Romneys about it.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you do it again?
ROMNEY: Certainly not with the attention this received.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said it was the most wounding thing in the campaign so far.
ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: It's crazy. The dog loved it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the dog got sick, right?
ANN ROMNEY: Once. We traveled all the time and he ate the turkey on the counter. I mean, he had the runs.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: I forgot to mention the crucial canine diarrhea angle. So critics have been jumping all over this but the person who got the most traction out of it was David Letterman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a brand new segment tonight, ladies and gentlemen, entitled what's Mitt Romney's dog tied to today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The St. Louis arch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: There is another chapter, however, in the dog tales. Now some of the conservative blogs are jumping over the fact that president Obama was fed dog meat as a child in Indonesia where he lived from ages 6 to 10. Here is that passage from Obama's book "Dreams From My Father."
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PRESIDENT OBAMA: And away from the dinner table I was introduced to dog meat, tough, snake meat, tougher, and roasted grasshopper, crunchy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: OK. So I guess now it's I see your diarrhea inflicted dog strapped to the roof of a station wagon and raise you one child being fed dog meat. If you listen closely, you can hear the political science majors deciding to just pack it in and follow the banned fish. Bill Cunningham asked Mitt Romney about this, listen.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a little bit embarrassed by the so- called lame stream media spending its time on Seamus, your dog, and it hasn't broken yet big time nationally about the president when he was bone as Barry Soetoro eating dogs in Indonesia. Is that the level of the campaign that we have?
ROMNEY: You know, I think this campaign is going to ultimately become about jobs, not dogs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: By the way, it's Seamus, not Seamus as that guy said. This chapter has provided some top-notch theatre of the absurd on Twitter.
Back in January, referring to the Seamus on the roof kerfuffle, Obama adviser, David Axelrod posted this, quote, "How loving owners transport with their dogs," with the picture of President Obama and his dog, Bo at the back of the car.
Now Romney adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom had a comeback, quote, "in hindsight, a chilling photo." If I may, I'd like to just take a moment and appeal for a return to intelligent discourse based on ideas, on issues, because in this election, everyone knows what really matters in a president, speaking of course about the shape of his chin.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I recently took a look at the candidates that are running for president and I evaluated their chin. Obama has a pretty good-looking chin. I think Newt Gingrich has a good chin, but he's got a little extra material under here that detracts from his chin. But clearly the one that has the most presidential chin is Mitt Romney.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Look, it's an election year, anything goes. In an election though, as in life, when anything goes, it does tend to get as any dog will tell you, rough.
That does it for us. We'll see you again, one hour from now, another edition of 360. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.