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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Former White House Press Secretary Slams Bush Administration; Obama's World War II Gaffe

Aired May 27, 2008 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have got breaking news, a pair of political stories tonight. One is a bombshell, the other a gaffe.
The bombshell, a White House insider, the president's former spokesman Scott McClellan lashing out, accusing the White House, in some cases, accusing the president himself, of relying on propaganda to sell the war in Iraq, a war he now says was not necessary.

He also accuses the White House of playing politics with Hurricane Katrina and more. The story is breaking as we speak. We will have all the details in just a few moments.

First, though, the political gaffe that's had the Obama campaign scrambling to set the record straight. It began with comments Senator Obama made during a Memorial Day speech in New Mexico. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had an uncle who was one of the -- who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and to liberate the concentration camps. And the story in our family was is that, when he came home, he just went up into the attic, and he didn't leave the house for six months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, it didn't take long after that for critics to pounce. The Red Army liberated Auschwitz, they correctly pointed out. And Obama doesn't have an uncle on his American side.

Then the Republican National Committee send out a statement blasting Obama, saying, in part -- quote -- "Obama's frequent exaggerations and outright distortions raise questions about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief."

So, was Senator Obama telling a war story to tell impress his audience? CNN checked the facts. The answer is no. He had a great uncle, Charles Payne, still living, who did help liberate a concentration camp. It wasn't Auschwitz, as he said. It was part of the Buchenwald complex.

Mr. Payne, who is still alive, confirms it. And, late today, the Obama campaign had this to say -- quote -- "Yesterday, he mistakenly referred to Auschwitz, instead of Buchenwald, in telling of his personal experience of a story in his who served heroically."

So, a gaffe, a mistake, and a sign of the kind of scrutiny all three candidates are getting these days.

Candy Crowley joins us with the "Raw Politics."

Candy, at the end of the day, does this story have legs, like Hillary Clinton's sniper story?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it's the same.

This was not something that didn't happen at all. This is something that is in the details was incorrect, that he confused Auschwitz with Buchenwald, that kind of thing.

The gist of the story was correct. He did have a great uncle who was part of the liberation force that went into a subcamp of Burkenwald, so -- Buchenwald -- sorry. So, you know, I don't think it has the kind of legs that the Bosnia story did, because the Bosnia story, as you remember, was completely incorrect.

It did not happen the way that Senator Clinton said it did. This seems to be slightly different. And they have gotten out in front of it. But, as you noticed, it didn't take much for the Republicans to come after him, because, as you know, what John McCain and the Republicans are trying to do is portray Barack Obama as not commander in chief material, and that's what they went for immediately after this story started to surface.

COOPER: They did hit very hard, you know, not only just saying that -- that Senator Obama had to answer for the discrepancies, that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, but also saying that this goes to his ability to be commander in chief.

Have they stepped back at all from that? Or are they planning to continue this? Is there anywhere else for this to go?

CROWLEY: I don't think so.

They did sort of push back a little and note that, in his famous Iraq speech that Barack Obama gave before the war, in which he opposed the war, he also mentioned Auschwitz in connection with his grandfather, hearing tales from American comrades who had gone into Auschwitz, which, clearly, they didn't. It was the Red Army. It was the Soviets.

So, they pointed that out. But it just doesn't have the kind of resonance, I don't think, that we have seen before in some of these because it's -- the truth of the matter is, the whole truth of the matter is that it was substantially correct, although it may argue for a little more sleep on the campaign trail.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: All right, Candy Crowley -- we're going to have more from Candy in a moment.

Now the breaking news bombshell -- former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, the face and voice of the Bush White House for nearly three years, years when American troops were fighting and dying in Iraq, has leveled fresh charges against the White House and the president.

In a new memoir to be released on McClellan, now states that he served in an administration that was driven by politics and propaganda, paid for in human misery, even human lives, after Hurricane Katrina, during the Valerie Plame scandal, and in the run-up to the war in Iraq, a war McClellan now says was not necessary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 19, 2006)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thank Scott for his service to our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Two years later, the former press secretary stuns his old boss with charges of deception and denial deep inside the White House.

Scott McClellan's accusations against President Bush and some of his most trusted advisers are shocking and spilled out in his new 341- page book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Some of the strongest attacks against the Bush White House concern Iraq. Listen to what McClellan said to the American people back in 2005.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 30, 2005)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And there have been some that have tried to suggest that we don't have a plan. I know some congressional members of Congress have -- Democratic members of Congress have suggested that, and they are flat-out wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's what he said then. But, in his new book, McClellan claims Bush and his top lieutenants used propaganda to drum up support for the war, writing: "He and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war. In this regard, he was terribly ill-served by his top advisers, especially those involved directly in national security."

McClellan also sharply criticizes the White House over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, writing: "One of the worst disasters in our nation's history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush's presidency. Katrina and the botched federal response to it would largely come to define Bush's second term."

Remember this photo of the president looking down at the destruction from Air Force One? McClellan says it was Karl Rove's idea to take the picture, even though he and former presidential counselor Dan Bartlett opposed it. The book also paints both himself and Bush as victims in the case of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Some accuse former White House advisers Karl Rove, Lewis Scooter Libby and Elliott Abrams of leaking Plame's name to the media.

This was McClellan's response to that allegation in 2003.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 7, 2003)

MCCLELLAN: There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that's exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They are good individuals. They're important members of our White House team. And that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: McClellan now suspects he and the president may have been tricked by Rove and Libby over the Plame disclosure, writing -- quote -- "I had allowed myself to be deceived into unknowingly passing along a falsehood. It would ultimately prove fatal to my ability to serve the president effectively. I didn't learn that what I had said was untrue until the media began to figure it out almost two years later."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: No official comment tonight from the administration, but sources close to the White House have already started hitting back, one calling the book -- quote -- "a pathetic attempt to restore his reputation."

Digging deeper, we're joined by Fran Townsend, former Bush White House homeland security adviser and Clinton Justice Department staffer. Currently, she's a CNN national security contributor, also Mike Allen of Politico.com, who broke this story, and CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry, who is with the president at a McCain fund- raiser tonight.

We will have more on that fund-raiser later.

Ed, you had an opportunity to speak, both with McClellan tonight, but also you have -- you have -- trying to get some reaction from the White House. What are you hearing from both?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting.

I had a brief phone conversation with Scott McClellan tonight, and he's standing behind the accuracy of what has already come out in the book. He doesn't want to go on the record yet. He says he's going to do television interviews later in the week. But he wants to let the book speak for itself, and he's ready to stand behind it.

And I have to tell you, he's going to need to be ready to answer this point by point, because the guns are already blazing tonight. In the initial comments from Republicans close to the White House -- the White House not officially commenting, as you noted, but Republicans close to this White House going after Scott McClellan and saying that basically this is a new take from Scott McClellan. They're surprised to hear this. He never raised these objections, whether it was about Iraq or with Katrina or other issues, behind closed doors, according to their account.

And, so, basically they're suggesting that, if he had these concerns about the war in Iraq, for example, he should have aired them a long time ago. And they're raising doubts about the accuracy, Anderson.

COOPER: Mike, you have read the book.

McClellan writes: "The presidency of George W. Bush veered terribly off course," and the administration was guilty of a, in his words, "excessive embrace of the permanent campaign approach to governance."

And, on the war in Iraq, he writes: "History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided: that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now, when we can more fully understand its impact. What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary."

What surprised you most about McClellan's criticisms?

MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: Well, Anderson, Scott McClellan says he still likes and respects the president. But what surprised me was how blunt and unvarnished this was, by far the moat scathing memoir to come out of this administration.

And what's fascinating about these two excerpts that you just read, Anderson, is that Scott is adopting both the substance and the rhetoric of some of the president's liberal critics, the permanent campaign. He even talks in this book, Anderson, about how the media were too complicit with the White House, too easy on the administration in the run-up to the war.

COOPER: It's startling. I'm going to read some of those excerpts a little later on.

Frances, I want to get your take.

McClellan wrote that Bush was terribly ill-served by his advisers, especially those in national security. You served in the White House for over three years as homeland security adviser. What's your reaction?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I -- first of all, I think people need to understand that, as an adviser to the president, I or Scott have an obligation, a responsibility, to voice concerns on policy issues. Scott never did that on any of these issues, as best I can remember, and as best I know from my White House colleagues.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Never spoke out?

TOWNSEND: No.

And, so, for him to do this now, frankly, strikes me as self- serving, disingenuous, and unprofessional.

COOPER: Ed, I want to read what McClellan writes about -- about the media, which you just mentioned -- which Mike just mentioned.

"If anything, the national press corps," he wrote, "was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq."

It is amazing to hear a former White House spokesman say this from a White House which has accused those who disagree with them or challenge them as being unpatriotic, at times, and liberally biased.

And, in fact, McClellan goes on to say that the "liberal media" -- in quotes -- didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.

HENRY: I am surprised to hear that.

Now, I was not covering the White House in the run-up to the war, but I certainly watched those briefings from Capitol Hill. And I know that my colleagues at CNN and other places, people like Mike Allen, were asking Scott McClellan, in fact, some very tough questions at that White House podium.

And when I arrived in 2006, Scott McClellan was still there. And I can tell you, we were still pushing him, not just on the war, but a whole host of foreign policy and domestic issues as well. So, I'm surprised to hear him say that as well.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So, Ed, as someone who used to cover the White House, did you get any sense for him that he disagreed with the run-up to the war or that he felt the war wasn't necessary?

HENRY: Never. Never, not once. Certainly, I never picked that up. And from talking to people who have worked with Scott, they did not hear him say that behind closed doors at the White House. We are going to have to see the full context in this book. But it is surprising. And to pick up on what Mike said, Karl Rove was on FOX tonight, saying that this sounds more like a left-wing blogger than the colleague he knew behind closed doors at the White House. It gives you an idea of how angry some people inside and outside of the White House are going to be about this, Anderson.

COOPER: Mike, how much of this -- I mean, to Frances' point, how much of this do you think is score-settling?

ALLEN: Well, I think Scott put on a new hat. He's no longer a White House official. He's now working in this case as a historian.

And I think he tried to take that seriously. And I think this book is much more honest than I think than a lot of people expected. What's most surprising about this is the fact that, Anderson, as you know, Scott is the most loyal of any of the Bush officials. He was literally a member of the family. He's one of the last people who came from Texas with the president.

And he therefore had a lot more leeway because he was considered part of that Texas family. And, so, I think people thought that, in his book, he would maybe take a few swipes at the president or the administration to try to sell books. But no one thought that, cover to cover, he would be saying that fundamental mistakes were made, and to even acknowledge that some of the things that he said from the podium, including those clips that you played earlier, were, in his words, misguided.

COOPER: Mike, you have read the whole book. Does he -- does he apologize for -- I mean, he was essentially carrying water for an administration which he now believes was wrong and, you know, selling -- selling a war based on propaganda, and an unnecessary war, at that.

Does he accept responsibility for his role in all this? Because, I mean, to Frances' point, he could have -- you know, people used to resign. In the old days in Washington, people used to resign when they didn't agree with things. And they resigned out of principle. It doesn't seem like anybody does that anymore.

ALLEN: No, Anderson, that's a good point. And Scott does acknowledge from the very beginning, in the preface, that he did make mistakes. And he said that most of them were things that he realized in retrospect. But you hear him through the book getting more tired.

That great scene you showed earlier about the Katrina photo, he said that his resistance had been worn down. And, as you said, he initially advised against it. But, when they finally said the president was for it, he sort of gave in to that.

An amazing moment, Anderson, in this is when Scott's the one who tells the president that Larry Lindsey, the chief economic adviser, had told "The Wall Street Journal" that the Iraq war was going to cost $100 million to $200 billion -- $100 billion to $200 billion, which, of course, turned out to be a terrible lower estimation.

The president, he said, was hot, steamed about that, because this was a violation of the code of making news in this administration when you weren't supposed to.

And the president said, Larry Lindsey should not have been talking about those things. So, that gives us a little glimpse of this very tight control. As Scott says in the book, that because of the concern about the liberal media, others in the administration put a wall around the press. And he said that, sometimes, the press secretary was outside that wall.

So, he's saying that, sometimes, he was outside the loop.

COOPER: Frances, I mean, no doubt, a lot of folks in the White House, current and former, are going to come out against this guy, saying, he was out of the loop, he didn't know what he was talking about, he never spoke up.

Is -- just to play devil's advocate, isn't it fair, though, if somebody has had -- you know, they leave an administration, they -- they reflect on things, they have some time to reflect, and they change their mind, isn't it fair for him to write a book expressing that?

TOWNSEND: Well, it's fair for him to write about his experience, but I think, Anderson, as people are looking at his factual allegations in this book, I hope that people will ask him about, was he at the meetings in the Oval Office with the president and the secretary of defense when they discussed sensitive Iraq policy issues? Was he at the most sensitive National Security Council policy meetings?

You know, the press secretary has a very distinct role. And it doesn't include being in some of the most highly classified, sensitive policy discussions. And, so, I think his view is limited. And there may -- some of this may be misunderstanding on his part of what he saw and heard.

COOPER: No doubt we're hear a lot more about this in the coming days -- a lot to talk about tonight. And we're going to talk to our panel coming up more.

As always, I'm blogging throughout the hour. Joining the conversation. Go to CNN.com/360.

Also tonight, John McCain, Barack Obama both out West. We have got the lowdown on why Obama thinks he can find something out there few Democrats have, namely, a path to the White House.

And John McCain, why he's running with President Bush and running away with him at the same time.

Later, Bill Clinton saying his wife is being driven out of the race, bullied and dissed simply for running. That's not all he's saying. The allegations and the facts up close -- tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: President Bush, John McCain tonight at a photo-op after a fund-raiser in Phoenix. Originally scheduled for the local convention center, it was moved to a private home, where media was not invited.

No clear explanation why it was moved, though a local Phoenix business paper reports the event didn't sell out. Bush and McCain haven't met face to face since March, Senator McCain apparently keeping plenty of distance from a president the Democrats hope to tie him to like a boat anchor.

Barack Obama also out West tonight, laying into McCain, and trying to lay the groundwork for victories in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Candy Crowley has the latest on the trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): The seasoned warrior and the young turk go at it almost daily, circling each other, looking for territorial advantage. McCain wants the election to be about national security, about his senior statesman credentials, and his opponent's naivete.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades.

CROWLEY: The operating theory in camp McCain is that national security trumps everything, that gas prices and bank foreclosures pale if the country does not feel protected. So, McCain and company spent the weekend ripping apart the Obama resume, McCain telling the Associated Press, "He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq, and he has wanted to surrender for a long time."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Endless war. Endless war.

CROWLEY: Heckled about the war during a Denver speech on nuclear proliferation, McCain took the opening.

MCCAIN: And, by the way, I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: I will never surrender.

CROWLEY: And, with more than a hint of condensation, McCain confidant Senator Lindsey Graham suggested on CBS' "Face the Nation" that Obama should go to Iraq with McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And Senator Obama keeps talking about an immediate withdrawal as soon as he gets to be president. The last time, I understand, he was in Iraq was in 2006. I would recommend that he go back. So much has happened since 2006 on the ground. It's been extraordinary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: An Obama spokesman called the suggestion of a joint trip a publicity stunt, while Obama stayed the course. He is convinced that voters want out of Iraq and are increasingly frightened about an economy in freefall. Obama wants the territory to be the economy.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have had enough of the can't-do, won't-do and won't-even-try approach from George Bush and John McCain. We can't afford another president who can't be bothered to stand up for working people.

CROWLEY: The young turk vs. the old guard.

OBAMA: And Senator McCain is so out of touch with the struggles of working people that he gave a speech laying out his economic agenda last week, and he couldn't be even bothered to talk about the foreclosure crisis.

CROWLEY: Beneath the general election positioning, the Democratic primary continues. It is the tale of two campaigns, a story told in the geography.

Looking for a final resurrection in a campaign that has survived on them, Hillary Clinton was in Montana, in advance of the primary next Tuesday. Obama campaigned in Nevada. The primary there was last January. It is part of a tristate tour, also including New Mexico and Colorado, Republican states Obama thinks he can pull into the Democratic column this fall.

Forty-eight delegates shy of the nomination, Obama never mentions her. He has turned the page.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Still, despite what's going on, on the campaign trail between Obama and McCain, that primary is not over yet. This Saturday, on the 31st, the credentials committee for the Democratic national party is going to meet to decide what to do about those disputed delegates in both Michigan and Florida.

Coming out of that, the Clinton campaign is hoping that they can claim the popular vote in both states to further their case that she's the most electable -- Anderson.

COOPER: Candy, for the Clinton campaign, it's really all riding on Michigan and Florida?

CROWLEY: Well, it is in a certain sense. It's really all riding on the superdelegates, because Michigan and Florida will not be seated in a way that will hand her the nomination. It's just not going to happen that way, because, first of all, the Democratic National Committee says they broke the rules, these two states broke the rules, and Barack Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan.

So, they won't be seated in a way that gives her the elected pledged delegate lead. But they do believe that, when they are seated, the Clinton campaign can say, but, look, we are leading in the popular vote. And that, they think, is an argument they can make to the superdelegates who have not yet committed.

COOPER: And that's the argument Bill Clinton is already making. We heard that this weekend. We will have more of his comments coming up.

Candy, thanks.

The war of words over the war in Iraq is heating up, as Candy was talking about, between McCain and Obama. But what really is happening on the ground in Iraq?

Our own Michael Ware has been there really from the beginning. He joins us live from Baghdad with a reality check.

And, later, Bill Clinton and his allegations of a cover-up -- who does he think is covering up the truth to keep his wife out of the White House?

We will take you up close with the former president on the campaign trail -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: I will never surrender in Iraq.

OBAMA: On issue after issue, John McCain is offering more of the same policies that have failed for the last eight years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senators John McCain and Barack Obama speaking out today on the campaign trail, throwing some punches at each other as well.

Senator McCain has been slamming Obama on his Iraq policy. McCain says Obama is out of touch with what is really happening on the ground in Iraq. Obama paints McCain as, well, simply being out of touch.

Time for a reality check with CNN's Michael Ware live in Baghdad, and, once again, Frances Townsend, former White House homeland security adviser and CNN national security contributor.

Michael, Senator McCain invited Obama to travel to -- to Iraq, saying he was looking for the opportunity to -- quote, unquote -- "educate Obama." Realistically -- I mean, obviously, there's a lot of policy involved. But what exactly would the two be able to see? How accurate is the information that is passed -- how beneficial are these kind of -- these kind of trips?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I mean, obviously, there's a great need for education about the situation here in Iraq.

You cannot pull out without serious consequences, nor can you stroll the streets of Baghdad. So, there's questions to be raised with both campaigns there.

Now, like any U.S. officials that come to this country, any campaign members, anyone running for office who comes to this country is going to see the rooftops of houses as they fly over them, perhaps some desert as they whisk over the cop of that, and the inside of U.S. bases and the U.S. Embassy, where they're bombarded with briefings and PowerPoint slides.

They will be totally divorced from the Iraqi reality. And any Iraqi officials they will talk to, they're certainly not going to be straight -shooting. They haven't been since the war began. Why would they start now? It's not in their interests to do so.

They certainly won't get a real feel for the fact that 90,000 former insurgents now on the U.S. payroll are protecting large chunks of the country for America, while other large chunks of the country are protected by Iranian-backed militias who are pursuing Iranian interests, as well as their own.

So, really, it's going to be a very skewed picture that anyone could hope to get -- Anderson.

COOPER: Frances, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, says al Qaeda in Iraq -- and I quote -- "has never been closer to defeat than they are now."

At this point, though, how much of the violence is really due to al Qaeda in Iraq, and how much is due to sectarian actors and other forces?

TOWNSEND: Well, Anderson, it's important to be clear about the facts.

All violence, whether it's sectarian or al Qaeda, is down across the board. These are the lowest levels of security incidents in four years that they're seeing right now. This is progress.

Now, al Qaeda has said, in their own statement, that Iraq was the central battle and that they couldn't lose it. Well, they're back on their heels. It will take a sustained effort by Iraqi forces to maintain that. We have seen the recent progress by Iraqi forces. They are conducting clearing and holding operations on their own, without their American advisers. All of this is positive, but they have to do it over the long term. COOPER: Well, I mean, in Basra, they needed serious backup from both British and U.S. forces. In fact, that was really instrumental in turning the tide there in Basra to the degree that it has been turned.

But the question is, I mean, the White House and John McCain and others like to focus on al Qaeda and talk about al Qaeda in Iraq. Do you have a sense of how much al Qaeda is really -- I mean, of a percentage of attacks, how much is al Qaeda? How much are other forces?

TOWNSEND: You know, I'm not really -- I'm not clear on what the actual percentage breakdown is.

COOPER: OK.

TOWNSEND: I will say this to you, though. The large-scale attacks against civilians are down. But the important part to that success is going to be maintaining it.

COOPER: Michael, let me ask you the question. Al Qaeda, compared to the other forces killing folks in Iraq, where does -- what's the percentage; do you know?

WARE: Well, in terms of fighters in the field, they would be lucky to be 2 percent of those carrying weapons in this country, Anderson.

Yes, they're the guys responsible for the spectacular attacks, the suicide bombings and car bombings that just slaughter innocent civilians. That's true. That's got great political impact. But, in terms of the day-to-day grind, they're virtually nonexistent. They're barely attacking U.S. troops. They're more focused on killing other Iraqis. They're too busy trying to launch a war with the Shia. They're too busy, under pressure, to be able to continue operating.

And, look, let's face it. They were given Iraq on a -- on a platter for their next platform after Afghanistan. They had their moment. Now they have been withered down to this gnarly operating series of terrorist cells that they were always designed to be. They're essentially going to be a stone in the shoe of this society. What they are in countless societies across the world.

They're not really the war here, and they haven't been for a long time, if they ever were. The real war here is the competition between America and Iran for influence and an attempt to hold this region together without fracturing it completely, Anderson.

COOPER: Frances, do you agree with Michael?

TOWNSEND: Well, to Michael's point, a successful end to the conflict in Iraq must be that Iraq is a stable democracy that can secure its people and its borders. That includes not only from al Qaeda but from Iran.

COOPER: Frances, we appreciate you being on the show, first time. Thanks for being on.

Michael Ware, always good to talk to you. Stay safe, Michael.

Up next, a new terror threat. Al Qaeda taking aim with deadly ambition. What the terrorists want to do to America, coming up. They're talking about a WMD now. Here are the latest.

Plus, claims of cruelty at a classroom. A kindergarten class, what a 5-year-old went through may make you mad. It's kind of unbelievable. The outrage on that, 360 next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Bill Clinton taking aim, claiming a cover in hiding Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the White House. Who exactly he thinks is covering up isn't exactly clear. We've got an up-close look.

First Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, first up, an eerie report of a new al Qaeda tape tonight. Intelligence sources telling CNN they are expecting a new video from the terrorist group within 24 hours. One source says the group will be calling for jihadists to use weapons of mass destruction against the west. We'll keep a close eye on that.

Meantime in Texas, child welfare authorities say polygamist families with children may flee and move out of state jurisdiction if an appeals court ruling is allowed to stand. They made that argument today when asking the state supreme court to reverse that lower court ruling.

And a 5-year-old boy voted out of his kindergarten class in Florida. The child's mother says the teacher asked every student to tell her son why they hate him. And then took a vote. The classmates apparently cited 14-2 he should go.

But according to the mother, the teacher actually stood her son up in front of the class and asked all of these kids to tell this poor little boy why they didn't like him.

COOPER: Unbelievable. And guess what? The teacher has been reassigned, right?

HILL: She is, but the school district says it is investigating. They say for now the teacher is reassigned to a non-teaching role.

COOPER: Being a kid isn't hard enough. Erica, here's tonight's "Beat 360" photo. Vice President Dick Cheney delivering the commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, wearing a hat there.

Here's the caption from our staff winner, Barclay: "Go ahead, call it cowboy diplomacy. Make my day."

(SOUND EFFECT: Foghorn)

COOPER: Foghorn. Think you can do better? Go to CNN.com/360. Send us your entry. We'll announce the winner at the end of the program.

Up next tonight, up close with Bill Clinton. The campaigner in chief is back in the spotlight, insisting there's a cover-up, suggesting unnamed forces are bullying super delegates to support Obama and insisting his wife is winning.

Also ahead, gas price pain. You're feeling it, and we have dramatic new numbers to prove you are not alone, coming up on 360. So thousands of other midsize companies run sap software?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Montana tonight. That's a live shot from Billings, where she is expected to talk to the crowd very shortly. We'll try to bring you some of her comments when she does get there.

Her husband was in Puerto Rico earlier, where 63 delegates are up for grabs in Sunday's primary. The former president has been drawing a lot of attention in recent days with his blistering accusations that her critics and the Obama camp, he blasted the media, saying that his wife, Hillary Clinton, is getting a raw deal and claims the wife is the victim of a cover-up. That's just for starters. Here's Bill Clinton up close.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In case you haven't noticed, most of the media aren't for her.

COOPER (voice-over): Bill Clinton may have been keeping a low profile of late, but now it seems the gloves are off.

CLINTON: I've never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.

COOPER: Defending his wife from a red truck with old glory as the backdrop, Clinton was in South Dakota this weekend blasting unnamed enemies.

CLINTON: There's this frantic effort to push her out, because she's winning the general election today and he's not. According to all the evidence.

COOPER: His evidence, of course, depends on counting Michigan and Florida and ignoring results in caucus states.

Clinton insists his wife can do what Barack Obama cannot in November: defeat John McCain. He's also claiming there's a plot to intentionally block her chances of winning key states against John McCain. He calls it a cover-up. CLINTON: "Oh, this is so terrible. The people may want her. Oh, this is terrible. She's winning the general election and he's not. Oh, my goodness, we have to cover this up."

COOPER: The former president's charges are exactly what many of Senator Clinton's supporters want to hear.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: A lot of her supporters, women supporters, feel that she has definitely not been treated respectfully. And they believe that the best sign of respect that Barack Obama could deliver is to pick her as his vice president.

CLINTON: There's no way of knowing exactly what Mr. Clinton's strategy is, but after weeks of not focusing his criticism on Obama, he now slams the campaign for strong-arming super delegates to make up their minds.

CLINTON: I can't believe it. It's just frantic the way they're trying to push and pressure and bully all these super delegates to come out.

COOPER: Clinton walks a fine line with his forceful opinions, but his motivation for this latest salvo has many political observers guessing.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": I think Bill Clinton knows that his own legacy would be bolstered if his wife became president of the United States. And I'm sure he has motivations that deal directly with her, but also that question of his own legacy, the continuation of the things he tried to pursue in eight years in the White House, that's got to be on his mind.

CLINTON: ... better off if she is elected. Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So has Hillary Clinton really been treated more disrespectfully than any candidate ever has, as Bill Clinton now alleges? We'll ask our panel what they think about the former president's charges. We're "Digging Deeper."

Plus, more on our breaking-news bombshell: former spokesman Scott McClellan accusing the White House now of relying on propaganda to sell the war in Iraq, a war he now says was not necessary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: There's this frantic effort to push her out, because she's winning the general election today, and he's not, according to all the evidence. And I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Strong words, stronger accusations from the former president as the race draws closer to an end. Bill Clinton appears to be picking up steam, passionately standing by his wife, insisting she's winning the election and claiming she's become the target of a cover-up.

"Digging Deeper" with our panel, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Mike Allen, chief political correspondent of Politico.com.

Mike, what do you make of Bill Clinton's comments? We just heard that his wife has been treated more disrespectfully than any other candidate just for running.

MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM: Anderson, what we're seeing here is the incredible frustration that the Clintons have. Somebody said to me that this must seem to them like a bad dream that they're watching their bodies, and they just can't believe this is happening. This is so far from what they've planned.

And I think that in Bill Clinton, President Clinton, over the months, I think we've seen coming out the bitterness and shock that others feel behind doors. So I just feel like he's an external indicator of what they've talking about when they're alone.

COOPER: Candy, they do seem to be fanning these flames of, you know, she's being badly treated. She's been the victim of sexism on the part of the media.

Does painting her -- I mean, I don't know that they're painting her as a victim, but certainly playing into that, does that help her candidacy? Does it -- does it -- is it what her supporters want to hear? Does it help peel (ph) this thing forward?

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It has in the past, as you know. In the past, when it looked as though people were ganging up on her, and she talked about it or those around her more likely talked about it, it has given her a boost among her core supporters. We're talking about women who tend to empathize with Hillary Clinton and the whole idea of breaking through the glass ceiling, that kind of thing.

I agree with Mike, you are seeing just pure frustration here. Understand that they started out a year ago as the inevitable candidate. And now it looks like the inevitable loser. So this is really a culture shock for the Clintons.

It is not over yet. They are still arguing to those super delegates. You heard that general election argument that Bill Clinton made. They hope to be able to do that when they seat the Florida and Michigan delegations and point out the popular vote again.

So they are not giving up. But I just think this has -- has really been a shock, not just to the Clintons but to the people around them.

COOPER: Gloria, do you buy this, that she's been disrespected more than any other candidate who's ever run?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think as Candy said, you know, clearly as a female candidate she's had more than her share of punches that were -- that were thrown at her, that were sexist.

But this notion that Bill Clinton is putting out there that somehow there's this cover-up, and that there's this frantic bullying of super delegates.

I think every super delegate in America has heard the Clinton argument over and over and over again, as you just heard the president say, that she is the one who is best equipped to beat John McCain. She would win in the battle ground states. That maybe she'll come out of this ahead with the popular vote. She's the one who should be the nominee.

There's -- you know, this -- these are arguments that they've heard from the Clintons time and time again. And clearly, they're still sitting back. And more of them, in fact, have been, like Chinese water torture every day, coming out for Barack Obama. So I'm not quite sure what the cover-up here is.

COOPER: We're going to have more from our panel. Stick around. We want to get your take on the breaking news that we've been following. The president's former spokesman accusing the White House of using propaganda to sell the war in Iraq, a war he now says was not necessary to begin with.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Scott McClellan back when he was the White House spokesman, so loyal a defender of the administration line, he became something of a running joke on the late-night monologues.

Well, not any more. The breaking news tonight, his tell-all memoir coming out on Monday and some serious allegations against the Bush White House.

We're "Digging Deeper." Joining me again, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and reporter who broke the story, chief political correspondent for Politico.com, Mike Allen.

Candy, we heard from former White House homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, earlier in the program, that she feels this is pretty self-serving on McClellan's part, that he never voiced any opposition or concern about White House policy when he was actually still working there. Karl Rove made similar statements tonight on another network.

Is this what the general reaction is going to be from those currently in the White House, those who served with McClellan, sort of this "where is he coming from? This guy was out of the loop?" CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, absolutely. And we know from Scott himself that he was out of the loop, because he went out there during the whole Scooter Libby thing and said something that was not true that he didn't know was not true. So obviously, he was out of the loop on some things.

Scott, obviously, is going to come out and do some publicity tours for this book. And so we'll get his side of it.

What is astonishing to me about this story and about this book is that Scott McClellan really was part of that Texas family. He was very close to the Bushes. He has been there from the get-go, from the campaign in 1999. And is one of the nicest fellows around. Very even-keeled. A very sort of easy-come, easy-go kind of guy.

And for -- I think if you had asked in 2000 who's going to write the tell-all, it wouldn't have been Scott McClellan.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: But, you know, the fact is there is always one in every -- in every campaign.

COOPER: Gloria, does this have an impact on the campaign?

BORGER: You know, that's -- that's an interesting question.

COOPER: Well, that's what I get paid, to ask occasionally interesting questions.

BORGER: I think -- I think it has an impact on how some people may talk about this war and about how the campaign is waged.

I mean, Scott McClellan made this really interesting observation. He said, you know, there were too -- too many people in this White House governing the permanent campaign, as did the Clintons during -- during their White House years.

And he said there should be a deputy chief of staff for governing, because people inside administrations tend to just continue to campaign. And so maybe that could give Barack Obama some fodder to talk about how he would govern differently, if he took over the White House.

COOPER: Mike, people knew Scott McClellan was working on a book. Did anybody see this coming?

ALLEN: They didn't. And I think that they thought that it would be much milder than it was. Anderson, we learn in this book that Scott McClellan's Secret Service code game was Matrix. And I can tell you people are calling him other names tonight.

In fact, the joke around the White House, as you viewers saw, the title is "What Happened." They say that it should be "What Happened?", with a question mark after it. COOPER: I just want to read one quote that we'll talk about in the next hour. "History appears poised to confirm" -- this is Scott McClellan writing -- "history appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided, the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now when we can more fully understand its impact. What I do now is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary."

Clearly, Candy, a big change of heart for Scott McClellan.

CROWLEY: Well, absolutely. And if we are to believe those still in the White House and those who have come out, like Frances, also not something that he said inside the White House. And we have seen this in recent years. You know, you sort of go back to the Nixon administration, and you saw all these people who resigned when they didn't agree. And you don't -- you don't see that much anymore.

COOPER: No one resigns anymore. I don't understand. No one stands on principle and resigns. Everyone, I guess, waits to write a book.

But we're going to have to leave it there. We're going to have more of this discussion at the top of our hour in about seven minutes from now. Candy, thank you.

Gloria Borger, Mike Allen, thanks.

Let's check some of tonight's other headlines. Erica Hill joins us with a news and business bulletin -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, a 360 follow in China, where 80,000 people have evacuated downstream of an unstable dam. That dam is holding back 34 billion gallons of water and is in danger of collapsing. The dam was formed by the walls of mud and rubble from the earthquake that devastated central China earlier this month.

Today the death toll there rose to more than 67,000.

The National Weather Service says Sunday's deadly tornado in Eastern Iowa had winds was stronger than first thought with winds of up to 205 miles per hour. The storm killed seven people. It was the most powerful tornado to hit Iowa in 32 years.

Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles this March compared to a year ago. The Department of Transportation says it is the steepest driving decline ever recorded. It may not be the last, since the average price of gasoline this Memorial Day was just a few cents shy of $4. That's actually 70 cents higher than last Memorial Day.

And Earle Hagen, the man who composed and whistled the theme for "The Andy Griffith Show," has died.

COOPER: Aw! HILL: He was 88 years old. Hagen composed themes and music for not just "The Andy Griffith Show" but about 3,000 hours of television in his 60-year career.

(WHISTLING)

COOPER: Aw. He shall be missed.

Up next, the winner of tonight's "Beat 360" contest. That was the crew's salute, by the way.

Plus, Obama's big gaffe. His story about his uncle helping to liberate Auschwitz doesn't quite match the facts. The fallout, the damage control, next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time for our "Beat 360" winners. This is where our viewers take on our staff, try to come up with a better caption for the picture we post on our blog every morning. We play the cheesy music. Erica occasionally graces us with a little performance.

HILL: Sean told me I wasn't dancing enough.

COOPER: Today, the picture was the vice president, Dick Cheney, delivering the main address during the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement exercises last week.

Our staff winner is Barclay. His caption: "Go ahead, call it cowboy diplomacy. Make my day."

(SOUND EFFECT: Foghorn)

COOPER: Arr.

Tonight's viewer winner is Cameron who submitted this: "I told them I'd wear a cap, but no way am I wearing a gown."

(SOUND EFFECT: Cheers)

COOPER: The crowd went wild.

As always, you can check out all the captions that didn't quite make the cut at our blog at CNN.com/360.

Coming up at the top of the hour, Barack Obama on the defensive today for remarks on World War II and the Holocaust. The question is does he really have anything to be sorry about? We're checking the facts.

Also, he stood there day after day repeating the White House line. Tonight, former spokesman Scott McClellan singing a different tune, and his old bosses, well, they don't like it one bit. Details next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: We've got breaking news. A pair of political stories tonight. One is a bombshell, the other a gaffe.

The bombshell, a White House insider, the president's former spokesman Scott McClellan lashing out, accusing the White House, in some cases accusing the president himself, of relying on propaganda to sell the war in Iraq. A war he now says was not necessary.

He also accuses the White House of playing politics with Hurricane Katrina and more. The story is breaking as we speak. We'll have all the details in just a few moments.

First, though, the political gaffe that's had the Obama campaign scrambling to set the record straight. It began with comments Senator Obama made during a Memorial Day speech in New Mexico. Listen.

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