Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Backlash from McClellan's Explosive New Book; Dueling for Delegates - Hillary's Last Chance

Aired May 28, 2008 - 23:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: He calls the war in Iraq a strategic blunder conceived one way, as a kind of Hail Mary pass for Middle East democracy and presidential greatness, but sold instead to us, the American people, on WMDs and what McClellan at the time called the grave and growing threat of Saddam Hussein.
He writes now, "Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East. Rather than open this Pandora's box," he continues, "the administration chose a different path, not employing out-and-out deception, but shading the truth."

As for his advisers, they -- quote -- "played right into his thinking, doing little to question it or cause him to pause long enough to fully consider the consequences before moving forward. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded."

More specifically, McClellan takes a shot at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "I was struck," he writes, "by how deft she is at protecting her reputation. No matter what went wrong, she was somehow able to keep her hands clean, even when the problems related to matters under her direct purview" -- just some of many allegations.

We will be checking the facts throughout the program and talking about the repercussions.

But, as we said at the top, there was backlash today, big-time.

Here's CNN's Ed Henry with the "Raw Politics."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The gloves are coming off. White House officials initially would not comment on Scott McClellan's explosive new book, claiming President Bush used propaganda to sell the war in Iraq.

But now former colleagues are charging the tell-all is a betrayal of the president's trust.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, FORMER COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: All I will say is that there is an enormous amount of disappointment among those who are closest to Scott. This is not the Scott we knew. Maybe that is our fault. Maybe this is a new Scott. It's almost like -- it's almost like an out-of-body experience, quite frankly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Former White House insider Dan Bartlett lashed out, telling CNN it is -- quote -- "total crap" for McClellan to write the media was soft on the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARTLETT: The fact of the matter was, the weapons of mass destruction weren't there. The intelligence was wrong. But that doesn't make people out to be liars or manipulators or propagandists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: No reaction yet from the president himself, who delivered the Air Force Academy's commencement at a bitterly cold Colorado Springs.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your parents are proud of you, and so is your commander-in-chief.

HENRY: Matching the tone of the official response from current White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who declared, McClellan is disgruntled.

"For those of us who fully supported him before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled," Perino said. "It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew."

White House aides insisted this was mild. The harsher words came from former officials, like Fran Townsend, who was homeland security adviser to the president and is now a CNN national security contributor.

She charged McClellan was not in a position to know what really happened in the run-up to the war.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There are many discussions that the press secretary just isn't at each day. And, so, I think some of this may be that his impression, his facts are limited.

HENRY: A surprising assessment, since McClellan was trusted for so long to be public spokesman for the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The world is better off and America is more secure because Saddam Hussein was removed from power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: McClellan's predecessor, Ari Fleischer, said: "If Scott had such deep misgivings, he should not have accepted the press secretary position as a matter of principle."

But a former Clinton White House insider said McClellan's account has credibility because his long proximity to Mr. Bush gave him a window on how the war was prosecuted, and he may now be having pangs of conscience.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The fact that we went to war based on to some extent propaganda, I think he's come to the conclusion, as two-thirds of the American people have, that it was a bad mistake of judgment on behalf of the president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Ed is with the president in Salt Lake City.

President Bush has not said anything publicly about it yet, as you have said. Has he confided to aides how he really feels about this?

HENRY: Yes, aides said that the president yesterday on Air Force One said that he was saddened and disappointed about this whole situation and really didn't understand why Scott McClellan had not come forward sooner.

On one hand, in fairness to McClellan, it is very difficult. In an administration that prizes loyalty above many other things, it would have been difficult for him to come forward a long time ago.

On the other hand, I think McClellan standing at that podium day after day, defending the war, ironically, he was defending the war in 2005, 2006, when it wasn't going that well. Now, as it looks like the war in Iraq is going better, he is coming forward with a book raising questions about the whole enterprise.

So, it is one of the ironies that is now putting the White House a little bit off message. They have a better story to tell currently about the war in Iraq, but now they have to rehash some of these old battles -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ed thanks. We will talk to Ed coming up later in a panel about -- with people who covered the White House under Scott McClellan.

Again, we should point out that we'll be doing our best tonight to see how Scott McClellan's allegations fit the facts as we know them. It's not easy, in part because of the sheer volume. A small sample now up close from CNN's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking on chairs in Texas, talking about the good old days and his time as the press secretary. And I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now. JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Two years later, that scenario is looking pretty unlikely. The former Bush loyalist calls his book "the story of how the presidency of George W. Bush veered terribly off course."

And that's just the preface. Some of the sharpest criticism concerns the buildup to Iraq, to which McClellan admits he played an unwitting role.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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)

JOHNS: Now McClellan says the plan was simply a propaganda campaign to cover up the real reasons for war, which were twofold. Bush thought would it ensure him a legacy of greatness and lead to a peaceful Middle East.

McClellan writes: "Bush and his advisers knew the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East. Rather than open this Pandora's box, the administration chose a different path, not employing out-and-out deception, but shading the truth" -- case in point, weapons of mass destruction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Back then, however, McClellan toed the party line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN: It was the right decision to confront what was a grave and growing threat in the form of Saddam Hussein and his regime. It was based on solid and compelling evidence. And America is safer for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Even so, McClellan writes that Bush's decision to invade Iraq based on faulty intelligence brings up an important question. "Is Bush intellectually incurious or, as some assert, actually stupid?" he asks. McClellan goes on to say, Bush is plenty smart, but lacks inquisitiveness and has a resistance to reflection.

He cites this exchange with NBC's Tim Russert as a prime example. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS," FEBRUARY 8, 2004)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST: In light of not finding weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?

BUSH: I think it is -- that's an interesting question. But please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It's a war of necessity. We -- in my judgment, we had no choice when we looked at the intelligence I looked at that says, the man was a threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: The book also charges that Bush is inclined toward self- deception. McClellan recounts overhearing a phone call on the campaign trail in 1999 where Bush said, "The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors. You know, the truth is, I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don't remember."

The former Bush aide writes he couldn't believe someone wouldn't remember using an illegal substance like cocaine. The book also slams the White House over the response to Hurricane Katrina, calling it one of the biggest disasters of Bush's presidency.

McClellan writes that, "The White House spent most of the first week in a state of denial."

At the time, however, McClellan seemed to place the blame on FEMA, not the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You're deflecting all specifics to the FEMA briefing.

MCCLELLAN: No, I'm not. I have given you some updates. But they are the ones who are in charge of operational aspects on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: McClellan also says both he and Bush were duped in the case of CIA operative Valerie Plame, although when former White House advisers Karl Rove, Lewis Scooter Libby, and Elliott Abrams were accused of leaking Plame's name to the media, McClellan defended them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN: 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)

JOHNS: Now McClellan says, he was deceived, writing: "I didn't learn what I had said was untrue until the media began to figure it out almost two years later."

The former Bush loyalist did have some kind words for his former boss, calling him authentic and sincere. But Bush's attributes get precious little ink in the 341-page book dedicated primarily to his flaws.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, as always, I am blogging throughout the power. To join the conversation about this book and other things, go to cnn.com/360.

Up next, we'll talk to Ari Fleischer. A friend and former boss talks about the Scott McClellan he knew.

Later, the reporters who grilled Scott McClellan day in, day out, what do they think about the allegations in the book? What do they think he really thought back then?

Then, three candidates on the trail, three very different strategies and a bold prediction from Barack Obama about how soon he will have the nomination wrapped up -- all that and more when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: One of these days, he and I will are going to be rocking on chairs in Texas, talking about the good old days and his time as the press secretary. And I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott, job well done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Heck of a job, Scotty. That was then.

These days the White House is said to be puzzled about what happened to Scott McClellan that everyone said they knew. Puzzled, in fact, seems to be the word of the day.

Digging deeper now, we're joined by Scott McClellan's predecessor and old boss, Ari Fleischer. Thanks for joining us, Ari.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you.

COOPER: You know, we keep hearing that this doesn't sound like the Scott McClellan folks knew, and folks in the White House are puzzled. Do you believe he is lying?

FLEISCHER: You know, Anderson, I don't talk about people in that way.

But I have got to say, I am stumped. It doesn't sound like Scott when he says, this is propaganda; this is manipulation.

If you look at the words Scott used when he was at the podium, he didn't talk about other people like that. And he certainly never spoke like that in private. So, he's had a real serious change of heart here in the last year or so, because even as recently as a year ago, he was defending the president on TV shows about Iraq.

COOPER: Well, you're talking about him being on "Bill Maher"?

FLEISCHER: Yes.

COOPER: But, I mean, his comments were basically saying that there were a lot of mistakes and -- in the run-up to the war, but the surge seems to be doing OK. So, it wasn't as if it was a grand defense.

FLEISCHER: But Scott was justifying what we had done in Iraq. And he certainly made none of the same claims he was making now.

My point is that, if Scott had his misgivings -- and I was his boss -- Scott helped prep me for the briefings -- I would have thought Scott would have said something to me about, you may want to tone it down. You may want to be a little careful. Are you sure about that?

The fact is Scott was deputy press secretary at the time, 2002. His jurisdiction was over Health and Human Services, the Justice Department. He wouldn't have been in a position to hear some of the sensitive things that he's now writing about.

So, I find a lot of this to be puzzling. I'm sorry to say it, Anderson, because Scott was my deputy, and a good deputy. Something is wrong.

COOPER: We're hearing this from a lot of folks who -- in the White House off the record and people who -- like yourself, who used to work in the White House, that, you know, he -- he wasn't in the meetings. He didn't have the right access. He -- some have said he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, shouldn't have had the job in the first place.

Isn't this the kind of stuff folks always say against -- I mean, this is what they said against Richard Clarke -- to destroy people?

FLEISCHER: Yes, but, Anderson, you have to ask yourself, what was Scott privy to in 2002, when the lead-up to the war took place? He wasn't the press secretary. He was deputy with domestic issues.

COOPER: He wasn't in the lead-up to the war. But, for nearly three years, he -- he was the spokesman for the president. For years, he did, after the run-up to the war, after you left...

FLEISCHER: I'm addressing the most important allegations in the book, which is that the president, in the run-up to the war, used propaganda and manipulated information. My point is Scott is wrong. He's wrong on substance. And he wasn't in a position to know, because his jurisdiction wasn't over those issues. He was the deputy. I was the press secretary. I don't make these allegations. I don't think what Scott is saying is right.

COOPER: Frances Townsend came forward and said that he had limited access to facts. Isn't the one person you want to have access to facts the guy who is selling your agenda? That the spokesperson doesn't have access to facts seem troubling, no?

FLEISCHER: But I think she is making the point I just made. He had a different job in 2002.

But, if you listen to what he wrote in the book, he sounds as if he was hearing what the president was being exposed to. And now Scott calls it propaganda and manipulation.

COOPER: Later on, his job changed, though, and he started to get access, correct?

FLEISCHER: But I'm -- again, Anderson, I'm talking about Scott's most important, salacious charge in the book about propagandizing the reasons that we went to war, manipulating facts. To me, that's the most serious part of the book.

Much of the other parts are things I think, particularly when it came to the Valerie Plame matter, Scott stands on strong ground. But on that most important issue, he wasn't in a position to know, because he held a different job. And what he says just didn't comport with what I saw. And he also said in there, Anderson, that it was not a necessary war.

Well, that shouldn't have changed over time. Either this war was or was not necessary. Just because it didn't go well, it didn't go as well as hoped for or planned, that shouldn't change someone's position on whether it was or was not necessary. So, why didn't Scott ever tell me that in private? That is what is such a shocker in this book.

COOPER: Is it -- I mean, there are a lot of folks who view the spokesman, though, as -- their job as pure spin, that, as a spokesman, you must say things you don't believe in all the time.

FLEISCHER: But then Scott shouldn't have accepted the job as press secretary. If it is not in your heart, don't stand at the podium, because the press will catch you. They will know you don't believe it, you don't mean it.

And, on principle, why should you take a job if you don't believe it? But, in private, I had every opportunity -- and I availed myself of it often -- to tell the president when I thought he should do something differently or he was wrong.

In meetings, there were a lot of clashes. That's one of the benefits of being a White House staffer. I availed myself of that all the time, with no consequences. That's part of doing your job.

COOPER: It does seem, though, pretty damning that a guy who, you know -- granted, his job in the beginning wasn't -- perhaps didn't have access, but, finally, he did become the president's spokesperson -- that he, who was a cog in this machine of spin, is now basically saying he was misled, the country was misled, and he was telling lies.

FLEISCHER: And that's what I find so perplexing.

And Scott doesn't back it up, by the way, in the book. He doesn't say what the propaganda was. He doesn't say what the manipulation was. He just makes one of those Washington allegations. And, now, his book is against people making Washington allegations.

If he thought that, he could have backed it up in this book. Instead, it is just kind of one of those things he floats out there. And, again, we were told that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction by the CIA. So was the previous administration.

What we said turned out to be wrong. But I don't know how Scott can reach the conclusion that was manipulative or that it was propaganda.

COOPER: Well, he says the real reasons were for a larger agenda in the Middle East. But, anyway, it is in the book for more to talk about in the future.

Ari Fleischer, thanks for being with us.

Up next, the reporters who dealt with Scott McClellan every day, and a stunning revelation about who was trying to force one of them to toe the line on Iraq.

Later, new developments on the trail and a new boast from Barack Obama -- tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you've suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, "We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation"?

MCCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Scott McClellan in 2005 with John Roberts on the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Back in 2003, he defended Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, who were accused of leaking her identity. They said they weren't involved. Not true. Now he writes he himself was being deceived. Joining me now, CNN's John Roberts, Jessica Yellin, and Ed Henry, all of whom spent plenty of days trying to get answers out of Scott McClellan.

John, what do you make of his charges?

ROBERTS: I -- I fully believe that that's what he thinks now. Did he think it then I think is the big question.

I do know that, in that particular instance, I was asking him why he wasn't commenting on the Valerie Plame leak investigation, when he had in the past. And he acknowledges in the book that I was correct, that he had done it before.

When it became clear that he had been sold a bill of goods, as far as Scooter Libby and Karl Rove's involvement in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, he changed. I could see it -- I could see it in his eyes. I could see that he changed. He went from being a real Bush loyalist to feeling like he had been hung out to dry, betrayed.

And I got the sense, at that point, that maybe something would come of it. And I asked him a little bit about it. And he said, well, I'm not going to say anything now. I will wait until the appropriate time.

So, I fully expected him to talk about that. I didn't expect it to be this whole litany, this whole laundry list of grievances going all the way back to 2002.

COOPER: Jessica, McClellan took press to task for not upholding their reputation. He writes: "The National Press Corps 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. The 'liberal media' -- in quotes -- didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served."

Dan Bartlett, former Bush adviser, called the allegation "total crap."

What is your take? Did the press corps drop the ball?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't go that far.

I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings.

And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives -- and I was not at this network at the time -- but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.

I think, over time...

COOPER: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?

YELLIN: Not in that exact -- they wouldn't say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience.

COOPER: Ed, McClellan also writes how he and the president were misled when it came to the Plame case.

And he writes, "He" -- Bush -- "too had been deceived and therefore became unwittingly involved in deceiving me. But the top White House officials who knew the truth, including Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney, allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie."

Now, McClellan added -- added that had his reputation crumbled away because of that story.

Does -- how much of that, do you think, plays a role? I mean, is he settling a score, as some of his critics are now alleging -- alleging?

HENRY: I think to some extent. I think, as John Roberts was pointing out, that Scott McClellan was really shaken by that whole episode.

But I think the exchange you played at the very top of this segment between John Roberts and Scott McClellan in the CIA leak case, but also other exchanges between the press and McClellan and other White House officials in the run-up to the Iraq war, I think, shows that the media was not perfect, but the media did ask tough questions.

They didn't always get good answers. Scott McClellan and others in the administration were not always very forthcoming. As you saw in the CIA leak case thing there with John Roberts, Scott McClellan became famous for saying the same thing over and over: "I can't comment on an ongoing investigation."

I mean, the media was trying. They were pushing. I was not at the White House at that time. I was there in 2006, at the tail end of McClellan's time. But the media was pushing him. But he, frankly, was not that candid, not nearly as candid as he is in this book right now.

So, you do have to wonder, who is the real Scott McClellan, the one...

COOPER: Go ahead. Go ahead, Ed. Sorry. Finish your thought, Ed. HENRY: No, but just who is the real Scott McClellan, the one who was constantly pushing back on the media back then, and doing a lot of the White House talking points, or the one who now thinks that those talking points were not true?

COOPER: Up next: more from our reporters on Scott McClellan's book.

Plus, a new development tonight that could give Hillary Clinton her last chance to salvage her campaign. We're on the trail -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More now from the reporters who spent day after day grilling Scott McClellan and the allegations in his book that the media went easy on the White House, continuing the conversation with CNN's John Roberts, Jessica Yellin, and Ed Henry.

John, it does seem that the media gave the benefit of the doubt to this administration. And, in hindsight, that clearly seems like a mistake.

ROBERTS: The media gave the benefit of the doubt to this administration to a degree that it was not deserving of.

And I know that after the Iraq war -- and I was there for the initial invasion, and I had heard all of the spin -- call it propaganda, if you want -- Scott McClellan does -- in the run-up to the war. I saw what the situation was on the ground.

COOPER: As we talked about before, all wars are done through propaganda. I mean...

ROBERTS: JFK sold Vietnam on propaganda. Roosevelt used propaganda, to a large degree, in World War II.

But propaganda is part of selling a war. But when I saw the contradiction between what we had been told in the run-up to Iraq and what we found on the ground on Iraq, I vowed to myself, never again, as White House correspondent, would I ever let them get away with anything like we did in the run-up to the war.

COOPER: Jessica...

YELLIN: Anderson...

COOPER: Yes, go ahead, Jessica.

YELLIN: It strikes me that what Scott is doing right now is expressing a little bit of guilt. I mean, he was remarkably evasive over and over on any number of issues, from Katrina, to the vice president's shooting, to the CIA leak, and WMD.

And, at this point, he has become more than just disillusioned. He has become deeply, I do think, personally hurt. By the time he left the White House, he was expressing a lot of sort of regret. He wouldn't say it outright, but there were ways in which he made it clear that he really felt changed and he felt let down.

You remember he said: I asked Karl Rove if he leaked Valerie Plame's name. And Karl Rove said no.

Karl Rove had worked -- he had worked with him for all those years. One got the sense that he felt enormously disappointed by a boss, a mentor, and it just changed his outlook.

COOPER: Ed -- Ed, Jessica, whichever of you want to answer this, I mean, to what extent -- don't these spokesperson lie all the time? I mean, maybe lie is too dirty a word, but, I mean, their job -- they're P.R. people. Their job is to spin a story. Their job is to focus on one thing in answering a question and completely ignore the actual question you asked.

So, I mean, for a lot of these former spokespeople to now come forward and say, I'm -- if Scott had misgivings, he shouldn't have done this, I would think any human being would have misgivings about spinning all the time.

HENRY: Well, I don't think they lie all time, but I do think Mike McCurry, who was the Clinton White House press secretary, I think he once said that it is the art of telling the truth slowly, not quite lying, but telling it slowly.

And that's why White House correspondents are always trying to prod, prod, prod, until you finally get that answer, until you finally break through. But it, frankly, takes long time.

And I think, when you were talking about people now challenging McClellan's competence, saying maybe he wasn't really in the loop on a lot of these things, it makes you wonder why he then was the public face of this administration for so long.

I mean, I know not all press secretaries have the same access.

COOPER: Right. Why did they allow the guy who was not in the loop to be answering all the questions for this administration?

HENRY: He was out there talking about -- he was talking about war and peace. He was talking about the major issues of our day.

And, while I understand press secretaries don't have as much access as the Secretary of Defense, or someone like that, still, this is a very important job. It's the public face of this administration, of the President of the United States. And, so, it is sort of shocking to now hear, well, he wasn't really in the loop.

COOPER: Jessica Yellin, Ed Henry, John Roberts, appreciate your conversation. Really good. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Up next, Barack Obama says he's just days away from becoming the Democratic nominee, and John McCain is going after him like he already is the nominee. Hillary Clinton is also looking ahead to Saturday and a decision that could be her last chance to salvage the nomination. We take you on the trail, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel very confident that we will be so close in terms of the actual delegates that, if it's not Tuesday, then it will be Wednesday or Thursday that we can say that I'm the nominee and that we're ready to take on John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Clearly confident, Barack Obama looking into his crystal ball today. There are just three Democratic primaries to go. Puerto Rico votes Sunday. South Dakota and Montana, Tuesday.

There is one other crucial showdown looming. On Saturday, Democratic National Party officials will meet in Washington to decide what to do about those Florida and Michigan delegates.

Now, today, sources told CNN, those officials are leaning toward a compromise which would benefit Senator Clinton. A confidential memo obtained by CNN hints on what that might be. We'll have more on that in a moment.

But first, CNN's Candy Crowley is on the trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this is where the class of 2008...

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In his only stop of the day, Barack Obama paid a leisurely visit to a school in suburban Denver. There were classroom tours and a town-hall meeting focused on education.

OBAMA: We have to fix "No Child Left Behind." We have to provide the funding we were promised, give our states the resources they need, and finally meet our commitment to special education.

CROWLEY: Standard, well-worn stuff in a state that will host the Democratic convention but held its caucuses four months ago. In stark contrast to the sharp rhetoric of John McCain...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why I'm urging Senator Obama to listen and to learn.

CROWLEY: ... and the tense urgency of Hillary Clinton...

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is by no means over.

CROWLEY: ... the Obama campaign gives off the feel of suspended animation.

OBAMA: All right, everybody. Thank you very much. I'll see you back in August. Thank you.

CROWLEY: While Barack Obama drifts to the end stage of the primary process, he's under continued assault from John McCain. McCain suggesting Obama wants to surrender in Iraq without knowing what's happening there. He is itching for a fight and a headline.

MCCAIN: Now why is it that Senator Obama wants to sit down with the president of Iran, but hasn't yet sat down with General Petraeus, the leader of our troops in Iraq?

OBAMA: ... to actually talk about substance, the political comment which doesn't get anywhere.

CROWLEY: McCain is getting reinforcements from the Republican National Committee, which put up an online clock on its Web site, counting the days that have passed since Obama's last trip to Iraq more than two years ago.

Late in the day, Obama said he is considering returning to Iraq before the November election.

With the Democratic primary season in its twilight days, Hillary Clinton soldiers on. Her campaign sent a memo out to super delegates last night, complete with charts and graphs, rearguing that she will win in the fall and Obama may not. The same argument she makes along the campaign trail with heightened urgency.

CLINTON: We have not gone through this exciting, unprecedented, historical election only to lose. So you have to ask yourself, who is the stronger candidate?

CROWLEY: Montana and South Dakota hold their last of the season primaries Tuesday. But before that is Saturday, when members of the National Democratic Party meet to mull over the fate of Florida and Michigan, renegade states who violated party rules.

Clinton wants all their delegates seated anyway. Obama says he's willing to compromise. But a staff memo says under party rules, both states should lose at least 50 percent of their delegations.

Either way, Clinton could not overtake Obama's lead in elected pledge delegates, but she could get closer to him, strengthening her super delegate argument; big, big fight this Saturday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Big fight indeed. Candy, you've seen the memo. Any clues as to what we can expect?

CROWLEY: Well, I think that 50-percent penalty certainly tells you something. It is how the staff of the DNC reads the rules at this point, that if you break the rules, as Florida and Michigan did, that you lose 50 percent of your delegation, whether that's by having the delegation itself or having the full delegation with half a vote each.

So that seems to be certainly, with those that I have talked to, kind of the direction that the committee is moving. But, you know, they have to vote. This -- this particular blueprint really was sort of laying it out.

Here's when it started. Here are the arguments. Here's what the lawsuits have said. Here's what the states say.

So when they get into that room -- and by the way, they'll have an audience of several hundred people - the bylaws committee will be -- or the rules committee will be listening to the arguments from the states and from the candidates. Then they're going to take a lunch break and come back and argue about it.

COOPER: Is it -- is it all going to be televised?

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes. It is.

COOPER: All right. Grab some popcorn.

CROWLEY: So tune in.

COOPER: Grab some popcorn and Twizzlers.

Let's bring in former presidential adviser, David Gergen. Also, "TIME" magazine's Mark Halperin.

Mark, you've seen the memo. What do you make of it all? What does it mean?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: First of all, you want some chocolate gummy bears in the popcorn.

COOPER: Yes, I agree.

HALPERIN: ... just to be clear it's Saturday morning.

Look, with all due respect, I think the focus should not be on what they're going to decide. Because I don't think it's going to make much of a difference in terms of who the Democratic nominee is.

The real challenge, as far as I'm concerned, is for Senator Obama and his forces to come out of this meeting with the Democratic Party feeling at least as much united as it is now or, in their best case, more united than it is now. Not more divided.

Senator Clinton supporters are protesting at this event. Senator Obama supporters, and Senator Obama has said to his supporters, please don't protest.

But this has the potential to rip the Democratic Party apart. That's not what Senator Obama needs. And I think it's going to be a test of his campaign ability to stage manage to say can this event bring the party together?

COOPER: David, can it bring the party together? And what happens the day after and the day after that? I mean, does Hillary Clinton keep on going? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, unless -- unless the Democrats have a death wish, they'd better reach a compromise this weekend and they'd better do it with a minimum of rancor and a maximum of statesmanship.

I somewhat disagree with Mark about whether it's up to Senator Obama to keep order in this. After all, it's Hillary Clinton's forces who are coming out to protest. She has some strong arguments in her favor, but if they -- this becomes very chaotic. If it looks like Democrats can't run their own party, there are going to be a lot of voters who ask whether they're ready to run a country.

COOPER: I just watched "The Recount" of the -- it seems all very reminiscent of that; protesters showing up.

After the break, we'll talk to the panel and get some insights on the Scott McClellan book from them.

Also, McClellan is not the first White House insider claiming to set the record straight on Iraq. How does his new scathing book stack up to all the others that have been written about this Bush White House? An in-depth look at that.

Plus, one family's terrifying close call with a raging wildfire. The flames literally at their heels. Next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our panel is back, talking about the Scott McClellan book. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser David Gergen, and Mark Halperin, who writes the page at TIME.com.

Mark, your take on the whole kerfuffle.

HALPERIN: I think the origins of it, the seeds of it come because this White House did not want the White House spokesperson to be someone who informed the public, who gave the public a sense that...

COOPER: They didn't want the spokesperson to be somebody who informed the public.

HALPERIN: I think that's the way they saw the role. They wanted that job to be a nullity. They wanted nothing to happen at the podium. They wanted an uninformed person to go out there and just fill sound, make noises and have nothing happen.

And the reality was, or the result was that Scott, I think, was frustrated. He was in a job without the ability to try to manufacture news or create news or influence the public or inform the public.

COOPER: Which sort of goes to his argument about deception and propaganda and, you know, shading the truth. I mean...

HALPERIN: The president's -- the president's spokesperson should be someone in the business of informing the public, letting people know what the president is thinking, what the government is doing. I don't think that's the way they saw the role. And I think Scott chafed at that less at the time than he did in retrospect.

COOPER: David, what do you make of this? And what do you make of the White House and their surrogates' paid and unpaid response to it all?

GERGEN: Well, first of all, Anderson, how standards have deteriorated. I've just been reading Ted Sorensen's new memoir, "Counselor," about his days with John F. Kennedy.

And you never saw in those days, in the past decade, people come out; press secretaries, everybody else, come out and lash out at the president they just worked for in quite this way. Usually they let a discreet interval pass and they, even then, were respectful after all of the hand that fed them. So I find it sort of appalling that they drop this way.

But I also must tell you, I don't agree. I don't agree with some of the early panel remarks that press secretaries are simply paid as spinmeisters. That has not been the standard of the past.

I think Mark is right. They are paid to inform the public. There are times when they're going to be artful about doing that. But to see this as a job simply as spin, as somebody in this White House apparently did, I think denigrates not only the press secretary, it denigrates the whole idea of what democracy is about and what the relationship of the press corps should be in the White House. It should be professionals on both sides.

COOPER: Candy, what do you make of it?

CROWLEY: Well, I think there is some double betrayal going on here. I think that Scott felt betrayed, clearly, because he wasn't in the loop. Remember when Tony Snow came in and he said, part of the requisites that he had before he took the job was he wanted to be in on the meetings. It was very clear at the time that Scott was not. That Scott was a placeholder up there. They didn't want him, as Mark said, to make any news.

I must say, yes, his job is to inform the public, but I have yet to meet a spokesperson for the White House that didn't feel as though they were working for the president. So it's always a struggle that they have at the podium.

But Scott didn't know anything, and I think he felt betrayed. And I think now, in turn, the people who have known him since George Bush was the governor and have worked with him since that time, feel betrayed by him.

COOPER: Very quickly, Mark, does it surprise you how they're coming against Scott McClellan now?

HALPERIN: A little bit, because it's personal and Scott has been their friend. But I don't think they feel they have a choice. What he's saying is so fundamentally threatening to this administration. It is their modus operandi. And I think any White House would feel threatened by what he said.

COOPER: They seem to be attacking him personally, though, not so much on the facts, you know, at this point.

HALPERIN: I don't think they want to get into the facts, whether he's right or not. It is -- it is a slippery slope to go after him on the facts. And they're going after what David pointed to, which is extraordinary for him to write this while the president is still in office.

COOPER: Mark Halperin, David Gergen, Candy Crowley, thank you for being on tonight. Appreciate it.

Check out Candy and Mark's posts about all things political today on the 360 blog: cnn/360.

And a quick program note: CNN's live coverage of decision day begins Saturday morning, 9:00 Eastern. We'll have full coverage of the crucial meeting that will decide the fate of Florida and Michigan primary votes on CNN and at cnn.com. Nine a.m. So get your chocolate gummy bears and popcorn or whatever; soda pop.

Up next, Hillary Clinton's response to Scott McClellan's bombshell book.

And McClellan isn't the only White House insider to air the administration's dirty laundry in a tell-all book. We've got some of the -- well, some of the major books that came out. We'll take a quick look back.

Also ahead, shocking photos of polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs kissing young girls. Is it proof of abuse? What is it and does anyone really want to see that. You decide, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: There isn't any doubt that President Bush has misled us. The question now is what kind of president do we need going forward?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Hillary Clinton jumping into the firestorm over Scott McClellan's new book; what happened. It's joined a number of other so-called exposes from former Bush insiders on book shelves and in the political arena; some highly critical, others not so much.

Here's Tom Foreman with a growing collection of tell-alls and how the idea of telling all is strictly in the eye of the beholder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In seven years, the Bush presidency has produced nearly a dozen books by former insiders, and nothing has been a bigger page turner than the war in Iraq.

Plans to enter and fight the war were ill-conceived from the start, wrote one-time CIA boss George Tenet, who accused the White House of making intelligence officers fall guys, even though some of those very officers attacked him for that claim.

GEORGE TENET, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: They also have said I have blood on my hands. Let me say something, that's the most repugnant thing I've ever heard.

FOREMAN: Counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke slammed the president, saying he did not pay enough attention to warnings about al Qaeda before 9/11.

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM STAFFER: The administration had done nothing about al Qaeda prior to 9/11, despite that the CIA director was telling them virtually every day that there was a major threat.

FOREMAN: Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, in a book based on his experience, described Vice President Dick Cheney as politically driven to the point of ignoring facts, and said at cabinet meetings, the president was like a blind man in a room full of deaf people.

While David Kuo, a man involved in the president's outreach to religious communities, wrote that White House officials relied on church voters but privately called church leaders ridiculous.

Virtually every negative claim has been disputed, dismissed or explained by the White House. But the president's approval ratings have slipped lower and lower with each damning tale, even though some insiders have found plenty to praise.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.

FOREMAN: As press secretary Ari Fleischer vigorously defended the president, and as an author, he was no different, saying Mr. Bush is, quote, "one of the most uplifting, personnel-oriented, tough, demanding, humorous bosses you'll ever find."

Maybe, but the book on George Bush's presidency is still being written.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And the latest chapter is a doozy.

Almost time for "The Shot of the Day." And think about this. A raging wildfire burning a path straight for you, your family, your home. One family captures their terror-packed escape on video. First Erica Hill joins us again with the "360 News and Business Bulleting" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: And Anderson, we begin with breaking news. "The New York Time" reporting New York's governor has directed all state agencies to begin revising their policies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other places such as Massachusetts, California, and Canada.

This development coming in just hours after county clerks in California were told they can start issuing marriage licenses to same- sex couple on June 17. That date was picked because California Supreme Court has until the 16th to grant a stay of its decision legalizing gay marriage.

Outside of Boston, at least 12 people seriously hurt tonight when a transit trolley rear-ended another car. Network crews working for hours, trying to free passengers from that twisted wreckage, as you can see, of those two T-trains.

In the Texas polygamy legal showdown, shocking photos introduced as evidence; shocking and frankly sickening. They show sect leader Warren Jeffs kissing girls who appear to be under 18. State officials say they have found a pattern of underage girls being forced to marry older members of the sect.

And in the oil markets, you knew it was too good to be true. Prices actually fell at one point today, down $3 a barrel. That dip, though, was short-lived. Oil closed the day up $2 at $131 a barrel.

COOPER: Unbelievable.

Erica, check this out. A family on the run, frantically trying to escape a wildfire. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you guys. I'm sorry, Dad. If this does not -- turns out not -- yes. No, we're going to watch the news. It's right here! It's right here! Go! Go, go, go!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A mad dash to safety caught on tape. It's our "Shot of the Day," coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time for "The Shot of the Day," a potentially killer inferno. One family's moment of sheer panic, caught on home video. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is right next to our home sweet home. People... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... flames.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK Joey. Now get in. Get in! I don't know, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have a phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have a phone. Dad, not good. Fire it up. Go forward. We don't want to lose our family. OK. Dad? Up and to the right. Up and to the right. Oh, dear! OK. Down. I don't know, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's windy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, it's transferred into the Ormsby Trail right now. Ormsby Trail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ormsby Trail.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: They barely got themselves and their 7-year-old out with their lives. Over the last week, the wildfire in the California Santa Cruz Mountains burned up some 4,200 acres, 31 homes before being contained.

No one was killed, but many like Kenny and Kathy Adams, returned to find all their possessions in ashes. You can see all the most recent shots on our Web site. I don't know if I would turn on a camera in a moment like that.

HILL: I have to say, I'm so happy that those people are OK, but I have the same thought; like don't worry about the camera. Just get yourselves out, especially since you have a kid with you.

For international viewers, "CNN Today" is next. Here in America, "Larry King" is coming up.

Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow.

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.