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President Obama, GOP Presidential Candidates Comment on Trayvon Martin Case; Zimmerman's Attorney Speaks Out; EU Slaps Sanctions on Asma Al-Assad; U.S. Soldier Charged in Massacre of Afghans

Aired March 23, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Erin. Thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with breaking news in the killing of Trayvon Martin on a day that President Obama spoke out for the first time about the 17-year-old likening him to a son of his own.

Tonight, the lawyer for this man, the shooter, George Zimmerman, is speaking out. The question, can he shed any light on what happened that night, the 26th of February when his client pursued Trayvon Martin through a Sanford, Florida, gated community allegedly confronted him and then shot the unarmed teenager dead. You are going to hear from him shortly. It's one of many new developments in the case tonight.

Also, late words tonight that authorities in a nearby county have arrested a man who they say e-mailed a death threat to Sanford police chief Bill Lee. Chief Lee, you'll recall, has stepped aside temporarily yesterday.

To date man who could fire him but hasn't, city manager Norton Bonaparte spoke about the force that Chief Lee runs. He says that any trust that may have existed in the police department is gone and that for African-Americans in Sanford, Florida, it was always shaky to begin with.


NORTON BONAPARTE, CITY MANAGER, SANFORD, FLORIDA: Let's be very clear. Chief Lee has been the chief of the Sanford police department for ten months. The issues that have been brought to my attention regarding the black community and the Sanford police department go back many, many, many years.


COOPER: We've been looking into the reasons why that is including the brutal beating of an African-American homeless man in which police initially let the assailant, the son of a Sanford police lieutenant, go free. That beating led to the early departure of the last police chief but it's not the only stain on the department. We'll detail that incident and others shortly.

You're also tonight going to hear from Sanford's mayor, Jeff Triplett, who casts a no confidence vote on the current police chief.

Meantime, President Obama who hasn't spoken publicly about the Martin case until now broke his silence today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness that it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.


COOPER: Well, Republican presidential candidates also weighing in. Mitt Romney called it a tragedy. Rick Santorum telling reporter that George Zimmerman's action looks start different to him than those protected by Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Newt Gingrich saying Zimmerman was quote, "was clearly overreaching," unquote, in his neighborhood watch duties.

Conservative Florida, Allen West saying that Zimmerman had no authorization, his words, "to shoot Trayvon Martin."

Meantime, the protests go on across the country. And this, at Miami high school, were students walked out, marched to the football field and spelled out Trayvon Martin's initials for all to see. We got a lot to cover on this case tonight.

Bit we begin with the breaking news and Craig Sonner who is the attorney for George Zimmerman. I spoke to him moments ago.


COOPER: Mr. Sonner. First of all, how is your client, George Zimmerman, doing?

CRAIG SONNER, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S LAWYER: Well, I think he's doing all right considering - I mean, considered all the stress that resulted all the things that transpired in the last few weeks.

COOPER: Where is George Zimmerman now?

SONNER: I don't know. My conversations have been on the telephone. I don't know his exact location. I believe he is in the area.

COOPER: You believe he's still in the United States?


COOPER: There had been some indication that maybe he was in Peru or a report he's in Peru. That's not true?

SONNER: No, that's not true. COOPER: What has he told you about the night he shot Trayvon Martin.

SONNER: That -- I believe he made -- he should have made a statement to the police at that time, I think he did. I don't know for a fact because I have not seen the police report on this case. I have not discussed the evening of what occurred at that time. I think that will come out through the investigation process.

COOPER: You haven't discussed the details of that night with him?



SONNER: Even if I had, that would be attorney-client privilege and I wouldn't be able to disclose that tonight. But at this point there is an investigation going on. And I advised him to cooperate with that investigation. And as far as what did or didn't happen that night, I think there have been interviews with different witnesses and so on to suffice the answer to that question for you.

COOPER: 911 tapes have been released. Do you know -- has your client heard the 911 tapes?

SONNER: Other than what's being played on television?

COOPER: Or has he heard what is being played on television?

SONNER: I don't know. I don't believe he heard what is being heard on television nor have I.

COOPER: OK. You have not heard them.


COOPER: There are some people who believe that your client may have uttered a racial slur. Some heard the 911 tapes. They believe they may have heard that muttered under his breath. Has he made any indication to you about whether or not he did utter a racial slur?

SONNER: I don't believe he did utter a racial slur. I asked if he uses racial slurs. And he has denied that. And as well as -- he's been involved in a mentorship program which I think the funny was that he actually mentored two African-American -- he was a mentor to African-American boy age of 14 and his wife was a mentor to the 13- year-old girl from, you know, via their parents.

And in this -- I talked with the mother of the two children. And she indicated -- I asked her, you know, did he make comments to you that indicated he was a racist? And she said, no. And she is African-American. And for the things he's done, you know, as far as taking the children to the mall, you know, he took them to the mall, took them to the science center. Did the kind of outings to help, you know, to help the children have time out to be a friend to them. I don't believe that's the indication of a person that is a racist to do that.

COOPER: Has he given you any indication why he found Trayvon Martin suspicious?


COOPER: Because on the 911 tapes, he says these a-holes, they always get away. He also seemed to indicate he believed that perhaps Trayvon Martin was high or on drugs.

SONNER: I don't know. What is your question on that?

COOPER: Again, I mean, he seemed to indicate on those 911 tapes that he found Trayvon Martin suspicious based on something he saw. I'm wondering if he gave you any indication or if you have any sense of why he may have found Trayvon Martin suspicious.

SONNER: No. Again, I haven't listened to that 911 tape. And I haven't discussed that with him either.

COOPER: You said your client had injuries. There had been reports that he had a bloody nose and there was perhaps blood on the back of his head, grass stains on his back. What can you say what injuries if any he had?

SONNER: I believe that -- his nose was broken. He sustained injury to his nose. And on the back of his head, he sustained a cut that was serious enough that probably should have had stitches. There was a delay him getting to the emergency room so they -- by the time they got there, got to the doctor, there was an option not to stitch it up because it already started healing is my understanding.

COOPER: So reports indicated that the police didn't give him a drug test or didn't test for alcohol in your client. To your knowledge, was your client drinking or using drugs the night he shot Trayvon Martin?

SONNER: To my knowledge, he was not. I don't know whether -- what the results of any police report were. I haven't seen them. I don't know that they've been released.

COOPER: Did he indicate to you at all about how his nose got broken or his nose got hurt or the back of his head got cut?

SONNER: Well, it was an injury done by Trayvon Martin.

COOPER: Do you know if it was during a tussle? Does he describe at all how that injury occurred?

SONNER: I have not discussed with him the incident of that night other than the injury he sustained were from Trayvon Martin. I assume he hit him in the face and caused him to fall back and hit his head. I don't know how all the -- how it all came down. That is not something I discussed. I would not. That would be at this point attorney-client privilege and I wouldn't disclose that now if I did know it which I don't. COOPER: Sure. I understand. Is there anything else you want people to know?

SONNER: Just to -- let's look at the facts of what happened and I'm not -- I really think there are other issues and it's not an issue of racist -- racism. And I do believe that George Zimmerman is a racist, part of this was motivated by a dislike for African- American.

COOPER: What do you think are some of the issue is this case?

SONNER: Well, the ultimate issue is that there was some kind of scuffle took place and there was a gun that was discharged and now there is a young man dead. So the issue is whether it was -- whether it will be -- the ultimate issue is was it self-defense in his case? And that's what all the evidence will hopefully lead us -- lead a jury to discover or, you know, is going to a grand jury was what actually - what can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt occurred that evening.

COOPER: And your client tonight is standing by saying this was absolutely self-defense?


COOPER: Craig Sonner. I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much.

SONNER: All right. Thank you. Bye-bye.


COOPER: I also asked the attorney if his client George Zimmerman has a message for the Martin family and he says no, not at this time.

I want to get some quick reaction to the interview from our own lawyers, senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin joins us now by phone.

Jeffrey, he obviously wasn't saying a lot. He says he's represented George Zimmerman for two to three weeks now. Does it surprise you that he hasn't asked his client at all about what happened? He also says he hasn't been present for any interviews or discussions his client has had with police in all that time.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, that is certainly very surprising, particularly that he doesn't -- hasn't spoken to his client about what happened. Although, he seemed to waffle somewhat in part by saying he had not spoken to him and then he said well if I spoke to him, it would be covered by attorney-client privilege.

So, he is not putting forward a story of what happened. He's not under obligation. We're not law enforcement. But if you want to talk to the public, you would think he would have some description of what actually happened that night other than to say it was for self- defense. COOPER: He also said that he thinks it would boil down to a self-defense argument, not necessarily "Stand Your Ground" he said in a previous interview. That he said "Stand Your Ground" often is used for people defending themselves in a home. Did that surprise you?

TOOBIN: Well, I think, you know, he's probably being wise not to commit himself too specifically to a defense at this point. After all, his client is in charge. The grand jury is just meeting and as we have all been discussing for the past week, he may never be charged. So, he doesn't have to commit to a defense.

But this is a case, obviously, of great interest to the public. And the question that everybody is asking is how could a 17-year-old boy be shot dead on the street and what were the circumstances that led to it? We don't know a lot more than we did, unfortunately, you know, before he started talking publicly.

COOPER: Does it surprise that you the attorney said he himself has not listened to the 911 tapes? I think most people in America heard the 911 tapes.

TOOBIN: That's true. I think in fairness to Mr. Sonner, he is probably just trying to keep his options open, not committing to one defense or another. But if you want to talk publicly about the case, you should at least know as much as a generally informed media consume know. I mean, we have all heard the tape many times, it's surprising that he hasn't.

COOPER: Is there anything legally that a lawyer would advice his client not to send a message to the family of Trayvon Martin. Is there any legal reason why an attorney would tell his client, look, don't say you're sorry or don't say, you know, I'm sorry for your loss or anything like that?

TOOBIN: I think -- frankly, I am somewhat sympathetic to his silence on that issue. Nothing he's going to say is going to make the parents of this poor kid feel any better. And if the time comes at the legal proceeding is over, he may try to reach out. But at this point, I actually am somewhat sympathetic to say nothing. Because the risk of saying something wrong, it probably exceeds the benefit of any sort of role expression of sympathy.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, appreciate you calling in. Thanks.

Joining me now is the Martin family attorney, Natalie Jackson.

Miss Jackson, you heard George Zimmerman's attorney speaking tonight. Do you have any comments on anything he had to say?

NATALIE JACKSON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FAMILY LAWYER: No. I really don't. George Zimmerman, he's entitled by our legal system to have a lawyer. And, you know, that's perfectly fine with us. We believe in a legal system. It's just the people in the legal system that let this family down. There has not been an arrest in this case. So we want an arrest. And we want an arrest -- there should have been an arrest that night. COOPER: Do Trayvon Martin's family, do his parents have any message for George Zimmerman?

JACKSON: No. They don't really have a message for George Zimmerman. They have a message that they want an arrest. They believe that George Zimmerman did something wrong and illegal when he killed their son, their innocent son, Trayvon.

COOPER: Can you tell us anything about the meeting that occurred between the justice department and Trayvon Martin's parents yesterday?

JACKSON: Well, the justice department says that will look in to whether or not this was a hate crime. They said that the hate crime standard was very, very high. It's a will and standard. So, they have to actually look at his actions and his intent.

COOPER: If, in fact, did he utter a racial slur on that 911 tape, we've had played that tape multiple times and let viewers make up their own mind about whether or not they think they heard a racial slur. If he did utter a racial slur, would that be -- our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, says that will be perhaps a big part of permitting the federal government to bring some sort of hate crime charges. Is that your opinion as well? And do you believe there was a racial slur on that tape?

JACKSON: Yes. That's my opinion that if there was. We listened to the tape. But we still, you know, we don't know. That's up to the jury to decide whether or not there was a racial slur. There are people that think they hear it. There are people that think they don't. So, you know, really ultimately up to a jury. And that's why there must be an arrest in this case so this case can get to a jury.

COOPER: The grand jury is not scheduled to convene until April 10th. As far - is that an acceptable timeline to the Martin family?

JACKSON: April 10th is - it has to be an acceptable timeline at this point because that's what they have been told. What they don't want is any delay in that time line.

COOPER: I know Trayvon's parents want to see the Sanford police chief permanently removed, not just temporarily stepping aside. Beyond that, are they confident right now the investigation by state and federal authorities will be done appropriately?

JACKSON: They are cautiously optimistic. They've been told a lot of things before. This is a case where, you know, we're optimistic by your words but really your actions speak louder than words. They want to see an arrest in this case. The police chief has no say in this case anymore. It's up to the state now.

COOPER: Natalie Jackson, I appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you.

COOPER: As always, much more on the story at We're continuing to cover it on this program right now. Let us know what you think. We're on facebook, obviously. Follow me on twitter @andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight. Let me know what you thought about the interview the various attorneys.

There is more to the story tonight including the brutal beating and other incidents that have broken faith between the Sanford police department and many of the African-American community, they're supposed to be protecting in Sanford, Florida. We'll tell you about that.

Also Sanford's mayor who was elected in part to improve his city's image, my interview with him ahead.


COOPER: All right. The breaking news tonight, the lawyer for Trayvon martin's killer's speaking out. He says his client, George Zimmerman acted in self-defense. That he is not racist and he has not left the country and would surrender to authorities if charge of the shooting.

Also, at the top of the program, you heard Sanford city manager talk about the loss of trust in a Sanford police department and for many the lack of it to begin with. Tom Foreman has the evidence on that.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're looking at a you tube video that caused a sensation in Sanford, Florida in, late 2010, long before the Trayvon Martin shooting.

It shows a young white man punching a black man in the back of the head outside a bar, sending him to the hospital. And, yet, police made no move to arrest the assailant for weeks until well after the video had sparked a public cry for action. Why? Many in the city's minority communities believe it was because that young man, Justin Collison was the son of a police officer. Collison later paid medical bills for the wounded man and ended up with a year's probation. But that did little to ease tension, especially in the African-American community.

The NAACP is right now collecting allegations of such incidents, beatings, intimidation and worse. Few appear to be corroborated at this point but they clearly resonate with at least part of the community.

BEN JEALOUS, NAACP PRESIDENT, CEO: We've heard stories with regards to this department of case after case where black men have been killed or attacked and people have walked free even though those black men were not armed.

VALERIE HOUSTON, PASTOR, ALLEN CHAPEL AME CHURCH: Many young people have been shot and killed. Some by policemen, when they investigate, then they don't ever get back with the parents. And it's nothing. It's not due process. It's just in justice to the city. FOREMAN: In 2005, an African-American teen was shot and killed as he drove away from two security guards with ties to the Sanford police department. The guard said he tried to run over them and they fired in self-defense. They were arrested after several months. The shooter charged with manslaughter. They were eventually clear of the charges.

The city tried to address concern over such incidents, has made changes to the police department specifically for that purpose and some local folks admit they have seen some progress.

Indeed, the current police chief came on the job less than a year ago with a mandate to improve relations with the minority community in the wake of the Collison attack. Still, events suggest there is a long way to go.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Now Sanford's mayor Jeff Triplett, here's what the "Orlando Sentinel" wrote about him a year ago almost to the day. Quote "Sanford's new mayor, Jeff Triplett, wants to change the longtime perception of the city. Instead of the city being thought of as a crime ridden or run by good old boys, Triplett want people to see Sanford as a historical city with promise." Or the ambition but at least for now, damage control comes first. I spoke to Mayor Triplet earlier to night.


COOPER: Mayor Triplett, first of all, what do you say tonight to the parents of Trayvon Martin who still are asking why their son's killer hasn't been arrested?

JEFF TRIPLETT, MAYOR, SANFORD, FLORIDA: The only -- what I can say right now is that I truly feel in my heart that I've taken every step possible from the point in time that I became aware of it to get answers, you know, to go to the department of justice, to ask the FDLE to get involved, the things that happened since that point in time with the special prosecutor and the investigation process that we're going through.

I can't change the things of the past. I can't -- I can't take away what has transpired. But all I can say is that I'm going down the path and doing everything within my power to find out what truly happened.

COOPER: You entered a vote of no confidence and your police chief on Wednesday night, Bill Lee, he has now stepped aside. But only temporarily, making a point of saying he stood by the investigation that his department conducted.

The parents of Trayvon say that he should be permanently removed. What is your response to that? TRIPLETT: I completely understand that sentiment. I have not truly hasn't had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Bonaparte today. We have gone in different directions. We talked by phone.

COOPER: That is the city manager.

TRIPLETT: I plan on talking with him -- that's the city manager, yes, sir, sorry.

To find out exactly what their thoughts are, what the thought process was and where we go from here. I know he stated in the past that he wants to see the true investigation to come out before he makes any decisions about that. And as of right now, I agree with that. Having him step aside, even though it's temporary, it's the right thing for our city right now. We'll make some further determinations and decisions as the days come by.

COOPER: The police chief says he stands by the investigation. Do you stand by the investigation that was conducted and to Trayvon Martin's death?

TRIPLETT: I have a lot of questions about that. I said that since day one when I started hearing additional information. I don't know -- I have not seen the investigation. I don't know all the ins and outs to the investigation. But I like everyone else in the nation have some real concern and some questions. And that's exactly why we've asked outside sources to come in and review it and take a look at it. I think that's truly going to be the determination for what transpires.

COOPER: There are critics of the police chief and also of the police in Sanford say that there have been other incidences of tension between the African-American community and police in your community. To the 30 percent of your city that's African-American, should they have faith in the police department to protect them and treat them fairly?

TRIPLETT: I think our police department has a lot of fine ladies and gentlemen on this force that truly care about this community. I talked to many of them, over the course of this -- of what's transpired. I can absolutely though understand why they don't have trust in our police department. There has been a divide in the past that goes way beyond the, you know, Chief Lee, Mr. Bonaparte and myself and to a history of this.

And, you know, I sat down and listened the other day to a lot of grieved residence that think the police department have not done what, you know, have not investigated their circumstances or their issues. And I'm taking down all the notes and I know that Turner Clayton from the NAACP is taking notes, too. And we plan on giving that to the review team to take a look at have we done something in the past? Have we continued down this path of animosities? If we have, it's time for us to correct it. So, I think from this tragedy, if something good can come out of it, I truly think the community can come together and make some solid decisions and solutions.

COOPER: Mayor Triplett, I appreciate your time tonight.

TRIPLETT: Thank you, sir.


COOPER: There is other news tonight. Serious first lady is facing tough sanctions and growing contempt tonight. Next, how Asma Al Assad, that's her name, is spending her time while thousands of Syrians have been killed by their regime.


COOPER: Today, the European Union slapped new sanctions on the Syrian president's inner circle, freezing the asset of Bashar Al- Assad's wife, Asma and other relatives.

Sanctions are piling up and they hold meeting after meeting, the killings in Syria continue. Opposition groups said at least three dozen people were killed today. We can independently confirm that.

Fighting was reported found in at least six cities as the rest of the world stands by. This is what the people of Syria are trying to survive. In Homs, more reports today of heavy shelling by Assad's troops.

We cannot again confirm the authenticity of these videos because the regime tightly restricts independent journalists. Here's a closer look at the shelling in Homs that is reportedly house burning. Here's an even closer look.

It is said to be a mosque in Homes under attack, a frequent target especially during Friday prayers. The video shows a mosque in Daraa under attack. The cameraman is apparently inside. You can see security forces running down below.

The Free Syrian Army is fighting back as well. The Syrian tank, army tank was hit yesterday. The opposition remains outgunned and outnumbered by Assad's forces.

In the meantime, we're learning more and more about President Assad's wife, Asma. Last week, we told you what she wrote in e-mails that were hacked and linked to us. Tonight, Randi Kaye goes up close.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She is perhaps Bashar Al-Assad's strongest defender and one point thought to be his greatest asset. But now Syria's first lady, 36-year-old Asma Al-Assad is under fire for living an extravagant lifestyle and doing little to help the people of Syria dying in the street.

Mrs. Assad has refused to comment on her husband's regime and its use of tanks and artillery to kill protesters. In an e-mail to the "London Times," according to the BBC, her office wrote, "The first lady's very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities. These days she is equally involved in bridging gaps and encouraging dialogue. She listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence."

(on camera): If that's true, somehow she's found plenty of time for online shopping. This month e-mails obtained by "Anderson Cooper 360" believed to be from the private accounts of the Syrian president and his wife provide a glimpse into their life of luxury.

(voice-over): On February 3rd, the day after fighters reported more than 200 killed in the Homs massacre, it appears the first lady e-mailed a friend about shoes costing as much as $7,000 a pair.

The e-mail read, quote, "These are really iconic pieces for spring and some fabulous styles." During the past year of unrest, Mrs. Assad seems to have spent much of her time shopping for expensive art, jewelry and furniture too.

According to e-mails obtained by CNN, she apparently using a false name, e-mailed a London art dealer asking about six pieces of art that cost as much as $16,500 and that inquiry, it was sent the very same day Syrian protesters held a massive demonstration.

During which they called for an end to the Assad regime. Yet, despite keeping her head in the sand about the violence building in her own home country, just a few years earlier, Mrs. Assad had quite a different reaction to violence elsewhere in the region.

Speaking to CNN in 2009, she criticized the barbaric assault on Gaza, the very type of assault her husband is leading now.

ASMA AL-ASSAD, WIFE OF BASHAR-AL ASSAD: Mothers, think about when you put your children to bed at night. This is something that I think about. You put your children to bed at night and you expect to see them in the morning. That's a luxury that people in Gaza just do not have.

KAYE: And last year when Asma Al-Assad spoke in Paris, she sounded hopeful Syria would see peace.

ASSAD: In Syria, despite the conflict and despite the fact that we have -- we live in a region that is in constant turmoil and constant instability, our nation still believes that peace is the only solution.

KAYE: Compare those words to these images from Syria. Not exactly the picture of peace as citizens are fired upon by the Assad regime. Asma Assad grew up as a Sunni Muslim in West London where her father was a cardiologist.

MALIK AL-ABDEH, NEIGHBOR: Was he marrying into the ruling family in Syria would automatically make you part of elite. It would allow you unparalleled access to wealth and money and prestige. I think that family was seduced by that lifestyle.

KAYE: According to the BBC, she attended King's College and got a degree in computer science. She later became an investment banker and in 2000 married Assad in Syria. They have three children. There was great hope Mrs. Assad's western upbringing might bring a softer touch to the shadowy regime and help bring reform to Syria. Instead, the woman once dubbed a rose in the desert by "Vogue" magazine is now just another black mark on Assad's inner circle. Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: A rose in a desert. We're following other important stories. Isha is back with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, charges filed today against Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales includes 17 counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder. Bales is accused of shooting Afghan civilians in a remote village.

U.S. and Afghan officials initially said 16 people, not 17, were killed so far, no explanation for the other fatality. If convicted on even one of the murder charges, Bales could face the death penalty.

British lawmakers are angling to rename one of London's most famous landmarks. If they succeed, the tower that holds Big Ben would become Queen Elizabeth Tower in honor of the queen's diamond jubilee.

And Anderson, reality TV star Kim Kardashian probably didn't see this coming when she hit the red carpet last night in West Hollywood. She was flour bombed. The culprit was arrested and charged with non- criminal battery.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

In Raw Politics tonight, is Rick Santorum, is he the latest candidate to shoot himself in the foot with a potentially costly gaffe? And will it cost him votes in tomorrow's Louisiana primary? Paul Begala, Rich Galen weigh in next. We'll tell you what he said.


COOPER: Raw Politics now, in the eve of tomorrow's Louisiana primary, Rick Santorum spent part of his day in a shooting range in West Monroe where he fired a Colt 45 automatic.

He also spent some time doing damage control after shooting from the lip yesterday saying that Americans might as well stick with president Obama if the GOP choice is Mitt Romney. Listen.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've said repeatedly and will continue to say, I'll vote for whoever the Republican nominee is. Barack Obama is a disaster. But we can't have someone that agrees with him on some of the biggest issues of the day. And that's the problem with Governor Romney. He doesn't provide the clear choice that we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, you know what, if any damage those remarks may have made in Louisiana tomorrow. Recent polling from ARG shows him with a commanding 16-point lead in the state.

Nationwide, though, very different story, obviously, Gallup's latest tracking poll has Governor Romney up by 14 points. I talked about the race tonight and Rick Santorum's statements with Democratic strategist, Paul Begala and Republican strategist, Rich Galen.

Paul, this coming from Santorum, how big a blunder was this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's about the worst thing you could commit in the Republican Party. To say anybody would be better than Barack Obama, right? Satan himself would be better than Barack Obama.

Rather an Obama would be better than Mitt Romney. I don't know though that it's going to stall him in Louisiana. You know, I look today. He went to Monroe in the north, Protestant most conservative Bible belt part of Louisiana.

He was at a gun range in the north. That's a twin killing. He's both in the Bible belt part and he's shooting at a gun range. I think that is more powerful than this gaffe today.

COOPER: Rich, you say this is less of a campaign at this point and more of a personal vendetta by Santorum and Gingrich against Romney? Is that really?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I do think so. Also, I think that we -- at this point of the campaign, the second place, third place, fourth place candidates, they run into the three Fs, fatigue, frustration and finances.

I think especially in this cycle where you've had the enormous rises in dips and, you know, the Santorum thought at some point he was really on a path to the nomination that they just get tired. They get sloppy.

And they start saying things out of peak rather than out of good sense. But I do think that there is a streak both among Santorum and Gingrich that is a personal distaste if not dislike for Mitt Romney.

COOPER: Candy, for all the talk though about divisiveness and how divisive this primary, is you look back, so was the Clinton-Obama primary back in 2008. Hillary Clinton obviously went on to be, you know, in his cabinet, secretary of state. Just because the Republican race is nasty now, doesn't mean they won't unite down the road.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. History is full of cases where enemies start talking to each other and become friends, et cetera, et cetera. But let me tell you the difference between the Obama-Clinton race and the race we're seeing now.

Over the course of time in the Obama-Clinton race, what we saw was that folks got easier with the other person. So you would say to Democrats, would you be all right with Hillary Clinton even though you support Barack Obama?

They said, yes and vice versa. What's happened here is that everybody really has sort of gotten solidified. They don't like this person. They say they wouldn't vote for them. I will also say that what's happening in the Republican race is that their positives are going down.

And what we saw over the course of the Democratic race is that each candidate actually got stronger. So it's -- they really would like to wrap this up in the Romney campaign, I can tell you that. Precisely because they think there is some need for repair between now and August.

COOPER: Paul, I don't understand how Santorum could say that though about Romney. You know, earlier a couple days ago, Santorum said this is the most important election since 1860 and nothing less than freedom is at stake here. Do you think it is just sort of personal animosity?

BEGALA: I think it's both what Candy and Rich both said. It's personal animosity, which you can't discount, but it's also fatigue. I think he meant it. We get tired. Sometimes we actually say what we really mean.

I will say though, less my fellow Democrats think this thing is in the bag, the Republicans have a secret weapon. The greatest unifying force for conservatives of the modern era and that is Barack Obama.

Rick Santorum was not speaking for most conservatives when he said they would be better with Obama. I'm obviously for him. But the kinds of voters most resistant to Romney are the ones that don't like the president the most.

The truth is I don't think Romney's going to have that hard of time uniting the party where this is damage came in a different way. It's pulled him out of the ability to appeal to Latinos and women who will be the swing votes. They'll decide this next presidency.

That's where it hurt Romney. Not in these hard feelings were on the right where they were reluctant to vote for him. It was to get the right. He has pulled himself so far out of the mainstream vis-a- vis women and Latinos.

COOPER: Rich, I want to play a clip of Mitt Romney --

GALEN: It's an Etch-A-Sketch line in here. We better let it go.

COOPER: Let's listen to something that Romney said on the campaign trail.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, most people in this room don't give a lot of thought to something known as Dodd/Frank, this financial regulatory bill. I mean, you hear -- but you don't think it affects everybody -- you all on a direct basis. I mean you all. I'm not trying to pretend like I'm from Louisiana.


COOPER: It was interesting to me because he's clearly heard the criticism that he tries too hard to adapt to whatever crowd he's speaking to.

GALEN: Well, I think it's because he's got not the greatest sense of humor in the world not withstanding what his wife, Ann says. I don't think he's a good enough actor to kind of pull it off.

My sense of those sorts of things was that he knows he's no good at it. He's sort of making fun at himself when he talks about things like eating grits. I mean, he understand that's people know he's probably only read the word grits. I'm not sure he has ever seen it on the package.

COOPER: Candy, how much does Louisiana really matter? It's looking like Santorum right now is far in the lead. Mitt Romney clearly from a delegate standpoint doesn't have to win Louisiana.

CROWLEY: No, he doesn't. It will be another -- it's his last shot in the Deep South state for Mitt Romney. He doesn't look as though he's going to win it. So there will always be that criticism out there that really the core of the Republican Party, which has been the solid south has not yet voted for Mitt Romney.

But going back to what Paul said, it's not as though those states are going to go for Barack Obama. So I'm not sure as fatal a flaw as Romney's opponents would like him to think. I think Louisiana matters less after Illinois.

But certainly it keeps Rick Santorum in play. I don't think anything will take Newt Gingrich out of play unless it's Newt Gingrich. So I think they all go on, but I think the race was fundamentally changed, really felt like it turned a corner in Illinois.

COOPER: Yeah. And, yet, it goes on and on. Candy Crowley, Rich Galen and Paul Begala, thank you all.

Well, on the other side of the Atlantic, a terror suspect's final hideout is revealed. We get a look inside an apartment in France when a gunman was killed after a 30-hour siege. That and more when we continue.


COOPER: We have something to make you smile before the night is over. "The Ridiculist" is next. But first, Isha has a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, French police have allowed cameras inside an apartment where a gunman was holdup for more than a day this week. Items are strewn all around and as can you see, bullet holes punctured the walls. The 23-year-old, Mohammed Merah, was a suspect in seven murders. He was killed in a shootout with police.

Millionaire John Goodman faces up to 30 years in prison after being found guilty today of DUI manslaughter in Florida. The car accident happened two years ago, and left another driver dead, submerged in a canal. Prosecutors say Goodman was drunk when he ran Scott Wilson off the road and then fled the scene.

The highly anticipated movie "The Hunger Games" opens today. It already set a Box Office record earning nearly $20 million. That's because some theatres started running the movie at midnight this morning.

And take a look at this gem, Anderson. It's the world's first all diamond ring carved from a diamond, but not set in a traditional metal band. It took a jeweler in Switzerland about a year to cut and polish it. The price tag for the 150 carat ring, a whopping, $70 million.


SESAY: Yes, I think I'm worth it though. I think I'm worth it.

COOPER: OK. Well, lots of rock with that. I wish you well. Good luck on the -- so I know you probably get this urge all the time. Do you ever get the urge to call Octomom, for instance, just see how she's doing? You're in luck. "The Ridiculist" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And for the many among us who have thought -- I wish I could talk to the Octomom on the phone right now. It's a dream come true.

A new web site called "Dial A Star" lets you talk one-on-one with celebrities over the phone. And these celebrities are who's who of Hollywood as in who the heck are these people?

Of the three dozen or so stars on the site, I haven't heard about 90 percent of them. There are few familiar names. I mentioned Octomom. You can call her for $12 a minute. It will cost you $20 a minute to talk to Tila Tequila or you can call Chris Crocker.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave Britney Spears alone right now! Leave Britney alone!


COOPER: Chris Crocker, $20 a minute. I'm not quite sure how they came up with this pricing structure. Michael Lohan is $18 a minute, for instance Dina Lohan, $25 a minute.

Windy Williams actually tried out "Dial A Star" found out why Dina Lohan got on board.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They approached me a couple days ago. I said sounds like a really cool idea because for me as a parent and being in the entertainment field for 30-odd years, there are so many inaccuracies in the media.

If I can get people that call, it goes through a portal. They don't know your cell phone or home or where you are or whatever. But you can reach out and tell the truth as to all the BS out there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dina? I have to go. We've already been on the shown for a minute and a half.


COOPER: Look, it's a free country. If you want to spend $25 a minute to find out from Dina Lohan, what is and is not BS go for it. I guess.

Former real housewife of New Jersey Danielle Staub, she's on there, too. For $18 a minute, you can ask her what her last name s I suggest her smash hit "Close To You." It may not have the same effect without the cheesy backup dancers.

Why am so I scared? Look, if you want to talk to these people, be my guest. There is already a way for fans to connect with their favorite celebrities for free. It is called Twitter and it's highly effective. Just ask Jimmy Kimmel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We asked some celebrities to read their favorite tweets from fans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. This is Will Farrell. That is. Dumb.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's people like Kathy Griffin who are the root causes for why redheads are perceived as the spawn of Satan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This one is actually sweet. Can it be my turn to punch Andy Dick until there is bones in his stool?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Farrell is a -- fool.


COOPER: Well, the choice is yours. Reach out and touch someone or reach out and tweet someone. Either way, the stars are more within reach than ever on "The Ridiculist."

That's it for us. We'll see you again at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching.