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President Obama Speaks Out on Florida Shooting

Aired March 23, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast and we begin with breaking news on the killing of Trayvon Martin.

On the 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 will hear from him shortly.

It's just one of many new developments in the case tonight. Also late word tonight that authorities in a nearby county have arrested a man whom they say e-mailed a death threat to Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee. Chief Lee, you will recall, has stepped aside temporarily yesterday.

Today, the man who could fire him but hasn't, city manager Norton Bonaparte, spoke about the force that Chief Lee runs. He said 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 10 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 have been looking into the reason why that is, including the brutal beating of an African-American homeless man, in which police initially let 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 and we're going to detail that incident and others shortly.

And you're also tonight going to hear from Sanford's mayor, Jeff Triplett, who cast a no confidence vote on the current police chief. And 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. You know, 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 it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.


COOPER: Well, the Republican presidential candidates also weighing in. Mitt Romney calling it a tragedy, Rick Santorum telling reports that shooter George Zimmerman's actions look starkly different to him than those protected by Florida's stand your ground law. Newt Gingrich said that Zimmerman was "clearly overreaching" in his neighborhood watch duties.

Conservative Florida Congressman Allen West said Zimmerman had no authorization, his words, to shoot Trayvon Martin. Meantime, the protests go on across this country and at this Miami high school, where students marched out and marched to the football field and spelled out Trayvon Martin's initials for all to see.

We have a lot to cover on this case tonight but we begin with the breaking news and we have Craig Sonner, the attorney for Mr. Zimmerman. I spoke to him moments ago.


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

CRAIG SONNER, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think he's doing all right considering, I mean, he's under a considerable bit of stress as a result of all the things that have 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's in the area.


SONNER: Law enforcement has been in contact with him.

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

SONNER: Oh, yes.

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

SONNER: No, that's not true.

COOPER: What has your client told you about the night he shot Trayvon Martin?

SONNER: That I believe he's probably -- he should have made a statement to police at that time. I think he did. I don't know for a fact because I haven't seen the police reports on this case.

I have not discussed the evening of what occurred that time. I think that'll come out through the investigation process done by law enforcement.

COOPER: You haven't discussed any of 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's an investigation going on and I have 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, just to suffice to answer that question for you.

COOPER: The 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's being played on television?

SONNER: I don't know. I don't believe he has heard what's being played 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 have heard those 911 tapes, and 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 uttered a racial slur. I asked him if he uses racial slurs and he had denied that. He's been involved in a mentorship program which I think the funding has been cut, but he actually mentored two African-American -- he and -- was a mentor age to an African-American boy age of 14 and his wife was a mentor to a 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 she -- 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 that he's done, you know, as far as taking the children to the mall, 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 who's 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 was on drugs.

SONNER: I don't know. What's the question on that?

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

SONNER: No, I have -- 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 he had a bloody nose, there were perhaps blood on the back of his head, grass stains on his back. What can you say about what injuries if any he had?

SONNER: I believe that he -- 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, but there was a delay in 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 had started healing is my understanding.

COOPER: So the reports had 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 what the results of any police report were because I haven't seen them. I don't know if they have been released.

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

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

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

SONNER: I have not discussed with him the incidents of that night, other than the injuries he sustained were from Trayvon Martin I assume hit him in the face and caused him to fall back and hit his head.

I don't know how all the -- it all came down. That's not been something I have discussed. That would be at this point attorney/client privilege and I would not disclose that now even if I did know, 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 that there is -- there are other issues in this case and that it's not an issue of racist -- racism. And I don't believe that George Zimmerman is a racist or that this was motivated by a dislike for African-Americans.

COOPER: What do you think are some of the other issues in this case?

SONNER: Well, the ultimate issue is that there was some kind of scuffle that took place and there was a gun that was discharged and now there's a young man dead.

So the issue is whether it was -- the ultimate issue is was it self-defense in his case? That's what all the evidence will hopefully lead us -- lead a jury to discover or, you know, or if it is going to the grand jury, what actually -- you know, what can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt occurred that evening.

COOPER: And your client tonight is standing by saying this absolutely was 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. He says no, not at this time.

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

Jeff, he obviously wasn't saying a lot. He say 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: 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 -- you know, a story of what happened. I mean, he's not under obligation. We are not law enforcement, but if he wants 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 just 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. Does 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 hasn't even been charged.

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, you know, the question that everybody is asking is, how could a 16- or 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 before he started talking publicly.

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

TOOBIN: That's true. I think in fairness to Mr. Sonner, he's 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 just media observer or media consumer would know. I mean, we all heard that tape many times. It's surprising he hasn't.

COOPER: Is there anything legally that a lawyer would advise 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 I'm sorry for your loss or anything like that?

TOOBIN: I mean, I think, frankly, I am somewhat sympathetic to his silence on that issue. Nothing he will say will make the parents of this poor kid feel any better.

If the time comes that the legal proceeding is over, he may try to reach out. But at this point, I actually am somewhat sympathetic to the desire to simply saying nothing, because the risk of saying something wrong probably exceeds the (INAUDIBLE) of any sort of rote expression of sympathy. COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, appreciate you calling in, thanks.

Joining me is the Martin family attorney, Natalie Jackson.

Ms. Jackson, you heard Mr. Zimmerman's attorney speaking tonight and do you have any comments on anything he had to say?

NATALIE JACKSON, ATTORNEY: No, I really don't. George Zimmerman is 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 the people in the legal system that have let this family down. There's 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: The Justice Department said they would look into whether or not this was a hate crime. They said that the hate crime standard was very, very high. It's a willfulness standard. They would have to actually look at his actions and his intent.

COOPER: If in fact he did utter a racial slur on that 911 tape, we have 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, our legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said that would be perhaps a big part of allowing the federal government to bring some sort of hate crime charges. Is that your understanding as well? And do you believe there was racial slur on that tape?

JACKSON: Yes, that's my opinion, that there was.

We have listened to the tape, but we still don't know. That's up to the jury to decide whether or not there was a racial slur. There's people that think they hear it. There's people that think that they don't. So, you know, really that's 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 10. As far as -- is that an acceptable timeline to the Martin family?

JACKSON: April 10, it has to be an acceptable timeline at this point because that's that they have been told. What they don't want is any delay in that timeline. 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 that the investigation by the state and federal authorities will be done properly?

JACKSON: They're cautiously optimistic. They have been told a lot of things before. This is a case where we're optimistic by your words, but really your actions speak louder than words. They want to see an arrest in this case and 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 though on this program right now. Let us know do you think. We're on Facebook obviously and follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight. Let me know what you thought about the interview with various attorneys.

There's more to the story tonight, including the brutal beating and other incidents that have broken faith between the Sanford Police Department and many in the African-American community they're supposed to be protecting in Sanford, Florida. We will tell you about that. Also Sanford's mayor who was elected in part to improve his city's image. I interview him ahead.


COOPER: Breaking news tonight, the lawyer for Trayvon Martin's killer is speaking out. He says his client, George Zimmerman, acted in self-defense, that he's not racist, and has not left the country and would surrender to authorities if charged with the shooting.

Also at the top of the program, you also heard the Sanford city manager talk about the loss of trust in the 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 YouTube 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 the 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 and intimidation and worse. Few appear to be corroborated at this point, but they clearly resonate with at least part of the community.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: We have 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: Many young people have been shot and killed, some by policemen and when they investigate, then they don't ever get back with the parents and it's nothing. It's nothing. It's not due process. It's just injustice 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 cleared of the charges.

(on camera): The city has 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.

(voice-over): 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 of recent days suggest there's a long way to go.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, 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 crime-ridden or run by good old boys, Triplett wants people to see Sanford as a historical city with promise."

A worthy ambition, but at least for now damage control comes first. I spoke with Mayor Triplett earlier tonight.


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

JEFF TRIPLETT, MAYOR OF SANFORD, FLORIDA: The only -- what I can say right now is that I truly feel in my heart that I have taken every step possible from the point in time that I -- 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 have 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, I'm doing everything within my power to find out what truly happened.

COOPER: You entered a vote of no confidence in your police chief on Wednesday night, Bill Lee. He's now stepped aside, but only temporarily, making a point saying that he stood by the investigation his department conducted. The parents of Trayvon say he should be permanently removed. What's your response to that?

TRIPLETT: I completely understand that, that sentiment. I have not truly had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Bonaparte today. We have kind of gone in different directions. We have talked by phone.

COOPER: That's the city manager.

TRIPLETT: I plan on getting with him in the next day or two -- that's the city manager, yes, sir, sorry -- to find out exactly what their thoughts -- what the thoughts are and what the thought process was and where we go from here.

I know he's stated in the past 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 temporarily it's the right thing for our city right now. We will make some further determinations and decisions as the days come by.

COOPER: The chief of police as I said that he stands by the investigation. Do you stand by the investigation that was conducted into Trayvon Martin's death?

TRIPLETT: I have a lot of questions about that. I have 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 of the investigation, but I like everyone else in the nation has some real concern and some questions. That's exactly why we have 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: Critics of the police chief and also of the police in Sanford say that there have been other incidences of tensions between the African-American community and the police in your community. To the 30 percent of your city that is 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 have talked to many of them over the course 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. It 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 -- a lot of aggrieved residents that think that the police department have not done what -- have not investigated their circumstances or their issues.

I'm taking down all those notes and I know that Turner Clayton from the NAACP is taking notes too. 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 if -- from this tragedy if something good can come out of it, I truly think the community can come together and make solid decisions and solutions.

COOPER: Mayor Triplett, I appreciate your time tonight.

TRIPLETT: Thank you, sir.


COOPER: There is other news tonight. Syria's first lady is facing tough sanctions and growing contempt tonight -- next, how Asma al-Assad, that's her name, has been spending her time while thousands of Syrians have been killed by the regime.


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

Though sanctions are piling up, and world leaders hold meeting after meeting, the killings in Syria continue. Opposition -- opposition groups said at least three dozen people were killed today. We can't independently confirm that.

Fighting was reported 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 can't, 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's reportedly a house burning. Here's an even closer look. That's said to be a mosque in Homes under attack, a frequent target, especially during Friday prayers.

The video shows a mosque in Dara under attack. The cameraman is apparently inside. You can see security forces running down below.

The Free Syrian Army is fighting back, as well. A Syrian tank, Army tank was hit yesterday. The opposition remains outgunned, certainly 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 them leaked to us. Tonight, Randi Kaye goes up close.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's perhaps Bashar al-Assad's strongest defender and at 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 streets.

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 3, the day opposition fighters in Homs 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 jewelry, art 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, FIRST LADY OF SYRIA: Mothers, think about when you put your children to bed at night. This is something I think about all the time. 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.

AL-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 al-Assad grew up a Sunni Muslim in west London where her father was a cardiologist.

MALIK AL-ABDEH, NEIGHBOR: Marrying into the ruling family in Syria would automatically make you part of the elite. It would allow you unparalleled access to wealth and money and prestige. And 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 Bashar al-Assad's inner circle.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: A rose in a desert.

We're following other important stories. Isha is back with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the 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 noncriminal battery. Yes. The trials and tribulations of Kim K.

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 and Rich Galen weighs in next and tell you what he thinks.


COOPER: "Raw Politics" now. On the eve of tomorrow's Louisiana primary, Rick Santorum spent part of his day at 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 or I'll work for them. Barack Obama is a disaster. But we can't someone that agrees with him on the biggest issues of the day. And that's the problem with Governor Romney. He doesn't provide the clear choice that we need.


COOPER: Well now, 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, it's a very different story. Gallup's tracking poll has Romney up by 14 points. I talked about the race tonight and Rick Santorum's statements with Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Republican strategist Rich Galen, and CNN's chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley.


COOPER: Paul, this remark from Santorum, how big a blunder was this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's about the worst thing you could commit in the Republican Party, to say that anybody would be better than Barack Obama. Right? Satan himself would be better than Barack Obama. Rather Barack 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, the Protestant, most conservative Bible Belt part of Louisiana. And 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 maybe that's going to be 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? Really?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGY: I really think so. And also, I think at this point of the campaign, the second place, third place, fourth place candidates, they run into the three "Fs," fatigue, frustration and finances.

And I think, especially in this cycle, where you've had the enormous rises and 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 pique 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 about divisiveness and how divisive this primary is, you know, you look back. So was the Clinton-Obama primary back in 2008. Hillary Clinton obviously went on to be, you know, in his cabinet, the secretary of state. So just because the Republican race is nasty right now, doesn't mean they won't unite down the road.

CROWLEY: Yes. History is full of cases where enemies start talking to each other and become friends. Bush and Dole, 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, and they'd say, yes. And vice versa.

What's happened here is that everybody really sort of has gotten solidified. And 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's going to be 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 that 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. When we get tired, sometimes we actually say what we really mean.

I will say though, lest 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's Barack Obama. Rick Santorum was not speaking for most conservatives when he said maybe they'd be better with Obama. I mean, I'm obviously for him.

But the kinds of voters who are most resistant to Romney are the ones who dislike the president the most. The "Truth" is, I don't think Romney is going to have that hard a time uniting the party.

Where it's damaged Romney is a different way. It's pulled him out of the ability to appeal to Latinos and women who are going to be the swing votes. They're going to decide this next presidency. That's where it's hurt Romney. Not in these hard feelings on the right where they were reluctant to vote for him. If they get the right, he pulled himself so far out of the mainstream, he's going to lose women and Latinos.

COOPER: Rich, I want to pay a clip of Mitt Romney.

GALEN: There's an etch-a-sketch line in there somewhere, but I better let it go.

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


ROMNEY: You know, I mean, 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 -- y'all on a -- y'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 -- I think it's because he's got not the greatest sense of humor in the world, notwithstanding what his wife Ann says. I just 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. And he's sort of making fun at himself when he talks about things like eating grits. I mean, he understands that people know he's probably only read the word "grits." I'm not sure he's ever seen it on a package, actually.

COOPER: Candy, how much does Louisiana really matter? I mean, 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 a 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 it's 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: Yes. And, yet, it goes on and on. Candy Crowley, Rich Galen, Paul Begala, thank you all.

GALEN: Thanks.

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


SESAY: Hi. I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

French police allowed cameras inside the apartment where a gunman was holed up for more than a day this week. Items are strewn all around and, as can you see, bullet holes punctured the walls. Twenty- three-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 Paulson off the road and then fled the scene.

The highly anticipated movie "The Hunger Games" opens today, and it's already set a box office record for a non-sequel, earning nearly $20 million. That's because some theaters started running the movie at midnight. Now, it's nothing, though, compared to the second "Harry Potter" installment. That conjured up $43 million.

And take a look at this gem. It's the world's first all-diamond ring, carved from a diamond but not set in a traditional metal band. Yahoo! News said it took a jeweler in Switzerland about a year to cut and polish it. The price tag for it -- I know you're wondering for the 150 karat ring, a whopping $70 million -- Anderson.

COOPER: So Isha, I know you probably get this urge all the time. You ever get the urge to pick up a phone, call Octomom, for instance, just to 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 thought, "Gosh, I really 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 a 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 a few familiar names. I mentioned Octomom. You can call her for $12 a minute, which is actually the lower end of the scale. It will cost you $20 a minute to talk to Tila Tequila. That's right. That's a name I haven't said in a while. Or you can call Chris Crocker.


CHRIS CROCKER, INTERNET STAR: Leave Britney Spears alone right now! Leave Britney alone!


COOPER: Chris Crocker, $20 a minute.

Now, 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.

Wendy Williams actually tried out Dial-A-Star and found out why Dina Lohan got on board.


DINA LOHAN, LINDSAY'S MOTHER: They approached me, like, a couple of days ago, and I said it 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. And if I can get people that call -- it goes through a portal. They certainly don't know your cell phone or you home or where you are or whatever. But you can reach out and tell the truth as to all the B.S. out there.

WENDY WILLIAMS, TALK SHOW HOST: Dina? I have to go. We've already been on the phone for a minute and a half.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Hey, look, it's a free country. If you want to spend $25 a minute to find out from Dina Lohan what is or what is not B.S., go for it. I guess.

Former real housewife of New Jersey, Danielle Staub -- or is it "stob"? Oh who cares? -- she's on there, too. For $18 a minute, you can ask her what her last name is. Maybe she can sing a song for you, I suggest her smash hit "Close to You," although it might not have the same effect without the cheesy backup dancers.


DANIELLE STAUB, REALITY TV STAR (singing): You're the one that I want to run to. The one I want to call when all my dreams are shattered. Why am I so scared?


COOPER: Why am I so scared?

Look, if you want to pay to talk to these people, be my guest. But there's already a way for fans to connect with their favorite celebrities for free. It's called Twitter, and it's highly effective. Just ask Jimmy Kimmel.


JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: We asked celebrities to read some of their favorite tweets from fans. These are real tweets.


KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: "It's people like Kathy Griffin who are the root causes for why redheads are perceived as the spawn of Satan."

ANDY DICK, COMEDIAN: This one is actually sweet. "Can it be my turn to punch Andy Dick until there's bones in his stool?"

FERRELL: "Will Ferrell is a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) fool." A compliment. That one I can tell is a compliment.


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. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.