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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Akin Fallout; Mitt Romney and His Faith; Historical Presidential Ticket; American Fighting 22-Year Drug Sentence; Chemical Weapons Warning; Chavis Carter Death Ruled Suicide

Aired August 20, 2012 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks.

Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest." With major fallout from an explosive comment from a politician about rape and abortion, sensitive polarizing topics in and of themselves.

Republican Representative Todd Akin of Missouri says he's continuing his bid for a Senate seat despite calls from some in the GOP to drop it because of what he said in an interview just yesterday.

Akin was asked if he thought abortion should be legal in the case of rape. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now Akin didn't elaborate on what in his mind would constitute legitimate rape, nor did he provide any evidence for the odd notion that the female body has some way to somehow prevent pregnancy occurring from a so-called legitimate rape, whatever that may be.

Reaction was swift and strong from within his own party. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts called on him to withdraw from the Senate race. A major GOP campaign group, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has signaled that it would pull funding from Akin's Senate bid.

The initial reaction from Mitt Romney's campaign was somewhat measured yesterday. Romney's campaign spokeswoman said this in a statement. Quote, "Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."

And as we said, it sounds pretty measured. And that in it of itself was controversial for not going far enough in its condemnation. In interviews today Governor Romney did go further, calling Akin's comments insulting and inexcusable.

Here's what he said in an interview with a TV station in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His comments about rape were deeply offensive. And I can't defend what he said. I can't defend him. The thing he should consider is what's in the best interest of the things he believes most deeply. What will help the country at this -- at this the critical time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Also today, President Obama had this to say about Akin's comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing, what types of rape we're talking about, doesn't make sense to the American people. And certainly doesn't make sense to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Akin has spent the day apologizing and backtracking but his first statement came yesterday. That statement, read in part, and I quote, "In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue, but I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."

So, Akin says he, quote, "misspoke," that the remarks were, quote, "off the cuff." Well, today, he tried to dig himself out even more. Here's what he said on Mike Huckabee's radio show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AKIN: Let me be clear. Rape is never legitimate. It's an evil act. It's committed by violent predators. I used the wrong words in the wrong way. What I said was ill conceived and it was wrong. And I also know that people do become pregnant from rape and I didn't mean to imply that that didn't -- wasn't the case. It does happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So Akin says his comments were off-the-cuff, that he misspoke, used the wrong word. But "Keeping Them Honest," the notion itself that he put out there, that it's rare for women who get raped to get pregnant doesn't have any of the hallmarks of an off-the-cuff remark. It's not an issue simply getting words mixed-up. In fact that notion has been floated for years by some politicians who are stridently against abortion. In 1988, Pennsylvania State Representative Steven Frind said this on a radio show during a debate about abortion.

Quote, "It's almost but not quite impossible to become pregnant on the basis of rape. The odds are one in millions and millions and millions. And there is a physical reason for that." He went on to say, quote, "Rape obviously is a traumatic experience. When that traumatic experience is undergone, a women secretes a certain secretion which has a tendency to kill sperm."

In 1995, Republican Representative Henry Aldridge said this in front of the House Appropriations Committee during a debate about abortion funding, quote, "The facts show that people who are raped, who are truly raped, the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever."

Now how this idea got started in the face of its own absurdity and in the absence of any evidence is a mystery. But it's an idea that's been around for a while. Planned parenthood estimates 5 percent of rapes lead to pregnancy. And in a statement the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Networks says, quote, "Simply put, Representative Akin's claim is ridiculous. While there was such a time when it was commonly believed that pregnancy couldn't result from rape that time was hundreds of years ago. Now we know better."

A lot of "Raw Politics" to get into. I'm joined by Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List and a former campaign adviser for Howard Dean and Al Franken, and Alice Stewart, former spokeswoman for Santorum and Bachmann's presidential campaigns.

Alice, let me start with you. Do you think that it's inevitable that Akin is going to drop out?

ALICE STEWART, FORMER BACHMANN CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: Well, that's up to him to decide what he needs to do. It's been clear across the GOP field. We've had people that have asked for that. It's very important to note that Governor Romney and Ryan have made it clear that they disagree with what he said. They say that it's inexcusable. It's wrong. And there's no place in the GOP ticket for something like that.

But it's his decision to make as to what he does. But the most important thing is for people to understand at least from the presidential ticket side is that they disagree with what he says and they do support abortion in cases of rape.

COOPER: Stephanie, I doubt it's a coincidence that President Obama just happened to chose today to have his first real press conference in weeks. He, of course, spoke out on the incident. How much of an impact do Democrats think this is really going to have?

STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK, PRESIDENT EMILY'S LIST: Well, here's the thing. This is not just about Todd Akin. This is in fact about the Republican Party. We just have to keep in mind that this has been 18 months of a war on women just being waged by the Republican Party. And I just want to remind everybody, and I think every American woman is going to know this by election day, Todd Akin and Paul Ryan are original co-sponsors of a House bill that is designed to redefine rape.

This is not something new. This is not something different. This is a Republican Party that is really trying to roll the clock back.

COOPER: This is a bill last year that you're talking about some 200 Republicans were co-sponsors on this. And it basically would have limited funding for abortion to what was called -- what they called forcible rape, that's what you're talking about?

SCHRIOCK: That's correct, Anderson. And it is really just a shocking turn of events here. And so I'm, you know, very concerned, as women across the country are, about the direction of the Republican Party right now. And, like I said, it's not just Todd Akin. And we are seeing this coast to coast. We're seeing it legislatively in state legislatures around the country.

What I know is going to happen is women voters are just not going to tolerate this come election day.

COOPER: Stephanie, is that fair though? Because, I mean, Governor Romney is on the record now for years as saying he does support abortions in the case of rape or incest. Even though the Obama campaign is running ads saying he doesn't, that's just not factually correct.

SCHRIOCK: Well, see, it's unclear where Mitt Romney is. Though I think some of that clarity came when he chose Paul Ryan as his running made, who's very clear about his position. And Mitt Romney, in fact, you know, has said he supports the Personhood Amendment that came up in Mississippi and was of course knocked down in Mississippi.

We have heard Mitt Romney say he wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood. I think his positions are getting clearer and clearer. And what we are seeing is that the Republican Party's leadership at the presidential level and all the way down the ticket is looking like a very, very extreme ticket right now.

COOPER: Alice, it does seem like Mitt Romney's initial response to this Akin controversy was certainly more tepid. Then it became earlier today when he put in a call to the National Review Online and he was very emphatic about distancing himself from this.

STEWART: Well, he couldn't be more clear. And there's really not a whole lot more he can do other than say that these remarks are inexcusable. They are inaccurate. They're wrong and they're insulting to women who are victims of rape. And once again he can repeat what his position is on this, is that he is a pro-life candidate but he does support abortion in cases of rape, incest and the life of mother. COOPER: Should Paul Ryan's --

STEWART: There's nothing more important than that.

COOPER: Should Paul Ryan's co-sponsorship of that bill last year, that discussed -- that identified forcible rape as the only kind of rape that would be -- abortions would be permitted -- that language was later changed, and then it just died in the Senate. But should he be -- should that -- is that fair game? Is that fair to bring up? I mean Stephanie brings that up as a point of saying she doesn't know where Paul Ryan is.

STEWART: The most important thing to note is what we've heard repeatedly today. Regardless of what Stephanie continues to say, the Romney-Ryan ticket is pro-life. They do support abortion in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. And I do agree with President Obama today. Rape is rape. No matter what kind of name you want to put on it. Rape is rape. And it shouldn't be tolerated.

But in these case, abortions should be allowed for victims in this case. And it's also important to note that what Romney did today is he addressed this issue. He said that it's -- should not be tolerated. And he was out on the campaign trail today talking about what people are concerned with.

And to Stephanie's point about independent voters, they want results. They want someone who will go in the White House and create jobs and turn this economy around. And that's what Governor Romney is talking about.

COOPER: Alice Stewart, thank you very much. Stephanie Schriock, thanks as well.

STEWART: Thank you.

SCHRIOCK: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, as we just heard, the Akin controversy has brought Romney and Ryan's positions on women's issues to the forefront. Especially in Ryan's case. It's a hard-line stance the Democrats have wasted no time in seizing upon.

Tom Foreman has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As soon as Paul Ryan was picked, Democrats hit hard on women's rights. A laundry list of complaints about the Wisconsin congressman popped up on the president's re-election Web site. And this White House attack ad went white hot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Congress, Ryan voted to ban all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. And allow employers to deny women access to cancer screenings and birth control. And both Romney and Ryan backed proposals to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

FOREMAN: The ad exaggerates some of those claims. While Romney's position on abortion rights has been a moving target, he has supported them in the case of rape or incest. Ryan's record shows support for abortion only when the mother is in danger. And he's also pushed legislation to restrict taking cells from human embryos for stem cell research.

To define each fetus as a person, the so-called Personhood Amendment. He's argued that unborn children are being treated as subhuman. Like slaves once were. And he infuriated some women rights groups when he helped sponsor anti-abortion legislation that used the term "forcible rape" as if there could be any other kind. The wording was later changed.

Complicating that matter further, another sponsor of that legislation was none other than the man now at the center of controversy, Todd Akin.

Still, Republicans clearly do not see Ryan as a liability.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need the women to step to the plate, to put the Romney-Ryan team over the top. Are you with me?

FOREMAN (on camera): Indeed, they are selling him as a small- town family man, unafraid to take on tough issues, like the deficit, entitlement programs and joblessness. And they point out polls show the economy remains the biggest concern for men and women alike.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I go to Washington four days a week which I call the silly place. You know, it's two different kind of worlds. And if we don't tackle these big problems, they're going to tackle us.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And Republicans say there is this, while Ryan may have some trouble with women, so does the president who is currently winning the female vote but by a much smaller margin than he did in 2008.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, let us know what you think about all this. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter right now, @andersoncooper. I'm tweeting about this tonight.

Also on the campaign trail today, Mitt Romney calling out President Obama, pretty much asking where is the truth on the campaign trail. President Obama was asked by reporters today if his message is too negative. He seemed to forget a few things in his response.

We're "Keeping Them Honest." Also the Romney campaign ahead. Next on 360. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, Mitt Romney spent the day on the campaign trail, reuniting for the first time in a week with his running mate Paul Ryan. At a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, Governor Romney took some shots at team Obama for its attacks against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It seems the first victim of the Obama campaign is the truth.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: And it has been -- it has been sad and disappointing. Frankly, you know, when I became the presumptive nominee, the president called me and congratulated me on becoming the presumptive nominee and said that America deserves an honest debate about the future course of the country and I agreed. I'm waiting to hear him begin that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, just a couple of hours after that tough talk, President Obama held an impromptu news conference with White House reporters. His first in about two months. He was asked about the tone of his campaign and specifically about the controversy surrounding Governor Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In recent weeks your campaign has suggested repeatedly without proof that Mr. Romney might be hiding something in his tax returns. They have suggested that Mr. Romney might be a felon for the way that he handed over power of Bain Capital.

Are you comfortable with the tone that's being set by your campaign? Have you asked them to change their tone when it comes to defining Mr. Romney?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I'm not sure all those characterizations that you laid out there were accurate. For example, nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, so the key words in that question, they, meaning Mr. Obama's campaign, have suggested Mr. Romney might be a felon. Now Mr. Obama saying that's not accurate. He says nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon.

"Keeping Them Honest," though, it looks like President Obama may have forgotten what happened just last month. Comments made by Stephanie Cutter, his deputy campaign manager, in a conference call with reports. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER, OBAMA 2012: Either Mitt Romney through his own words and his own signature was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Miss Cutter, that was just a few weeks ago, was discussing questions about how Mitt Romney handed over power at the investment firm Bain Capital. That's after several news outlets uncovered Securities and Exchange Commission documents showing that Romney was still on the corporate book at Bain until 2002.

Now the Romney camp insists the governor left the company in 1999 to run the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

President Obama was also asked about an ad being run by a super PAC supporting him. He told reporters that he did not think Mr. Romney was responsible for the death of a steelworker's wife as portrayed in an ad by Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting the president.

The president said he didn't approve or produce the ad which would make sense because super PACs can't by law coordinate with campaigns. But again "Keeping Them Honest" Mr. Obama's campaign itself has made a similar case. This can be found on the slide show on the Obama campaign's Web site. Not a super PAC site but the Obama campaign's own Web site.

It says, quote, "I worked hard all my life and played by the rules and they allowed this to happen." And underneath it, sourcing Joe Soptic, employee for 28 years, whose wife died of lung cancer after he lost his GST health plan.

I want to talk about with Dana Bash, Wolf Blitzer, and CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser, David Gergen.

So, Wolf, as we've reported it's well known the president's own deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said that Mitt Romney was possibly -- had possibly committed a felony. So did it surprise you that President Obama denied that today?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Well, you know, he was being very precise and he's a very precise kind of person, as all of us who have covered him over the years, know. He didn't say that -- he said no one actually accused him of committing a felony. Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign, just said, if, in fact, he had done what was suggested, that potentially could have been a felony.

So he was precise. It didn't surprise me because the president wants to be very precise in what he's saying. And Stephanie Cutter was pretty precise. So they're parsing words, if you will. COOPER: David, is that just splitting hairs, parsing words?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think it's splitting hairs. I was surprised because Stephanie Cutter definitely introduced it as a suggestion. She -- Wolf is right, she did not outright accused Romney of being a felon. But she definitely suggested that he might have committed a felony.

In politics, that's considered over the line or below the belt. If we still know where the belt line is in politics anymore.

COOPER: So -- I mean Dana, what is this about? I mean is this about just playing to the base or just kind of shore up key voting blocs?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends on the issue. You know, in some issues it's playing to the base. For example, we've seen with Medicare both sides saying things that are not factually correct. Now that Paul Ryan is on the ticket, we reported all week last week about the fact that Democrats say Medicare -- seniors, you're going to lose your Medicare when technically it's not true for people 55 and over.

We saw Republicans say that the Obama administration robbed $716 billion from Medicare to pay for health care when that's not also exactly true. It's not a shock, I don't think, that this is what they're doing. But I think what is interesting to me, covering politics for many years, is where the way the Democrats are, to use David's word, starting to hit below the belt as well.

So many times like with the swift boating back in 2004 and other years, we saw Democrats kind complain to the ref. They're not doing that anymore. They realize it doesn't work. And they're just punching back as much as they possibly can.

COOPER: Well, it's also interesting, Wolf, because now you have these super PACs involved. And that's often the excuse of some of these campaigns, that look, we're not coordinating with the super PACs. You interviewed Bill Burton, I think it was two weeks ago the same week -- same day I did. He was the spokesperson who runs a pro- Obama super PAC. They put out this ad falsely inferring that Governor Romney was responsible for the death of a man's wife while he was the head of Bain Capital.

Today, they deny that that's what the ad is saying. But most independent observers do -- it seems to indicate that's what the ad is saying. They kept reminding everyone, and Obama today, President Obama today reminded everyone that he didn't approve that super PAC ad, didn't produce it, that they -- no connection.

But there is a similar implication on President Obama's Web site. There's an ad that features Joe Soptic and a reference to his wife passing away. So clearly the Obama campaign, not just the super PAC, is trying to use that, trying to score some points with that.

BLITZER: Well, there's no doubt that top Obama campaign officials, top leaders in the Democratic Party, have endorsed not the ad but they've endorsed the super PAC that Bill Burton, a former deputy White House press secretary, runs together with others who used to work directly in the Obama administration or the first Obama campaign.

The president said the right thing. He tried to walk away from that ad as forcefully as he can. Others in the White House and in the campaign should have said two weeks ago what the president said today. That he never believes that Mitt Romney was responsible for the death of this woman.

COOPER: Are these attacks you think having an effect? I mean are they actually working?

GERGEN: I think they're working more for President Obama than they are for Mitt Romney. President Obama maintains he had a small but a steady lead in the polls. And he's also on day after day that it's been true that the Romney camp is dealing with things other than jobs. And other than their plans for the future. So I think by and large -- I mean, people -- here's what happens, Anderson.

If someone like President Obama runs, most people know him. And it's very hard to redefine him. But when someone like Romney runs, who's fresh to a lot Americans, you can redefine him. And I think that process is working more in Obama's favor -- in President Obama's favor.

I want to say one other thing that in fairness to President Obama, because he did raise at the end I think a very legitimate point about what Mitt Romney has been up to.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: And that is, Mitt Romney on the stump keeps saying the president is taking welfare -- welfare to work off the table. He's just -- he's simply giving out welfare checks. That's not right. That's not true. I think President Obama was right to raise that.

COOPER: And Dana, he's not just saying that on the stump. They've been -- the Romney campaign, not a super PAC, the Romney campaign put out an inaccurate ad claiming that President Obama basically just wants to send you a check in the mail without having to do any work, which is a misrepresentation of what his administration has been trying to do recently on welfare reform.

BASH: That's exactly right. It is a misrepresentation. And I think the sad thing is that no matter how many times you keep them honest on things like that, no matter how many times you see newspapers give them four Pinnochios or pants on fire, whoever it is, they try to expose these campaigns, both campaigns, for doing things that are not right.

You look at the polls, and I just went back and looked at them, the last poll that we did about this issue, and it really does split 50/50, about whether or not Democrats and Republicans -- whether or not each candidate and each campaign is really being fair to the other. So I think what it tells us is that people just kind of throw up their hands and say, it's politics.

And to answer your question to David, yes, these things do work unfortunately.

COOPER: Yes. That's why they're done.

Dana Bash, appreciate it. David Gergen and Wolf Blitzer, thanks.

Well, up next, Mitt Romney's religion. The candidate invited members of the media to attend church with him this weekend, signaling maybe ready to open up more about his Mormon faith, a religion that some Americans don't know a lot about. We'll separate fact from fiction ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The young American man sitting in a notoriously violent prison in Nicaragua fighting to over his conviction for drug trafficking and money laundering. Jason Puracal's case appears to be a serious miscarriage of justice. We're in Nicaragua with the very latest ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Up close tonight, the role of the Mormon faith in Mitt Romney's life. It's a side of the candidate the public rarely sees. When the Romneys attended services yesterday, near their New Hampshire home, they allowed members of the campaign press corps to come along.

Mitt Romney is the first Mormon to head a major party's presidential ticket, but he rarely discusses his faith on the campaign trail. The latest Gallup poll finds 18 percent of voters say they will not vote for a Mormon candidate.

For many Americans getting to know Mitt Romney as a candidate also means sorting out the facts from fictions about the Mormon religion. Gary Tuchman takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Mitt Romney, it's a divine question that won't go away. What would it mean to have a devout Mormon in the White House?

The question won't go away largely because many voters don't understand what it means to be Mormon. Some voters believe the Mormon Church still allows a man to have multiple wives. This was Romney on "60 Minutes."

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy.

TUCHMAN: And some view Mormons with suspicion, wondering if powerful church leaders could somehow control a Mormon president.

ROMNEY: Hi, Gary. How are you? TUCHMAN: I caught up with Mitt Romney in Michigan.

ROMNEY: I think Americans want a person of faith to lead the country. I don't think that they care about the particular brand of faith so much as whether we share values.

TUCHMAN: Here in Salt Lake City, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Romney's candidacy has put church leaders under a microscope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now is the time for all of us to reach out and tell others who we are.

TUCHMAN: In a rare interview, Apostle Russell Ballard, a top Mormon leader, is crystal clear. There is no relationship between the campaign and the church.

(on camera): Does the church endorse candidates for president of the United States?

RUSSELL BALLARD, LDS CHURCH, QUORUM OF THE TWELVE: No, we don't.

TUCHMAN: Do you think it's proper for a politician to spread the word about their religion the same way they did when they were on their missions?

BALLARD: No, I think that would be terribly misunderstood.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The suspicion that as President Romney might take orders from the church derives from Mormon history. Church presidents are considered prophets.

In 1843, a prophet's divine revelation led to polygamy and with that abolished in 1890. So what if today's church president had a major revelation? Could that influence a Romney White House?

(on camera): Is it up to all faithful Mormons to follow the tenants of the revelation?

BALLARD: If it's a declaration for the entire church, the answer to that is yes.

TUCHMAN: And is that infrequent though in the modern times?

BALLARD: It's infrequent today because the foundation of the church is solidly in place.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): There is certainly prejudice against Mormons.

ROMNEY: Hello, sir. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon.

ROMNEY: Is that right? Can I shake your hand anyway? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No!

ROMNEY: OK.

TUCHMAN: The Southern Baptist Convention calls the church a cult. Many Americans say they don't even consider Mormons Christians. An article in the online magazine "Slate" brands the religion's founder Joseph Smith a con man. In fact, he was Elder Russell Ballard's great, great uncle.

(on camera): What does Joseph Smith mean to a faithful Mormon?

BALLARD: Everything. God, the eternal father, and his son, the lord Jesus Christ, appeared to him.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Mormons believe in the old and new testaments, but also so in the Book of Mormon. Think of it as kind of a sequel to the bible.

BALLARD: We believe that the Garden of Eden was on this continent.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So that the Garden of Eden wasn't in the Holy Land?

BALLARD: No, not in our doctrine.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): For Mormons, Eden was in Missouri. And Jesus Christ visited the Americas after the resurrection.

BALLARD: We know that he came and taught the people and restored the gospel to them.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Has Jesus returns here to the United States in your beliefs?

BALLARD: Yes.

TUCHMAN: So you're considering communicating more about your religion to the American public in.

ROMNEY: You know, I'm happy to talk about my faith to people in our country. I believe in God. I believe that all the children on earth are children of God.

TUCHMAN: So will there be a speech about this at some point?

ROMNEY: Perhaps. Haven't given that a final decision at this point.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): A looming political question. For a man of faith who's not overly eager to publicly talk about his Mormon faith. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Dearborn, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Digging deeper now with Wolf Blitzer and presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley.

Wolf, you cover presidential campaigns for decades. How significant do you think it is that Mitt Romney who's not really wanted his faith to be a main issue let the press accompany him to church yesterday? What does it tell you about his campaign strategy right now?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": I think it tell us he's beginning to feel a lot more comfortable in this general election season showing folks that he is a religion man. That he does go to church.

Certainly, I always felt it was a bigger issue, the fact he's a Mormon in a Republican contest for the Republican primaries and the caucuses than it would be in a general election.

On the same day that the press saw the president of the United States go to church with his family, I think it was good for the Romneys that the press accompanied him, went inside.

A pool reporter went inside. The stories coming out of the church, the service and all of that were pretty positive. I think the presidential candidate should be doing more of this.

COOPER: Doug, the Romney/Ryan ticket, it is the first in modern political history with a major party ticket having no Protestant Christian. For you, how much is this a reflection of how times have changed?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think that's completely what it is. I mean, many of the founding fathers came from a pool of Protestants, Episcopalians, Unitarians, you know, Presbyterians, but we changed a lot.

It was a big deal when Warren Harding was the first Baptist and John F. Kennedy the first Catholic. So there's no reason we can't have our first Mormon president.

We have senators like Orrin Hatch, Tom Udall, are Mormon. So I think that the time for Mormonism has arrived. A very small number of Americans will be bigoted about it.

COOPER: So you don't see it as an issue in a general election, Douglas?

BRINKLEY: I don't think so unless somehow Mitt Romney stumbled into a Q&A where, you know, he started saying something about Brigham Young or Joseph Smith that struck a kind of bizarre note to somebody.

But he's been very astute at the way he's taken, really, the Kennedy route, saying, I am not the Mormon candidate for president, I'm the Republican nominee for president. And he's been I think following that script pretty well.

COOPER: Also, wolf, I mean, as you said, in a primary, among some members of the Evangelical right or conservative right, they may be skeptical about Mormonism, but you have to balance that about their anti-Obama sentiment.

BLITZER: Yes, you do, and I think that the right of the conservatives and the Republicans, they are motivated. They are strongly motivated by the fact that they don't want to see the president re-elected. That's what's going to get them out.

And I think in this regard, Paul Ryan's addition to the ticket will further motivate the Tea Party Movement, further motivate conservatives. Many of them were a little concerned, some of them not so little concern.

Concerned about the credentials of Mitt Romney, but now I think they're fully going to be motivated and it's going to help him in November.

So I don't think it's a huge problem going forward for Mitt Romney. I said, I think he should let the press accompany him to church more often. It would probably help his campaign rather than hurt him.

COOPER: Doug, you say the Republicans seem to have devised a strategy that's worked with regards to Romney's faith basically fanning the flames of essentially anti-Obama.

BRINKLEY: Yes, I think the big hurdle for Mitt Romney was not being stigmatized by Evangelical right when he was seeking the nomination. In a general election, I think it's just not that much of an issue. The Republican Party or conservative movement has made Barack Obama the issue.

We've got to throw that guy off -- out at all costs. So I think that works in Romney's favor. It makes the Mormon issue. Would have thought it would have been a much larger issue. Thus far, it's just been very low grade.

I think Mitt Romney going to church and talking about his faith a little bit is only helpful to him. His heavy days on this issue I think are behind him.

COOPER: Right. Doug Brinkley, appreciate it. Wolf Blitzer, Wolf, thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next tonight, a young American named Jason Puracal appeals his conviction in Nicaragua for drug crimes and his long prison term. His defenders claim he's been completely railroaded, he's innocent. So what are the chances his appeal will succeed? We'll go live to Nicaragua next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: An update in the death of a man shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car. Was it suicide or homicide? Police released a video of what they say happened last week. Today, the autopsy report was released. We'll have the results when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back, "Crime and Punishment" tonight. An appeal hearing wrapped up today in a criminal case that we reported on a few months ago. The case of an American named Jason Puracal.

He's 35 years old. He's a native of Washington State and he's serving a very long sentence in Nicaragua. Miguel Marquez was in court today. We're going to speak with him in a moment.

But first, I want to tell you how we got here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): It's one of the most dangerous prisons in the world, Nicaragua's infamous La Modelo and an American who just about everyone says is innocent has been here for 18 months serving a sentence of 22 years. His name is Jason Puracal. He's living a nightmare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you had to explain what this has been like for you --

JASON PURACAL, CONVICTED OF DRUG CRIMES IN NICARAGUA: It's hard to put into words. It's very tough.

COOPER: Puracal grew up in Washington State. He wanted to be a veterinarian. After graduating from the University of Washington, he joined the Peace Corps, hoping to work with exotic animals around the world.

In 2002, he was stationed in Nicaragua. After his two years in the Peace Corps, he met and fell in love with Scarlet, a local Nicaraguan. They later married and moved to the popular beach town of San Juan Del Sur.

They have a son named Jabu. Puracal began working in a local Remax office as a real estate agent and eventually began running the office. Life was good. He was raising his son in a community he said he loved and finding success with his company.

But everything changed on November 11, 2010. On that afternoon, according to his family, Nicaraguan police burst into his home and office. They confiscated his files and took Jason away.

He was accused of using his real estate business as a money laundering front for an international drug trafficking ring. His arrest along with 10 others suspected drug traffickers. His family thought it was all a big mistake.

JANIS PURACAL, SISTER OF JASON PURACAL: There's absolutely no evidence that Jason committed any of the crimes with which he was charged. I am an attorney and I've read through the entire case file.

And I've fought that case every single day for the last 18 months. But more than that, I'm Jason's sister and I know my brother. I know that he is absolutely 100 percent innocence.

COOPER: Puracal was hopeful that this would be resolved quickly. His lawyers say the Nicaraguan authorities weren't able to provide any evidence linking him to a drug trafficking ring. They say no drugs were found at his home or office. No evidence of money laundering.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Miguel Marquez is in Nicaragua right now inside the court where the appeal was held today. Miguel, you've been in court all day. I understand just moments ago that David Puracal addressed the court. What happened?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did indeed, an incredibly dramatic end to this court proceeding. The appeals proceeding is now over. Puracal speaking to the court. This 35-year-old Washington State native gave the speech of his life. Listen to a little bit of it.

He spoke of his love for Nicaragua. He fell in love with a woman here. He was in the Peace Corps here and came back and started his business here.

He says he doesn't understand how it is the police ended up fabricating the lies he called them during this long talk. He was confident. He sounded like he was sure of himself. At times, though, his voice tended to quaver.

This is the guy who believes and hopes that what he said they will help him get off. He ended by thanking the Nicaraguan justice system and says he believes the truth will eventually come out. We're expecting a ruling now in the next few days perhaps weeks -- Anderson.

COOPER: Miguel, I interviewed him a couple of months ago. There really was not much evidence, if any evidence, really presented against him in the original trial. He's one of 11 defendants in court.

Guys he says he never even met before. So that means -- there were 11 defense lawyers, plus the prosecution? What was it like? Was the process fair?

MARQUEZ: It is a very intense system. To be outside -- U.S. audiences who see courts there, it certainly is not the same. It's about the size of an elementary classroom. There are about 80 people shoved in there. There are 11 defense lawyers in there. The 11 defendants are in there including Mr. Puracal, the prosecution, three judges, all of the family members.

You know, the family wants to believe in this process. The U.S. Embassy here wants to believe in this process. The judge that is hearing this is the person would let another American go on murder charges sometime ago.

So the family is hopeful. I spoke to Pucacal's sisters earlier today. Here's what they had to say about it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: How are you guys doing?

JANIS PURACAL: Struggling. It's been a rough few days for us.

JAIME PURACAL, JASON PURACAL'S SISTER: Still difficult to see him. I know he's been struggling for almost two years now in that prison for really no reason whatsoever. You know, he's hopeful this is coming to a close. But still there's that fear that it's not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So the appeal wrapped up today. What happens next?

MARQUEZ: We expect in the next three, perhaps five days, it could take a couple of days for the judge to rule on his fate. The judge did say it's a complex case. He's going to try to rule as quickly as possible -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Miguel, continue to follow it. Thanks.

An update tonight on the mysterious death of Chavis Carter. He died of a bullet wound he received while handcuffed in the back of a police car. The officer said it was suicide. His family thinks it's murder. Now the medical examiner weighs in. We'll tell you what they say ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Some other stories we're following tonight. Susan Hendricks is here with the "360 News and Business Bulletin' -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, President Obama warning the Assad regime against using chemical weapons or allowing its stock pile to fall into the wrong hands. He called both scenarios a red line for Syria that would provoke the U.S. military to respond.

A "360" follow, medical examiners in Arkansas ruling the death of a man shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car is a suicide. The autopsy report released today concludes 21-year-old Chavis Carter managed to hold the gun up to his head then fired the fatal shot. His family believes police fired that shot.

Rosie O'Donnell has revealed that she had a heart attack last week. On her blog, O'Donnell writes that she felt symptoms last Tuesday, but did not call 911 and found out the next day that she had 99 percent artery blockage. She writes that she is lucky to be here.

And the comedy world saying goodbye to a true icon, Phyllis Diller, passing away today at the age of 95. She will be best remembered for her jokes, poking fun at her looks, her cooking, her husband. Along with moments like this, Anderson that you got to share with her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PHYLLIS DILLER, COMEDIAN: I wanted to meet you for, goodness sake, for a long time. I consider you a hero, Anderson.

COOPER: Gosh, that's nice.

DILLER: And you're so white, you look like somebody put too much bleach on you.

COOPER: Yes --

DILLER: You are pretty white, Anderson. You look like you might be carved out of Ivory soap.

COOPER: Yes, I --

DILLER: You really are white.

COOPER: I know, I'm like a newt. Like something that's crawled out of a rock or something.

DILLER: Well, I tell you what, us kids, we're all nuts about you.

COOPER: Well, that's very nice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: She actually wrote me a very sweet letter just a few months ago so --

HENDRICKS: She did?

COOPER: Yes, she had a really remarkable life and really a pioneer in so many ways. I'm glad Rosie O'Donnell's doing well as well. Susan, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding the curious case of a stolen iPad. It's not just any old iPad. It happens to be the iPad that once belonged to the late Steve Jobs, co- founder of Apple.

Now the iPad was stolen along with more than $60,000 worth of stuff from Jobs' home in Palo Alto last month. Apparently, the iPad has been found, tracked down in Alamita when the guy who apparently ended up with it used it to download Michael Jackson's song "Smooth Criminal" seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next thing I know, the police are at my front door. I'm giving them the iPad.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Did I happen to mention the guy's a clown? Yes, Kenny the clown to be specific. He's an unwitting star of this "Three Ring Circus." He's also available for birthday parties and street performances.

Kenny the clown was just as surprised as anyone to learn his iPad was stolen not to mention stolen from Steve Jobs. He said a friend gave it to him because the friend owed him $300. That friend has now been charged with burglary and selling stolen property.

Kenny the clown, well, he's sort of red in the face about all this or at least in the nose. His face is more the traditional white pancake makeup. He says his friend must have been living a double life because he thought he was a medical supply salesman who wanted to get rid of his old iPad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really bizarre. If it weren't tragic, it would actually be comic. In my wildest dreams, could I imagine being in possession of Steve Jobs' iPad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Do you think he decided to wear the makeup for the interview? Anyway, think what everyone probably wants to know, what kind of amazingly cool stuff was on an iPad that once belonged to Steve Jobs? Kenny the clown, he's happy to oblige.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no phone book. I didn't see any information. It was pretty nondescript. I wish I could say it had a beam to the moon or something but nah, it was an iPad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Yes, an iPad. No moon beams sadly. On the upside, at least the iPad was recovered and more importantly, we got to hear the story from a man in full clown regalia. Because let's face it, those are some pretty big shoe to fill on the "Ridiculist."

That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour from now, another edition of "360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching. PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT starts now.