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JOHN KING, USA

Shooting Suspect's Time Line; A Victim's Account; RNC Bounces Steele; Martin Luther King Day

Aired January 14, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Another emotional day in Tucson, police released a time line detailing suspect Jared Lee Loughner's actions leading up to the shooting. Twenty-three minutes after he got frustrated waiting to buy ammunition in one Walmart, he went to a second a few miles away and bought bullets and a black bag to carry them in. We'll map out the final hours of this assassination plot and we'll hear from a shooting victim who got home from the hospital only last night. Well today she went to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office to cheer up her colleagues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAMELA SIMON, GIFFORDS' OUTREACH COORDINATOR: I got to meet the president and it was worth taking two shots for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Moment there -- also tonight, some important political news. The Obama administration pulls the plug on the so-called virtual fence along the U.S.-Mexican border deciding after $1 billion of your money has been spent that it isn't worth it.

The Republican National Committee tonight has a new leader. The controversial Chairman Michael Steele got the boot despite all the big GOP wins last year. And let's just say Maine's governor is not leading the charge for a more civil tone in our politics. Republican Paul LePage was asked what he would tell the NAACP who criticized his decision to skip an event marking the Martin Luther King holiday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell them to kiss my butt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A busy hour ahead including that story, up first though an important day in Tucson with major movement in the investigation and in the healing process. Let's begin with the investigation and the new time line police released just earlier today. Look at this map of Tucson, Arizona. This is about a 7.5 mile radius. You see the Safeway over here, a Walmart over there, we'll walk through the detail in a minute, about a 7.5 mile circle, though, as you look at the whole thing. The day began -- police tell us that Jared Lee Loughner began his day by spending the night at a Motel 6 right here, 12:29 a.m. he checked into this Motel 6. Around 4:12 a.m. he put a posting on My Space, good-bye friends, he said in that posting then. From there and we'll come back to the wide shot of the city so you can see what we're talking about.

Remember the Motel 6 -- from there it was off to this Walmart, 7:04 a.m., Jared Loughner went into that store and we are told that he got frustrated, the clerk was acting so slowly, he was trying to buy ammunition. But he left that Walmart. Now let's go back out to look here. Twenty-three minutes later, he was across the city at number four, that Walmart there, that is where he did purchase the ammunition police say was used in the slaying.

From there he went home. This is the family home right here. He got home around 7:30 in the morning and I was told by a lead investigator when I was in Tucson earlier this week it was at this moment his father saw the black bag, Jared was acting strangely and his father had a question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD KASTIGAR, BUREAU CHIEF, PIMA CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: The father asked him questions to the -- similar to what are you doing, what is that. And Jared mumbled something back to his dad, his dad said he didn't understand what was said, it was unintelligible. And then Jared left. The father followed. The father got in his vehicle and tried to locate his son and follow the direction that he went and he could not locate his son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You heard the lead investigator there, could not locate his son. Jared went off on foot. That is where police say he dumped the black bag in an area nearby. Remember number five, the Loughner family home, police do know this. He then ended up at this Circle K and it was at this Circle K where he called a cab and was picked up. He was called and scheduled cab service, was picked up at the Circle K and from there, his fateful trip across the town to the Safeway here.

He arrived a little before 10:00. He had to go inside with the cab driver to make change, then he went to the event, got in line at the event, shortly after 10:00 a.m. police say Jared Lee Loughner opened fire. Again while in Tucson, I spoke to an aide to the congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, who said she was standing three or four feet from the congresswoman using her cameras to snap a picture when it all broke out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARA HUMMEL RAJCA, REP. GIFFORDS' STAFFER: I noticed out of the corner of my eye that something was moving and I just remember seeing his arm go up. I remember seeing a very small gun in his hand and I heard the first shot. Like I was watching the gun as it was shot. And then I just ran. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As the investigation continues, so does what doctors call remarkable progress for the congresswoman and her medical team says they're stepping up her physical therapy. She's responding to more complex questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHAEL LEMOLE, CHIEF OF NEUROSURGERY: Obviously we're very cautious that she makes it at her own pace, but, again, we couldn't have hoped for any better improvement than we're seeing now given the severity of her injury initially.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The congresswoman's staff is encouraged by that news and also got a big boost today when Pam Simon came to work if only for a few minutes. Simon is a Giffords' aide who was shot twice and she gave a harrowing account of her ordeal in an interview with CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAM SIMON, TUCSON SHOOTING VICTIM: It happened -- everything happened probably in a matter of seconds. My feeling is that he was whirling, his back was to me. I saw the congresswoman go down. I saw Ron go down. And then I think I must have been one of the next people hit because from that point on, I was laying on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Randi joins us now from Tucson -- Randi, a fascinating account. We'll get to more of it in a moment. Just when she showed up, when Pam Simon showed up, did she, before she was shot, did she see the shooter, see any signs of trouble at that Safeway?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. We know according to police that Jared Loughner showed up there and asked to speak with the congresswoman so he was told by one of the staffers to get in line. And Pam Simon says that she didn't see him in that line, she never saw him get out of line, but she actually tried to talk to this couple, John that was talking with the congresswoman, she actually was about to lean in she said to try and get that couple's attention and speak with that group when she saw the shooter although she never saw his face, all of a sudden came in between them and started firing.

KING: Let's listen to a bit more of the interview. She hears the gunshots and you asked her a very important question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Were you scared? I mean did you understand what had happened?

SIMON: I don't remember the emotion of fear at all. I just remember kind of survival instincts kicking in. I laid very still and played dead. I didn't know if he was still around. And I checked to make sure my fingers and toes were working so I knew that I wasn't paralyzed. And I didn't know how badly I had been shot or how many times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Played dead. That's a remarkable instinct on her part. Randi, what next? Does she remember getting to the hospital and who came to her assistance?

KAYE: She does remember that, but let me just tell you, she was shot twice, as you mentioned. She was shot once in the wrist and the bullet actually went through her wrist and she was also shot, John, in the chest. And that bullet made its way from her chest all the way down to her thigh. And that's why there bullet remains.

Doctors chose not to take that bullet out. She said to herself while she was lying on that ground that this is not my day to die and sure enough it wasn't. She said that a good Samaritan came out of the Safeway super market right there, had heard the gunfire -- his name is Bob Digano (ph) -- what a hero that day, came over, talked with her, held her hand, told her she was going to be OK. Rubbed her back, put his arm around her and even followed her ambulance here to this hospital.

KING: Remarkable, remarkable story and a remarkable interview -- much more of it from Randi on "AC 360" tonight. Randi thanks. We'll tune in later and watch more of that.

Also in Tucson this afternoon, the funeral mass for the chief federal judge in Arizona, John Roll, who had stopped at the supermarket event to talk to Congresswoman Giffords and her staff about the case backlog in the federal courts.

Sad times and farewell in Tucson -- still ahead for us, there's a new debate tonight about Republican icon Ronald Reagan. His son, Ron, writes in a new book that he believes his dad suffered from Alzheimer's disease while still in office, but next, new leadership for the Republican National Committee and what it means heading into the next presidential campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now the task becomes harder because President Obama is waiting for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The outspoken Michael Steele is out. Soft spoken Reince Priebus of Wisconsin is in as the new chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele was denied a second term as chairman despite huge Republican gains this year. In the view of most party regulars, Republicans won despite Steele, not because of him, and many grew tired of controversial statements and questionable fund-raising and spending by the national committee under Steele.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: We've worked hard and built a party, but it's very clear the party wants to do something a little different and hopefully a little bit better. And I appreciate all the hard work that all of you have brought to the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Reince was once was a top Steele ally. His job now help the party raise money and organize until it has a 2012 presidential nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: We have to get on track and together we can defeat Barack Obama in 2012 together unified as a committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin watched the seven rounds of balloting and under Priebus, Jess, I assume they have -- they want a lower profile, they want less controversy, they want to get about the nuts and bolts of organizing.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly the phrase I was going to use, nuts and bolts. He emphasized even when he took his -- gave his first press remarks that he will focus on getting on the phone with donors tonight and starting to raise money and get organized for 2012. As you pointed out, John, he's the behind the scenes guy. He's the guy who rolls up his shirt sleeves and does the hard sometimes boring work which is exactly what most of the folks in this room really wanted from him as they try to unify, the word he used, for 2012 and as the RNC in truth fights for its own relevance -- John.

KING: And they're still doing some of their official business as you speak to us, calling some states behind you. We'll listen in on that a little bit. In the sense that he's in an odd way a temporary chairman. By tradition, whoever the nominee is gets to install his or her team at the national committee. Why seven ballots? Was there a conflict over not just who, but what they needed?

YELLIN: Well it moved at a glacial pace at first, John. A lot of the balloting was because there are so many candidates. As you know, John, Boehner supported a different candidate. Priebus was a candidate from Wisconsin who had -- they had all these games this year with Ron Johnson replacing Russ Feingold, taking over the House and Senate winning the governor's mansion. But still he's not a big public figure and so some of the better known candidates got a lot of votes early on. But in the end, he was the guy that people knew was going to do the job.

There was plenty of horse trading I'm sure, but once Steele bowed out, Priebus surged to the front and he insists that you know despite the citizen's united ruling the lets big corporations give so much money to groups that aren't the RNC, under him, he says the RNC will do the work of coordinating with the states, coordinating to go get a message out and delivering whoever that nominee is in 2012 every asset they can have. He says his mission is to raise $400 million between now and then -- John.

KING: Ouch. That's a lot of cash. Jessica Yellin for us at the RNC changing of the guard -- Jess, thanks. Four hundred million dollars, well I was going to say what does that change at the top mean for the GOP. Ladies and gentlemen, that's not change. Let's talk that and other big political news over with CNN contributors Ed Rollins and John Avlon and Amy Goodman. She's the host of the radio and television program, "Democracy Now!".

Ed, as the Republican of the group, I'm going to yield to you first. In some ways it's an important job. For anyone out there who is looking for a job or wondering about the price of gas, you know the chairman of the party is meaningless, but it is important. Why?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's important because you are for the foreseeable future you're the face of the party, you're someone who basically has to put an apparatus together to help elect people and the raising of the money which is the critical thing. What the new chairman brings to the table is he's been around the party, he's run a very strong state organization.

He was the mastermind or the campaign manager for Steele's election four years ago, so he certainly knows how to count votes and equally is important he's been the general counsel of the committee and the legalities of raising funds today and all the rest of it are so very, very important. He's got to get a convention ready to go. He has to have some very important rule changes as we start the nominating process and all of that is not finalized yet.

KING: I suspect, Amy Goodman, that second to Michael Steele in disappointment tonight is the left in America which found Michael Steele to be controversial and shall we say they welcomed some of the controversies he helped gin up.

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Well I mean when you look at what's happening, the discussion of $400 million Priebus is promising to raise, I mean the discussion of what President Obama will be raising to be reelected, we're talking about something over yes, gasp, $1 billion. It's as if the parties are no longer controlled by political leaders, it's by corporations.

And this is of the gravest concern whether we're talking about you know the changing of the guard in the vice president's office, Bruce Reed, former executive director of the Deficit Commission as they take on Social Security and Medicare. We're talking about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the corporations, whether Republican, whether a Democrat. It's not really about two parties anymore. It's about the big moneyed interests in this country and that's what has to be challenged. KING: John Avlon, Amy makes an interesting point. Let's say you're some rank and file Republican out there, some conservative out in America that maybe didn't cut a check for $50 to the RNC because you read about this Michael Steele controversy and you said well the people are telling me not to send him the money. Do you think now your 50 or $100 check for the average Joe who might want to have their voice in politics at a time when, as Amy notes, the Obama people are talking about $1 billion and this guy is going to raise $400 million. That little check for 50 bucks doesn't seem like much.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, the widow's (ph) might has gone a little bit out of fashion, but I think it's still important. I mean these parties are trying to build, they're sort of a bench team and that requires small donations. There was a lack of confidence in Michael Steele's leadership of the RNC specifically on the bookkeeping, the fundraising. And you saw money going to other organizations not just in reaction to Citizens United decision, but in reaction to the fact that folks thought maybe they were getting more bang for their buck outside that apparatus.

This is an attempt to reset. This is an attempt for confidence instead of charisma and Michael Steele showed it dominated so many headlines. But this guy's done an amazing job turning around the state party in Wisconsin and I think that's what they're hoping he can replicate at a national level. We'll see.

KING: And, Ed, John makes the key point. Here's a guy who they just -- the Republicans just took back the governorship of Wisconsin. They hadn't held that for a while. They just knocked off one of Amy's good friends, Senator Russ Feingold. And so he could come to the table saying if this is about winning tough states, winning blue collar states, winning states that were blue -- just leave it at blue -- in the last presidential election, I'm a guy who has got some experience.

ROLLINS: Well I think it's a very important thing. Equally as important -- and I want to say this to Amy -- it's not all corporate money. Obama who basically is the first president since the fed election laws were in existence after the '72 Watergate year was the guy who said I don't want public money; I'm going to raise my own. And a lot of that was online.

A lot of it was smaller donors and a lot of the money that we're talking about raising in this will cycle will be from smaller donors. So if you're a small donor, you have to have confidence that your money is going to be spent well, but this big money is going to be there, too, because it costs a lot of money to run campaigns today.

(CROSSTALK)

GOODMAN: Just look at the midterm elections and look how much money was spent and how much undisclosed. We don't even know who gave this money. This is why the Chamber of Commerce is rejoicing and while the people of this country, democracy, is really at risk.

KING: All right -- ROLLINS: It's not at risk. The bottom line is you have an election every two years. People get to go out and vote. It's about communication. No one was defeated this time, no Democratic incumbent lost because he was badly outspent. Both sides had resources to go out in competitive races.

KING: All right --

GOODMAN: I agree with you the problem is both sides. It's going across the board here, Democrat and Republican. Money is swamping politics in this country.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Money is swamping politics. A quick time-out, but more dicey politics ahead -- as Amy just noted, another Clinton centrist is heading into the Obama administration -- curious. And Maine's governor picks a fight with the NAACP over the Martin Luther King holiday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell them to kiss my butt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Monday is the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday and there are ceremonies of course across the country to pay tribute to the late civil rights leader. The new Maine governor, Paul LePage, won't be attending his state's event. He had tough words today when asked how he would respond to the NAACP criticism of his absence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: Tell them to kiss my butt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: NAACP President Benjamin Jealous responded with this. Quote, "Governor LePage's decision to inflame racial attention on the eve of the King Holiday denigrates his office."

Let's get the take of Ed Rollins, John Avlon and Amy Goodman. John Avlon, you used to be a speechwriter, this guy needs a little help.

AVLON: Yes, I don't think he's really going for eloquence, is he. This is not the first time Paul LePage has used this kind of language and got a lot of press both negative -- mostly negative for it. Earlier in the campaign he attracted attention for saying that as governor he would tell President Obama to go to hell.

I think there are two issues here. One is just the wisdom of a governor in the 21st Century to make a point of not attending Martin Luther King Day celebrations. Not quite sure what message he's trying to send there. This message is real clear though he's trying to throw a bomb, get some attention and show that he doesn't care what the NAACP thinks.

This is going to be a bad fit for Maine. Here's a state where Independents outnumber Democrats, Republicans. He was narrowly elected in a three-way race. This is not going to wear well in Maine is my guess.

KING: John mentioned picking a fight with the NAACP; let me read a little bit more of how he described the NAACP today. He said "they are a special interest, end of story, and I'm not going to be held hostage by special interests. If they want they can look at my family picture. My son happens to be black, so they can do whatever they like about it."

Let's show our viewers the picture of the LePage family; he does have an adopted son. His son is from Jamaica. You see him in the photo here. He is adopted. But, Amy, OK, he has an adopted son, amen to him for that, but why pick this fight?

GOODMAN: Oh I mean that's a very good question and whether we're talking about Maine or where all our hearts are in Arizona, one of the last states to approve the Martin Luther King holiday, I think as we reflect on what Dr. King represented, as he took on violence abroad -- at that time it was the Vietnam War -- and violence at home, decrying it all. In Arizona now as we move forward, the questions are how they're going to deal with the violence there, whether we're talking about the lack of control of guns, whether we're talking about the hatred of immigrants that has been expressed. I hope now we're going to start seeing a serious coming together and really show respect for the hero of the day there, that young Danny Hernandez, the 20-year-old Mexican American who has so much to teach us all.

KING: Amy raises an interesting point, Ed. We're going to learn a lot more next week when the health care debate resumes in the Congress about whether there is a lesson. I'm not going to try to connect any dots tonight. I don't connect any dots to any pre event rhetoric to what happened in Arizona, but there is a national conversation about can we all be a little smarter, a little more civil. Can we debate on the issues and not question people's personal integrity.

I want you to listen to Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida; he was here in the D.C. area today speaking to a conference trying to convince Latinos to give the Republican Party another look after he talked about his take on how he hopes the tone will change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: You don't have to personalize your disagreements with people. You don't have to tear down the other person. Your ideas should have enough merit to be able to win the day. And so I hope that the Tucson experience, the reaction to the reaction helps us get to a better place politically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A thoughtful statement there from Jeb Bush, Ed Rollins, but by the middle of next week when health care is back on the floor, will we back in our normal vitriol?

ROLLINS: Well we may not be next week, but certainly we're going to have some strong arguments because people feel very passionate on different sides of this issue. You know I think as time goes on we'll get back to the rhetoric again unfortunately. The Martin Luther King holiday was a very interesting test. I was in the White House when President Reagan signed that bill. I was on his side when he signed it.

There was a lot of controversy. There were people in his cabinet, the late attorney general was very opposed to it. And so you know he basically thought Martin Luther King was a very important leader. He did something that was very courageous in signing that bill and he stood above it -- the discourse. I think what Republicans have to do is they're now in a leadership position, at least in one House, is to basically keep the rhetoric down and go do the job.

KING: John, do you think that's what will happen? I was talking to Jeff Flake last night of Arizona. Now he is a conservative. He fights earmarks. He's a fiscal conservative (INAUDIBLE) he's not one who tends to throw around a lot of flowery rhetoric, but he was very somber. He'd just come from the funeral of the 9-year-old victim and he said that he hoped all of his colleagues would -- you know let's have a spirited fight about health care. Let's have a spirited fight about deficit reduction and federal spending, but let's make it about the specifics, not questioning people's character and judgment. Will we?

AVLON: That's essential. And the Republican Party should listen to Jeff Flake and other folks like that. You know we -- the American people sent a pretty clear message. I think they sent one during the election, but even more so in the aftermath of Tucson. They're expecting something different, something better from Washington.

This demonizing people who disagree with us, this ratcheting up of rhetoric, the use of vile rhetoric, in which has translated into threats against congressmen from both parties that it's up to the Republicans to be part of the solution here and to show they really heard it and help turn the page, get to the business of governing, have passionate serious policy disagreements, but stop the demonization of difference.

The American people are losing their patience with it. We want to see something different. We want to see some civility and constructive solutions. That requires common ground and not burning down the house.

KING: Are you confident, Amy, we will have a spirited conversation that we can be proud of?

GOODMAN: What irony if Gabby Giffords, who is so desperately trying to survive fighting for her life right now, the Republicans push for the repeal of the health care bill when she voted for it. Her -- the glass door of her office in Tucson was either shot through or shattered. And also I think one of the first acts when they come back in honor of all of those victims and to stop future ones is to pass Carolyn McCarthy's bill that she has been pushing for every single year and that is a ban on assault weapons.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: John, can I add something to that?

KING: Please.

AVLON: Gabby Giffords is actually a great example in the way she conducted herself in office of the kind of change I think Congress needs to learn from. Take a page from Gabby Giffords' playbook. Be that -- you know someone who is a strong centrist Democrat who tried to reach across the aisle to solve problems. That's an example that folks in Congress they want to really honor her. Take that example to heart in trying to govern over the next two years.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: Let me just make on point, though.

KING: Please.

ROLLINS: Quickly -- Democrats for four years controlled both the House and the Senate. If they wanted to pass gun control, they could have done it. You had a Democratic president who obviously would have signed it. He didn't. The bottom line today is the Second Amendment is the Supreme Court has decided it is the law of the land and I don't think there's a majority of Democrats and certainly not a majority of Republicans that are going to alter that.

GOODMAN: I want to say Ed's right that the Democrats could have done it, should have done it, and they still can with the Republicans. And when the founding fathers had their guns at home and were loading one bullet at a time, what would it take, something like five minutes, they never had any dream that people today could load in magazines and shoot off how many bullets a minute. I think we should take what the founding fathers' intent was all about and we should protect the people of this country.

KING: Amy Goodman, you raised a point earlier. I want to bring it up. The vice president of the United States today hired a new chief of staff. He is Bruce Reed. He worked in the Clinton administration. He was a leading member of the Democratic Leadership Council for a long time, back in the '90s. A centrist organization that was founded on the basic principle that the Democratic Party had become too liberal, too big spending, too high taxing. You -- the White House, they view this as bringing in a seasoned policy guy to help the vice president. You don't see it that way.

GOODMAN: Oh, no. Whether we're talking about Daley representing the banks or whether we're talking about Bruce Reed going after Social Security and Medicare. I think most people in this country, the polls show, absolutely support keeping Social Security and Medicare. But I have to make one more point as we honor the dead, as we honor the wounded. There is a young woman also killed this past week and she was in Mexico. Her name was Sassana (ph) Chavez. And she fought violence in Ciudad Juarez, one of the most violent places on earth. The reason-and President Calderon has said this over and over-that the guns are there is because of the sunset of the ban on the assault weapons in this country in 2004. It's got to stop.

KING: Go ahead, John.

AVLON: Bruce Reed, this is a great pick up by the vice president, in my opinion. It shows a really - that they have gotten the election. It's one more sign that the Obama administration understands the message of the election. It understands the responsibility of governing with a divided Congress. And they're pivoting towards 2012. The fact that he was one of the leaders in the deficit reduction commission shows that they understand they need to really lead on this issue to restore their credibility with centrist and independent voters. And the only way to keep Social Security alive for future generations, my generation in particular, is to reform it. It is not optional. We're going bankrupt unless you deal with the excesses. The math simply doesn't work. So it's a great sign, it's a responsible action. It is exactly the kind of thing they need to do to have a successful two years and pivot towards 2012.

KING: A disagreement, but for the record, I will note, polite and civil. And on the substance between Ms. Goodman and Mr. Avlon. Amy and John have a great weekend. Ed is going to stay with us, because when we come back we need Ed's expertise to go through another big story in our politics today and that is a bit of a bomb shell from the son of the late President Ronald Reagan. Did the president have Alzheimer's when in office? We'll talk about that in just a minute.

And $1 billion, that's with a B, $1 billion of your money has been spent on a virtual fence along the U.S./Mexican border. The Obama administration just today, pulled the plug. Was it a virtual disaster?

And Pete Dominick will be with us, tonight. It's Friday night. Football playoffs this weekend. He roots for some team called the Jets. I root for these guys. See in you a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back in November 1994, nearly six years after he left office, former President Ronald Reagan issued a statement disclosing he had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. A few years later, Nancy Reagan authorized White House doctors to talk to "The New York Times" to knock down suggestions he had symptoms of the disease while still in office. But now Ron Reagan, suggests in a new book, that his father did have Alzheimer's while president. The book, "My Father at 100" is due out next week. And Ron Reagan sat down with ABC's Elizabeth Vargas to discuss it, including his blockbuster suggestion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RON REAGAN, JR., SON OF FMR. PRES. RONALD REAGAN: I noticed that at the margins, there's something going on here that I'm not entirely comfortable with. Nobody at that time knew Alzheimer's the way we know it now. I'm not aware of anybody who thought he had Alzheimer's when he was in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I spoke by telephone today with President Reagan's final chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein, who forcefully challenged Ron Reagan's assertion.

Quote, "I think Ron these days is mostly in the business of trying to sell books. That is what I think. Day in, day out from beginning to end, he was in command. He was fully in command."

That's Ken Duberstein's view. Back with us now is one of the former president's closest political advisers. Ed Rollins served Ronald Reagan as governor of California. And after a lead role in the 1980 presidential campaign, came to Washington to serve as political director in the Reagan White House.

Ed Rollins, a simple question straight up. Did Ron Reagan have anything to base that on?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. Let me just say this, though, Ronald Reagan's entire presidency, he was a man in his 70s. He turned 70 and three weeks after he was inaugurated, he was 78 when he went out of office. He was near mortally wounded three months in to the administration. He had cancer, he had a head injury, and more fundamental than anything else, he was deaf in one ear and didn't get a hearing aid until midway through his term.

I was in both the first and second administration. I always felt he was in command. He got a little bit older, obviously, as anyone does as you age in your 70s, but he clearly knew what was going on. But another fundamental factor and Ken was a dear friend of mine, there were four chiefs of staff in the second term. There were four national security advisers. There were a lot of people who changed and were around him and to a certain extent it was a troubled time for Reagan with Iran Contra. I don't know where Ron Jr. came up with his father slipping other than of other than aging. And I think that happens to any parent who ages.

But Ronald Reagan was not-and I had sat, my last time with him in 1990, when I was running a congressional committee, he did a fund raiser, and I sat next to him. And we had this hour and a half long discussion, very clear minded about the first Gulf invasion, the Kuwait war. And he knew everything that was going on. So I would challenge -- not that he didn't age, not that he didn't slip, as any of us do, but I would challenge and agree with Ken Duberstein, that Ronald Reagan, to the end, was in charge.

KING: I want to show some of our viewers some of the contrasts. And I want your take on it. Here's what Ron Reagan writes in the book. "Three years in to his first term as president, though, I was feeling the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father." That's Ron Reagan talking about there, by that context the early 1980s. Here's Nancy Reagan in an interview with Larry King back in 2001 talking about, in 1994, when they learned -- when they got the official diagnosis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR, LARRY KING LIVE: When did you first notify?

NANCY REAGAN, FMR. FIRST LADY: I didn't.

L. KING: You never noticed Alzheimer's?

REAGAN: I didn't. No, no. We went to Mayo's in August that year --

L. KING: Was it the normal memory slippages that older people have?

REAGAN: Well, yes. You forget names. I forget names.

L. KING: I forget what I had for lunch today.

REAGAN: So, no, I didn't notice anything.

L. KING: And what happened at Mayo?

REAGAN: They diagnosed it as Alzheimer's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Nancy Reagan, who was with him more than anybody, says she didn't notice it in 1994. Ron Reagan says he was noticing back as early as 1983 or so.

ROLLINS: Ron was not around a whole lot. Maureen was, but Ron was not around a whole lot. I went through the entire '84 campaign, which I ran with him. He ran a very vigorous campaign including the closing three weeks of the campaign, even though he was way ahead, he went through 21, 30 states. He was very, very vigorous on the campaign trail, with tons of media behind him. And nobody ever said he was slipping at that point in time.

As I said, we all age. I'm not what I was 25 years ago. As he got closer to the end of his term, he slowed down a little bit, but obviously, he had gone through an awful lot in the sense of the wounds and stuff that I talked about. But mentally, I never found him deficient.

KING: It was a pretty have a ordinary step for Nancy Reagan to authorize the White House doctors to go public, to talk to "The New York Times" to look back through the records. Were you part of those conversations at all? That was back 1997.

ROLLINS: No, I was not. KING: Do you think she did that to defend him?

ROLLINS: I think once they admitted the Alzheimer's -- he had a hard time during the Iran Contra stuff. This was the most inconsistent thing he'd ever done. The change from Jim Baker to Don Regan, changed the whole dynamics of the way the White House worked. The first team knew how to functioned, new how to bring-Don Regan tried to be president, himself, and worked to the great detriment of the country.

Ken Duberstein, Howard Baker, when they came in, they understood Reagan. And they made sure that he got the kinds of decision packages and everything that he need. But obviously 70 to 78 is a change in anyone's life. You slow down a little bit. And I think the hard of hearing is probably what affected him more than anything else.

KING: Ed Rollins appreciate your insights tonight on this important story and important look back on your career. Ed, thanks so much.

When we come back, a big announcement from the Vatican today about the late Pope John Paul II; details next, in our headlines.

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KING: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pulled the plug on the so-called virtual fence along the U.S. border with Mexico. Since 2005 the government has spent nearly a billion dollars, nearly a billion dollars, of your money on the high-tech surveillance system, which was intended to cut down on illegal immigration. A written statement from Secretary Napolitano says, quote, "There is no one size fits all solution to meet all border technology needs."

Smart decision or not? Joining me now from California, Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, she is a member of the Homeland Security Committee. And here with me, National Security Contributor Fran Townsend, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Board, and a former top advisor in the Bush White House.

It was in the Bush White House that this money started to be spent. People thought, A, build some physical fence, but use a virtual fence. Is this a good decision to pull the plug?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISORY BOARD: Well, John, let's remember the whole idea of the fence started when President Bush was trying to get comprehensive immigration reform passed and the negotiation with Congress was you have to do better on enforcement first. So Congress did the bill that required all the 700 or more miles of fencing. Well, real actual fencing the way we think of it was never going to work because of the terrain. So that is how you come up with virtual fence. They put that hundreds of miles both pedestrian and vehicle fence in, but the technology has been a problem. It was a problem in the Bush administration and it's continued to be a problem in terms of its implementation during the Obama administration..

KING: Congresswoman, is this a smart idea. There are people out there who will, number one, say wait a minute, what about illegal immigration. If you're stopping this what is the plan? If you are not going to use this technology, what's plan B? Others will say $1 billion of my money and now you're telling me it doesn't work?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, those 700 miles, most of it has been put in, but remember we have 2,500 miles there and we have probably one and a half times that amount up on our northern border. And I would venture to say that eventually we're going to have to worry about both borders in the same way.

So we were thinking-the hope was that because of the terrain and the difficult and extreme weather conditions, that in places where we really couldn't put some of these fences, that really work, and by the way, the Department of Homeland Security actually has a fence lab where they test all types of different fences there. But we were hoping that we would be able to use the Technology. The problem was, in the beginning, the Border Patrol, the people who actually would use this, were not actually, were prohibited from talking to the contractors who were putting this together for us. The contract itself was poorly written. When we looked at the technology, it was supposed to be off-the-shelf technology that would be integrated. The integration was never done well. The images were bad.

So quite frankly, the first 28 miles, which was the pilot project that was supposed to be operational was then turned into a part of the next 40 miles, which included those 28, which of course also didn't work. And ultimately, this has just not been a project that has worked very well.

KING: I want to go to the map in a minute. And show people what this looks like and what we mean, but I was listening to your description of this good intention, turning into what sounded to me, forgive me, the $600 million toilet seats from the Pentagon. This sounds like it was a government bureaucracy and contracting mess. If that's the case, if it was that bad, Congresswoman, have those problems been corrected before we move on to plan B?

SANCHEZ: Well, some have. Remember that when the Homeland Department was made, there were 22 different pieces that were put together in one department. But no more money was given even though that was set up. And so you, they didn't have contractors, they, they didn't have general administrative type of people, so they relied on other departments to sort of borrow people to do that type of thing. Or in -- what were some of the cases, I saw -- not this one, we actually, the department actually had the contractor be the one making the contract and overseeing the contract for the actual government department.

KING: Hang on one second. Let me stop you for one second. I want to bring Fran into the conversation, because you were in the White House at this time. TOWNSEND: Yes.

KING: Is it that bad? Was it, is it essentially, here, contractor we need you to do this. Go do it. Don't have any oversight, the Border Patrol, as the congresswoman says, can't talk to the contractor, that sounds asinine.

TOWNSEND: Secretary Chertoff, when he at the department was very frustrated by that. And set up a contracting oversight office. A program office to oversee the contractor, to set milestones, and measure against that. It became apparent, then, as we begin to walk through the process with milestones that it wasn't working very well, the contractor, Boeing, at the time, was called out publicly both by Congress and the press about it. So, the additional oversight really did highlight what the problems were. Off the shelf technology had very difficult time working in the conditions on the Southwest border in the heat and sand.

KING: Let's take a closer look. You talk about off the shelf technology. You talk about eventually having some contract oversight. Let's look at what we're talking about here. This is obviously the border, you see California, all the way over through Texas. You look at the lines right here. If it is this green, this is an actual physical fence, a completed fence. Yellow line is fence under construction. Red is fence planned. The virtual fence, was really- the main virtual fence activity was down here in Arizona.

As you look through, I just want to touch here. We will show you some of the technology here. Some of these are sensors, and cameras, they are designed to pick up movement. Some of the cameras take better pictures at night. These are relayed back to control stations. I visited one, a few years back, essentially it s like a police station. They sit at the desk, they are monitoring all these feeds coming in.

Here, here is what we get. This cost, again, nearly $1 billion of your money. It was supposed to cover 53 miles, using sensor towers, night cameras, ground sensors, this is supposed to be the technology that helped. This is what the government says it will do now, and it says it will cost a lot less, but still $750 million, to cover a 300-mile area bigger, using more drones, unmanned aircraft. They have used that in the military quite a bit. More thermal imagery, more video surveillance, obviously there is, largely because of our military efforts overseas, more advanced technology now.

But first to you, Fran, then the congresswoman. A, is it more effective? B., is there better coordination. Meaning the contractors who run the technology do they actually talk to the guy in the green uniform on the ground? Is the money being well spent?

TOWNSEND: That is, the issue, John, is why is it now that unmanned aircraft and thermal imaging, all of a sudden are going to be the answer. Why haven't those been used right along. What is our experience with the deployment of those? We need to have test, pilot projects that demonstrate the efficacy of those. Just as you say they're tied into the operators and that the operators, the people who have to enforce our immigration laws, are the ones passing on whether or not those are the right technologies.

KING: We'll continue this conversation. Congresswoman Sanchez, unfortunately we are out of time tonight. We'll continue this conversation, because I think anybody watching at home is worried, A, what did you do with the money? And, B, is the new plan, you going to waste more money, or are you going to actually protect the border?

Congresswoman, appreciate your time. We'll continue our coverage here. Fran, thank you as well.

When we come back, you'll smile a little built. It's been a tough week. We'll smile a little bit. Are you ready for some football? Pete On The Street sure is. You're going to lose, Pete.

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KING: If you have been here once or twice, you know I like sports and you know I'm a Boston guy, so I'm a New England Patriots fan. If you watched this guy Pete Dominick, our offbeat reporter in New York he is a little lost, he roots for the team called the Yankees, and those guys there called the Jets.

Pete, you know, the last time we went through this. You wore that shirt. You said the Jets were going to win. It was a humiliatingly great win for the Patriots. And you brought me the Macabeets (ph) on Monday. What are you going to do for me this Monday?

PETER DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: I don't need to do anything this Monday, John King. Because on Sunday, I, Pete Dominick, guarantee a New York Jets' victory against the Patriots.

KING: Pete, you are no Joe Namath.

DOMINICK: The classiest paper in New York, "The New York Post" cover, they just make your coach look like Darth Vader. But who is this the, the "Boston Metro"? This is just wrong. The whole feet fetish thing. And even, Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of State is getting in on the action on CNN's newest star, Piers Morgan's show, take a look at this

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CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the good money at this point would have to say the New England Patriots, because they're so dominant. But I am going to say Atlanta Falcons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINICK: Well, unfortunately, even Condoleezza Rice is wrong on both counts. Because it is going to be the big Jets, big win, on Sunday, John King. I will be Tweeting throughout the game, your Twitter handle, John King, CNN talking trash. So follow along.

KING: I will be talking right back at you, my friend. I think my guys will win, I hope it is a great game. I don't even mind if it is a little close. I'll see you on Monday. And I hope to be smiling. Pete, have a great weekend. Enjoy the game.

Before we go for the weekend, I want to say thank you after a tough week. And thanks especially to the people of Tucson. We were there for several days, they were angry, they were sad, they were hurt. They were gracious and friendly to us throughout. What sticks with me mostly was so many young children at the makeshift vigils all across town. We should pray for them, as we enjoy our weekend. That's all for us tonight. PARKER SPITZER starts right now.