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Senator Reveals Sexual Abuse; Unrest in the Middle East; License Plate Controversy

Aired February 16, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Candy and good evening everyone. We begin tonight with a stunning personal disclosure from the senator whose dramatic win a year was an early glimmer of the Republican resurgence. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the Republican who won the seat held by the late Democratic icon Edward M. Kennedy tonight issued a statement acknowledging physical and sexual abuse during his childhood.

The revelations come in a new book due out Monday and in his statement Senator Brown says this. "My book is about overcoming obstacles. The physical and sexual abuse is in my book. It's a part of my life but it certainly isn't the only part of my life story which I tell. My book will be out Monday and I hope people will read it and will be inspired by its message." As part of promoting that book, Senator Brown was interviewed for the CBS program "60 Minutes" which tonight released this exchange with correspondent Leslie Stahl.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In his hometown of Wakefield, Mass, he tells us how he suffered as a little boy from physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his mother's many husbands. But when Scott was 10, he experienced another kind of abuse at the hands of a camp counselor.

You tell us that you were actually sexually abused more than once?

SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Yes. Fortunately nothing was ever fully consummated, so to speak, but it was certainly back then very traumatic. He said if you tell anybody, you know, I'll kill you. You know, I will make sure that no one believes you, and that's the biggest thing. When people find people like me at that young, vulnerable age who are basically lost, the thing that they have over you is they make you believe that no one will believe you, you know --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you never reported it?

BROWN: No, my mom will read about it for the first time. My wife has read about it.


BROWN: No, no one -- I haven't told anybody. That's what happens when you're a victim. You're embarrassed. You're hurt. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Brown declined our request for an interview tonight and several family friends and political associates we reached out to told us the senator had asked them not to grant media interviews, at least until the book is released. Senator Brown has a coast-to-coast schedule of book signings beginning Monday in Boston.

Let's get some insights from Dr. Robi Ludwig, a psychologist whose patients have included victims of physical and sexual abuse. And Dr. Ludwig, let me just start by asking you, you just listened to that clip of the exchange with Leslie Stahl, what jumped out at you?

DR. ROBI LUDWIG, PSCHOTHERAPIST: Well, that there was a tremendous sense of shame that he suffered with for a very long period of time which is not uncommon and for people who have suffered from child sexual abuse they often internalize a sense of being a victim and that's what makes it so hard to come out.

KING: Let's listen to a bit of that again, a bit of that segment. And you see the pictures there of Senator Brown campaigning. His race drew national attention of course because it was the race for the seat held by Senator Kennedy. I want to listen to the part where he's talking about when he was abused at camp, he's 10 years old at the time and he is essentially threatened. Let's listen to a little bit of that.


BROWN: He said if you tell anybody, you know, I'll kill you. You know, I will make sure that no one believes you and that's the biggest thing, when people find people like me at that young, vulnerable age who are basically lost, the thing that they have over you is they make you believe that no one will believe you.


KING: It's a threat and it's an intimidation and it's a sense of power.

LUDWIG: That's right and that's why children are often chosen because they are so powerless and they aren't in a position where they're necessarily believed and that's how they can so easily become victims and I think it's so wonderful that senator Brown is coming out because look what a role model he is. He is somebody who is successful.

He is doing well in his life, and he's coming out and saying and sharing this story basically sending the message, you know, I had difficulties. I was a victim but, you know what, you can come out on the other side and be OK and do OK and that's a very powerful message.

KING: It is, indeed. It is a very powerful message. I want to go back. We were looking today back at some of the materials written during the campaign where he was the subject of so many profiles and he obviously did not discuss this then, but I want to read you something from a "New York Times" magazine profile in February of 2010.

"Judy Patterson, a teacher supervising some summer school students in a school visible from Brown's backyard came to know him. He asked me if he could attend the school during the day because he had nothing to do, she recalls. So he wanted someplace even if it was a remediation program. What 11-year-old kid do you know who would want to do that?"

Now you read that and you knew he'd had a troubled childhood. You know his mother had had several husbands and you thought here was a kid who just needed a place to go. But if you read it now, if you read it now it seems like he was somebody who perhaps might have been looking for a safe haven.

LUDWIG: Absolutely. Looking for a safe haven, also having the good instincts to hopefully find a place maybe where somebody could sense that he needed some nurturing, perhaps he had the wish somewhere that somebody would recognize that he was a victim and help him out. And it just sounds like this is a man who had good instincts and wanted to be in a healthy environment for himself.

KING: Dr. Robi Ludwig, appreciate your insights tonight -- appreciate it very much.

LUDWIG: Thank you.

KING: And it may seem crass -- it may seem crass but you can't discuss this without making note of the timing. Senator Brown is up for re-election next year. His first race was to fill the remainder of Senator Kennedy's term. The disclosure and the high-profile book tour come at a time Democrats in Massachusetts are looking for a top tier candidate to oppose Senator Brown.

The late senator's widow, Vicki Kennedy, is among those who have said they're not interested, but the Democrats still consider Senator Brown to be vulnerable. CNN senior political analyst David Gergen is in Boston. And David, you were a part of that campaign. You moderated a debate in that campaign, when you heard about this today first just your first reaction.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: My first reaction was to be extremely sympathetic toward him and to be, I must say, I salute his courage in coming forward. He clearly is a man who now is well anchored. I have gotten to know him in the campaign and since, John, and whatever you think of his politics and I disagree with some of his political views, but he is at a human level a very appealing person, and I think this will make him even more appealing.

That does not speak, John, to the prospects for 2012. He is the most popular political figure in Massachusetts, more popular even than some of the polls would suggest than Senator Kerry or Governor Patrick, the -- Deval Patrick, but, you know, in 2012 Barack Obama is likely to win Massachusetts by a significant margin. If things would be held today I think he would, and so that may mean Scott Brown could face an uphill fight if the Democrats can find a candidate who catches fire. KING: And I want to talk about that in a minute because Massachusetts is a Democratic state to begin with, even more so traditionally in a presidential election year. On this disclosure today, when we learned about it, here obviously we started our news- gathering operations and I noticed just because I'm from Boston I follow all the tweets and the breaking news alerts --


KING: It was quickly covered up there. Your sense and it may be an unfair question because I know you've been busy working today, but your sense of the initial reaction in coverage up in Massachusetts?

GERGEN: I think the initial back (ph) coverage here is going to be one of surprise and sympathy. We always knew that Scott Brown had a troubled background but I think on a personal level, the story of overcoming adversity is one that's going to resonate here in Massachusetts because so many people are hurting in a variety of ways and I also think because in some ways, John, because he is a Republican who has overcome adversity, the Republicans are often labeled unfairly -- I think unfairly frequently as people who don't -- are not very sympathetic with those at the bottom who have been kicked around. And to realize that he suffered this I think is going to strengthen his bonds with a portion of the population that you understand so well, the working people of Massachusetts who have been kicked around a lot.

KING: And this is a startling personal disclosure so obviously it catches attention out of the box. It will be part of a book that was part of what senator Brown clearly politically wanted as a reintroduction, if you will. He came here and many people thought is this the new darling of the Tea Party and then of course he disappointed many people in the Tea Party because he turns out he's more of a centrist, center right, but still center Republican senator from Massachusetts of all places. How do you get the sense as the book tour rolls out and the reintroduction rolls out, how much of this in the short term it will dominate but will it dominate throughout?

GERGEN: Well, we don't know what's in the rest of the book, but I think it is going to draw crowds. I don't think people will see this as exploitive, you know, trying to sort of simply trying to build book sales. Instead, he is writing a book after all about overcoming adversity and he left this out and then subsequently disclosed, people would have thought the book was phony. I think he had to as a matter of honesty include this portion of his life and to deal with it and you know as Leslie said earlier it will help other people deal with it. That, you know after all the abuse we've -- abusive stories of abuse we've been through about the Catholic Church and everything like that, this is going to give hope to people. You look -- even though you've been a victim when you're young, you can put your life together and like Scott Brown find a way past to really major public impact public respect.

KING: Excellent insights as always from David Gergen -- David, thanks for your time.

GERGEN: Thank you.

KING: Still ahead here, a proposal to honor a notorious KKK leader in Mississippi whose governor well just happens to be preparing to run for president.

But first new protests in Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East -- we head there live next.


KING: Live to our correspondents in just a second; first though let's get a sense of another day of dramatic protests across the Middle East as we continue to try to assess the ripple effect from Egypt (ph) and Tunisia. Let's start in Tehran, zoom in here into Tehran and you see there were more demonstrations in the streets today. I'll play the video. This is a funeral of a demonstrator who was killed Monday. An anti-government demonstrator killed on Monday.

A funeral procession today -- you see that playing out there inside Tehran. More nerves, of course, there. Students worried -- students worried their anti-government protests will lead to even more of a crackdown. That is Tehran. Let's go from Tehran now to Yemen. We'll come out -- go back to Egypt -- come back wide here -- having a problem getting to that one -- excuse me. I'll just bring it up myself here.

This is in Bahrain here. You see in Bahrain this is Pearl Square. This is which has become -- Pearl Square has become the Tahrir Square of Bahrain, if you will. You see more demonstrators out there today. Thousands gathering again, this has become a source of quite of concern here as you watch the protests play out in -- protests in Bahrain and also down in Yemen, as well today you see more protests here. We'll play this out, anti-government protests in Yemen.

No audio and these obviously -- some of these are fed in on cell phones and the like, so let's check in with our correspondents in the region. Arwa Damon is live for us in Cairo and Arwa another group emerged today claiming to speak for the pro-democracy demonstrators. Tell us about that.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're calling themselves the National Salvation Council. They included members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some opposition groups as well as some representatives of the youth movement bearing in mind, though that this is and continues to be a revolution without a leader and we're seeing it growing increasingly fractured and various groups debate the best path forward.

As a result of this meeting, not a lot that came out of it that was actually concrete, but there was one thing that all parties that were involved did agree on and that was to call for yet another demonstration on Friday. They are saying it is both to celebrate what they have accomplished this far, but also as a stamped and a warning that they will continue to keep the pressure up until all of their demands are met. Amongst those, of course, the constitutional amendments that a committee is working on right now, as well as bringing about an end to these arbitrary ongoing detentions and to make sure that the military continues to try at least to uphold human rights -- John.

KING: And to that point, Arwa, you've spent a lot of time trying to do reporting on allegations of torture by people who were taken into custody including by the military. What can you tell us?

DAMON: Well, John, this is something that Human Rights Watch is really focusing on, as well. And at this point in time they are not saying that people are systemically being tortured while they're in military custody, but the initial indications and reports that they are getting are very, very disturbing.

To give you the example of one case, one man was detained on February 4th by the military police. He was initially tortured, beaten, interrogated and then interestingly moved from the location where he was detained to the Hilton hotel just outside of it and he says that there he was dragged down the street led into another interrogation room.

Now the Hilton hotel is just outside of Tahrir Square and is where a lot of the media has been based. Following his interrogation there he was released. He subsequently picked up by another military group who then proceeded to beat him heavily, as well. Say that they were going to take him to a hospital but instead put him in an ambulance where he was beaten again and this time taken to the museum.

This is the same museum that is located in Tahrir Square where we in front of it see many military personnel seemingly greeting the protesters in a very friendly fashion and many protesters had -- do continue to perceive the military as being something of a neutral force intended to protect the people which is why it is very disturbing that this young man says he was beaten on the premises of this museum.

Human Rights Watch now warning that it is going to be up to the military to really prove that it's going to bring about an end to these various allegations of human rights violations, to these arbitrary detentions or many are warning that the military is going to find itself the brunt of the wrath of an increasingly impatient people who really want to see true justice and an end to the military-style dictatorship that they suffered for so long under President Mubarak -- John.

KING: One of the many fascinating questions and difficult questions as we see if this transition to democracy unfolds -- Arwa Damon fascinating reporting in Cairo. Thank you.

Let's head to Bahrain now, tens of thousands protesting yet again in the tiny Gulf Emirate. Our Nic Robertson made his way to Bahrain to get a sense of the size of the protests and the threat to the regime there. Nic joins us now on the telephone. Nic, you were in Tahrir Square in the heat of it. How does it look in Pearl Square in Bahrain? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): It's a peaceful protest. People are settling in for the long haul. There are piles of -- piles of boxed food, bottles -- large bottles of water. Protesters sitting in tents, very well organized, some large tents, people making up new posters. They are hanging up pictures of the two people who were killed in the protest over the last couple of days, hanging those up around the square but it seems to be very well organized, people getting ready for a long haul.

They've lifted 13 different demands that they want to see the government make or acquiesce to and they say that they're going to continue as the protesters have in Egypt and elsewhere. They're going to continue to sit it out in the Pearl Roundabout (ph), which is a large roundabout, chose to the center of the city, sit this out until they get what they want -- John.

KING: And Nic, as you were arriving I know that some of your vital equipment was seized or taken at least temporarily into custody at the airport. Is that a sign the government is trying to limit especially from western organizations coverage, video coverage of this?

ROBERTSON: It certainly is. It certainly seems to be at this stage and the government for the moment seems to be sort of changing, kind of sort of keep up with what's happening here. Today the protests were peaceful. The people killed in the protests over the last couple of days seemed to be as a result -- direct result of clashes with the police. Today the government had decided and learned perhaps from mistakes over the previous few days not to put the police out and not to create -- or not for there to be the opportunity for clashes.

When we arrived at the airport our cameras were taken away. This is unusual in Bahrain. There's much -- normally a much more permissive atmosphere for journalists and for reporters here and we were told by the Customs officials at the airport that these were new regulations that were being put into place so it does seem that the government here is adjusting its steps for what may -- what it fears may be a protracted campaign of protesters and the attention that that will bring from the international community -- John.

KING: Nic Robertson on the ground for us in Bahrain -- we'll keep in contact. Nic thanks so much.

Elsewhere in the Arab world today Iraqi and private security guards fired on protesters in Cutaroc (ph), one dead, 32 wounded and there are reports that Iran is moving warships through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria. Those reports caused oil prices to spike closing just under $85 a barrel. The aircraft carrier "USS Enterprise" also moved through the Suez Canal into the region.

When we come back, a big controversy in Mississippi, some want to honor a former Confederate general who went on to became a notorious leader in the KKK. Civil rights leaders in the state say that is an outrage. What does the governor think? He's about to run for president. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Potential problem for Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour's potential campaign for president. There's an effort in his state to create a special license plate honoring Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest who became a notorious Ku Klux Klan leader after the Civil War. The NAACP asked Barbour to denounce the effort. He won't.


GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: I don't go around denouncing people. The Nathan Bedford Forrest tag is not going to happen. Isn't that what you asked me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean do you --

BARBOUR: Is that what you asked me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what I asked.

BARBOUR: The answer is it's not going to happen.


KING: Let's talk this over. Derrick Johnson is the president of the Mississippi NAACP. Gary (sic) Stewart is with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans which supports the Forrest license plate. Mr. Stewart let me start with you because of that. You can see already this is opening up some wounds. Some people saying the KKK, the history of racism, it's a stain on the state's past. Why open these wounds? Why do you think this plate is a good idea?

GREG STEWART, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS: Well, this has been an eye opener for a lot of us. In a sense we're moving towards this 150-year anniversary and it's a time to go back and review our history. Apparently they've been very successful at smearing this particular man. We didn't know that they've been that successful because I just heard from your introduction that you said he was a notorious Klan member.

That's a matter of debate. We don't believe it and we think he's worthy of a tag for the purposes that we use the tags for, which is a noble purpose to collect money to repair the flags returned to us by northern states many years ago, given to us as gifts and we think we should take care of those things and we should not ask the taxpayers in Mississippi to dig into their pockets at this time.

KING: Mr. Johnson, let me come in on that point and let me play devil's advocate for a second. Let's set history aside. A citizen of your state says let's have this plate. It's up to the taxpayer to buy it. They can walk away if they don't want it. They can ignore it if they don't want it. They can even feel offended. That's essentially the position you just heard. What's wrong with that?

DERRICK JOHNSON, PRES., MISSISSIPPI NAACP: Well, first of all, we should not glamorize a racially hatred history. We're not doing anything to smear Nathan Bedford's name. Nathan Bedford Forrest smeared his own name when he committed acts of treason against this country and joined confederate states to break away from the country. He smeared his own name when he set up himself as being one of the first head of the Christian Knights of the KKK. It was his action that smeared his name.

KING: And so, Mr. Stewart, answer that and in the sense that we have this right of free speech and it is our most cherished right and so citizens can say and think just about anything, but with that right comes responsibility, so as you hear the objections from the NAACP, from African-American members of your own community, what then if you have this license plate and there are -- maybe there's some debate but there's also considerable objection, what's to stop somebody from saying you know let's have a James Earl Ray's license plate or a Lee Harvey Oswald license plate or an Osama bin Laden license plate for that matter.

STEWART: He's made those arguments before and we've heard them and I want to say this in the nicest way so that, you know, I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. But when we went through these images and selected the years that we wanted to do it and Nathan Bedford Forrest was considered by us, the NAACP and slavery issue and the Klan issue, those were never considerations of ours, so it's really not about these issues that he's bringing up.

We're saluting Nathan Bedford Forrest for his service as a Confederate soldier during the war and his accomplishments, especially in north Mississippi that were notable. You know, obviously people like Erwin Rommel came all the way to this country to study his military tactics and they still study his military tactics. So he's a famous person and he can help us sell tags and that's what we're doing for a noble purpose. It has nothing to do with glorifying slavery or excusing slavery or excusing the Klan.

KING: You talked about Rommel coming over. But what do you think the reaction in Germany would be if they decided to sell a license plate to Adolf Hitler's history as a great athlete in high school or someone who got an "A" in, you know, in language in high school. What happens in the rest of your life matters does it not?

STEWART: It does, but redemption counts too and if everything -- if everything they say is true about this man, if every single word of it was true and we don't think that it is, but if it were, certainly he is worthy of redemption. We gave it to Robert Byrd. We gave it to Hugo Black. We're given it to George Washington.

KING: Does the general deserve redemption?

JOHNSON: Well for us it's not this one guy, it's the whole philosophy around the Confederate and the heritage of the South. Our concern is we should not celebrate a time in our history where it was OK for one human being to own another human being. That was immoral. It is un-Christian. It is not something we should celebrate.

It's not just Nathan Bedford Forrest. It is the whole confederacy as we know it, the glamorization of a very negative period in our history it should not be something we celebrate, should not be something we honor. There is no honor in owning another human being. There is no honor in states committing acts of treason, breaking away from this country. There is no honor in domestic terrorists and for African-Americans in this state, that's what that past means to us.

KING: Mr. Stewart let me come back to where we began, which is your governor's position on this. He was asked about it and he would not denounce it as the NAACP has asked, but he also did not even say whether he thinks it's a good idea or a bad idea. He simply seemed to say well the votes aren't there in the legislature so it's not going to happen.

Should your governor, if he is to be a leader of your state and perhaps somebody who wants to be leader of this country, should he say -- at least have a courage to say -- "I support it" or "I reject it, I think it's a good or I think it's a bad idea"?

STEWART: Well, I'll say this: he has an opportunity to stand up and make a statement in support of the Confederate soldier that served honorably. But if he doesn't take that opportunity, that's fine. He's a politician. He's a very able governor.

But he's not a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He doesn't have the same charge that the rest of us have taken. So, I understand that.

And if he wants to run for president and I understand that that's being used against him to try to corner himself in some way, he should just run on his record. He has a good record, and leave it at that.

KING: Mr. Johnson, what did you think of the governor's answer?

JOHNSON: Well, as the head of the state of Mississippi, he should not tap-dance around a serious question for close to 40 percent of the population and many white Mississippians who also want to move beyond this place. The reason why organizations such as this exist in Mississippi are able to have airspace is because the tolerance level for racial hatred is too high in this state.

And what we're saying is to the head of the state, why don't you join forces? Let's deal with racial reconciliation and let's begin to denounce issues as it relates to racial hatred.

KING: Derrick Johnson, Gary Stewart -- gentlemen, it's an emotional debate. I appreciate your time and your insights today.

STEWART: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

KING: Still to come for us: members of Congress looking for budget cuts have found one proposal, the Pentagon, the Army sponsors NASCAR. Should it? It costs you millions. Good or bad idea?

And when we come back: headlines, stories breaking since we've begun the top of the hour.


KING: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the Republican who won the seat held by the late Democratic icon, Edward M. Kennedy, tonight issued a statement acknowledging physical and sexual abuse during his childhood.

The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave reporters their first briefing from him today. Now is his first day on the job as the White House press secretary.

President Obama called the CBS News correspondent Lara Logan today, one day after CBS revealed she was beaten and sexually assaulted by an Egyptian mob last Friday.

An NYU professor's tweet about Lara Logan's story costs him his job. Nir Rosen was a fellow at NYU Center on Law and Security. He resigned and apologized for sending tweets on Logan, a warmonger and saying she wanted to outdo Anderson Cooper.

Anderson talked with Rosen today and joins us now live -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Yes, John, it was a series of tweets that he sent out, and it just wasn't what he just called Logan. It was really that he was making fun of the physical and sexual assault that took place on her. It's a shocking series of tweets.

We wanted to hear how he explains himself. He has apologized, but in his public apology so far, he said he didn't realize that it was a sexual assault that had taken place on Lara Logan. That, frankly, doesn't fit the facts, it doesn't fit the words in his tweet or the fact that he tweeted a link to the original CBS statement, which very clearly describes the attack.

I talked to him a short time ago. He's in the Middle East.


COOPER: You're also insisting now that you're a radical supporter of women's rights. But, you know, I was talking to a lot of the women in my office and all of them would say the say thing. They've never hear a radical supporter of women's right make fun of a woman who's been sexually assaulted.

NIR ROSEN, FORMER FELLOW, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: That's true. And at the time, I wasn't aware she's been sexually assaulted. Just no justification for it. I was trying to provoke a guy that I was on Twitter with, just a -- we banter about WikiLeaks, the morality of WikiLeaks and -- COOPER: But if you didn't -- let me just jump in -- if you didn't know if she had been sexually assaulted, how come you were saying she was outdoing me and that it would be funny if the same thing happened to me? Because you already knew I'd been attacked.

ROSEN: I didn't know very much about your attack either. There's no defense here. I just figured that this is going to be more attention and going to take away from events on the ground and from other people who were attacked because they weren't white, they weren't celebrities and, you know, you make fun of the celebrity culture of the mainstream media, and people try to outdo each other and make it about the correspondents sort of a news. And I was doing that and I, obviously, came across like a jerk because that's what I was.


COOPER: The question, of course, is he telling the truth in the apology that he is now making or is he trying to make it seem he didn't know there was a sexual assault at all? We're going to continue to point out the facts on "360," John, but his tweets have upset a lot of people around the world.

KING: It's nice that he's arrived at the word "jerk." The question is whether he truly believes that. But it's nice that he arrived there.

It's fascinating to listen to the conversation but this is a bit of -- I'll call it a disease sometimes in social media. I didn't know that much about your attack either talking about when you and your crew were roughed up, but I tweeted anyway. Now, he's saying, well, I didn't really know much about this and I tweeted anyway. The facts may be in dispute, but this guy just decides he can say what he wants when he wants.

COOPER: Well, also for him to tweet the link to the CBS statement which very clearly identifies what kind of an attack it was. He's claiming he didn't read the link, that he didn't read the short CBS statement, again, the facts seem to indicate otherwise.

KING: Anderson Cooper -- great interview, Anderson. More of this tonight on "A.C. 360," 10:00 here in the East. You want to tune in for that.

And when we come back, New Jersey's governor came to Washington today to deliver a message, he's a rising Republican star. He says again and again and again and again he's not running for president.


KING: Chris Christie is the flavor of the moment in the Republican Party, and don't think for a minute he doesn't know it and love it.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm not stupid. I see the opportunity. I see it. That's not the reason to run.


KING: Got it? The New Jersey governor is not running for president. You don't believe him? Really? How about this?


CHRISTIE: I threatened to commit suicide.


CHRISTIE: I did. I said, what do I have to do short of suicide to convince people I'm not running? Apparently, I actually have to commit suicide to convince people I'm not running.


KING: Well, I take him at his word. Well, I did -- until our CNN contributor Erick Erickson of told me earlier he's told Governor Christie has had at least a few what ifs hypothetical 2012 conversations with GOP consultants.

Now, Erick still thinks after talking to people the answer is no. But maybe with a little wiggle room.

So, why is Governor Christie getting so much attention? Let's ask CNN contributors Alex Castellanos and Paul Begala.

Let me start with the Republican in the room.

Is it because he's a star in the party or is it because people look around at the other 37 people thinking about running for the Republican nomination and say, nah?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think you wrapped it up pretty well. This is the vacuum in the Republican Party. The horses that ran the last race didn't do so well, and the new ones aren't quite there yet. So, there's a place for a fresh face in the Republican.

But, you know, we always pick the last guy who almost made it, not this time. This time, I think the Republicans are going to pick a new face.

But also, what's the best way to run for president, John, not to run. You don't stick your face on the dartboard for your media, for your rivals. So, he's running the best non-campaign of any candidate so far.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I defer to Alex about all things Republican.

KING: All things?

BEGALA: All things Republican. I will say, I think one of these are clip shows. It's maybe he's a wise man for not running. OK. He's got basinful of problems in his state. He just allowed property taxes to go up on the middle class while cut taxes for millionaires and he's cutting education funding. So, he's got a lot of problems in his own state.

But that comment -- maybe I'm oversensitive. That comment about suicide is not funny. You know, it's just not. And he is a sort of a guy -- I don't know him -- but you see him on TV, and he tends to really pop off. And at one moment, he's charming and I kind of like it, but, you know, those kinds of comments if you're running for president --

KING: Risky.

BEGALA: It's very self destructing.

KING: Hang on. I want to go through some of the policy here. He can be brusque. He can be flippant and some people would find that to be insensitive. You're exactly right, there's a risk in that. But he does talk policy and he talks deep in policy.

So, we don't just want to make it about the stuff -- the tongue getting him in trouble. Here he is talking about the president's State of the Union address and the president's budget. Governor Christie, remember, is a Republican. He's dealing with horrendous state budget problems in New Jersey. You may like or not like what he's doing, but he's not impressed with President Obama.


CHRISTIE: He says the big things are high-speed rail, the big things are high-speed Internet access for almost 80 percent of America or something by some date, a million electric cars on the road by some date. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics.


KING: Pretty tough critique of the president for a guy who -- what he's trying to say is, again, we can debate what he's doing in New Jersey, but he says, I have to do this. I have to take on the teachers' unions. I have to deal with the state employees pensions. I have to deal with huge budget gap, and he thinks the president is not being serious.

BEGALA: Right. This is why -- in that sense, if he ran, that would be a wonderful contrast. He seems to believe that the way to the future is cut education, cut taxes for millionaires and raise taxes on the middle class, that's what he's doing.

President Obama -- a very different view -- cut taxes on middle class. Yes, he's going to raise them on the rich and invest in education.

Obviously, I'm pro-Obama, but those are two very different visions about how you compete in this world. CASTELLANOS: They are very different visions. President Obama, by his own numbers, is going to grow this country's debt to $21 trillion by 2016. That's his idea of cutting up the credit card. He's cut maybe one small corner. That's about it.

America can't keep spending money it just doesn't have. Chris Christie represents that. That's why Democrats just lost 66 seats in the House. If that's their campaign again next time --

KING: So, you think even if it offends people, the plain-spoken, authenticity, call it like you see it, and make a lot of people mad, that's OK.

CASTELLANOS: Independents are petrified that we're digging ourselves into a hole that our kids won't be able to get out of. Chris Christie represents that straight talk. He's a populist. He's a bottom up, I believe in you, I don't believe in Washington.

BEGALA: He cut taxes for millionaires. And, I mean, literally people who make more than $1 million a year, he cut those taxes and he raised the property tax. That's populist.

CASTELLANOS: But you need to get businesses, the small business --


BEGALA: Whatever, that's not populist. He cut taxes for millionaires and raised taxes -- property taxes on working people.

CASTELLANOS: Elitism is what you have in Washington.

KING: Let's listen to this. He takes most of his shots at Democrats and he's more than happy to criticize the Democratic president. But also thinks Republicans in this town here in Washington are shying away from some of the tough choices.

Listen to him here. You're going to hear a lot of Republicans, including speaking at a conservative place, the American Enterprise Institute. A lot of Republicans talking about American exceptionalism, and at the White House the president himself takes it as code that they're trying to say that he doesn't think America is an exceptional nation. Here's Chris Christie -- this is not a shot at the Democratic president.


CHRISTIE: And I love when people talk about American exceptionalism, but American exceptionalism has to include the courage to do the right thing. It cannot just be a belief that because we're exceptional, everything will work out OK. Part of truly being exceptional is being willing to do the difficult things, to stop playing the political games, stop looking at the bumper pool of politics, and to step up and start doing the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I don't know whether I agree or disagree with Governor Christie's positions. That's not my job. But I like -- Washington is engaged at the moment in a bit of a bumper pool.

CASTELLANOS: Bumper poll and the man who speaks truth to power is going to find a constituency in this election. If he does not run, the closest thing we've seen to it in the Republican side is Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, who has a similar message and may be gearing up to run.

BEGALA: Spare me from politicians who say they hate politics. This guy is where he is because he loves politics and donuts, OK? And the notion that he can stand up and attack either Dunkin' Donuts or playing political bumper pool, that's what he does. It's his job.

And, by the way, what they're doing here in Washington is exactly what the Founding Fathers wanted, which is making political deals. It's just called democracy.

CASTELLANOS: This guy is where he is because he is an anti- politician, because he's actually done what he said he'd do in New Jersey. He has cut tough budget cuts that people didn't think he had the courage --

BEGALA: He cut education and he's cut taxes for the rich and he's raised property taxes on the middle class. That's the Christie agenda. Just so we know.

CASTELLANOS: What he's done is he's asked teachers in that state to suffer the same economic downturn that the people who pay them are suffering.

BEGALA: So, he's going to beat up -- he's going to beat up on -- mostly on retired teachers but not take on millionaire bankers. That's nuts. I'm sorry, this is not my idea of --


CASTELLANOS: He just thinks it's unfair for teachers unions to hold kids' education hostage so they don't have to endure the same hard times --


BEGALA: If those teachers were millionaires, he would love them. He would cut their taxes.

KING: You know, I'm going audible here. I'm going audible here.

I have something I wanted to play for you, guys, but we don't have time. We'll get to talk about something else. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, just gave an interview to "Harper's Bazaar" and she says something that is both funny but given some of the other things that have gone on, I wonder if you think it's harmful or whatever. She's talking about the WikiLeaks. And so, she has to travel to the world and explain to all these foreign governments -- sorry, sorry, sorry, your cable is cut out. The cable is criticizing for this, for making fun of you for that. Here's what she told the magazine. "I told somebody, 'You know, the rock groups that go on these global tours? I should have a jacket that says 'The Apology Tour' because everywhere I go, I'm apologizing for any embarrassment."

Now, there was a time when some Republicans, Governor Romney comes to mind to us, for saying that what the president of the United States was doing. That's all part of their American exceptionalism critique of the president. It's funny and the secretary of state has a sense of humor and pretty good sense of humor if you don't know that. Whether you like her or not, she's got a pretty good sense of humor.

What do you make of that?

CASTELLANOS: You know, I don't think she intended to resuscitate the president, one of his weaker moments when he was being criticized for apologizing to everybody under the sun for not believing in American exceptionalism as Governor Christie said. I think she was just having a light moment. She gets a pass.

KING: She gets a pass?

BEGALA: Yes. You know -- yes, she's got one of the most difficult jobs in the whole wide world, made more complicated by this deeply dishonorable leak of confidential documents and then so -- yes, she's just making jokes about it.

CASTELLANOS: As long as she doesn't say she is the one getting the phone call at 3:00 a.m.


KING: Here's my favorite part of the conversation, OK, since we're talking politics at the moment: "And what of 2016, the next date Clinton he could conceivably run for president, quote, 'I have no thoughts for 2016,' she says with a benevolent smile. 'Beaches, speeches.'"


BEGALA: That's pretty good. That's pretty good.

CASTELLANOS: Hey, there's life after politics.

KING: Do you believe her?

CASTELLANOS: No. Not a bit. Not a bit.

Look, after -- she's got a pretty strong hand to play. President Obama has moved pretty far to the left in his first year. He's trying to move now to the middle. If he does not do that successfully and loses, the opening is for a new Democrat or a new Republican. Hillary Clinton has the best hand of cards of any candidate in the Democratic Party.

BEGALA: And she's made it clear she's not running for anything. I think she's been an extraordinary secretary of state. I can't imagine a harder portfolio right now.


BEGALA: I love her anyway, and I think she's done a terrific job. I hope she does go out and make $1 million.

KING: What the esteemed Democrat is saying is she has been cured of the bug for now and he believes it for now. He believes it.

CASTELLANOS: Running for president is like sex, right? You don't do it just once.

BEGALA: Although Karl Rove I think -- that's probably -- I don't think --



KING: Playing Switzerland on that one.

Paul, Alex, thanks for coming in. I'm just going to avoid that.

When we come back, your tax dollars -- do you watch NASCAR? See the Army? Your tax dollars pay for that. Should it? Some people in Congress say as we look for budget cuts, that money should go.


KING: Some breaking news from Bahrain. Just after Nic Robertson's live report a few minutes ago, police in Bahrain's capital moved in with tear gas to clear anti-government demonstrators.

Nic joins us again live by telephone.

Nic, tell us what happened.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, John, it looks like hundreds of police have swarmed into the area around the Pearl Roundabout. They're now on the highways overlooking the roundabout. The protesters have been moved off and I'm sitting out here very close to it and you can hear the tear gas canisters still being fired.

The tear gas is heavy in the air here. You can feel it in your eyes. You can feel it in your nose. You can feel it in the back of your throat. And there are literally dozens and dozens and dozens of police cars swarming on all sides of this roundabout now.

The protesters nowhere to be seen, not clear exactly what happened to them, but the police at about 3:30 in the morning here deciding no longer to let this be a peaceful protest and swarming in and breaking it up, John.

KING: Fascinating story, Nic. We'll stay in touch and see what happens in the minutes ahead. Thanks for checking back in with the breaking news.

Now, back here in Washington, Republicans aren't the only ones poring over the budget looking for things to cut. A Democrat, Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum, wants to cut money the U.S. Army uses to sponsor a race car.

Senior correspondent Joe Johns has that story.

And, Joe, as you come, we can just see the picture behind us.


KING: There's the U.S. Army emblazoned on the car. Now, the Army has done this for years. It's a marketing tool. It's an advertising tool. What's the rub?

JOHNS: It's branding. Branding is the thing they say to you when you call them up.

But the fact of the matter is they spent $15 million in 2009, $12 million in 2010. These are F.Y. years, all just to, you know, pay for these cars and pay for other things that have to do with NASCAR, not just with NASCAR, also the Hot Rod Association. The point is to try to get people to sign up. Forty-six thousand contacts they made, possible recruits that they talked to just last year alone.

Now, Congresswoman McCollum and others say it's a matter of priorities. And you shouldn't be doing that. The Army put out this document that we obtained just over the last few hours and the document indicates that if they did get rid of some of these problems, it would be awful for them. They say they wouldn't be able to meet the recruiting goals. They also say they could be liable to organizations like NASCAR because they've already signed contracts.

So, very difficult situation for the United States Army. Still, a lot of Southern Republicans or Democrats I've talked to have said, it's not a really good idea to cut NASCAR, but those are the people you want to try to attract.

KING: It's one of the examples. It's one of the examples, whether you're talking about a jet engine that's built in somebody's district or somebody in the Northeast who might have a NASCAR track saying -- this is one of the big debates we'll have for months and months.

Joe Johns, great reporting. Thank you.

We'll be back. We were going to bring you an interview with the chairman of the Black Caucus about the president's budget. We killed that because of time. We'll bring you that tomorrow with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver.

That's all for us, though. We'll see you tomorrow.

"PARKER SPITZER" right now.