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JOHN KING, USA

Demonstrations in Syria; NATO Airstrikes; Republican Presidential Candidates

Aired April 25, 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. Tonight a power House Republican governor surprises even top aides by deciding not to run for president next year. Why? A top ally of Governor Haley Barbour tells me tonight quote "in the end he was not sure he could beat Obama -- that breaking political news in a moment.

Also a Republican candidate about to get in, but first, two of the world's -- Arab world's most brutal regimes face dramatic new challenges tonight. In Libya NATO warplanes target the compound of strong man Moammar Gadhafi. The regime says he was unharmed and state television within hours aired these pictures it says are of Gadhafi today.

In any event, though the strikes begs this question. Just a one- time message from NATO or a sign of a more aggressive push for regime change? And track me as I walk over here -- in Syria today, witnesses describe brutal crackdowns in several different cities. We'll bring up the map and show you in Daraa here, in the south a crackdown here -- also in a suburb here in Damascus.

Let's show you some of the pictures. This is to the south in Daraa as we play this out; you see obviously government tanks, troops following them into town. Witnesses describe a bloody crackdown there and also as we come up here now toward the suburbs of Damascus as well and play this video out, you see demonstrators in the streets and you can see the violence as well -- shaky cell phone video obviously posted on the Internet there.

Now we don't have many images because the Syrian government simply won't allow CNN crews access to the country. So consider that when you see images like this. This is a glossy layout of the Syrian president and his family in a recent edition of "Vogue" magazine -- modern, secular, reformer. That's what Bashar al Assad wants you to think of him and his approach to governing. But if you judge by his actions, not his public relations machine, you are likely to come to a very different conclusion.

Assad's army rolled in to Daraa today. Water and electricity, phone lines cut off as the troops arrived. Some reports say two dozen people were killed adding to the 400 or so killed over the past six weeks of anti-government demonstrations. Human rights groups add dozens are reported missing as well. CNN's Arwa Damon is tracking the Syria unrest from Beirut. ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well John, this most certainly appears to be the most drastic move by the Syrian government since this uprising began around six weeks ago. Eyewitnesses telling us that in the southern area of Daraa at around daybreak while people were either still sleeping or about to get ready for the first morning prayer of the day, tanks, columns of military personnel, security forces personnel coming into the area from just about everywhere and it was not long before eyewitnesses say gunfire broke out, indiscriminate gunfire, snipers were on rooftops, Syrian security forces breaking into people's homes.

They say that ambulances were being barred from entering getting help to the wounded, picking up the bodies of the dead. Really painting a nightmarish image of what was happening. One eyewitness while on the phone to CNN was actually in tears begging for help. And these eyewitnesses that we were reaching throughout the day risking their lives because they say cell phone lines had been shut off. They had to go outside, stand outside to use satellite phones to get the message out of what was happening.

In the Syrian suburb of Duma (ph), one activist we spoke to said that the gunfire lasted all morning. Fifteen of his friends were detained. He said there was a lull at around noon but then he just called us at 8:30 p.m. Local to say intense gunfire had resumed once again -- John.

KING: And so Arwa, as this plays out and as these courageous people try to tell their stories, we hear the United States is considering additional sanctions. The United Nations Security Council is circulating a draft resolution condemning Syria. Any evidence at all that increased diplomatic pressure would bring any change in behavior by the Assad regime?

DAMON: One of the big risks that many analysts are pointing to is the fact that this could even further solidify serious alliance with Iran and one of the U.S.'s main efforts has been in trying to break apart this strategic alliance that exists between these two countries and try to really bring Syria out of the isolation that it has been in. So it's a very difficult situation all around when it comes to how the international community, how the U.S. should handle this. And then what the reaction is going to be because whatever happens in Syria is going to have a ripple effect throughout the entire region which ever way this plays out -- John.

KING: And Arwa, you mention an effort to project a different image. President Assad has tried to project himself as a younger, more open-minded, more reformist president than his father who of course was known for crackdowns. I'm holding up here "Vogue" magazine from a couple of months back and you see the president's wife, the first lady of Syria now, in this article, another photograph of him playing with his children.

If you look at this article and then you look at what is happening inside Bashar (ph), Syria right now you would have to say that this image attempt is a fraud. Is there any other conclusion? DAMON: Well John that most certainly is the perception that is created. In that article for example we hear about how the Assad family votes as a family as to what their activities should be as to what decisions should be pertaining to (INAUDIBLE) the family. I think the activists and the Syrian opposition would argue that most certainly is not the case when it comes to the country's people want. The Assad family tries to portray itself as being ordinary people. They drive themselves around in some cases trying to really put forward an image of being a people's family that they have the interest of their population at stake and at heart.

I think the opposition especially after the violence that we have been seeing would most certainly severely dispute that image. They would say that this is part of the Assad regime's PR campaign, part of its image in terms of trying to reform itself at least on the surface but they will say that when it comes to the true fundamental changes that Syria really needs to see take place to bring about what the activists want which is a free, fair and democratic country. The Assad government, they will say does not appear to have those true intentions at heart.

KING: Arwa Damon for us tonight in Beirut -- Arwa thank you.

To Libya now and new signs of a tougher NATO approach to military operations. Italy announced today that after weeks on the sidelines, it will join the airstrikes against Libyan targets on the ground. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called President Obama to inform him of that decision and the White House said both leaders agree that the NATO mission needs to be strengthened.

New targeting brought some evidence of just how that could play out. NATO warplanes struck at an office complex at Colonel Gadhafi's complex in Tripoli and also bombed a state television facility knocking it off the air for about a half an hour. But once back on the air images of Gadhafi were quickly broadcast as the regime tried to send a message of defiance and of survival. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live for us in Tripoli tonight and Fred you went out to the Gadhafi compound today, is there a sense there that this was aimed at him or aimed at sending him a message?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Gadhafi government certainly is saying they believe that this was nothing more than an assassination attempt against Moammar Gadhafi himself. The building that was hit, John, is actually one that is often used by Moammar Gadhafi both as an office building and as a residence and it's also one where he often meets foreign leaders. Just about a week and a half ago he met the leaders of the African Union there who came here into Tripoli to try and get some peace talks going between Gadhafi and the rebels.

So certainly the government here is saying this is a direct assassination attempt against Gadhafi. They were very quick then to say that Gadhafi was in fact alive and well. They broadcast those pictures on Libyan state TV. They also said that this was a purely civilian building that was struck (INAUDIBLE). They said three people had been killed. Now NATO obviously has a very different take on this. They said that there's more to this building than meets the eye.

They said that it is a command and control headquarters that Gadhafi's forces are using to coordinate their attacks against civilians at both in Misrata as well as of course on the eastern front in Ajdabiya and Benghazi area. The interesting thing that we saw, John, when we were out there is that we tried to further investigate the site and sort of look to see whether or not under this building there might be a bunker or whether or not there might have been some sort of sign of some military facility in an adjacent building.

They didn't let us go and inspect it. So we're not exactly sure what was in that building. Both sides are obviously telling very different story. But the government certainly did not let us go through the rubble and see what exactly had been struck there -- John.

KING: Excellent point from Fred Pleitgen there about government access -- allowing access or denying it. Fred, stay with me now. We've talked a lot -- over the weekend there was talk that Gadhafi troops might leave Misrata. I'm just showing our viewers some satellite images. This is 2004. You see a complex right here and some storage tanks.

2004, satellite image, here is a recent satellite image just from the past week. You see those storage tanks and most of the complex there have been destroyed. That is one there. I want to show you one more image from Misrata here -- as we bring this up as well. Here's another facility here. You see compound warehouse type buildings here. You see here -- flaming here -- some sort of bomb strikes in there. Fred, over the weekend there was some talk that after weeks of siege in Misrata the Gadhafi forces were pulling out, but the information today seems to be conflicting with that, right?

PLEITGEN: Certainly is conflicting, but you also made an excellent point there because it was indeed -- Misrata was indeed the main economic backbone of this country. You mentioned those storage facilities. You mentioned those facilities in the port area.

That is really the backbone of Libya's economy the most important port, where (ph) the most important steel mills as well. This really was the most important economic hub, this town Misrata. Now the information that we're getting is that Libyan forces have in fact left the city but they did not do that as a withdrawal. They did not go on their own. They were kicked out by the rebels fighting house to house in urban combat.

What they are however still doing and we've confirmed this with several sources on the ground is they're shelling the city from the outskirts and what we're hearing is that it is quite terrible shelling that has already cost at least 10 people their lives throughout the day. They say that it was only civilian areas that have been shelled throughout the day.

The information I have from sources on the ground is that the Gadhafi forces have basically retreated to a place about a mile and a half, so about three kilometers outside the town and are shelling it with 155 millimeter artillery and that obviously is causing a lot of casualties and from what we're hearing that shelling has pretty much been ongoing throughout the day. So yes, they are outside the town. However, they are still wreaking havoc to people inside the town -- John.

KING: Fred Pleitgen live for us in Tripoli tonight -- Fred, thanks.

Let's assess the day's big developments in Libya and Syria with our senior analyst David Gergen who of course has advised four presidents. David, I want to start in Libya. This NATO airstrike on the Gadhafi compound, it begs the question is it a tougher strategy or is it just a one-time message?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well John, we certainly don't know that, do we, and this campaign has had such an on-again, off-again quality that until the government either tells us or shows us, and I think more importantly shows us we won't really know. It clearly sent an important message to Gadhafi's people. It didn't hit Gadhafi but it sent an important message.

But meanwhile, John, the fact that Misrata was so heavily shelled today and that the whole purpose of this NATO mission has been to stop the indiscriminate killing of civilians and nothing happened. They were just -- Gadhafi's forces were able to carry this out, killed tons -- more civilians today I think really reflects once again what has seemed almost a half hearted attempt to end this.

KING: You say half hearted. One thing we do not have is a lot of direct comments from the president of the United States on this, so we are left to look for clues in statements by people who speak for the president. I want to read you something. This is a read-out -- a written statement the White House put out today after the president had a phone call from Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy who called President Obama to say Italy after being on the sidelines for weeks will now participate in some airstrikes on Libyan targets.

The White House says quote, "the two leaders agreed that additional pressure is necessary to strengthen the civilian protection mission. And the president emphasized that the best way to ensure the safety of the Libyan people is for Gadhafi to leave power." So let's split the sentence in half. Both leaders agree they need to strengthen the NATO mission and yet the United States is still largely in a back seat role.

GERGEN: Well that's right. You know, welcome to the party -- on the part of the Italians, but is that really going to make much of a difference, symbolically yes, in terms of what happens on the ground. It's hard to believe. Again I come back to this. There is the sense that we're halfway in and we're halfway out.

And that the same thing is true of NATO and that there's no -- I believe there's a widening sense that look if we're going to do this, let's do it, let's finish the job. Let's don't -- want to leave it hanging with a lot of civilians continuing to be killed.

KING: Well the second half of that sentence, the president, meaning President Obama emphasized the best way to ensure the safety of the Libyan people is for Gadhafi to leave power. So again, the president of the United States is on the record he has to go. And yet the United States is not in the front seat in the driver's role in trying to bring that about.

GERGEN: Well the president has been -- you know has been very clear from the beginning he had to go and how many weeks -- this many weeks? It must be seven, eight, nine weeks we're now into since he first said he's got to go. And it hasn't happened and I -- you know, it's a striking thing, John, for when you talk to people inside the administration, Libya is not on the top of their list in the Middle East. Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Iran are far more important, but politically and in terms of the way the world thinks about it is if we don't handle the job right in Libya, if we don't get this finished, I think it's going to handicap us in terms of whether we are taken seriously in other parts of the Middle East.

KING: Well other parts of the Middle East, David Gergen, include Syria and the administration saying today it is considering additional sanctions. The administration saying it hopes to work through the United Nations Security Council on a resolution, criticizing the government, the regime of Bashar al Assad for its crackdown on its own civilians. Yet, we have not heard the president say Assad needs to go -- any indication that sanctions will do anything here?

GERGEN: No, but I do think there are indications -- certainly we know that the administration is seriously considering sanctions against individuals that might include Assad. But I think just as on Libya what we're also seeing is there are tensions within the administration about what to do about Syria. On one hand there's no question that most people in the administration believe if we could just get rid of Assad, if Syria were in sort of pro American or you know friendly hands that would make an enormous difference in the Middle East. It would change the whole balance of power there.

Syria is such a pivotal player. That's why the United States has been trying to coax Syria away from Iran. But if you put sanctions on, if you now go after Assad, there's a fear in the administration you only drive Syria back into the embrace of the Iranians which is bad news and there's also a fear that you would no longer have a negotiating partner with the Israelis. That's one of the reasons the Israelis have actually been saying go slow about tough actions against Syria.

It's a tough set of questions but for the administration what it has to do is decide in these cases and whatever it does do it emphatically. Do it with strength. Do it decisively. Come down one way or the other, but do it and do it in a way that it doesn't leave the world feeling like you're half in, you're half out.

KING: But is there a way to go back to trying to have this relationship, this possibility of a relationship with Assad? We go through this every few years this what I might call an overly romanticized view that well he was educated in London. He's not like his father. He wants to be a reformer. If he could just have a little bit more leeway, top rate (ph) politically, he would open up. He's the one who sent his tanks in this morning predawn to kill some of his own people. Can we just -- is it time to just push that aside?

GERGEN: Well John, you know obviously he's got blood on his hands. He's a discredited leader and he's increasingly illegitimate in the eyes of the world. But if he's still there in power, we may need to work with him on Middle East peace. You know we need to get -- Syria is critical to Iran, is critical to Hezbollah and Lebanon. It's on the border there with Israel.

There are a lot of different reasons why it was important -- I went with President Nixon way back in the early '70s the first president of America who went to Syria. I was on that Air Force One for that flight and I can tell you for a long period of time it has been important in American foreign policy even with a really brutal regime in power there to see if we can coax them over and get them out of the kind of terrorist sponsorism (ph) that they are going through now. They are sponsoring too much terrorists. They're sponsoring too many anti-American things and it would be helpful to us if Syria were more neutral.

KING: I think it might be helpful at the moment if the people of Syria could bring about regime change. But David --

GERGEN: Absolutely --

KING: -- we'll leave that one --

GERGEN: Absolutely --

KING: -- we'll leave that one for another day. David Gergen appreciate your insights, as always.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Still ahead here tonight Arizona Governor Jan Brewer became a darling of the right last year when she signed a controversial new immigration law. Now though she says the so-called birther movement is going too far.

And next Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was planning to announce his candidacy for president next week but today he pulled the plug. We explore why next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Some breaking political news tonight, looking ahead to the 2012 Republican presidential contest. CNN is told tonight Republican Ron Paul, the Libertarian favorite, will form an exploratory committee announce tomorrow he is forming an exploratory committee to run for president. That is a key step to move toward a campaign. Watch Ron Paul.

And strike Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour from your list of potential 2012 Republican nominees. There was a plan in place I'm told for Governor Barbour to announce his candidacy next week. But over the weekend he decided not to run and today after a private phone call with 40 or 50 top supporters around the country, Barbour publicly ruled out a 2012 candidacy. Why, what impact will he have, his no-go have and Ron Paul's apparently go have on the GOP field?

Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin here to sort the facts from the spin. Let's start with Haley Barbour. I was speaking to somebody today very close to him. They had a 100-day plan. They executed it. They thought they were in reasonably good shape when it comes to raising the money. They had a pretty good high class group of operatives around the country ready to help. Just in the end Haley started to get a little bothered by what it would take quote "in the end he was not sure he could beat Obama".

(CROSSTALK)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the end (INAUDIBLE) think he going to win. And he is one of the smartest strategists in the party and he could apply his political acumen to his own circumstance. I was told that while he was having success with donors it wasn't quite the success they had hoped for and in the end he didn't want to start something that he couldn't finish the way he wanted to.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And what about his success with Republicans? I mean he was scratching in the polls. He was going to wait and win South Carolina. That's kind of a long wait and not a great strategy. And I think in the end also there was kind of a gut check there where he realized as he said publicly that he would have to commit the next decade of his life and that he didn't have the fire in the belly and you know I think there's a generational issue here because usually Republicans nominate the person whose turn it is, right. And that could still be Mitt Romney. But the guy's whose turn it is, some of them don't seem to really want it like Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour and the younger guys aren't quite ready for it, so they're in the middle.

KING: So let's go through some of the list -- let's go through some of the list -- let me walk over here. Just remind people -- people think why this isn't such a big deal. But it's getting there. These guys are generally in the race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sort of.

KING: Governor Romney, Speaker Gingrich, Governor Pawlenty, former Senator Santorum, the CEO Herman Cain, former governor of New Mexico and the governor of Louisiana, Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer. We'll see if they (INAUDIBLE). But of this group, Romney, Gingrich, Pawlenty you have to think of it as the three leading guys of the guys who -- they haven't officially announced but they are running.

They're out there. Here's the TVD column, which gets a little interesting. This is the guy everyone is going to ask the question to next, the Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels. Sarah Palin, no indication she's going to run. She's not organizing fundraisers. She's not lining up staff. She's not doing the homework she would have to do.

This guy says he's running. He's going to be in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Donald Trump. Huckabee, (INAUDIBLE) let me stop here for a second. Huckabee, you have to think if you're Mike Huckabee, Gloria and Jess that there's no sign he's going to run. All indications are he does not want to run. However, he's still up there when you look at the polls. You have to be thinking he's saying, well, what do you think?

YELLIN: That gives a lot of freedom to wait a little longer and decide if he wants to get in because he has enough of a following in Iowa that if he decides late he could still have a shot to do well in the early stages.

BORGER: Yes, and he's one of those people who's run before. So he knows what it is like. So he's going to wait a little bit to see how the field shapes up, but this -- you know this does give him an opening. And don't forget he surprised everyone in 2008 by doing really well in the primary.

KING: He did out in Iowa. Now let's come down here -- Governor Huntsman, he's -- right now he's coming home from being the ambassador to China, be interesting to see if he would leave the Obama administration to challenge President Obama. We'll watch him.

Ron Paul, he is going to get in. Michele Bachmann, she is exploring, a Tea Party favorite there. When Ron Paul gets in, at least an exploratory committee, there's no evidence that he could be the Republican nominee, but there is every evidence in the world that he can raise money that his group is fervent. His group believes in him and he gets a slice and when you're in a crowded field that slice matters.

BORGER: Right. He gets the base. He gets a very important part of the base of the party. I think his son helps him also because his son is so aligned with the Tea Party and they're going to be fighting over that. He might be fighting with Donald Trump for some of that --

YELLIN: But I think the more Trump's and Ron Paul's and Bachmann's you have in the race who really have strong appeal to the base but not so much the moderates and independents actually help people like Pawlenty and like Romney right now because they show how diverse this field appears to be and it makes them more moderate.

BORGER: You know and Republicans want to win so you do have to prove that you're electable --

KING: And so as we try to sort through the candidates we know the issue number one will be the economy. You have an incumbent president. He can't run on hope and change. He has to run on his record and his economic stewardship. Listen to the House speaker, John Boehner, speaking to ABC's John Kollop (ph) earlier today back out in Ohio. John Boehner laying out the case why he thinks, why he thinks Republicans might be able to beat the incumbent president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: The economy doesn't get better I don't think he'd win. If people don't feel better about government run health care, I don't think he'd win. And if gas prices are five or $6, he certainly isn't going to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I don't want to say John Boehner is hoping gas prices go up to five or 6 a gallon --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you do not --

KING: -- because he would say that's not the case. That that's not what he said. But is that the Republican's best hope? I mean obviously if the unemployment rate stopped moving down now, they would have a fair chance.

BORGER: Yes, people vote their pocketbooks. I mean we all know that. We all cover politics. I think though you still have to say compared to whom? And people are going to -- you know it takes a lot to fire a president. So they're going to have to fire him but they're going to have to replace him with somebody else and we just don't know who that field is going to be --

YELLIN: But they also -- you know we always talk about how Republicans are so much more disciplined than Democrats. Right now they're not being very disciplined about talking about gas prices and jobs. They have to stop talking about birtherism and maybe even a little bit less about the long-term debt.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Tell that to Donald Trump --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Come on to New Hampshire on Wednesday. We'll go see Donald Trump in New Hampshire and see what he says there. Jessica Yellin, Gloria Borger, thanks.

Ahead tonight newly released documents paint a vivid picture of how the government treats and ranks terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It is fascinating stuff, but does releasing these documents maybe make you less safe?

And next two recent vetoes from the Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, that are raising some eyebrows around the country. Governor Brewer live with us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: On this program, we've repeatedly shown you overwhelming evidence Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961, just like the president said. We can show it here right here in the wall behind me. That is his certificate of live birth, August 4th, 1961, 7:24 p.m. it says in Honolulu -- Barack Hussein Obama born there.

But despite this evidence, that document and other evidence hasn't stopped people like Donald Trump from raising questions, like Mr. Trump did again today in this phone conversation with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MAGNATE (via telephone): Well, I've been told very recently, Anderson, that the birth certificate is missing. I've been told it's not there and it doesn't exist. And if that's the case --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Who told you that?

TRUMP: -- that's a big problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More of that conversation with Anderson and Donald Trump tonight at 10:00 Eastern on "A.C. 360."

The birther movement took a hit recently when the Arizona Jan Brewer vetoed a bill requiring presidential candidates to prove they were born in the United States before they would be allowed in her state's ballot.

Governor Brewer joins now us live from Phoenix.

Governor, it's good to see you.

I want to get to your vetoes. But I want to start with, when you hear people like Mr. Trump repeatedly saying -- despite all the documentary evidence that the president was born in Hawaii in 1961 -- should they just drop this and debate him on whether it's taxes or immigration or some other issue?

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: Well, you know, it seems to me that we have talked about this issue now going on probably two years, and that I believe that most people have reached out and they did their investigations and it's become such a huge distraction, I for one -- I believe that from what I have seen and after speaking with governor -- or the prior governor of Hawaii that indeed he was born in Hawaii. It's just something that I think is leading our country down a path of destruction and it just is not serving any good purpose.

KING: Is it -- is it a vehicle for some people, some people, to hide maybe racism, to say that they don't want to come out and say they don't want to have a black president, an African-American president, so they are trying to find some other reason to disqualify him or to delegitimize him?

BREWER: Well, you know, John. You know, I can't speculate on that. You know, I think there was a point in time when people didn't really understand how birth certificates were kept in the state of Hawaii, and now, I think that it's been pretty much disclosed that they used to have a long form and now they don't have a long form. Arizona used to have a long form, we now have a short form.

But, you know, in regards to the bill that was passed and the one that I vetoed, it was such a huge distraction. It was a bridge way too far to give one person in the state of Arizona, a partisan person at that, the ability to keep a person off the ballot. And it wasn't just the president of the United States. It was all the way down the path of all elected officials.

So, it was something that I felt very uncomfortable with signing, having been a prior secretary of state. And I think we just really need to move on. Everybody has had two years to prove if they wanted to that he was not born in Hawaii. They haven't come up with any of that kind of proof. So, it just seems to me that it's more political rhetoric and that it takes the ball off the kinds of subjects that we all ought to be discussing and that would be jobs and the economy.

KING: I want to move to other subjects in just a minute. But I want to ask you one more on this one. You just mentioned that the bill in Arizona would not have just covered president of the United States, it would have covered all candidates for federal office. But do you have any doubt in your mind that the bill in Arizona, similar bills around the country, and this entire conversation around the country is directed at one man, the current president of the United States?

BREWER: Well, yes, I would agree that it is, of course, discussed in a different manner. But I think it has always been directed to the president of the United States. And in Arizona, you know -- I mean, it was pretty well known it was directed, I believe, at the president of the United States.

And in our bill, you know, when I say it's a bridge too far, when you're asking people to show their birth certificate or in addition some type of other certificate like that of baptism or circumcision, I don't know how many people have a circumcision certificate or how many people still have their baptism certificate. And we certainly all know that it doesn't prove citizenship.

So, in Arizona our bill was crafted poorly and it would not serve the people of Arizona. It was a distraction. I don't feel any regrets in vetoing the bill.

KING: Well, I appreciate your candor on that point tonight. You also vetoed a bill that would allow some guns on university campuses. And "The New York Times" -- "The New York Times," which during the immigration debate was not a fan of Governor Jan Brewer says that a ray of sunshine emanating from a most unlikely source.

Is this a new Jan Brewer? There are some saying that last year, you know, you had to win an election in a conservative primary, in a more conservative year. Now that you've won the election, you are happy to be maybe a more moderate voice in Arizona. Is that fair?

BREWER: No. I don't think that's fair. I think that I'm the same Jan Brewer I was when I first ran for office way back in 1982, which is a few years ago. I always tried to do what I believed is right and I've always voted the way that I believe was the right way for my constituency, and that's what I'm doing when I govern. So, I'm the same Jan Brewer. But in regards to the so-called "guns on campus" bill, again, it was a poorly crafted bill. It said that, you know, you could carry guns on the right away, whereas right away was never described. And it also said it was an education facilities which went all of the way down to kindergarten, first grade, our grade schools. It was just overly broad, poorly written, undefined and probably unenforceable.

I don't think anybody would have really understood what it was that they were trying to enforce. It wasn't clear whatsoever at all. So, I felt very, very uncomfortable with it and vetoed it because I didn't think it that it served the people of Arizona well.

KING: Most of the country got to know Jan Brewer for the first time when you signed the controversial Arizona immigration bill. And the federal courts have struck down most of the major provisions and you have been appealing. But the ninth U.S. circuit essentially agreed with the lower court.

Your choice now is you can appeal to the full ninth circuit, a panel of judges deciding to keep those restrictions in place. You can appeal to full ninth circuit. You can appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. Or, Governor, you could say, enough, I'm going to drop this legal challenge and just forget about SB-1070 and go back to working -- trying to work with the president, try to work this out. What will do you?

BREWER: Well, I certainly will not drop our lawsuit. I feel very, very strongly about moving forward and I intend to get it all of the way to the Supreme Court. I'm currently deliberating if I should go back to the ninth circuit and re-appeal there or if I should just take it now directly to the Supreme Court. And I have to make that decision in the next couple few days. And I will make that decision.

But I have to figure out what is the best way that Arizona can get its story out to the court because I believe that the ninth circuit in San Francisco brought up issues that were never discussed at the federal level here with Judge Bolton.

So, I've got to decide where and how is the best way that we can address this issue to make sure that our case has all of the precedence before it gets to the Supreme Court. And I -- you know, I have to take into consideration the cost because Arizona doesn't have a whole lot of money to spend on these kinds of things.

However, we have overwhelming support here in the state of Arizona and throughout America to continue this fight. But it is being paid by private dollars. No taxpayer dollars are being paid for it. People have been very responsive to KeepAzSafe.com.

And given that, I believe we can continue the suit and just take it all of the way to the Supreme Court. I am not backing down in regards to this issue. I have a responsibility as an elected governor to govern and when I say govern, that means to make sure that our citizens are safe and we need the federal government to step up and do their job. They need to secure our borders.

KING: Governor Brewer, as always, appreciate your time tonight. BREWER: Thank you.

KING: Take care, Governor.

Next, the headlines. And later, if you filled the car up this morning or this weekend, you probably noticed it's getting way more expensive. Do Americans blame their president -- blame the president for high gas prices? We'll have details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now:

Federal investigators are zeroing in on misaligned rivet holes or paint between layers of metal for those cracks that opened a whole in the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines jet earlier this month, causing that plane to lose cabin pressure and make an emergency landing.

Addressing another air safety problem, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board today encouraged officials to take another look at the scientific research on controlled naps. He says a 26- minute nap could significantly improve air traffic controllers' job performance.

The Pentagon today issued a stop work order for extra engine for the new Joint Strike Fighter, a move that saves taxpayers -- that means you -- about $1 million a day.

The National Football League owners just announced they'll appeal today's court order to end the players' lockout.

And hundreds of inmates slipped out of southern Afghanistan prison early today through a nearly quarter mile-long tunnel dug from the outside. Wow.

Up next, new insight into exactly who has been detained at Gitmo and who has been let go.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today, we know more details than ever about some of the men held at the U.S. terror detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Citing previously secret documents obtained by WikiLeaks, today's "New York Times" tells the story of one detainee who was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques but whose, quote, "confessions appear true." Another man released in 2004 went on to plan an attack that killed 31 people. He died a suicide bomber.

These latest leaks give us a lot to discuss.

Joining us from New York: Dafna Linzer, a senior reporter at ProPublica, who has extensively reported on Gitmo. And here with in Washington, CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She's a member of both the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA external advisory board.

We'll get into details in just a minute. But, first, a debate about whether it is good or bad, good or potentially harmful that these documents and these details are made public.

You think, Fran, there is some risk. Is somebody watching at home -- is it possible that terrorists can learn so much from seeing documents that someone at home is less safe?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, John, the problem with this is two-fold. One, we know that al Qaeda developed counter-interrogation techniques and part of the way you do that is to look at the kinds of questions, the kind of areas that the government is asking about. So, that's one harm in it.

The second is, I believe that these cables are like taking a snapshot of a movie. People told us a lot of things -- much of which was not true, much of which was used in interrogations of other people. And so, you can't really tell just by the release of it what's important and what's not, what was true and what was useful.

KING: But, Dafna, you have reviewed these recently -- the newly released documents. You've also spent a lot of time more than anybody I know in the court files of some of these cases and some of these proceedings that are making their way through.

Do you see the risk as high as Fran puts it?

DAFNA LINZER, SENIOR REPORTER, PROPUBLICA: I understand what Fran is saying. Some of this information we've known for a long time. Some of it was released through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and became public years ago, transcripts of detainee trials and hearings that took place in Guantanamo years ago, and again through court filings have been made public.

I think what Fran, you know, I think she has a larger point about, you know, some of the raw intelligence -- sort of not accompanying a narrative. A lot of this information was discarded. A lot of this information turned out to be wrong. And a lot of it, you know, was just not that important even for the Bush administration. People who were deemed high risk were still let go because at the end of the day the White House believed that was the right decision.

So, I don't think that they took into account, you know, the high risk factor in a way that would necessarily appear that case just by looking at documents themselves.

KING: Well, what have we learned is the question? September 11th is almost 10 years ago now. The Gitmo facility has been placed for most of that time. It was obviously, you understand, in the early days, it was emergency, pulling people off battlefield -- you can understand chaos in the early days.

But what about now? Is there a good system in place to rate and rank these people, to decide who is a greater threat?

And I ask -- I want to cite a few examples. One is this, from the story in "The New York Times" today. A Pakistani militant, Mohammed Alim Shah, was sent back to Afghanistan, he revealed himself to be Abdullah Mehsud. He recorded jihadist videos, organized a Taliban force to fight to American troops, planned an attack on Pakistan's interior ministry that killed 31 people, oversaw the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers, and finally detonated a suicide bomb in 2007 as the Pakistani army closed in.

So, Fran, there's one example where someone was released who clearly -- clearly -- should have been held. Is there a good assessment system?

TOWNSEND: Well, it's very difficult, John. And, you know, when you look at the statistics of numbers released and then return to the battlefield during the Bush administration, I think you better understand then when you look at the statistics from the Obama administration. They have been very reticent about who they return, who they release because we find there is a recidivism rate. It's very difficult -- just as it is in American prisons, it's very difficult to predict who return.

KING: And, yet, Dafna, the same piece in "The New York Times" because I'm going to say, "For every case of an Abdullah Mehsud -- someone wrongly judged a minimal threat -- there are several instances in which prisoners rated high risk were released and have not engaged in wrongdoing." Again, today, is somebody who is either taken into custody or being detained today, are they being assessed in a way that is more reality-based, say, than perhaps six or seven years ago in the initial chaos?

LINZER: Right. Well, those files that were released today, the Obama administration basically discarded. When they came in, they set up a new process, they did their own review and their internal review remains classified. We haven't seen those files and it would be very interesting to compare those files to the originals.

But as Fran said, they have been very, very reticent. And indeed, there are lots of people who were being held that the Obama administration has said they would like to release. They are not releasing them either because of congressional restraints or because of problems in Yemen. But there's a lot of people they could let go if they could.

KING: You mentioned the problems in Yemen. Let me go over here. I want to show our viewers just a little bit of history at what has happened over.

If you go back to 2003, this is the population at Guantanamo Bay, just shy of 700 detainees. You see Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistani, Yemen, others in dual citizenship. At that point, 42 have transferred. Now, if you come forward to 2011, you see most, 600, have been transferred, 172 detainees held.

And, Fran Townsend, I know you have particular concern right here. If you look at those still held, especially if you compared it to the previous, on of the Yemenis still held, a lot of uncertainly about the leadership in Yemen right now. If you were the Obama administration and someone here was 50-50, even 70-30 on a scale of, well, let's take a chance and release them, send them home. Would you do it?

TOWNSEND: No. Listen, President Saleh of Yemen was not a particularly reliable partner during the Bush administration and it's worst now. I mean, remember, during the Bush administration, you had a number of al Qaeda members who were in custody who escaped, 50 at a time while under Yemeni police custody.

Given now the unrest there, given that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been judged by both Mike Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, John Brennan, the president's CT adviser, as being greatest threat to U.S. citizens here at home, I don't you can send reliably back to Yemen and expect them to hold them.

KING: Dafna, as someone who has spent years looking at these issues -- now that these new documents have been spilled out over the past 48 hours or so. What do you know today that you didn't know a week ago?

LINZER: What do you know? You know a few things. You know that mostly a lot of these assessments that were created were simply not relied on -- not relied on by people in the Bush administration, not relied on by people in the Obama administration. Some of the evidence that has been presented in courtrooms has been discarded, has been found to be unreliable.

A lot of these detainees have gone home and a lot of these detainees spent a lot of time in Guantanamo and have not caused harm since they've been released, which I think is a big issue. I think one other issue is that, you know, will countries who did agree to take other detainees continue to do that or will allies who accepted detainees now have regrets because of the way these documents look today?

KING: Excellent point. Dafna Linzer, Fran Townsend, appreciate you both helping us sort out this very controversial and complicated subject. Appreciate it.

Up next: everyone is feeling the pain -- everyone -- of higher gas prices. But does it affect how you feel about the president? That answer, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There's a painful sign of the times, that's from my native state of Massachusetts, $4.29 a gallon. I saw it over $5 at a pump the other day. Ouch!

You know this. You've been feeling this every day.

Let's look at it over the past few months. Watch this play out. Green is the price of crude oil. It's up around $112 a barrel. When crude goes up, so does the price of gasoline you pay at the pump, about $3.86 now on average. That's nationally for regular unleaded gasoline, $3.86. You saw just $4.29 in Massachusetts, $5 something if you buy premium in some places.

When the price of gas goes up, the politicians are among those that feel the heat when you feel the pain. President Obama says he wants to do away with the billions of dollars in tax subsidies they give to big oil companies.

Tonight, the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner tells ABC News, maybe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's certainly something that we ought to be looking at.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing away with these subsidies?

BOEHNER: We're at a time when the federal government is short on revenues. And we need to control spending, but we need to have revenues to keep the government moving. They ought to be paying their fair share.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Worth watching that. The Republican speaker now saying he'll maybe work with the Democratic president to take away the subsidies that go to big oil.

Again, this is your price at the pump. You know this personally, $3.86.

Let's close this one down. How does this play out politically? Do you blame, say, the president when the price of gas goes up?

Well, watch this. It's a little complicated. But this is the price of gas over the past several years. This is Bush administration back here.

Let me turn this on just to make a point. Here's Bush administration here at a time when gas prices were high, president's approval rating 2008 down low.

So, let's move forward. The Obama administration -- price of gas up here. President is here. He's actually up a little bit from where he was back here.

But there's no doubt when you are paying more at the pump, you tend to get a little frustrated with politicians. It can have -- maybe not always directly -- it can have an impact on them. That's why the president says he's going to look into whether there's any price gouging out there. Connect the dots on those politics.

Hope to see you here tomorrow night. That's all for us, though, tonight.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.