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JOHN KING, USA

Donald Trump Interview; Birther Debate

Aired April 27, 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 from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Tonight, a conversation with Donald Trump that turns a bit contentious. At issue, his role in stoking the so-called birther debate and his self-congratulatory tone today after President Obama did a major about-face and released a birth certificate he had refused to make public for more than two years.

Here it is right here and yes, it's the long form. Yes, it shows the president was born in Hawaii August 4th, 1961, 7:24 p.m. if you care about such things. Constitutionally qualified to be president. End of story. And we hope end of conspiracy theories.

It was though for the president a remarkable change of heart and strategy. One the president says he decided to take after watching in his view the so-called birther debate drown out serious coverage of the giant issues facing the country including the economy, deficit reduction and high gas prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up. And pretend that facts are not facts. We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In a moment, the reasons for the big White House strategy shift, but first Mr. Trump, the man the president had in mind when he talked of sideshows and carnival barkers. Mr. Trump is here in New Hampshire today, introducing himself to Republican leaders and voters, saying he expects to formally enter the 2012 presidential race in June. Now self-promotion is a Trump trademark and when he landed here this morning, he was beaming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT, THE TRUMP ORG.: Today, I'm very proud of myself because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish. I was just informed while on the helicopter that our president has finally released a birth certificate.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now Mr. Trump mixed bragging with a bit of revisionist history, suggesting it was us in the news media somehow forcing him to question whether President Obama was born here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We can get on to issues and hopefully when I sit down with interviews people don't start talking about birth certificate, birth certificate, like they've been doing. So I feel I've accomplished something really, really important. And I'm honored by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, we're here in beautiful Portsmouth tonight because we scheduled an interview with Mr. Trump several days ago, well before we had any clue the president would make his birth certificate public. Mr. Trump told us this afternoon he wanted to cancel that interview. He accused CNN of being unfair to him in recent days.

We don't think that's true. Although we are proud of our consistent reporting showing the birther conspiracies to be bogus. In the end though, Mr. Trump did agree to sit down and talk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Thanks for your time.

TRUMP: Thank you.

KING: You've said today that you're honored and proud --

TRUMP: Very honored and proud.

KING: That the president released this.

TRUMP: Very good, I'm very happy about it. I think I've been given great praise by the press, and I'm honored to have -- look, he should have done this years ago. He didn't do it for Hillary Clinton. He didn't do it for John McCain. He did it for me. The fact is I get things done. And I don't understand why he didn't do it a lot sooner, John, but he didn't, and it's a shame.

KING: Are you at all maybe a little embarrassed for stoking what many in the country see as a foolish debate?

TRUMP: No, I think I really did a great job in getting him to -- I mean, first of all, I haven't seen it. You're just -- I'm looking at that --

KING: Here it is.

TRUMP: It doesn't -- I'll look at it later. I don't need to look at your copy. But I hope it's -- everything's perfect. And I've been saying that very consistently. I hope that he has it. I don't understand why he didn't do it years ago when Hillary Clinton wanted it, when Bill Clinton wanted it, when John McCain wanted it.

KING: Some supporters of Hillary Clinton circulated an e-mail asking him to release it. I don't recall Senator Clinton or President Clinton ever asking--

TRUMP: I heard everybody wanted to see it and I was the only one that got him to do it. And nobody understands why he didn't do it sooner, and he should have, because it would have been good for the country. And it's also good for me -- I've been given great credit for having him do something that he should have done and should have done a long time ago. But what I like about it, it allows me to get on to subjects like China ripping us off, because they are just absolutely brutalizing and abusing this country.

Like OPEC, what they're doing to the price of oil, and nobody talks to them. Nobody calls them. Saudi Arabia, three days ago, just, as you know, they really cut back on their oil production, meaning let's raise the price some more. And people are going to be paying six, seven and $8 for their gasoline.

KING: Let's get --

TRUMP: And it's really a shame.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Excuse me, John. And I'm really happy that we can finally get on to that subject, because that's my strength, jobs, the economy, getting OPEC to behave. We have all the power. Getting OPEC to behave. They don't respect our leadership.

KING: But you raised this, saying the president should release --

TRUMP: No, no, you raised this --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Excuse me --

KING: No, I did not raise this --

TRUMP: You raised this, John.

KING: I didn't call a press conference in Palm Beach earlier this week --

TRUMP: Excuse me, you raised this --

KING: I haven't been on --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And every time I sit down with the press, all they want to talk about is the birth certificate. And I got him to do something that nobody else could get him to do. KING: And you --

TRUMP: And I've been given great credit for that.

KING: And you raised this issue of his credibility, that if he has it he should release it.

TRUMP: Absolutely.

KING: There are some people who question yours in the middle of all this. The other night you went on "ANDERSON COOPER" and you said your investigators told you it was missing or it wasn't there.

TRUMP: Excuse me.

KING: What was that based on?

TRUMP: Excuse me, very simple, I had people looking into it. Now I don't have to have the people -- I can call them back. I hope, I mean, I haven't seen this. And I'm sure that a lot of experts will analyze it.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But would you ever pay them -- if serious people told you it was missing or not there, here it is.

TRUMP: Would I pay them? I don't know. Maybe I'll let you negotiate it for me, OK?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I can say this, John. Let me just tell you, I don't make up anything. Let me tell you something. I have done a great service to the American people. I got him to release a birth certificate that he should have done three years ago and four years ago and he didn't it. And if you remember, he said, oh, no, no, there's no such thing as a birth certificate, it doesn't matter. They don't have it. There is no such thing. He was saying the live -- the certificate of live birth was the only thing that mattered. Hawaii doesn't have that. All of a sudden, Hawaii has it? Sort of strange.

KING: He said he didn't think he needed to release it.

TRUMP: Excuse me; he kept saying about the certificate of live birth was all they have --

KING: That should be good enough --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Excuse me, John. He kept saying the certificate of live birth was all they have in Hawaii. They don't have birth certificates in Hawaii. And I said he was wrong. Guess what? I turned out to be right. KING: Today, he said that he felt he would reverse himself and release this because of the distraction he blamed on sideshows and carnival barkers.

TRUMP: Well, look --

KING: And people say he means you.

TRUMP: Look -- well, that's OK, and I will tell you, we have a president that's incompetent. We have a president who's doing a terrible job. We have a president that has fuel oil and fuel prices and gasoline prices going to six, seven and $8 and people can't even fill up a tank of gas now because they don't have the money.

And we have OPEC making more money than any group of countries has ever made in the history of the world. We have China taking our jobs and ripping us off. And we have a president that gives the head of China a party at the White House. We have a president that's incompetent.

KING: You don't consider yourself a sideshow or carnival barker, I assume?

TRUMP: I am a very serious person. I am a person that has made great wealth. I have built up a great, great company. And if and when I decide to run -- and you may be pleasantly surprised in your case, in the case of CNN, you may be unpleasantly surprised, I'll be announcing sometime prior to June. Not only will I be announcing something that I think a lot of people will be happy -- because I feel I formed something in my own mind as to what I want to do. But as you know, if I announce, I have to present very detailed information on wealth, cash, the banks --

KING: You told Eliot Spitzer this week that if Obama released this, if the president released this, you would release your tax returns.

TRUMP: Well, I don't know what I told Eliot Spitzer -- I look at Eliot Spitzer --

KING: You told George Stephanopoulos the same thing.

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me, I'll be doing my tax returns at the appropriate time. I haven't even announced yet.

KING: You said this was missing. You had investigators who said it was missing.

TRUMP: Excuse me --

KING: You're questioning the character and integrity --

TRUMP: The president himself --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let me finish. I let you finish --

TRUMP: John --

KING: You're questioning the character and integrity of the president of the United States.

TRUMP: The president himself --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- CNN poll that shows you in a dead heat with the president of the United States.

TRUMP: That's right.

KING: There's no such poll. We've never polled.

TRUMP: I'll give it to you.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I'll give it to you.

KING: We have never polled Obama versus Trump.

TRUMP: Yes, you have.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Oh really? Do you want --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Can I show it to you?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Can I show it to you?

KING: Yes, I'd love to see it.

TRUMP: Excuse me, hold it. Can you get that poll? It was like 42 to 44. A CNN poll.

KING: CNN has never polled Obama versus Trump.

TRUMP: OK. That's fine. Let's see if you're right or wrong, OK? CNN -- it had like a 42 to 44. It was a statistical dead heat. Check it. You know the one I'm talking about, Michael? OK, I think you're wrong.

KING: You --

TRUMP: Of course you're not going to show that because if you are wrong, you will cut it out.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Excuse me, if you are wrong --

KING: When I find out --

TRUMP: Excuse me, if you are wrong, you'll cut it out.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: No.

TRUMP: You're wrong.

KING: No, if I'm wrong, I look at the camera -- I made a mistake. I'm wrong.

TRUMP: Good, good. I hope you do that.

KING: That's what I do.

TRUMP: I mean, I hope you do that. OK, next question.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: But we're not wrong. We told the Trump people if they could produce evidence of that poll, we'd be happy, happy to correct the record. We also rechecked with our polling department and our polling director specifically. The Trump people never got back to us and this is why. We're positive, positive CNN never conducted such a poll.

More of my interview with the possible presidential candidate coming up and how did he fare here in New Hampshire and why did the president choose to show his birth certificate today after two years of saying no? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: So why did the president after two years of saying no decide not only to release his birth certificate today, but to come into the White House briefing room to discuss it? And now that it is public, will the birther debate finally fade away? One other question, is Donald Trump a legitimate presidential candidate?

Joining me here is the New Hampshire State Republican Party Chairman Jack Kimball -- good to see you, sir -- and in Washington a Democratic pollster and CNN contributor Cornell Belcher and our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. Jess, to you first, the president had said for two years no, no, no, this is a distraction. This is bogus.

I'm not going to do this. Today, he released this document, and the spin from the Democrats is he thinks this helps him. If he likes the Republicans talking about this, why did he put it out there?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a political downside to this, as you point out, John, which is that the more the Republicans are spinning up about this birther issue, they're not talking about jobs and the economy, which is what ultimately will get the next president elected, everyone agrees. So it was a useful political distraction.

But all my sources in the White House and on campaign Obama believe that this was becoming such a distraction it was stepping on the messages that they really want to communicate, especially about the plan to bring down the debt, the president's vision, and the day after he unveiled his plan, major news networks came to talk to the president about the plan and were asking about this instead and word is that the president himself was personally miffed. He just wanted it to go away.

KING: So Cornell Belcher, is that it? I'm always -- forgive me -- a bit suspicious when the White House changes a position that they've thought through for a very long time. They have access to this document. They could have done this at anytime. I get suspicious that they're seeing something in the numbers, as ludicrous as they think this debate is, as ludicrous as our reporting has shown this debate to be, that they see something that's hurting the president. Is there anything in the numbers?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Two things. One is I got to back up a little bit because, you know what, in 2008, you know, the Obama campaign, campaign Obama actually released what Hawaii says is a birth certificate. You know the long form thing is sort of the opposition moving the goal post. But back in 2008 the campaign actually released what Hawaii gave us as his birth certificate.

So there's that. But in the numbers, this cuts against Republicans in a real damaging way. It cuts against Republicans because it's about judgment. If you're an independent voter in middle America worried about jobs and the economy and you see that the leading Republican candidate -- by the way, I want to know about this secret CNN poll John -- that your leading Republican candidate right now is -- number one issue is the birthers, that's got to be really problematic for the Republican Party.

KING: So, Mr. Chairman, you are in the first primary state. Iowa has its caucuses. New Hampshire has its primary. The candidates including Mr. Trump here today beginning to get more active. Is this a real issue? Are you happy that the president has put this document out and now you can talk about -- I assume Republicans will argue, you know, he wants to raise taxes or he has too big of a government. Would you rather talk about those issues?

JACK KIMBALL, CHAIRMAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE GOP: I think that it's a little funny that Mr. Trump showed up today and the birth certificate showed up as well. I think it's important that we get this out of the way. I think it's very --

KING: You don't think that's a coincidence?

KIMBALL: I don't know. I really don't. But, really, I think probably the transcripts are next. And when you look forward to these things the only --

KING: Wait, wait, wait, wait -- I'm going to jump here -- use the transcripts, you mean his college records?

KIMBALL: Yes, that's probably next --

KING: Why is that relevant?

KIMBALL: Well, think it's not. I think -- the only grades -- that's really not relevant to me --

KING: He's been president of the United States for two-plus years now. He'll be president for almost four years when he runs for re-election. Whether he got a "C" or an "A" in Greek studies in college, why does that matter? Whether, you know I got kept back in French one year --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I hope my employer doesn't --

(CROSSTALK)

KIMBALL: I'm only concerned with the F's in the stimulus package and the F's in Obamacare that he gets from me, that's for sure. The same thing with foreign policy. So those are the things I'm worried about. I think we've got to move forward in the campaign and the candidates as well.

KING: One of the things we try to do here is hold people accountable and we try to hold everybody accountable. You saw part of a contentious conversation with Mr. Trump there. There's more of it to come. I want to play one other thing the president said because as Jess just noted, the White House making this decision, saying it believes that this birther debate had become a huge distraction. Let's listen to a little bit of how the president characterized it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: During that entire week, the dominant news story wasn't about these huge monumental choices that we're going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate and that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not exactly. We want to give credit where credit is due. Jake Tapper of "ABC News" I think was the first one to notice this, but the president was talking about the week his budget proposal came out and he was making the case there that the birther debate overshadowed all of that. The Pew Center keeps tracks of news coverage and if you look at what was covered that week actually the economy by far was the biggest cover story in the national news media.

Thirty-nine percent of television news program, then the Middle East unrest, the Japan quake and the tsunami and then the Obama administration and Southeast tornadoes. So the president certainly felt that there was a lot of cable chatter about it no doubt, but the president not exactly factual in that one. Cornell, I want to come back to the point that if this is such a good issue for the president, why say anything? Why put the document out?

BELCHER: I don't -- I don't argue that it is a good issue. I think it is a horrible issue for America. I think this is a bad issue for Republicans and I think you see Republicans even sort of Bachmann and Governor Brewer in Arizona sort of backing away from this issue because guess what, if your central premise right now is not jobs and economy but whether or not a birth certificate -- you know, moving the polls, moving back the goal posts on the birth certificate, you are missing where American people are right now and I think Republicans fall into a trap right now and right now their leading Republican candidate right now is a guy whose central issue has been the birther issue.

YELLIN: John, if I can also add, I would -- I will say that one top Obama aide said to me after this, and what's Donald Trump going to talk about now? So it's not like they're tone-deaf to the political environment out there. And then there's this larger concern of the ways (ph) that it's an effort to discredit the presidency in general, call him illegitimate, bring in these larger issues of is he really a Christian or is he Muslim? They didn't want it to get into all of that and keep this dragging on, so there were larger concerns beyond just the media coverage.

BELCHER: And real quickly, John, the whole now -- the grade thing, that's again not on issue. That's about sort of making Barack Obama illegitimate. It has nothing to do with the pains of the American people right now. It is a smear campaign.

KING: Were you joking about that? (INAUDIBLE) were you joking about that or do you seriously think he should -- his college transcripts are a relevant issue?

KIMBALL: No, that was tongue in cheek --

KING: All right, tongue in cheek -- let's try to put that one away because I know Cornell has a point. Let's talk about Mr. Trump. He's here today. He spent some time privately with you. He sounds by every account, everyone who meets with him privately, and certainly in the public interviews, like this time he's serious.

He has flirted with this before. So people are a tad skeptical. He likes generating publicity for his television program and for his businesses. You had a private meeting with him today. Is he running for president?

KIMBALL: I can't answer that yet. I will tell you just his appearance here today I think is ominous. I do. And I think that he wouldn't have bothered to come here if he wasn't taking the next most serious step, you know, toward that decision.

KING: Are you confident he's a Republican? I want to just go back -- if you go back in time in 1999, he talked about himself as a potential Reform Party candidate for president. He said the Democrats were too liberal and the Republicans were too crazy right. That's his words -- too crazy right. He supported abortion rights back then. He talked about a one time 14.25 percent millionaire tax. Civil rights for gay couples. Universal health care. Is this a born-again Donald Trump? Do you believe he's a conservative Republican in the mold that New Hampshire Republicans would embrace?

KIMBALL: Yes, I think -- I think what you're going to see and today you saw -- the folks showed up and he was pretty well received, but all of the candidates are going have to get out there and tell their platforms. And the voters of this state -- and -- I love this state. That's -- we do the vetting I think for this country.

And they're going to ask the tough questions and the answers that they're going to receive are going to prompt them to vote for one of these candidates. And Mr. Trump is really no different than any of the other broad group of candidates that we've got vying for this position.

KING: Cornell, I know you're a Democrat, but you study the numbers. Be as fair as you can be here, my friend. He has gone up --

BELCHER: I'm always fair.

KING: -- in the polls among perspective Republican candidates, he has gone up in the polls. Is it -- do you think it's just a birther issue or are Republicans looking around and maybe not so satisfied or maybe looking for fresh faces or is it just that he's a celebrity?

BELCHER: Two things, I think the chairman is actually doing a real good job being the Republican chairman but he knows in the back of his mind those issues that you just laid out there, Mitt Romney and those other Republicans are going to kill him dead on those issues because they're going to run advertising that's going to be really harmful for him in that Republican primary. The other thing about this I think -- I think Trump is actually -- the Republicans are to blame for Trump.

They wait too long to get in -- their top candidates waited too long to get in. They left this doorway open for Trump to get in. But also what I think is exciting about Trump is he's changed. He's not your typical politician. Americans said time and time again they want change. Donald Trump is to a certain extent right now a change agent.

As bizarre as it is he's a change agent because he doesn't look like the rest of those guys. He doesn't have their political background. He's someone who's not been part of the political process.

KING: Jess, do other Republicans view him as a likely and as a serious contender? He certainly could write himself a big check.

YELLIN: If they do, I haven't met that person. I mean there's a lot of eye rolling that goes on. A lot of, you know, Republican -- establishment Republicans think he's not good for the party and an early season distraction that will probably go away before we see people go into the caucuses in Iowa.

KING: Who's your front-runner in New Hampshire at the moment?

KIMBALL: I would say right now Mitt Romney would probably be considered the front-runner --

KING: What makes this state interesting and sometimes fascinating, we saw this play out in 2008 when you had contested primaries on both sides, there are more Independents, undeclared voters you call them here in New Hampshire than there are Democrats or Republicans and they can vote in either primary. If President Obama does not have a challenge, do you suspect that most of those independents will vote in the Republican primary and a lot of them, sir, would be Democrats maybe playing mischief, Democratic-leaning independents saying, hey, no race on my side, let's go have some fun.

KIMBALL: John, it's one of the strange issues we have in this state. People can actually do that to manipulate the vote. We don't like to see that, but it's hard to tell. It's very hard to tell what they're going to do. But you're absolutely right. You know 30 percent -- the makeup in this state, 30 percent Republican, 30 percent Democrat and around 40 percent in the middle, so it's an incredible dynamic and that middle, that's the sway vote and that's going to be the determining factor in this state.

KING: Fascinating to watch. We'll spend a lot more time with Chairman Kimball in the months ahead. Thank you, sir, for your time tonight. Jess, Cornell, thanks as well.

KIMBALL: Thank you.

KING: Up next, more of my interview with Donald Trump and why he doesn't buy "Made in America".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Live pictures there. We're in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the Eastern Seaboard of New Hampshire, a beautiful town, beautiful town in a wonderful state and a great place to come and cover American politics. Donald Trump here today. He thinks about -- he's thinking about running for the Republican nomination for president.

As you watch those pictures, maybe you believe him, maybe you don't. But Donald Trump says he's happy tonight that the president has released his birth certificate because it means talk on the campaign trail will turn to other issues. China's role in the economy is one of Trump's favorite themes. In our conversation, we discussed that and whether he's really serious this time about running.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You just mentioned that China is raping us, taking our jobs.

TRUMP: I said that China is taking advantage and abusing us like other than OPEC, no country has ever done in the history of the United States. We are being abused by China. They're manipulating their currencies. They are taking all and -- I don't mean like a little bit.

They are taking tremendous numbers of our jobs. They're making our products. We are rebuilding China. Now, if it's one-on-one and free trade as opposed to fair trade, because it should be fair trade, but if it's one-on-one, that's one thing but what China --

KING: Do you know your wife sells a jewelry line on QVC?

TRUMP: That's true. And you know what else -- can I give you --

KING: Do you know every piece of jewelry -- every piece of jewelry is made in China?

TRUMP: Can I tell you what else? I build my buildings, unfortunately, because companies can't compete because they manipulate their currency. So China makes jewelry and they make curtain walls and they make lots of other things and it shouldn't be that way, John. We should be making it.

KING: But --

TRUMP: Excuse me --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: People will ask, is this guy a hypocrite?

TRUMP: Because --

KING: He's out there beating up on the Chinese and his wife is making money selling products made in China.

TRUMP: Because of the fact that China manipulates their currency. And they really manipulate it big league. And our people aren't smart enough to know what's going on. When I order curtain walls for a big beautiful building, when I order other things, you know what happened with the sheetrock, because the good news is we make better products than they make in China. But when I order -- can I talk? When I order various elements for building a big building, many of them come from China. Many other industries, the same thing. These -- it comes from China. You know why? Because they manipulate the hell out of their currency.

KING: But if you --

TRUMP: And unless we're going to --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- start a company here in the United States -- you could start a company here in the United States and go on QVC or go -- when Trump sells a building, say it's going to cost you a little bit more because I decided to make it in America. When you're out there beating them up -- TRUMP: There's a 40 percent manipulation, and it doesn't allow companies in this country to compete. And when you start throwing a tax on Chinese goods, you will see tremendous companies be built in this country. Now, you may never get to it, because once you do that, John, as soon as that happens, I'll tell you what's going -- as soon as China thinks the messenger is real, not a guy like Obama, but the messenger is real, they're going to stop manipulating their currency.

But I'm not so sure we shouldn't do it anyway. We need jobs in Alabama. We need jobs in New Hampshire, where I am right now. They need jobs badly. We need jobs in this country. And China's making our product. We are rebuilding China. So when my wife does jewelry, you can't do it. They don't even make it in this country. Everything is made in China.

When I order curtain walls, when I order other things -- I order thousands of television sets for a building, thousands. I said, "Let's buy it from the United States. I want America. I want United States." There's no place that makes them. We don't have television companies in this country. I mean, of any consequence.

So, I end up getting LGs made in South Korea, thousands of them. Now, why -- excuse me, why aren't we -- why aren't we making them in this country? Why?

So, between China and other countries, but China's the biggest abuser of all, and they are an abuser because they manipulate the hell of their currencies which makes it almost impossible, almost impossible, for our companies to compete.

KING: So, you see no hypocrisy there? You see no hypocrisy there?

TRUMP: Zero. No, zero. I buy stuff -- the first thing I do, hey, look, you're supposed to be this great reporter, even though your ratings are no good -- let me just tell you something, let me just tell you something -- I want to buy here so badly. I want to buy in this country so badly that your head would spin, OK? So badly.

The problem is, half of these products that I want to buy, they don't even make them in this country. And if they do make them, they cost four times more because China manipulates their currency.

Now, the good news is, we make a better product than they make.

KING: If you run, do you guarantee you will run as a Republican or might you run as an independent?

TRUMP: I would run as a Republican.

KING: No question?

TRUMP: No, I'm running as a Republican. I mean, I'm looking to run as a Republican. I'm doing very well. As you probably know but won't say, I'm leading in almost every poll --

KING: You've come way up, you're doing quite well --

TRUMP: I'm doing very well.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- without a doubt.

TRUMP: And I think now I've gotten Obama to do something that for some reason he didn't want to do, which is expose his birth certificate, I think probably, that will have a huge positive impact. But I will say this, pollsters have also said, as you sort of indicated before, that a lot of people have voted for you in the polls. But a lot of people want to vote for you, but they really think you're just having a good time, I'm having fun. They said P.T. Barnum and all of this nonsense --

KING: I'm not so sure of that myself --

TRUMP: Or I'm trying to build up my ratings of "The Apprentice." And you're on television, and you know the ratings of "The Apprentice" are very, very good. In fact, "The New York Times" said it yesterday, the ratings on "The Apprentice" don't need building up. It's the top show on NBC. It's doing great.

I don't need to build up the ratings in "The Apprentice." And it's too trivial to even think about it.

Now, I will tell you that I will make a decision sometime prior to June. And I love this country. I want this country to be great again. I want this country to be rich again.

With Obama as president, it can no longer be great and it can no longer be rich.

KING: So, then how, as you try to make the case, you're in this great state today. It has a prestigious historic first presidential primary.

TRUMP: It's a great state.

KING: Independents can vote in that primary. They take it very seriously. Some of them looking at your record, see a guy who in 1999 talked about being in the Reform Party, said the Republicans were too crazy right. Your words on "Meet the Press" -- too crazy right, and the Democrats were too liberal.

A conservative activist here, Jennifer Horn, writes today, she was a nominee for Congress in 2008: Even the most experienced political operative gets whiplash trying to follow --

TRUMP: Well, let me ask you this, why am I doing so well in the polls in New Hampshire? I mean, I'm doing great in the polls in New Hampshire. I'm leading the national polls. And I'm doing great in New Hampshire. And you know why -- you know why --

KING: Rudy led the national polls for a while. TRUMP: I don't care about Rudy. Rudy is a great a friend of mine. He's a great guy. But he didn't run a good campaign and he'll be the first to admit it.

And he didn't even come to New Hampshire, really, and he didn't come to Iowa, and he obviously should have.

So, you can't compare that, all right?

KING: But you don't see--

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: But Rudy is a good friend-

KING: -- that credibility and consistency-

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Let me just tell you something -- I'm doing great in the polls. You know why? Because people in New Hampshire, as well as people in the country, don't want to be ripped off by every nation that does business with us. Even Colombia, in Latin America, Colombia, it was just announced, they made $4 billion on us last year. And now, we're looking to sign a new trade agreement that's going to let them do even better.

We're run by people that are incompetent. Our leader is incompetent. And people want to see a change. And that's why I'm doing better in the polls. And I have to catch a plane, I'm sorry.

KING: If they want that change -- one last question -- if they want that change, they want to look, they want the credibility of a new commander-in-chief. Let me ask you about something you said here this morning. You said that when you look at the Libyan opposition, that we should be careful, that you see Iran and al Qaeda.

TRUMP: That's right.

KING: Not a bunch of good guys trying to kick out Gadhafi.

TRUMP: That's right.

KING: The United States intelligence agencies, the British intelligence agency, say there's a sliver of al Qaeda, but for most part, it's just people rising up against Gadhafi. Does Donald Trump have a better intelligence network than the United States government?

TRUMP: Are they the same intelligence agencies that said about the World Trade Center, that, you know, Saddam Hussein knocked down the World Trade Center? I guess, are they the same people?

KING: But somebody might ask, where do you get that information? Do you get it from the same people who told you this is missing?

TRUMP: You know where I get it from? I get it from reading newspapers. And I didn't say it is. I said I am reading and I am hearing that Iran is very strongly backing the so-called rebels. Wonderful word. Sounds like "Gone with the Wind," OK? And that al Qaeda is involved with the rebels.

And wouldn't that be something if we go in and we do a big number and we get rid of Gadhafi, which is fine as far as I'm concerned, and now somebody takes over who's worse? Now, here's another question -- China gets a lot of its oil from Libya, right? You know that, right?

KING: I know that.

TRUMP: We get none. Why isn't China involved? Why isn't China involved, John?

We don't get oil from Libya. We're involved. We spent over $1 billion already, because the Arab League, which is Saudi Arabia and others of the richest nations in the world, the Arab League wants us to go and take out Gadhafi because they don't like him. We don't like him. Go do it.

Why didn't we say to them, all right, we'll do it, $5 billion, we want $5 billion? You know what they would have said? Absolutely, you have a deal. They wouldn't -- that's peanuts for them. That's peanuts.

We're into the war for $1 billion, at least. And we're not even winning. I mean, so far Gadhafi is in power still. And people are on the streets cheering him on.

So, we're into the war for over $1 billion. The Arab League said go in and take him out.

Obama gets up, he says, oh, it's great, it's great. The Arab League wants us. They're with us. They're with us. The Arab League is with us. He's all excited. The Arab League is with us.

Why doesn't he just sit back nice and calm and say, you want him out, we don't like him either, I don't like him, but you want him out, we want $5 billion? We want you to pay for the cost. And by the way, after he's out, we want a big percentage of oil. Because the only way I go into Libya is if we get some of the oil.

Thank you very much.

KING: We have a Republican debate here in June. Can we count you in?

TRUMP: Pretty soon, yes, I guess. I mean, only after I announce. And you can certainly count me in.

KING: Amen.

TRUMP: I look forward to that. Thank you very much, John.

KING: See you then. Thank you.

TRUMP: Have a good time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Coming up: the day's big headlines including the latest on a deadly outbreak of tornadoes in the Deep South. Just within the last hour, look at this -- a twister on the ground near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Amazing photographs there, pictures.

We'll talk to that state's governor in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

President Obama tomorrow is scheduled to announce a major cabinet shake-up. The CIA Director Leon Panetta, he'll move over to the Pentagon to replace retiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- Secretary Gates to leave by the end of June. General David Petraeus, he'll come home from Afghanistan and take over the CIA.

In Libya, CNN's Reza Sayah finally got into the capital city of Misrata today which has been under siege by pro-Gadhafi forces. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what's left of Tripoli street here in Misrata. For weeks, this has been the front line in the battle for the city. Before this war, this street was the major thoroughfare here in Misrata. It was bustling with activity, lined with shops, busy with pedestrians. But the fighting has laid waste to everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A long distance glimpse here of Congresswoman Giffords today as she climbed aboard a jet for her trip to Florida to watch Friday's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. Its commander, of course, is Congressman Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly.

"Reuters" reports tonight that BP discovered an unexploded German mine from World War II next to a critical oil pipeline in the North Sea. Removing it could mean shutting down that pipeline which, you guessed it, could force up oil prices.

During a rare news conference today, after the Federal Reserve announced it won't raise interest rates, the Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke talked about the current spike in oil and gas prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Our view is that gas prices will not continue to rise at the recent pace and as they stabilize or even come down, if situation stabilizes in the Middle East, that this will provide some release on the inflation front. But we'll watch it very carefully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're watching a deadly line of tornadoes moving through the Southeast. Forecasters say right now a powerful storm is bearing down on portions of Mississippi, Alabama, North Georgia and eastern Tennessee. Authorities in Alabama have unconfirmed reports of at least 12 deaths as a result of severe storms and tornadoes hitting the state.

Governor Robert Bentley joins us now from Montgomery.

Governor, our thoughts and our prayers are with you tonight. Let's start with the reports of a tornado passing through the University of Alabama campus right near the campus in Tuscaloosa. What can you tell us about that?

GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY (R), ALABAMA (via telephone): Well, there was a very large tornado. In fact, it was caught on air. The television showed it as it passed through Tuscaloosa and very close to the campus. And there's major damage there in Tuscaloosa, which is my hometown. And so, we have a lot of major damage there. Not just there but it's all over the state, all over north Alabama.

And as you said, we have 12 unconfirmed deaths, but probably, there will be more than that. In fact, I'm fairly certain there will be.

KING: It's sad to hear you expect the number to go up. The Cullman Regional Medical Center in the northern part of the state, also hit by a tornado, is that right?

BENTLEY: Well, most -- many areas north Alabama, Cullman County was certainly and the city of Cullman had major damage. Places in Marshal County. Other counties were affected.

And, of course, it's not over at the present time. We're continuing to have tornado warnings. And, in fact, just a few minutes ago, we still had four tornado warnings were going on and at the same time.

KING: And we're watching some live pictures from a tower cam as we have this conversation.

Governor, as you're dealing with this, often it's unpredictable, which makes it hard when you're dealing with tornadoes. You know they're coming but you can't tell exactly where.

Any message if someone in your state, someone in your area is listening to you right now, what is your message to them?

BENTLEY: Well, the message is that all available state resources are responding at the present time. And then we will also be looking to the federal government for some help on this, because we certainly feel like we meet the threshold that -- so that we can apply for that. But right now, people need to seek safety and seek cover and do the things that are necessary to protect themselves right now.

KING: And we're looking at some of pictures of the terrible destruction. And you say 12 unconfirmed fatalities. We certainly hope the number doesn't go any higher. And your sense of the needs right now -- are there things the state needs or that certain counties need that are in short supply?

BENTLEY: Well, of course, we have a very good response team in Alabama. We have a very good EMA organization. And we have -- our first responders do a tremendous job and if we need National Guard, which we may, we will call them out. We'll do what is necessary to help our citizens through this difficult time.

KING: And lastly, sir, what's your sense of how long you're going to have this challenge? We're looking at the next six, eight, 10 hours, the next 24, 48?

BENTLEY: Well, when it cools -- when the temperature cools down some, I think that will help. But we don't really know. And we don't know how far south this line will go. It supposedly -- the National Weather Service thinks that it will be -- just be in north Alabama, Montgomery north. But we don't really know.

And, of course, no one knows, you know, when a tornado's going to hit. So, we think by -- obviously, by the morning, we'll be fine, but it will be hitting other states by then.

KING: Governor Robert Bentley, we appreciate your time tonight on a challenging day in the state of Alabama. Alabama, one of several states across the country, especially in the midsection of the country, but now extending into the Deep South, being hit by tornadoes and other severe weather. Governor, our best to you and the people of Alabama in the hours ahead. Appreciate your time.

When we come back, one of the things I love to do when we get on the road is, yes, sure, talk to the political figures -- but also spend time with everyday residents. Right here this morning, we sat down in New Hampshire -- a fun conversation, an interesting conversation about the birther debate. Is Trump a serious candidate for president? And what are the big issues for the coming 2012 presidential election?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Live pictures again. We're in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, tonight. It is a beautiful town. You see there, just a beautiful image -- the shimmering water. Dusk approaching here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Back in Washington, in his appearance in the White House briefing room today, the president said releasing his birth certificate would end the debate for almost everyone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I know there's going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, some instant proof of that -- not everybody today when I did what I love to do most, when I'm out on the road, sit down and talk to local residents about politics. As we did this morning at the Breaking New Grounds Cafe right here in downtown Portsmouth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The president, after a couple of years of saying it was silly, he wasn't going to release his long form birth certificate said because of all the talk about it, because of the distraction about it, he would put it out there and he puts it out there. That the right decision by the president? Did you have any doubt about where he was born?

MARK BINGHAM, INDEPENDENT OBAMA SUPPORTER: No, no. I think it was the right decision. I've never had any doubts about where he was born. I think from watching his press conference this morning, I think the point of just getting the country to move on. I don't see the birther issue as a real issue whatsoever. But the fact it's so distracting I think is an issue.

KING: Did you have any doubt?

BRENDA DICKEY, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: Actually, I did have doubts as to where he was born.

KING: Are they gone now?

DICKEY: I didn't actually listen to the news this morning, so I'm not sure where it said he was born.

KING: They produced the long form birth certificate, said he was born in the hospital in Hawaii, August 4th, 1961.

DICKEY: I had doubts he was born in the United States and I thought that if it was such a normal thing he could have put it out a long time ago.

KING: Now that he has put it out, is that good or do you doubt him any way?

DICKEY: I'm really not a person who likes Obama or most of the things that he's done and --

KING: But is that a reason to question where he was born?

DICKEY: I don't know if I believe the document or not.

KING: OK.

DICKEY: You know? He's had a long time to come up with something that might not be --

KING: So, you think -- you think the president of the United States could have forged a birth certificate. Doesn't that sound kind of lunacy?

DICKEY: It does, but maybe other people --

(INAUDIBLE)

KING: OK, what do you think?

JIM CUSICK, INDEPENDENT OBAMA SUPPORTER: I have no doubt. I think it's important he addressed it so we can move on to more important issues. As he said, there are bigger things we need to talk about as a country and when all the focus is on something like that, I'm glad he did it.

KING: One of the guys who revived it as an issue and elevated it as an issue is here in your state today. And there's a question -- he says he's serious about running for president. He has said that in the past and not run for president. But Donald Trump was here in your community today.

Is he -- whether you're a Democrat or a Republican -- do you look at him as somebody who is a serious, credible candidate for president?

CUSICK: I like to hear his ideas before I say that. And today, I've heard none of his positions on all the things we need to face in the country. So, I firmly believe that that decision will be made by the process we have when they start talking about the issues. And he hasn't thus far. So, I really can't say yes or no.

KING: What do you think?

DICKEY: Well, I agree with Jim, in that I would like to hear his ideas. But I think just the idea that he's done such a great job in the business world, I think he might be someone to look at. And, you know, he doesn't need the money or the power, which is the reason to run for president. So, you know, maybe just the idea that he wants to fix the world and help make things better for the middle class would be great.

KING: When you look around the Republican field, is there anybody else or is that one of the reasons Mr. Trump has been able to get more attention and elevate himself?

DICKEY: Yes, I really don't se anyone else right now that interests me as much as him.

BINGHAM: I'm kind of in the same boat with Jim, that I don't know if I've heard enough from him on substantive issues to really make a call on it. But I don't think that taking on the birther issue the way that he did helped him at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Our thanks for that conversation. More of it tomorrow night. We'll get to some of the other issues in the race in 2012.

When we come back, though, a few final thoughts on my conversation with Donald Trump and what makes the state of New Hampshire a little different when it comes to presidential politics?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Quick final thought on an interesting day here in New Hampshire. Mark me down as a skeptic, that Donald Trump this time will actually run for president. And mark me down as someone who thinks he hasn't helped himself by stoking the birther debate and saying for a long time that he didn't believe the president could find it, that it was missing, he said.

Well, it's not missing, it's public record today. But Mr. Trump was quite emphatic today that he's inclined to run and that he thinks he'll do very well. Have a listen.

TRUMP: Well, let me ask you this, why am I doing so well in the polls in New Hampshire? I mean, I'm doing great in the polls in New Hampshire. I'm leading the national polls. And I'm doing great in New Hampshire.

And you know why -- you know why --

KING: Rudy led the national polls for a while.

TRUMP: I don't care about Rudy. Rudy is a great a friend of mine. He's a great guy. But he didn't run a good campaign and he'll be the first to admit it.

And he didn't even come to New Hampshire really and he didn't come to Iowa and he obviously should have.

So, you can't compare that, all right?

KING: But you don't think --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Let me just tell you something -- I'm doing great in the polls. You know why? Because people in New Hampshire, as well as people in the country, don't want to be ripped off by every nation that does business with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll see if he runs. We'll see you tomorrow night. I'll be back in Washington.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.