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JOHN KING, USA

Bin Laden's Diary; International Law; Reaching out to Muslims

Aired May 11, 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. The race for president has a new but familiar face tonight; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich officially adds his name to the Republican field.

And the Mississippi River proves tonight that slow moving does not mean less dangerous. We will show you the communities buried by the flooding sadly tend to be those that were most poor to begin with.

But first tonight new fallout from the death of Osama bin Laden including outrage from one of his sons and a potentially valuable new find in the materials taken from the al Qaeda's leader Pakistan compound. The volume of those materials, computer files, videos, handwritten notes including word tonight of bin Laden's personal diary presents a daunting challenge to intelligence and law enforcement officials.

For them it is a race against time. And it requires thinking outside the box. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has new details tonight -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John, we know that a multi agency task force led by the CIA has been sifting through all those materials. A law enforcement source says they have come up with some potential leads which have been pushed out to law enforcement for follow-up. I'm told that many of the 56 FBI offices around the country are now involved in checking out some of these leads.

The source I spoke to said although some of these are technically new investigations, they have not uncovered any new plots. It would be incorrect to say that they've found a plot in progress that they've squashed. Rather what they're doing is following this through to its logical conclusion to see if any of the information they're gathering here fits in with other information that they had gathered previously, putting together a puzzle for them.

As yet, they haven't reached that aha moment I'm told, but they're continuing to try. We already knew that they had upped intelligence and surveillance, following up on open investigations they already had, but now we know they're getting some new potential leads from that cache of information that was found in Pakistan -- back to you John.

KING: Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. Jeanne thanks and adding to the urgency Jeanne was just speaking about, mounting evidence that the bin Laden compound was more than just a hiding place and very much a home office. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working her sources on that -- Barbara your sources describing this as a command and control center. Explain.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It was not just some elderly looking jihadi over a television set looking at himself on the TV screen. This was Osama bin Laden's command and control center. He was very much in charge. That he was sending communications out to the field to al Qaeda operatives. They were receiving those communications. And communications were coming back into him.

That there is now evidence he was communicating with al Qaeda affiliates in the field. Very dangerous there because they may be plotting and planning, the official said. As to the journal you spoke about, you know last week it was referred to as the al Qaeda playbook. Today the Osama bin Laden diary or as an official said to me think of it as his journal.

In it, they have found handwritten entries talking about attacking the United States, about possible dates to attack such as July 4th, Christmas, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. But as Jeanne said, so far, they don't see anything matching up to a time, date and place for a particular attack. That's a big worry. They're following up on all the leads they're developing -- John.

KING: Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon -- Barbara thank you.

Let's dig deeper on bin Laden's active, very hands-on role. We're told tonight as Barbara noted bin Laden's personal journal, his diary among the items seized at the Pakistan compound. In an article today, Kimberly Dozier of The Associated Press writes that to the very end bin Laden was pressing his follower, find new ways to attack the United States, calling for deadly large attacks, but also suggesting smaller cities as a way perhaps of getting around increased U.S. anti- terror efforts.

Kimberly Dozier is with us now, along with CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend. And Kim, I want to start with the details you're learning from your sources about the diary. On the one hand, adjust tactics. Maybe they're protecting Washington. Maybe they're protecting New York, look elsewhere, smaller cities. Let's start there; active proof that bin Laden was working to the end to get around the efforts to combat him.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: It wasn't just in the diary; it was also in the thumb drives that he was using to communicate with his followers around the globe, including Yemen's al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula. He wasn't just an aspirational figure telling them keep on attack Americans. He was coming up with specific targets.

Saying, for instance, stop with New York. Try L.A. Try smaller American cities with less security. He was also telling his followers look, these smaller-scale attacks, they're not changing American policy. You've got to think about mass casualties, killing as many Americans as possible, in the thousands like 9/11.

KING: And specifically to change the American policy, evidence that he was thinking how many do I have to kill? How grand scale of an attack do we need to get the United States out of Afghanistan?

DOZIER: Absolutely to get them out of all of the Arab world. He decided that the American population was the center of gravity for the U.S. government and that you had to kill at least 1,000 Americans to make a difference, to make an impact. He was also intricately involved in helping target various European cities. He'd suggested to various al Qaeda offshoots, here's what you should hit. Every terror plan that U.S. counterterrorism officials were following in the past couple of years, they know now he was a part of.

KING: And so Fran Townsend, join the conversation. In the sense that for years we were hearing, well, he's hiding in a cave or at least he's so much on the run that he can't be doing command and control. Sure they look at him as their inspirational charismatic leader, but he's not pulling the levers anymore. He's not planning the attacks. How could U.S. intelligence officials, U.S. government officials been so wrong?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well you know I think the story here is just how wrong we were. I mean I was a part of that. We really did believe that communication was so difficult for him that he couldn't have a command and control role. When I talked to a source today in the intelligence community, he said to me, look, he had a greater role than we expected but these communications from these thumb drives, these removable discs and thumb drives took a long time.

And so when you think of his role he did, there certainly is, as Kimberly says, plots, direction, you know guidance, commander's guidance, if you will, but these things took time back and forth. But John, we did -- we do just looking backwards now, see some evidence of his influence. Remember here in New York there was the (INAUDIBLE) case against the subway. And you realize that as he was suggesting smaller scales, this is -- you know, it was still in New York, but he did mention trains in this cache of material and so clearly he had more than just influence or inspiration. He had a hand on the operational levers of al Qaeda.

KING: I want to get back into the specific details, but Fran I just want to follow up on this point because it is what comes to mind. If they were so wrong about bin Laden and his role, what else should we be worried about that we're being told that is wrong?

TOWNSEND: Well you know, let's talk about who do we think is going to take over. You know we hear a lot of Zawahiri, his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who's been his deputy. We understand -- intelligence has told us and they've said it publicly, difficult figure, doesn't have the reach that bin Laden had, isn't able to sort of corral the various affiliates like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the way that bin Laden did. I think we have to find out now whether or not that's right. I mean given that our judgment on bin Laden was wrong, how right, how wrong are we on Ayman al-Zawahiri?

KING: Well Kim Dozier, what are you learning about that in the sense that the communication network, whether or not there was any shift, any rift, perhaps if bin Laden was more active and how did it work? He -- maybe he scribbled some things in his journal, other things are sent by courier on thumb drives to protect them.

DOZIER: The journal's been described to me as his daily thoughts. They're still going through it. They know it's his handwriting. But they couldn't even tell me today what sort of Arabic, what sort of dialect it was written in. The thumb drives were his long-term way of directing these operations. Now the one positive thing that counterterrorism officials have taken away from this is if he was such an influential shepherd guiding his flock, maybe there really is nobody who can step into this role and they're taking some comfort in that.

KING: Could you also make the case, Fran Townsend, that if he, bin Laden was actually running the show all this time -- and I'm going to say this with some considerable caution -- but in that period of time, we have not had grand-scale attacks. And so you could say well he was still in charge, but he was unable to deliver on the scale that he had hoped.

TOWNSEND: I think that's right, John. I mean look, the capability of al Qaeda because of sort of efforts, again, in Afghanistan, efforts against the activities in the tribal areas, and here in the United States, better intelligence, better law enforcement, better sharing of information, it had become much more difficult for al Qaeda to pull off a successful operation.

And it's interesting, while he talks about don't focus on just the big cities like New York, focus other places and on smaller scales, that's not really consistent with the other piece we find in the diary, that you have to kill thousands in order to get the attention of the Americans. And so intelligence officials are going to have to go through this and sort through those inconsistencies.

KING: And as they sort through them, what is your sense in the -- I'm going to say early days? We're about you know 10 days out now and when you talk about the volume of material, thousands of computer files, the handwritten journal, some videotapes, some paper documents and the like, what is the evolving sense of --

DOZIER: What they're trying to do is speed through these hundred or so thumb drives, the five computers and all the handwritten stuff to try to figure out are there any plots that they weren't aware of? Is there anything that -- out there on the horizon that's about to happen? So far, the good thing is they know -- they were tracking everything al Qaeda was plotting. No surprises yet.

KING: No surprises yet. And anything to Fran's point about is there -- is there perhaps -- have we been wrong about the succession, been wrong that it would definitely be al-Zawahiri -- anything from your sources suggesting whether it's tension between the number one and the number two or anything to that degree? DOZIER: Everything I'm hearing from intelligence officials is Zawahiri is not popular with his followers. He's Egyptian. Most of them are Saudi. There's a religious tension between them. And Zawahiri just has a reputation for being arrogant and as one intelligence official put it to me, not very good with bringing his followers into the planning process. They don't like that about him.

KING: And Fran, lastly, help me understand how the intelligence process will work in the sense that you have this new volume of information and the people analyzing it, many of them are the people who were wrong. What is the challenge of making sure you sort of reset your perspective buttons as you study?

TOWNSEND: You know John I actually think people are, inside the intelligence and law enforcement community, because it's an interagency task force that sort of helps put aside sort of preconceived notions. People are incredibly enthusiastic and excited about getting into this and understanding where we're wrong, what can we learn from it. And, you know, this has been pushed out even beyond the FBI.

I talked to a source in the Customs and Border Patrol who said they're getting lead information. And so this is being spread so widely throughout the U.S. government. The good news to that is it's less likely you're going to suffer from groupthink. People are going to act on this and I think you're going to get a better sense of how this organization operates at least under bin Laden and see what you can learn from that as it moves forward.

KING: Fascinating stuff, some of it very scary, we will stay on top of it here. Fran, appreciate your help. Kim, great report, we'll see you again. Thank you for coming in.

Omar bin Laden drew international attention a few years ago when he denounced violence and said he did not support his father's terrorist activities. Now the 30-year-old bin Laden is lashing out at President Obama, saying he needs evidence his father is dead and suggesting the United States violated international law in killing the al Qaeda leader.

Does he have a case? CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin with us -- Jeff, start right there. Is there a case to be made, whether it's by bin Laden's son or anyone else, that this raid in Pakistan was a violation of international law?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely not at two levels. First there is international law. There are rights of self- defense that were implicated here because of bin Laden's repeated attacks on the United States that would certainly justify this attack, so certainly as a legal matter, if it ever got into court, the United States would be on very solid ground.

Second, there's the question of what court, how? It is very unclear to me that Omar bin Laden could go to an American court -- could go to an international court in the Hague and actually have the standing, have the legal right to even bring a case like this. So I think this is really a political gesture by bin Laden's son. It's not a serious legal one.

KING: And, again, I'm going to play devil's advocate here and then I'll tell you what I really think, but playing devil's advocate, you know there's a ban on assassinations by the United States. Does that apply to anything like this? Is there anything you could find, if you had to in law school say OK, I disagree with this, but I have to prove the other side, where would you be looking?

TOOBIN: Well in the 1970s, there were the church committee which -- in the Senate, pointed out that the United States had tried to assassinate Fidel Castro several different times. And the government put in this ban on political assassinations. But this is not a political assassination. Bin Laden, Osama bin Laden was a military leader who was in active hostilities against the United States. Fidel Castro was a political leader of a country with which we did not have a military conflict. There really is no comparison there. So I don't think there is really a close legal question here at all.

KING: It's a hypothetical we do not have to deal with, but had he been taken alive, what would we have been looking at from a legal perspective?

TOOBIN: Well we would have been looking at job security for me for quite some time, I think. I mean this would have been a legal nightmare. They probably would have brought him to Guantanamo. There would have been a military tribunal. There would have been all sorts of difficult questions about allowing him access to evidence. Who would his lawyer be? Would he be allowed to represent himself?

Would he be allowed to use the trial for propaganda purposes? It would have been an absolute multiyear legal nightmare for the Obama administration, for the country, for the victims of 9/11. I think everyone in connection with the legal system was breathing a sigh of relief that the country and the world didn't have to go through that.

KING: Excellent point in closing from Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst. And you know sometimes we make fun of some of the things Vice president Biden says. Today he was asked about this, is this a violation of international law and he said, "Are you kidding me", amen to the vice president tonight --

TOOBIN: I think he had a good legal point.

KING: He had an excellent political and legal point there. Still ahead for us tonight, Newt Gingrich declares his 2012 presidential bid. Are Republicans up for going back to the future? And President Obama plans a new outreach effort to Muslims, hoping the death of bin Laden and the dramatic Arab spring means an opening for better relations. Fareed Zakaria with us to discuss the opportunities and the risks -- that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The White House announced today that President Obama is planning a major address, perhaps as early as next week, with a goal of reaching out to Muslims around the world, the death of Osama bin Laden and the dramatic political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa present the president with some remarkable opportunities, but there are huge problems and challenges as well.

Let's begin there with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Early in the administration, he went to Cairo, there was the big speech. Obviously the world -- especially that part of the world, the Muslim world, the Arab world have changed dramatically since in many ways for the better. What's the president's biggest challenge now?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": What I think he's trying to do is to interpret events for the American public and for a larger global public. That was his intention with Cairo 1, as it will be for this speech; let's call it Cairo 2.0, even though it isn't going to be given in Cairo. In many ways, if you think about it, presidents are often remembered for the way in which they provide some meaning to events.

Woodrow Wilson interpreted World War I and America's participation for America, for the world, for history. I think President Obama sees the Arab awakening as a similarly historic event. I think he wants to try to present an interpretation. I know that this idea of a speech was in the works long before Osama bin Laden was assassinated.

Bin Laden, of course, provides a kind of one-two punch. And so it will be part of this broader narrative. But I wouldn't be surprised if a large part of it is devoted to the Arab awakening in the Arab spring.

KING: And the speech happens at a time when the president is urgently engaged in what I'll call some of the older challenges in the region and some of the more recent. They're not really new, but they're more recent. Let's start with the older.

He will have Prime Minister Netanyahu. He will have King Abdullah of Jordan visiting with him. Any prospects -- any prospects at all, especially given the tensions and the disagreements between the American administration and the Israeli government right now of moving the Palestinian peace process into an actual peace process?

ZAKARIA: I think very unlikely for precisely the reason you alluded to. At the end of the day, there isn't going to be any significant movement in that direction unless the Israeli government believes that it is in its interests to do so. Israel has the land. It is the power on the ground. It has the land and the guns. And unless the Israelis decide that they want to go down this path, it turns out there's very little the United States, certainly the united -- the American president can do.

President Obama has made efforts but they have all been rebuffed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He pleads privately that his coalition would fall apart, so you know for all those complicated reasons I think much as the White House would like to see some movement there, much as the King of Jordan would like to see some movement, I think that we will have some of the usual platitudes about the Middle East peace process but no actual peace. KING: And if you expand the map out a little bit you come to the more recent challenges and the one that is flashing red alert at the moment is Pakistan. How does the president both in a global address and then in his day-to-day diplomacy deal with that?

ZAKARIA: It's a fascinating question because you know we've been talking over the last few months about the quandary for the United States in the Arab world, which was that we supported all these Arab dictatorships because we needed them, we needed the stability. But it turned out that we were spawning a very anti-American society underneath those dictatorships.

Well, there's one other country that's like that, one other Arab country that happens to be non-Arab, which is Pakistan. And Pakistan -- this is a big country. It's important to remember when we think about AfPak, Pakistan is 5.5 times the size of Afghanistan in population. Pakistan's population equals half the entire Arab world. And all of al Qaeda's major leaders have been caught there.

It has the highest proportion of Jihadist elements if you look at polls that talk about, you know, support for bin Laden, support for jihad, and the part of our problem is that we support a Pakistani military that does some of the things we want them to, but underneath it is broiling this very chaotic society. So I would suggest that we take the lesson from the Arab world, which is we need to start moving from support for the Pakistani regime and Pakistani state to support for Pakistani society and its people.

KING: In the middle of all this, on this day, we have a statement from Osama bin Laden's son, Omar; a son would has denounced his father's violence, but is now criticizing the president of the United States, saying, you killed an unarmed man. In his view, violated international law and in his view, needs to prove it. Show the family the evidence. Show the world the evidence. Does this matter or is this a son who, whether for a source of grief or for some other reason is speaking out publicly?

ZAKARIA: There will be some controversy around this in small circles. But my sense is, if you look at Pakistan, again, this is the place which is the most dysfunctional in many ways, there have been no serious protests against the killing of bin Laden. There was one protest in Lahore with 500 people and we as good TV journalists have shown it again and again and again. But in fact what was remarkable is that Pakistan has had very few.

There have been none in the Arab world that I know of, none in Egypt. So actually I think the death of Osama bin Laden is quietly being celebrated in the Muslim world, in the Arab world and not celebrated with any kind of fanfare but with a sense of a quiet relief that this man who did so much to hijack the religion, who did so much to besmirch the idea of Islam and the name of Muslims, who is, after all, the reason why Muslims are looked upon suspiciously in every security line in the world, is finally passed from the scene.

KING: Is there any traction to this argument, especially when it involves somebody who bragged about killing thousands, bragged about indiscriminate violence, had no qualms at all about hurting innocent, unarmed civilians whether they be in the World Trade Center or in any place around the world. Is there any traction to the argument that the United States somehow trampled international law in killing Osama bin Laden?

ZAKARIA: Look, we are operating in the war against al Qaeda in a gray zone. It is not a real war in which none of these concerns would apply. Nobody sat and worried about the German soldiers we were killing in World War II. And yet it's not entirely, you know, a peace-time operation. So there are going to be some questions. But I think at the end of the day, for the reasons you outlined, the brutality of al Qaeda, the nihilism, the fact that they were not just willing but happy to kill civilians, women and children, Muslims and non-Muslims.

I can't imagine that there would be much traction to an argument that says that we should have gone through a very different process. I think that the president's words when bin Laden was killed are appropriate. Justice was done. I don't think there are many people who feel Osama bin Laden didn't deserve this.

KING: Nice to have you in Washington. Fareed Zakaria thanks.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: And still ahead here, Newt Gingrich wants to be president. He was once one of America's most polarizing politicians. Can he engineer a makeover and a comeback now?

And floodwaters inch south along the mighty Mississippi, dramatic new images and the very latest on the damage -- that's next

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You want to understand what it's like along portions of the Mississippi River, take a very close look at that picture. Then take a look out your window, eight feet to 10 feet, in some cases 15 feet below that water is a street, is a neighborhood. It is under water. That is Tunica County, Mississippi right there. There are urgent warnings tonight for people who live all along on the Mississippi River.

In Memphis, officials say it's not safe for anyone to come into contact with the floodwaters because those waters are full of contaminants that could lead to serious health problems. And even though the flood's slow moving crest isn't expected south in Greenville, Mississippi, until the 15th, further south, New Orleans, on May 23rd, Louisiana Governor Jindal says people along the Morganza Spillway just above Baton Rouge shouldn't put off evacuating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I don't want people waiting. I don't want them to hesitate about whether they need to make evacuation plans or move their valuables or build these levees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Right now the worst of the flooding is north of Louisiana. CNN's Martin Savidge joins us tonight from Oneida, Arkansas and Marty describe the situation where you are.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you well know the levee system for the most part has done a remarkable job of holding back a historic flood, but there are exceptions as you saw and this is another one of those. Out there what you see a lake should not be there at all. In fact there should be no water at all.

Instead, it should be a farmer's field, but it's now backwater. This is basically coming from a tributary and it's threatening the farmer's home here, so very quickly he erected this dike here. It is about four to six feet tall, runs all around his home. And it is working for the time being. Keeping the water out, mainly thanks to a John Deere tractor you hear humming in the background that is continuing to pump the water. Ricky Davidson is that man with the plan.

I imagine for you tonight the worry is: will that levee hold and will the water stay below it.

RICKY DAVIDSON, RESIDENT: Exactly. It's going to be a very stressful night. I'm sure I'm be out here two or three times if not more checking the water, checking the levee, seeing if I need to crank that pump up before daylight.

SAVIDGE: So, John -- we hope it holds for you, too, Rick. Good luck to you.

And, John, we should point out, he did this, his neighbors did not, their farms, their homes, are now under water. So, that's just one example of one man's battle here to try to keep the floodwaters at bay.

KING: And, Marty, it's a great example, it's a sad example, but it's a great example of the economic impact here as we watch the water moves south. He's not farming, that gentleman, he's using his tractor, and he's using all of his resources now not to make money but to protect his land. His neighbors, of course, their land, as you noticed underwater. We're beginning to come to terms with what is going to be profound economic impact.

SAVIDGE: It is. And it's an economic impact that you can see coming. And despite being prepared for it, it's still going have a major impact. It's just again, one example. That field out there, you'd have 120 acres of corn, you'd also have 600 acres on top of that, that's planted with other crops here.

Some of those crops already on the field, they're lost, water on the field probably for another month and a half or so. So you can't plant, and on and on. And you multiply that amongst the number of farms.

Take a look at the gambling industry in the state of Mississippi. Sixteen river casinos now closed. That means thousands of people who work there are temporarily out of work. It means the state isn't gaining revenue from the tax it gets from the gaming industry -- on and on and on, John.

We talk about the economic impact, not to mention small businesses along the river probably wiped out.

So, that's just two states and this is a flood that continues to roll on downstream, heading for more.

KING: Martin Savidge, live for us tonight.

And about 150 miles down the river from Oneida is Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they're expecting to break high water records as the flood's crest again moves slowly South.

CNN's Casey Wian is in Vicksburg for us tonight.

And, Casey, you just heard Marty talking about makeshift levees, makeshift walls, in Oneida, Arkansas. How we coping down in Vicksburg?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here, just north of Vicksburg, where I am, you can see one of the areas that is a big problem spot for the Army Corps of Engineers and other officials.

Over my left shoulder is the Yazoo River, it's one of the trip tributaries to the Mississippi River. They're very much concerned that his river is going to back up from the floodwaters from the Mississippi and overflow the levees here. And you can look, as we pan over here to my right, you can see Highway 61 off in the distance. And then, over on the other side, that water -- that is water that has flooded out of the Mississippi River already.

Army Corps of Engineer officials are predicting that U.S. Route 61 right there is going to flood over probably on Friday. And this road could remain closed for up to three weeks.

Now, if we can look back at some of the historical footage that were shot back in 1927, the record flood, record water levels back then. Army Corps of Engineers officials say that they expect the water level here to be even higher than that, back in 1927. But because of this incredible system of levees that they have built over the last several decades and fortified over the last several days, John, they're not expecting the damage to be anywhere near as significant as it was back then -- John.

KING: It's remarkable -- remarkable -- to see that historic footage. And we hope -- we hope -- it is less problematic this time.

Casey Wian is live for us -- thanks.

And if you are watching last night, you know I was down in the flood zone, came back from Mississippi just this morning. I just want to come back to the map here to make a few points. First, just show you basically what the point of the levee is. This is an animation CNN made and it's pretty obvious. This is -- imagine the ground being level here. The river comes up. Without the levee, it overflows quite quickly, that's what Marty Savidge was talking about, that gentleman's farm.

Now, with the levee, again, if you think about it, it's fairly simple. Think about it, you see the levee, they've built up a berm on both sides. Often they're just dirt and mounds, sometimes they're made with other materials. But the levee, the goal is to block it out.

I want to show you from our trip to Mississippi, one of the things they're worried about. We'll bring up these images here and play this out. This is new work on a levee. We flew over this yesterday. Tunica County, Mississippi, here, you can see some trucks, as this moving along, they're bringing in dirt, bringing in dirt.

Now, why are they bringing in dirt so urgently? Because they already have seen the Mississippi River is on this side in the foreground. This is farmland in the back. You can se sometimes, you see wet, you see blue up there, already water beginning to seep through and come underneath -- a huge problem.

They are hoping all this urgent work keeps that levee intact. That is one worry up here in Tunica, Mississippi.

Just want to show you, again, what this looks like when you get in close. And I'm going to play the video. Imagine you have a bird cage in your backyard. How high up is that? You're standing, maybe it's 10 or 12 feet in the air, you saw it's just out of the water.

I want to stop this right here for a minute. Come in close on this house. Imagine -- walk over to a window in your house and think about this -- this house is on eight-foot stilts, eight-foot stilts. That's, again, another three, 3 1/2 feet up from the floor of the house right there. That's 11-12 feet of water right there. That's that house alone.

As we came through this neighborhood on a boat, it is heartbreaking, 330 homes, all of them like this. None of them are dry. One with 15 foot stilts just barely on the water level.

Again, as you walk through, look out the window tonight, when you maybe go out to the car and go to work tomorrow. Look up at the street lights. Can you reach up and change that light? We're in the boat coming through right here -- you can reach up and touch the lights. You see the power transformers here.

Again think of perspective. How high is that up in your neighborhood?

You want to watch this as you come through again. Here's another problem, power lines. Power lines down right here.

There's something else in the neighborhood when you go through. I want you to listen to the fire chief here. As we went through on the boat, we also saw a number of propane tanks floating around. You could smell the gas in the air. That, the fire chief told us, a health hazard and a worry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF SCOTT GOFF, TUNICA COUNTY, FIRE DEPARTMENT: We'll probably have -- actually have out here is these propane tanks, as you can smell propane out here, all the gas companies just come out here and tied them up. But worst thing is, they tied them up with rope instead of chains.

KING: No, no.

GOFF: So much pressure, they finally broke loose, you know? Now, they've tilted over and started to leak. So -- then you have that kind of health hazard out here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, you could smell the gas in the air as we rode through on the boat. I just want to show, just again, power line. Power was shut off. The sewage system shut off.

All these homes -- we saw several flags going through here -- this house is on 10-foot stilts, to see it like that. Three hundred and thirty homes in that community all destroyed, only 25 with health insurance. We must keep our eye on this in the days and weeks ahead.

Next here for us, televangelist Billy Graham is in the hospital tonight.

And Moammar Gadhafi, he's on Libyan state TV. That's significant, and we'll tell you why, next.

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

The Reverend Billy Graham is in a Nashville, North Carolina hospital after having trouble breathing last night. Initial test suggest pneumonia. But a spokesman says Reverend Graham, who is 92, is in good spirits and signed all the hospital forms himself.

Libya state-controlled television showed a clip of Moammar Gadhafi tonight. The announcer saying this proves the perseverance and the prominence of the Libyan leader and its nation. Gadhafi had not been seen since last month when a NATO raid killed several members of his family.

Retired General Ricardo Sanchez, who is the top U.S. military commander in Iraq back in 2003 and 2004, filed papers today to run for the United States Senate from Texas. Significantly, he's running as a Democrat. Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to the United States Senate in nearly two decades. Up next, another new candidate, Newt Gingrich announces he's running for president. Republican nomination in his side first. Does the GOP want to go back to the future?

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KING: Two hundred and seventy-one days to the Iowa caucuses. Newt Gingrich tonight has one from exploring a bid for presidency to officially declaring his candidacy for president. First, of course, he has to get the Republican nomination.

Let's take a look at the career of Newt Gingrich. Back in 1978, he was first elected to Congress from a district just outside of Atlanta in Georgia. Back in 1994, by then, he had risen to the Republican leadership.

Look over here -- that's now Speaker John Boehner, then a rank- and-file Republican. This is Newt Gingrich announcing the Republican Contract with America. This was their campaign platform.

Listen to how then-Congressman Gingrich described it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: We are in the business of re-establishing the right to pursue happiness and the reality of the American Dream for every child born in this country, every child who comes to this country, because that is what it means to be an American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some credit the contract, some say it had nothing to do with it -- but either way, Republicans had a huge election year.

Hello to our old friend Bernie Shaw there.

November 8, 1994, the Republicans took 52 seats and control of the House of Representatives. That meant Dick Gephardt, the Democratic, had to hand the gavel to the Republican. January 4th, 1995, Republican Newt Gingrich becomes speaker of the House of Representatives. He, of course, sparred repeatedly with the Democratic President Bill Clinton, including government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. Remember, they also worked together, though, on welfare reform and a balanced budget agreement.

In November 6th, 1998, the speaker, dealing with ethic problems and other issues, announced he would not seek a third term as speaker. Not long after that, he left the United States Congress. He's been a FOX News commentator, been active in conservative causes since. He has flirted with running for president before.

But today, today, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker from Georgia, made it official.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: We can return America to hope and opportunity, to full employment, to real security, to an American energy program, to a balanced budget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: No one doubts Speaker Gingrich's intellect. But many wonder if he has the political discipline and the personal story voters look for in a president.

Ed Gillespie is a veteran Republican strategist, former top Bush White House adviser, who knows the Speaker Gingrich well from his days as a top GOP aide on Capitol Hill.

Ed, let's just start right there. When you look at Newt Gingrich, what is your biggest -- your biggest doubt -- about his ability to be the Republican nominee and ultimately president?

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think any former legislature is going to have to address questions in the voter's minds in primary -- amongst Republican primary voters, you know, what is your executive experience? How can you demonstrate to us that you can lead a nation?

KING: You know this from when you were working on Capitol in the Republican leadership. He is someone who is incredibly smart when it comes to policy, people at home might agree or disagree with him. Very smart, a very nimble intellect. But he also sometimes says things that get him in trouble, get his party into trouble.

More -- in recent years, he's talked about -- to understand President Obama, you have to, quote, "understand his Kenyan anti- colonial behavior." He says things sometimes, we in politics like to say, his tongue gets out ahead of the brain. Is that a problem?

GILLESPIE: That is definitely one of the questions. And people will be watching, you know, the analysts and the pundits and the commentators and the political strategists like myself, will be watching him to see, you know, if he demonstrates the kind of discipline that's necessary to capture the nomination and go on to win the White House.

KING: It's an important point, because those who remember Gingrich as speaker and those who have followed him as a FOX News commentator, he can be a pretty polarizing figure. Some Republicans love him, some Democrats can't stand him. The question is: can he get people in the middle?

I asked him about that when I ran into him a little bit ago. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Newt Gingrich was a fairly polarizing figure, was involved in some pretty polarizing debates at the time. Is that -- how does that weigh when you travel and talk to people? GINGRICH: Sometimes, telling the truth is polarizing. Camus wrote that a man who says two plus two equals four can sometimes be killed because the authorities can't stand the truth. And so, sometimes, what Reagan did -- I tried to study Reagan and Thatcher and Lincoln, because I think they were the great truth tellers of modern politics. Sometimes you can tell people in the establishment go nuts because it's not the truth they want to hear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There are not many candidates, Ed Gillespie, that quote Camus. But we won't dwell on that.

We asked about Newt Gingrich, opinion of Newt Gingrich in our poll -- 30 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable, 26 percent, unsure.

A 44 percent unfavorable is not a good place to start a campaign for president.

GILLESPIE: I think that 2012 is going to be a very big election. It's going to be over big things -- the direction of the country, the economy, national security, the war on terror, all the things that are in play.

And the bigger, the better, I suspect, for Speaker Gingrich. You know, he's someone who revels in big ideas. And so, you know, I think some of these concerns, legitimate concerns. He's going to have to address them. But I think his bet is, though people will look past some of those concerns because -- because he has the kind of big ideas that the country's looking for now.

KING: Do you think a concern they will look past -- and you hear this when you talk to social conservatives in Iowa, social conservatives in South Carolina, is the that fact he's been married three times?

GILLESPIE: That will be an issue for a segment of the Republican primary electorate, in particularly, in the two early states you mentioned, in Iowa and South Carolina.

But, look, you know, if the concern over, you know, a third marriage is disqualifying in the voters' minds, Gingrich is not going to be able to convince them otherwise. They're outside his reach from the get-go. I don't think they're a majority of the voters though and he's got to piece together a coalition of voters who don't have that, don't consider that to be disqualifying in order to capture the nomination.

And, you know, the fact that the rules have changed in the Republican primary in a way where many of the states, you know, in March, are proportional delegates, you know, that may mitigate against that in some ways.

KING: Ed Gillespie, the veteran Republican strategist. We'll check in as this campaign continues. Now, let's get a Democratic perspective from CNN contributor James Carville. He was a top adviser to President Clinton. Back in those days, Clinton negotiated a balanced budget deal with Mr. Gingrich. But the president also seethed back then when then-Speaker Gingrich had a prominent role in the House impeachment drama.

James, I'm going to ask you as a Democrat and someone who has a friendly relationship with Speaker Gingrich, what do you view as his greatest strength?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I admire his gumption to subject himself to what he's getting ready to go through. And, you know, he'll throw some -- he'll throw some ideas out there.

The problem is, if I was, you know -- I don't believe in attacking a guy on his wedding day, his announcement day, the day he die. So, I'm going to try to be as gracious as I can here. If he can throw ideas and not bombs, he -- you know, he could make an effect on that race. He could do pretty well.

KING: But you have him down on your class. And, again, you do have a pretty good relationship with him --

CARVILLE: I did, I did.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I was there that day when he came and spoke to your class. What's your sense? You know, we all said in 2008, you know, here's Obama, this guy who has energized and inspired young people, got young people to organize, get out there and be active.

Is Newt Gingrich a past generation guy or can he hook up with the new generation?

CARVILLE: Well, he's certainly trying. You know, the Twitter deal going and he's -- you know what I mean? He's got a different kind of announcement. He certainly sort of fashioned himself -- or hopes that he's somebody that can connect with younger people. That remains to be seen. That's going to be a steep hill for him to climb.

But, you know, he gets out there -- you got to give the guy a chance.

KING: Are you being nice to him because you have a friendly relationship with him or are you being nice to him because you don't think he has no prayer to beat the Republican nominee, so you're just being nice?

CARVILLE: Well, you know, I'm trying to be -- I do have somewhat of a relationship with him but I've attacked him pretty, you know? I mean, wow, go back and see some of the things I've said about him and probably some of the things I will say before this is over. But it's his announcement day. And I think that we -- you know, we ought to give everybody a fair shot on the announcement day. And then call me tomorrow and I'll probably have some less kind things. KING: Let me listen -- this is from the announcement video you just mentioned. And you're being nice to him on his announcement day. One of the things he's trying to do is for people who look back at his past, he wants to say, you know, when I was speaker, things were pretty good in the country. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: Unemployment came down from 5.6 percent to under 4 percent. And for four years, we balanced the budget and paid off $405 billion in debt. We've done it before. We can do it again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, President Clinton could cut that same video. Does Newt Gingrich deserve equal success? That would be something, as a Clinton guy, you would say, those were the achievements of our administration. Can Speaker Gingrich claim them as well?

CARVILLE: That's not an offensive thing that he does. I disagree with it, but he's trying to point to the fact that he did something as speaker of the House. I think it's a fair point for him to make. I don't agree with it. I don't think any historian, anybody else, agrees with it. But it's a fair point for him to make.

KING: A diplomatic James Carville on day one of the Newt Gingrich for president campaign --

CARVILLE: It is his announcement day. But believe me, I'll have -- we'll have more to say.

KING: If he takes up, I suspect your tone will shift a little bit. James, I appreciate your time.

Next here, your views from space that offered dramatic proof -- dramatic proof -- of the Mississippi's ominous power.

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KING: The most urgent concern when this happens, this is Tunica County, Mississippi, the most urgent concern here: safety. Get out. Second, probably: grab your possessions. Then, though, as the waters recede, some people here -- and it will be weeks before they recede, we are told, maybe four to six weeks -- some people think, can I rebuild?

Now, most of these homes, we were told, are destroyed. But if you look again at the water, look at the water as you go through here, some of that water is four feet deep in the homes; some of it three to five.

Look at that, just imagine that's your house. There's the window. So, that's about that high. So, you got three feet of water right there. How much would it take -- if you could, if you could, and officials are very skeptical, how much would it take to rebuild those homes? As you noted earlier, 330 homes in that neighborhood, only 25 of them had flood insurance -- only 25 of them. About $68,000 if you have three feet of water in 1,000-square-foot home, about $68,000. Why? You have to clean it up. You have electrical and plumbing work. You need new flooring. You need new carpets, dry wall and installation.

You get the picture. We're doing the whole house here, $68,000.

So, if you don't have insurance, you are in a lot of trouble.

Let's close tonight with a look at the power of the river here. Look at this -- look at this. This is West Memphis. That's across the river in Arkansas.

Memphis, Tennessee, here. This is beforehand. Look at all the dry, the brown is the dry, right? You see the river running through the middle here. That's the Mississippi River. That's how it's supposed to be. Widen the picture.

Watch this as we come through. Look at this, water, everywhere. Again, that's what it looks like now. That's what it's supposed to look like. That's one from West Memphis.

Let's show you one more from down here in Vicksburg, Mississippi. And, remember, they're down here, it has not, it has not crested yet. This is the worst is still coming down here.

You see the water? Look at that. There's already water. Before, no water up here. You see the water here? They still have a week or so before the worse comes there.

We're going to keep an eye on this story as it plays out over the next several weeks and moves south. We'll see you right here tomorrow night.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.