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JOHN KING, USA

New Warnings; Feuding Friends; IMF Chief on Bail; A New Candidate

Aired May 20, 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 tonight from the State Capitol in Concord, New Hampshire. We spent some time here today with a man who a month ago called President Obama boss but is now selling himself, very politely, mind you, as the best Republican to win the White House next year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That doesn't mean somebody is better than the next guy. It just means you have a different approach to problem solving and doing business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More on Jon Huntsman and the sudden surge in the 2012 campaign pace in a moment. Plus, Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves Rikers Island jail, free on bail but not welcome in the Upper East Side apartment where he had planned to live while fighting sex assault charges.

But up first tonight, two breaking global challenges, the Obama administration issues a new warning because of intelligence seized at Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Chris Lawrence is live from the Pentagon with more on that -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what we've been able to determine is that al Qaeda thought the best way to hijack some of these oil tankers and really hurt oil and natural gas interests was to hijack one of the oil tankers and then detonate their explosives from the inside. They also recommended using scout ships to observe how these oil tankers move and even doing trial runs.

It says that their ultimate goal was to plunge the U.S. into some sort of economic crisis by disrupting oil supplies for years to come. And based on all the intelligence that the Navy SEALs carried out of bin Laden's compound, the Homeland Security Department and the FBI issued this warning to police departments and oil companies across the U.S. because what they found is there's a continuing emphasis by al Qaeda through this year to target those oil and natural gas interests -- John.

KING: And so Chris, what specifically is being done now because of the warning? LAWRENCE: Well, because they don't have actionable intelligence, John, in other words, they don't have a specific target on a specific date, that's why they didn't go as far as issuing a full alert. So what they're doing is warning their partners saying remember those random screenings, remember to instruct people how to report suspicious activity, and also remember to go over your protocols and instruct your people. Stay vigilant because we know the targets are out there.

KING: Chris Lawrence tonight live at the Pentagon. Chris thanks for that.

Now on to feuding friends -- President Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu come face to face at the White House.

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BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language. And that's going to happen between friends.

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KING: The Israeli leader is described by close allies as seething at the president's public push for peace talks with the Palestinians to resume around the framework of Israel returning to its 1967 borders. And while the president steered clear of the specifics of that dust-up in their joint appearance, the prime minister addressed it head on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Remember that before 1967 Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars because the attack on Israel was so attractive (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is a remarkable family feud playing out on the global stage and an instant flash-point in domestic politics as well as some pro-Israel Democrats cringe and the president's conservative critics accuse him of abandoning a long-time Democratic ally. Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry was watching as the drama unfolded today and is live for us tonight. Ed, take us inside that meeting.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was extremely tense. This meeting was supposed to be pretty short but it was a one-on-one meeting that lasted over 95 minutes in the Oval Office. It gives you an idea that they had a lot to talk about. The White House strategy in yesterday's speech had been look, if you throw out this border issue and put it out there favorably to the Palestinians they may come back to the peace talks. But as you can see from the prime minister, the Israeli feeling is that look, if you do that you're asking the Israelis to compromise before you even get to the table and give in on a big, big issue. So that's why it was -- the body language was fascinating because the prime minister really looked like he was almost lecturing. He was giving a history lesson in that sound bite you heard right there, like look, this is what was going on before 1967, Mr. President. You need to know this.

And so that was pretty tough. And both men in their comments, though, tried to downplay the differences and insist that they were going to work all of this out and that may be part of the untold story here. I've got two officials close to the talks telling me that these two men actually talk on the phone a lot more privately than we ever hear about, than they ever tell us publicly. And so while they disagree on some of these big issues, they can disagree agreeably but talk some of this out.

But we'll see whether they can make any progress. This peace process, quote, unquote, "is not really a process right now". It's seriously off track. We'll see. While they talk, there are some officials close to them who say they still don't trust each other -- John.

KING: The trust issue, the trust issue -- Ed Henry -- fascinating report from Ed tonight. For more now let's dig deeper on this relationship. I'm joined in Washington by Mark Regev. He's a veteran of U.S.-Israeli relations, currently the spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And Mark, let me begin with this question. How much of the disagreement between these two men, and we know there are disagreements between the two of them, how much of it is on the substance, the prime minister we know to be angry over the president of the United States bringing up the '67 borders, and how much of it is style, they are very different men, the president of the United States more professorial, the prime minister of Israel more, to be frank, a bit of a pit bull?

MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN FOR BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I think this isn't about people. This is about principles. And I think both the United States and Israel want to see the peace process move forward. But the most important thing is to anchor the peace process in reality, in good policy and we would argue if you take the issue of borders, which is one of the issues that needs to be resolved, and you deal it in isolation of the other issues you're making a mistake.

And I'll explain why. How can Israel decide where the final border is going to be between us and the future Palestinian state in a framework of peace, how can we decide that unless we know what are the arrangements on the other side of the border? Is the Palestinian state going to be a democratic state? Is it going to be a peace- loving state? Is it going to have more claims on Israel? We want to know all these things. And you can't decide where the border is going to be without answers on those questions. KING: Well, if I listen to what you just said, you want to process the conversations based on reality. Are you saying the president of the United States, Israel's best friend in the world, the president of the United States does not have a reality-based view of what's happening on the ground?

REGEV: Look, America is Israel's best friend. And we know that. And friends don't have to agree all the time. I mean, anyone who's studied the American-Israeli relationship knows that we don't always agree. But it's the same with a relationship, the special relationship you have with London or with Tokyo.

Friends are allowed to disagree. Friends have to be frank and honest with each other. And that's what happened today. We had a good conversation, and we were frank and honest.

KING: You say a good conversation today. Explain what happened yesterday. The prime minister, I'm told, called the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. He did not like when he was told what was going to be in the president's speech. He argued that it be removed, and many people have described that conversation as quite testy.

REGEV: I think it was an honest conversation. But ultimately, let's be clear, we want similar things. We want to see peace. We want to see reconciliation. We want to see the extremists defeated. And this is why we've got a fundamental problem in the peace process today, because the current Palestinian government has decided instead of going for peace with Israel they've decided to embrace the extremists.

They've formed this pact with Hamas. Now, as you know, Hamas just two weeks ago condemned your country, condemned the United States for taking out bin Laden. They attack civilians. They shot an anti- tank missile just a short while back at a school bus, killing a young school -- a teenager, a 16-year-old boy. These are extremists. And we say to the Palestinian leadership, if you want peace, if you're serious about peace, you have to annul this pact with Hamas.

KING: There are those, and you know your prime minister has many critics. There are those who say he doesn't want to sit down with the Palestinians at this moment to begin with, and there are those who are now saying because of this dust-up with the president of the United States that he would feel backed into a corner. And what happened yesterday has actually set back some of the prospects of any negotiations in the near term. Is that an accurate portrayal?

REGEV: I think the major problem holding back negotiations today is this pact between Fatah and Hamas. But if the Palestinian leadership was to take good advice and they were to annul this pact and to move forward in negotiations, I believe it's possible to move ahead in peace. If the Palestinians are serious, they'll find a very eager partner in Israel because no one wants peace more than Israel. And we're ready, as my prime minister said earlier this week, we're ready for tough choices, for painful concessions, but for real peace. Now, if that's on the table, it can be achieved. But it depends on the Palestinians. KING: It's clear, though, it's clear, let's focus on the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is clear that there are some frictions, some tensions, some mistrust, I'm not sure what the right word is, maybe you can help me, diplomats like to use the term "confidence-building measures". What can these two leaders do to repair and rebuild this relationship?

REGEV: First of all, I think the disagreements have been exaggerated. But let me say the following. We had a good day today. I mean the two leaders spent almost two hours together one-on-one in conversations. We're going to be continuing our discussions with the United States. We want this process to move forward.

Ultimately, what has Israel proposed? Israel wants to see two states for two peoples. Ultimately, the ingredient for peace is a democratic Palestinian state which is demilitarized and recognizes the Jewish state. And that's what my prime minister said today. He said peace has to be anchored in recognition. We have to hear from the Palestinian leadership that they recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

We're not foreigners. We're not conquerors. We have a history in our land. And we want to hear from our neighbors that they see us as a legitimate part of the neighborhood because ultimately, if we're illegitimate in their eyes, what sort of peace are they offering us?

KING: Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a veteran of these conversations and negotiations. Mark, appreciate your insights tonight. We'll keep in touch as this drama plays out.

Let's turn now to David Gergen. He navigated the ups and downs of the U.S.-Israeli relations during his time advising four American presidents. David, when you listen to this play out, Prime Minister Netanyahu is sitting right next to the president of the United States lecturing -- Ed Henry's term -- repeating his view about 1967 borders, essentially sitting in the Oval Office next to the president saying Mr. President, you're wrong.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's pretty tough stuff, John, and I do think it's partly about personalities. These two men have never liked each other. They don't respect each other for different reasons. And I don't think they trust each other. So this -- but they realize they've got to live in the same world and try to make some progress here.

I think it must be a surprise and not what the White House wanted out of the speech yesterday, which they -- you know the main purpose of that speech was to send a clear message to the Arab world about America's embrace of the democratic movements there. And instead now the day after they're embroiled in these disputes with the Israelis.

I cannot imagine that's what they really wanted. There are some sharp differences here. But I do think the differences between Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama have been exaggerated. I think Mark was right about that, especially on the 1967 borders. KING: You think exaggerated. But has there been a time -- the last I can remember where it's been so public, the disagreements between an Israeli leader and an American president or an Israeli government and an American administration, we'll go back to George H.W. Bush, when Jim Baker was trying to go to the region, there were some tensions there. Do you remember a time since when it's been so open?

GERGEN: Well, they got into pretty sharp disagreements over the settlements issue early in the Obama administration, when the Israelis felt that the president made demands of them that no prime minister could accept regardless of political background and the Israelis pushed back really, really hard as you'll recall. And there was a lot of -- a lot of fur that flew then.

And I think actually it was from that early set of exchanges that really helped to sour this relationship. Now, you asked what could they do to put this thing back together, clearly, the White House is considering the possibility of President Obama visiting Israel sometime between now and the 2012 elections. He has visited many countries in the Arab Middle East. He has not been to Israel as president.

KING: You mentioned elections. The opposition leader in Israel said President Obama is right and Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to be nudged if not kicked into the peace process. Back here in the United States the president's conservative critics have rushed out statements saying he has thrown Israel under the bus. How much do domestic politics maybe in both countries complicate things at this delicate moment?

GERGEN: A lot, John, and there are a variety of reports that there were some tensions and disputes within the president's own team about how far to go yesterday on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Indeed, there are reports that one of the reasons George Mitchell left was he felt that the United States ought to put a proposal on the table, and there were those in the White House who did not want to do it because they thought it was too close to the 2012 elections. So I think there's no question it was in the background. And I'm sure Tom Donilon, his national security adviser, his old political hand, who knows politics you know just like you do, he's very, very good at it, that had to be part of his considerations just to make sure that he kept the president in a safe position.

But I must say again, I think that in many ways Bibi Netanyahu aggressively seized on the president's speech and made more of it than was actually I think intended because you know, he wants a basis for saying no to a lot of this going forward. He's got some very good points about Hamas. When he says Hamas is, you know, like al Qaeda to the Israelis that rings really true. And he's clearly concerned about his own politics.

KING: David Gergen, appreciate your insights tonight, as always. Thank you, David.

(CROSSTALK) Now, the president's disagreement with Israel was one of the topics I discussed today -- thank you, David -- the president's disagreement with Israel was one of the topics I discussed today with Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman. He's the former Utah governor who until a month ago was Mr. Obama's ambassador to China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Would you tell the prime minister of Israel go into talks with the Palestinians and start with the premise that you start with the 1967 borders?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: I would say you know best how to conduct this negotiation. It has gone on for a very long time and likely will continue going on a very long time. We can't force these issues. We have to make sure that security, economic development, settlements, regional security, the changing nature of the Middle East, that we couldn't even have conceived of six months ago, that all of that is taken into proper consideration at the negotiating table. And that's best left up to both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.

KING: So the U.S. should pull back, not get as involved? President Clinton had his hands on. President Bush at the end tried to get --

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: It's a role for us to play, but I think when we start defining you know pre-'67 war borders we're probably pre-empting discussions that may get them there eventually, probably will eventually. But they have to take it at their pace and they have to make sure that it's cued up with all of the other issues that matter as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More with Governor Huntsman later, including how he explains his glowing praise of the president to a very anti-Obama Republican base.

But next, free on bail but persona non grata. Dominique Strauss- Kahn is out of jail tonight but not without a last-minute twist.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Live tonight from the New Hampshire State Capitol in Concord, New Hampshire tonight. Here because the pace of presidential politicking suddenly picking up. More on that in a moment, but there's other important news tonight. Former International Monetary Fund Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, well he is out of jail tonight. His biggest problem today wasn't coming up with the million dollars he needed to make bail. It was figuring out where he'd go once he was released from Rikers Island -- CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti here to explain -- Susan. SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. You know the media is standing shoulder-to-shoulder at this hour at a spot in downtown Manhattan where they hope to catch their first glimpse of Dominique Strauss-Kahn since he was released from Rikers Island jail earlier this afternoon. It's a release that nearly didn't happen.

A plan to release him hit a snafu when the place where he was planning to live wouldn't let him stay there. That led to a court hearing this afternoon to discuss the issue. The judge agreed to allow the former IMF chief to live in a temporary location for a few days until a more permanent apartment can be arranged. Why wasn't he allowed to stay at the first place? Here's Strauss-Kahn's lawyer.

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WILLIAM TAYLOR, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The reason that he had to move is because members of the press attempted to invade his private residence and interfered with his family's privacy --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: There certainly has been a lot of media interest in this story. And even with this new location they certainly aren't staying away -- John.

KING: Not staying away. Susan, he's out on bail. He put up the money. He has a place at least temporarily to stay. What about any other restrictions on Mr. Strauss-Kahn?

CANDIOTTI: Well, he does have them. In fact, the only reason he can leave this place is for a medical emergency. Now, he'll be a little less restricted once he moves to a permanent location. And at that point he can leave only if he gives prosecutors six hours' notice of his plans. And there will be constant monitoring of his whereabouts -- John.

KING: Susan, you've been reporting on this story from the very beginning. What's the latest you're hearing about the investigation into exactly what happened -- alleged to happen anyway on Saturday afternoon?

CANDIOTTI: Right. You got it. They're piecing together a timeline of the incident based on interviews with Sofitel staff, the hotel. A law enforcement source with knowledge of the case says the maid who was allegedly assaulted by Strauss-Kahn wasn't the only one who thought the hotel room was empty at the time. A room service attendant entered the suite a short time before the maid arrived in order to retrieve some room service items.

When the maid showed up, the room service attendant was still in the room. He then left, and that's when the alleged assault took place. One other interesting nugget to add from interviews with the hotel employees, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the case says that not long after his check-in last Friday Strauss-Kahn apparently wanted some company, so he allegedly phoned the front desk and asked the receptionist, who had greeted him, if she wanted to join him for a drink. She declined -- John.

KING: A remarkable, remarkable story. We'll stay on top of it. Thank you, Susan. For more context on the media circus and what's to come we turn now to Joanna Molloy of the "New York Daily News". Now Joanna, this is a story that's generating international headlines and in your city a bit of a media circus. You've covered a lot of trials; you've been through what we'll call the New York circus before. Why is this one generating such a buzz?

JOANNA MOLLOY, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: This is bigger than Martha Stewart and Madoff, Woody Allen. My photographer said it's bigger than the O.J. gathering. Because it has everything, this guy has money, power. He was the leading candidate for president of France. We have not only all of the New York press but also from all over the world.

KING: And so you mentioned he's a leading candidate for president in France who's accused of sexually assaulting a hotel employee. How much is the international and the class difference, if you will, plays into the drama and the attention?

MOLLOY: It's very interesting how the French have viewed this differently. I mean, he has been called the great seducer in his country. And apparently, there have been allegations of incidents before. We really don't tolerate this kind of thing in the states. And we have a very open court process. If you remember, John, when Princess Diana was killed, the investigation went on for months, and it was all very private and secret. We are open in our courts from day one. Anyone can get in that courtroom if they can get a seat.

KING: And we're watching what the French have objected to, the perp walk, the so-called perp walk there. When Bernie Madoff was being held on bail and restricted to his home it generated a media circus. Mr. Strauss-Kahn couldn't stay where he wanted to stay on the Upper East Side. He had to find at least a temporary place to stay. Is the media circus inevitable or will this say in a few days pass if nothing new happens?

MOLLOY: It's not only the media that would be outside of this building that rejected him. And by the way, at that building folks pay $14,000 a month. They don't want people waiting for that -- to take their photograph either professional photographers -- anyone can be a paparazzo today if they have an iPhone. And it's a gold rush to get that picture. And they can sell it to the photo agencies.

KING: The wonder of technology, adding to the media circus in New York. Joanna Molloy, appreciate your insights tonight. As we go to break I want to show you a live picture courtesy of the Reuters News Agency. This is a place in Manhattan where at least many journalists in the Reuters Agency think, they think at least Mr. Strauss-Kahn is going to appear tonight. We'll keep our eye on that picture as the night plays out.

Also here we come back I'm in Concord, New Hampshire because a prospective candidate for president was here today, Jon Huntsman. A month ago he worked for President Obama. Now he's trying to sell himself as the best Republican to take on his former boss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm not shy about admitting I'm partial to the retail politics that make Iowa and New Hampshire so special. Sure, the candidates still run too many nasty TV ads, and they use other tactics that give campaigns, well, a sour taste. But they also here have to spend time in small settings, answering questions from everyday voters, like at the home we visited this morning in Hancock, New Hampshire.

The man in the middle there, Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah, and until a month ago President Obama's ambassador to China. He's soft-spoken, polite, seems to think he can win the nomination of America's conservative party without embracing that label or the harsh anti-Obama rhetoric of the Tea Party or the birther movement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN: We live in a world where everybody carries a tag. Everybody carries some description of who they are. It's a little artificial. And I think we need to probe beyond these tags of Democrat, moderate, conservative, and really take a look at what people have done and what they're willing to do going forward. And there's no better way to do that than kind of look at somebody's established record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: After that event we stepped outside and spent a few minutes catching up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As people get to know you, if you want to be the next president of the United States, you just worked for the current president of the United States. Why would you be a better president than Barack Obama?

HUNTSMAN: I worked for three other presidents of the United States. I think we're at a critical inflection point in our nation's history. And I think the discussion that will need to take place not in many years but over the next couple of years will be about jobs and economic revitalization.

I've lived in the business world. I've been a governor of a state that was a leading economic state in the country. I think I understand the environment that needs to be created for jobs and for an industrial revolution and for future prosperity.

KING: Is there something he doesn't understand?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think it's a different worldview. It's an orientation. It's what you've collected during your life of experiences. Everybody has a different worldview. That doesn't mean somebody is better than the next guy. It just means you have a different approach to problem solving and doing business.

KING: I've been at this a while, and I don't remember any Republican running for the nomination who is on record saying the current Democratic president has brilliant analysis of world events and said he was honored to work with Hillary Clinton. Do you worry about that? How do you get -- how do you get conservative Republicans to think "I want this guy as my guy"?

HUNTSMAN: Well, occasionally, you write "thank you" notes, which I think is for a lot of people an important tradition.

I also believe in civility. I believe that we ought to have a civil discourse in this country. You're not going to agree with people 100 percent of the time. But when they succeed and do things that are good, you can compliment them on it.

I think we need to come together more on the issues that really do matter. I believe in civility, and I believe in complimenting people when they do a good job.

KING: Your record as governor, you can come to this state where they don't like taxes and say I cut taxes. You were just talking inside about your health care plan. What would you say for the conservative who says you're for civil unions, therefore, you must be for gay marriage or greater gay rights than I'm for?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I'm for civil unions. I believe in traditional marriage, but I think subordinate to that, we don't do an adequate job when it comes to equality and fairness. And I'm going to say, take a look at my total record. Like every person who's been elected to office and tried to do things, some things you like, some things you won't.

On balance, we hope you like us. But if you don't, there are always other alternatives.

KING: You were in the forefront of some governors some time ago saying you need either cap and trade, cap on carbon emissions, or some kind of a carbon tax, and now, you say, well, let's be careful because of the sluggish economy.

HUNTSMAN: Right.

KING: What's to stop somebody from saying pretty convenient, now you're running in the Republican primaries and you're flip-flopping?

HUNTSMAN: Well, every governor was having that same conversation. Practically, every CEO was having that same conversation. A lot of the ideas we talked about came from some of the leading CEOs, some of the people who were driving the reality of these policies. Every governor was having this conversation.

The economy fell through the floor, and with it, the need to refocus on job creation, the need to refocus on getting back on our feet. And probably a recognition about costs that work their way through the system, and a need to first and foremost create jobs and get us back on our feet.

KING: But do you believe that climate change is caused at least in part by human behavior?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think the scientific community would suggest that to be the case. And I think in a world like we have, we should be deferring to the scientific community and not the political community to make decisions that are best left in the hands of scientists.

KING: Does that mean if you had a stronger economy, a President Huntsman would come back to cap and trade or a carbon tax or some variation of that?

HUNTSMAN: I'm here to tell you that it isn't going to be -- it isn't going to be a status quo approach to problem-solving. Over the next few years, you're going to see whatever approach to putting a value on carbon change repeatedly. Look at the last many years. It's already changed and morphed into new things.

So, by the time that -- you know, in the years to come, people want to have this conversation in a serious way because people care about their environment, they care about air quality. I think we're going to face a whole lot more in the way of options other than just a tax on carbon and a cap and trade proposal.

KING: One of your rivals, or likely rivals, you haven't put both feet in just yet, Newt Gingrich got in a little trouble. First, he described the Paul Ryan plan as radical on Medicare. Then he tried to pull it back, he called and apologized.

You just inside, you know, talked about it as an option, as a proposal. You need options on the table. Is that your preferred, to turn Medicare into essentially a voucher program, or would you like to do it differently?

HUNTSMAN: I think it's a very good approach. I believe that younger people who are more mobile and more plugged in, they're going to want a whole lot more options than we have on the table today. Some of them are going to want to cash out perhaps and do whatever with their money that they think is best suited for their lifestyle. And I think what we need to do is, first of all, explore all the many options and realize that for the younger than 55 generation that we're going to have to have more as opposed to less. And I think Paul Ryan has gone some distance in putting some options on the table that are real and that I think are viable.

KING: Governor Romney ran into some of this in the last campaign, in places like South Carolina, I know it's a state that's important to you, where a lot of evangelical Christians had a problem with a Mormon. They didn't understand it. Some of them when you talked to them, they think somehow they think it's a cult.

What would you say to someone who asks that question?

HUNTSMAN: I'd say that we have real issues to talk about, jobs and economic expansion. We're breaking barriers in this country all the time. And when people say that because you come from a certain background, that you're not able to get from point A to point B, I'd say nonsense. That's not part of the American tradition.

We're breaking barriers all the time. We're going to continue breaking barriers all the time. But I think, first and foremost, people are worried about the real issues and less about someone's heritage or background.

KING: What would you say to their leaders? Some leaders in the evangelical church that pushed that line -- what would you say to them?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I would say I believe in God. I'm a good Christian. I'm proud of my roots. You have to take me for what I am and make a decision based upon that. Take a look at my family. Take a look at my values.

KING: Just inside there, you were talking about you would not have injected the United States in any way -- is that fair to say? In Libya -- not even in a support role to a NATO operation. You think it was the wrong idea?

HUNTSMAN: I think supporting freedom movements, those who want assistance with institution building, those who want assistance in organizing around their cause, so long as they are consistent with our values and our ideals, expanding liberty, democracy, and promoting human rights, then I think there is a role that we can play.

Heavy boots on the ground and no real exit strategy and not being able to tell the American people what it's going to cost, first and foremost, or whether or not it's core to --

KING: There are no boots on the ground in Libya. The president said flatly from the beginning, no way to that.

HUNTSMAN: Well, when you create a no-fly zone and when you're in to that extent, that's an expense, that's a risk and we have to say, if we're going to go that far, is it core to a national security interest?

KING: Let me close by just asking you what's your sense? You've been here a couple of days. We all assume you're running?

HUNTSMAN: We've got a few more weeks to go. I want to make sure at the end, it's a decision made by our family, they feel good about what they have seen, what they have experienced, and that they're a little more informed when they ultimately say, yes, I think we're ready to do it.

KING: Governor, appreciate your time.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, John. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You heard Governor Huntsman there talking about his family. I spent had some time with his wife today inside that house party and she is ready to go. I don't see any obstacle to Governor Huntsman getting in.

Still ahead here: more campaign rumblings including Sarah Palin on whether she's got the fire to run.

But, next, the very latest on the Mississippi River flooding and President Obama today celebrates a secret well kept.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. We're live tonight from the New Hampshire state capitol in Concord, New Hampshire. It's a beautiful building. Bit of a cloudy day but still a nice day here. We're tracking some presidential politics. More on that in a moment.

But, right now, let's check in with Joe Johns for the latest news you need to know right now -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John.

This afternoon, President Obama sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner saying he's in favor of a bipartisan resolution confirming Congress' support for the Libyan mission. Some lawmakers feel the president is about to be in violation of the War Powers Act.

The president also says every terrorist in the al Qaeda network should, quote, "be watching their back." He made the remark during a visit to CIA headquarters to say thanks for finding Osama bin Laden.

And late today, the White House announced the president has granted eight pardons. Most involve drug offenders, but one is for a man illegally convicted of selling alligator hides.

Finally, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who's thinking about running for president, was standing too close to a door at the gym today. It opened unexpectedly, and the governor ended up in the hospital, getting 18 stitches in his forehead. He's fine tonight. But, you know, things just keep happening to Mitch Daniels -- John.

John King will be right back with the 2012 field of candidates, which is about to get a little bigger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back. We're live tonight in Concord, New Hampshire, on a very busy Friday in presidential politics.

The former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, well, he'll make it official on Monday, visiting Iowa to formally declare his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. And Sarah Palin is creating new business. Even many of her allies doubt the former Alaska governor will run in 2012. But listen here. She says, don't be so sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I have that fire in my belly. It's a matter for me of some kind of practical, pragmatic decisions that have to be made. One is with a large family understanding the huge amount of scrutiny and the sacrifices that have to be made on my children's part in order to see their mama run for president. But, yes, the fire in the belly, it's there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And here in New Hampshire, the former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman, is testing the waters and breaking not only with the Obama White House, but also with many Republicans, saying the United States has no business intervening in Libya's civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN: It's an affordability issue. I think with all of our deployments and all of our engagements abroad, we need to ask the fundamental question: can we afford to do this? And that then should be driven by the second point, which is: whether or not it's in our national security interest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "USA Today" Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, is here in New Hampshire today; as is "The New York Times" national political correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Suddenly getting crowded up here. Not just the candidates. We're getting up here as well.

Let's start at the end there. Governor Huntsman -- a kinder, gentler approach, to borrow a term from George H.W. Bush. Interested in your perspective -- he's kinder, gentler toward his former boss, President Obama. He says he does want -- he doesn't like labels. You have the Republican Party defined by the birther movement, the Tea Party, Newt Gingrich saying Barack Obama doesn't believe in an exceptional America.

You rise in the Republican Party right now by slashing contrasts and attacks on Barack Obama. Can a Republican win the nomination by saying, he's a nice guy, I just disagree with him?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY" WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: I think probably not. But he's in a transition phase. It was just three weeks ago that he was working for Barack Obama. So, presumably, there's going to be a period of time before he's going to feel really comfortable taking him to task on the things the Obama administration has done.

KING: So, he's waiting patiently, you think? That's a great --

PAGE: So, he's criticizing policies -- policy on Libya, suggesting -- criticism on Afghanistan, criticizing the individual mandate and health care plan. But I think he never speaks President Obama's actual name, at least at this point. But the day will come when that will not be enough I think for Republican primary voters.

KING: Is it the day will come, be patient, get a better sense of the field and then go more on the attack? Or do they have the perception, Jeff Zeleny, that as much as 2010 changed and we had the dramatic rise of the Tea Party, that by the time we get around to January, February 2012 and the votes here that maybe things will have changed again and the Republicans won't want that?

JEFF ZELENY, "NEW YORK TIMES" NATL. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think here, I think it's probably some of both. I think Susan's right. He's introducing himself right now. So, he does not want part of his brand to be, you know, this attack dog. It's probably not who he is -- and there are plenty of those in the field right now. So, why add one more voice?

But you're absolutely right. Who knows what this field is going to look like? Four years ago, the presidential campaign was going to be about the Iraq war. Then, it turned into being about the economy.

So, it is completely up in the air what it's going to be about.

But I think we saw that he has the ability to distinguish himself and differentiate himself from this administration on Libya. I was a little bit surprised when he said that. You know, he -- that was saying basically it's too expensive. You know, the government can't afford -- the U.S., you know, shouldn't be spending all this money. You don't hear that many Republicans making the argument.

So, he's trying to find a little space for himself.

KING: Find a little space there. Is he -- is it fair to call him a moderate or a less conservative candidate? Is he the new Rudy? Rudy Giuliani last time said I'm going to be the more centrist candidate, I'm for gay rights, I'm civil unions, I'm less harsh on the social issues, and I'm in the end going to win, and he spent a boatload of money and he got nothing.

PAGE: Well, his record would suggest it, but I don't think his rhetoric we've heard now for the past two days says he's finally gotten on the campaign trail. He's not acknowledging himself as a moderate. I mean, I think he'd like to be a bridge between some of the moderate Republicans that are important and the independent voters that are important in the New Hampshire primary. But he can't afford to lose support from the conservatives who make up the bulk of primary voters, especially when you go elsewhere like to South Carolina.

KING: Susan makes a very important point. There will be no Democratic primary and in this state, undeclared voters or independent voters can vote in either primary. So, one would make the assumption that they were going to see a lot more people voting in the Republican primary.

And so, Governor Huntsman, in a sense, by trying to be more of a centrist may have greater opportunity here. The question is can you sling shot out of here into South Carolina and more conservative states?

ZELENY: It's a tough obstacle course. Some of the voters I spoke to today who met Mr. Huntsman were, in fact, voters of Barack Obama. They -- said they haven't decided in a general election yet, but at this point, they are willing to give Governor Huntsman a look.

So, I think -- at this point, he would say he's not like Rudy Giuliani. He would, in fact, if he's pro-life, he has a pro-life voting record. But he says he's not going to use labels.

I'm not so sure that they -- are going to follow through with that. I mean, his campaign calls him a conservative, a sort of -- bracing at the "M" word, the moderate word. But, in fact, that's how he fits in the spectrum with others.

KING: One thing he has working to his advantage here, I talk to a gentleman at the house party, he said it was the first time he met Jon Huntsman, typical New Hampshire fashion. He said, I need to meet them a few more times before I make -- but he said that's the same house where he twice met John McCain. McCain network here in New Hampshire delivered this state for John McCain.

So, it would be interesting to watch that going forward, whether it can help Governor Huntsman here.

Let's move on to Sarah Palin. Most of us assume -- I assume you both assume that she's not going run. We've seen no evidence she's fundraising. No evidence she's reaching out to the activists in the key states.

Yet she tells Greta Van Susteren, fire in my belly, I have it. Fire in my belly, I have it. Do we need to beat Obama? I have fire in my belly.

Is she flirting with us to keep watching? Or after Huckabee gets out, looking at this field. Does she think again?

PAGE: I think yes. I think yes to all those things. She'd like to keep us interested. She'd like to keep people watching.

But the ordinary record rules do not entirely apply to Sarah Palin. The rules that you have to start fundraising now, you have to make contacts in key indicates. Conservatives in New Hampshire, in Iowa, in South Carolina and Florida, they are quite aware of Sarah Palin. She has a base of support there, and I think an ability to raise a lot of money in short order if she chooses to do so.

ZELENY: I think that's right. She is probably the only exception to the rule here. Her adviser are looking at one thing, at what point do they have to actually qualify for the illegal deadlines to be on the ballot. So, the drop dead for her probably is around Labor Day. So, I don't think we are going to have a sense of what she's doing until that very moment, because as we said, things change and she will absolutely keep us guessing.

KING: Absolutely she will. Jeff Zeleny and Susan Page, appreciate your time here on a Friday night. (INAUDIBLE) in New Hampshire. See you soon in Iowa.

ZELENY: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you both.

When we come back here, new stunning pictures of the Mississippi River flood and one family's effort -- think of a fortress -- to protect their home. And a before and after image you won't want to miss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: They say a man's home is his castle. One home owner in Mississippi turned his home into his island. CNN's Martin Savidge is with him right now in Yazoo City, Mississippi -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John -- I mean, anybody has seen these photos and they've circulated pretty wildly. You know what you're looking at. It's tremendous. These above photos that have shown a farm and surrounding that are completely surrounded by water, but had this big levee.

And this is it. I mean, you might think we are out in the giant lake. It's is not. It is, in fact, farmer's field. It should be a thousand acres of cotton and should be corn out here as well. Instead of there's floodwaters from the Yazoo and the Mississippi.

But it's this levee, this amazing levee, stretches 2,200 feet all the way around, three acres of land, that has become the latest island out here in Yazoo County.

And it is what's protecting the farmhouse over there, and this is farmland that's been in the Hart family since 1820.

I want to bring in Irma Hart. It's his land. It's his island, technically, that we are standing on right now.

You are the man behind the plan and construction effort. I have to ask: why go to all of this trouble?

IRMA HART, RESIDENT: Well, Martin, this is my home. I have to take my home. That's all I can say. I couldn't walk away from it.

SAVIDGE: Did people think you were crazy? Because you started this two weeks ago when there was no water.

HART: They didn't tell me I was crazy but I could see the looks in some of their eyes of what was going on out here. But I don't regret a day of it.

SAVIDGE: And lastly, I've got to ask, any idea what this has cost?

HART: At this point, I have no idea. Just -- we just -- hope -- my friends have mercy on me. How about that?

SAVIDGE: Well, good luck to you. Congratulations.

John, an amazing feat really what they've been able to do with family, friends, and determination and a lot of heavy earth-moving equipment. And so far, it is bone dry. It's got to stay this way for a while -- John.

KING: Remarkable story. Martin, give Mr. Hart our best and wish him the best as we go forward here. Martin Savidge for us live tonight on an island in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Martin, you take care.

We're ending the week in concord, New Hampshire. We've began the week like Martin Savidge and so many of our correspondents, down in the flood ravaged areas of Mississippi and Louisiana. Remarkable to see as Martin just explained some of the images are stunning, some of the remarkable efforts by people in communities to protect their homes equally stunning and remarkable.

I want to take you back to Tuesday night. I was down in Butte LaRose, Louisiana. And look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you look out at this deck right there, that's where the river is supposed to begin. River is supposed to begin right there and all of this land on this side would be dry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You see that structure I was pointing to, right? Out in the water out there, you see the structure I was pointing to? I was trying to explain to you that it's not supposed to look like this. Well, now, we have an image to show you what it is supposed to look like.

That's the backyard. You see all that dry land under that float, the raft right there. And now, you see it out there buried in the water. It is remarkable. That was Tuesday night.

I can tell you, the waters are even higher now because that area right there is being flooded deliberately because of that Morganza Spillway they opened up.

Look at the left, look at that deck. That is supposed to be for a family to go out and sit dry and enjoy the river view. There you see it on the right in the water there. It is under water now because the rivers have been rising.

We'll keep on track of the floods, of course. And we'll also keep on track of the quickening pace of presidential politics. That's why we are in New Hampshire tonight. We'll be on the road from time to time as the campaign unfolds and dramatic stories like the floods unfold.

Have a great weekend and hope to see you Monday. That's all for us tonight.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.