CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Pakistan and Terrorism; Osama bin Laden Deal; Devastating Storm; 2012 Presidential Election

Aired May 27, 2011 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Candy and good evening everyone. Tonight Sarah Palin is back front and center teeing up her new bus tour for the campaign style video that has many thinking that she would skip the 2012 presidential race, well, thinking again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: We have a vision for the future of our country and it is a vision anchored in time tested truth. Freedom is a god given right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now there are many who say a Palin campaign would squeeze out fellow Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann. But Bachmann says she's ready to run and not worried about Governor Palin or anyone else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: If I chose to run, I run to win. That's the only way that I'd do it, because if I'm in, I'm in, and I will do -- I am an extremely hard worker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A busy day, a spicy day in politics, that's in a moment, but we being tonight on the world stage with a tense meeting in Islamabad between top Pakistani officials and America's top diplomat and its highest ranking military officer. There were some fence- mending. Secretary of State Clinton made clear the United States has no evidence suggesting top Pakistani political or military figures provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden, but she also made clear the Obama administration expects Pakistan to help find out if lower level officials knew and that it expects Pakistan to be a more consistent partner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: America cannot and should not solve Pakistan's problems. That's up to Pakistan. But in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make problems disappear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That meeting took place as word surfaced that bin Laden at one point contemplated a deal with Pakistan. He would call off al Qaeda attacks on Pakistani targets in exchange for safe harbor and safe passage of top al Qaeda leaders. First to tough diplomacy and its stakes, Stan Grant live for us in Islamabad tonight and Stan, Secretary Clinton, Admiral Mullen trying to say we're trying to make peace here. We're trying to make amends, but polite words in public. We are told a very tense meeting in private.

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frank and candid is what they're saying and for that you can read tense, John. This relationship has hit new lows since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Effectively, the Pakistanis say that that violated their sovereignty, they're very hurt about that, and this relationship really is such a strategic one is now in a precarious situation indeed, as Hillary Clinton said at a turning point. Now she came here with a very simple message and it is this.

The United States puts a lot of money into Pakistan, billions of dollars every year, it wants to see a return on that. She wants to see some action from the Pakistanis to show that they really want to mend this relationship. What does she want? More of an effort against the insurgents, a commitment to really go hard after the insurgents, to lockdown that Afghanistan/Pakistan border, to stop the flow of militants into Afghanistan, all of that to aid the U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and ultimately begin to draw down their troops.

But in Pakistan, they feel as if they're caught in the crossfire. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died over the past 10 years as a result of terror attacks. Rather than see the U.S. as being a help to them, they see them as a hindrance. Many Pakistanis saying that they are actually the cause of the problems here -- John.

KING: And Stan, anti-American sentiment strong to begin with, how much more intense is it now after this raid on the bin Laden compound?

GRANT: Well just before the bin Laden compound, the Pew Research took a poll here and that found that it was only a little over 10 percent support for the United States. That has plummeted even more since then. Speaking personally as a reporter, the moment you go into the streets here, you feel that hostility. People will not even speak to us. They suspect us. Police are often called the moment that we go out to try to report or to speak to anyone. Now, the situation is this.

People look at the United States and they say that the U.S. action in Afghanistan, the U.S. pressure on Pakistan to try to go after the insurgents even harder causes a blow back. The militants retaliate. They target civilians. As I say, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed here in the past 10 years. Hillary Clinton acknowledged that, but also said this relationship is vital and she wants to see more of an effort from Pakistan to move forward -- John.

KING: Stan Grant live for us tonight in Islamabad. Stan, thank you.

And now to the Pentagon for a sense of just what kind of a deal bin Laden considered striking with Pakistan. Chris Lawrence is digging on that story -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, that haul (ph), that treasure trove of intelligence that the SEALs hauled out of bin Laden's compound, analysts have been pouring over it that for the past week or so. They've now discovered documents that suggests that Osama bin Laden and his aides talked about a potential deal, going to Pakistan, and saying look, we won't attack you, Pakistan.

In exchange, you will allow our senior leadership to live here, basically to protect us. All of these come from messages between bin Laden and his top operations chief over the last year. The key thing is, though, U.S. officials now tell us that they don't see an actual request by al Qaeda. In other words, they don't see anything in which they actually went to Pakistani officials with this offer on the table. They say it looks to be at this point just in the discussion phase by al Qaeda leaders.

KING: Just in the discussion phase, Chris, and that's an important point because is there anything that sheds any light on the relationship if there was a relationship between bin Laden and some intermediary in either Pakistani intelligence or the Pakistani government?

LAWRENCE: You can look at this two ways John. On one hand you can say it shows that bin Laden thought there was someone in the military or the intelligence apparatus there in Pakistan that may be receptive to this deal. On the other hand, you could look at it from the Pakistani side and they could say look, there was no deal on the table. We didn't know bin Laden was there.

But you know senior U.S. officials have said this is very mixed messages that they're getting from Pakistan. On one hand, they're saying cut down the drone strikes, reduce the number of military trainers, shutting down some of these military intelligence sites that are in the country. But a senior U.S. official also said look we asked for access to bin Laden's wives, we got it. We asked for the stealth helicopter back, they gave it back to us.

And now they are allowing the CIA to go in and take a forensic team into that compound. So he said the relationship isn't beyond repair and it shows that maybe, just maybe there may be some areas in which the CIA and Pakistan's intelligence service can find a way to work together going forward.

KING: Chris Lawrence live for us at the Pentagon with that important story. Now Pakistan's ambassador to the United States got a little agitated to say the least when CNN asked him today about bin Laden's idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is did he raise it with anyone and the U.S. government clearly says that he did not; it was something that he and his associates were considering amongst themselves. So if we knew -- if we knew something about it, we would have done something about it long ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's dig deeper on the state of U.S./Pakistani relations and the high stakes. Our national security contributor Fran Townsend is here. She's a member of the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security's External Advisory Board. Also with us Brian Bennett, he works the intelligence beat for the "Los Angeles Times". I want you to listen, both of you, first to Secretary Clinton after this meeting. On the one hand, she's trying to I don't know if make nice is the right words but at least calm some of the anger. But listen to what she says. She says we're at a turning point, and then --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON: We have reached a turning point. Osama bin Laden is dead, but al Qaeda and its syndicate of terror remain a serious threat to us both. There is momentum toward political reconciliation in Afghanistan, but the insurgency continues to operate from safe havens here in Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Almost 10 years now after 9-11, Fran, what she is saying is the problem is not Afghanistan, the problem is Pakistan.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NAT'L SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that's exactly right, John. Look, this is to say the access -- you know in advance of her trip, Pakistanis agreed to give the CIA access to the compound. To call that a baby step is generous. This is really, really a small step. But they're looking -- they're desperate.

They're looking for anything in which they can build confidence between the U.S. and Pakistan. And let's be honest, while we can be outraged by duplicity or complicity on the part of the Pakistani government, we can't afford to walk away from them. We need them in Afghanistan. We need them -- frankly we can't afford -- the notion of walking away from them given the fact that this is a nuclear country, we can't afford to risk nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Pakistani Taliban.

KING: So is it fair Brian to call it -- it is a transaction relationship more than a strategic partnership?

BRIAN BENNETT, NAT'L SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, L.A. TIMES: Well that's how it's looked over the last couple of weeks and we had -- Clinton was planning to go to Pakistan last week and delayed her trip and during the course of that delay, it was when Pakistan agreed to let the CIA go on to the Osama bin Laden compound, and also gave access to the wives. So there is this tit-for-tat going on. And I think the U.S. policy has just made the decision look, it's fair to have Pakistan half in than all the way out.

KING: And what is your sense of your sources, still sources in the government, about Secretary Clinton says there's no one in the government, we have no evidence anyone in the government, anyone high in the military was harboring bin Laden, knew he was there. What is the sense of trust in the head of the intelligence services, which is that's where you always hear that they provide safe haven to some of the -- whether it's Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda people, the bad guys?

TOWNSEND: You know John it's funny you should ask because just today I met with a senior U.S. military official who's got firsthand knowledge of NATO and the operations, who was very clear to me at least that they have no confidence in Pasha, the head of the Pakistani Intelligence Service. It is very likely that he understood precisely what was going on.

And I think U.S. officials expect that he may not retain his job. The question is will Kayani, the head of the military in Pakistan retain his job. And while they thought that was sort of assured, in the wake of the Karachi attack on the naval air base, it is not clear that even Kayani can survive, although I will tell you that I think Kayani is a reasonable partner. Pasha can't be worked with and I think U.S. officials are looking for him to be pushed aside.

KING: What is your sense of what the CIA hopes to find or what they suspect is still left behind. The Navy SEALs took what they could grab, but the CIA getting in there suggests that they think maybe there's something in the walls, there's something on the ground or there's just some clues some other intelligence there that you couldn't just swoop up and grab.

BENNETT: Well you can think of the Osama bin Laden compound as a crime scene. I mean essentially there's a lot of material there. There could be DNA evidence. There could be some soil samples, they give indication of people who have visited the house and where else they had been either in Pakistan or Afghanistan, or other parts of the world. And that is all like a crime scene investigation. That material is all there and it could be collected and analyzed. Of course it's been four weeks since the raid and who knows what the condition of the house is and how many other people have gone through since then.

KING: Brian Bennett, Fran Townsend, appreciate your help tonight. It's a very important story. We will stay on top of it.

Still to come here, some politics, Sarah Palin revs up for a bus tour and other Republicans running for president, well they can't help but notice.

Also Missouri officials tonight claim significant progress in whittling down that list of those missing, still missing five days after Joplin's horrific tornado. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Live pictures there Joplin, Missouri. It is five days later, but look at that debris. We're talking about weeks and months for the cleanup and recovery effort. There's some progress today to report from Joplin, both in terms of identifying the victims of Sunday's tornado and helping the survivors move on with their lives.

Authorities say the confirmed death toll is 132. That's up seven from last night. But significantly the number of missing continues to shrink. It is 156 tonight, down from 232 this time yesterday. And authorities say at least 90 people originally thought to be missing have been found alive. Still, there are many in Joplin, many families that remain frustrated -- CNN's Brian Todd there with that story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we saw one family today who had a memorial service for their son. His name is Ray Donald Miller (ph), III. He goes by the name Tripp. He was killed in the tornado. There was a memorial service for him today in Joplin, but they had no body. They came and memorialized him at this church. We have a picture of Ray Donald Miller (ph), III from a local obituary in a paper here.

They have no body and they don't really know why the body hasn't been released. They know he is deceased because according to local media reports they were with him at a local hospital when he died. But there is no answer why the body has not been released. And we tried to get those answers all day today, calling the various entities dealing with the missing and dealing with the processing of the bodies.

I don't want to name all of them, it will take the rest of the show, but suffice it to say, we got no answers and that's part of the issue here, John. It's you know that when they're trying to go through these bodies, get the positive identification, do all the forensics, sometimes it just takes longer than they want and certainly longer than the families want. But the information flow isn't really what it should be either -- John.

KING: The information flow is not what it should be, Brian, and I think we've covered that, and we should continue to cover it. These people deserve answers as quickly as possible. But part of the issue here and it is a bit gruesome is that those who have been to the morgue, those who are trying to identify the bodies, they're telling you that their task is incredibly hard because of the severity of many of these fatal injuries, right?

TODD: That's absolutely right. And we don't need to go into the severity of them in graphic form but it ranges from cuts and bruises and mud to much, much worse, and what one local coroner did tell me is often a family member will go into the morgue and say that's my brother, that's my sister or whatever, and then they come out after the body has been embalmed and cleaned up and they see the body and they say wow, I was wrong.

That's not from this. He's talking about in other instances because families have not been allowed to identify the bodies from this tornado. But he says that's the problem with false identification. And early in the process, there are reports of one false identification where a body was taken to a funeral home and it was the wrong body, so that's really led them to tighten up this process and not let the families in.

KING: Brian Todd live for us in Joplin tonight, staying on top of this important story. As you know we spent a couple of days in Joplin earlier in the week and many times I said during the program and have said throughout the week, it is incredibly hard to find the right words, to find the right perspective to describe the scope of the damage.

Let's try a little bit this way with some before and after images as we come over to the wall. You see here just in the middle before I get the close-up, this is a satellite image and you can see the destruction and the damage here. Well let's take a closer look. St. John's Hospital, for example, here is a before image. Look at the grassy campus. Look at the trees. Look at the hospital building right in here. This is before.

Come through here, that's the devastation just left behind by this punishing, punishing tornado. That's just one image there, St. John's Hospital. Close that down. Here is the Joplin High School. I spent some time in this neighborhood the other day. Again let me come back over here, bring this slider (ph) over a little bit. There you see the before, you see the green, you see all the grass, you see the trees.

Look at the trees. Remember this image, look at the trees right here. See all these trees? You see the buildings up in here and the high school complex. Watch when this comes through. Look at that. See those trees? That is what is stunning about it. What is left in some cases just small sticks, the bark stripped right off the trees. Come back to the beginning there. You see how beautiful it was beforehand.

One last image here, this housing complex, and you see the swathe. It starts down here. It comes up this way. Again, look at all the trees. Look at the trees. Look at the grass. Look at the roofs of the buildings in here through this housing complex, houses up in here. Take a close look there. Now watch this. That's before. It is as if a bomb went off and again, if you look at where the trees are and you look at where the grass is, it ripped up everything right down into the ground.

You would see homes where the plywood is down. You saw the wall- to-wall carpeting tacks, the carpet is gone. The carpet was ripped up, everything just taken away, ripped up by the power of this storm. But despite these daunting, daunting images, a number of Joplin residents they are vowing, vowing to rebuild.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARREN COLLINS, CONTRACTOR: At some point, we're going to have to stop scratching our heads and standing -- staring at the rubble and roll up our sleeves and get things back to some sort of normalcy. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Casey Wian is with us now live from Joplin. And Casey, you've been talking to folks who are trying to deal with their grief, still dealing with their pain but beginning to think around the corner to the rebuilding and recovery.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. You know when you cover a story like this you have a lot of images and most of them are gruesome and most of them are bad. One of the ones that I'll always remember is driving along one of these streets here in Joplin amid utter devastation, the kind of pictures you've been showing. There's this building that is brand new wood and construction underway, couldn't believe it, so we stopped over and talked to the guy who was leading the construction process, a man named Darren Collins and he was rebuilding his wife's beauty salon which he built himself 17 years ago.

It was of course completely demolished by the tornado. And he says it is time to rebuild. There are five beauticians who are not working right now because of this. And he wants to get it rebuilt as soon as possible. He started the actual construction process on Thursday. He hopes to have the roof on the structure by Sunday, and if power is back and gas is back and water and all those other services that are out in much of Joplin, he says he hopes to have his wife's business back in business in 45 days. It is a real sign of hope for this community, John.

KING: That's one powerful example, Casey. Does he stand out or is he just maybe a few steps ahead, but others saying we'll be right behind him?

WIAN: Well to use him as a gauge, he says just yesterday alone he got six new jobs to rebuild structures here in Joplin. He said that when he first went to city officials on Tuesday, about, you know, a day and a half after this tornado struck, they looked at him in shock and surprise that he wanted to rebuild so soon. Next day he went down to the city with plans and they approved it conditionally that he could start construction, decided to start rebuilding the next day.

KING: God bless him. Casey Wian, live for us in Joplin tonight. We wish Mr. Collins and all the residents of Joplin of course luck in that complicated and long rebuilding process.

Coming up here what was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann thinking when she said this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: The president put us in a very bad position. I think it was a very bad move that the president made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A very busy and interesting day in presidential politics, let's begin by ranking the line-up. A new national CNN poll of Republican voters shows former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who at the moment, isn't running atop the pack of 2012 prospects. The former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is a close second and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin runs third. Romney was in Iowa today. It's a state some of his top advisers think he should play down in favor of a heavy focus on New Hampshire, so maybe this is an omen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: I'm the same guy as I was the last time. It's just that the things I know and --

(SOUNDS)

ROMNEY: Oh, oh. They want to get us out of here, don't they?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If she runs, Governor Palin would be considered a strong candidate in Iowa because of her support in the Tea Party and among social conservatives. Now most Republicans assume she won't run. But the Palin conversation lights turned on its head in the past 24 hours. First she announced a nationwide bus tour beginning this weekend, then she released this video to preview it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: The Constitution provides the best road map for the more perfect union. These are enduring truths and these enduring truths have been passed down from Washington to Lincoln to Reagan and now to you. We know that our best days are yet to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now look closely, look closely right here. Sarah Palin's autograph, right, that came onto the screen just as you hear her voice say our best days are yet to come, coincidence, campaign? You make the call. The former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty whose dreams of winning Iowa could be more distant if Palin runs wants you to know he is unimpressed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This isn't going to be about rallies or you know bus tours or anything else. This is going to be about a country that is sinking in debt and deficit. We want to have a leader who has actually tackled those issues and doesn't just talk about it, but has actually got it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Another one who could be squeezed if Palin runs is Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, but she insists all systems are go Palin or no Palin and promises an announcement next month in her birthplace Waterloo, Iowa. I talked at length with Congresswoman Bachmann about politics and policy including whether she wants Republicans to hold firm or to shy away from a budget plan that includes an increasingly controversial proposal to revamp Medicare.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BACHMANN: I want to commend Paul Ryan because I think it is very important that we actually keep Medicare secure and solvent.

KING: The question becomes what happens in the negotiations that come.

BACHMANN: Yes.

KING: If you get Republicans who start to get soft obviously when you're negotiating with the Senate that will disappear. If Republicans in the House hold their resolve, you won't get it all. That's compromise, the way the system works. But the question is should Republicans dig in and say no, we're not going to blink here or should they be looking for some sort of a compromise?

BACHMANN: Well you have to have an answer because again we know that it won't be that many years and Medicare will be insolvent. And so we have to make it work. We have to make it solvent so that we --

KING: (INAUDIBLE) some kind of voucher program for anybody 55 or under?

BACHMANN: That's what the compromise would be about. What would that program look like? This is my asterisk on the Ryan plan. Number one, I want senior citizens to know no one 55 years of age or older will be impacted in any way. The system will be exactly as it is. It will only be reformed to those 55 and younger and it will actually be a better program. That's the net positive --

KING: How much does the government need to get out of, meaning save in the Medicare program over the next 10 years then?

BACHMANN: Well I'm not talking in terms of the numbers and how much we're going to cut because that will going to be -- that will be a part of the negotiation. I think it's really retooling the new focus, more options, better options, leaner, more efficient government, less bureaucratic, but at the same time I want a component focused on cures.

(CROSSTALK)

BACHMANN: Curing these diseases so that they have a higher quality of life and save money.

KING: And if the Democrats -- if the Democrats do what they did in New York 26 and say that Republicans are throwing granny off the cliff and the Democrats --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- get a short term --

BACHMANN: That's wrong.

KING: -- political advantage from that should the Republicans hold in, even if maybe the next election you lose?

BACHMANN: I think that senior citizens recognize that something has to be done because again 13 years, poor Mother Hubbard's cupboard is going to be bare when it comes to Medicare. And so we've got to make the system work. And it would be foolish for Democrats just to run terrible ads to scare people because that doesn't work either. We've got -- it isn't just a Republican solution. It has to be bipartisan and it has to be both parties coming together, because this is bigger than us. I mean this is our senior citizen population that's growing and we can't leave them in the lurch.

KING: We're at an interesting time in our foreign policy. You have said the United States in your view should not be in Libya.

BACHMANN: That's right.

KING: That there's no national security, vital national security interests --

BACHMANN: That's right.

KING: There is no national security -- vital national security interest.

BACHMANN: That's what Secretary of Defense Gates said.

KING: You also -- but you voted against proposal in the House that would have put timeline on deployment in Afghanistan. And a growing number of Democrats and Republicans seem to be tired, seem to be thinking it is time to get out of Afghanistan, maybe more so with the death of bin Laden.

BACHMANN: I agree. But here's the difference -- at this point, I don't think it's fair for Congress members to usurp our decision- making over that of the generals on the ground. It's very important that the generals and also the intelligence gathering sources get that information up to the commander-in-chief, whether it's George Bush or whether it's Barack Obama. I think it's very important that we do allow the commanders on the ground working with Special Forces, working with intelligence gathering, to get the right information.

For politicians to come in and try to implement a political decision on timing of troop withdrawal I don't think is helpful. I'm tired of Afghanistan and Iraq, too. I think we need to get out. I think Afghanistan is -- on many, many levels, it doesn't seem we're gaining any ground. I want to reduce U.S. exposure in Afghanistan. So, let's get them out as quickly as we can. But at the same time, I don't want to tell the generals when they're going to get out. That really needs to be the experts.

KING: Describe Michele Bachmann's world view in the sense I would say John McCain, the Republicans' last nominee, George W. Bush, the Republican's last president, I would describe them and I think it's fair to describe them as interventionist. If they see a foreign policy overseas, they are not reluctant to use military force, whether it is in Iraq. Senator McCain was out there saying the president should get involved in Libya. There's that approach.

Then there's Ron Paul who says, no, none of our business, stay back, let these countries figure it out themselves, and in incredibly rare circumstances project U.S. power overseas.

Where would you be if you were president of the United States?

BACHMANN: My view of foreign policy is that we need to be careful and circumspect about United States intervention in any foreign nation. Number one, does that nation pose a threat to the United States? Number two, have they attacked the United States? Number three, are there vital American national interests at stake? Number four: the security of the American people.

Those are the first issues that we look at. That was not met when it came to Libya. As well, we did -- Secretary Gates said he did not know what our military objective was in Libya. Well, why would we be there for heaven's sakes?

We are looking at unprecedented unrest in the Middle East. I completely stand in opposition to what President Obama's remarks were last week regarding Israel, saying that Israel must shrink borders to 1967 borders and to allow a passageway for Palestine -- that would be the wrong thing to do. It would bring greater hostility to the Middle East.

KING: That's not exactly what he said. He did say with mutually agreed to -- mutually negotiated land swaps. Now, it is very rare for any president of the United States, of course, to use the term 1967 borders. However, he did say and clarified it in the AIPAC speech that just as they had a plan in the table late in the Clinton administration, you essentially go back to 1967, but then you negotiate land swaps. Israel says --

BACHMANN: John, you can defend, you can stand here and defend the president's remarks. I will not defend the president's remarks.

KING: I'm not defending. I'm not explaining.

BACHMANN: The president's remarks are amplified across the Middle East. Don't think this was a tremendous insult that the president gave to Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister. The president gave these remarks the day before the prime minister came to the United States. That symbolism was not lost on Israel's opponent.

Israel is what's working in the Middle East region now. The United States should do everything they can and not cast any aspersions on Israel and this process right now at this particular time. The president's moves in a statement last week were dangerous in a volatile region.

KING: You say dangerous in a volatile region. The White House would disagree.

Let's shift to politics. Is there any doubt, and should anybody out there watching have any doubt that Michele Bachmann will be a candidate for Republican nomination for president?

BACHMANN: I will let people know in June. I said in the beginning that's when we'll let people know. We are working, putting a plan into place, that we believe will be a very effective plan, but we aren't giving that final information out, whether we are in or rather we aren't.

But I'm scheduled to be in Iowa and South Carolina and New Hampshire and I can't wait to go. They are beautiful states. I am an Iowan. I was born in Iowa.

KING: And so -- funny you mentioned that. So, if there's a Republican that says I like Michele Bachmann on the issues.

BACHMANN: You should come to my Facebook site. Join my Twitter account. Go to MicheleBachmann.com and donate. That's what I would say.

KING: So, if there's a Republican out there who says, you know, she makes sense to me. I like her on the issues. But can she do what it takes to beat President Obama?

BACHMANN: Well, of course I can.

KING: We know he could raise maybe $1 billion. Can you raise $1 billion?

BACHMANN: If I chose to run, I run to win. That's the only way I do it, because if I'm in, I'm in. And I will do -- I'm an extremely hard worker.

My life is a story of being an extremely hard worker, as a mother of five, and we raised 23 foster children in our home. I was a federal tax litigation attorney. My husband and I started a successful company. We worked very hard in our lives.

And this country needs someone now that will pay attention to job creation, that's number one. And that's what I would intend to do to turn the economy around.

KING: When you're looking at this plan of yours, what does it have for a number on, if we are serious, we have to raise X.

BACHMANN: We have to raise enough to win. I don't know that -- I don't think anyone knows yet whether President Obama will be able to raise $1 billion or not. That number has floated around. I think it's used as a club against any Republican candidate to say you could never raise that much money. It's yet to be seen whether President Obama can raise that in this economy. So, we'll see how that is.

But, honestly, it's the American people that vote. The American people's vote can't be bought. It can't be bought, because they want the country to work for their kids. And there's a huge number of people right now, John, don't believe their children will be as well off as they are.

That needs to change, because we are a good country, and we can turn this around. We can have a better economy. Not with President Obama's policies, we can have a better country so people can know that their children can do better, and seniors won't be left in the lurch. So, we need to get with the program and do what works.

KING: Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, appreciate your time.

BACHMANN: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And, again, she says her official announcement will come in Waterloo, Iowa, her birthplace. She's campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the days ahead.

Hopefully, we'll see her in two weeks when CNN hosts the Republican debate in New Hampshire.

In a bit, we'll explore whether attacking Medicare reform will be a political cure-all for Democratic candidates.

But next, the State Department is urging U.S. citizens to get out of yet another Middle Eastern country.

(COMMERICAL BREAK)

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

State Department is urging U.S. citizens to leave Yemen while commercial transportation is still available. Five loud explosions were reported tonight in Yemen's capital city. This week has seen a sharp increase in violence as tribes battle forces loyal to the country's president.

U.S. marshals today brought Arizona shooting suspect Jared Loughner to a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, for further mental evaluation. Earlier this week, a judge ruled not competent to stand trial.

The Treasury Department confirms Fiat will buy the U.S. government's remaining stock in Chrysler at a price to be negotiated. That will pay down the nearly $2 billion the government is yet to recover from the Chrysler bailout. The commander of the Navy's Blue Angels has been fired over safety concerns. A memo obtained by CNN cites a lower than normal maneuver last Sunday during the team's performance in Lynchburg, Virginia.

When we come back, 2012 politics. The Democrats, they think they have a new weapon, Medicare. How will they use it and will it work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Medicare without a doubt is the new flash point in American politics, especially now that Democrats rode the issue to a big upset in a New York special congressional election this week.

Let's take a closer look. If you come in here and look at the map, this is where the election was up here in Upstate New York. That's where the district is. Kathy Hochul, the Democrat, won in this big Republican district and she did it -- look at the margin here, about five points -- she did it by tying other opponent to the House Republican Medicare plan.

You see the Democratic victory there. Let's look at some of the details. We'll close this down. We'll take a look at some of the details.

Paul Ryan is the House Budget Committee chairman. His plan would repeal changes in health care reform, the Obama health care plan last year. There would be no change to Medicare under the House Republican budget, no change at all if you're 55 and over. You would stay in the current system.

But beginning in 2022, seniors would buy private insurance. The government would help part of the cost. Critics call it a voucher. The retirement age would also go up. This part of what the Republicans say is a necessary cost-saving plan. Let's close this down.

This matters because older Americans are generally the most reliable voters. Let's look at that. They tend to turn out more.

And in 2010, Republicans won big, won the House back in part because they won big -- 59 percent to 38 percent among voters over the age of 65. That's a huge Republican win here.

Well, the Democrats are hoping to use this issue because 2008 essentially was a tie. Remember, 2008 was a huge year for Democrats. Not only did President Obama win, they had majority in Congress as well. Then the elderly vote was evenly split.

So, the Democrats are hoping to use that issue to get back to about here, this Medicare argument now, yes, policy, but also largely about 2012 politics -- a good issue to discuss with "TIME" magazine's Joe Klein and CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING: Joe, to you first, the Democrats believe they have this effective weapon. They're going to use it against Republicans as the budget debate continues in Washington. Will it stop responsible bipartisan negotiations on a deficit and debt deal?

JOE KLEIN, TIME MAGAZINE: Yes, I'm tempted to say probably because, you know, Democrats have been demagoguing this issue for a long time. This is not to say that they weren't wrong to block, you know, Paul Ryan's plan, which was a very, very extreme plan. But there's someplace in the middle, and it involves Medicare reforms and revenues, taxes, higher taxes.

You know, any society, especially one as prosperous as ours should be humane enough to provide a system of healthcare for the elderly that's pretty much no frills and must free.

KING: And so, Gloria, as this plays out, ABC News is behind the scenes in an event here in Washington. And Paul Ryan, the architect of the House plan, was there, so was Bill Clinton, last Democratic president who had a balanced budget. And what Bill Clinton told Paul Ryan, he said quote, "I hope Democrats don't use this as an excuse to do nothing."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

KING: Will Democrats use this as an excuse to do nothing?

BORGER: Well, you know, there's disagreements going on within the Democratic Party, I know you'll be shocked to hear about this, because there are some Democrats who say, no way. Don't forget, the president's budget had Medicare reform, that cut back payments to providers, not beneficiaries. There are some Democrats who say, we even have to take that off the table unless the Republicans are willing to come to the table on the tax issue.

And I don't think that's going to happen either. So, I think they could punt on this until after the election.

KING: Punt after the election. Joe Klein, you have Steve Israel, the guy who runs the Democratic National Campaign Committee. He says he thinks they can win more seats next time than they lost in 2010.

If the Democrats see Medicare as so powerful and they know how the Republicans did a pretty good job with voters over 55 and voters over 65 in the last election, does politics essentially trump reasonable policy discussion?

KLEIN: Well, it almost always does, and especially when it comes to old age entitlements. But let's pull back and look at the larger picture here. In 2008, after winning the election triumphantly, Barack Obama takes a look at the polls and sees 80 percent of the American people are happy with the health care that they get. And what does he do? He spends a year and a half trying to reform the health care system in a way most people don't understand. The result is in part he loses the 2010 election. The Republicans win the 2010 election, triumphantly. And having done that, they look at the polls that say that 80 percent of the American people love Medicare the way it is. And what do they do? They try and reform Medicare and gut it.

You know, I think one of the worst pernicious diseases in politics is who risks after winning an election.

KING: And, Gloria, we are watching this play out within the Republican Party as well because they have a presidential race that is starting to gain some steam. And they seem to be torn between appealing to the base and worrying that voters out there in the middle would do what happened in N.Y. 26. Newt Gingrich called the Ryan plan radical, then he apologized, tried to make peace with Chairman Ryan.

Tim Pawlenty sidestepped for days the question if the Ryan budget reached your desk as president, including those Medicare changes, would you sign it? He sidestepped and he sidestepped and then finally --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I can't have my own plan -- as president, I'll have my own plan. If can't have that and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan's plan, of course, I'd sign it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: They seem conflicted between appeasing the base and nervous about, well, if I actually win the nomination, what happens then.

BORGER: Yes, they are conflicted. You also saw a vote in the Senate where you had five Republican senators back off and say, you know what, I really can't go along with this because it makes them nervous. They know very well what they did to the Democrats on this issue in 2010. They know what happened with the Democrats winning that victory in Upstate New York and that special election.

So, they're really concerned. I mean, they see House members going home and having town meetings and getting attacked on this issue.

So, they're trying to figure out a way around it. And they would like very much to put some kind of Medicare deal on the table as part of a deficit reduction plan when they talk about raising the debt ceiling. But, you know, the Democrats will have an argument with the White House this if the White House wants to do that because they're going to say, don't take away the one single issue we have, please. Don't take it away from us, right?

KING: And so, then, what happens, Joe? The president of the United States, he always says, you know, we can deal with the election when we get there. We have big problems to deal with in the short term.

But he also knows unemployment somewhere in the ballpark of 8.5 percent, 9 percent. You got to have an electoral map that to an incumbent president is not as favorable as it was to Barack Obama, the challenger in 2008. Which decision does he make -- the policy decision, the 25-year decision, or the 2012 decision?

KLEIN: Well, you know, it verges on political malpractice if the president doesn't seize this thing but you know -- and go with it. So, it's a political -- you know, politics reigns in the year before a presidential election.

But, at the same time, Bill Clinton is right.

BORGER: Right.

KLEIN: You know, this isn't enough for Democrats to just batter the Republicans on what was a very stupid and extreme plan by Paul Ryan. They have to provide something positive, and they also have to really start to address the economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Gloria Borger and Joe Klein there. One thing to watch as this debate plays out, the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell noted today. They're in negotiations with Vice President Biden trying to strike a long-term deal to bring down deficits and the debt. Leader McConnell saying Medicare would not be an issue, or at least as big an issue in the 2012 campaigns if there is a bipartisan agreement struck between Republicans, Democrat, and the Obama White House that included some significant reductions in Medicare.

So, that is way the Republicans hope -- hope -- to alleviate some of the political price they're paying at the very moment.

Still ahead for us tonight: some devastating images from our time this week in Joplin, Missouri.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The president comes back from his European trip this weekend. On Sunday, he'll be here, Joplin, Missouri, viewing the devastation, also attending a prayer service.

We want to give him a sense and give you a sense of what we saw during our time. These photos were taken by (INAUDIBLE) Chris Turner, our producer and two of our photojournalists.

This is Michelle Martin (ph). I talked to her. This is outside her home with her children her cleaning up just looking back at it. It is just -- the devastation is just stunning. Lucky for the Martins, they were not home at the time.

They had neighbors come over the pray with them while they were there trying to find their belongings. They at the last minute took a camping trip. They were not in that house. Had they been there, Lord knows what would have happened.

Some images, let's get this one to close down. Here we go. Look at this one here -- as far as you can see, just as far as you can see. If you come back and get higher, you see it more and more and more.

Look at the trees. Look at the trees, the telephone pole, the damage done to all of them. The roofs ripped off the houses.

It is stunning. It is hard to find the words to describe some of this damage. You come in here, you see again, you see someone in the foreground here with a trash bag, people coming to their homes, going through, taking whatever they can, trying to get out.

Look at the bark ripped off the trees, the trees bent and snapped. It is simply stunning when you look at it.

We met the parents of this young man. Finally, they can begin closure. They did find their son's body. Unfortunately, Zach Williams was killed in the tornado.

We also spent time with Stephen Jones. He helped us early in the week understand the day after what happened. Then we went -- he's the principal at St. Mary's School. We went into the school.

You can see here in one of the classrooms, one of their students, a pre-kindergartner was lost in the tornado. Mr. Jones took us through that school and talked about the tornado and the challenge ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHEN JONES, ST. MARY'S SCHOOL: We found the flag, so we put that up. We're going through things and looking. We found a few things, all of our school files and records. So we know what grades you got, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes?

JONES: We can tell you. And I'm pretty sure you're going to be a fifth-grade -- or sixth-grader next year.

There's a lot that can be salvaged in here. Those books look completely dry.

KING: No other rooms like this.

JONES: No. No other room that has walls like this.

This is the pre-kindergarten room, and the little girl who perished who was with her dad at -- I mean, at Office Depot went to school in this room.

KING: And that's to the best of your knowledge, he lost --

JONES: To the best of our knowledge, that's the only person in our school -- KING: Pre-kindergarten?

JONES: Yes.

KING: How old?

JONES: Four.

There's a picture that made it. It's a picture of Christ hanging up on the wall. So, we did have that. So.

Now, this is the church, and I'm so impressed that the cross remained. It must have just been at an appropriate angle and it, you know, didn't -- didn't tear it down. So, it's very nice to see that it's there.

KING: Are those pews roughly where they would have been?

JONES: Yes. There's two sets going this way, and we call it the west end over there, they face the east. We had a room over here.

KING: Not much you can do here but bulldoze it away.

JONES: I don't know of any other option.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We tend to move on in our coverage. But let's not forget Joplin, Missouri.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend. We'll see you live Monday from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one of Sarah Palin's bus tour stops. Until then, have a great weekend.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.